Category Archives: Technology and Security

A Nuclear Deterrent for South Korea and Japan

by Stephen Bryen and Rachel Ehrenfeld, American Center for Democracy

Can the United States provide sufficient help to offset the growing North Korean and Chinese threat to the independence and security of South Korea and Japan? It can. It should put Pershing missiles in both countries.

How should the U.S. respond to North Korea?  Thus far the U.S. response has had little or no effect on the North Korean drive to test nuclear weapons, work on miniaturization of warheads, launch ballistic missiles in the Sea of Japan and move forward on a submarine-launched ballistic missile threat.

The U.S. has shown some determination by flying B-1B nuclear bombers over South Korea.  But they departed almost as soon as they arrived, and while a point was made it had no impact on North Korea’s programs. 

North Korea is increasingly on the brink of becoming a real nuclear power which it will be once it has demonstrated a nuclear delivery system that works.  When that happens, which could be soon South Korea and Japan will be in a very bad spot.  The North Koreans will then start making demands including reducing or removing America’s troop presence in both countries.  One can anticipate that leftist elements in both South Korea and Japan will come out of the woodwork in force, pushing their governments to accept North Korea’s demands.

The problem for Japan includes China too.  If the U.S. is asked to leave Japan, that country will be hostage not only to North Korean pressure but even more so to China.  Japan will shift from being a major U.S. ally, to a neutral country within the Chinese orbit.  The political, economic and strategic consequences of such a possible shift are immense.  For some time, as U.S. power in the Pacific dissipates and as China expands its influence, Asian countries grow extremely nervous.  A combination punch from both North Korea and China could be all that is needed for Japan to fall away from the United States.

South Korea is also in a very bad situation.  The South Koreans know that even without nuclear weapons and with only an outdated air force North Korea directly threatens much of the industrial heartland of South Korea.  Its long range artillery and missiles are strategically sited overlooking even the South Korean capital, Seoul.  With North Korea having deliverable nuclear weapons the existing threat mutates into one that is truly overbearing.

Is there an answer? Can the U.S. provide sufficient help to both countries to offset the growing threat to their independence and security?

In the early 1980’s the U.S. was faced with a similar problem in respect to Europe and particularly Germany.  By then the Soviet Union had moved SS-20 mobile, multi-warhead nuclear-tipped missiles in range of Germany.  As early as 1977 then German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt called for a deterrent to the SS-20s.  The Reagan administration responded by offering the Pershing II missile.  Unlike the SS-20, the Pershing II had only one nuclear warhead. Nevertheless, the presence of the missile was enough to deter the Soviets. Eventually –  by putting in place, a real offset to the SS-20 threat – Russia and the U.S. agreed to an arms deal that saw both the Russian and American missiles scrapped.

But, as we know, there was a big fight over the Pershing deployment in the early 1980’s.  A surging leftist movement in Europe, fed by the Communists, attempted through protests and political action to force the German government to refuse the missiles. Marvin Kalb, then a top reporter for NBC News, worried that the leftist movement was “becoming a major force in Europe.”  He thought the left would win and, indeed, had the left won the fight it is unlikely the NATO alliance could have survived the political backlash.

Today, the U.S. needs to deploy missile based deterrents like the Pershing II on both Japanese and South Korean soil.  This is the only sure way to show its determination to North Korea, and for them to understand that the U.S. intends to actively protect the security of both countries.  Not only will such a deployment protect our interests and theirs, but it will go a long way to avoid a strategic deterioration in Korea and Japan that could spark a nuclear conflict the US could not contain.

Without deploying a land-based deterrent, no amount of words from the U.S.  is likely to deter North Korea or avoid a much bigger future crisis.


North Korea Miniature Warhead By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,






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Israel and the F-35

by Stephen Bryen and Rachel Ehrenfeld

Reprinted from American Center for Democracy

Like it or not, the increasingly aggressive Iranian posture toward Israel suggests that sooner or later their conflict will develop into a ground and air war. Actions by Iran and its surrogates in the area of the Golan Heights already caused some Israeli land and retaliatory air moves, and more provocations could set off broader fighting. Israel has little choice but to deter the Iranian and Syria armies, and Hezbollah, from creating a security nightmare.


Hesa Sadegh. Where did the engines come from? By Shahram Sharifi – Own work, GFDL,

Iran has around 265 front line combat fighter aircraft.  These consist of American F-14’s, F-4’s, F-5’s and 30 or more Hesa Saegeh locally made aircraft based on the F-5; Russian MIG 29’s; French Mirage F-1s, and Chinese F-7 Chengdu interceptors.  The F-7s and F-5s are not a significant factor of any kind today.  The F-14s and F-4s are old, but very capable, as are the Mirage and MiG planes.  The Iranian F-4s have been upgraded and have new, modern radars and avionics from China. The F-4s also have the new Qader cruise missile which may also be usable on the other planes.  The Hesa Saegeh F-5 knock off has engines that could have been smuggled into Iran from outside, no one is sure.


A Fighter Squadron 211 (VF-211) F-14A Tomcat aircraft banks into a turn during a flight out of Naval Air Station, Miramar, Calif. The aircraft is carrying six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. By Service Depicted: NavyCommand Shown: N0829 – EnWiki, Public Domain,

Of all these planes the most lethal is the F-14 because it carries Phoenix missiles.  The Phoenix missile was the first true beyond visual range air to air missile with a range exceeding 100 miles.  Such missiles were delivered to Iran under the Shah. But to assume they are not operational today would be a mistake because, in all likelihood, the Russians and Chinese have had their hands all over them. Can the Israelis knock such an improved Phoenix out? Possibly, if they use jamming. A better strategy would be to destroy the F-14s before they can do any damage. But this would depend on the quality of Iran’s air defenses, which have been improved lately by S-300 batteries that were delivered by Russia, and whether the Iranians can field an aircraft that can compete with Israel’s F-15s and F-16s. 


S-300 (Slovakia) By EllsworthSK – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Can the Israelis knock such an improved Phoenix out? Possibly, if they use jamming. A better strategy would be to destroy the F-14s before they can do any damage. But this would depend on the quality of Iran’s air defenses, which have been improved lately by S-300 batteries that were delivered by Russia, and whether the Iranians can field an aircraft that can compete with Israel’s F-15s and F-16s. 

Furthermore, the possibility of a Russian sale of an advanced 4th generation plus fighter, like the Su-35 to Iran, could introduce a major problem for Israel, a problem that would not be solved by the F-35, which has  such serious limitations and needs so many fixes that there is doubt it could be ever ready for combat.  Because the F-35 cannot dogfight, the Su-35 has the key advantage especially in the role of territorial defense.

Before the F-35 sale to Israel, there was strong Israeli Air Force interest in the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle, an improved F-15 with stealth features and the same (or similar) advanced electronics as in the F-35.  However, Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35 conducted one of the best lobbying efforts in U.S. military history and convinced the government to pressure Boeing into halting the promotion of the Silent Eagle. So for the next 20 years, barring some drastic reversal there is no room for Boeing or anyone else but Lockheed, locking the US into a single, questionable solution.  If Lockheed fails, so does America.

According to Dr. Michael Gilmore, the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), “the F-35s will be non-combat-capable until at least 2023 and more likely 2024 or 2025.”

While a new U.S. Administration may be able to correct the F-35 problems, Israel does not have extra seven or nine years to find out whether the plane is battle ready.  Anyway, the Su-35 is combat ready now.

Faced with the need to overcome the F-35 limitations, Israel may consider equipping its F-15s with new long range air-to-air missiles, if it can get them, and lots of jammers, and pray.  

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There are Military Catamarans and then there is Junk: Iran’s is Junk

by Stephen Bryen

Iran is making a big deal announcing the launch of a new military catamaran. So far we only have some glimpses of the ship, but it does not look like a successful design.

We know very little about this ship but one thing is for sure: this is not a real military ship. You don’t build a military ship with extensive glass windows on its side.

There is almost no room on the platform for weapons. Sitting in the harbor, the Iranians had a small helicopter parked on the deck. There were no weapons in sight.

If the ship is primarily fiberglass and is light, maybe it could obtain the speed the Iranians claim –24 knots. This is not as fast as conventional frigates and about the same as the patrol boats we have in the Persian Gulf.  Not very impressive.  The new Iranian ship looks like a knockoff of a commercial catamaran passenger vessel, maybe a small ferry.  (One wonders if Iran bought a ferry in Europe and converted it?) There is a YouTube video of the “launch” of what appears to be a commercial Iranian catamaran, which may give us some hints of its evolution.

In short the new Iranian ship looks mostly bogus. It appears to be far less capable than the much smaller fast attack boats Iran has been sending out on missions in the Gulf, threatening US ships. This new catamaran contributes less than nothing to Iran’s offensive capabilities. About its only possible virtue is that it may be hard to pick up on radar –but thankfully it is big enough to be seen through conventional optical sensors.


Tuo Chang Corvette

While the Iranians are never short on boasting and awful propaganda, they may want to take a step back before their catamaran sinks below the waterline.

If you want to build a really capable military catamaran, take a look at what Taiwan has achieved in its new Tuo Chiang Class corvette. This is a truly beautiful and effective war fighting platform, loaded with firepower, very fast (43 knots +), great sea keeping, stealth design and long range. Most of the Iranian boats have crude firepower, short operational range, limited sea keeping, and probably cannot operate at night.

Taiwan has committed to building a dozen or more of the current version of its corvette. These will outperform the aged Perry Class and Lafayette frigates Taiwan currently has, are far faster, and carry significantly more weapons in a very small space. Thanks to a far smaller crew size and long endurance, the Taiwanese Tuo Chiang class corvettes make better use of limited manpower and optimize the punch these systems have in protecting the island.


150317-N-SF508-627 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (March 17, 2014) The Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Hurricane (PC 3) leads other coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1) in formation during a divisional tactics exercise. PCRON-1 is deployed supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. These ships are old and relatively slow and have minimal firepower. Some have already been decommissioned.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki/Released)

The Tuo Chiang class corvette is a platform the US should have a serious look at. We only have old patrol boats which have minimal firepower and relatively low speed. These Cyclone-class patrol boats operate at a serious disadvantage to Iran’s speedy fast attack boats. Some of them have already been decommissioned and one was sold (or given) to the Philippines. Having a Tuo Chiang corvette in the Persian Gulf would give us a big advantage, far more than the LCS which we won’t even take into the Gulf because it is toothless and oversize.

The Tuo Chiang cost one fourth as much as the LCS and is fit for purpose.  Whether the LCS, apparently designed by too many committees, can function in a war environment is open to serious doubt.

As for Iran, it is time for us to let them know that they can’t run around calling America names and threatening our ships. We have been there and done that before and in the Reagan Administration we chased them out of the water. Let’s get the right equipment and do it again.

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Is It Time to Turn the Tables on Iran?

By Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

REPRINTED FROM American Thinker

On April 24, 2004 the USS Firebolt, a Cyclone-class coastal patrol boat in the Persian Gulf, launched a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RIB) when its crew observed a Dhow – a traditional boat, in this case likely owned by Iran – fast approaching the Al Amaya oil terminal in Iraq.  Suspecting an attempt to destroy the terminal, the RIB’s seven-man crew pulled alongside the Dhow in order to board it.  The Dhow blew up in a suicide blast intended for the terminal.  Two sailors, Navy Petty Officers Michael Pernaselli and Christopher Watts were killed instantly.  Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathan Brukenthal died when the RIB turned over in the water. Brukenthal was the first Coast Guardsman killed in action since the Vietnam War.

Last week, the USS Firebolt was back in the news.


A starboard side view of US Navy CYCLONE CLASS Coastal Defense Ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) underway as it returns to Little Creek Amphibious Base, Norfolk, VA. The Firebolt is returning from a deployment in the Mediterranean Sea.

On September 4th a swarm of seven Iranian fast boats, armed with guns and missiles, and belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval force, harassed the Firebolt and forced it to divert from its heading to avoid a collision. In an incident that lasted some eight minutes, three of the Iranian boats maneuvered within about 500 yards of the Firebolt and then pulled away. Another Iranian boat sped in front of the Firebolt and blocked its path. From what can be ascertained, the Firebolt sent radio warnings that were not answered and then – closing in at about 100 yards – the Firebolt turned away to avoid the “parked” Iranian attack craft. The Firebolt did not fire warning shots or blast its foghorn.


ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. (MAY 7, 2004) — Pall bearers carry the casket of DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal during his interment ceremony. Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard casualty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. USCG photo by PA2 Fa’iq El-Amin.

The Iranians were once again clearly testing swarm boat techniques and seeking to provoke the United States. It was the fourth time in less than a month. American official said there have been 31 similar events this year, almost double the same period last year. This incident follows recent harassment including of the guided missile destroyer Nitze, the patrol ships Tempest and Squall and the destroyer, the USS Stout.


One type of Iranian fast attack boat firing a missile. The Iranians have also acquired speedboat technology from Britain (via South Africa)

General Joseph Votel, Commander, US Central Command, said the Iranians are conducting “unsafe maneuvers” to exert their influence in the Gulf. He is correct.

There are major political, psychological and military gains for the Iranians from these provocations.

On the military level the Iranians are learning a lot about the speed of the U.S. Command Structure – how long it takes for a warning to be made and what happens when the first radio broadcast, foghorn or gun is fired.  One can imagine the Iranians with stopwatches.  A successful swarm attack that can do real damage to major U.S. naval assets needs to be correctly sequenced, as the Iranians surely know.  Even though U.S. warships are poorly equipped to deal with swarming fast attack boats, they are not without resources.  And air power can be called in to augment U.S. ships under attack.  If Iran’s objective in such a situation involving a real attack is to cause serious damage to a U.S. aircraft carrier or a guided missile cruiser, by now they know pretty much what they have to do and what price they will pay.

The sight of U.S. warships running away from Iranian fast boats is great political propaganda that, for the Iranians, plays well at home and abroad.  It is the perfect David and Goliath moment in which the Great Satan is forced to turn and run. Iran, in fact, made a video purporting to show the sinking of the Nitze as a result of Iranian “courage and righteous anger” at an “American invasion.” Internally, such propaganda boosts the Revolutionary Guard, increasing its leverage. Outside, it helps Iran spread its influence in the region and as far afield as South America.

American allies and clients in the Persian Gulf and Middle East feel the opposite impact. If the United States does not stand up to aggression, smaller and less capable countries may find it necessary to accommodate Iran. President Obama and American policy compound their distress. The President told Jeffrey Goldberg in an Atlantic Magazine interview that Saudi Arabia – a U.S. ally and Iranian adversary – “needs to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace.” Reflexively backing the Saudis against Iran, he said, “would mean we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”


Jeffrey Goldberg interviews President Obama

The President quickly eschews the idea of military force in the Gulf, but what other response is there to the problem posed by Iranian-created incidents?  The Iranians have already captured American sailors, and it is only a matter of time before an American is killed by Iranian action – on purpose or in error.

To stop an evolving and increasingly dangerous game, the United States has to take aggressive action against Iranian fast attack boats before they come after us. The goal is not to start a war – the Iranians are already working on that – but low passes by fighter planes or helicopter gunships, rapid firing guns, and aggressive chase will make it clear to the Iranians “this far and no farther.”

The U.S. must not be chased out of international waters. The U.S. Navy surely has the assets to do the job.  We just need courage from our politicians.

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Big Flap in the Black Sea

Russian Jet scrambles and Flies Within 3 Meters of US Spy Plane

by Stephen Bryen

A Russian Su-27 scrambled when a P-8 Poseidon spy plane flew near the Russian coast while a military exercise was taking place on September 7th.  According to the Russians, the incident lasted 19 minutes, the US plane did not have its transponder on, and the Russians needed to convince the American aircraft to turn away, which it eventually did.


P-8 Poseidon

The Pentagon said the Russians acted in an unsafe and unprofessional manner –in other words the Russians endangered the lives of the American crew.

Incidents involving Russian and NATO aircraft, both with transponders on and off, have been going on for some time.  It seems these events correspond fairly closely to when one side or the other wants to send some harsh message to the other.

But flying in this area on spying missions is pretty risky, especially with no identification or prior notice.

A P-8 is a modified Boeing 737 that is built to fly low and slow and is capable of identifying underwater targets, particularly submarines.  Since the Russian fleet in the Black Sea was in the midst of an exercise, this would be a good time to practice against a wealth of targets.

On the other hand, as the Russians emphasized, they had invited foreign observers, including the NATO countries, to watch the exercise.  It was not a secret.  The US chose to use spy equipment instead of attending the exercise itself.

The US policy is to isolate the Russians.  So far, along with an embargo that the Europeans put in place, the isolation strategy has done some harm to Russia’s economy and probably stimulated the Russians to behave more aggressively than normally.  What else the strategy has achieved is anyone’s guess.

In the bigger picture the Russians are playing for two prizes.  One of them is a deal that would recognize their annexation of Crimea and some settlement of the Ukraine especially regarding the Donetsk and Luhansk separatists, but also the matter of the orientation of the Ukraine government which is anti-Russian at present.  The Russians have helped keep this mess boiling for some time, but eventually either there will be a political deal or possibly a broader war that will draw in Russian forces.   The Obama administration, soon to be out of office, has little ability or inclination to do much about the Ukraine, even though there are rumblings in Europe, especially Germany, that a solution should be found.

The other prize is a deal on Syria, which the Russians want if the terms are right.  While the administration appears to have de-emphasized its demand that the Assad government had to go before any deal could be reached, so far none of that has translated into any progress on a solution.  Complicating the matter is the presence of foreign troops on Syrian soil including Russian, Iranian, Lebanese (in the form of Hezbollah), US and a sprinkling of others.  There are also lots of foreign fighters (mostly Islamist terrorists). Also there is the interest of bordering countries including Jordan and Israel.  Israel is expecting trouble on the Golan Heights.

President Obama and President Putin tried to sort out at least a cease fire agreement during the G-8 Summit in China, but it did not happen.  In fact, the tension between the two leaders was noticeable. Obama accused Putin of interfering in the upcoming US elections and of cyber spying while, at the same time, trying for some kind of accommodation on Syria.

Thus the latest demonstration of mutual angst in the Black Sea should come as no surprise.  Neither side can be excused for this incident which was easily avoidable, unnecessary and dangerous.



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Humiliation on the High Seas


By Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

Aug. 25, 2016, at 5:30 p.m.

The United States was humiliated this week when the USS Nitze came under simulated attack by four Iranian missile and torpedo-equipped speedboats in international waters. Despite American warnings, radio calls, flares and foghorns, two of the boats came within a few hundred yards of the Nitze. Iran is harassing American naval warships in the Persian Gulf while Washington refuses to acknowledge Iranian threats for reasons that are both political and practical.


The political reason is that Washington still entertains the idea that Iran can be a friend of America. This view, strongly held by the White House, State Department, Pentagon and CIA, is a true fantasy. No matter how many Iranian statements from top Iranian political and military leaders proclaim their total hatred of the United States, Washington persists in fostering the illusion. There is no immediate cure for a political disease: We have yet to invent an anti-regime-biotic that, when injected into the insane, returns them to normalcy.


As there is no solution, the Obama administration will explain the Persian Gulf incident as some sort of aberration or unauthorized action by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, or a mistake, but not an act of overt hostility.

Second is the practical reason. The attack on the Nitze, described by the Navy and Pentagon as “unprofessional” and “unsafe,” actually was a test of an Iranian tactic called the “swarming boat” to destroy U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.

The swarming boat attack is just what it sounds like: a number of fast boats equipped with missiles and torpedoes attack enemy ships from multiple angles to damage or destroy them as quickly as possible. Recently the Iranians added another dimension to the swarming boats: a vessel known as the Ya Mahdi, a remotely piloted fast patrol boat that can fire rockets or be stuffed with explosives. It is a new version of the boat that attacked the USS Cole in Aden in 2000 at a cost of 17 lives, 39 injuries and severe damage to the ship.

Fast patrol boats are maneuverable and operate up to 75 knots, making them hard to hit, particularly as they are built mostly of fiberglass, so they are not so easy to locate with radar. In addition, the defensive weapons on board most U.S. naval ships are inadequate. The old Mark 45 five inch guns fire too slowly and are not optimized against this kind of threat. They also are linked to aged fire control and radars that probably won’t pick up the patrol boats until they are in range to fire their missiles. The rapid-fire Phalanx gun, the gun of last resort on ships like the Nitze, has the same sensor-shooter problem, although some improvements have been made. It is questionable whether the Phalanx can actually stop an intense and multi-vessel attack.


Most important, none of these weapons can shoot down unguided rockets and missiles. The Phalanx fails because its range is too short and its ability to stop a high-speed kinetic round is very poor. And there is no good defense against torpedoes except to try and evade them, which is hard to do in a complex attack.

The Pentagon has known about this threat for a long time, and has opted to do next to nothing about it. Focused on big blue water operations, the Navy is behind a curve 20 years in the making.

Meanwhile, the Iranians keep improving the firepower of their fast patrol boats and adapt Western technology to further raise the threat level. They now have a semi-submersible fast patrol boat they acquired from North Korea and improved. This carries significant firepower and is hard to find and hit. They have taken British technology from the superfast Bladerunner speedboat and turned it into the Seraj-1, which exceeds 55 knots on the surface. A newer version, thought to be the Seraj-2, may reach 80 to 85 knots, far faster than anything in the U.S. inventory. And the Iranians appear able to acquire diesel engines, surface drives and other sophisticated gear from Western sources without any practical interference.

The Pentagon needs to get its act together and come up with tactics and weapons systems to solve the problem of swarm boat attacks. So, too, must the administration stop pretending Iran is not a real threat. Above all, it is time to end America’s humiliation on the high seas.

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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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