Kim Jong-Il is apparently not content with good old-fashioned saber rattling, and instead wants to push the envelope (or the button, as it were) a little further:
North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July, a Japanese news report said Thursday, as Russia and China urged the regime to return to international disarmament talks on its rogue nuclear program.
The missile, believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), would be launched from North Korea’s Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, said the Yomiuri daily, Japan’s top-selling newspaper. It cited an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
The missile launch could come between July 4 and 8, the paper said.
While the newspaper speculated the Taepodong-2 could fly over Japan and toward Hawaii, it said the missile would not be able to hit Hawaii’s main islands, which are about 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from the Korean peninsula.
A spokesman for the Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report. South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service — the country’s main spy agency — said they could not confirm it.
If North Korea does carry out such a plan, it would be a most provocative act, bordering on a casus belli. Figuratively speaking, it would not be any different than the child’s game of swinging one’s arms within inches of one’s sibling while declaring “not touching!” In realpolitik terms, it is simply a threat.
Of course, the real question is, what do we do about it?
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington on Tuesday for a landmark summit in which they agreed to build a regional and global “strategic alliance” to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons. Obama declared North Korea a “grave threat” to the world and pledged that the new U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.
In Seoul, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho told a forum Thursday that the North’s moves to strengthen its nuclear programs is “a very dangerous thing that can fundamentally change” the regional security environment. He said the South Korean government is bracing for “all possible scenarios” regarding the nuclear standoff.
In a rare move, leaders of Russia and China used their meetings in Moscow on Wednesday to pressure the North to return to the nuclear talks and expressed “serious concerns” about tension on the Korean peninsula.
The joint appeal appeared to be a signal that Moscow and Beijing are growing impatient with Pyongyang’s stubbornness. Northeastern China and Russia’s Far East both border North Korea, and Pyongyang’s unpredictable actions have raised concern in both countries.
After meetings at the Kremlin, Chinese President Hu Jintao joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in urging a peaceful resolution of the Korean standoff and the “swiftest renewal” of the now-frozen talks involving their countries as well as North and South Korea, Japan and the United States.
“Russia and China are ready to foster the lowering of tension in Northeast Asia and call for the continuation of efforts by all sides to resolve disagreements through peaceful means, through dialogue and consultations,” their statement said.
Keep in mind, as well, that North Korea need not tip anyone of those missiles with a nuclear warhead (which it does not yet have the capability to do) in order to pose a significant threat. Reportedly, the Stalinist regime is well-equipped with chemical weapons as well:
The independent International Crisis Group think tank, meanwhile, said the North’s massive stockpile of chemical weapons is no less serious a threat to the region than its nuclear arsenal.
It said the North is believed to have between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, phosgene, blood agents and sarin. These weapons can be delivered with ballistic missiles and long-range artillery and are “sufficient to inflict massive civilian casualties on South Korea.”
Although the nations involved have been ready to talk sternly about “grave threats” and to urge further negotiations to quell the tensions, Kim Jong-Il is notably unimpressed. Rather than seeking to retard the North Korean leader’s ambitions, everyone seems insistent upon being cautions in order to avoid “provoking” Kim Jong-Il. That is a shrewd plan when dealing with a crazy person, but in the end, a bully is just a bully, whether he’s crazy or not.
Unfortunately, at some point a swift smack on the nose will be necessary if we truly want to back the recalcitrant dictator up a step or two, which admittedly carries its own unfortunate possibilities. Even if that point is not now, or if and when North Korea sends its missiles hurling dangerously close to our sovereign territory, it does seem to be approaching quickly. Given the rather meek approach taken by all nations thus far, one can only hope that Kim’s own machinations do him under before the international community’s hand is forced.
He certainly wouldn’t be happy, that’s for sure. Germany’s top soldier isn’t happy with his troops either. Speaking about German soldier complaints about their deployments he said:
“We cannot guarantee soldiers that they will have an all-round feel-good experience,” said General Wolfgang Schneiderhan.
“We have to tell a professional soldier who complains about his third tour of overseas duty that he has to get a grip — this is his profession,” said General Schneiderhan.
“Perhaps the problem is down to the general tendency in society to delegate responsibility to someone else, or perhaps it is the stress associated with change,” he told several hundred army officers and politicians at an official reception.
Ah, social welfare – it does change a culture, doesn’t it? And although the Germans have been a part of the ISAF in Afghanistan since 2001, other members of the NATO team have voiced dissatisfaction with their performance. That may be because they are participating (I hesitate to use the word “fighting”) with one hand tied behind their back:
German Medevac helicopters have to be back at base by dusk. German Tornado aircraft are restricted to unarmed reconnaissance. Der Spiegel magazine highlighted the case recently of a Taleban commander — nicknamed the Baghlan Bomber because of his role in blowing up a sugar factory in that northwestern province — who was cornered by the KSK German special service unit but allowed to escape; under the terms of engagement imposed by Parliament the KSK are not authorised to kill unless they are under attack.
So since they don’t fight at night (unless they’re willing to do it without medevac support), what do they do? Well, they drink. Forget cultural sensitivity, the German force of 3,500 goes through 90,000 bottles of wine and 1.7 million pints of beer a year:
The reports of soldiers’ complaints made to parliament by Reinhold Robbe, the ombudsman, paint a picture of a force that is concentrating more on its own wellbeing than on the peace-keeping mission.
The diet is heavy on carbohydrates, low on fruit and a higher proportion of soldiers are overweight than in the civilian population of Germany. Mr Robbe admitted that too many soldiers had a “passive lifestyle”. In short the soldiers are fat, they drink too much and spend a great deal of time moaning.
Truly signs of a very unhealthy force in more ways than one. And this is one of our primary NATO allies? And we wonder why Afghanistan is going so swimmingly?
An interesting discussion broke out in the comment section of the Miranda post, which I’m hoping will continue. The primary issue (and I’m simplifying here) centers around just how detainees caught on a battlefield should be handled if they don’t fit the established parameters of soldiers under the Geneva Conventions. Although there appears to be agreement that reading detainees Miranda rights is a step (or three) too far, there is also wide agreement that we should be skeptical about allowing our government so much latitude as to hold anyone indefinitely. I think closing the gap on those parameters is the challenge to be met, but I don’t think it is possible to do so without understanding how war differs from law enforcement.
Clausewitz defined war as “continuation of policy with other means.” The crux of his definition is that “war” is simply a tactic used to further political goals. War is not waged as end in itself, but as a means towards other ends which, for whatever reason, could not be accomplished through non-violent tactics. There are always exceptions, of course, but certainly a rational state will not expend blood and treasure when the same goals can be accomplished without. Even an irrational state, with irrational goals, will not waste such resources if it understands that it does not have to.
The other tools in the box for continuing policy include diplomacy and capitulation. Once those are deemed exhausted or unacceptable (as the case may be) then the tool of war is likely to appear. In other words, if agreement cannot be reached between erstwhile enemies, and surrender by one side or the other is not acceptable, then actual battle will be necessary to decide whose policy will be continued. At that point all manner of understanding between the parties is dead and only victory or a credible threat thereof will allow the discarded tools to once again be used in the construction of policy.
In the absence of war, there is general agreement as to how competing parties will conduct themselves in the pursuit of their policies. Citizens may vote, senators may argue, special interests may agitate, and whole nations may barter. The agreements may deal with how citizens deal with one another, how governments deal with their citizens, or how violations of the agreements are handled (i.e. law enforcement). In the modern world those general agreements are reduced to treaties, constitutions, rules, regulations and the like, all of which may be considered law. The policies themselves may also be enacted into law, but without some understanding as to the mechanisms for peacefully deciding which policy will be followed, then war is the only tool available. A rule of law, which is only useful where there is broad agreement on it, obviates the need to use war to advance policy. All of the foregoing are the hallmarks of a civil society that depends on pursuing policies through peaceful tactics. To turn Clauswitz’s definition around, law is the continuation of war by other means.
To be sure, transgressors of law will be dealt with at times in violent ways, but there is at least a tacit agreement to the law’s authority to do so where the violator is operating from within the society and generally partaking of its benefits. If enough transgressors get together then the agreements have broken down, and civil war or revolution may occur. Therefore, war can be understood as the tactic that is used when the law has ceased to be of use. More simply, war is the absence of law.
Given the above, which is nothing more than a condensed version of my personal views on the subject, it is difficult for me to understand how legal concepts can be introduced into war. Opposing factions may agree with one another to fight under particular rules of engagement, or to treat enemy prisoners a certain way, but when those rules are broken there is no legitimate authority to enforce them. The Geneva Conventions represent a more elaborate attempt to impose limits on warfare, but even those were never intended to apply to non-signatories except in very limited circumstances (pre-Hamdan anyway). More importantly, it seems obviously ludicrous to apply laws outside such limited agreement to any of the parties involved in battle, because there would be no battle if such laws were being adhered to in the first place.
So while any number of parties may agree amongst themselves to fight under self-imposed rules, that does not give any of them authority to impose those rules on others. Furthermore, except where explicitly agreed to otherwise, such rules would not govern war between a party to such an agreement and a non-party. To look at it another way, if Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield agree to fight under certain sanctioned rules, that does not mean that either fighter must adhere to the same rules if attacked by a third party on the way home from the match.
Accordingly, in a world of asymmetrical warfare, the basic principle that “war is the absence of law” seems to apply. In this context, the very idea of approaching war with terrorists in foreign countries under a rubric of law intended to govern domestic life appears absurdly out of place. Treating detainees captured on the battlefield to the luxury of legal niceties intended to protect the very citizens those terrorists seek to harm defies all logic. And pretending that reading any of them Miranda rights will do anything more than hamper our ability to defeat these cretins is an exercise in serious delusion. In short, law is a manifestation of the agreements underlying a peaceful community, and war is the means of protecting those agreements from those who seek to subvert them.
When considering just where the line should be drawn then, between reading enemies their “rights” and allowing the government to detain them indefinitely, I think it’s useful to understand that we are not really talking about a “rule of law.” Instead, we are talking about how best to utilize the tactic of war in furthering our policy of not allowing crazed radicals to murder our citizens. While I find great merit in placing the government (i.e. our instrument of war) on a firm leash, I don’t think it is at all useful to conflate the means by which we protect ourselves from an overbearing government with the means by which the government protects us from enemies bent on our destruction.
This simply can’t be right, can it? That the Obama administration secretly directed the military to Mirandize combatants and terrorists when captured? Surely this is just crazy talk:
… the Obama Justice Department has quietly ordered FBI agents to read Miranda rights to high value detainees captured and held at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, according a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “The administration has decided to change the focus to law enforcement. Here’s the problem. You have foreign fighters who are targeting US troops today – foreign fighters who go to another country to kill Americans. We capture them…and they’re reading them their rights – Mirandizing these foreign fighters,” says Representative Mike Rogers, who recently met with military, intelligence and law enforcement officials on a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan.
Rogers, a former FBI special agent and U.S. Army officer, says the Obama administration has not briefed Congress on the new policy. “I was a little surprised to find it taking place when I showed up because we hadn’t been briefed on it, I didn’t know about it. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of it, but it is clearly a part of this new global justice initiative.”
Ever since the Boumediene decision I’ve been warning that we’re turning legitimate military actions into law enforcement nightmares. No matter how badly we may want to achieve a world where transparency and the rule of law are the basis for all government action, the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of people out there who want to see the US destroyed regardless of the cost to themselves or their families. If we start dealing with these people as if they were common criminals, then we erode the very fabric that binds us as a nation. No longer does the word “jurisdiction” mean anything. Instead, we hand our enemies the keys to the castle.
Consider the following:
A lawyer who has worked on detainee issues for the U.S. government offers this rationale for the Obama administration’s approach. “If the US is mirandizing certain suspects in Afghanistan, they’re likely doing it to ensure that the treatment of the suspect and the collection of information is done in a manner that will ensure the suspect can be prosecuted in a US court at some point in the future.”
But Republicans on Capitol Hill are not happy. “When they mirandize a suspect, the first thing they do is warn them that they have the ‘right to remain silent,’” says Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It would seem the last thing we want is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other al-Qaeda terrorist to remain silent. Our focus should be on preventing the next attack, not giving radical jihadists a new tactic to resist interrogation–lawyering up.”
According to Mike Rogers, that is precisely what some human rights organizations are advising detainees to do. “The International Red Cross, when they go into these detention facilities, has now started telling people – ‘Take the option. You want a lawyer.’”
Rogers adds: “The problem is you take that guy at three in the morning off of a compound right outside of Kabul where he’s building bomb materials to kill US soldiers, and read him his rights by four, and the Red Cross is saying take the lawyer – you have now created quite a confusion amongst the FBI, the CIA and the United States military. And confusion is the last thing you want in a combat zone.”
Prosecution of any war, regardless of what your betters may think, is absolutely impossible in a law enforcement setting. Imagine having to “arrest” enemy soldiers instead of shooting them on sight. Or worse, think about the complications involved when a soldier shoots anyone, as compared to when a policeman is involved in a shooting. How would it work to take custody or extract intelligence from any enemy soldier if our soldiers have to apply mercurial Supreme Court precedent to each situation before risking their lives? Any cop will tell you that it’s hard enough keeping up with the norms as laid down by the high court (and interpreted by the administrators) in order to simply arrest common criminals. The idea that soldiers in the field of battle have the time or ability to “arrest” terrorists and the like, in places where English is not likely to be a common language (N.B. does that mean the military will be required to provide interpreters before apprehending anyone?) is simply ludicrous.
War is not pretty, and anyone who pretends to make it so is simply a fool. Ugly, unmentionable, outrageous and despicable things happen in war, as they do in any struggle for life. Creating an imaginary world in which there are breaks for tea and the enemy plays by the same (or any) rules is how the British lost North America. Subjecting ourselves to the vagaries or our enemy’s backwardness, by ignoring their complete denial of our moral superiority, will only serve to hasten our defeat.
For the foregoing reasons, I have to assume that Stephen Hayes is on the wrong end of some very bad information. As much as I may disagree with the Obama administration on a great many things, I have a hard time believing that they could be this naive and unconcerned about the future of our country that they would grant unprecedented gratuity to those who most wish us ill. The policies are most certainly wrong, but they can’t possibly be this misguided.
The court chose not to hear the suit which challenged it, brought by an Army CPT, preferring, instead, to let the Obama administration deal with the subject. CPT Pietrangelo was originally 1 of 12 petitioners challenging DADT in court. Their case was dismissed by the 1st Circuit, but unlike the other 11 who chose to not appeal and let the Obama administration handle it, Pietrangelo appealed to SCOTUS. The result is as reported in the lede.
However, here’s the confusing part:
In opposing Supreme Court review of the Pietrangelo case, opponents of “don’t ask, don’t tell” have noted that Obama pledged during his presidential election campaign to end the policy. They say he appears to proceeding carefully to end the ban by first asking the Pentagon to study the implications and report its recommendations.
Why? Why is he “proceeding carefully”? One would assume that when someone declares he is going to end a policy, he has already gathered the information and done the studies necessary to understand the implications of changing such a policy might have before he declared he’d do it, right? [For the record I have no problem with trashing DADT.]
Oh wait, this is the same guy who declared he’d close Gitmo and end the Iraq war immediately after taking office, do away with FISA and hold the telcoms responsible, and have nothing to do with jailing bad guys indefinitely if they merely posed a threat to the US isn’t it?
Yesterday evening I thought about what was occurring at the same time 65 years before in Europe. Young paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as well as the British 6th Airborne Divison and 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion were headed in for night combat jumps with the mission of securing key bridges and road junctions and setting up blocking positions to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the beaches of Normandy. Of the 17,000 US airborne troops engaged in operation Overlord, 1,003 were KIA, 2,657 were WIA and 4,490 were declared MIA.
At the same time, off that coast, the largest amphibious assault fleet the world had ever seen, drawn from 8 allied navies (6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft), and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels), began gathering. 19 and 20 year old young men, who to that point had never seen a shot fired in anger nor fired one themselves, would get their baptism in war on Omaha, Gold, Utah, Swordand Juno beaches. In all 160,000 allied troops would land that day.
At Pointe du Hoc, the US 2nd Ranger Battalion assaulted the massive concrete gun emplacements that commanded the beach landing sites. They had to scale 100 foot cliffs under enemy automatic gunfire to reach them. When they did, the found out the guns had been moved further inland. They pressed their assault, found them and destroyed them and then defended the location for two days until relieved. The operation cost them 60% casualties. Of the 225 rangers who began the operation, only 90 were still able to fight at its end.
On Omaha beach, the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions landed opposite the veteran German 352nd Infantry Division. They had sited their defensive positions well and built concrete emplacements which were all but immune from bombardment. The initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only 2 survived the landing. The official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue”. Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings.
Leaders considered abandoning Omaha, but the troops that had landed refused to stay trapped in a killing zone. In many cases, led by members of the 5th Ranger Battalion which had been mistakenly landed there, they formed ad hoc groups and infantrymen infiltrated the beach defenses and destroyed them, eventually opening the way for all. Of the 50,000 soldiers that landed, 5,000 became casualties of bloody Omaha.
Canadian forces landed at Juno. The first wave suffered 50% casualties in the ferocious fighting. The Canadians had to fight their way over a sea wall which they successfully did. The 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada achieved their 6 June objectives, when they drove over 15 kilometres (9 mi) inland. In fact, they were the only group to reach their D-Day objectives.
By the end of D-Day, 15,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water’s edge and later counterattacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer divisions on June 7 and June 8.
The Brits landed at Sword and Gold beaches. At Gold the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division landed with heavy casualties, but overcame the obstacles and drove about 10 kilometers off the beach.
Led by amphibious tanks of the 13th and 18th Hussars, the landings on Sword went rather well with elements of the 8th Infantry Brigade driving 8 kilometers off the beach.
And the final beach, Utah, saw the 23,000 troops of the US 4th Infantry Division land. Through a navigation error they landed on the western most part of the beach. That happened to be the most lightly defended as well. Taking full advantage of the situation, the division fought their way off the beach and through the German defenses linking up with the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division which had dropped in the night before and secured the inland side of the beach exits.
The liberation of Europe had begun. But it was costly. Of the total 10,000 casualties suffered that day on the beaches by the allies, the US had 6,603 of which 1,465 were killed in action. The Canadians suffered 1,074 casualties (359 KIA) and the British had 2,700.
Men who had never set foot on the continent of Europe before died trying to liberate it that day. Today most of them lie in quiet graveyards near where they fell, the only piece of land ever claimed, as Colin Powell said, was enough to lay them to rest. 65 years ago, as the guns boomed, the shells exploded and desperate and courageous men made life and death decisions on the bloody sands of Normandy beaches, the fate of the world literally hinged on their success.
I think it is important, on this day to remember that. It is also just as important to remember that had the rest of the world taken the threat posed by the evil of Nazi Germany seriously earlier than they did, the possibility exists that such a fateful landing would never have been necessary.
But it was. And to those who made it, liberated Europe and destroyed the evil that was Nazi Germany, they have my undying respect and deserve to have what they did -and why they did it – remembered by all for eternity.
And nothing could make that point better than this:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he’s asked for in next year’s budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.
Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.
Candidate Obama was pretty darn sure that these interceptors just weren’t needed because, you know, they just weren’t! Russia isn’t our enemy anymore and we get along fine with China – where’s the threat?!
Well during the entire lead up to the 2008 presidential campaign, North Korea and Iran were flinging missiles around right and left each, seemingly, with longer ranges and larger carrying capacity.
Ignored. In fact, as I recall, Obama dismissed Iran as not much of a threat at all. Something about Iran being a ‘tiny’ country that ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Certainly not one that required a missile defense.
Politics. All politics. Nothing based in reality, but instead dismissive rhetorical hand-waves designed to please the base. And those who controlled Congress picked up on the tune and danced to it.
Now, suddenly, by doing almost exactly the same thing they’ve done for some years, North Korea has managed to resurrect the need for a missile defense?
Well that’s easy. Now they’re governing, suddenly not having an armed missile land on friendly territory during their watch is a priority.
Politics. The only real reason they opposed it previously is because the other side wanted it.
Of course, if questioned about why this is different than when NoKo and Iran did this sort of thing the last few times, I’m sure they’d find a way to spin it that they think wouldn’t make them seem so short-sighted, petty and partisan (read the article, there’s plenty of spin included).
That won’t change the fact one bit that they were indeed short-sighted, petty and partisan.
So what will an infantryman look like in 2030? Well, here’s the vision (and I might add, this has been the vision in one version or another, for decades):
Some interesting comments in the NY Post article about this concept:
Aided by “smart drugs,” enhanced with prosthetics, and protected by a lightweight suit of armor, this soldier of the future possesses near super-human capabilities and weapons that would make even Iron Man jealous. He’s suited up in an “exoskeleton” – essentially a Storm Trooper-esque external shell – that allows him to carry heavy loads. Electronics integrated in his outfit allow for simultaneous language translation, automatic identification of potential foes, and video-game-like targeting. If the soldier is tired, overworked, or injured, neural and physiological sensors automatically send an alert to headquarters.
A networked battlefield has been a military dream ever since computers and networks was first understood by the institution. The upside is pretty obvious – the ability to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence. Fewer people necessary to cover more ground. Command, control and communication are enhanced in ways that aren’t possible right now. Joint ops would be a snap. And some excellent force protection technology too boot.
The other side of that is our tendency to display an bit of an over reliance on technology. Technology is not a tactic or a strategy – it’s a tool. The fact that you field a networked battle force doesn’t mean an automatic win. Of course that’s been evident in the low tech battlefields on which we’re engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Used as a tool, and given the amount of enhanced training that will be necessary for the lowest of privates to use it effectively, it could be something that gives us an edge in the type of warfare in which we’re engaged now, and certainly an edge on a conventional battlefield. What we have to remember, however, is technology isn’t a substitute for tactics or strategy.
North Korea says “no”:
North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a ruling party official as saying.
YTN Television quoted the South Korean weather agency as saying it detected a tremor indicating a test at 0054 GMT (8:54 p.m. EDT).
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had called an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers over the test, Yonhap said.
Well that ought to keep ’em buzzing around in DC for a day or two. I wonder if we’ll finally figure out that anything that NoKo agrees too in the future isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?
I had a unique experience this week. That was the opportunity to fly with a very unique military unit. Unique in the sense that they’re the only one like it in the US military. I’m speaking of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the “Hurricane Hunters”, based at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS.
The opportunity was one I just couldn’t pass up, so on Tuesday, I and a few other bloggers from as far away as Chicago, hooked up with the 53rd for a 3 hour flight in one of their 10 WC-130J “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft.
Of course we were first initially briefed on the history and capabilities of the squadron. The squadron is comprised entirely of Airforce reservists. Yet they carry a full mission load. So in addition to their monthly training and their 2 week annual training, these folks average 120 more days of active duty time a year.
That’s a lot of time away from home for a part-time job. But they obviously love it. The pilot of our flight had been doing it for 17 years and the AWRO (Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer) said she’d been bashing her way into hurricanes for 23 years.
The normal crew for a hurricane mission is 5 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, AWRO and loadmaster). Depending on the length of the mission, which can last up to 12-14 hours, they may take a second crew with them.
Do they actually penetrate the hurricane? Yes. In fact they fly right through it, from side to side, through the eye. Last year during the hurricane season, they made 162 flights through the eye of hurricanes.
Their work normally begins with a low-level investigation. Naturally forecasters are intersted in what effect the storm is having at sea level. So, if its a tropical storm, they may begin looking at it at 500 feet. As it becomes a hurricane, they step their approaches up. A Cat 1 may see them go in at 1,500 feet and so on.
They never go higher than 10,000 feet, even though these storms may be as high as 50,000 feet. That’s because of icing primarily and lightning strikes secondarily. Icing begins at about 14,000 feet. So while they’re equipped to do deicing, it puts the aircraft at further risk that is just not necessary to do the mission.
When Katrina was building, these folks were flying through her at 10,000 feet and sending invaluable information back to forecasters. Obviously their work has helped both forecasters and meteorologists learn a lot about the behavior of these storms. But more importantly, the Hurricane Hunters have helped sharpen landfall forecasting by 30%. What that means is when you see a storm track which shows where the hurricane might make landfall, it’s a 30% smaller footprint than it would be without the information the squadron provides forecasters.
It is estimated that it costs $1 million to evacuate a single mile of coastline. That reduction of 30%, depending on where the storm is forecasted to go, can mean eliminating the need to evacuate 50 to 100 miles of coastline. Or more simply said, because of that, the cost of all the missions they’ll fly in a year are normally paid for by the savings produced by one mission.
Their area of operations is from the international date line west of Hawaii to the Atlantic ocean. That is a huge AO. Additionally they fly winter storm missions as well. In all a most impressive group. If you’re interested, you can read more about them here.
Having taken the 3 hour flight (a simulated mission and a low-level pass over New Orleans), I’m now on a list to fly into an actual hurricane with them. That’s just too cool. So, with hurricane season starting on June 1st, I’m standing by and hoping for an opportunity (they said it could take up to 3 years) to snag one this year.
Update: I forgot to mention that there was TV media on the flight as well, and this was headlined as the “first blogger flight in the history of the Airforce”. So we were as much the story to them as the flight was to us. Here’s a local TV station’s treatment of the story. I don’t know who the “Bruce McSwain” guy is, but what is he says is true.
[Photos by Cindy Morgan]