Putin’s Navy Attacks Ukraine Gunboats

The Daily Beast is most informative: Putin’s Navy Attacks Ukraine Gunboats and Hands Trump a New Crisis He’d Like to Ignore.

The transit of the Kerch Strait was announced in advance. (Wikipedia, Sea of Azov), “In September 2018, Ukraine announced the intention to add navy ships and further ground forces along the coast of the Sea of Azov, with the ships based at Berdyansk.”


  • The gunboats were newly built in Ukraine. This implies long-term intent, not political theater.
  • After seizure of the Ukraine, and prior to the new gunboats, the Ukrainian navy had few boats appropriate for “showing the flag” in the Sea of Azov.
  • The Ukrainian mission was not routine, though similar events may have occurred since 9/24/2018. (Unverified source,To Inform is to Influence): Russians Harass Ukrainian Navy Units in Azov Sea and Black Sea (IMINT)
  • The  transit was an attempt by Ukraine to reestablish the norm formalized by the 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty guaranteeing dual use of the Sea of Azov.

We have a bias against the Russian version because the Kerch Strait became a disputed area as a consequence of the illegal Russian seizure of the Crimea. The  seizure of Ukraine vessels  compounds  previous aggression.

But for prediction of the consequences, we have to (temporarily) take the Russian point of view. They point out that Crimea was gifted by Russia to Ukraine in 1954. Had Russia not committed further aggression against Ukraine, this historical fact might have been the basis of a settlement.

The prediction is that this does not presage a Russian invasion. Neither is it a “political stunt” by Petro Poroshenko. It is a sad consequence of a changed reality based on Russian aggression:

  • The Ukrainian desire to reinforce a right they, and the West in general, think they have, by a freedom-of-navigation transit similar in purpose to U.S. transits in the South China Sea.
  • A possible mine sweeping (or mine laying) role (read down.)
  • The Russian desire to reinforce their belief of the status of Crimea, which implies that the Kerch Strait is no longer an international body of water. Frustration with the stalled Minsk Protocol may also figure.
  • Prior Russian aggression in Ukraine has been stealthy. It would be contrary to this pattern, with no apparent purpose, to telegraph an offensive.

Does the Ukrainian “mosquito boat” navy have an essential purpose, other than to show the flag?  An assertion has been made: Ukrainian naval base in Azov Sea to counter mine threat. Quoting,

Ukraine’s naval base, which is to be set in the Sea of Azov by the end of the year in Berdyansk (Zaporizhia region), will counter mine threat, as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Navy Andriy Ryzhenko told Hromadske.

“The main task of the base is to protect the ports of the Azov Sea and provide security of shipping, which means carrying out anti-mine measures. It’s a priority direction of the development of the naval forces,” he said.

This interesting assertion has not been corroborated. Alternatively, the Ukraine boats may have the purpose of laying mines. Ex-Navy commander suggests mining Azov Sea to prevent Russia’s attack.


Providing for the Common Defense; Report of National Defense Strategy Commission, Part 1

With grave concern for the defense of the U.S., the purpose of this series is to constructively undermine the report (download (pdf): Providing for the Common Defense; The Assessment of the National Defense Strategy Commission.) The report contains substitutions of sentiment for reason. We will explore why the substitutions occur, consequences, and possible  remedies. By undermining, we stimulate  debate over optimization of limited resources.

Even before biologists discovered DNA,  they concluded that life is a process. This replaced the earlier belief that life was inhabited by some mysterious vital force that distinguished it from the inanimate. A high point of the report is the emphasis that war fighting is also a process, not merely a collection of assets arrayed for the destruction of those of the enemy. From page 42, (see also p68)

Throughout our work, we found that DOD struggled to link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs and resources. ...It hampers the Secretary’s ability to design, assess, and implement the NDS...

This   is seemingly the easiest to solve, with the highest likely ROI. The report correctly notes that it is only one facet of the problem, which depends upon many other capital-intensive factors.

Undermining the report of the Commission could have several basic strategies:

  • Contradiction the assertion of deficiencies.
  • Greater priorities in the non defense budget.
  • Priority of the national debt.
  • Errors of logic.
  • Recommendations are  non-actionable in form.

For simplicity, let’s start with just the last two points.  Simplicity is hard to find.

Contributor Andrew Krepinevich offers an opinion of dissent from certain aspects of the report, “Additional Views… “(p72-75), which include  errors of logic and non-actionable recommendations. Confusing “operational challenge” with “capability” may seem a small thing to the nonspecialist reader. But this fuzzy confusion is symptomatic of one of report’s several major defects. Without exception, every conceivable area of weapons technology and deployment is identified as requiring more investment.  The report possibly leaves out raincoats, rubbers, and umbrellas.

Since the report is a public document, and Krepinevich says it so well, there is no need to paraphrase. Quoting,

Simply put, the Commission would do well to follow its own advice before advancing recommendations regarding the size, structure, mix, and posture of U.S. forces and their capabilities. As the Commission states:

"Specifically, the Department needs a rigorous force development plan that connects its investment strategy with its key priorities of winning in conflict and competing effectively with China and Russia. That plan must have a clear force sizing construct to illuminate
the strategy’s ambition and risks. Such a force development architecture should provide answers to the following questions:"

Krepinevich quotes the Commission’s questions of page 42, about objectives, operational concepts, regional considerations, multi-theater (more than one war at a time), the meaning of deterrence, and how priorities relate. He goes on to write,

Other than stating the obvious—it’s better to have more military capability than less—no analytic support is presented as to why these particular forces and capabilities are more deserving of priority than others.

This is startling, given that the Commission criticizes the Department for its lack of analytic rigor. As the Commission states with respect to DOD’s ability to make informed decisions with respect to defense priorities.

In summary, it seems profoundly unhelpful for the Commission to state the analytic foundation required for DOD to make informed choices regarding defense priorities, and then proceed to ignore it in advancing priorities of its own.

Put another way, the recommendations of the report are mostly non-actionable, other than to throw money at the problem.

Since the authors of the report are intelligent people who hold advanced degrees, is there something special about the problem of defense that resists brainpower? David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest chronicles the failure of intellectual brilliance in the context of the Vietnam War. As a warning of historical reprise, it is invaluable. Of a land war in Asia, it is identical.

The astute reader will note that our undermining effort is so far completely secular. Without referral to any particular assertion, the authority of the report weakens. The report may remain entirely valid, but we are enabled to look for alternatives. Let’s continue to explore why intellect has failed so often. The report inspires fear. Why?

Since the 70’s, the use of computers in simulation has steadily grown. Physical gadgets, designed by computer, are simulated in the computer before they are made, predicting how they will perform before they are even built. For a system-in-a-box, such as a nuclear warhead, it works very well. In weather forecasting, moderately well. Other systems are inherently chaotic. For these, simulation works poorly.  For hypersonic vehicles, there is no substitute for flight. Simulations of the human body are so poor, doctors keep changing their minds about what we should eat.

This uncertainty affects our understanding of weapons systems. The performance of a weapon system:

  • may be very well known by future projection, but inexplicable to nonspecialists.  Example: the F-35 plane.
  •  against an adversary may be in question. Lacking information obtainable only by espionage, it may always be in question, regardless of the qualities of the weapon.
  • against an adversary may be well known, but impossible to explain to nonspecialists in a credible way, or revealing secrets that are the essence of superiority. “We know why it will prevail, but we can’t tell you.”
  • may be known to be deficient, with remedy available.
  • may be known to be deficient, with no possible remedy.

The above are distinguished by gaps,  unknowns, and what Donald Rumsfeld calls the “unknown unknowns.” The gaps are filled by fear.

Since the 1960’s, the press, Congress, the military, and even exalted think tanks such as RAND have miscategorized programs in both ways, successful as unsuccessful, and the reverse. I have a list in my head; it seems equally divided.  Public memory is short, but you may remember that the F-35 was originally pegged by some “authorities”, including RAND, as a failure.  A recent fly-off hints it may be comparable to the F-22. (Investors Business Daily)

The reasons an apparently inferior airplane could perform in a superior manner cannot be explained without reference to classified performance data. To release the data would destroy the advantage. The audience that could understand that data is small. Lawmakers are not significantly different from the general population unless they happen to have engineering degrees. Most do not. Government is, after all, a social endeavor, about people, not machines. This problem permeates debate about defense.

Since the intended audience is challenged by a problem that defeated the best and the brightest, the report resorts to the universal chord,  fear. This does not mean it is irrelevant. But as fear lacks authority, we might take Fichte/Hegel’s advice: call it a thesis. Think thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

The report stops short of antithesis.  To attempt synthesis here would be foolish. But by undermining, we open the way.

To be continued shortly.


U.S. military might “struggle to win, or perhaps lose” war with China or Russia, report says

(CBS) U.S. military might “struggle to win, or perhaps lose” war with China or Russia, report says.

Now that we’ve had fun with Agatha Christie, I will soon bore you to tears with (pdf) Providing for the Common Defense; The Assessment of the National Defense Strategy Commission.

The assessment of military deficiencies is correct, but the implication that remediation solves our problems, in the absence of geopolitical realignment, is false.

It’s a depressing topic, but dwarfs the importance of the monthly murder mystery.

CIA has concluded Saudi crown prince ordered journalist’s killing: Washington Post

Via CNN, since it has no paywall, CIA has concluded Saudi crown prince ordered journalist’s killing: Washington Post. Quoting,

The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi….Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said…The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear if Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother’s direction.

In Khashoggi Killing a Rogue Op? Saudi Renaissance, I wrote,

(CNN)Saudi former diplomat called ‘pivotal’ in Khashoggi’s apparent killing. Did Saudi intelligence officer and diplomat Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb have a case of double vision,  deciding himself to murder Khashoggi? Or was it Prince Salman’s decision? Given Salman’s age, either is possible. It is possible that Prince Salman enabled Mutreb, without actually approving the deed. The recent suppression of dissent, which has dismayed supporters of the prince, could have given Mutreb his inspiration to murder.

Open source cannot compete with U.S.  signals intelligence. But the quality of the given explanation is poor.  For the open source enthusiast, this is an opportunity to study nuances.

Absent additional information, which may exist, the phone calls shows only Prince Salman’s awareness that Khashoggi would visit the consulate.  The implication of the phone calls requires an additional predicate, such as Salman’s desire to murder Khashoggi, or to kidnap him. The dispatch of the “kill team” does not directly follow from the phone call. Yet C.I.A. conclusion may be valid, relying on information that cannot be released. Fact may be presented as opinion, with reasons other than the actual, to cloak clandestine methods and sources.

For the intelligence community, protection of methods and sources is paramount. Even if it is desirable that the end product be made public, these considerations frequently intervene. The C.I.A. conclusion has possible basis in three general areas:

  • C.I.A ‘s  team of Prince Salman’s specialists have developed a composite behavioral model over many years, from multiple sources, including signals and humint. This cannot be part of the public statement.
  • Signals intelligence that cannot be disclosed shows that Salman gave the order to kill.
  • Poor analysis. This is unlikely. The C.I.A. does not pay analysts to present prejudice as considered opinion.

The same ambiguity presents in Poisoned Door Handle Hints at High-Level Plot to Kill Spy, U.K. Officials Say.  Quoting the NY Times,

This operation is seen as so risky and sensitive that it is unlikely to have been undertaken without approval from the Kremlin, according to officials who have been briefed on the early findings of the inquiry.

Quoting (NY Times, 9/18) U.K. Charges 2 Men in Novichok Poisoning, Saying They’re Russian Agents,

“This was not a rogue operation,” she said. “It was almost certainly also approved outside the G.R.U. at a senior level of the Russian state.”

This may be true, obtained from methods and sources, that cannot be disclosed, but as with the Khashoggi murder, the given reasoning is weak. In both cases, the element of competence of the perpetrators, expected from a nation-state, was missing. Khashoggi’s killers were unfamiliar with the bugging of consulates. The Soviet Union had a wide variety of assassination weapons and poison applicators, yet Skripal’s assassins lacked a specialized applicator for Novichok, relying instead on a modified perfume bottle, contaminating multiple locations in Salisbury and London. For a serviceable tool design, see Poisoned Door Handle Hints at High-Level Plot to Kill Spy, U.K. Officials Say.

The fascination with the whodunit aspects distracts us from important matters. All nations have savagery in their past, but for some, the past is more recent than others. Although Joseph Stalin is not noted as a moralist, he did say, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

Five men may lose their heads so Salman can save his. Yet monsters with unknown faces wait in the wings to take his place.  This results from the judgment of barbarity by our own exalted standards.