UK Think They Can Mitigate Huawei Risks

(CNN) UK spies think they can handle Huawei in 5G networks. The US doesn’t agree.

The Brits are wrong, the U.S. is right. Quoting,

The National Cyber Security Centre declined to comment Monday on the specifics of the Financial Times report but said in a statement that it has “a unique oversight and understanding of Huawei engineering and cyber security.”

“Unique oversight”  suggests that the Brits have intelligence assets inside Huawei. That doesn’t mean they always will. Neither does it rule out the possibility that the Chinese will at some point play what in the intelligence trade is called a deception game with those assets. One of the many ironies of this British choice is the Cambridge Five. But the spy business is a high risk game. There’s no point in building the same risk into your infrastructure.

The specifics are discussed in Huawei, Security, and British GCHQ. This is the layman’s takeaway: Nothing which is now true need stay that way. The risk is analogous to inviting someone with a long rap sheet  to share your flat. But this is common sense.

Yet common sense can be  a defective approach to problem solving. Most of the time, expertise punches holes in common sense. This time, it’s the reverse. To wit,

  • A smartphone is a sophisticated computer. Infrastructure, such Huawei would be contracted to supply, has immense digital complexity.
  • Computers are hacked all the time.
  • Brits, like everybody else, have been hacked ad infinitum.
  • The man-on-the-street conclusion: It’s nuts to let Huawei in.

U.K. politicians, afraid of China’s immense economic clout, have pressured U.K. specialists charged with security to come up with a solution, which they call “mitigation.” This is like mitigating cancer. Let’s skip the Big C  entirely.

The Brits are inviting the endless game of scissors-paper-rock, Huawei-common sense-specialists and around we go.

(The Diplomat) Pompeo Warns European Partners That US May Scale Back Cooperation Over Huawei Concerns. This is unfortunately justified, whether you are more or less of an internationalist than Mike Pompeo.

This time, you just can’t beat common sense.




Russia’s Hypersonic Missile; Reverse Engineering Secrets of Avangard

Warning: For Techies Only. Part 3 will return to a presentation suitable for the general reader. Diagram included, as supplied by the beautiful Russian spy “Natasha.”

Let’s reverse engineer the Avangard, using only the information (or disinformation) that is publicly available, which is:

  • The length is stated to be 5.4 meters.
  • It carries a warhead of at least 2 megatons.
  • The body structure is made of carbon fiber plastic with ablative qualities similar to the U.S. “carbon-carbon.”
  • It can make high-G maneuvers.
  • It travels at suborbital velocity, below the Kármán line.
  • It is powered by a solid-fuel scramjet.
  • It blows up at the end.
  • It was done on the cheap.

From this we can deduce:

  • It is single-use only, so it’s tolerable if the airframe literally changes shape in the few minutes of flight.
  • It is a “cold-body” vehicle. The carbon structural material ablates, shedding off the body, carrying heat away.  In comparison, the Boeing X-51 Waverider is a “hot-body” vehicle, where substantial heat is conducted to parts of the airframe, though critical parts are made of carbon-carbon.
  • The weight of the warhead “physics package” is 1 metric ton or more.
  • It has a dense concentration of mass, in the physics package.
  • Since the final version travels at suborbital velocity, the requirement of airframe generated lift is minimal.
  • Since the speed of the vehicle creates an ionization envelope, guidance must be entirely inertial. The thing is blind as a bat.

This is not a spy job. In what follows, the style should not imply that covert information was used. It’s a derivation, but it’s based on the facts that the Russians are not 10 feet tall, and they think like us, so the solution must be in plain view.

Although some loss of accuracy, compared to a ballistic vehicle, is allowed, it has to be controllable enough for the inertial guidance system to have something to work with. Hence these requirements:

  • Control, without skinny control surfaces like fins, that would burn off or change shape in flight.
  • The scramjet must have throttling capability. (Challenging, but there is an interesting solution.)

Since it was done on the cheap, yet achieving much higher speeds than the X-51, the designers exploited existing technologies and principles, of which there are a lot. While the U.S. effort attempts to create a new performance regime with hydrodynamic simulation on supercomputers, the Avangard takes another approach. Hypersonic “flight”, both mostly-aerodynamic and almost-ballistic, dates to the early 1960’s. Before computational hydrodynamics, there was intuition, which can be used here to reduce the size of the problem to apparently solvable proportions.

We know the Avangard designers used hydrodynamic simulation. This has come out with the jailing of some of the designers, for the sin of sharing their success with some of their former European collaborators. So how does their approach differ from the U.S., and possibly the Chinese? They chose an approach based on existing hypersonic vehicles, perturbing the designs to arrive at a new but nearby “regime” of flight.

“Perturb” means to start with something familiar, or comparatively simple, by small  steps making it different, until you arrive at the design you want. Here, the Russians had three starting points of great comfort:

  • The elongated cone of a MIRV reentry vehicle, which has been studied ad nauseum.
  • Nonlinear control theory based on the Lyapunov function, which has been applied by everybody and his brother to the above, to control the attitude of a MIRV with reaction jets.
  • The prior use, way back, of moveable weights to control a blunt-cone reentry vehicle. The U.S. MARV design dates to at least 1963.

There were these new elements:

  • Flat surface to generate compression lift.
  • Scramjet inlet with some way to throttle.
  • Control of attack angle by moving the heavy physics package within the vehicle body,  with further trim by reaction jets.
  • High-g maneuver capability without loss of stability.
  • A sophisticated control system that can work with control actuators that are highly interdependent in effect. The control actuators are simple, the control problem is complex.

A nonlinear system can be made conditionally stable. Some designs are more stable than others. Like almost all high performance aircraft, if a Boeing Waverider is pushed out of its stability envelope, it enters a regime from which the control system cannot recover. Yet a beach ball, or sphere of any kind, doesn’t have this problem. The more maneuverable the craft is, the more opportunities for loss of control.

This implies Avangard is compact, massive, and has only one aerodynamic control surface, which can be positioned only by changing the attitude of the entire structure.  It is immune to inertia coupling, and almost immune to mode couplings of any kind. This is possible because it is only marginally an aerodynamic vehicle.  Most of the “lift” results from the trajectory. Since “straight” for the Avangard is actually a curve with the radius of the earth, it is acted upon by the “fictitious” centrifugal force. Original tests at much lower speeds were done with deadweight much less than the 1000kg of an actual physics package.

The scramjet outlet, on the cold rear surface, was barely a problem, though inertia coupling had to be considered. This diagram was given to me by loving “Natasha” one fine spring day in Gorky Park. She asked me, “Would you like to feed the birds?”, and handed me a bag of bird seed containing the diagram. I’ll never forget her foot-long cigarette holder, or the clip-clop of her stiletto heels. Diagrams 1, 2, and 3 illustrate the perturbation:

1: The MIRV cone is cut by a plane, creating an initially small lifting surface. It is enlarged by iteration.

2.: The scramjet inlet duct is introduced the same way.

  • Attack angle theta is introduced.
  • The scramjet is throttled by changing the attack angle, which varies the area of the inlet duct exposed to the air stream. This is not independent control, but it’s enough.
  • By shifting the position of the physics package “P”, L1 and L2 vary, changing the pitch (attack angle.)
  • Reaction jets on the cold rear surface provide 3-degrees of freedom, rotating the vehicle body, and adding to pitch control.
  • Location of “P” far forward, L1 >> L2, increases the force moment of the reaction jets.
  • Concentration of mass at the forward end reduces the potential of inertial coupling.

3:  In further iterations, the  lifting surface is enlarged.  Shown also is increased theta for sharp maneuver and increased scramjet inlet duct area.

Avangard is not an airplane. It is not a general purpose solution, but there is elegance in simplicity. The purpose of deterrence is well served, at minimal cost. We should consider this without shame. The Russians realized that because strategic nuclear deterrent has no political purpose, the level of refinement implied by current U.S. hypersonic research is unnecessary.

You’re probably wondering what happened to Natasha. She exfiltrated Russia by a route I cannot disclose, and was resettled in the U.S. under a protection program. She made an indie film about her escape, which you can see here.


Russia’s Hypersonic Missile; Anti Missile Systems, Part 1

What follows is a logical continuation of Withdrawal from INF Treaty. Have a look if you haven’t.

Checking out the web, I could not find a single article that actually explains the guts of this issue to the layman. The news outlets are satisfied with simple screaming messages, while the boutique sites are influenced their sources, which come mainly from within the defense industry.  Theodore Postol is one of the few individuals who has the expertise, and resistance to temptations of skin-in-the-game. His arguments  credibly serve the anti anti-missile side of the debate. His allegations of fraud in the ABM program are credible, and were preceded many years by a dissection of the inevitable failure of missile defense.

I prefer to  say nothing about myself, but you should know  I am not a pacifist. I believe it is our moral obligation to provide the U.S. military with the best weapons that money can buy. I look favorably upon the F-35, F-22, OspreyLong Range Strike Bomber program, stealth cruise missiles, Virginia class submarines,  Ford class aircraft carriers,  directed energy weapons, drones, advanced ground weapons, and our own hypersonic developments.

When weapons systems are so complex that nobody outside the field can understand them, it’s human nature that there are going to be ripoffs. When Secretary James Mattis was in charge, there was some reassurance that this would not happen. Now  the gates are open to defense carpetbaggers. Anti-missile systems that don’t work divert money desperately needed in other areas of defense. The game was anticipated by Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his Farewell Address:

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.[1]

For readers outside the U.S., Dwight Eisenhower was a five-star general, Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe,  and 34th president of the U.S. His words speak loud to us now.

Think on that. I’m on a roll.

State of the Union, Smart Wall

This blog tries to avoid politics. The SOTU makes a technical reference to the proposed wall, so we comment.

Quoting from Feasibility of the Southern Border Wall?

A smart wall is simply an extension of battlefield technology. The modern battlefield is alive with sensors, enabling rapid, accurate response. While military use centers on lethal force, the smart wall is compatible with minimized lethality. In Israel, border barriers comprise mainly (AZ Central) steel fences, augmented by sensor fusion to provide detailed information about who is doing what to the barrier, and where.

Any damage to a steel fence, even a truck bomb, can be repaired in a few hours, versus months for a concrete wall.

Quoting (CNN) SOTU,

This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down.

It is gratifying that, whatever the inspiration, “smart” technology is part of the discussion.

Trump wants U.S. military in Iraq to ‘watch Iran’: CBS interview

This will not be an attempt to interpret Trump’s statement, except to note that “watch” is a passive activity.  Even presidents who have communicated in the most direct manner have seldom accurately predicted the implications of their own statements.  The influence of senior Republicans is growing. But whatever the intended future is, it is subject to the winds and currents of Iraq, now discussed.

The long term base of U.S. operations is in western Iraq, a Sunni region, disconnected in religion, culture, and national feeling, from the south and east. This increases the viability of a  U.S. presence, but not indefinitely.

Trump’s concern about Iranian domination of Iraq is something I’ve written about. In Is Iraq Headed for Another Civil War?, I wrote about changes likely to occur with the passing of Iraq’s senior and very elderly Ayatollah Sistani:

The Shiite Iraq that follows the passing of Sistani will not be a permissive setting for American operations. Other parts of it, such as the Kurdish area, might be. But the kinds of cultural shift and political combinations that would make a viable rump state are prohibited by the strange-to-us cultural animosities. Iran, a unified and disciplined state, would steamroller it.

Widespread failure of government to provide services is the catalyst, most apparent in Basra. Hence, Speculation: Iran Takes Over Basra; What to Watch For.

On 9/29/2027, in The Kurd Referendum; Implications for U.S. Policy, I wrote,

Unless Brinton’s sequence can be averted, the U.S. position will become untenable. The nature of extremists could make resolution impossible. The curtain on this conflict rises perhaps a year, or a bit more, from now.

Ayatollah Sistani is hanging on, but the reasoning remains valid. The logic is hard for the Westerner to understand; how could the passing of an elderly religious figure be so pivotal? It shouldn’t feel so strange, since this country is stocked with minor religious figures, each of whom exercise sway over their adherents with frequent Constitutional friction. In Iraq, which, as a colonial creation, lacks a national myth, these allegiances fill a vacuum.

This is the level of Iran’s intent. It is also the root of Iraq’s Shiite insurgency, which glows like a banked fire. Iran can stir the coals at will. That this option can be held up by an old man in a robe results from the regional concept of legitimacy. But Iran, the empire of the mind, is patient enough to watch paint dry.

The title of Michael Axworthy’s book, A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, clues us in.  The ancient regional cultures spend great effort weaving and maintaining intricate theological skeins. This is their alternative to  Western thought, which has come to be dominated by logical positivism, and its simple prescriptions.

 Western coverage of the Iraqi reaction to bases is thin, though  (NY Times) Angered at Trump’s Visit, Some Iraqi Lawmakers Want U.S. Troops Out mentions some of the actors. Quoting,

The most strident denunciations came from politicians affiliated with Moktada al-Sadr, the nationalist Shiite cleric whose supporters won the largest share of votes in parliamentary elections last May. Mr. Sadr has been an outspoken opponent of all foreign forces in Iraq.

Hamad Allah al-Rikabi, the official spokesman of the pro-Sadr bloc in Parliament, said Mr. Trump’s visit reflected “the recklessness of the United States of America in its dealing with others.”

The best quotes of Iraqi reactions to the bases, which I prefer not to cite, are offered by Russian propaganda organs, motivated by their natural adversarial inclinations.   The usual searches that includes “RT” and “Presstv” brings them up.

 With the possible exception of Basra, an Iran takeover would not be a tanks-across-the-border affair.  It would stoke the banked fires via the means implied by Axworthy’s title. This might be an occasion to review the question of Muqtada al-Sadr, Iranian Mole? His distance from earlier Iranian ties is unconvincing.  When Soviet agents were recruited from the Communist Party of the USA, they were instructed to resign their party memberships.

Recent human interest stories suggest national feeling transcending the tribes.  But samplings from an urban, capitol region do not present a true picture. The persistence of  ISIS provides a clue, about the Iraq that can’t quite finish it off.

ISIS is not Iran, but the Iraq response towards ISIS illuminates the fractured political structure that Iran would  dissolve, dominate, and replace. Conveniently, the idea to dissolve Iraq is promoted by a Kurdish professor; (Basnews) Dissolving Iraq Helps Middle East Relief: Research.  The Iranians didn’t have to invent it. Neither did I, in Is Iraq Headed for Another Civil War?

 The inability of groups fractured by tribal allegiances to cooperate,  and lack of national feeling combine to provide ISIS with sanctuary in the boundary areas between ethnic groups. See (Wilson) U.S. Update on ISIS in Iraq in Syria.

“Watch Iran” sounds a little ambiguous. It invites us to fill in the blank purpose of bases in western and far western Anbar:

  • Prevent coordination between ISIS in Syria with ISIS in Iraq.
  • Help the Sunni majority of Anbar cohere as a political unit.
  • Enable pro U.S. rump states if Iran takes the southern part.
  • Sitting astride the Damascus-Baghdad road, impede Iran’s projection  into the Levant.
  • Serve as a base for reentry to Iraq through Saudi Arabia. In the 1991 Gulf War, a western bypass  (though not as far west as Anbar)  was used by the “left hook” of VII Corps under Fred Franks. H.R. McMaster had a dramatic role in the Battle of 73 Easting.

The far west locations of the bases provide some insulation against sectarian strife. But how Iraq will fall apart is as hard as predicting how a goblet will shatter when dropped.

  • For a clean break into a few large pieces, the bases are an asset.
  • Bases are useful if there is enough coherence to request U.S. assistance, but the U.S. response would have to be massive.
  • With total shattering, and  many sharp pieces, the bases become “Mortarvilles”, exposed to grinding attrition.

Watching a country dissolve could be interesting. Watch Iran? I’d rather watch paint dry.












Withdrawal from INF Treaty

The is a tragic outcome, for which both the U.S. and Russia must share the blame. The SSC-8 is a technical violation; abrogation comes against a deep background of distrust.

The Russian error of a generation is Ukraine. In one stroke, or perhaps two,  the Peace Dividend was eradicated. With a little money and love, Russia could have bought Ukraine back into the Russian orbit.  The nerve gas episode in Britain has had a huge impact, far beyond the death of one innocent. Ditto for election hacking; it bought them nothing. The Russians seem to have a talent for creating enemies.

These are the indirect causes of U.S. abrogation, more important than the added redundancy of nuclear devastation that the SSC-8 provides. Had it not been for Ukraine, relations of the West with Russia would be on a different plane, where the SSC-8 would be a technical violation of little  political import.

Russia might argue that the eastward expansion of NATO is an indirect cause. NATO gets a pass for this reason: The Iron Curtain is a living memory for many. Russia does not understand that fear (not hatred) of Russia runs as deep in Eastern Europe as Russia’s fear of the West. Like the common cold, fear is the gift that keeps on giving. As with Ukraine, Russia could have bought Europe with kindness, instead of having Europeans recoil with fear into the strong arms of the U.S.

The U.S. error, which probably inspired  development of the SSC-8, is more subtle, the misplaced confidence in antimissile systems, which implies to the Russians that they work against their ballistic missiles. Hence the SSC-8, which is not a ballistic missile.

Each side fears weapons of the other that “do not work”, where the quotation signifies defective thinking, which leads to defective criteria for evaluating  weapons systems. Twenty, and even ten years ago, this was better understood. But the press, which is also the working memory of many people, became amnesiac, forgetting all they had learned in the era of SALT.

(Parenthetic note to Kay Bailey Hutchison. (BBC) Tensions rise as US threatens to ‘take out’ Russian missiles. Quoting,

“At that point we would be looking at the capability to take out a (Russian) missile that could hit any of our countries,” she said, adding counter-measures (by the US) would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty.”

Kay, you’re talking about starting a war. Shut your mouth, or say what you mean.)

Gradually, phrases such as “Russian missile that can evade U.S. missile defenses” have become part of the current vocabulary. This goes along with the idea, popularized by Kay, that limited war involving the territories of U.S. and Russia can actually be contemplated. Not so!

Kay’s crap feeds into the  Russian fear that these defenses might actually work, which resulted in  a new generation of Russian ICBMs, actually fractional orbital bombardment systems, to evade our nonfunctional defenses.

There has never been a test of an antimissile system against the number of simultaneous targets of an actual attack. The success rate of our most elaborate antimissile, the Ground Based Interceptor, is 4/7. It might improve our chances with a “fat-finger” accidental launch. Against a deliberate barrage of missiles, it is useless.

The NATO missile shield is a case of mission creep. The original goal of the system was stated to be North Korea and Iran, which, it was anticipated, would have only a few low quality missiles for many years. The terminal velocity of the interceptor vehicle limits it to that role. It is not fast enough to catch a Russian ICBM.

Corresponding to the delusion that our defensive systems work, there is the fear that our offensive systems don’t. The U.S. fears that Russia’s air defense “miracle”, the S-400 actually breaks this rule of antimissile impotence, making airspace completely deniable to all kinds of missiles  and planes. Yet in the 2018 cruise missile strike against Syria’s Shayrat airbase, 60 U.S. missiles were launched, one fell into the sea, while 59 impacted the target with precision. Russia’s S-400 installation did not launch a single missile. And the U.S. cruise missiles had no stealth characteristics, other than the important ability to hug the terrain.

One year later, with plenty of time to tune their S-400, the Russians had another chance. In the 2018 missile strikes against Syria, 105 missiles were launched, with none intercepted. Europe is equally vulnerable to Russian cruise missiles, including the disputed SSC-8, which the Russians will not allow us to inspect.

Why are we afraid? Because this is a version of the White Crow Problem (can’t prove a negative), or, if you want to get formal about it, the Raven Problem. This level of reasoning is frequently ignored, even by the engineering community, and it’s impossible to explain to politicians — unless they happen to be ex-engineers. Mike Pompeo has the background to understand it very well, which makes me wonder what is going on.

The U.S. has a legitimate concern about the ability of the S-400 to deny airspace to manned aircraft. But perspective is required. Prior to the S-400, a certain amount of effort, which Israel has demonstrated to be almost casual, was required to evade or disable Syrian defenses, which are at the typical level of obsolescence of minor militaries. With the S-400, depending upon the terrain, it may be unavoidably necessary to take active measures, rather than simple avoidance and jamming.

The $406B F-35 program is designed to counter the specific threat of the SS-400. The money has not been wasted; the performance F-35, to the surprise of many, is stellar.  The ECM (electronic countermeasures) capabilities of the F-35 are barely mentioned. The whole business of ECM is highly secretive, because so much of it is based on very agile application of sheer brainpower, and technical collections of espionage. This leaves a gap in the minds of the  public — tell us why it should work, with the necessary silence of reply.

Again, the white crow problem; prove it won’t fail. Probability theory has this answer, which applies to all the other questions of this piece, including the inverse: Russia can’t prove the S-400 won’t fail. This is much more powerful reasoning than noting that the  S-400, which has large missiles with lots of kinetic energy, doesn’t have  very many launch tubes.  The Patriot, with much smaller, less energetic missiles, stacks them 4 per tube. Both are helpless against hypersonic vehicles. But now we’re descending into the forest, and as we sink, we see only trees.

This is the cause of an arms race: Prove it won’t fail.  But this is getting long.

I’ll be back.