All posts by Number9

No Deal Summit; Sometimes You Have to Walk

CNN has an interesting piece, What the pundits are getting wrong about the Trump-Kim summit. Since I think the writers also got some things wrong,  I thought of responding. But, too subtle. Now the news has handed me the kicker.  While  authors

The authors are professional diplomats. As well as credentials, the profession encompasses a system of thought, which is to say, they think like diplomats. Diplomacy in particular is vulnerable to systemic thought. A nation-state is the largest entity ruled by law. Attempting to bridge the lawless void that divides nations, diplomacy is a set of procedures without law. It tries to compensate for this lack with a very elaborate system. This is why diplomacy has often been a target of ridicule, and why, in the 20th century, foreign policy authority devolved away from the State Department, and to the inner counsels of the presidency.

Yes, sometimes you have to walk. This outcome was not anticipated by article authors because they are diplomats, and diplomacy is an aspirational profession. You aspire to make an agreement. The formal tools of diplomacy are used to facilitate, but the formalities do not characterize the personalities.

Diplomacy is aspirational; intelligence work is predictive. The two communities are as intellectually isolated as one could expect from this divergence. The direct  implication of the intelligence community’ for the Trump-Kim meeting could have been taken as “Don’t even try. Don’t waste your time.”

Though the intelligence community has been vindicated, the diplomats won’t recognize it as humiliation, because they did what their system requires,.  And Trump made no mistake.

Even though the result was highly predictable, does this mean that diplomacy should never be tried? Have a look at the triumphs of Henry Kissinger, which may have no equal in the 20th century. In both SALT and Middle East shuttle diplomacy, both sides wanted an agreement. Kissinger’s agency isolated the participants from personal friction, engendering thoughtful responses. We live with these benefits of diplomacy today.

There was a lot to argue with in the CNN article by . But I held my tongue, because the points of our disagreement were too subtle for impact. Now I can say it with a zinger:

They got too fancy too fast.




Turkey says Russian S-400 defense system purchase done deal

(Reuters) Turkey says Russian S-400 defense system purchase done deal. There is a purely technical reason why Turkey’s purchase should hard-block even limited acquisition of the F-35.

Stealth is both a system and a game. By operating both the F-35 and the S-400, the S-400 operator radar operators obtain unlimited test data on the stealth characteristics of the plane. The mass of data so acquired would exceed by a great margin normal exposure of the F-35 to adversary systems.

With this massive, artificial exposure, it could be possible to game the F-35, compromising its stealth defenses, destroying, for all the operators, billions of dollars of cumulative investment. Most of the stealth characteristics of the plane are in the geometry of the airframe. But the plane has other tricks as well, far too valuable to expose to Russian equipment.

The Turks could argue that they are trustworthy. But since the S-400 computers are Russian, they could  come with preinstalled, undetectable “malware” that eases transmission of F-35 data back to the Russians. It doesn’t have to be something as sneaky as a burst transmitter, although it’s interesting to consider how a data burst could be disguised in a radar pulse. It could be  as simple as  prepackaged data in a background process, preserved in unallocated memory for quick dump to a USB memory stick.

Rigorously considered, this is not a  foreign policy issue. It is a technical one, which mandates denial of the F-35 to Turkey.  Relations with Turkey cannot be allowed to intervene.

Let’s not spill these hard-won F-35 beans.


North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for Vietnam for summit with Trump

(Reuters) North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for Vietnam for summit with Trump. Quoting,

“If the present U.S. administration reads others’ faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity,”

Lend an ear? That’s from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the speech of  Marc Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;

Golly, I didn’t know they read Shakespeare in North Korea. But it’s good advice! Pass it on:


Another way of putting it is  Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club:

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

Put me down with Groucho. Now I must be going.


North Korea Summit II; February 2019; a New Proposal, IAEA

In North Korea’s past no indication, South Korea adviser; The Past is Prologue, I wrote, paraphrasing Shakespeare, “The past is prologue to the future.”

Nothing has transpired to change this. My estimate, which coincides with the CIA estimate, is given in the closing sentences of Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible.

I try to steer clear of domestic politics. But in predicting the outcome of a  one-on-one between two negotiators, a characteristic of the current president is relevant. In his mind, achievements are fungible — “If we can’t do this, we’ll do that.”  A fungible commodity is something that, lacking individual characteristics, is interchangeable. Pork bellies, or any other object of futures speculation, are fungible commodities. Money itself is fungible; a dollar is the same as any other dollar, provided it isn’t so ratty it’s rejected by the vending machine. Trump has other issues which are more important to him, which could serve as achievements fungible with Korea denuclearization.

Specialists will grade Trump on his accomplishments with North Korea. There are two methods; in comparison to his proclaimed goals, or in terms of what is actually possible. The game of politics will employ the first method. So I’ll use the second.

The pundits of open source can never be sure if there was a military option. Choke points continue to exist, notably described in Trump – Kim Summit; Tritium Choke Point. But since the first summit, Kim has dispersed his assets much in the way described by North Korea Buildout; Kim Defines the Game. Although a strike against tritium would have severe long-term effects, it would have no immediate effect on Kim’s now dispersed nuclear capability.

Trump came into office enthused about seemingly unlimited American power. Since then, he’s had an education. The calculation of nuclear terror implied by the above has had a tempering effect. A strike is unlikely unless Kim provides him with a pretext.

This is unlikely. It appears that Kim has had an education too, from his faceless Chinese mentors, who explained to him that the language of his father could, in fact, result in nuclear holocaust.

But Kim has not been educated in the way that the U.S. press, always interested in human interest stories, have suggested. During the last summit, we were inundated with handshake photos,  supplied gratis to the news agencies by the event organizers. We were invited to kibitz on personal cues, body language, and moments between two individuals who seemingly bonded on some level. The euphoria, suited to a royal wedding, was just nonsensical bullshit.

It’s not the job of the press to interpret (Reuters) North Korea’s Kim: I don’t want my children to bear burden of nuclear arms – report. But the context is missing. Kim has ordered the execution of hundreds of people. Notably: (Telegraph) Kim Jong-un’s ex-lover ‘executed by firing squad’. (CNN) Kim Jong Un ‘ordered’ half brother’s killing, South Korean intelligence says. Isn’t this useful context for the reader, as he stares at handshake photos and buddy-buddy moments? The public memory is short; it’s part of the job of the press to supply the context, even to resist the euphoria of the moment.

Quoting (The Hill) Questions swirl around Trump’s North Korea summit,

“If what comes out of this meeting next week are underwhelming concessions by the North Koreans, essentially, incremental and underwhelming concessions that attempt to resell the horse that they sold three times before, you know, the operative question for the summit then becomes what is the United States going to give up in return for those underwhelming concessions,” Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told reporters.

Grading by the first method, in comparison with Trump’s original goals, Cha’s outcome would not fare well with the pundits. But if the North Korea nuke question is captive to the fates, does it matter if Trump tries to smooth over the inconvenient fact?

I  take the liberty to suggest a way forward. The limits of the bilateral approach have become evident. The CIA estimate and my concurring opinion, that Kim is inseparable from his nukes, remain valid. But there may exist an alternative approach, which, if nothing else, assures that everything ethical has been done for the problem.

This involves the IAEA, which, distinct from the shortcomings of the Iran — Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has been  effective on the technical level of compliance. The specifics:

  • Kim admits the IAEA into North Korea, with freedom to go anywhere, including the undeclared sites.
  • Upon completion of the inventory, at our sole determination that the inventory is complete, very selective, term limited sanctions relief is provided and extended in return for compliance with a destruction schedule monitored by the IAEA.
  • Simultaneous with completion of the inventory process, a non-aggression clause is added to the Korean Armistice Agreement, durable as long as the IAEA certifies progressive compliance with the destruction protocol. This clause converts automatically into a full peace treaty upon certification by the IAEA that the de-nuking process has completed.

Till now, this has been impossible for two reasons: our refusal to accept the odious nature of the North Korean regime, and the choices of the regime itself. The first reason is now void.

Do I believe this is possible? I am not optimistic. Nothing about the nature of the North Korean regime suggests that it would work. You could say it’s a trap, and it probably is.

You got another idea?






Venezuela on the Brink; the Aid Factor

With  background of abortive attempts at change of government by quasi-legal means, criteria for a successful revolution are discussed in (1/23/2019) Revolution in Venezuela, Redux, and (8/7/2017) Revolution in Venezuela. The  missing element has been the lack of sanctuary in which to organize. Sanctuary can be geographic;  urban as with the French and Russian revolutions, or rural, as with Indochina,  or take the form of secret societies, with the 1952 Egypt revolution and the Arab Revolt as examples.

Up to this point, sanctuary has been inadequate.  (CNN) US officials secretly met with Venezuelan military officers plotting a coup against Maduro states that there was a request encrypted radios. The ground knowledge resulting in decline of the request might have elements such as:

  • Strong-arm centrality, without proven popular support for the actors.
  • Unsavory elements among the actors, such as narco-military associations.
  • Lack of sanctuary, which is why encrypted radios were thought so crucial by the actors. Too crucial, in fact; a successful example of a secret society in action, with no “high tech” at all, is the partisan action in Vienna at the close of World War II, resulting in the mostly peaceful handover (not liberation!) of the city to Soviet troops (Toland, The Last 100 Days, Part 3, ISBN 0-8129-6859-X)

(CNN) Violence flares at Venezuela’s border; Maduro breaks off relations with Colombia includes a video from Cúcuta, Colombia, at the border with Venezuela. Nick Robertson explains why mass defections have not yet occurred: Political power in Venezuela is about who controls the bread line.

In Redux, I wrote,

As Venezuela’s oil output drifts towards zero, the subsidy to the rural poor will vanish. As a sanctuary most of the country will become available.

While the above requires that Venezuela’s batteries discharge completely before revolution can progress, it may now be catalyzed in the border regions, with military elements defecting wholesale to whoever can feed them. This is why Maduro fears the aid.

Is this the first revolution with the bread basket in the vanguard? Probably, though prior to the 2011 Egypt Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood built their base by providing social services, including food.







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.