The U.S. took another step towards closure on the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing on Sunday. A year after a SEALs strike took down Osama bin Laden, one of al-Qaeda’s local operators for the Cole bombing, an American drone strike killed Fahd al Quso in Yemen with the Yemeni government’s blessing.
Quso’s death leaves only Jamal al-Badawi at large, another al-Qaeda local operator in the bombing and fellow FBI Top 10 Most Wanted Lister. The U.S. military is holding Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, the Cole mastermind and field commander in Guantanamo Bay, and will bring him before a military commission trial in November where he faces the death penalty.
Quso escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003, was re-imprisoned after he turned himself in and in 2004 sentenced to 10 years. He served 5 until Yemen secretly released him in 2007. In May 2010, Quso issued a statement again threatening U.S. warships. Later that year the U.S. State Department designated him a global terrorist, but he had always faced U.S. charges and had a bounty on his head.
While not belittling the serious threat posed by Quso, his efforts had a touch of the slapstick. The Cole was the second bombing attempt – the first failed to strike the USS The Sullivans when the plotters overloaded the boat, which sank before hitting its mark. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the Cole bombing was also less than the propaganda coup al-Qaeda hoped for as Quso, who was to film the attack from an apartment nearby, overslept and missed the action.
Sunday’s actions bring the U.S. Navy once step closer to book-ending the Cole bombing in a similar way achieved with 9/11 last year. But as the world is forever a changed place since that day in September, the significant increase in anti-terrorism / force protection measures implemented since the Cole will remain in place long after the U.S. reaches closure on that October.
The week started out with a good article at MIT on direct civilian involvement in last year’s Libyan conflict (hat tip – YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III, nearly as much a mouthful as my own name, at U.S. Naval Institute’s blog). While such involvement is nothing new, the author, John Pollock, and Gauthier document how citizens can take advantage of new technology to multiply their impact and help organize or redirect both the application and aims of state power.
Now Wired’s Danger Room is reporting on a clever and humorous hoax by some New York University students who most clearly demonstrated the potential for direct civilian involvement through a very convincing kickstarter knock-off: kickstricker, for sponsoring the missions you’d just love to see get done but can’t seem to convince your own military to take on. While just a prank for now, the technology, model, and motivation are clearly out there.
Beyond funding extra missions, the kickstricker hoax also demonstrated the renewed potential for directly funding state militaries’ unfunded requirements. While LT Kurt Albaugh’s post here earlier this week, “Crowdsourcing the Next Navy,” dealt with grabbing ideas and innovation from a broader base, this model could equally apply to grabbing funds. This wouldn’t be the first time a nation turned to public fundraising of its military, such as the war bonds effort in World War II. Crowdsourcing unfunded requirements lists could be a way for navies to stay afloat in a time of sinking budget numbers.
Earlier this week I attended the Battle of the Coral Sea 70th Anniversary Commemoration at Washington, D.C.’s Navy Memorial. Rain earlier in the morning threatened to push the event indoors, but the weather was blessedly cool and dry. Yet storm clouds might be gathering on the horizons of the Australian-American partnership the ceremony celebrated.
70 years ago, a clash of carriers handed the Japanese their first major defeat in the war in the Pacific, turning back an invasion force enroute to Port Moresby. As the Australian ambassador noted on Tuesday it also signaled a change in Australia and New Zealand’s defense formulations. Britain’s ability and responsibility to defend her imperial possessions and former colonies formed the bedrock of the nations’ pre-war planning.
According to the honourable Kim Beazley, the structure of British imperial defense “had crashed on land with the Japanese capture of Singapore, and at sea with the sinking of the British warships Prince of Wales and Repulse.” The American decision to risk carriers to parry the southern thrust threatening Australia – while so much else in the theater was at stake – was praised and highlighted as one of the key moments later bringing the nation under the American security umbrella, where it has remained ever since.
A Future Crisis
Could Australia face another crisis and restructuring of its strategic security arrangements down the road? This depends much on the ability of China and the U.S. to play nice. Australia is bound to the U.S. in the ANZUS treaty, a firm defense alliance between the two nations and New Zealand (the Yankee/Kiwi portion has been much less firm, but is improving), and has contributed forces to major American-led military conflicts from Korea to Afghanistan. Just last month, U.S. Marines began to deploy to Darwin, Australia, as a step towards strengthening ties (unofficially, in the face of growing Chinese regional clout).
However, Australia is much more commercially dependent upon the Chinesethan the U.S., exporting less than a quarter of the goods to the U.S. it does to China, its biggest trading partner by both exports and imports. A serious spat between the two nations could cause Australians to rethink the benefits of their closeness to the Americans, especially if the cause of the row was of only marginal importance to the Aussies.
Similarly, the Chinese could begin to apply economic leverage to force Australia to scale back the level of its security and basing commitments (although done poorly this could risk a backlash). Conversely, the Chinese want to boost their own ties with Australia. In an April interview, Rory Medcalf, director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia pointed out:
Beijing has recently asked, or warned, Australia to build stronger security and strategic dimensions into its ties with China, to bring them more in balance with the very strong trade ties. In fact, Australia’s military already has quite good relations with the People’s Liberation Army and has provided a conduit of contact during phases when U.S.-China and Japan-China military-to-military ties were in trouble.”
Might Australia decide in the future it’s better to step from under the American umbrella and risk rain rather than a lightning strike? Might the Royal Australian Navy’s highly skilled mariners and expanding fleet be kept in port in the event of a conflict?
Some voicesare already cautioning against more closely embracing the American military build-up in the Asia-Pacific, warning of the danger of being drawn into “someone else’s” fight with the potential for dire economic consequences. This appears to be a minority opinion among the public and politicians. According to the Lowy Institute, 85% of Australians are to some extent supportive of the U.S. alliance. As Mr. Medcalf states:
if Canberra is asked any time soon to make hard strategic choices between China and the United States, the signs are clear about the choice it would make—it has intensified the alliance with the United States.”
Yet Mr. Medcalf also correctly points out 15% is a substantial minority, and could grow as the American footprint expands in Australia. I don’t foresee Australia dropping the U.S. for China as its main strategic guarantor any time soon, but if the relationship between the two nations is handled poorly by either side, and its benefits not fully explained, the Chinese would be only too happy to exploit the opportunity and apply pressure to limit Australia’s commitments.
The Americans can help ensure this doesn’t happen. Proactive prevention of the sort of liberty incidents that so inflamed relations with another key partner to the north are vital. Aggressive goodwill diplomacy and exchanges can remind the Australian public of shared values.
And of course, events like the commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea remind both nations of shared sacrifices. Said Ambassador Beazley:
As the distribution of global power becomes more diffuse, it is useful for us to have as a reminder American risk-taking for its friends at a time when the US position was by no means the superior one.”
3D printing revolutionizes the supply chain by removing the need for many specific parts, but it still lacks true independence due to the need for “toner.” If necessary, a soldier in the field can pick up the weapon of his neutralized enemy and use it to continue the fight, but the wreckage of war is often left to rot, useless for more than cover. However, the great material waste found in war can generate immense new capabilities when combined with 3D printing’s need for raw materials.
In the further future, the commander’s greatest source of raw materials for his new 3D printing capability will be the wreckage of the battlefield and waste from his own operations. Everything from the valuable copper in rubble to the wreckage of destroyed vehicles. In most cases, materials can be collected whole: tanks, humvees, burnt-out trucks, bullet casings. Obsolete or worn equipment can be harvested for its raw materials and re-forged into new product. Modern composite weapons can be smashed, damaged, or past their service life; thrown back into the “stock material,” and recycled into a new rifle. Battlefield clearance, broken weapons, and ruined equipment stop being a hindrance and start becoming potential resources for the commander armed with 3D printing.
Whatever cannot be easily ground down and re-purposed can be leached out and re-used. Biomining is the process by which natural and engineered bacteria are used to collect raw material. Industrial-scale use of bacteria to make product is not revolutionary. Beer is the oldest, and perhaps most delicious example that comes to mind for the industrial use of bacteria. Soon we might start using it for fuel. Biomining is already used to leach minerals from low-grade ores, it could potentially salvage materials from rubble or severely degraded equipment.
The direct applications to maritime operations are especially evident for landing operations and damage control. Amphibious landings are always made more precarious by the supply situation, logistics’ tenuous reach to a force on the shore that could potentially be pushed into the sea. With the ability to re-purpose his surrounding environment: cars, computers, telephone wires, etc… a landing force no longer need wait for guns, vehicles, parts, or replacement equipment when these things can be resurrected from wreckage or indigenous infrastructure. At sea, battle-damaged ships can re-forge equipment out of the destroyed material. Imagine if the USS Cole had a 3D printing capability, giving it the ability to replace without restriction any number of critical systems. These ideas only scratch the surface. As the logistics, shape, and field operations of all military forces profoundly transform, not only will our weapons change, but the way we fight will transform with this newfound flexibility and independence.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.