Tag Archives: Security

Avatar: Shock and Awe-fully Dumb

Written by Matthew Hipple for Movie Re-Fights Week

The blockbuster Avatar is not only remarkable for its stunning visuals and brow-beating politics, but for the colossal  incompetence of the corporate and military leadership of the Resource Development Administration (RDA). 

Sure, humanity may be counting on you for their survival. Sure, you have arrived on an alien planet armed with the ability to transmit your consciousness into proxy flesh suits hewn together with the most advanced science. But hey, why not just “YOLO” it and see what happens? What could go wrong? It’s not like you’re 4.5 light years from earth with limited resources!

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Tactical Failure: If It Looks Smart and Doesn’t Work – It’s Stupid

Having thoroughly pissed off the blue bees nest on Pandora, RDA command is ordering you to destroy a tiny, purple-glowing “Tree of Souls.” The critical node in a vast planet-wide biological neural net, it is located  in the middle of an area of heavy radar interference and the aerial equivalent of deadly shoal water.

That's it? It's the size of a town Christmas tree! How hard could it be?
That’s it? It’s the size of a small town Christmas tree! Why does this have to be complicated?

RDA commanders probably read the old classic “Starship Troopers” and had heard of Star Craft’s “Zerg” and Halo’s “Flood” from the History Channel. Biological hive minds always end in billions of dead terrans. The mission was probably too important not to staff to death.

What would be more perfect than assigning a massive, vulnerable transport ship carrying a comically lashed-together bomb of mining ordnance through this rock mine-field? Granted, the target is only the size of a Denny’s… OH! Let’s add a ground assault through dense jungle with little to no air support. Never pass up an excuse to party “Ellen Ripley” style in an exo-suit. The plan looked awesome on power point, as one can see from the many unnecessary parts: a militarized space barge and a ground assault. The words “decisive,” “domain,” and “disruptive” probably appeared multiple times.

Yeah... this feels good. I'll sacrifice all my mobility to protect this lumbering militarized space barge.
Yeah… this feels good. We’ll sacrifice all our mobility to protect this lumbering militarized space barge. We look TOTALLY cool right now.

However, RDA had JUST blown up the Home Tree – a facility the size of a small city – using nothing but a token force of deadly and agile VTOL gunships. Not only was Operation Soul Tree against a far smaller and more fragile target – but it would be in a physically and electronically denied environment.  Why suddenly trade mobile lethality for for static defense on a flying dump truck? Why risk losing your entire ground force in a superfluous assault through dense jungle?  Seriously, how could this NOT go wrong?

Aurgh! A total disaster we could have NEVER predicted!
Noooooo! A total disaster we could have NEVER predicted!

Now, had the RDA forces learned the lesson of their own experience – they would have executed a multi-axis raid on the “Soul Tree” using a primary assault by gunships and a feint by a faux “bomber.” The ground assault would have been completely scrubbed.

Maintaining a “feint” – preferably using gunships and a transport on rudimentary auto-pilot – would draw enemy forces away from the actual angle of attack. The windows of the aircraft used for the feint would have to be blacked out. Recon for Airborne Pandoran forces would quickly discover that the cockpits were empty, and realize the bomber is a feint.

Detaching the primary aerial assault force from the  bomber would have allowed pilots speed and flexibility denied to them in the original plan to guard a militarized transport. With Pandoran forces distracted by the potential bombardment by the transport ship, the main assault force would move through the floating boulders at top speed, devastating the Soul Tree with their ordnance before quickly retreating back to base.

I love the smell of victory in the morning.
I love the smell of victory in the morning.

With the ground component completely scrubbed, the RDA would retain a significant force to continue defense of their facilities. While these bases are heavily defended already, these are static defenses that require augmentation from mobile components. It would be wise to keep some of the aerial component in reserve as well, in the off chance that Operation Soul Tree failed and human forces would have to hold out until military re-supply from Earth.

Of course, unlike in Operation Guard the Slow and Useless Target, we get to win this time.

Strategic Failure: That Escalated Quickly

Sooo... now that I randomly burned down all your homes just so I can dig under your tree, we're cool - right?
Sooo… now that I randomly burned down all your homes just so I can dig under your tree, we’re cool – right?

But let’s take a step back here – why did the RDA get to the point where it believed it had to commit all its forces to a winner-take-all assault on this Soul Tree network node? Oh, that’s right, they chose to burn down some blue people’s entire capital city.

Granted, the tree is sitting on top of an unobtanium stockpile critical to humanity’s survival… but this is the same human civilization that is capable of creating avatar meat-puppets that can be operated remotely to any location anywhere on this alien planet. Certainly, we can learn the ancient art of lateral drilling?

We can bring genetically engineered soldier suits trillions of miles through space - but can only dig like Gold-rush era miners.
We can bring genetically engineered soldier suits trillions of miles through space – but can only dig  like Gold-rush era miners.

The vast mining infrastructure operated by the RDA, and the automated technology available to it, would allow humanity some options OTHER than blowing a native city into oblivion to access the resources. It’s the future, surely there are automated mining units that aren’t the size of office buildings, or tunnel-boring machines that could serve this mission.

And let’s be real here – the outfit sent to collect all these resources is the “Resource Development Administration.” Mining should be their specialty.

Force Planning: Phoning it in

The mining technology angle leads us to a more general problem with the technology employed by the RDA. Considering the military and commercial operational needs, the capabilities developed from the technology available seem oddly under developed.

The lack of orbital strike capabilities is notable. From cracking open a large hole for mining to cracking open a target – the RDA would have found great use for an orbital weapon of some sort. It’s not like the mission’s importance to earth didn’t warrant the resources. They certainly had the technology for it. You could destroy ANY  tree you really felt necessary – and you wouldn’t have to risk any military forces. Hell, the Pandorans wouldn’t even know it was you. They don’t know how satellites work.

You came this far, with ALL this technology... and couldn't bring a space cannon?
You came this far, with ALL this technology… and couldn’t bring a space cannon?

More concerning is the lack of a real military application of the avatar technology the movie is named after. Sure, the modified blue people are a nice touch. Hearts and minds is always the better path then a tough military campaign in someone else’s backyard.

However, why settle for tall skinny blue people? Why not create a legion of 10 foot tall super-Cena ? You could add extra arms, camouflage skin, or even millions of tiny spider-like hairs for extra grip! Perhaps lower cost methods could be employed to save human personnel and maximize combat effectiveness, like making the combat exo-suits neural net operated. Perhaps remote neural control could operate the gunships… or even gunship swarms controlled by a single consciousness. In the movie Surrogates, the DoD was fighting wars with legions of brain-controlled robots… and they weren’t even advanced enough to land a mining operation in another solar system.

You can biologically engineer a whole new life-form that can be remotely controlled anywhere on the planet... and all you can make is REALLY tall blue people?
Why don’t we try this with 2-3 more feet in height, 5x the muscle mass, and 2 more arms for faster magazine change-outs, multiple melee and ranged weapon use, and better climbing abilities. Maybe the skin can be a color that blends in better with the environment. Really, we can do better than super-tall blue hipsters.

Hell, if the RDA had the ability to hack into the neurological network of a surrogate body remotely – why wasn’t anyone trying to tap into this planetary neural net? Imagine the processing capacity of a planet-sized biological computer, or the influence one could have on inter-tribal planetary politics with neural-net access. At the very least, the intelligence gathering potential would be invaluable for a force operating in a potential adversary’s backyard.

Conclusion: Insanity or Laziness

Humanity is in a tight spot – an energy crisis along with dwindling terrain resources mean that unobtanium is humanity’s only way out. Unfortunately, the RDA decision makers on Pandora has decided to phone it in.

You ask me for strategy? I offer you something better - a myopic pursuit of frontal assaults. I offer you the obsessions of a man who has clearly never seen the movie "Zulu" or read a Kipling poem, and has only been fighting wildlife for at least a decade.
You ask me for strategy? I offer you something better – a myopic pursuit of frontal assaults and kinetic effects. I offer you the obsession of a man who has clearly never seen the movie “Zulu” or read a Kipling poem. I assure you, though my experience in military operations was once great, I have done nothing but slowly go mad from the isolation and fight wildlife for at least a decade.

Perhaps it’s the cabin fever spending so much time away from civilization. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of mission requirements that involve fighting either animal opponents or blue people armed with sticks. Maybe it’s even the lack of good reading material. Whatever the case, those who were clearly once capable corporate, technical, and military leaders had long ago started slacking off – thinking down predictable or silly stovepipes in their execution of the Pandora mission. It makes a good case for regular leadership rotation. It pays to ensure one’s leadership does not become stale… or even lose their minds from isolation.

Whoever humanity sends to re-take Pandora – and capture the traitor, Jake Sully – will be a bit more on the ball.

We'll be back, hippies.
We’ll be back, hippies.

Matthew Hipple is the President of CIMSEC and host of our Sea Control and Real Time Strategy podcasts. He is also an active duty Surface Warfare Officer, whose opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the Resource Development Administration.

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Maritime Security: Fact or Fallacy? The View from Gibraltar

By Michael Sanchez

The recent global maritime security scenario has been deeply affected by several factors that have by necessity, changed the way of approaching and dealing with individual problems at sea. Piracy, drugs smuggling, weapon trafficking and the repugnant trade in human lives have reemerged with particular virulence but of paramount concern and indeed priority is the ominous threat of seaborne terrorism. Most of us witnessed to our horror the murder of innocent tourists in a beach at Tunisia. The execution of this attack came from what appears to be a well coordinated plan that took everyone by surprise. The proliferation of fast RHIBs (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats) and jet ski type vessels have given terrorists flexibility of speed and the ability of evasion that gives them a distinct advantage as they are able to mix and mingle with other craft and raise less suspicion when choosing their targets Not only are these fast vessels in the inventory of terrorists but they are the preferred method of transport by drug smuggling gangs

In the case of Gibraltar it can be said with  concern that by the nature of our geographical position we are exposed to the threats of terrorism. It’s no use hiding behind the fact that North Africa lies 14 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar (STROG) and pretending it will not affect us sooner or later, directly or indirectly. Morocco has been subjected to attacks within its territory but has been successful in thwarting seaborne assaults against shipping in the strait including warships but they cannot do it all on their own. The Spanish enclave of Ceuta has been the recruiting ground for potential jihadist recruits that consequently find their way to Syria and/or Iraq. The North African coastline opposite Gibraltar can be considered a launch pad for vessels that trade in drugs, humans and other illicit activities. All stakeholders in the vicinity, Gibraltar, Morocco, and Spain have a duty to ensure that the malignant barbarity of present day terrorism does not cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe via this vulnerable route. To repulse any sort of seaborne attacks everyone must be prepared and not fall into one of mankind’s many weakness Complacency

As far as Gibraltar is concerned the responsibility for the maritime security of Gibraltar Territorial Waters falls under very awkward operational procedures and tasking. The MOD through the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron is tasked with, according to its mission statement “To contribute to the maritime defence and security of Gibraltar and when necessary, the prosecution of offensive maritime operations in order to allow BFG to support military ops as directed by HMG.” Quite a mouthful and perhaps ambiguous but it’s not the intention to assess the political ramifications of such a broad statement. Bearing all this in mind, the security of HM Naval Base Gibraltar falls into question. Every time a naval vessel is berthed alongside South Mole or “The Tower” a boom is placed across the harbour from South Mole to the old Gun wharf site. It consists of small orange buoys held in position by floaters and strung across with rope. This is to prevent unauthorised craft from entering the security cordon. The security boom is totally inadequate and useless. Any determine driver of a jet ski or RHIB can “jump” this boom and instantly find itself within a restricted area.

The MOD should invest in purpose built security booms that protect warships, particularly submarines in naval bases around the world. It has not gone unnoticed that since 2013 there has been an increase of RN nuclear power submarines visiting the naval base. Various operational tasks have been carried out including transfer of weaponry that demand the highest levels of security. This cannot be guaranteed with a weak protective boom that can be easily penetrated. On the fifth of July a drug smuggling jet ski entered the harbour through the southern entrance whilst HMS Ambush was alongside South Mole. Luckily, the intruder turned left and not right. The inadequacy of this security boom is a glaring capability gap that can be exploited by the enemy. Within this boom the task of protecting these warships is carried out efficiently by the GDP (Gibraltar Defence Police). Despite being equipped with 2 slow and aging ex Range Safety craft that are not fit for purpose they stick to their duty of affording port force protection but their response time to a fast intruder is minimal. GDP were to be equipped with modern patrol craft some time ago but it was decided otherwise to renege on it, another UK base benefitting from these new craft. For years there has been a succession of UK politicians and high ranking military officers trumpeting and touting the importance of Gibraltar as a base for UK ops. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are and transmit their thoughts into deeds.

Leaving aside the MOD estates we come to the protection of the civilian population which is by and large entrusted to the marine section of the Royal Gibraltar Police. This service boasts the most modern and fast craft to carry out their duties. There is a certain overlapping of responsibilities with the RN that due to constitutional obligations muddies the waters as to who is responsible for what when and how. This is rather unhelpful when it comes to tackling a potential terrorist threat. We are led to believe that there is coordination when it comes to security matters at sea but to a plain simple observer it does not appear to be so. A more robust communication environment should be encouraged to interchange ideas thoughts and indeed intelligence on a regular basis, not on ad hoc terms. To use a well worn phase everyone should be “singing from the same hymn sheet” instead of tearing out pages so that the other sings out of tune.

Gibraltar-body

Gibraltar’s important maritime security infrastructure requires overhauling and redesigning. Our hugely important cruise liner industry can sometimes walk a tight rope when it comes to passenger and owner satisfaction. Cruise liners are vulnerable and a tempting target. On very few occasions are cruise ships escorted to and from the liner terminal by law enforcement craft and there is no seaward protection whilst alongside North Mole. This would prevent any unwanted or inquisitive boats from getting too close for comfort. We must bear in mind that although Cruise liners companies might be satisfied with ashore security arrangements any incident no matter how small or insignificant at sea could cause them to leave and this would destroy an important pillar of our economy. Why not go the extra mile and provide seaside security to such an important gem in our crown? It will enhance our reputation amongst cruise line companies as a serious port of call in which to do business with.

What cannot be allowed to happen again is a situation similar to that of the theft of one our reef blocks from under our noses. This was a highly embarrassing event that exposed a certain lack of supervision of Gibraltar Territorial Waters. It highlighted the absence of coordination in patrolling our waters. Each to their own without knowing who was doing what and where. Naturally there were local law enforcement craft swarming over the area next day but the horse had bolted and the stable was empty

These are but a few of the more noticeable flaws in the protection of our little country. I accept the fact that security cannot be 100% guaranteed but it can be made extremely difficult for anyone attempting to threaten our peace and stability. It serves no purpose to find faults and criticize without offering suggestions and ideas in which to improve the protection of our waters from dynamic situations that confront our day to day lives. With the expansion of yachting facilities at Ocean Village and the proposed reclamation at the Eastside there will be an increase in the load factor for law enforcement agencies in maintaining a safe maritime picture. A maritime surveillance system similar to the Spanish SIVE (Systema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior) should be considered as an aid to combating illegal activities close to our shores This system comprises of radars, infrared cameras and other surveillance equipment placed at strategic sites and controlled by an operations room. Any information gathered by this system can be transmitted to civilian law enforcement vessels (RGP HM Customs Port Authority) in real time via video link. It will make the task of intercepting suspect vessels easier and with ample time. The introduction of a joint maritime control centre is  of vital importance. It is of huge value that all incidents be controlled “under one roof” thereby improving response times and rapid interventions. Everyone working together instead of pulling away from each should be encouraged. Pooling of resource can be an effective method of dealing with certain events/actions whilst each law enforcement agency maintaining their independence and freedom of movement in their particular field of responsibilities. Joint training exercises whether live or in tabletop format can be useful in honing particular skills and at the same time exchanging operational experiences. Of course the major stumbling block is finance as all these suggestions do not come cheaply, but in the long term it is an investment that will pay dividends by ensuring the adequate protection of life and property.

I am by no means advocating a “Fortress Gibraltar” bristling with guns missiles and military hardware. Life must go on as normal. In the present climate of economic prosperity and physical expansion it has to be top priority that to accommodate a thriving yacht industry, the protection of bunkering facilities, the secure operations of cruise liners and importantly the safety of local seafarers fishermen and pleasure boat owners the necessary infrastructure to enable Gibraltar to maintain its reputation as a competitive serious and reliable player in the maritime industry must be in place so that we hopefully never become an easy target for our foes whoever they may be

Michael Sanchez is a naval observer and commentator for Gibraltar & STROG. He is the founder of OpWest and the promoter of Gibraltar Coast Watchers, and explained the former’s operation in an interview with CIMSEC. Born in the Rock, he served as a police officer for 33 years before retiring. He tweets at @key2med

Sea Control 96 – Host Review

seacontrol2Our cadre of hosts: Matthew Hipple, Natalie Sahmbi, Alex Clarke – and now Matthew Merighi, discuss everything – from China to personal life. This is an update or sorts, or an introduction, for those who haven’t been with us from the beginning, or those who want to know what comes next.

DOWNLOAD: Host Update