Robert Haddick on the drone wave:
I think it's fair to say that the AF is also looking at how drones figure intellectually into future warfare. Check out this Air and Space Power Journal debate between some leading airpower theorists and futurists on integrating UAS into the organizational structure and doctrine. Particularly interesting is Col. Sung-pyo Hong of the South Korean Air Force's input on the matter, because debate on military futurism is usually dominated by Anglosphere perspectives.
"No one should doubt the unmanned tsunami is on its way. Robert Gates badly thrashed the Air Force until it increased its UAV presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. The upcoming QDR is certain to prominently promote UAS and UUV development. In addition, in his review of the Army’s FCS program, Gates terminated the combat vehicles but retained much of the sensors and unmanned systems. So unmanned systems are getting close attention from the top of the Pentagon.
In his presentation at the Pentagon, General Deptula likened UAS development to where airpower was in the 1920s. Then, rickety platforms needed to mature and military planners needed to imagine new battlefield doctrines. Pressured by OSD if by nothing else, the Air Force and Navy will push ahead with their unmanned plans. Army and Marine Corps leaders need to involve themselves in those plans to avoid being left behind."
Like Chet Richards, I have some quibbles with the methodology used in the article's survey of insurgency. However, I think the article does do a valuable service. Sometimes asymmetric warfare theorists can make the enemy seem invincible while giving our forces all of the flaws. Insurgencies face substantial difficulties as well.
"We in the Small Wars Community often take a pessimistic view on counterinsurgencies, focusing on the mistakes that the counterinsurgents make, rather than focusing on exploiting the mistakes of the insurgents. 59% of counterinsurgents are successful, so to steal another Life-of-Bryan-ism, we COINdinistas need to look on the bright side of life."
By now everyone knows that I'm not a great fan of Umair Haque. To me, he is the tech industry's version of Thomas Friedman. However, I thought his "nichepaper manifesto" was an interesting look a the changing dynamics of the media. He's right that small-start up and scaled-down ventures are increasingly driving coverage and content, especially stuff that eschews the dominant 20th century journalism model of "he said, she said" objectivity. This is hardly an original observation, but it's reminiscent of the early days of the press, with bloggers substituting as pamphleteers and the new "nichepapers" mirroring the somewhat sensationalistic and partisan tone of the 19th century press. The problem, of course, is Haque's enthusiastic over-selling of nichepapers and niche forms of media.
Your invention can revolutionize the world but it won't necessarily make you rich, Marco Rinesi argues:
Why is this so? Rinesi notes that "most industries, no matter how advanced," simply sell tools to other people. Those who use the tools are most likely to gain the most benefit from them. When reading of this, I think mostly of Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose humble assault rifle was widely pirated and copied. Despite the production of 100 million AKs, Kalashnikov lives on a meager state pension and is buying shares in umbrella companies. This is a reason to look askance at claims of disruptive innovation making instant billionaires. Rather, it's worth reflecting on how niche inventions and tools developed out of existing platforms have been the most successful. Kalashnikov did not invent the first assault rifle--rather he invented the most cheap, reliable, and user-friendly variant. Similarly, the team behind Facebook didn't invent social network sites but created a juggernaut through innovative redesign of an existing template and platform.
"But for all of its undeniable power, the printing press wasn’t the source of large fortunes for the engineers, investors, and businessmen involved in this industry. Profits were made, yes, sometimes significant ones, but nothing quite proportional to the influence of the technology. The bulk of the benefits came to the organizations that leveraged this technology for their own ends like modern states, which would have been logistically impossible without the printing press, or the myriad business that cannot be conceived without a superbly well-educated (for pre-modern standards) source of workers and consumers.
The same pattern can be seen in many other technical advances, specially those that impacted society the most. Contraceptives, telecommunications, refrigeration: they are often overlooked foundations of the contemporary world, each of them enormously disruptive, yet none of them, over the long term, a gold mine of extraordinary returns."
Normally, most commentators tend to overrate the singular impact of technological change. Thomas P.M. Barnett has a good point about this WSJ story on a Chinese waitress who stabbed a would-be rapist in self-defense:
Barnett argues that "Globalization's radical influence through connectivity is the same the world over," and it's hard not to agree. Not too long ago Ms. Deng would have likely wasted away in jail and the dead official would be given a state burial. In some ways, the case is a perfect example of globalization's techno-sociological-organizational convergence effect. Greater political openness and a newfound public assertiveness is bolstered by growing material affluence and technological global-local fusion. A local morality play becomes a national spectacle, and the government backs down.
"Chinese court on Tuesday dismissed murder charges against Deng Yujiao, who was accused of killing a local government official, after her cause was championed on the Web. Ms. Deng, a hotel worker in the central province of Hubei, said she acted in self-defense when the official and his colleague tried to rape her.
The case prompted an outpouring of public sympathy for Ms. Deng on the Internet by people who were angered by an apparent abuse of power by government officials, and who expressed concern that Ms. Deng would be given a heavy sentence despite the mitigating circumstances."
Terrorism Monitor has the details on the latest MEND operation in Nigeria:
"Niger Delta militants in speedboats launched a devastating attack on Nigeria’s rapidly decaying energy infrastructure on July 13 by seizing and destroying a major oil distribution point in Lagos, a city of 16 million people. The assault was the first time militants from the Delta region have struck Nigeria’s largest city. ...An assault group from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) struck the Atlas Cove Jetty during the night, killing a number of sailors guarding the facility before driving away the rest. Dynamite charges were placed on ten pipelines at the terminal and the resulting explosion was heard throughout the city. The attackers returned to base without apparent intervention from the Joint Task Force (JTF), a hybrid security force detailed with eliminating the insurgency in the oil-rich Delta. The attack came only hours before the release of imprisoned MEND leader Henry Okah under a new Nigerian amnesty program."
Jeff Vail has some interesting thoughts about the campaign as a whole:
"MEND fractioned amidst infighting among Ijaw tribal alliances. Various factions, with various political agendas, neutralized the ability to push for peace through negotiations—there was no single party, nor accession to a single set of demands, that could defuse the motivation to violence. In addition, the ransom money that foreign oil companies now routinely paid for the return of western employees spawned a market for guerrilla entrepreneurs—actors who were less motivated by traditional Ijaw political goals than by a return on investment. The lure of easy money has led to a proliferation of militant groups (now perhaps best characterized as criminal gangs) and a dramatic increase in attacks. This infusion of easy money to youthful militants broke down the traditional tribal structure of respect for leadership by elders—much as the infusion of easy drug money makes urban street gangs in the US less accountable to traditional cultural and familial restraints."
The link to street gangs here is rather important, especially given that the attackers struck after Okah was released as part of an amnesty program. The Terrorism Monitor story notes that one faction has named "fugitive militant leader and tribal chief Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a. Tompolo)" perpetrator of the attack. Some suspect that Tompolo, a warlord with his own elaborate military base, worked a "protection racket" as an security adviser to various foreign oil firms.
John P. Sullivan and I have an new article examining the recent violence in Michoacán, Mexico and contextualizing it within the larger frame of criminal insurgency in Mexidata , a highly informative research publication specializing in business and political intelligence on Mexico and Central America. We focus on La Familia Michoacana and it's campaign against federal forces in the region.