Good news! War Is Boringhas a new home. Starting today, we’re officially a collection within Medium.com, a new site from the creators of Twitter. Myself and Robert Beckhusen will be the main writers, with design by Matt Bors.
The new WIB will preserve the best qualities of the old: frontline and tech reporting, the tone and humor and even the comics. But our emphasis will be more on long-form investigative reporting rather than quick daily news and aggregating.
And as always, we are looking for new contributors. You can reach me at david.t.axe-at-gmail.com. Give us a few days to begin populating the new site … and wish us luck!
Humble ship’s cook Mikkel Hartmann looks forward to a return home after a long voyage at sea. Back home in Denmark his company’s CEO Peter Ludvigsen closes a tough negotiation with a Japanese company. So opens Tobias Lindholm’s sober piracy film, A Hijacking. The scene is set for a hundred-plus day negotiation with Somali pirates, which builds tension through deft switches between CEO in Copenhagen and cook at sea.
Lindholm, the mastermind behind Danish TV’s hit political thriller Borgen, treats his subject with detachment. Fictional pirates have been most familiar as Hollywood camp over the last decade, and A Hijacking provides an antidote to Disney’s hijinks. Lindholm avoids action at all costs. The audience never sees the actual pirate takeover. Instead he conveys the unbearable tension at sea and at home. Boredom is a constant, and while violence is threatened the audience is often left to wonder exactly what has happened on the ship. The audience, like the executives in a genuine piracy incident, cannot count on reliable information. This is, says Lindsholm, what it is like to make life or death decisions with few facts. On the ship the pirate’s dialogue is never translated, so the audience can share in the crew’s bewilderment.
Piracy is above all a business proposition. Good business requires good deals, and good deals require skilled negotiation. Lindholm makes the theater around the negotiation the film’s center. Ludvigsen takes full responsibility for negotiation with assistance from British private security contractor Connor Julian. This is perhaps a dramatic conceit; for it seems unlikely a CEO could juggle company business and a tense hostage negotiation. Julian suggests bringing in a skilled outside negotiator, but Ludvigsen refuses. His colleagues acquiesce; and Julian warns him he must remain unemotional throughout the negotiations. This foreshadows a sudden resurgence in Ludvigsen’s Viking spirit, which almost leads to disaster.
Verisimilitude is central to A Hijacking, reportedly filmed on a ship that was captured by Somali pirates and with assistance from extras who were themselves hostages. Realism is carried through from careful research on the crew’s medical histories when the pirates claim the captain has fallen ill to psychological tricks employed to pressure the company offer up more cash.
If A Hijacking has anything to suggest with regards to ameliorating piracy it is that preparation is vital. While may shipping companies have invested in private security contractors and non-lethal deterrents, A Hijacking shows how psychological preparation for crew and executives could make negotiations, if not easy, more bearable. The impact on individuals is immense, and when watching A Hijacking it is worth remembering the MV Albedo and her fifteen crew, pirated in November 2010, and still not released.
A Hijacking comes at a moment when Somali piracy is on the wane. Last year saw Somali pirates attack 35 ships, according to the European Union’s naval task force; back in 2011 the figure was 135. Two large ships remain in pirate hands, along with around 52 hostages. Piracy now stands at five-year low, reports the International Maritime Bureau. The focus has turned to Indonesia and West Africa. A more action-orientated piracy film, High Value Target, is in the works. As the threat in Somali waters becomes more remote filmmakers may find entertainment value in piracy. For now A Hijacking is set to remain a definitive account.
The development, entry into service and widespread worldwide use of the United States’ controversial new stealth fighter is, by now, a foregone conclusion. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), produced by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, has been in full-scale development for 11 years — and low-rate production for six. More than 120 of the single-engine jets have rolled out of Lockheed’s sprawling factory in Ft. Worth, Texas, and the first training and operational squadrons have stood up in the United States, with operational use slated for as early as 2015.
Military and political backing for the squat, silver-painted warplane is strong. “We need the F-35; it’s not going away,” U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who sits a key military-funding committee, said in April. What’s less clear, however, is just how good the JSF is as a jet fighter. Flight testing has turned up a long and growing list of performance gaps, design flaws and safety concerns. Compared to older American jets, to say nothing of the latest Russian and Chinese fighter designs, the F-35 is looking worse and worse. “Can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run,” is how one independent analysis summarized the new plane’s performance.
ALP commander Toorjan in April 2013. Photo: David Axe
by DAVID AXE
ZARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan — The sound of gunfire was the first sign that the Afghan cop’s loyalty was suspect.
It was February in Hadji Musa, a village in the poppy-growing Zari district of northern Kandahar province, traditionally one of the most violent regions in a violent country. 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3-41 Infantry — part of the high-tech 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division — had received a tip from Toorjan, commander of the village local police unit, claiming that someone in Hadji Musa wanted to talk. Someone with direct knowledge of Taliban activities.
Beyond that, Toorjan had provided almost no information. All he could offer was an implied promise: Trust me.
Following the trail blazed by Joe Sacco’s Palestine, comic books and war reportage unite once again in ARMY OF GOD (Public Affairs) where U.S. military correspondent David Axe takes us undercover into the Congo, a country the U.N. has dubbed “the rape capital of the world.”
Axe may fall short of his mission impossible “to map the emotional and spiritual landscape” of the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony, currently “most wanted” for crimes against humanity, but his outsider account is still immediate and intimate.
Where he can, Axe uses his own first-person interviews as the basis for Tim Hamilton’s starkly drawn panels, exposing in traumatic snapshots a terrorized people. An invaluable guidebook to the conflict for the many millions who’ve so far viewed the Jason Russell documentary Kony 2012 on YouTube.
The latest robots and high-tech electronic warfare, silently watching over soldiers as they sleep. Rickety but vital helicopters whose pilots devise new tactics to make up for aging hardware. Hand-carried devices that promise to end age-old battlefield dilemmas but end up causing more problems than they solve.
These are the most important techs in arguably the most important U.S. Army brigade in the waning months of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division is the “last brigade” — the final full-up combat unit with a major frontline role before American forces in Afghanistan switch to a strictly training and advisory role.
1st Brigade is the beneficiary of a last-minute influx of new and upgraded systems. Some of the basic hardware is decades-old but still proving its worth with new tactics. Other systems are so new that the bugs are just now being worked out. But all of the gear reflects the hard lessons of 12 years of war — and offers a glimpse of the future as the Army pulls out of one conflict and prepares for others.
The U.S. military has cancelled a seven-year, $200-million effort to develop a new kind of satellite — one comprising groups of small, formation-flying craft orbiting in tight-knit formations and sharing data wirelessly.
The Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated Free-Flying Spacecraft, or F6, was overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and featured an unusual program structure that probably contributed to its demise. Offiziere.ch spoke to one space-industry insider with insight into F6′s promise and problems. “It was a good idea to can F6,” the insider says.
The U.S. Navy’s X-47B jet-powered drone prototype touched down on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush for the first time on Friday — continuing an historic series of accomplishments begun on May 14, when the 62-foot-wingspan Unmanned Aerial Vehicle launched for the first time from the carrier’s deck, landing at the nearby Patuxent River air station in Maryland.
Friday’s touch-and-go, in which the drone briefly landed on the carrier deck without catching the arresting wire and quickly returned to flight, is a prelude to a full arrested landing slated for the coming two months. “That is the most technically demanding and significant portion,” says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration program.
Space Newsbroke the story of F6′s cancellation today. Brad Tousley, the new director of Darpa’s Tactical Technology Office, told the trade publication he killed off the program after a recent review of research programs. Tousley told Space News he based his decision on schedule delays, technical and management problems and the Pentagon’s lack of interest in F6.
Begun in 2006, F6 was meant to break up today’s big, complex and monolithic military satellites, one of which usually handles several tasks simultaneously — surveillance and communication and self-defense, for instance. Brian Weeden, a space expert with the Colorado-based Secure World Foundation, calls this the “battleship” approach to military operations in space.
British MQ-9 Reapers have started operations from a base in Lincolnshire, northeast England, according to Ministry of Defense (MoD) reports. The British drones had been flown from Creech air force base, Nevada. Now the 10-strong fleet will see operations directed from home.
For sometime the Royal Air Force (RAF) was the only air force to operate the Reaper other than the United States Air Force (USAF), Italy’s contingent is set to be rolled out in the next few months. Meanwhile the RAF doubled its Reaper force late last year. The drones only operate in Afghanistan, for the moment. While the new drone compliment will operate from RAF Waddington, the original drone force will continue to fly from Creech.
As 13 Squadron, which used to fly Tornados, came online hundreds of protesters arrived at the base. While the RAF emphasizes the Reaper’s role in intelligence, and as an eye-in-the-sky to protect British forces, the protesters raised concerns over civilian casualties from U.K. drone strikes. Operational updates from the RAF point to 39 Squadron’s 260 hours of full-motion video, with actual attacks on insurgents mentioned in passing.
This approach to drones sits well with Britain’s existing fleet. A response to a parliamentary question tabled late last year revealed Britain’s drone fleet is overwhelmingly based around the Desert Hawk III, a model airplane-like drone used for surveillance, with 239 in operation. Micro-drones like the Black Hornet form the second-largest contingent. Other operational drones include nine Hermes 450, which are used for artillery spotting. The Hermes provides the basis for Britain’s Watchkeeper WK450, a French-Israeli venture that will probably be used for artillery spotting.
Although reconnaissance seems to be the primary role for British drones at the moment, with the Army leading the way, Reaper drones have not played an entirely passive role in Afghanistan. A Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed that Reaper attacks have grown year-on-year since 2008. There were 104 attacks last year, up from 30 in the first year of operation. Weapons preferences have also changed, with a move from Paveway to Hellfire missiles. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, British drones accounted for almost 40 percent of all attacks in Afghanistan during 2011.
Drones remain in the background as far as flights over home ground are concerned. Flights take place from ParcAberporth in west Wales, the technology park and airport complex provides about 500 square miles of restricted air space for drone tests and is operated by arms giant QinetiQ. This site has also seen anti-drone protests. As more Members of Parliament and activists probe Britain’s nascent drone operations the scene is being set for the issue to become a hot political topic.
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