Tag Archives: navy

Don’t fear the Reaper

U.S. assembling secret drone bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, officials say

By Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller

The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.

One of the installations is being established in Ethi­o­pia, a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of “hunter-killer” drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.

The U.S. military also has flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in Djibouti, a tiny African nation at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In addition, the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula so it can deploy armed drones over Yemen.

The rapid expansion of the undeclared drone wars is a reflection of the growing alarm with which U.S. officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia, even as al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan has been weakened by U.S. counterterrorism operations.

The U.S. government is known to have used drones to carry out lethal attacks in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The negotiations that preceded the establishment of the base in the Republic of Seychelles illustrate the efforts the United States is making to broaden the range of its drone weapons.

The island nation of 85,000 people has hosted a small fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones operated by the U.S. Navy and Air Force since September 2009. U.S. and Seychellois officials have previously acknowledged the drones’ presence but have said that their primary mission was to track pirates in regional waters. But classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the unmanned aircraft have also conducted counterterrorism missions over Somalia, about 800 miles to the northwest.

The cables, obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, reveal that U.S. officials asked leaders in the Seychelles to keep the counterterrorism missions secret. The Reapers are described by the military as “hunter-killer” drones because they can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.

To allay concerns among islanders, U.S. officials said they had no plans to arm the Reapers when the mission was announced two years ago. The cables show, however, that U.S. officials were thinking about weaponizing the drones.

During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the U.S. government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions .?.?. to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked U.S. officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government, the cable reported.

Michel’s chief deputy told a U.S. diplomat on a separate occasion that the Seychelles president “was not philosophically against” arming the drones, according to another cable. But the deputy urged the Americans “to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the Government outside of the President. Such a request would be ‘politically extremely sensitive’ and would have to be handled with ‘the utmost discreet care.’?”

A U.S. military spokesman declined to say whether the Reapers in the Seychelles have ever been armed.

“Because of operational security concerns, I can’t get into specifics,” said Lt. Cmdr. James D. Stockman, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees the base in the Seychelles. He noted, however, that the MQ-9 Reapers “can be configured for both surveillance and strike.”

A spokeswoman for Michel said the president was unavailable for comment.

Jean-Paul Adam, who was Michel’s chief deputy in 2009 and now serves as minister of foreign affairs, said U.S. officials had not asked for permission to equip the drones with missiles or bombs.

“The operation of the drones in Seychelles for the purposes of ­counter-piracy surveillance and other related activities has always been unarmed, and the U.S. government has never asked us for them to be armed,”
Adam said in an e-mail. “This was agreed between the two governments at the first deployment and the situation has not changed.”

The State Department cables show that U.S. officials were sensitive to perceptions that the drones might be armed, noting that they “do have equipment that could appear to the public as being weapons.”

To dispel potential concerns, they held a “media day” for about 30 journalists and Seychellois officials at the small, one-runway airport in Victoria, the capital, in November 2009. One of the Reapers was parked on the tarmac.

“The government of Seychelles invited us here to fight against piracy, and that is its mission,”
Craig White, a U.S. diplomat, said during the event. “However, these aircraft have a great deal of capabilities and could be used for other missions.”

In fact, U.S. officials had already outlined other purposes for the drones in a classified mission review with Michel and Adam. Saying that the U.S. government “desires to be completely transparent,” the American diplomats informed the Seychellois leaders that the Reapers would also fly over Somalia “to support ongoing counter-terrorism efforts,” though not “direct attacks,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting.

U.S. officials “stressed the sensitive nature of this counter-terrorism mission and that this not be released outside of the highest .?.?. channels,” the cable stated. “The President wholeheartedly concurred with that request, noting that such issues could be politically sensitive for him as well.”

The Seychelles drone operation has a relatively small footprint. Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport, it includes between three and four Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.

The military operated the flights on a continuous basis until April, when it paused the operations. They resumed this month, said Stockman, the Africa Command spokesman.

The aim in assembling a constellation of bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is to create overlapping circles of surveillance in a region where al-Qaeda offshoots could emerge for years to come, U.S. officials said.

The locations “are based on potential target sets,” said a senior U.S. military official. “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

One U.S. official said that there had been discussions about putting a drone base in Ethiopia for as long as four years, but that plan was delayed because “the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.” Other officials said Ethiopia has become a valued counterterrorism partner because of threats posed by al-Shabab.

“We have a lot of interesting cooperation and arrangements with the Ethiopians when it comes to intelligence collection and linguistic capabilities,” said a former senior U.S. military official familiar with special operations missions in the region.

An Ethio­pian Embassy spokesman in Washington could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The former official said the United States relies on Ethiopian linguists to translate signals intercepts gathered by U.S. agencies monitoring calls and e-mails of al-Shabab members. The CIA and other agencies also employ Ethiopian informants who gather information from across the border.

Overall, officials said, the cluster of bases reflects an effort to have wider geographic coverage, greater leverage with countries in the region and backup facilities if individual airstrips are forced to close.

“It’s a conscious recognition that those are the hot spots developing right now,” said the former senior U.S. military official.

SOURCE

” I am become Death, the destroyer of Worlds” – Israels Doomsday Weapon: Leviathan

Doomsday weapon: Israel’s submarines

Alex Fishman

The day the Twin Towers collapsed in Manhattan, September 11, 2001, IDF submarine “Leviathan” of the advanced Dolphin model was on a training sail somewhere at sea – the exact location of Israel’s submarines will always remain classified, even dozens of years after the fact.

At one point, the submarine rose to the surface to take a break. The sub’s commander, then-Lt. Colonel Oded, looked through the periscope and saw a calm, blue sea. However, one crew member soon informed him that he just saw the New York towers collapsing on television. Oded’s first reaction was laughter: What kind of movie are you watching there? How could the Twin Towers collapse? Yet soon after, the official announcement arrived from Israel.

The training session ended abruptly. Orders started to pour in from Navy headquarters. The submarine went into high alert and sank into the water for a lengthy period of several weeks. “In such case,” Oded says, “nobody knows where you are except for your crew and your direct commanders. Even your family doesn’t know. They don’t know what you’re doing or when you’ll be back. They know nothing.”


What does a terror attack at the World Trade Center have to do with an Israeli submarine going on high alert? This question shall remain unanswered as well. We can only guess: When the US experiences an unprecedented terror event whose implications are still unclear, nobody knows how the superpower would respond and what will happen in the Middle East as result. At such moments of uncertainty, Israel’s first walls of defense are its long-range strategic arms – the most secretive one is the submarine fleet.

Israel’s enemies must be made to understand that should they dare use any weapon of mass destruction, their own fate will be sealed. According to foreign reports, Israel’s Dolphin fleet plays a crucial role in the game of deterrence with its second strike capability.


Virtual passport

Just like Israel’s submarine fleet is secretive, so are its commanders. Colonel Oded, 44, has recently completed his tenure as the fleet’s commander, ending a chapter of more than 20 years where he performed almost every command post in the fleet. “If a layman would see submarine troops from the side, he would not understand how we can withstand it,” Oded says in a rare interview. “It’s a group of people who perform missions at very certain locations and feel like home there. People wake up for their shifts, eat breakfast and follow a routine in the least trivial locations one can imagine.”

When I ask Oded whether his troops’ passports would be filled with stamps, had they theoretically stamped them at border control, he smiles and says nothing. Indeed, we can imagine that these virtual passports would have been full of stamps. The Navy’s submarines, as opposed to other vessels, never dock at foreign ports, including friendly ones. This is the nature of the service: The submarines only dock in Israel.


Exceptional soldiers

In order to serve on a submarine, one needs more than to excel at school and accumulate more and more knowledge. Such soldiers need a specific mental makeup that enables them to be isolated for lengthy periods of time from their natural environment, while living with 40 other people under crowded conditions and an intensive, tense operational atmosphere.


“People who cannot withstand the pressure drop out in the screening process and during the courses,
” Oded says. “There is only one way to minimize the fear and improve the ability to function during emergencies: Sisyphean training. For that reason we constantly engage in simulating extreme scenarios, so when things happen in real life the soldiers are trained and already experienced those things during training sessions.


“When you arrive at the sub after the course, you feel that nobody is better than you, but very quickly you realize that you have much to learn from the people around you,
” Oded says. “The veteran non-commissioned officer is much more professional than you in his area of expertise. The secret of the submarine’s power is the accumulated knowledge of everyone on board. Each soldier is an expert, so you learn to appreciate and trust them…you learn very quickly that the quality of the soldiers is so high that you cannot just issue orders.”


Not like in the movies

So what happens to a young man who one day becomes privy to the State of Israel’s deepest secrets? “If we developed the right person, and his ego is at a healthy place, not much happens,” Oded says. “The heavy responsibility and significance of the work merely increase the need for modesty. Even though it’s quite surprising and fascinating to discover what this country can do, we don’t tell our parents or anyone else. Never. Everything stays within the submarine. This is one of the reasons why the friendships formed between the soldiers and officers don’t exist elsewhere. We develop a culture where secrecy means life or death.

In the movies we often see a submarine commander receiving a mysterious message, walking over to the safe, pulling out an envelope and discovering a dramatic mission for the first time. Yet when Oded is asked whether this happens in real life, he bursts into laughter. “This happens in the movies. These are precisely the things that are not done in real life, because the sub commander works completely independently, and at times has no contact whatsoever with his superiors. Hence, he must have all the information available to him and be familiar with the mission’s big picture, so he can make the right decisions.


Having fun in the shower

At the end of the 1980s, Oded completed a degree in electrical engineering and physics at the Technion. Upon graduation, he was appointed as commander of a missile boat that specializes in anti-submarine warfare (the Navy ensures that future sub commanders serve on such boats first, as there is no better way to learn how they behave when confronting a submarine.) After two years, Oded embarked on a submarine commander’s course – an intensive eight-month track with a personal mentor. In 1999 he was assigned to command the old-model submarine “Gal.” The only thing he is willing to say about that period is: “It was a very operational year, with plenty of counter-terror activity.” In 2001, he was appointed as the second commander of “Leviathan,” a new model Dolphin sub.

When asked how it feels to command “Leviathan,” a submarine that is three-times larger than the previous sub he led, Oded first speaks about the improved shower experience. “When you are sailing for weeks and your only way to take a shower is to use the air-conditioner’s water, yet suddenly you have a shower, only then you understand the meaning of this,” he says.

“Suddenly there is a convenient space for service, in submarine terms of course. Suddenly your sub has more than one floor. There are also more arms and more advanced sonar systems. There is also a leap in atomization and in command and control capabilities. It’s like flying into space. Moreover, it’s a very quiet submarine that can perform its mission with greater secrecy.

Doubling the fleet

At this time the Navy is preparing to double Israel’s submarine fleet from three to six in the next five years, making it one of the region’s largest and most advanced fleets. As result of this process, Oded was not only required to double the submarine fleet’s manpower, but also to create a larger cadre career officers for a lengthy service term, as the need for professional expertise will only be growing. Hence, the Navy realized it must offer these soldiers the army’s best service terms. For example, sub troops can study almost anything they want, as long as they stay in the force. Notably, a sub officer is required to serve nine years at least.

Oded says that doubling the fleet’s size is “not only a challenge for the army; it’s a challenge for the State.” When asked whether Israel needs such large fleet, especially in an era of cutbacks, Oded has no hesitation: “I have no doubt we need it. A large submarine fleet gives us much more than a multiplier effect in strategic and security terms.”

SOURCE