November 08, 2004

A plea

Dear Chinese government investors:

If you could please keep the American dollar in freefall until after Christmas, so we can use that ludicrously favourable exchange rate to finish stocking up on electronics and computer supplies, and maybe get in a trip to Florida or California or somewhere, we'd really appreciate it up here. Re-electing Bush is really helping us stretch the kids' toy budget out farther than it's used to, and we'd really like to keep a good thing going.

Thanks for listening,


Posted by BruceR at 07:01 PM

More on SAMs and Iraq

Paul Glastris comments on a NYT piece on the 4,000 unaccounted-for SAMs in post-invasion Iraq.

As it turns out, the failed attack on the DHL cargo aircraft in Baghdad did turn out to be one of the most documented surface-to-air missile attacks in history, thanks in part to some French journalists travelling with the insurgents. The Nouvel Observateur piece we translated last week (the same one that describes a guerilla venture into an unguarded Al QaQaa in November, 2003 to pick up more explosive) makes reference to "'Sardar', a Kurdish missile specialist in Saddam's army" who trained the local guerillas in shoulder-launched missiles. According to the Paris-Match interview with the same group, they had recovered "28 missiles from 2 dumps," and successfully launched 23, with 4 technical failures, with only the near miss on the DHL plane to show for it.

The DHL attack itself, no offense to "Sardar," was itself technically inept, firing from a high-deflection location at the very edge of missile range, that would have been almost beyond the capability of a SA-7, and only marginal for a SA-14.

As I said at the time, the missile itself seems to have missed the plane entirely, with the proximity fuze detonating the small warhead as it passed under the far wing. If the resulting shrapnel hadn't set the wing fuel tank on fire, rapidly burning through the wing structure, the aircrew might have retained full control of the aircraft. Current plans to render future aircraft gas tanks more inert to fire by pumping in nitrogen in place of air would also have saved this Airbus from all but minor damage, an idea considerably less costly than specific anti-missile countermeasures, and making the plane safer in other kinds of potential disaster scenarios as well. (Most military aircraft already have this safety measure, while civilian aircraft do not.)

The evidence so far shows that large multi-engine aircraft, if not attacked right at the zero margin-of-error point of wheels-still-down takeoff itself, have historically been almost immune to attack by small shoulder-launched missiles. A four-engined jet has never been successfully brought down by one, and the survival rates for twin- and tri-jets, even with a confirmed strike, are pretty impressive. The 4,000 missing missiles are far more a threat to American helicopters in Iraq (against which they have proven relatively effective) than they are to commercial airliners worldwide. That doesn't excuse losing them in the first place, of course.

As a side note, one of the two examples of an airliner being shot down by a shoulder-fired missile is the Lubango Boeing 737 crash in 1983, which was never being conclusively established as being missile-based. In that crash, the 737 had only reached 200 feet before suddenly tipping hard to the left, with its wingtip impacting the ground 800m past the runway. The plane was completely destroyed. The local UNITA rebels claimed responsibility, but there has never been any conclusive evidence that one of their missiles actually hit the plane, or even that a missile was fired at all. (They would have had to have launched practically from the tarmac to hit the plane that early in takeoff.) My complete listing of civilian aircraft brought down by ground fire is here.

Posted by BruceR at 01:59 PM

Geneva and civilian hospitals

The storming and destruction of the Fallujah hospitals raises the interesting question: "don't the Geneva Conventions protect civilian hospitals?"

In fact, they didn't historically, until the 1949 (Fourth) Geneva Convention, which states (Art. 18): "Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." Both the United States and Iraq ratified Fourth Geneva in the 1950s.

During the brief initial fighting last April, moreover, many people specifically criticized the Saddam regime for not respecting the sanctity of hospitals, and thereby violating Geneva.

I have no doubt the DOD legal team has come up with the reasons for making exceptions to this rule, and that they're as sound as, say, their rather original readings of the Geneva articles related to prisoners of war, but I'm still going to be interested to read the rationale when it's issued. Links appreciated.

Posted by BruceR at 09:40 AM