January 05, 2005

Samarra bridge-pushing update

First testimony this week in the Perkins court martial, the first of the two remaining Americans still facing charges for the Samarra bridge-pushing, with the survivor getting his day in court yesterday. No one disputes now that Zeyad's non-swimmer cousin was thrown into water over his head in the pitch-dark by an American patrol because he'd been caught outside after curfew, and his family buried a body they thought was his. The defense's remaining straw is that you can't prove the body that was buried was really, truly the victim in question. Apparently Iraqis lack cellular DNA, or something.

It might be worth reviewing this handy recap of the initial response from the jingopunditry to this story, from a year ago this week. Here's another one. As this is as far as I can tell the first-ever homicide court-martial that began as someone's blog post, you'd think the bloggers would be more interested in this than they are. Jeff Jarvis' studious silence, as expected, continues.

UPDATE: In later testimony, the American battalion's second-in-command confirmed it was former media darling LCol Nate Sassaman who ordered the soldiers of his battalion to lie to JAG investigators about the alleged drowning incident. Sassaman, who testified in Perkins' defence, has received an unspecified reprimand for his actions. More on Sassaman here. 1st Sgt. Perkins' defense counsel also tried to pin the whole thing on his LT (who is facing trial in March), calling witnesses to say the junior officer did all the ordering around, while the senior NCO never left his vehicle and so did not contribute to the prisoner-throwing (or did anything to stop it, for that matter). Nice "blade," that.

Posted by BruceR at 02:34 PM

Reader mail: on the DART thing

Veteran correspondent Chas. T. writes in on my DART post, below. My response follows:

"Ok Bruce now that you've had your fun let's have an evaluation of the DART programme itself. At its current size is it really viable? It has been deployed twice since 1996. At 600 tonnes or 1,322,773.57 pounds utilising C-17 Globemasters with a payload capacity of 170,900 pounds each and a price tag of $300 million each it would take almost 8 of these big birds to airlift DART at one go. Even the Brits only have four. It's not going to happen nor should it.

"And based on the the Sri Lankan and Indian govts response to Israel's offer of military aid one seriously wonders if DART is viable. The Ozzies and Kiwis used Hercs to drop in aid to Indonesia. Maybe its DART that needs a rethink."

My reply:

The Australians used Hercs because Hercs were within effective lift range from their location. The ludicrous C-17 price is the reason Canada doesn't use them or buy them, but relies on the somewhat more affordable Russian-type lift, instead. It's four trips in an Antonov 124, of which there are large numbers in commercial service.

(For comparison, in lift terms 1 An-124 = 2 C-17s = 4 Il-76s = 6 (short-range) Hercs = 10 CF Airbuses).

The only viable concept I've ever seen within realistic funding parameters was this idea for a Crown Corporation leasing out purchased Il-76s. For the price of two C-17s ($500m US) you could purchase 8-9 Il-76s at start-up, which would be enough to do a full 600-tonne DART drop in two round trips. Such a company would obviously also be in demand from the other NATO nations and the UN: I think it might even be self-sustaining after a $1B government startup investment... The big plans for a NATO shared heavy-lift pool using still-to-be-built Airbus 400s has been staggering around for a while now, so I wouldn't count on that option.

But a better emergency-need agreement with either Volga Dnepr, or better, Toronto's own Skylink Aviation (following the Australian model), whose own An-124s are going to be used by DART when it finally deploys this Thursday, would also help in the interim.

PS: To be clear, the RAF only leases its C-17s, for $35m US a year each... which Canada could do too.

UPDATE: Chas replied:

"Apparently the AN-124s are bigger but also less fuel efficient and without the STOL capability of C-17s. How often do you get a full-size functional run way in
a disaster area? It's not at all clear that the market for commercial heavylift aircraft is all that viable.

"And maybe the objective of global reach is unrealistic for Canucks. Were the Ozzies and Kiwis in Honduras after the hurricane? And is 600 tonnes of DART really necessary when an Italian emergency response team (firefighters and doctors) gets to Sri Lanka in a couple of days using Canadair cargo planes.

"And do we need another Crown corporation dumping tax dollars into you know which province when the potential of a return is about as great as the gun registry? ;)"

To which I responded:

No one's arguing the C-17 isn't a great plane... It's just unaffordable except on a lease basis.

The market for commercial heavy airlift is not viable, which is why it's so hard to find one when you need one. Hence the various proposals for leasing pools such as the UK has now. Countries that wish to have global military reach in a timely fashion need to spend more to have it... That's no surprise.

Global reach by air for us probably IS unrealistic. Britain and France at least have the advantage of various military bases scattered around the world to stage through. But it's a necessary condition for a foreign policy of rapid-response humanitarian interventionism by a country lacking those kinds of basing arrangements, which is what Paul Martin, Bono, etc. says we need more of. It's also a necessary condition for a more robust international response by Canada, or the smaller NATO nations, or the UN generally. You either believe in these things, or you don't.

We get certain advantages and cost-savings from a national defence point of view from being relatively isolated from the rest of the globe. This is the downside.

The Italian response is to be admired, and possibly emulated. They certainly have made a better showing than us so far in this case. For the record, those two Canadian aircraft are Canadair CL-415 converted water-bomber amphibians, which carry about 11 passengers each in the multirole configuration, and is the largest amphibian aircraft still in recent production. They don't have the range to cross the Atlantic, but I understand they're otherwise great planes. Like all float planes, I have no doubt they'd be particularly useful in a country without a lot of free airstrips at the moment (as anyone who's spent any time in the Canadian north would agree). If I was going to send a team of 20 disaster response staff with their first few days' supplies to some place that I wouldn't have to cross an ocean to get to, I'd want to use them too.

Posted by BruceR at 12:12 PM

Tales from today's air force

I hadn't heard this one until now... the reason the Canadian air force has only managed two Airbus flights to the tsunami area so far (26 tons of supplies total) in 10 days is because there are no replacement aircrews for the Airbus in question. So the crew is flying halfway... stopping to sleep... then flying the other half. (Standard practice in other air forces is to bring along a "slip crew" which takes over half the time, allowing a continuous flight, if refuelling is taken care of.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:05 PM

Tales from today's army

I've heard from a reliable correspondent that the Canadian Forces Supplementary Reserve's General Support Force Pacific (GSF-P) pilot program is moribund. No surprise, but a pity.

The GSF-P was a Western Canadian project to employ retired Regular soldiers in domestic-response situations, such as natural disasters. Headed by Col. Bill Low, the group had a peak strength of around 50, based in B.C. Current estimates are, if there was a natural disaster on the B.C. coast, it would be minimum of 72 hours before the first-responders from the nearest Canadian Forces army base (in Edmonton) could arrive by land. The GSF-P was meant as a stop-gap for B.C. until the rest of the army could arrive, and trained together with local civilian emergency responders. Members also got practice working forest fires, and the Kananaskis and G8 summits. The cost to the CF was the one full-time coordinator, and the civilian training courses for members.

A year-and-a-half ago, command and control of the GSF-P was transferred from the army's Western Area headquarters to Ottawa, supposedly as part of a plan to roll out similar organizations in the rest of Canada. But the members have not been contacted since, and none were called out for the recent natural disasters in Kelowna (fire) or Penticton (flood). Most have assumed the organization has died, and are offering to turn in their army equipment... if they could find anyone to turn it into. Oh, well.

Posted by BruceR at 12:00 PM