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Death From Above
March 17, 2008 1:23 PM   Subscribe

The U.S. Military's Assassination Problem: "Software like 'Bugsplat' is supposed to keep decapitation attacks precise. So why do we keep blowing up Iraqi wedding parties?"

Globalization Bush-style: Blowing Them Away Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry
posted by homunculus (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be fair, trying to assasinate enemy leaders from the air isn't just a Bush thing or a current War On Terror thing - Clinton was not adverse to sendfing in the cruise missiles for instance. And, at the risk of turning the thread into the usual clusterfuck, Israels always taken a strong lead on this kind of thing.
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on March 17, 2008


DARPA is working on the solution
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:49 PM on March 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm not an advocate of the war on terror. However, if one is at war and wants to kill an enemy leader, this would seem to result in much less collateral damage than a full scale invasion.
posted by batou_ at 1:59 PM on March 17, 2008


Holy smokes, EMRJKC94, the behavior on slippery ground was really something. Things are advancing fast. That said, the machine still needs an appropriate costume.
posted by Anything at 2:03 PM on March 17, 2008


"It's much more difficult to hunt people with a 2,000-pound bomb than people realize,"

This is largely because of a common misconception that a 2,000 pound bomb is a precision munition ideal for killing a single person. It's not. It's an anti-everything weapon which is really good and wiping out entire buildings.

If people continue to use them for the purposes of "decapitation attacks" where the target is a lone individual, we should expect that there will be a lot of collateral damage.

Where "collateral damage" is civilians who have done nothing wrong, structures that house no weapons or enemies, or generally anything that isn't the single guy that we wanted to kill.

That our technology has led us to find this kind of warfare acceptable demonstrates our indifference to killing people who don't deserve it. I'm sure we use it because it's easier, and safer for our soldiers, but that doesn't make it any less repugnant when we use stuff like this on potentially soft targets.
posted by quin at 2:07 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, you can't murder an egg without murdering a whole crate of eggs.
posted by Artw at 2:17 PM on March 17, 2008 [9 favorites]


Spectacular.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:45 PM on March 17, 2008


“I'm sure we use it because it's easier, and safer for our soldiers...”

You’re sure? I mean, that’s why a decent guy like yourself you might do it if put in such a situation, or that might be a motive you can attribute to someone when you’re being charitable. But let’s take those nice guy hats off for a sec.

Why might the military recommend sending a small fleet out somewhere, use up vast amounts of fuel, feed crews for the duration, maybe use a special forces unit for the op to paint a target, use more fuel getting some jets out there (minimally - a bomber and some escorts) maybe something really sneaky like a stealth bomber, all the other funky stuff related I’m not covering plus having to run the op all over again if you miss - instead of sending a small, already expendable and willing, covert team (with a big bag o’money) to pop the guy?

Why do we spend hundreds of millions of dollars per head to chase high-value terrorists? Or rather - why do we need to? Or better - is the process by which we spend those hundreds of millions necessary? And, say, what is that process anyway? Why keep using good ol’ hammer if the hammer doesn’t work?

Man, you don't need brothers, uncles, and nephews to rat on each other to follow supply lines, economic necessities, and how an organization breathes. You don’t just pay off a guy, you set him up as an independant so he doesn’t fall if he does rat. Then let nature do its course. Hell, that’s just one way. Give me twenty guys, $300 grand, and a cargo container full of generators and I’ll be running the bunny’s backyard in a month. Or I can have kids follow the guy around for a handfull of bic pens - what the hell happened to using an enemy’s resources against him?
The Mafia still had/has strong family basis, that nut was cracked. Other terrorist organizations have been defeated, there are methods, but you have to live close to the game and that takes time, patience and a lack of political interference and concession to expediancy. And it takes manpower, if one guy fails, one front, one op fails, you have backups. Most importantly it takes training, lots, and you have to learn how to soak in.

But it seems like a lot of folks in the defense industry are getting a big chunk o change because that’s the job Joe General and Pete Procurement is going to retire to when they leaves the pentagon or the Dept. of Defense.

And training doesn’t pay.
Sounds weird doesn’t it? Like quin's comment - 'training pays' makes more sense. It's how you think it'd work.

Someone said that to me years ago when I was training and I thought he was nuts. I was well trained. I was invisible, invincible and incredibly valuable. I held the General Patton - “ounces of sweat avoids gallons of blood” mindset.

Then I aquired the General Butler “war is a racket” mindset.
Yep. Training doesn’t pay. Equipment pays.

That’s not going to be stopped by human rights laws or attention or anything like that anymore than M&M Enterprises (from Heller’s Catch 22) can be stopped by policy. But I repeat myself. Same thing. What’s good for M&M is good for America.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


Then I aquired the General Butler “war is a racket” mindset.

Added the link because it's worthwhile reading. What he said back in the early 1900s is the same as what we are going through in the early 2000s.

Smedley Butler is an interesting guy that once claimed a small group of business elites in the US tried to recruit him to overthrow the US government. Who was one of the alleged business backers? Prescott Bush.
posted by ryoshu at 4:01 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


DARPA is working on the solution

That is the scariest fucking thing I have ever seen. Y HELO THAR NITEMARE FUEL.

It deserves its own FPP. Do it!
posted by Avenger at 4:09 PM on March 17, 2008


The robot quadruped troubles me greatly. When that dude kicks it I had the same gut reaction I'd have to watching a calf get kicked.
posted by Shutter at 4:22 PM on March 17, 2008


It uses a few unorthodox parts. Like an orphan.
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Now I'm envisioning a heartwarmingly sappy children's movie featuring a "Big Dog" and one of these snake bots in a fun and educational voyage of friendship and death lasers.
posted by rivenwanderer at 4:43 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Brilliant. America indiscriminately explodes civilians from the air with killer robots they call "Predator Drones", and somehow still scratches it's collective head, unable to understand why those crazy ragheads hate them so much.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:48 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think I may have detected an issue with that DARPA robot's stealth capacities. Unless my headphones are up really loud, or they tested it on some sort of wilderness chainsaw preserve.

I'm just saying, there's such a thing as a pack mule, and they're a lot quieter, and they don't scream "Look out! It's the military-industrial complex!" The robot is cool though, and just as an interesting feat of robotics, fairly impressive.
posted by SomeOneElse at 4:51 PM on March 17, 2008


Not only is this practice stupid and counterproductive, it's in direct contravention of the Army's own Counterinsurgency Manual:

Combat operations must therefore be executed with an appropriate level of restraint on the use of force to minimize or avoid killing or injuring innocent people who are not involved with the conflict. Not only is there a moral basis for the use of restraint or measured force; there are practical reasons as well. The COIN force does not want to turn the will of the people against the COIN effort by harming innocents. Discriminating use of fires and calculated, disciplined response should characterize performance in COIN, where kindness and compassion can be as important as killing and capturing.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I made it 2/3 of the way through that big dog video before I had a full on fucking panic attack. God those fucking legs.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:04 PM on March 17, 2008


Who was one of the alleged business backers? Prescott Bush.

To be sure, this is not a claim that was apparently stated by Butler himself, nor even widely published, until the 2007 BBC thing. I don't know what their sources were. The fantastic claims about P. Bush seem to make him vulnerable to being connected to just about anything.
posted by dhartung at 5:10 PM on March 17, 2008


From the standpoint of forces waging anti-terror operations, collateral damage from the use of stand-off weapons can inspire healthy fear in elements of a civilian population, as well resentment and anger. A population that understands successful attacks will be conducted against anti-terrorists, whose collateral lethality is inversely proportional to the quality of intelligence upon which they are planned, can be less hospitable to insurgents and terrorists wishing to board among them, thereby denying the terrorists haven. Civilians supplying intelligence about terrorist activities to the forces waging anti-terrorist actions have additional reason to do so, not the least of which is a desire on the part of the civilian population for self-preservation. It is always one course of action available to the side with stand-off armament.

And such measures are encouraging to anti-terror troops. Taking out top level terrorists by any means available generates mission satisfaction all up and down the military ladder, just as IED attacks in Iraq generate continuing interest for terrorist forces, in terms of recruiting, fund raising, and influence. Showing that you can get "the other guy" is basic to being credible as a force to the civilian population, for both terrorists and anti-terrorists.

But what a standoff weapon provides its operator that a close up weapon can't, is an ability to avoid making "martyrs" more "heroic" than they might be seen, if killed in conventional battles. Ideally for the anti-terrorist forces, the standoff weapon takes out the terrorist and perhaps his close cohort quite suddenly, and when they are entirely unawares, or even when they are in operational planning activities. They're just asymmetrically and suddenly dead, and in some cases, news of their demise is released to the public by the anti-terrorists, before the terrorists' own organization is even aware of the strike, which is thought to be demoralizing to the terrorists by many anti-terrorists. That's one striking difference between the IED weapon attacks used by terrorists in Iraq, which have engendered political sympathy and support for American forces back home, and the use of standoff weapons by U.S. forces, which the U.S. has repeatedly apologized for and paid reparations on occasion, when collateral damage has occurred.

When AQI sends its first reparations check to innocent victims of any of its suicide bombers, I'll quit calling them terrorists.
posted by paulsc at 5:13 PM on March 17, 2008


paulsc - So the advantages of being hated and feared start to outweigh the disadvantages of being hated and feared at what point? Positive examples of following this path working out well would be interesting.
posted by Artw at 5:26 PM on March 17, 2008


"... Positive examples of following this path working out well would be interesting."
posted by Artw at 8:26 PM on March 17

U.S. occupation of Japan, 1945.
U.S. occupation of Germany, 1945.
Korean conflict, particularly if you are a South Korean.
U.S. invasion of Grenada, 1983.
U.S. invasion of Panama, 1989.
posted by paulsc at 5:43 PM on March 17, 2008


Heh.

Saying any of those were even remotely the same kind of situation would be a bit of a stretch, no?
posted by Artw at 6:53 PM on March 17, 2008



"... Positive examples of following this path working out well would be interesting."
posted by Artw at 8:26 PM on March 17

paulsc's examples:

U.S. occupation of Japan, 1945.
U.S. occupation of Germany, 1945.
Korean conflict, particularly if you are a South Korean.
U.S. invasion of Grenada, 1983.
U.S. invasion of Panama, 1989.
posted by paulsc


What?
Equals Iraq?
I don't think so.
posted by notreally at 7:28 PM on March 17, 2008


"Bugsplat"? "Bugsplat." Somehow cute names for software aren't so cute when they're used for murder tools. Imagine being the guy that wrote it. Your senior project for your CS degree was a SOAP-based D&D supplementary material cataloging system and a few years later you're writing kill-code for the military and giving it a cute name like "Bugsplat". Then in your spare time you contribute to the GNOME project. You're in many ways an average code monkey, except instead of writing a chat room with one click bus ticket ordering, you help murder people. Do you wake up one night and slit your wrists in a warm bath and leave a note reading "I WAS MISLED" or do you just rationalize it as "just a job"?
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:52 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


When AQI sends its first reparations check to innocent victims of any of its suicide bombers, I'll quit calling them terrorists.

All they have to do is shell out some money and they're not 'terrorists' anymore? Hell, most of the foreigners are Saudis, I bet they could get the money from back home. They could do a telethon. It would be a PR coup!
posted by homunculus at 8:01 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Taking out top level terrorists by any means available generates mission satisfaction all up and down the military ladder

Tell it to the innocent dead.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 PM on March 17, 2008


Time was your batshit insane motherfucker had to actually wield the chainsaw himself. Now he can use 3G networks, high rate data compression, on-board spinal column/reflex simulation and high power actuators to cause a murderous rampage from the safety of his own mother's basement.

"What are you doing, Ted?"
"Ripping through a crackhouse in Philadelphia, mother."
"That's nice, be sure to get some sleep."
"God's work never sleeps, mother."
"I know, dear. Good night."
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:01 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


for me, bigdog lives in the uncanney valley.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:22 AM on March 18, 2008


Taking out top level terrorists by any means available generates mission satisfaction all up and down the military ladder

I've long admired the top heavy inverted pyramid structure of terrorist organizations.
posted by srboisvert at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2008


“Civilians supplying intelligence about terrorist activities to the forces waging anti-terrorist actions have additional reason to do so, not the least of which is a desire on the part of the civilian population for self-preservation.”

To be fair, yes, that is immediately tactically useful. But it’s very short term. The Romans used to follow that playbook. Once they couldn’t economically support the legions there was a lot of resentment that rendered Rome inert and shattered Italy into thousands of little principalities. Oh, and the multiple sackings, raping and pillaging and stuff.

“When AQI sends its first reparations check to innocent victims of any of its suicide bombers, I'll quit calling them terrorists”

Fair enough. I don’t think anyone’s disputing that they are terrorists tho. But let’s not forget who the targets are.

What differentiates us - or is supposed to - from the terrorists is the fact that we don’t hold innocents hostage.

And I know a thing or two about some of those conflicts. Panama f’rinstance - whatever you say about big stick intel gathering - was exactly the kind of myopic politically emphasized planning that nearly screwed the whole operation.
Not to mention years of diplomacy, massaging, etc. gone in an instant - once there were civilian casualties the resentment started.
That’s why we’ve got so much damned trouble with China there today.

That’s apart from which - Panama was, for the guys on the ground, the complete antithesis of your position. I don’t know what asshat overrode the standing orders for the folks delivering the heavy ordnance, but the operatives that f’rinstance took Padilla (plus y’know, some dude in the rarified air thinks home brew is tasty - yadda yadda and fucks up an otherwise nifty operation) - avoided breaking/killing a damned thing. Didn’t see replacements for so damned long they got hungry. And were nervous to break in to the vending machines because the whole “don’t break ANYTHING” was so drilled in.
Meanwhile Uncle Chuck’s out there getting careless with fireworks ‘cause he’s in a warzone woo hoo! and wants to tell his bar buddies what a bad ass he is when he gets back.
No, Panama didn’t work. The goal was accomplished but the price paid was way too high.
(That’s the neat thing about “heroes”, eh? When it comes time to collect, they’re the ones who pay the bill. S’why we honor them so. After, y’know, their dead and can stfu about things)

And we see what happened there reflected in the state of Panama-U.S. relations today. But we got Noriega. After, y’know imposing horrible sanctions on the country, which riled people up so much they killed a marine. And their current president personally killed two of our servicemen and hates our guts...I’m sorry, we couldn’t just waltz in and put a bullet in Noriega - why?

The other examples - the occupation of Japan, Germany, the Korean war - all that - way too big. That’s strategy, not tactics. And in Germany we had the threat of the Russians to help. In Japan we helped the hell out of those people. The only place you’re argument applies would be - perhaps - dropping of the A-bomb. And I might agree, except that was nearly all civilians. Plus it’s a huge complex issue.
Urgent Fury - different story. Small enough war to address. But from the outset - that was a coup in progress and an international clusterfuck, not a terrorist event. It only became dangerous for the U.S. civilians there because of the overwhelming force employed. And again - it was a poltical dog and pony show that could have been a nice neat covert rescue op. Hell, you could hold the island with 3,000 troops and all the beef surrounding the place. The only ones to worry about were the Spaznuts (’scuse me, Spetznaz).

So all that, we took about 120 casualties (wounded and dead), killed 20-odd civilians, spent millions in operational costs running gunships and naval bombardment to nail, what, 18 guys from the PRA?

And with all the months to plan guys on the ground (again shit on from on high) STILL didn’t have accurate information - even the simple stuff like, y’know, maps and it took a day and a half to locate the students.

So no, people weren’t scared into cooperating or denying the PRA haven or any such thing. Mostly they were running around, screaming their heads off, cowering in their homes, in basements, etc. like almost everyone else in a war.

Measures that are encouraging to counterterrorist units are using their training in a precise and effective manner. The downside is the President can’t be photographed serving those guys turkey dinner or some such because y’know, they’re a little camera shy.

And general morale is more greatly improved by not killing civilians.
That is demoralizing. You’re not going to go home and sit in the bar and brag about some guy who was bending over to pick up a long metal object, blowing him away, and then discovering it was a garden hoe. Or visit the site you dropped a bomb on and seeing kids with 1/2 an arm or leg. No, that really sucks.

You can’t hold civilians hostage like that or threaten them that way without expecting to see some blowback.
It’s not like I’m shy about assassinations. Oh, I like oversight, but if it’s a choice between a missile barrage from a bunch of gunships to take out an area and scare the civilian population into submission or sneaking in on cat feet and leaving Fearless Leader dead at his desk and everyone in the building scratching their heads, I’ll take the latter.
It’s less risk to our guys overall, less risk to civilians and puts the burden on men who welcome it.

The way it’s done here is lousy policy making and it exists primarially to legitimize a whole way of doing business by expending huge amouts of ordinance and resources to make people in the defense industry money. It’s Mother Courage, man. Not warfighting or counterterrorism.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2008


6 killed by U.S. copter may have been allies
posted by homunculus at 3:34 PM on March 23, 2008


'Star Wars' Turns 25, Eats $120 Billion; Worth It?
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2008


Catch 2,200: 9 Propositions on the U.S. Air War for Terror
posted by homunculus at 10:59 AM on April 10, 2008


CNN’s endless loop of Pentagon propaganda video
posted by homunculus at 9:40 AM on April 12, 2008


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