Editor’s Column: The Month in Defence – July 2011

25 July 2011 (Last Updated September 23rd, 2020 08:52)

This month, South Sudan becomes a country, terror attacks in Mumbai and a cyber security alert over smart grids. Defence editor Berenice Baker casts an eye over the key military news that hit the headlines in the last month.

Editor’s Column: The Month in Defence – July 2011

South Sudan becomes a country and enters United Nations

On 9 July 2011 South Sudan became an independent state, and on 14 July it was welcomed into the United Nations. Born from a bloody civil war with the North in which some 1.5 million people died, South Sudan is an oil-rich nation but one of the least developed in the world.

However, new nation status does not win security for South Sudan. Immediately following the new country's secession, the UN approved the deployment of a peacekeeping force of 7,000 military personnel, 900 international police and a number of civilian staff, including human rights experts.

South Sudan's independence is the result of a peace deal brokered in 2005 after two decades of civil war. Nonetheless, a threat of violence remains as troops from the north and south battle over the oil-rich border region of Abyei.

Terror attacks in Mumbai highlight need for new countermeasures

Mumbai was rocked by three near-simultaneous bombs in its commercial capital on 13 July, killing 18 people and injuring dozens. Despite security forces being strengthened following the terrorist attacks in November 2008, Indian intelligence agencies had not identified any threats prior to the blasts, sounding a call for new technology to detect threats accurately and at a distance.

"On 9 July 2011 South Sudan became an independent state, and on 14 July it was welcomed into the United Nations."

One such innovation is the CounterBomber, developed by the Science, Engineering and Technology Corporation (SET), a new radar system for the US Army to help reduce the threat of suicide bombers.

The CounterBomber system integrates radar and visible or infrared cameras to detect potential suicide bombers at a safe stand-off distance. Two cameras scan an area the size of a football pitch, automatically detect and track the subject, and cue the radar to assess the threat.

The radar readings are processed by a computer which compares them using a complex set of algorithms to a library of 'normal' readings, based on people of different sizes and shapes.

If a reading is considered anomalous, which may indicate the presence of an explosive device even if hidden under clothing, the CounterBomber alerts the operator and transmits pictures or live video to a handheld device.

The USD$300,000 system does not rely on the presence of metal, and could be the answer to the recently highlighted threat of terrorists using explosives surgically implanted in the body.

US Army's modernisation plan takes shape

The US Army has released its modernisation plan 2012, in which it details the approach it will take to maintain an advanced fighting force and achieve strategic goals in an era of severe budget cuts.

"Mumbai was rocked by three bombs in its commercial capital on 13 July."

The plan identifies three main interrelated priorities: to network the force, protect and empower soldiers, and deter and defeat hybrid threats.

The third item refers to asymmetric threats, or unconventional warfare in which the enemy attacks in an indirect or unpredictable way, or uses equipment in unexpected ways. Not just a shopping list for new equipment, the plan details steps to adapt acquisition processes to get the best value and most suitable equipment for soldiers.

Gen. Edward P. Donnelly, the Army's Director for joint and futures within the Department of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G8, said on the Army's website: "As you look forward to the strategic environment we think we are going to see in the first half of the 21st century, it's characterised by four things: persistent conflict, an uncertain operational environment, decreasing access to resources, and increased cost of labour and material.

"You need to set priorities for the characteristics of the force that's going to operate in that environment, and then you need to develop, approve and resource requirements for the equipment that a force with those characteristics needs to be successful in that environment," Donnelly continued.

The plan also identifies seven key systems the Army considers crucial to current and future success on the battlefield. These are:

  • Joint Tactical Radio System, which will provide simultaneous data, video and voice communications to dismounted troops, aircraft and watercraft.
  • Warfighter Information Network–Tactical, which will provide the broadband backbone communications necessary for operational forces.
  • Ground Combat Vehicles, the Army's replacement programme for the Infantry Fighting Vehicles in heavy brigade combat teams.
  • Distributed Common Ground System–Army, a battlefield intelligence programme that sends integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to airborne and ground sensor platforms.
  • Joint Battle Command–Platforms, a framework for developing battlefield applications for mobile devices based on the Android operating system.
  • Paladin Integrated Management, BAE Systems' next-generation vehicle in the 155mm M-109 Paladin howitzer family.
  • Kiowa Warrior, an upgrade to Bell's OH-58 model helicopter which converts D models to F models with enhanced cockpit sensor upgrades.

"The equipment that we're asking for is a blend of versatility and affordability," said Donnelly. "It meets requirements of the 2012 financial year budget while maintaining balance between current and future needs."

New cyber security concerns for smart grids

"A new UK report, Smart Grid Cyber Security, indicates government and infrastructure networks should work together."

A new UK report, Smart Grid Cyber Security, indicates that government and infrastructure networks should work together to ensure future 'smart grids' are secure against cyber attacks.

It comes just weeks before a newly formed taskforce will bring together the energy networks and government security advisers to discuss how the future influx of IT and communications on the grid will be protected.

According to the report, although plans for distribution network operators are rigorous, a more coherent approach is needed to meet future concerns. Energy Minister Charles Hendry said: "The UK is taking action now, investing in smart grid development and planning for the future.

"The Government will shortly publish a high level strategy for the development of the smart grid as part of the forthcoming white paper on electricity market reform."