Foreign Aid to Egypt to Shut Down- Should the USN Seize the Corvettes?

News is coming across the wires that US foreign aid to Egypt will be suspended, not because of the Shutdown, but in reaction to the removal of the Islamist Morsi government. Mind you, I find it insane that we’d protest the overthrow of a government completely at odds with our interests, but that’s a story for another time.

But here’s the thing. Over the last 15 years or so, the US has been working with Egypt to design and build (on our dime, and here in the US) a class of four large Fast Attack Craft– or small Corvettes, however you wish to slice that distinction. Known as the Ambassador class, they’re nice looking, modern little ships,  Some open source stuff I’ve seen says the first has been delivered.

Galrahn on his twitter feed suggested the US should seize them and turn them over to the USN.

And there’s ample precedent for this. The four modified Spruance class destroyers built for the Shah of Iran were seized and entered service with the US Navy as the Kidd class, and provided yeoman service for 20 years.

While the Ambassadors weren’t designed for US Navy use, most of their systems share a fair amount of built-in interoperability. Further, they’d be pretty handy forward deployed in restricted waters, say, in the Persian Gulf, especially where they could routinely call on carrier or land based air support.

Possible Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

Reports are coming out of Syria that pro-Assad forces have used a barrage of rockets to deliver a chemical weapon attack on a Free Syrian Army stronghold.

Just days after U.N. inspectors arrived in Syria to investigate the possible use of chemical weapons, opposition activists allege that as many as 650 people have been killed in a poison gas attack. Two anti-Assad opposition groups say that a large rocket attack in Damascus on Wednesday morning was actually a chemical weapons attack launched by the regime. If the reports are confirmed, it could also be one of the deadliest single incidents of the entire war. Syria’s state media agency denied the claims.

There are wildly differing reports on the casualties — from “dozens” to 213 to over 650 (and now an unthinkable 1,300) — and still no formal confirmation on the cause of death, but witnesses and reporters on the ground confirm that some kind of attack took place in the Syrian capital and that children are among the dead. Reuters reports that photographers, including their own, have taken images and videos that “showed scores of bodies including of small children, laid out on the floor of a medical clinic with no visible signs of injuries.” (You can see several such images here, though you should be warned that they are very graphic and the origins are not fully confirmed.) A lack of obvious wounds would suggest that some kind of poisoning may the cause.

Reuters also quotes a nurse saying the victims “arrived with their pupils dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths,” which are typical symbols of gas attack victims.

Since the end of World War I, for the most part, civilized nations have shunned the use of chemical weapons, even as they developed ever more deadly agents.

Treaties prohibiting the use of gas warfare were signed in the aftermath of the Great War, and have, for the most part, been followed, not so much because of the paper the treaties were written on, but because the danger of being the first to use chemical weapons had to be balanced against being the last to have chemical weapons used against you.

During World War II, neither the Axis nor the Allies used chemical warfare, despite extensive preparations to do so, largely because of the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, even though MAD would not become a formal strategic concept for another 20 years, during the nuclear era of the Cold War.

And indeed, that same concept of MAD held sway through the bi-polar world of the Cold War era, with some notable exceptions. The most notorious uses of chemical warfare are probably those associated with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.  While the Iran-Iraq war wasn’t exactly a proxy war between the superpowers, most observers would argue that the Soviet Union saw it as useful for the tensions in the oil-rich region to be high, and serve as a distraction to the US. But neither superpower was willing to intervene when the combatants resorted to battlefield use of chemical weapons.

The unwillingness to use chemical weapons has never been altruistic, but rather a fear of repercussions.  The tacit (and sometimes explicit) policy was that the escalation of chemical warfare would bring swift, incredibly violent retribution.

But that’s simply not the case today, especially in a civil war such as Syria. The quandary facing the US and most of the West in Syria is that while Assad is aligned with Iran, and a rather implacable foe of us, the rebel forces are increasingly composed of Islamist, Al Qeda types who are even more committed in their hatred of the West.  Would any intervention by the US or other Western powers in any way advance our own interests?  The vast majority of the US polity may recoil in horror at the death of hundreds, or even thousands of Syrian civilians, but after well over a decade of war in the Islamic world, those same US voters have little stomach for risking Americans in a fight that has no possible upside for us.

President Obama has stated that the use of chemical weapons is a bright red line that the combatants in Syria cross at their peril. But is it?

And if we don’t respond, have we shown ourselves weak, and invited future, more ghastly uses of chemical weapons, either in civil wars, or upon our own future battlefields, or worse, a terror attack against America?

Iran

I’ve held off on blogging about it. There’s not much I could add that others haven’t said, and said better.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it a great deal. For 30 years, the people of Iran have chafed under a regime that did nothing to fulfill the promises of the ‘79 revolution. That’s a very common problem with revolutions. Most fail, not in overthrowing the regime, but in establishing the institutions needed to form a stable government.

Our own revolution is a poor template to use for most nation states. We threw off the yoke of a distant power. Those that sided with the British were for the most part, somewhat tepid in their support. And they had a safe haven to move to, Canada, when the revolution succeeded. And most of the institutions of a successful government were in place here. We already had a tradition of several hundred years of common law to build upon.

But in any event, it is clear that a huge swath of the population of Iran has felt betrayed by their government. This started as a protest over the rigged elections. And why? Because the Iranian people just may have noticed that their neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan, after being invaded by the Great Satan, suddenly got to have free and open elections. But Bush was Evil.

Where this will go, no one can say. Should the protesters succeed, they will still have to deal with a huge chunk of the population that has just seen its rice bowl knocked over. Remember, there are many thousands of folks who either made their living via the regime, or were granted some level of power or prestige by it. They will not be very happy in whatever replaces it. That’s a big part of why revolutions so often go awry when trying to establish order. They must use repressive measures just to stay afloat, and in the process, risk becoming the very things they sought to damn.

In any event, I am concerned that our government has taken such a weak position, instead of reminding the whole world that we stand for freedom, and stand with any and all who seek to popularly depose an illegitimate regime.

I don’t know how things will turn out. No one does. But I can certainly pray that freedom and liberty just may gain another toehold in the Middle East.

Need a reason to vote?

Here’s just a reminder that elections have consequences. Joe Biden tells us that should Obama be elected, he will be tested by events soon after inaguration. I don’t think that’s a gaffe, but rather a statement of fact. And it applies to just about every President. The real question is, how will they react. Twenty-nine years ago today, sovreign US soil was invaded and we failed to defend it. We still suffer the consequences to this day.

What’s an EFP?

Update: Welcome, Conservative Grapevine readers. I hope you will look around. If you have a question, just ask. My goal here is to  help you understand how the Army works.

You’ve seen on the news how Iranian made EFPs are being used as roadside bombs to attack US vehicles in Iraq. But what is an EFP?

Early IEDs in the Iraq War were mostly artillery shells wired to explode. The first Humvees in Iraq had thin armor that would not protect very well against nearby explosions. As up-armored Humvees became available, these early IEDs lost some of their effectiveness. The insurgents reacted in two ways. First, they used bigger IEDs, wiring together several artillery shells at once. The larger blast was more effective, but took longer to emplace and were easier to spot. The second technique, using EFPs, is more difficult to counter.

EFP stands for Explosively Formed Penetrator. Using the concept behind a shaped charge, a disc of metal on one end of a charge can be blasted in the direction of the target. The charge is usually a steel pipe, 6-8″ in diameter. When detonated, the concave disc is deformed by the explosion, and reformed into a slug. The explosion pushes this slug at phenomenal speeds- up to Mach 6.

One of the biggest advantages of EFPs is standoff. The damage to the target isn’t caused by the explosion, but rather by the slug it fires. This means that the EFP doesn’t need to be right next to the roadside to be effective. This means that US soldiers have to scan a much larger area to detect IEDs.

An EFP can usually penetrate as much armor as the diameter of the charge. That is, a charge 6″ in diameter should be able to penetrate 6″ of armor, more than enough to defeat the armor of any Humvee, and indeed, all but the most heavily armored tanks.

Clearly, the threat posed by EFPs is one of the reasons that the US is putting so much pressure on Iran to stop equipping insurgents. Other countermeasures have included focusing on raiding bombmakers.

Update and Bump:

Because the EFP fires a single slug, timing the explosion is critical. Too soon, the slug goes in front of the vehicle. Too late and it misses behind. To get around this, the insurgents are using a cheap passive infrared sensor, sorta like an electric eye. When a Humvee passes in front of the sensor, off goes the EFP and destroys the vehicle. Ahh, but it didn’t take long for the US to come up with a countermeasure. You can see in the photo below a “Rino” device, designed to trigger the EFP before the Humvee reaches the kill-zone. Normally, it would be lowered so it is in front of the Humvee.

An unsuccessful EFP attack can be seen here.