Thursday, September 29, 2016

Saudi Austerity Measures...

So the Grand Mufti of the Saudi Kingdom has declared overt support for King Salman's austerity measures [1]. As always I welcome a rational spending shift in the Saudi royal family. I don't know if this has anything to do with the suggestion from countries like India.

Countries like India had suggested that either KSA could pay its foreign guest workers or their parent nations could compensate them out of funds owed to KSA for oil purchases. From the perspective of a nation like India - this advantageous as the payments can be in local currency - which avoids the fees incurred in the whole loop through Riyadh.

I have often wondered what the Saudis do with all this foreign labor. So much effort is expended on putting up palaces where a grand total of two people live. The palaces have large gardens and air conditioned dining halls and massive garages for BMWs and Benz cars but the things are basically completely useless. It is wasteful to even have people work as servants in these palaces because no one lives there.

I have long suggested that instead of building useless palaces, they build large green houses which can be used to reduce Saudi dependence on imported food products. If the Saudis put their minds to it, I am sure that they could reproduce the miracle of Almeria [2]. This kind of miracle would substantial undermine Osama Bin Laden's primary criticisms of the Saudi  monarchy's handling of the economy.

On a perhaps related note, I see there is a new deal at OPEC [3]. I am again hopeful that this helps reduce the problems that the unreasonably low oil prices created in the world.

There is a way forward for Saudi Arabia - a way that does not lead to endless conflict with states like Iran and eternal discomfort for their allies in the world.

It would be nice if the Saudis started down that path instead of clinging to gold plated toilets and extravagant spending in Europe and America.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

And so it begins...

The much awaited riposte has begun.

PM Modi has refused to attend the SAARC meeting in Islamabad.

PM Modi has suspended the Permanent Indus Commission indefinitely.

The Indian media and diplomatic initiative after Uri had sought to paint Islamabad as terrorist state and given its long history of hosting terrorist groups and harboring irredentist positions - the label stuck to Pakistan.

PM Modi was careful not to abrogate the Indus Water Treaty but to simply suspend the Permanent Commission which adjudicates issues that come up during the implementation of the treaty.  By linking the restoration of the Permanent Commission's talks to the "end of terror" - the Indian PM has drawn a line in the sand.

This is a major shift in the India Pakistan discourse.

This is a very direct articulation of an existential threat to Pakistan.

Pakistan is a lower riparian state and despite all pretenses - it cannot alter the status quo in Kashmir. Should India choose to go its own way on water issues, the entire agro-economy of Pakistan would collapse under the weight of speculative panic in its grain markets.

We have now entered a new phase of India Pakistan relations.

This puts us into a space that I call "Beyond Cohen". Steve Cohen's basic hypothesis was that India would respond militarily to a Pakistan attributed terrorist attack and that would set the situation railing towards an escalatory peak.

By de-activating the Permanent Commission - the situation has escalated without a military act by India.

This is important - the move indicates PM Modi's willingness to  engage in a test of wills. He has indicated to everyone he is not backing down from a fight - but he also has numerous non-military options at his disposal which Pakistan has no counter for. For all the forces it possess the Pakistan Army cannot bring water to the people of Pakistan.

It  remains to be seen how Pakistan responds, but it would appear that PM Modi's move has signaled that his patience with the Pakistan Army and its behavior is at an end.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Predatory pricing as part of a national security strategy

This kind of thing usually comes up in the context of Chinese national business practices, and most opponents of international trade bring this up when coming up with arguments to support their views.

The basic idea here is that a nation deliberately facilitates its companies as they pursue predatory pricing strategies to gain dominance on international trade patterns. For example, a nation subsidizes its companies and that subsidy allows them to drop prices on internationally traded products. The companies then basically dump their products on to the market and drive all other international competitors out of business. Once the dominance has been achieved, the nation raises taxes or withdraws incentives to these companies and in turn they price gouge their captive markets.

A lot of people accuse the Chinese of doing this kind of thing. And given how many people accuse the Chinese of doing this,  I feel that there is certainly some fire under all the smoke. I also agree that this is the kind of strategy that would appeal to Chinese national security planners.

There is however a problem. If you look carefully at all the control that has to be maintained to get this kind of scheme to work, you realize that such a strategy has significant administrative costs. And this administrative costs have to be born for several decades before price gouging can provide a real return. That is a period over which the Chinese (or any other nation  seeking such a policy goal) basically holds on to a very insecure debt burden which grows quite significantly. The biggest risks in such a strategy are that in the period that it takes to really action such a policy - no competitive technology appears that is better tuned to customer expectations of product quality.

Now people (like myself) who work on novel technologies will tell you it is very difficult for new technology to compete with lower cost mass produced stuff, but this is only really true when there is no clear value addition from the new product side. If your new product can actually offer users an improved UX or better appeal to customer defined norms, you can be competitive against a dumping strategy. This can obviously augmented by brand awareness and loyalty etc...

There is also a psychological factor at play in this sort of thing. If the target market can show even one example of a successful market disruption, then it will sow doubts in the minds of the policy planners in the nation attempting a dump-and-gouge strategy. I think some of this is happening in China, I see a lot of Chinese firms trying to do innovation - or at least their own version of it. These firms inevitably discover that innovation is painful and expensive and it further chews through their weak profit margins. They basically do not have a very deep resource pool from which to attempt true innovation and what it ends up doing is that it prolongs the time for which their government has to shoulder their bad debt.

Many people argue that closing the door to the target market is the only way to secure themselves from dump-and-gouge attacks. This kind of thing basically advocates against international trade which is the corner stone of our global prosperity.

I disagree with that way of doing things  - I think a better way is to engineer disruptions of the dump cycle through targeted innovation.  That should have a salutary effect on the dump-and-gouge strategy without affecting the overall framework of international trade.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Iran announces "surge" in Syria

Recent reports indicates that Iran has massively increased its footprint in Syria. This has significant implications for the stability of the Assad regime and for the prospects of "Sunni gas".

As most of you are aware ISIL's ability to make war has been severely restricted. Between Russian airstrikes on their oil infrastructure and US airstrikes on their remaining military battalions, the fall of ISIL control in many areas including the Al-Raqqah is imminent.

This is as good a time as any to get in on the action. That is what is largely driving Iranian enthusiasm. Chicago rules say you should always kick a man when he is down.

The troop surge planned by the Iranians will not support the Assad regime as much as it will constrain it to do Iran's bidding. We have seen this kind of thing in Lebanon with Hezbollah. Hezbollah leaders openly speak about Iran pursuing its own interests even if they come at Hezbollah's expense.

From the Iranian perspective - Assad is an accident of history - perhaps a useful one but not an essential one. I feel the deployment of more IRGC assets and Iranian irregulars on the ground in Syria speaks to Iran's estimate that the Assad regime will not sustain beyond a point here. The Iranian's recognize that the Assad regime is exhausted and like ISIL it will not sustain a real beating for much longer.

I sense that the objective for Iran here is not so much to facilitate the proposed "Shia Gas" routes, but rather to frustrate "Sunni Gas" initiatives backed by KSA and Qatar. The Russians want this too (as does anyone who dislikes the current low oil prices). This becomes a natural zone of convergence for many groups and the Iranians are capitalizing on that.

It is difficult to say how long this surge will last. From current trends in Iranian media channels, there is broad public support for checking ISIL but it is not clear the average Iranian backs getting into a pipeline war with KSA+Qatar.

The imminent fall of ISIS offers Iran a massive opportunity to gather support from its people and put more feet on the ground in Syria.

America for its part is ambivalent to the root of the Syrian conflict. If Saudi+Qatar  succeed in getting "Sunni Gas" through to Europe, then the US could benefit from resulting reduction in ONG prices. If the "Sunni Gas" initiative fails, the price of ONG would rise (as KSA would not be able to sustain its production at low prices)  but then US based fracking firms would go back into business and the US would make money from exports.

This kind of ambivalence is what allows certain presidential candidates to get away with making utterly nonsensical comments about US intervention in Syria. In a sense it is completely irrelevant what they say - because no one is actually going to do anything  significant.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Storm clouds and lightning

When storm clouds gather lightning strikes with little or no warning.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Some comments on the Uri Attack

The loss of life in any incident is terrible. Unlike the bureaucrats of old who felt that the armed staff are basically paid to die - I actually believe everyone has a right to live.

Unfortunately as you might expect - there is actually a response scale that typically comes into play when an incident occurs. This has evolved over the last several decades and it is deeply rooted in thinking of the Armed Forces. (Seriously - do you know of anything that doesn't have a schedule in GoI? - even the number of pieces of toilet paper you use are stipulated in some  rules of conduct.)

The first level on the incident is one where uniformed personnel are attacked during the course of their duties. Usually this definition is limited to when they are actually on patrol, but after the first RR garrisons were established, it has largely been revised to include the act of being in the base itself. The response is usually local and limited to uniformed or recognized adversaries only. Naturally the response is proportional to the casualty and challenging a flag officer produces an extremely serious reaction.

The second level incident is one where personnel out of uniform are attacked either off-base or off-patrol. This kind of behavior is seen as hostile and completely unwarranted. Most movements in India's north east even in their heyday never crossed this line and only attacked people in uniform. The response is much stronger than the previous level. I don't want to go into the specifics because let's face it - most of you don't care.

The third level incident is one where the relatives of personnel are targeted either on or off a secure base. This kind of thing has happened very rarely in history and it is seen as an unforgivable terrorist act. The response is usually very severe. Again no specifics - but you can look at history books as  much as I can.

Obviously Sri. Modi can do whatever he wants. It is all dictated by political expediency anyway.  One meeting of the brain trust and all this could become irrelevant.

At the present time, people are talking about cross border strikes, but it is difficult to do it without the help of the Pakistan Army. It should be possible to secure such help but there is inevitably a cost associated with that kind of thing and I wonder if Sri Modi is up for it. One would have to pay the Pakistani Army to arrange safe passage for the Indian strike team as it did for the Seal team that took out Osama Bin Laden. Only a long range recon patrol could produce a strike of extraordinary precision with little to collateral damage.

It may be possible to do this without Pakistan Army cooperation, but the risks and likely costs of such an option will be higher. I think it will be an extremely high risk mission with over 90% chance that the away team will be lost. Units like the SG can carry such risky long range recon patrols with ease but traditionally that has been held in reserve for reasons that should be exceedingly obvious. Naturally I am never in favor of expending SG lives unless there is no alternative at all and I would be against this option on account of those principles alone.

Another option that was doing the rounds was reinstating the artillery barrages that were used as punitive measures in the Neelam Valley. Unfortunately I think this measure is less effective now, firstly the Pakistani posture in the sector has hardened considerably and the only ones who are punished by these barrages are innocent Kashmiri women and children who can't escape the Indian artillery shells. The Pakistan Army terrorist groups or their sponsors are left largely untouched by such acts.  This was not the case a decade ago but now I fear things have changed.

The other big discussion is air strikes. If the element of surprise could be achieved it would be quite effective, but I stress there would be significant collateral damage. The Israelis have done this kind of thing time and time again, but their model for this is far more tolerant of collateral damage. Essentially the Israelis state that their responses need to match the per-capita casualty rate imposed by their adversaries. As Israel's population is quite small, the per-capita casualty rate is very high. So from the Israeli perspective an imprecise option like an airstrike produces acceptable levels of collateral damage. This argument does not apply in the Indian context.

If I was a JS in the PMO, now would be the time that I would try to attend that conference in Kanyakumari or perhaps I would try to go the my fifth-cousin-thrice-removed's son's wedding in Rangoon!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Schlafly is gone - but Steinem lives.

To those of you who are unfamiliar Phyllis Schlafly and Gloria Steinem represent two of the most strident female voices in the US political spectrum. Their ideas and public postures shaped the views of several generations of men and women in the US and I believe these two intellectual giants hold the key to an electoral landslide in the coming US election.

The two could not have been more different. Throughout their lives they fought each other and it was a vicious and pitched war of words and thoughts. Ordinary people (like me) watched these ideological conflicts and wondered what to make of it. (Full disclosure - I am much closer to Steinem's positions on gender issues but I do not see Phyllis' ideas are being "anti-feminist").

I for one see Phyllis as a crypto-feminist. I know that word has been largely defined to mean women who reject overt association with feminist ideas but I am using it differently. In my view Phyllis infiltrated the male dominated conservative hierarchy in the same way that an S-Directorate illegal infiltrates the US nuclear command and control chain.

Now you would think that kind of infiltration is easy to spot. Surely you can tell when a KGB illegal is getting too close to the football? - I mean the man loves reading old Russian novels,likes Pirogis and struggles with the letter "V" - right? ... No wrong!

That is where I think the talent and genius of Phyllis Schlafly lies - she embedded herself at the core of the dark heart of male egocentrism by going along with and exceeding anything the men could come up with on their own.

If a conservative lawmaker said something stupid, Phyllis Schlafly would come up with something ten times stupider and prejudiced. Every time she did that the obvious stupidity of the statement would be so apparent that even the conservative lawmaker would have to reconsider his own idiotic idea.

As she repeatedly played this card she pushed herself into a position of advantage and she gained power over those of near-Taliban intelligence levels (such as your average male social conservative political figure).

There was no way as a conservative you could avoid dealing with Phyllis. If you tried to say something, when you were done - she would say something that would make your idea look even stupider than it was and in doing so you were reduced to the child that goes up to his mom and says "I would like to climb up the tree in the backyard" and the mother replies "Yes dear and while you are up there can you also take the chainsaw and some matches?". You would never know if she was being sarcastic or she really wanted you to do that, so you would back off the idea of climbing the tree.

I think that sort of approach is brilliant. Toxic - but brilliant.

Gloria Steinem ofcourse felt differently. She was much more of the plain spoken and WYSWYG person. To her mind - you didn't have to use all this cryptic stuff. If you thought something you spoke your mind and if the men didn't like - who cares what they think anyway.

While Gloria and Phyllis neutered the over inflated male egos in their own ways - they educated American women about different ways of coping with their subaltern and repressed status in society.

American women from the Boomer generation were especially affected. They oscillated between the two viewpoints on a daily basis. Every woman wanted some balance of independence and family responsibility and playing the arguments from Phyllis and Gloria against each other to get the required leverage to do what they wanted became a game that women of that generation played on a minute by minute basis.

Now let us journey to the present. Currently 12% of the US population are baby boomer women. About 80% of those self identify as white - so about 10% of the US women are white baby boomers. This segment of the population sees a reflection of themselves in Hillary Clinton and they see a shadow of their husband in Donald Trump.

If Phyllis and Gloria were to compete on an equal footing for their votes, this group would split down the middle. Phyllis supported Donald Trump and Gloria supported Hillary Clinton. By extension half the white boomer women would support Donald Trump because he would be the evil they know - and the other half would support Hillary Clinton because they would see a president who was just like them.

But Phyllis is gone and only Gloria remains.

A very painful Brexit process has begun

 "The campaign was fought ... and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU ... and no second referendum. ... Brexit means Brexit."

Theresa May - June 30th 2016

I think these words carry great significance as they lay out the pain and suffering that lies ahead. The Prime Minister is correct, if citizens do not recognize their civic responsibilities or do not exercise them with due diligence, then they must suffer the consequences. 

By appointing Boris and other Leave leaders into ministerial positions, Prime Minister May has executed a Machiavellian master stroke. She has put the people yelling the hardest about leave in the front line of the battle to deliver on it. If these people fail - they will be visibly accountable for the suffering that follows.

If we had fought WWI or WWII in the same fashion and pushed the loudmouths who wanted the war into the trenches and the tanks - then I suspect the war would have been over much faster. 

A great many opportunists had attempted to use the Leave campaign as a political spring board, they never expected it to succeed but to use the publicity to launch themselves into lucrative careers as pointless-talking-heads. Madame May's move to make them into ministers has now caused the entire Leave effort to backfire on its opportunistic creators - what they hope would be a stairway to financial heaven has become their political epitaph. 

For their part the EU states will make this process as prolonged and painful as possible. It is in their collective interest to bargain as hard as possible. And any economic hardship that results from this will end up being directly blamed on the very people who proposed the Leave idea and then failed to deliver on its well advertised promise. 

The tentative date for discussions on how to go about the whole Article 50 activation has been set for mid February. If the Leave campaigners wish to leave their cushy ministerial positions and seek out alternative employment elsewhere (I mean Nigel Farage clearly has found himself a place in the American political sideshow act sector) - then they have to do it before that date - because beyond that date, if they withdraw they will be seen as rats deserting a sinking ship. 

As long as Madam May keeps her iron will on the issue in full view of the public. None of these opportunists will survive contact with the reality of Brexit. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

“Go to your headquarters and work this out so that we can have Aadhaar-registered devices.”

Good grief...


"Indians will still log into their smartphones using the manufacturer’s biometric authentication—typically a fingerprint or iris scan. But once they access Aadhaar using the government’s encryption, the likes of Apple and Google will lose the ability to track users online, forfeiting the ability to mine that data to sell ads or other products and services. (Indian law, by the way, bars the government from collecting or using customer data.)"

“According to the UIDAI CEO, the data will be encrypted by the UIDAI key at hardware level in phones that will make it impossible for anyone else to decrypt the information except for the Aadhaar server. The agency says it will ensure full privacy and security of biometric information.”

Man... Nandan this is simply breath-taking.

Demographics of the Trump voters

FWIW - I don't think anyone should be called deplorable - views are deplorable - people should be given every opportunity to change.

I bin Trump voters into the following categories (based on my own personal highly irregular and nonscientific sampling). The rough demographic percentages are knowable from the Pew center.

Older White Boomer Men - These people grew up in a culturally narrowed US in the 50s and 60s. They associate a lack/weakness of cultural identification as a critical component of nationalism. They are uncomfortable with a black man or a woman being president. These people never reconciled to the election of President Obama. These people do not subscribe to overt racism, it reminds them too much of the Nazi nonsense that their parents generation died fighting - but covert racial thoughts permeate the zeitgeist of this group. Most people in this group (including global superhero Clint Eastwood) don't recognize the dangers this kind of thinking poses. The primary concern these people have is that they are now completely dependent on government spending. In their old age, they have become just like the "unemployed lazy black person" they love to hate. Given how much debt the country has worked itself into - there will be no way for them to really collect any level of meaningful social security. The aging white boomer man is the ultimate Social Justice Warrior - they seek to receive social security and medicare into their last days - that is their definition of social justice and they are willing to fight for it. I don't know if Hillary can reach out to this group but if she did - it would be by making assurances on the continuation of entitlement spending.

Older White Boomer Women - This group has reached its social equilibrium with the challenges it came up against. These voters are pulled between the extreme views of Phyllis Schlafly  and Gloria Steinem. I see both the viewpoints as natural reactions to the manner in which the preceding generation (i.e. "Great Generation")  of women were treated by their male peers after the war. When they saw what happened to their mothers and grand-mothers - white boomer women split into two groups - one group went down the road of putting up a slavish pretense of compliance with male ego centrism (and in doing so expose its failures) and the other launched an open revolt against idiotic male ideas of society. A great fraction of Hillary Clinton's own actions (especially her obsessive secrecy) can be easily explained by her white female boomer pedigree. Like the caricature of Brie Van de Camp in Desperate Housewives - the white boomer woman is obsessed with the idea of visual perfection. These women are less concerned about decaying social security as (unlike their male counterparts) they actually know how to "make do with what they have". This IMHO represents Hillary's greatest political opportunity - if she can speak directly to this group - she will win by a landslide.

Early White Male GenXers - This category is driven purely by economic concerns. Their debt structure (partially inherited from their boomer forbears) is unsustainable. Caught in the vise-like jaws of globalization, and practically raped by Reagan era policies on trickle down economics - this group is financially challenged. They are not poor - but they are deeply in debt and their cash flows are insecure. They would like to see that be less so but given how much debt the US is carrying - there is no way to sop up their debt too as it is simply too large a number. This is a very vocal community - these are the bulk of the people who post on social media sites like Reddit. Most of these people know that there is little their community will really gain from Donald Trump economically. The only reason they support him is because they want to make a point - or a protest vote. People from this group also recognize that Donald Trump is a serial-liar because they spend all that time on the internet covering for him or supporting his lies. Tragically there is no way to reach out to this group. There is no package that Hillary could offer them to switch loyalties. No one can help them - not Hillary or Donald Trump.

Bold Font Readers - This is a group that imo defies clear social labeling. Their only common feature is that they usually don't read the fine print in anything. These people are supporting Donald Trump because they haven't bothered to look up the details about his business style. Once they realize how he typically operates they will be quite dissatisfied with him. Hillary could try to educate these people and that will switch their loyalties.

The New Carpetbaggers - This is a group of political opportunists that has decided to jump on the Donald Trump bandwagon as they think it is their route to fame and fortune. Again these people tend not to read the fine print, but they are so desperate (kind of like Taco Truck Guy or Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin) so they are using the Donald Trump platform to surf their way to personal financial success. In Hindi - I would call this group the - "Main Bhi Trump" (I am Trump too) category. Again there is nothing anyone can do about these people. They exist in every campaign.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

North Korean Nuclear Progress

The BBC has a news article about North Korea's nuclear progress. The article interviews Dr. Siegfried Hecker, Jeffrey Lewis and John Schilling.

As expected Dr. Hecker basically echoes what I have said here - he is a physicist and so am I, we have the same concerns - so that part is fine.

I don't know enough about missile development timelines, so what John Schilling is saying could be right.

I was a little unsure of what to make of Jeffrey's comments.
In June, for example, it fired a missile that reached an altitude of 1,000km (620 miles). It probably fired high rather than long to avoid Japan (an action which would have been too provocative) but the distance travelled impressed Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
"That suggests the missile worked perfectly. Had it been fired at its normal angle, it would have flown to its full range," he said.

It could be that something is being lost in translation here but if Jeffrey's comments are about that particular test vehicle **only**, then I agree - that particular test vehicle could have reached full range.

But if Jeffrey's comments are about any other test vehicle that the North Koreans are building, I am not in agreement. There is a massive difference between making one shot that goes the distance and making an actual vehicle that does the distance every single time around. North Korea is not in a position to make claims about every single vehicle doing the same thing that single shot did. The North Koreans have never demonstrated the ability to reliably put satellites in orbit. They have pulled off one-offs but nothing that can be verified by external observers. North Korea has never launched a satellite that remained in a particular orbit as demanded and verified by quality metrics set by an external customer. There is a world of difference when your set up is that transparent - the North Koreans are not there yet as far as we know.

Also if the words full range imply any kind of CEP - then there is no open source data to support that and it is unwise in this climate to make that kind of extension.

I do not want to create a situation where we make them ten feet tall and scare ourselves into an over assessment of their true capabilities.

I feel on the national stage, we are experiencing what happens when people place more emphasis on analyses which is not backed up by hard verifiable facts. This will lead us to a bad place - of that I am sure, so I don't want to see this kind of thing pervade nuclear weapons related policy.

I am aligned with what Jeffrey says for the most part about DPRK's nuclear progress, we should be giving the DPRK scientists credit - but I also want to be conservative and only give the DPRK credit for what it has actually demonstrated. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Interesting article by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy

The story of Riazuddin.

I didn't know this for a fact but I had suspected it,

Soon thereafter, perhaps around September 1972, Salam summoned Riazuddin to his office at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. He had decided that Riazuddin was to design the bomb and, immediately upon his return to Islamabad, must create a group of theoretical physicists who would explore various technical aspects: the conceptual design for a nuclear device, calculation of the critical size of the fissile core, working out of a triggering mechanism, and finding the explosive yield for a variety of theoretical designs. Salam had already discussed the matter with Munir Ahmad Khan, with whom he had a warm relationship. Riazuddin should be given this task, Salam said. Khan agreed; and Riazuddin dutifully complied.

Another detail that I was unaware of

Some weeks after the 1998 tests, Riazuddin wrote to Sharif pleading that Pakistan should now sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. The first would prohibit more test explosions, which in any case were not essential, while the second would limit the size of the nuclear arsenal and prevent a sharp upward spiral in warhead numbers, costs, and dangers. As quid pro quo, he said, Pakistan should insist on nuclear-power technology transfer from the West. He received no reply. Quite possibly Sharif did not know how much the bomb owed to Riazuddin.

This part is simply intriguing

The calculations Riazuddin carried out were tedious and complex. The plutonium route had been closed for now and Munir Ahmad Khan had tasked him with the following problem: his bomb must use the absolute minimum amount of highly-enriched uranium, and certainly no more than 20 kilograms. As a particle physicist he had a reasonable understanding of nuclear physics, but knew no hydrodynamics or how matter behaved under extreme compression. This knowledge is crucial for designing an implosion bomb because the high explosive surrounding the bomb’s core creates a shockwave that makes jelly out of even the toughest metal. These unfamiliar things had to be learned from books and papers. Like any good theoretical physicist, Riazuddin refused to accept what the computer churned out until he could verify it by using some clever analytical techniques.

What Pervez is describing here is the computation of the neutron absorption cross-sections by Dr. Masud Ahmad and Dr. Tufail Naseem. Those can be verified against physical experiments ("analytical techniques").  Those numbers by themselves are important but mean nothing without control over flow and compression.

A pity - it would be good to know who  the lead hydrodynamicist and the lead high pressure physicist was in Pakistan.

The Ghyben-Herzberg lens decides how unsinkable your aircraft carrier is

Islands with sufficient flat land have long been termed "unsinkable aircraft carriers". This idea is quite appealing, you can easily dredge out a harbor and use the dredged sand to reclaim land on an atoll. Just as the Chinese, they think that is the best way to create airbases in the Paracel Islands and in the Spratlys.

There is a problem though - something that your average armchair strategist might miss easily.

The problem stems from something called a Ghyben-Herzberg lens. Under every landmass is a body of fresh water. If the landmass is large and the soil has the right characteristics, rain water literally pools under ground forming a bubble of fresh water (density 1gm/cc) over a layer of salt water (density 1.025 gm/cc). The exact shape of this water bubble depends on a lot on soil and size of the land mass but generally speaking the bigger the island the greater is the likelihood of a significant Ghyben-Herzberg lens and the more likely you are to have freshwater sources on the island itself.

Why does that matter? - well unless you have fresh water on the island, you can't support any sizable troop presence on it. It takes a brigade size formation to protect an island airbase, a brigade size formation to run the air operations and another brigade size formation to provide support and basic amenities. If you also have a port (which you must to set up the airbase), you need another brigade to operate and support port operations. The result is a division size formation numbering several thousands to keep the unsinkable aircarft carrier running.

Again - doesn't sound like a real problem until you realize that many people need a lot of water to remain combat effective. They need water to drink, cook and manage solid waste. If there isn't a sufficient supply of fresh water on the island, then you have to bring the water in by ship or you could use desalination techniques- which basically makes the price of water on the island equal to the price of gasoline. That is very uneconomical.

There are two main reasons why the Ghyben-Herzberg lens could be insufficiently large -

1) The reservoir is so small that drawing water from the top causes salt-water to intrude into the reservoir from the bottom.

2) The reservoir is so small that dumping waste into it causes the water in distant portions to become contaminated.

There is no fix for this problem.

Now back in WWII - naval strategists were quick to recognize this fact and permanent military presence was seldom established on islands where there was insufficient fresh water supply. Temporary bases were constructed but a very expensive supply chain provided water to these bases and that eventually counted against long term operations.

That is why even the Allies or Axis took islands in the Spratlys and Paracels - it was more to score political brownie points than to demonstrate any serious levels of military prowess.

In sum - the long term military value of an unsinkable aircraft carrier is directly proportional to the size of its Ghyben-Herzberg lens.

On the spread of conspiracy theories in the US today

A few comments on the manner in which conspiracy theories have become mainstream in the US.

Conspiracy peddling news sources and agitprop venues have existed in the US media for as long as anyone can remember, but it was only when the Donald Trump campaign came to depend exclusively on them as a replacement for traditional political advertising channels - that their presence and effects in the media metastasized. The use of guerrilla marketing is not novel, it just has never been applied on such a scale because no one in their right mind would care to expose their product to such a polarized climate. No one would want to sell their product to an audience that either "loves it" or "totally hates it" - it is simply too high-risk an affair, something only a pathological narcissist would find appealing. Neither the Democratic party nor the Republican party knows how to deal with this phenomena. Both parties are aware that Donald Trump doesn't care about either party or the country and simply wants to see as many people talking about him as possible. They know they will never get the Trump machine to stop mainlining these conspiracy sources even if Trump is allowed to become president. He can never get enough attention and will always crave for more. 

That being said - a major consumer of the conspiracy theories is currently Trump's main political audience - i.e. second cohort white baby-boomer men and early Gen X white men. This social sub-segment is being force fed a bone-meal of pure conspiracy on a daily basis through various "independent media" (i.e. twitter, youtube, instagram etc...). This material is streamed directly to their personal devices and since it augments their sense of political empowerment the material is re-transmitted without critical thought. It is the spread of this material through the re-tweets that catches the eye of the AIs running the news feed catchers (all major mainstream news media outfits have automated AI feedcatchers that watch twitter/instagram/reddit/youtube) . Once it is caught by the feed catcher (i.e the feedcatcher scores it high enough to merit human review), the conspiracy headline is escalated through the main stream news desk where editors review the material and try to show that the conspiracy theory is false. However by contradicting this theory - the mainstream news cycle in turn draws more attention on the internet to the theory and when an AI builds a word cloud - the conspiracy theory word counts come up extremely high.  This feeds the notion that conspiracy theory is much more readily accepted by the population than it really is. 

What is being missed here is that this is a case of the measurement apparatus polluting the information it is attempting to measure. Neither the purveyors of the conspiracy theory, nor their political backers, nor the useful idiots who readily re-transmit it without any thought nor the mainstream media realize that the entire effect of the conspiracy theory is being magnified by the way in which the effect is measured. It is a peculiar effect - which most seasoned marketers or intelligence agencies are used to thinking about but the public at large is unaware of.  It is easy to shift a public opinion trend by targeted marketing, but it is difficult to sustain that shift if it is a bad product to begin with. Guerrilla marketing can boost a bad product for a short period of time only and without repeated boosting, there is no way to sustain the performance over any significant time frame. The entire strategy falls apart if there is one fluctuation in the marketing resources available. The entire approach rebounds on its creator. 

I think the most natural consequence of this is the strange pattern in the polls. As the polls are an imperfect survey of average public opinion at a given moment in time, they are catching the noise introduced on to the instantaneous public opinion by these guerrilla marketing efforts. The result is polls that show no clear trends and as expected only the average of many polls drifts slowly. The really misleading part is to believe that the weekly polls reflect anything serious, and both campaigns should ideally rely on the ground contact operations to build up a true sense of where voter loyalties will actually lie. Therein lies a major gap between the two campaigns. The Trump machine has no ground contact even in highly contested states. They have no direct poling efforts on the ground. This is mostly because the Trump campaign is more a publicity vehicle for Donald Trump rather than a serious political campaign.  Most of the republican vote managers and money managers have taken note of this and the bulk of the "get out the vote cash" is still withheld from the Donald Trump campaign and in its place it is likely being handed out directly to veteran GoP ground operators who have no direct loyalty to the Trump campaign. The Trump Campaign seems to think that GoP voters that come to vote for their local republican "down ballot" representatives will check off the Donald Trump box out of a sense of mere formality. They don't seem to comprehend that the GoP has no interest in Donald's presidency and that they feel he is a bigger threat to them than Hillary Clinton. 

It is difficult to gauge the exact nature of the national security threat from such a proliferation of conspiracy theories. It is likely that the more air-time these get - the weaker public confidence in government will be. Such a situation naturally appeals to enemies of the state. Again that being said - there are no specific threats on the horizon that I am aware of. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Will North Korea test again?

Most people seem to think they will. The South Koreans in particular take the view that the site is well prepared (more shafts are available if needed) and so another test is a certainty.

I am less sure. It is likely but there are significant hurdles the North Koreans need to consider. Tests are expensive in terms of fissile material and in terms of international opprobrium. I would say that there are multiple perspectives here that go into the decision to test and Kim Jong Un has the last word - but not the first word.

From Kim Jong Un's perspective - unlike his father or grandfather, he has no comprehension of actual military affairs. He was not brought up in a environment of actual war. So he feels he has to out-do his predecessors and gain the respect of the DPRK military if he is to remain in power. The entire nuclear testing binge is a means to that end.  So unless the tests are visibly productive in the eyes of the DPRK military - it will be difficult for Kim Jong Un to secure their respect by further testing.

From the perspective of the DPRK military - nuclear weapons are a good thing because they make conventional war less likely. The DPRK military really has no interest in actually dying to preserve the Kim mythos. They are happy to fight for their country - but they know exactly how much of the Kim image is pure fiction and I really doubt they want to die to protect it.

That being said - the DPRK military will not know the exact yields of the devices  or the design of the physics package as their own physics people will keep that information compartmentalized. Kim Jong Un will not allow that information to spread. Each and every member of the DPRK military will have to rely on their own personal judgement to determine how effective of a deterrent Kim is really putting together. Here is the real beauty of it - the DPRK military doesn't need to know all the nuclear details because... they will be able to see three things -

1) the international response to the tests, (the international community will tell them what the design most likely is - even if their own scientists (quite rightly) don't do so.)
2) the resources being pulled away from their main operations as the testing and its consequences escalates.(if the tests aren't doing what is expected then more resources will be pulled out of the general reserve and diverted to testing).
3) the South Korean military posture shift.(if the South Koreans are really upset they will put on a major show of force. The details of that show will be sufficient for the DPRK military to determine if the South is deterred from actual conventional action.)

These three things alone will be sufficient for the DPRK military to determine if Kim Jong Un's tests are producing the necessary levels of credible deterrence.

If the tests do not produce the shifts desirable to the DPRK military - it is unlikely that Kim Jong Un will continue testing.

From the perspective of the weapons design team, they are on the hook for demonstrating weapons designs that sit well with existing delivery vehicle payloads. They have a size and weight budget to work to. They also have limited amounts of fissile materials to work with and there is always a supply chain problem. In the initial testing the design team will be keen to see if any yields are demonstrable but as the testing progresses, the team will be under pressure to boost yields without compromising on existing size and weight budgetary targets. 

So far the weapons design team has had some early success. They boosted the yield from 1kT to 10kT. If they want to do something that boosts from 10kT to 100kT *without paying a weight and size penalty* - then that is a tough task. It may be easier to carry out that same increase if they relax the weight and size penalty and just go for broke on everything they can manage design wise to boost by another factor of 10. This means getting some inertial confinement in the "third stage" of the device. Again - sounds good in theory - but if they have to test a device - they have to make sure the test site is suitable.

One of the lesser known aspects of developing multistage devices is that it is difficult to exactly predict the coupling between stages. This manifests as fizzles and devices exceeding predicted yield. Now it your estimate of 100kT exceeds by a factor of 3 - then the site might not be able to handle it and you will likely kill your own team. That will keep passions for higher yields to a manageable level (A fact that I feel has restrained India's exploration to a greater degree than most recognize).

From the perspective of the delivery vehicle team, they have to prove that they can inject the BM into a well defined trajectory. This is quite hard for anyone who doesn't have gyros and gradiometers of the right kind. The problem is quite a bit harder when you launch out of the sea. Unless the delivery vehicle team shows the ability to produce a repeatable injection with say 10-ish launches. There is really no sense in having the weapons design team proceed with a design that exceeds current payload budgets.

So this idea of another North Korean nuclear test is far from clear cut.

I am sure that many North Koreans would like more tests but the material reality may be quite distinct from what most of them recognize.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Low hanging fruit on the nuclear design side for the North Koreans

When you are rushing a nuclear weapons development program, you will be drawn towards the low hanging fruit - i.e. the low risk stuff.

The public at large is completely uneducated about the details of nuclear design, so even if they look up from their I-phones they won't be able to get that you are putting on a show and the whole thing will be an easy political sell.

The DPRK scientists are very diligent so they will go after all the low hanging fruit first before they jump at major improvements in yield. Generally speaking the big gains usually come from advances on hard material science issues. DPRK doesn't have a very big base of such efforts locally and it could synergise with a place with a bigger base like Pakistan or Iran, but that will come with its own political cost and sovereignty tradeoffs. So the DPRK scientists will seek out as many low hanging fruit as possible.

With that in mind here is a short list of the low hanging fruit.

1) "Slowly increasing yield" - It is important to note that no one outside your team knows exactly what yield you are aiming for, and no amount outside detective work can really tell anyone what you achieved yield was. Every estimate will come with error bars and no one has a flawless system of assigning error bars. As long as you can show a steady or steadily rising mb value at a seismic station, you can basically claim whatever base yield you want and satisfy local political forces. 

2) "Boosting experiments" - Using the heat from a fission reaction to light a small fusion reaction which increases the efficiency of the fission reaction is a relatively simple thing to do. If you just try to increase the combined efficiency of the fission and fusion  and avoid getting drawn into a struggle on high fusion yields, you can basically remain an arena of visible success. 

3) "Warhead development" - This is an infinite area of activities which can involve small incremental changes to the electronics design. The core problem is that the explosive lens detonators need to be fabricated and supplied with enough current. This is usually done via a big-ass capacitor which can send a massive current spike with no transmission line delay. Once you have sorted that out - you need to show the ability to reduce the weight on your batteries. Again this is a much smaller hill to climb than actually developing a warhead design that survives the rigors of its journey on a missile. No one is going to ask you - "does that work in a real warhead" because only you can tell people what a real warhead is. 

4) "Basic explosive lens design" - It is not terribly hard to come up with an explosive lens design and get it to compress a ball of Plutonium. There is a trade-off analysis the goes into determining whether you want to make a more aberration free lens with more elements or you want to make a more reliable lens with fewer elements. You can try out both designs and make claims about which is better. Again - no one will look at the details - people will stick to the highlights. No one will ask you if the explosive lens you have is too heavy or ages poorly to survive contact with the use-case. 

5) "Heat shields" - This is a particularly easy one. Beg/borrow/steal some reinforced carbon composite from the market and show everyone that you can make a conical shape with it. Add a layer of PDMS on top and show that you understand the idea behind ablative shields. No one will ask you whether the actual weight of the heat shield you make with that specific level of thermal transport is actually enough to keep your physics package from being messed up. You should be able to showcase a few tests - have some guy touch the other side of a panel while you go at the opposite side with a blow-torch and everyone will say OMG - you totally have a heat shield.

6) "Launches without terminal stage images" - Launch a rocket, have a bunch of generals and politicians stand in front of the launch vehicle and show a video of something climbing into the sky. No one will ask you - "so did you see where it landed?". A astonishingly small fraction of the people will get that the answer to that question is *no* because you had no idea where to point the camera. The red flag for this is when people say - "So and so - successfully launched a missile and it fell into the blah-blah sea".

I am not knocking anything the DPRK scientists are doing - I fully understand they are doing what they can to get by but the rest of the world needs to understand what is really going on and not get too freaked out by what they are seeing and hearing.

I am definitely in Jeffrey's camp. I think Jeffrey is essentially correct that one needs to sit down with Kim Jong Un and have a heart to heart talk. I also agree that THAAD is not useful in this context and the costs will likely outweigh any benefits.

I don't know what Jeffrey wants to say to him, but someone needs to talk to him and tell him that he isn't going to make Taewonsu this way - the only way you earn that coat lapel is by fighting in an actual shooting war. It seems very silly to start a shooting war just to get a lapel and pin on your coat!

What have the North Koreans really tested?

This part had me scratching my head. The problem with the North Koreans is that they have a very different sense of what some of these terms mean, and it is hard to understand what they are really saying.

Based on the seismic estimates they have boosted their yields by a factor of 1.5 - so they have something like 15kT-20kT depending on what you assume as the yield for the last test. That much the seismic data tells us but beyond that...

It is fair to assume that at least some more work has happened on the core physics package. Some people had speculated in the past that DPRK had gone for a levitated pit design with some Fusion-Boosted-Fission capability. The original package that was tested in January probably was powered off electronics that wasn't particularly compact.

A warhead basically consists of a package, associated electronics and a casing.  The exact choice of propulsion system usually limits the payload of the missile. The warhead has to match geometrically and weight-wise the payload limits.

In order to run the large number of detonators in their explosive lenses the North Koreans need electronics that can pump a significant amount of current at the exact time of the detonation. This kind of thing needs some hefty batteries and that is a problem.

Usually the warhead has to have a relatively thick and heavy shell to damp out the vibrations that couple from the launch platform to the physics package. Additionally depending on how efficient the fission-fusion coupling is you may need different amounts of Plutonium and Uranium. Both of those metals are heavy.

A sensible design approach for warheads is to set a budget (size and weight) for casing, physics package and electronics. When the North Koreans first tested in January - I think it was a proof of principle test of boosting at scale. They had smaller scale boosting experiments but the January test was the first time they had pushed the envelope on package yield. But it likely that their electronics was outside the budget set for size and weight. That is probably what they have revised for this test.

My guess is that the North Koreans have managed to construct a lighter weight electronics - specifically something with a more acceptable battery weight. The reason why this is important - from a threat estimation p.o.v - is that this points an increased North Korean ability to make a more compact weapons. For a deep dive on the issue of explosive lens detonators and associated power supply requirements look here (note the last paragraph about the need for redundancy - this part is actually more complicated than described here because you also have to design failsafe mechanism which prevent accidental detonation). I don't know what if any failsafes the North Korean devices have.

It is important to note the time spacing of the tests. The difference in time reflects the difficulty the North Koreans have getting their hands on boosting materials (LiD or DT boost gas).  I realize a DT boost gas device would likely produce a non-ideal package weight and dimension. but I am leaving the door open in case the entire North Korean claim about a warhead capable package is pure marketing. (Again not entirely implausible).

What this does not mean  - the recent test does not mean that North Korea actually possess a warhead capable of surviving the rigors of launch, ballistic trajectory and re-entry. There is no evidence of that at this time.

And for reference - the only thing that the DPRK has proven with repeated missile tests (including the "SLBM" tests) is they seem to have some success at ganging rocket motors together, at popping a missile out of a submerged tube, and some success injecting the missile into a ballistic trajectory. While I believe Dave that the last KN-11 test gives them the ability to study the physics of re-entry, I feel North Korea has not yet demonstrated the ability to launch a missile from a submerged platform and inject the missile into a specific trajectory. Being able to hit the sea of Japan isn't really the same as making a certain CEP.

I want to add one more note about the issue of cold launch and then injecting into a trajectory. Please look at the images of the KN-11 launch - the missile is coming out of the water at very different angles. Dave has brought the issue of fins being added to the KN-11 in the latest photos, that tells me the DPRK guys were having issues with the behavior as it breached the surface, Usually when a missile pops out of its canister under water it sits in a bubble of air. That bubble can introduce a small amount of rotation. One needs to sense that rotation and correct it, It is a significant amount of work to ensure that the missile pops out at exactly the right angle to inject into a particular trajectory at a particular speed.  I am not saying DPRK can't do it - only that it is more work than can easily be squeezed into a few weeks of work.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The "Unsafe" Intercept over the Black Sea

Any intercept is extremely hairy - so I am glad everyone is alive and well. Each day you make it back from a flight is a good day.

A somewhat detailed account of the intercept may be found here. These situations are extremely dangerous because the P-8 or the RC-135 is typically flying pretty slow and the interceptor has to come up along side. Given the large wing-tip vortex that the much heavier spy plane has, it takes serious piloting skill and luck to pull off something like this.

Unfortunately this kind of intercept happens almost every week. Each day US spy planes fan out across the world to keep a wary eye on conflicts, and they routinely end up in a bizarre game of chicken against Russian or Chinese interceptors.

I find it laughable that the Russians are complaining the P-8A was operating without its transponder on. Umm... hello Russia - it is a spy plane - why would it announce its presence to the world. Do Russian AF planes turn on transponders when they are outside civilian airways? - No they don't - so why should the US do so?

I don't find the idea that the P-8A was hacking into some Russian information network credible. There are far easier ways to hack into a Russian network - especially one in the Black Sea. The only thing the P-8A was likely doing is monitoring electronic emissions from the Black Sea Fleet.

A lot is being made of what happened - people are going around saying Putin is crazy (he certainly plays the crazy card a lot) - but I think this was just an accident. I don't think this incident reflects any major shift in Moscow's thinking of the world or of its relationship with the US or vice-versa. 

A few things to remember - Russia is the only superpower that has never dominated the seas. Over the last five hundred years,sea lanes of communication have accounted for 80% of the world trade. Sea based trade is a massive economic engine that has fueled humanity's growth - we are what we are today as a world because goods, services and ideas flow freely across the sea.

Russia has seen very little of that trade. Their ports are frozen most months of the year. The only warm water port that this massive nation has *is* Sevastapol in Ukraine. While nations like Britain, US. India and China have grown massively rich off the sea based trade, the Russians have found themselves stranded in their geographical corner clutching their nuclear weapons!

When people think of Russian nationalism - they always think of the Kremlin, the S-Directorate, and the Russian Army. But the true reserve of Russian nationalism, the real bottomless pit of Russian national ambition is the Russian Fleet. A prime stakeholder given its control of nuclear armed boomers - the Fleet shapes Russian national thinking in ways we do not anticipate. We forget that the Fleet (especially its Submarine arm) was as much at the forefront of the Cold War as the S-Directorate was.

I suspect what happened was purely the result of a tired and inexperienced Russian pilot making a perfectly understandable mistake. Luckily no one was hurt and we should be thankful for that. If the Russian pilot was being aggressive, then I suspect the real reasons for it may lie in Fleet HQ in St. Petersburg and not in the Kremlin.

If the US P-8A did something that stepped on Russia's toes, then it is likely that the event was inadvertent. For example if the P-8A stumbled on some super secret weapons test either in the Baltic or in the Black Sea - I doubt that was the intent of the mission. I doubt the US grudges Russia its secrets.

The US and Russia have more to gain by cooperating with each other than by getting into it over things.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Recognizing someone who is overleveraged

It is well known that most people who dabble in real estate tend to be asset rich and cash poor. This comes with the territory so to speak, when you invest in land you are always investing long term and the ROI tends to be small. Just ask anyone who flips property for living. When the house sells it is a big bonanza, but until then you are house poor.

In this situation (like any other kind of "farmer") you are living by borrowing money from others. And in that situation it is extremely easy to get in over your head. Essentially for a real estate person this means borrowing significantly more than your asset structure can directly support.  When you see a real estate developer shopping their brand - then you know they are overleveraged, they need to raise money but can't afford to add to their debt, so they let others use their brand to court investors but then don't hold any of the actual risk. Their only reward in this transaction is a small brand fee.

From the perspective of the lender, loans to real estate developers are extremely high risk. No real bank wants to lend money to such people. This creates a unique market opportunity for underworld financiers who seek to launder drug money through real estate channels. From the perspective of the underworld lenders, they are not interested in the success of your business venture, you are merely a bank account to shelve the illegal profits of narcotics and arms trading in. Their whole objective is to screw you out of as much interest as possible and move as much money as possible via your bank accounts. The bigger and more grandiose the project - the better off the underworld lenders are.

I was not aware of this kind of thing until the murderous cycle in 1992-1993 in Bombay. A real estate price fluctuation shook the foundations of the city and in the ensuing melee thousands lost their lives. On the outside this exercise in mass murder took on the accouterments of a religious war but deep down inside it was a battle between real estate mafias that literally bled out of control. I would not have known about it had it not been for a chance conversation with a relative who was a police officer at the time, what he told me - opened my eyes to what was really going on. Since then - I have never seen the world in the same way. That was a true visvaroopa darshana if ever such a thing can happen.

When a candidate does not release his tax returns, uses front organizations to move money around, has a lot of LLCs, carries numerous allegations of fraud, and has a history of failing audits - the natural thought is - where is the money coming from. When you add real estate partnerships with people who have criminal convictions and a history of fronting money for underworld channels - you get a sense of what this candidate is really about.

Such a candidate is usually up to their neck in debt (i.e. massively overleveraged), and the collectors are close by with very sharp knives. This deep knowledge of the personal risks that one is carrying is so disturbing that the candidate flips between totally sane and completely insane in the blink of an eye. No position is held for any length of time as the candidate constantly shifts to align with whichever way the wind is blowing.

To such a candidate the election is merely a cash-cow. Money is to be taken from the hands of the stupid, and funneled into ones' own pockets. And what enters the pockets from one side usually leaves the carefully constructed hole in the bottom where the underworld moneylender's hand stands ready to pick up what it is owed.

Beware the candidate who seems to be too well-off - for chances are - things are the opposite of what they seem.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Acoustic Signature of a Submarine.

After the Scorpene leak there is a lot of talk about acoustic signature of a submarine. I hope this helps people understand where that noise comes from.

When I create mechanical motion (using for example an engine), I couple energy from the engine into the mounts (on which the engine sits), the shafts (which are connected to the engine) and to the chamber (i.e. the walls of the room) in which the engine sits.

For a submarine, the chamber walls are the walls of the submarine itself. And once I have ordered the submarine, I can't really change its shape. So if any energy from my engine couples into the walls of the submarine, I can't really prevent it from driving the mechanical vibrations of the walls themselves.

I can theoretically improve the quality of noise suppression in the mounts, use "active feedback" to try and cancel out the inside noise coupling to the walls, but I have no control over the noise that couples via the propeller to the water and then back to the walls. So this noise is basically impossible to mask. Ideas like anechoic tiles etc... have been proposed, but I wonder how successful they are.

Now a submarine is a very complicated shape, and since I am a physicist who likes using the "Spherical Cow" approximation, I reduce the shape of the submarine to a simple beam. Now I can use standard equations for the vibrations of a mechanical beam to determine what the likely resonance frequencies will be [see here].

If I take the numbers from the internet for the length and breadth of the Arihant (which may or may not be accurate) I can crude estimate from the above reference that the the resonance frequencies of a beam of steel of the same length and cross sectional area as the Arihant will be about 4-5 Hz.

Again I am not saying that this is what the frequency of the Arihant's acoustic signature is - because I don't know what it is, but it is not that hard to come up with a ball park figure of where the frequencies are.

What is much harder is determining what the amount of power coupled to this "wall mode" will be. That is where a leak like the Scorpene data dump can be very damaging.

Let's assume for a moment I am trying to detect where the Arihant is in the waters off the Bay of Bengal. I have at my disposal a microphone that works under water, an amplifier, a filter and a computer to analyze the signal.

I know that the Arihant will have mechanical noise in the 4-5 Hz range. So I tune my filter to cut out all noise above and below that frequency band. An ideal notch filter exists [Wikipedia], but actually building one that works reliably in the range I want is a major pain but since I have no choice - I do it anyway. Once I have the notch filter I still need to know how low the signal strength is going to be, if I don't I can't reliably set the gain of my amplifier. If I set the gain too low, I will miss the Arihant's signature, if I set it too high I will see every whale noise amplified - so again the noise will overwhelm the signal.

In order to set the amplifier gain in a Goldilocks Zone, I need to have a rough sense of what the signal magnitude is. And that is what I get from a leak like the Scorpene data dump. Once I know the gain setting - I can then collect data from the microphone for months on end - and then use my computer to search for repeating patterns in the data (a relatively simple autocorrelation function [see here]).

If I find a pattern at one such sound surveillance station, I can look for similar sound patterns in data collected at other sound surveillance stations and that will allow me to triangulate the position of the Arihant.

I do this a few dozen times, I can get a rough sense of the patrol path of the Arihant. Now I can go back and look at weather reports of the area and see what kind of weather conditions the Arihant is happy working in.

I can also go back and see when the patrols began and ended, and I can conclude how far along the platform testing is.

So basically the acoustic signal magnitude is like a spherical kamadhenu that keeps on giving!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Could the submarine related leaks end up stabilizing regional nuclear deterrence regimes?

As most of you are aware, India's submarine secrets have been under attack for a while now. There was disastrous leak inside Eastern Naval Command in 2011, when it was discovered that a sizable amount of information about sensitive submarine warfare facilities at INS Varsha, INS Virabahu and INS Kattaboman had been hacked [1].  Now ofcourse the Scorpene leak saga is being talked about everywhere although the actual leakage apparently happened in 2011 also. I would not be too surprised if there are more leaks we in the general public do not know about right now.

Perhaps this sort of things should have been completely expected. When India declared to the world that the INS Arihant was ready for sea trials, it completely altered a balance of power in the region and possibly rattled the existing world order on a global scale. Sri. Manmohan Singh was very careful, he repeatedly told anyone who was willing to listen that the Arihant was not going to be armed any time soon. It was extremely reassuring to hear that from him.

China and Pakistan were quite upset with these developments. If their newspaper articles were anything to go by, the Pakistanis were really really scared. In India people tend to find Pakistan's behavior irrational but there is a simple way to understand Pakistan's reaction to the Arihant as I attempt to show below.

Let us forget about India and Pakistan - and instead focus on just you and me. If you and I are nuclear adversaries, nuclear deterrence works between us - if and only if - we can read each other's intentions. If I cannot read your intentions (or you can't read mine), then all assumptions about each other's rationality become untenable and the entire deterrence regime fails by default.

If you now possess a nuclear armed submarine, and I cannot track it. At that point I cannot read your intentions and all my assumptions about being able to evaluate your rationality become questionable. In this climate of uncertainty I have to constantly ask myself one simple question - is a sudden attack imminent?. Even if the answer is - NO. I am quite stressed out by the onerous task of asking that question repeatedly and constantly having to reassure myself. This continuous stress makes the entire deterrence regime very unstable. 

Now if I were to obtain some information about your submarine that allows me to track it. I could at least determine if your submarine was within striking distance of me. I could position a trip wire line which if crossed I could confront you about. There would be many options for me to leverage my knowledge of the ability to track your submarine and improve the quality of my deterrence.

So in that limited sense - the leakage of submarine secrets could end up improving the stability of the nuclear deterrence regime. While the leakage would not necessarily ever make me completely certain that a sudden attack was impossible, but it would make me more confident about my ability to predict it.

This kind of thing is a part of the paradoxical nature of national security issues in the nuclear arena. What seems highly destabilizing also has a very stabilizing component to it and it is never clear which tendency overpowers the other.

India for its part is obviously working hard on building a safe zone in the Bay of Bengal and the IOR where the Arihant can be put through its paces. China and Pakistan will for their part attempt to breach this "safe zone" and learn as much as they can about the Arihant and attempt to determine the most likely positions from which an Arihant might launch its weapons.

Another interesting facet of this issue is human nature. Going back to the example of you and me, If you were to simply hand over information to me about your submarines, I would be very suspicious. I would probably dismiss the entire information you give me as a provocation designed to lull me into a false sense of security. But if I were to obtain that same information through strenuous exertion, then I would be more likely to accept it as being accurate (because after all I have expended the lives of so many agents to get this information). As they say in Hindi "Mehnat ka phal hamesha meetha hota hain" (the fruits of labor are always sweet).

Obviously India stands to gain by keeping its submarine capabilities secret, but there is such a thing as legitimate intelligence targeting and if Pakistan or China should get hold of some information as a result of serious and strenuous labor on part of their agencies, it might not be a complete loss from India's perspective.