Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: Atomic Blonde


After avoiding a tonne of crap at the cinema this year like Life, The Great Wall, Ghost in the Shell, Transformers 5, whatever nonsense Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out and Valerian last week, I didn't want to break my bullet-dodging streak with Atomic Blonde, an action spy movie starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy when I found out it had a less than stellar opening at the US box office. Despite reservations I said I would chance it as it was from one of the directors of the glorious John Wick, it's set in the closing years of what I like to call "The good ol' days" (The Cold War) and critics was praising the stylised violence despite the daft plot (or lack of it).

Boy was I glad I did! It has five major hooks:

1. Despite the general unrealistic nature of the fight scenes (possibly stemming from it's graphic novel origins) which often involved near-immortal enemies, the various characters use of benign objects like skateboards, garden hoses and shoes to harm foes with is inventive, especially Charlize Theron's use of a corkscrew.

2. Headshots! Painting a nearby surface with the crimson contents of an enemies head due to ballistic projectile forcefully introduced to (preferably) the face, is too often a misunderstood art-form. There's not a huge amount of it here, but adequate and when it happens it's gloriously perfect, truly sublime.

3. A too-short but hot girl-on-girl sex scene with "proper" nudity.

4. Classic 80's era hits on the soundtrack including Queen, Bowie, George Michael and The Clash (remember back when music was good).

5. While Stoli vodka is consumed like water from beginning to end, the winning goal here is that Atomic Blonde is the largest, borderline vulgar, on-screen product placement/advertisement for Jack Daniels I've ever seen on film. One character even referring to it as coming "straight from the Virgin Mary's tit," and let's be honest - he's not wrong.

So basically about as far removed from a John LeCarre novel as you can get while still being a Cold War spy movie. So if none of the above interest you, then avoid this - but if they do, off you go to the cinema.

*****

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

SPEARHEAD's Vice Commander slate announced

The UNSC today announced the slate for SPEARHEAD's three-star commanders. The four general or flag-officers will be appointed to occupy the billets of it's senior leadership between the OF-9 SPEARHEAD Supreme Commander and the OF-7 SPEARHEAD Deputy Commanders.

Rear Admiral "Smokestack" Henderson [left] U.S. Navy, acting SPEARHEAD Staff Director will assume the role of SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander in place of Lt. General Sir "Knuckles" McKenzie who has been appointed SPEARHEAD Supreme Commander. Captain Henderson was the UNETIDA Naval Tactical Support officer for the Pacific region until he was appointed UNETIDA Deputy Director in 2009. In 2011, as a Rear Admiral (lower half) he succeeded Royal Air Force Air Vice Marshal "Albatross" Davenport III as UNETIDA Director in an acting capacity until his promotion to Rear Admiral and became SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations in 2012. Upon the retirement of Air Marshal "Cuckoo" Hawes from the Royal Australian Air Force early this year, Henderson assumed the duties of SPEARHEAD Staff Director. He will assume his new role upon U.S. Senate confirmation of his promotion to Vice Admiral.

The SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Strategic Plans Division General "Faucon" Davout will be promoted to Army Corps General in the french army and will now serve as the SPEARHEAD Staff Director.

The "U3 - Operations" billet of  SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations held by Lieutenant General "Voran" Kerimov [right] will now become a 3-Star [OF-8] billet designated SPEARHEAD Vice Commander for Global Operations and Force Integration. The position will initially remain to be held by Kerimov following his pending promotion to the grade of Colonel General in the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The position of SPEARHEAD Vice Commander for Strategic Weaponry has been created to oversee SPEARHEAD's strategic weapon acquisition and control. Middle General "Huǒjiàn" Li of the Chinese People's Liberation Army has been appointed to the role.

Source: UN

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part VII


The House Rules Committee did not approve for floor debate an amendment by Rep. Scott Perry that would prohibit funding for creating a Space Corps. Rep. Mike Turner chair of the Tactical and Land Forces subcommittee, tried to bring the matter to the full House during debate on the bill, but the Rules Committee did not approve this amendment. Thusly the bill, including the Space Corps directive, has passed. The U.S. Senate has not yet passed its own version of the NDAA. This has to happen before two chambers negotiate a compromise before funding can be secured to implement their decisions.

In their latest media volley this week Representatives Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper voiced their anger at the additional delays for the Air Force's FAB-T for another year and the costs of the OCX program, the next-generation GPS operational control system which has now grown to $6bn, with no sign of costs not increasing even more. “Recent news that GPS OCX has blown through the latest schedule and cost estimates … casts greater urgency on the debate on space reorganization,” they said and that the delays in the two programs cast “greater urgency on the debate on space reorganization.”

“The current system is wasting billions of dollars and failing to deliver capability to the warfighter,” Cooper and Rogers said. “Our adversaries have already reorganized their space programs and are reaping the benefits. Those who continue to oppose reform need to explain to the warfighter, the American people, and their elected representatives how the status quo is acceptable.”

Rogers’ and Cooper’s argument is that the Space Corps will go a long way to address the issue of space acquisition, while the crux of Rogers’ arguments in favour of a Space Corps is that Russia and China have reorganized their military space enterprises and have caught up with the United States in many ways in the last few years, and so the U.S. must act.

Source: Breaking Defense / Defense Times

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Knuckles tapped for SPEARHEAD's top post

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced today the appointment of Lieutenant General Sir "Knuckles" McKenzie, KCB, CBE, DSO of the United Kingdom as Supreme Commander of SPEARHEAD, to take command later in the month.
 

The appointment will coincide with the retirement of General "Stomper" Santorno, U.S. Army who vacates the position and following Lt-Gen McKenzie's pending appointment to full general by Her Majesty Queen Elizibeth II.

Gen McKenzie brings to the position almost 40 years of international military experience, as well as command and staff experience with both UNETIDA and UNPASID. Before his current appointment as SPEARHEAD Vice Commander in 2014, as an officer with the Parachute Regiment from 1980 to 2000, he was deployed to The Falklands, Northern Ireland and The Balkans. As a colonel, he served as UNETIDA's Director of Personnel (2000-2003) and took part in Operation Telic as Executive Officer of 4 Armoured Brigade (2003-2005). As a brigadier after serving as Regional Operations Commander [Northern] for UNPASID (2005-2008) McKenzie was the Director of Military Operations at the Ministry of Defence (2008-2010). As a major general, he led the Scottish Division of the British Army (2010-2014).

Gen McKenzie is a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Officer of the Legion of Merit (United States) and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Order, General Service Medal (1962), Special Service Medal (United Nations), Iraq Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Accumulated Campaign Service Medal.

Gen McKenzie has a master’s degree in national security strategy from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  He is a graduate of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, United Kingdom, and the Army Command College in Nanjing, China.

Gen McKenzie is married and has three children and a granddaughter. He enjoys golf and does a remarkable Sean Connery impression.

Source: UN

Saturday, July 29, 2017

SECDHS Kelly becomes WHCOS


On Friday, July 28th POTUS45 fired White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and named his replacement as retired Marine General John F. Kelly who has been Secretary of Homeland Security only since January as his new chief of staff. As is customary for POTUS45 the announcement was made on Twitter.

Priebus had faced pressure since being named as a possible leaker by Mr Trump's newly appointed director of communication Anthony Scaramucci who also told an interviewer that Priebus, was “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” who would be asked to resign, and that Scaramucci was not like Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, because “I’m not trying to suck my own cock”.

POTUS45 apparently insincerely praised the outgoing chief of staff, who had previously worked as the chairman of the Republican National Committee, "I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him," he said.

Gen. John Kelly, USMC in 2014

"I have been fortunate to have served my country for more than 45 years - first as a Marine and then as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security," Kelly said in a statement Friday. "I am honored to be asked to serve as the chief of staff to the president of the United States."

And many hope that Kelly will serve POTUS45 as well as General Alexander Haig served President Richard Nixon. In 1973 during the height of the Watergate scandal, Nixon fired H.R. Haldeman as chief of staff and made the unprecedented appointment of Haig in his place. Haig is credited in playing an instrumental role in finally persuading Nixon to resign and oversaw the transition between Nixon and President Ford.

Source: BBC News / Fox News / The Guardian

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part VI


Rep. Mike Rogers' counterpart in the Senate Sen. Deb Fischer, said she was “not sold on the idea,” of the Space Corps even after a visit with Rogers. Sen. Bill Nelson a former astronaut, was more dismissive: “It’s not going anywhere,” he said in relation to he proposal.

Mike Turner chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and leader of the congressional opposition, has acknowledged the military has had difficulty in executing space programs arguing that the House has not adequately laid out the organization and functions of the Space Corps, or even how much forming it would cost.

Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, which studies the international use of space, said “There are elements of global space war already happening,” citing a Russian and Chinese presence in space and even signal jammers from North Korea. “What hasn’t happened is the kinetic part: blowing up satellites.”


“Space is no longer a peaceful domain,” says former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James "There is a real possibility that a conflict on Earth could bleed into space.” And the reasons for that according to the Defense Intelligence Agency are Russia and China. Russia wants to gain more power in space because it believes gaining supremacy there will allow it to win future fights on this planet and China created the Strategic Support Force, which is meant to streamline and improve its space, cyber, and electronic warfare missions. "They are both causing problems with anti-satellite technology" noted Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in May, and  therefore could mess with the satellites that help the US military do its job. 

Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the think tank New America said space is a very important domain, adding, “The opening battles of a World War III would arguably be silent, focusing on cyber and space.” Yet he believes the solution is less organizational but in the acquisition of microsatellites “What makes us vulnerable is expensive launch platforms and expensive satellites so that we cannot have enough of them.”

The Senate Armed Services Committees own NDAA addresses space by establishing the position of chief information warfare officer who oversees military cyber and space policies rather than a Space Corps.


Source: DefenceNews / NYTimes / Vox

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part V


During his confirmation hearing to be reappointed Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff for another two years, Air Force General Paul Selva said “I do not believe now is the right time to have a discussion about developing a space force with all of the leadership and infrastructure that would go with it. It would also complicate the command and control of the space constellation, which is critical to our military operations.”

Sen. Ted Cruz asked Selva what else the military could do to better address space issues, Selva listed three in-progress reforms: the consolidation of the military’s command and control of space into The National Space Defense Center in Colorado Springs, continue moving authorities to the Air Force secretary on acquisition for satellite constellations that are “critical to military defense” and giving the commander of Air Force Space Command the responsibility to manage the Pentagon’s entire constellation of satellites, as opposed to having various pieces managed through subcomponents, as well as elevating Air Force Space Command from a three-star to a four-star role. "I support allowing time to implement this reorganization and to evaluate its efficacy,” said Selva.

But the HASC representatives spearheading the Space Corps agenda have stated "The time for study is over: We must now act.” and have continued efforts to create a new Space Corps. On Tuesday HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry held a classified hearing and on Wednesday, a closed briefing by the Government Accountability Office on current problems with space operations. “The GAO report cited numerous failed or failing acquisition programs, with billions of dollars of cost overruns because the current acquisition system is so complicated that no one is in charge,” Rep. Mike Rogers and Rep. Jim Cooper said in a release.

The representatives were critical of the Air Force for Secretary Wilson's claim that the Space Corps would create unneeded bureaucracy offering that sixty Pentagon offices currently deal with space operations.

Military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of Arsenal of the Motherland considers that the setup of a separate Corps counter-productive as "Experience has shown that such an approach is ineffective. Such units can't operate on their own. They will certainly need a ground infrastructure, communication and guidance systems, as well as a logistics system, so they will use the systems of the Air Force." 

Murakhovsky explained that Russia used to have a separate unit of Space Troops which proved to be ineffective and in 2015 merged two branches of its armed forces, its Space Troops and Air Forces, into the Aerospace Forces and that China does not have a separate branch of Space Corps. Beijing was discussing the setup of a similar structure, but it has not been implemented so far. It's unknown whether China has abandoned or just postponed such plans.


Sources: Defence News, SPACEWAR.com, The Hill, The Washington Examiner

SPEARHEAD Supreme Commander speculation

The UNSC's suspected pick to replace General "Stomper" Santorno who is due to retire in August as SPEARHEAD Supreme Commander, one Corps General François Lecointre, was instead today appointed head of the french armed forces by President Macron. The the sudden resignation of Army General Pierre de Velliers Wednesday morning due to budget cuts and well publicised vocal disagreements with the President led to General Lecointre's unexpected appointment.

UNSC regulations on SPEARHEAD specify that the incoming Supreme Commander cannot again be from the same country's armed forces as the outgoing commander; therefore an officer from the United States armed forces cannot be appointed. Instead an officer must be selected from one of the other P5 countries of the UNSC, namely the United Kingdom, the french Republic, the Russian Federation or the People's Republic of China.

As the directors of UNETIDA and UNPASID were selected from the U.S. and the UK since the 1980's, the first Supreme Commander of SPEARHEAD was from the U.S. and the current Deputy Supreme Commander is from the UK and is expected to serve for another two years, it was widely speculated that the next Supreme Commander would be from france and General Lecointre's name as a rising star, significant UN Peacekeeping as well as previous UNETIDA experience made him a likely candidate.

As a Brigade General, Lecointre [left] commanded the 9th Marine Infantry Brigade which was also trained and designated by UNETIDA as Pawn Six-Two, the first force to be potentially sent to a hostile Extra-Terrestrial landing zone in central Europe. Earlier as a colonel he served as UNETIDA's Director of Staff for two years before he joined the military cabinet of the french Ministry of Defense in 2009.

It's deemed improbable that the current ranking french officer in SPEARHEAD, Division General "Faucon" Davout, the Deputy Commander for Global Strategic Plans would be considered eligible as he has not yet commanded at a corps level nor yet served in a 3-star staff position and is more likely be appointed to either billet instead.

A more likely choice is now British Army Lieutenant General Sir "Knuckles" McKenzie [right], the current SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander who replaced Colonel-General "Kóbec" Yurkov of the Russian Federation after only a year in the position. General Yurkov retired from the Russian Aerospace Forces prematurely in 2014 due to ill health. McKenzie previously served UNPASID as Regional Operations Commander [Northern] until 2008 when he was assigned to the British Ministry of Defense before Commanding the Scottish Division of the British Army until 2014. It was expected that McKenzie would serve the remaining two years of his current appointment for transition purposes but yesterday's events may force the UNSC to change plans.

After achieving success with lobbying for SPEARHEAD's number two position in 2013 the Russians may petition for the appointment of their Lieutenant General "Voran" Kerimov, the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations, but much like the issue facing a french appointment, it's unlikely General Kerimov would be considered eligible as he also has not yet commanded at a corps level nor served in a 3-star staff position.

The Chinese have abstained from most appointment votes and have made no petitions themselves for appointments of their officers but have indicated that SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Missile Defence [Eastern] Junior General "Huǒjiàn" Li of the Peoples Liberation Army and Assistant Commander for Air Operations Senior Colonel “Besra” Hu of the People's Liberation Army Air Force will remain with SPEARHEAD for the foreseeable future and are ready to assume appointments to higher grades when and if necessary.

A final decision is likely to be announced in early August.