Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SPEARHEAD monitoring "Bigfoot" sighting

SPEARHEAD are currently monitoring reports of a Cryptid 2N-Alpha sighting in the region of Avocado Lake, Northern California.

If you are in the area do not engage, shoot at or attempt to communicate with anything resembling "Bigfoot". If you encounter same, please notify the authorities.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part X


The U.S. House of Representatives officially approved by unanimous consent a motion to go to conference to reconcile its version of the annual defense policy bill with the Senate’s.

Despite not formally going to conference yet, the so-called “Big Four”: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed met to discuss differences in the bills.

Thornberry has told reporters negotiators hope to resolve all major differences by the end of October, including negotiations to to flesh out is the Space Corps. The House desiring to create the new military branch dedicated to space by Jan 2019, while the Senate bill would explicitly prohibit its creation instead the appointment of a Chief Information Warfare Officer reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense with authority over space, cyberspace, and information programs.

“I don’t meant to be too dismal, but I’ve been in too many classified briefings,” Thornberry, told reporters Thursday. “As I look at what Russia and the Chinese are doing, we don’t have a lot of evolutionary time to sit and hope we kind of drift in the right direction. We are more dependent than anybody else on space.”

 Source: The Hill / Spacepolicyonline /

Monday, October 09, 2017

Discovery continues, better but still not Trek


Star Trek: Discovery is now four episodes in and while I will say that it has immensely improved since the woefully mediocre pilot, it's still missing the Star Trek mark by a long-shot. Nevertheless it's worthy to watch and allow you to make up your own mind. I was somewhat critical of the pilot, yes but my issues were entirely justified. I won't retread old ground with regards to the ridiculously reimagined Klingons or the confusingly anachronistic technology as these elements are here to stay, they distract from the story and remove it from true acceptance as canonical Star Trek and I'll leave it at that.

Episode 3 "Context Is for Kings" was two things: 1. A far better episode of TV than either/both the pilot episodes and 2. It should have been the actual pilot with the previous episodes told in flashback. How cool would it have been instead to reveal Burnham's past than by her invoking Amanda as the person who read her bedtime stories rather than the nonsensical "Hologram Sarek"? Fuller obviously trusted fans to accept the dual mystery of  Burnham AND the Discovery but clearly nervous CBS executives disagreed and wanted something that they could offer half for fee and make people pay for the other half (as is the reprehensible money grabbing all-access situation in the U.S.). It seems that or assumed we would be too dumb to understand and spent several million explaining Burnham's transgressions to us instead.

It's not until this episode that we're actually introduced (quite spectacularly goosebump-worthy I might add) to the titular Discovery, her captain Gabriel Lorca (a possibly insane "warmonger" with one foot in the door of an admiral's office) and a whole plethora of Bryan Fuller mysteries (who are the black badges??) that now sadly, lesser writers have to solve. The episode itself was great, it had technobabble and even some welcome Star Trek staples that harked back all the way to the original series; a redshirt (not that you can tell because all the frikking uniforms are blue), a monster of the week and a terrible disaster that wiped out the crew on another ship that despite there being dozens of different starship designs they used the Discovery's design again as a "sister ship" the USS Glenn.

Episode 4 "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry" was again better than the pilot(s) but neither better nor worse than last week's episode. This week, we have Burnham studying last week's "monster" and the outcome is certainly in keeping with the principles of Star Trek, albeit not entirely resolved - which is OK as this series is not as self contained as previous shows. The fact that we have the need to check in with the current goings-on in Klingontown every act is a bit too disjointed, especially as they are still following the trope of not speaking English, forcing viewers to read dozens of lines of subtitles. Normally this would be OK as Klingons are more action than talk - except THESE ARE NOT REAL KLINGONS and do far too much faffing about, talking and pledging allegiance to to the memory of their messiah etc. Just shut up and get on with it for fuck sake!!

Another major issue is the characterisations of the personnel on board are not in keeping with humanity as a whole. Roddenberry created a positive vision of the future where human conflict and personal gain were now passe. It was referenced in the original series, fleshed out during The Next Generation and by the time Enterprise was shown, this mentality had been established. However, for some reason here we have Lt. Stamets who is sarcastic to the point of being borderline insubordinate and we have Cmdr. Landry who would seem more at home as the militaristic, trigger-happy henchman of a villain in a Disney movie. These archetypes of characters are great for "The Expanse" or "Battlestar Galactica" but the un-Star Trek-ness of them is distracting and damages both story and the brand.

Despite the myriad of new and old issues, these episodes are a marked improvement over the pilot but still far less Star Trek than is projected by the superior "The Orville" and it would seem most fans agree with me... for now.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Discovery is not Star Trek

First, if this was a new science fiction property I'd say that it was fantastic, and worth watching but I would have said that it "reminded me" of Star Trek yet I'd probably chastise the creators for making the good-guy ships and ray-guns look like Starfleet ships and phasers, (oh and and ripping off the idea of the Vulcan mind-meld) - yet overlook them as being minor rip-offs in contrast to the full-blown Star Trek homage that is Seth McFarlane's "The Orville". If this was the case I'd watch every episode with no apprehension or concern whatsoever.

But no, because this is actually Star Trek and Discovery is carrying the IP name with millions of devotees and a 50+ year legacy that both need and deserve to be respected, especially if intending to frame it within the prime universe (as opposed to the Kelvin timeline of J.J. Abrams creation) and if the first two episodes are anything to go by - that hasn't happened.

The plot here seems to centre on a single character, Commander Micheal Burnham who I'm branding the worst Starfleet Officer, second only to Lon Suder and even gives pre-redemption Tom Paris a run for his money. The idea of giving the spotlight to only a single character, especially one whom is not the captain is a fresh one but fails due to the characterisation, not due to Sonequa Martin-Green's splendid performance.

There was another two characters who appeared that had equally dubious motivations, Doug Jones' Science Officer Saru is a Kelpien, apparently a race with a reputation for cowardice in the Federation. While this justifies why we don't see them in later set series, it doesn't address what the fuck such an obvious coward is doing on the bridge of a Federation starship where he's third in command! It would be akin to making Reg Barclay the chief of security! There was another character, Ensign Nobody who gave a war lament in the middle of a battle "Why are we fighting? We're explorers not soldiers" demonstrating that the criteria for the Starfleet psychological tests slipped somewhat between Archer and Kirk's time.

I did make only one verbal reaction to what was on screen. Remember in one episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine when they install a holographic communicator allowing Captain Sisko speak with Captain Sanders and Michael Eddington on the bridge of the Defiant? Remember how distractingly shit it was and they used it once more before never mentioning it again? Well remember how it was considered "new technology" then, so it couldn't exist 120 years earlier, especially without the huge holographic ring to power the image and it would be ridiculous to have it as an apparently "normal" feature in standard crew quarters? Well now you can guess why I verbally reacted to the screen. My other non-verbal, but face scrunching reaction was to the obtuse opening titles with a complete failure on Jeff Russo's part to deliver a coherent theme with a line drawing "artistic" montage, something that would be far more appropriate to a documentary on the making of Discovery as opposed to the series itself.

Two elements I was counting on for this Star Trek incarnation to work was (1) a plausible or implausible social, Geo-political or even quasi-biological explanation for the Klingons, why they and their technology look like that and not in keeping with the established canon, and (2) a scientific (in Star Trek terms of the word) explanation for why Starfleet tech and designs on display here in some cases make the Enterprise E seem as advanced as the Searcher from Buck Rogers. But no. There isn't any, no mirror/alternate universes, chronometric distortion, godlike being influencing the natural order - feck it, I'd even settle it for being all someone's "dream" - I'm fine with all changes to canon so long as there's an in-universe reason! But nothing, nada, zilch and the series will suffer because of it because it's just too distracting the way it is. It is possible we'll get some explanation for either before the end but I won't hold out hope.

I believe any other problems delve into spoiler territory so enough now. Overall I think it's pretty solid and works as a show where things explode in space; something that's always welcome on TV. But this is not really Star Trek, it doesn't even feel like Star Trek let alone look like Star Trek. I reckon now they'll only be one season here and that's it. It won't save the franchise. It's too difficult not to draw comparisons to The Orville, which has aired three episodes already, better characterisation, better music (veteran composers) and opening titles (homage to ST: Voyager), better commentary on the human condition and the infusion of optimism at a time when we need it more than ever in our lifetimes - just with the occasional fart jokes! It looks and feels more Star Trek than Star Trek Discovery does and you can quote me on that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part IX


After some tense negotiations, the National Defense Authorization Act cleared the Senate in a 89-8 vote on Monday evening, pacing the way for the collaborative conference with the House Armed Services leaders on the final bill. The $700 billion defense policy bill for FY2018 aims to bolster depleted military forces and includes $640 billion in base funding and nuclear readiness as well as $60 billion for overseas combat operations. The military would get more Navy ships, fighter jets, surveillance aircraft, and troops than requested in POTUS45's budget request and also provides for increasing missile defense to shield South Korea.


However the Senate's NDAA also includes a measure that sets up a debate with the House over the creation of a Space Corps. The Senate legislation sponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson and Tom Cotton prohibits the creation of any separate command to oversee space operations within the Air Force and instead approved the creation of a new chief information warfare office with some authority over space and cyber issues. It is certain to set up a fight with the House during negotiations over a final version of the bill.


Source: Washington Examiner / Washington Post / World Bulletin / News Desk / USA Today

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

J.J. returns to save Star Wars


Well it's not like it needed saving really; The Force Awakens is rated at 90% and made over two billion dollars while Rogue One is considered one of the greatest stand-alone movies ever made and in about 90 days from now we'll have another entry into the franchise but J.J. Abrams is coming back nonetheless.

What he's saving us from is Colin Trevorrow. It had been "concerning" that Jurassic World's director Trevorrow's latest movie The Book of Henry was critically panned and sank harder than the Titanic at the box office because he was slated to co-write and direct Star Wars IX for a Summer 2019 release.

Following the disaster, Lucasfilm enlisted Jack Thorne to "doctor" Trevorrow and Derek Connolly's script of which they had expressed dissatisfaction but possibly stemming from this Trevorrow was becoming difficult to work with and Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy decided to part ways with him as the director. 

Yesterday Lucasfilm confirmed Abrams will replace Trevorrow as director and will co-write a new script the script with Chris Terrio allowing them an additional 5 months with a December 2019 release.

Previously Abrams has told the press that he was kicking himself he didn't opt to direct The Last Jedi, but at least he will be able to bookend the story he began, cementing his position in Jedi religious doctrine forever.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part VIII


The U.S. Senate plans to begin to discuss it's version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act this week. Its provisions include the creation of a Chief Information Warfare Officer (CIWO) reporting to the SecDef with responsibility for DOD space, cyber and information programs. This contrasts the House-passed plan to create a Space Corps. Should the Senate proposal survive debate, then the debate between chambers will be one to watch.

Sen Bill Nelson, then NASA Payload Specialist
Sen. Bill Nelson, has filed an amendment to scuttle any attempts by the House to create a Space Corps by prohibiting that or any other type of new corps in the services.

Last week Maj. Gen. Earl Matthews U.S.A.F. (Ret.), vice president of DXC Technology‘s U.S. public sector enterprise security solutions group, has said other priority areas for the U.S.A.F. and DoD are at risk of being sidelined due to discussions on the creation a Space Corps. He wrote that developing U.S. space capability should concentrate on situational awareness as the current budget calls for the Air Force to spread its resources across several mission areas.

Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the creation of a Space Corps would lead to “enormous upheaval” without solving the key problems faced by the national security space enterprise today. While she admitted that the U.S.A.F. still has “a long way to go” with regards to efforts to adapt the space mission to current threats, she insisted the formation of a Space Corps would not help any of those efforts.

Meanwhile Rep. Mike Rogers continued to argue that he time is now to create a Space Corps, or something akin to it. “The Air Force is as fast as a herd of turtles as far as space is concerned,” he said, adding that a Space Corps would be a better steward of space matters than the Air Force, because there would be no competing interests as there are now with space falling under the Air Force’s aviation-focused structural umbrella. The Air Force’s inability to put space first has created acquisition and operational problems, he said. “I don’t think the Air Force can fix this. You can’t have two No. 1 priorities. The Air Force is focused on air dominance, as it should be.”


Sources: Air Force magazine / The Washington Examiner / Space Policy Online.com / Govconwire.com / Spacenews.com / Breaking Defense

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SPEARHEAD's Deputy Commander slate announced

The UNSC today announced the slate for SPEARHEAD's two-star commanders, projected to assume office before March 31st 2018. The sixteen general and flag officers of grade OF-7, or non-military equivalent, will occupy the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander billets of it's senior leadership between the OF-8 SPEARHEAD Vice Commanders and the OF-6 SPEARHEAD Assistant Commanders.

Brigadier General "Tucker" Reid [right], SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Training and Instruction will be promoted to the grade of Major General in the Canadian Army and assume duties of the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Manpower and Personnel following the retirement of Major General "Stargazer" Smith from the U.S. Air Force later in 2017.

Two new OF-7 billets of SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations and Integration one each for the Western and Eastern regions have been created to support Colonel General "Voran" Kerimov, the Vice Commander for Global Operations and Force Integration. Senior Colonel “Besra” Hu, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Air Operations [Eastern] will be promoted to the grade of Shao jiang [Major General] in the Peoples Republic of China Air Force and become the first SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations and Integration [Eastern]. Brigadier General “Shellshock” Hollister, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Recruitment and Selection will be promoted to the grade of Major General in the South African Army and become the first SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations and Integration [Western].

Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon [left], SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information, selected for promotion to the grade of Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, will become the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Security following the retirement of Major General "Jäger" Brandt from the Bundeswehr later in 2017.

Counter Admiral "Tridente" Carlos, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Naval Operations [Western] will be promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral in the Spanish Navy and assume the position of Deputy Commander for Global Strategic Plans which was vacated by new SPEARHEAD Staff Director Division General "Faucon" Davout.

Group General "Altísimo" Hernandez SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Support and Sustainment is to be promoted to Wing General in the Mexican Air Force and will assume the duties of Deputy Commander for Financial Management following the reassignment of Rear Admiral "Nafasat Pasand" Kundi to the Central Punjab command of the Pakistan Navy.

Commodore "Sextant" White, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Naval Operations [Western] is to be promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in the British Royal Navy and assigned as the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Civil Affairs. Commodore White has already served in an acting capacity in the role following the unexpected recall of of Division General "Banquero" Ramos by the Venezuelan government in late June.

The SPEARHEAD Judge Advocate General is being elevated to a 2-Star [OF-7] billet. Air Vice Marshal "Magpie" Brown [right], Royal Australian Air Force is to be appointed replacing Sub-Thousandman "tzédek" Levy of the Israeli Defence Force who will remain with SPEARHEAD as Assistant JAG.

Mr. P will assume the duties of the Chief of Shadow Directorate which has been elevated to a non-military OF-7 equivalent grade following the retirement of Mr. G. The changeover is believed to be scheduled between September and December 2017, but this cannot be confirmed or denied.

A number of officers will remain in their currently held positions:

The SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Missile Defence [Eastern] Lieutenant General "ракета" Vasiliev of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops and Deputy Commander for Missile Defence [Western] Major General "Rockets" Thompson of the U.S. Air Force will both remain in their roles to support the new Vice Commander for Strategic Weaponry Middle General "Huǒjiàn" Li.

The SPEARHEAD Director for Science, Technology and Research, Dr. "Quantum" Pataal of India will remain in the position held since 2013.

Deputy Commander for Global Logistics and Installations Major General "Sangja" Park of the Republic of Korea Army will remain in the position held since 2015.

Deputy Commander for Global Satellite and Cyber Systems Major General “Circuits” Anderson [left] of the U.S. Air Force will remain in the position held since 2014. 

SPEARHEAD Inspector General Generalmajor "Schakal" Nilsson, of the Swedish Army was appointed earlier this year following the elevation of the position to 2-Star [OF-7].

The SPEARHEAD Surgeon General, Major-general "Scrubs" Janssens M.D. of the Medical Component of the Belgian Armed Forces will remain in the position held since 2014.

Source: UN

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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In memory of Martin Landau

New York born actor Martin Landau dated Marilyn Monroe, was friends with James Dean, turned down the role of Mr. Spock and worked with Hitchcock. He was just as at home on the small screen in Space: 1999 and Without a Trace as on the big in Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Despite being awarded an Oscar for Ed Wood and a Golden Globe for Mission: Impossible among many other awards and nominations, Landau was not above lending his voice to the Spider-Man animated series and The Simpsons.

My favourite Martin Landau performance however is in the 1979 disaster movie "Meteor" in which he plays Major General Adlon, the U.S. Air Force commander of an underground control centre for Hercules, an orbital nuclear missile launcher. The movie itself is awful; it is rated only 5% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been selected by John Vaughan for inclusion in his world famous Video Vault of Horror presentation. It is however an important precursor for ideas brought to the screen decades later with more technical superiority (and more money) in Armageddon and Deep Impact


In Meteor, Landau despite obvious hamming, easily delivers the best performance over Sean Connery, Karl Malden, Peter Fonda, Natalie Wood and Brian Keith, and convincingly expresses the frustration of a dedicated and decorated military commander sidelined to pander to scientists - alas a feeling I have known all too well.

Landau died Saturday, at the age of 89 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, Los Angeles, California; he had been briefly hospitalized and, according to his representative, died of "unexpected complications." May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part IV


As the U.S. House of representatives passed the Space Corps legislation on Friday, former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and former Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Gen. C. Robert Kehler (Ret.) argued against it at a seminar across town at a meeting sponsored by George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and the Aerospace Corporation.

Gen. Kehler [right] who also headed Air Force Space Command from 2007-2011 said the proposed solution does not fit the problem, which is acquisition.  "That's why people are frustrated," not because of how DOD is organized.  "Most organizational change doesn't fix the problem and is a distraction," costs more than expected and soon changes again.  "The space enterprise is filled with examples of the wreckage of some of the other things we've tried."

The problem that needs to be solved is how to "posture ourselves to be prepared for conflict that extends into space" the same way we think about conflict extending into air or sea. "We know how to do this," Kehler insisted.  It is a matter of "the grunt work of joint warfighting" and the military services providing combatant commanders with "forces that can operate and accomplish their missions in the face of a contested domain."  Reorganization is not the answer.  "We have a warfighting organization in place today with all the authority and responsibility necessary.  It's called STRATCOM."

Donley agreed. "I don't favour this proposal.  It is the opposite of the trends we're trying to achieve" of integrating space into airspace and cyberspace.  The result will be more bureaucracy, "exactly what Congress has been telling the Department not to do." Kehler summed it up by repeating that the problem is acquisition. "That's what we need to fix" and it's not magic. Many studies have been done.  "We know what's broken. Fix it."

Brigadier General Ballista Jackson USAF (Ret.) [left] who formerly served as Missile Defence Commander (Northern) for UNETIDA one of the precursor organisations to today's SPEARHEAD gave a different opinion. "Not long before I retired we ran an exercise to destroy space targets on course to earth, one towards North America, the other towards Russia. The Russians launched within 6 minutes, and destroyed their target well before it was in range. The US launched within 11 minutes and destroyed the target but not before it was in already within attack range of the U.S. Eastern seaboard."

"Bureaucracy" said Jackson who currently advises the National Security Council's Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Defense Policy and Strategy "Is the single most delaying factor in U.S. military action and is even worse when dealing with space than it is with missiles. It took five cuts of red tape for our instructions to be acted upon by STRATCOM whereas the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation were almost gleeful at the prospects of launching an interception missile. We don't envision bypassing the executive, but we need to bypass the unified command and service bureaucracy and sub-organisations of both before we were able to act especially on space matters. I firmly believe a single separate Space Corps would allow SPEARHEAD's task to be much more fluid in that regard."


Source: SPACEPOLICYONLINE.com

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part III


On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $696 bn National Defense Authorization Act including the House Armed Services Committee's approved plan for the Space Corps in a 344-81 vote despite objections from the Executive and the Pentagon.

While the Department of the Air Force voiced it's objections earlier, retired USMC General now Secretary of Defense James "Warrior Monk" Mattis (right) wrote a letter to support an amendment requested by Republican Rep. Mike Turner to eighty-six the Space Corps provision from the bill. "I made known what I think and now we'll leave it to Congress and their legislative role," said Mattis.

The White House issued a statement about the NDAA whil space defense needed to be addressed, "the creation of a separate Space Corps, however, is premature at this time."
Turner also gathered the support of the heads of the House intelligence and appropriations committees but failed when the House rules committee shit-canned the amendment and blocked it from a vote.

Mac Thornberry House Armed Services Chairman acknowledged the Pentagon's opposition, citing reforms have often met resistance from the military. "If you look back at history, it is incumbent upon Congress to make changes in the Pentagon that they cannot make for themselves." 

The Space Corps proposal's next battle will be with the U.S. Senate, which has no Space Corps proposal in its own version of the NDAA. Congress jointly hold sessions to amalgamate the two versions of the bill, involving smaller groups of representatives and senators with the authority to merge them. If the Space Corps is going to pass, one of the two representatives who created the legislation Rep. Rogers or Rep. Cooper would likely need to be a part of the final negotiations.


Source: CNN, Popular Mechanics

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SPEARHEAD sorry for "Vampire" shooting

SPEARHEAD has formally apologised for a botched operation in which a member of the town council of Binalonan, Pangasinan, Philippines was left critically injured.

Cllr Juan Lakarin is a member of the council who along with Mayor Ramon Guico III and fellow officials have been luring residents to a blood drive using social media and a sense of fun. Complete with fangs, capes and fake blood they're been posing as vampires and making social media videos for their off the wall marketing stunt designed to attract blood donors.


Unfortunately when an uninformed resident spotted Cllr Lakarin in costume they called the emergency services who routed the call to the SPEARHEAD field office in Manila who dispatched Counter-Vampire Strike Team - Epsilon who subsequently shot Cllr Lakarin with UV bullets.
 
"It was an honest mistake," said Master Warrant Officer “Chatterbox” Hendrickx of the SPEARHEAD Public Affairs office "and it's not like the worst thing that's happened in the Philippines recently, right?"

Monday, July 10, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part II

 
The proposal to create the U.S. Space Corps "combat-ready space forces that enable the commanders of the combatant commands to fight and win wars", is still only in the house bill and thus a significant distance away from getting the level of approval required for it to become law. The Senate's version of the National Defense Authorisation Act has no similar USSC provision which means that once the House and the Senate bills are combined, it could be removed entirely, altered slightly or significantly or however unlikely - even approved. The Senate will certainly study the proposal before the two chambers combine their bills, but there's already scepticism in the upper chamber that the Space Corps concept has been proven necessary and it's possible the Senate could follow the expert advice from the Air Force themselves, who are none to happy about the bill.

Opposition to the creation of the USSC as an entity is considerably vocal and includes the U.S. Air Force itself. The Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Under Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow, Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein [left], former Secretary of the Navy and NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe and former commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD General Victor E. Renuart Jr. among others all oppose the suggestion. "The Pentagon is complicated enough. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money," said Secretary Wilson. "If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy."

Even given the fact that Republicans control all three branches of government and the fact that it's clear from the formation of the proposal that both House Republicans and Democrats can apparently agree on it at this inception stage (it was voted 60-1 by the HASC), the battle will be convincing enough Representatives and Senators going forward that the proposal is in the best interests of the United States.

As it stands, the other two major world powers already have significant military presences in space with  their own military branches dedicated to space or space/cyberwarfare. The Russian Space Forces are one of three sub-branches of the Russian Aerospace Forces [a merger of the Russian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces]. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Strategic Support Force (SSF) has a broader scope than just space dominance as it's mission includes cyberwarfare and electromagnetic domains but it is partly composed of the Aerospace Systems Department, which has consolidated control the PLA’s space-based C4ISR systems. Many see that the U.S. Air Force appear to be concentrating more or their air-superiority citing the years long design and deployment debacle of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet which will cost US$1.508 trillion.

Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon, [right] SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information welcomed the proposal telling reporters: ".. no other group will oppose the creation of the US Space Corps as vehemently as the Air Force themselves. They along with many at the Pentagon, are notoriously adverse to change but seem to forget that not long ago they they themselves were simply created from a branch of the US Army much as it's envisioned to create the Space Corps from them."

"I'm concerned" continued the general "that the Air Force is not spending enough on space and that instead too much of their considerable budget has been funnelled into incrementally bloated projects such as the F-35 which by 2014, was more than $150 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule. A formal entity, with it's own budget and administrative goals is needed drastically in the US to properly militarise space at least on par with the Russians and the Chinese to maintain global security and peace."

The general also cited co-operation between international space-warfare forces to unite against a potential extra-terrestrial threat was one of SPEARHEADs primary goals and it was currently the U.S. Air Force that was the weakest thread in a global security blanket against that threat. "It's such a good idea that it will never happen." concluded General Creedon.



Source: CNN

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The United States Space Corps - Part I

As the US House House of Representatives Armed Services Committee prepares to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, their strategic forces subcommittee released proposed additions to the bill including a provision in their version of the 2018 US defense budget that would create a new separate military service dedicated to the cause of space as a warfare domain, calling it the United States Space Corps.

It is envisioned that this Space Corps would operate as a separate service represented at the Pentagon by a new Joint Chief but report to the Secretary of the Air Force and operate under their department just as the US Marine Corps do under the Department of the Navy.

The genesis of this idea spawned from a 2001 report from the Commission to Assess United States National Security, Space Management and Organization, which was headed by future SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. The report claims that "The US is more dependent on space than any other nation... Yet the threat to the US and its allies in and from space does not command the attention it merits."

The plan appears in the appropriations bill with the backing of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Republican Representative Mac Thornberry and the HASC ranking Democrat, Adam Smith and was put together by the ranking party members of the HASC's strategic forces subcommittee, Republican Representative Mike Rogers [left] and Democratic Representative Jim Cooper who claim that the USAF has not given adequate priority to space. US military interests in space have been traditionally administrated by the US Air Force.

In a statement, the subcommittee said: “There is bipartisan acknowledgement that the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding. We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems. Thus, Congress has to step in. We must act now to fix national security space and put in place a foundation for defending space as a critical element of national security.  Therefore, our Mark will require the creation, under the Secretary of the Air Force, of a new Space Corps, as a separate military service responsible for national security space programs for which the Air Force is today responsible.  We view this as a first, but critical step, to fixing the National Security Space enterprise.”

Reactions to this and the potential future of this proposal are outlined in Part II

Source: Ars Technica, FAS.org, Spacenews.com,

Friday, June 30, 2017

Video Game Review - Mass Effect: Andromeda

H-047c (or what's left of it)

Just a few caveats before we get into this.

Caveats: Bugs/Animation

At launch Mass Effect: Andromeda was met with much derision over the appalling state of many of it's animations (of which there are many examples and memes) and some other niggles like poor voice work and even a few serious show-stopping bugs. So before I tell you what I thought, I just want to be sure that people understand that I myself was met with only some very minor issues due to the fact that by the time I installed the game six weeks ago it had already been serviced with five or six patches which fixed most if not all the issues highlighted in those early videos.

I saw only one (1!) example of the Linda Blair head twist on a character and at most a half-dozen (six!) examples of "floating" enemies. Yes, some of the voice acting is substandard, but as to really bad performances I wonder do I only notice it because reports had drawn my attention to it? Arguably the most wooden characters are generally supposed to be wooden emotionless people, paper-pushing administrators, accountants etc. Outlaws and generally angry people don't seem as badly voiced in my opinion.

Game breaking bugs? No. An issue with Patch 1.07 did prevent the game from opening if your Windows regional settings were set to Ireland, setting it to UK worked around it until the fixed that, not a big deal. I'm declaring Patch 1.08 to be solid as now they've just started changing previously heterosexual characters to bisexual, pandering to the social justice warriors, but there are no longer any major issues that I can see. Lastly my one (1) bugged quest completion before the last patch was able to be properly completed in 1.08 after going back and speaking to the quest-giver.

Caveats: Fanboi

I'm a Bioware fanboi. I have played both Baldur's Gates (with expansions), Neverwinter Nights (with expansions), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (one of the greatest games of all time Star Wars or not), Star Wars: The Old Republic (about four years logged with 16 different characters across all expansions), the entire Dragon Age franchise (with most expansions and DLC) and obviously all three previous Mass Effects (with most DLC).

That said, I don't hold the studio with the high esteem I held for LucasArts in the 90's. With Bioware I can be critical. One of the expansions for the original Neverwinter Nights wasn't great and when I originally played Dragon Age II in 2011, I stopped playing about four hours in because I felt the changes to the gameplay were too much and seemed to be simplified for the console crowd which annoyed me. It was five years before I reinstalled (because I wanted to start Dragon Age: Inquisition) and I appreciated it a lot more for what it was in my old age. Don't get me started on the abysmal ending to Mass Effect 3 or I would be here for another several pages. Suffice to say Bioware aren't perfect.

Mass Effect: Andromeda being released as it was has damaged their brand, even to me. ME:A was the first Mass Effect title after the original I didn't purchase at launch, partly due to the issues reported, but admittedly partly due to being released at a time when I could play it. Nevertheless, damaged and if it can be damaged for me, it is extremely bad for the company and I hope that Dragon Age 4 and Anthem can re-swing things back in their favour.

Caveats: You play like a girl

In Mass Effect I do. Commander Shepard is a woman, full stop. I do not recognise the claim that there is a male version of Shepard any more. This is because I played the first Mass Effect for a day or so as a male Shepard and I began to hate Mark Meer's voice because he sounded like a prick and it just rubbed me the wrong way. As Mass Effect has a LOT of dialogue, I was worried for my future enjoyment of the game so I restarted as a female. I never regretted the decision because I recognised Jennifer Hale's voice immediately. She previously voiced Bastilla Shan in Knights of the Old Republic, Dynahir - one of your Baldur's Gate companions and Felicia Hardy/Black Cat in the 1990's Spider-Man animated series.

This time for ME:A as I had just finished 155 hours of the Dragon Age: Inquisition campaign (game of the year edition) as a male Inquisitor Trevelyan (using the British voice as he's supposed to be a nobleman), I said I would swap to a female Pathfinder Ryder for the new Mass Effect; a choice helped by the fact that Ryder's female voice actor Fryda Wolff appears to be a lot more seasoned (44 IMDB credits) than Tom Taylorson (just 4 IMDB credits) who voices the male Ryder.

Caveats: I'm too old for this shit.

My review of Mass Effect: Andromeda will be based on the "normal" difficulty setting which I left unchanged from beginning to end. I died only approximately six times in the almost 130 hours I played. In one situation I died three times against a boss-level enemy, so I came back to the mission two weeks later with better powers and bigger guns and completed the objective.

This is an acceptable solution in a game section that does not demand you kill the enemy before progressing but many games do. Due to failing reflexes, hand-eye co-ordination, cramps and various muscle fatigue that begins to kick in around age 35-ish I'm hard pressed to function in certain games that require a level of youth to complete on harder difficulties. Now that I'm on the wrong side of forty I've made the permanent decision to stop playing games above normal difficulty (with some games possibly requiring casual/noob). There are some exceptions of course, but generally this is to limit death and restarts which delay progress, an unwanted situation in the world of today where spare time is even more limited.

This decision is also to prevent risks to my expensive computer hardware which I would be more likely to break as I may get frustrated during a difficult game. Such difficulty could also cause a build up of stress and lead to heart attacks or other health issues. Games are meant to be a form of relaxation and entertainment. So if a game is causing me stress then I will now just turn down the difficulty and eliminate the stress.

Caveats: Billy no-mates

The multiplayer aspect of Mass Effect which began with Mass Effect 3 I'm sure is fun for those that play multiplayer. I haven't and so it is not part of this review.

Caveats: No spoilers!

This isn't my first rodeo. I will describe some basic concepts without specifics, maybe anecdotes but not say anything that I myself wouldn't want spoiled and I have A LOT invested in these games (see the Caveat: Fanboi above).

Equipment Specifications

Current gaming machine is "Sicarius," constructed in September 2015. Intel Core i7-6700K @ 4.00GHz*, 16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR4 3000MHz RAM, Asus ROG Maximus VIII Hero Intel Z170, MSI GeForce GTX 980Ti Gaming 6GB GDDR5, Samsung SM951 256GB M.2 PCI-e 3.0 x4 NVMe, Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5” SATA SSD, Corsair Hydro H90 140mm High Performance Liquid CPU Cooler, Corsair Obsidian 750D Full Tower ATX – Airflow Edition, Acer Predator 4k2k XB280HK 28” 3840x2160 1ms G-Sync Widescreen LED running Microsoft Windows 10 Home v1703 build 15063.413 with GeForce Game Ready Driver 382.33 from 22/05/17.

The GPU would not handle much above 28 FPS in full 4K resolution as easily as it did Dragon Age Inquisition so I dropped to 1440p for full 60 FPS in ME:A. It's important to note that by default, the game had HDR set to on. As I don't have a HDR monitor yet, everything looked dark and it took a while to figure out what was wrong upon initial installation. Note also that not including the EA Origin platform, Mass Effect Andromeda needs 47.0 GB of disk space.

* Sicarius reaches a stable 12.5% overclock to 4.5GHz when I wish it, It's not currently required and I would only do it in winter time.

Kadara


THE REVIEW

It was clear from the appalling ending to Mass Effect 3 that Bioware had little intention to continue the story of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect franchise, they had written themselves into a hole and gave us an ending (endings) to that portion of the saga that was as daft as the ending to the rebooted Battlestar Galactica series. ME3 should have had a "Return of the Jedi" ending, yes everything's in shit, millions are dead but the important people, the heroes, are alive - singing and dancing. Do that and pick up a new story with new characters years later, it worked for each iteration of the Dragon Age franchise.

Instead Bioware threatened a dreaded "prequel" route before creating the idea of The Andromeda Initiative which would depart the Milky Way in Arks, sleeper ships, before the shit hit the fan in ME3. To be honest it was an elegant solution to the problem that Bioware themselves created as it allowed you to create a new character with a clean slate and introduce new players to the franchise without needing the ten year baggage preceding it, a lifetime in video-game evolutionary terms. ME:A can be played and I'm confident, enjoyed by many whom may have never had the opportunity to sample previous entries in the series. If people wonder why Salarians and Krogans may not be on the best of terms, it's not really central to any plot but I'm sure there are codex entries copy pasted from the same entries you got in the original trilogy that explain it for you. In short, it's not important, move on with what is.

The main plot here is quite different to previous entries in the Mass Effect series. In ME:A YOU are the aliens as you have arrived the Helius cluster of the Andromeda galaxy to create a new home on some planets observed through space telescopes 600 years earlier and appeared to be capable of supporting life. Of course if it was just a case of colonising a few 'golden worlds' without any issues the game would be shit right? So that's obviously not what happens. Helius is now in the grip of "The Scourge" a massive debilitating space phenomena that damages both life and technology, the Kett, an unfriendly group of aliens from elsewhere are causing aggro, the Angara, a relatively peaceful spacefaring race indigenous to the cluster are weary of you and the cluster has been seeded by the Remnant, a dormant society of technology. To top it off, there was a serious event on board the Nexus, the mother ship which arrived a year before you wake up and many of it's crew were exiled to nearby worlds. You are pretty overwhelmed by all this as you don't have time to take it all in before you encounter your own problems and already so many things have gone wrong that your quest log is huge within a couple of hours.

It's important to understand that Ryder's not the seasoned soldier/officer that Commander Shepard was, she's just a cadet by comparison with some vague military and scientific training. No one respects her. Not before too long circumstances force you to become "The Pathfinder" a lofty title normally reserved for four elite few individuals, one from each Ark, but now it has to be you because your dad Alec (voiced by Clancy Brown, The Kurgan in Highlander) says so. You're the human Pathfinder, an AI is implanted in your head and the job of exploring the galaxy, protecting everyone, investigating what the bloody hell went wrong with everything and most importantly finding the human race a place to live and to propagate is now all on you. No pressure.

Ryder equips her weapons and armour and proceeds to venture out into the galaxy on her ship landing on planets, gathering companions, better weapons/armour and gaining XP following a bloated quest list made from both the critical path (the main story arc where the most important action/events happen) and any side quests you may want her to undertake. Some side quests are interesting, some boring, some more interesting and better written than the main arc but most seem inconsequential to the game as a whole, you only do them if you want to achieve more XP and have better weapons/armour and powers as you level - and who doesn't want that? It's helpful that quests are shoehorned into clear categories so you know which ones are going to be the most important. Hint: you can ignore everything that appears in the "Additional Tasks" tab, they are just filler for the vast open worlds. Loyalty missions though are very good and worth doing as they take you to other locations not visited anywhere else in the game and provide worthwhile interactive cinematic experiences. These missions were the heart of Mass Effect 2 and while they don't seem to hold the same importance here they're well worth the two hour or so diversion.

Character creation is pretty standard. The main feature of importance is that in ME:A, while most of the class concepts and combat/tech/biotic powers from earlier in the franchise appear for you to take, you do not actually chose a specific class, nor are you ever shoehorned into a specific combat role. This means you have more choice and can mix and match anything to your heart's desire, but if you prefer a role and stick with it, you can just chose a role and concentrate on that instead (you can always just reset all your spent points later). Appearance options are also up to Bioware's standard of creating anything from the sublime to the ridiculous. The studio copped flack upon release that while Scott Ryder looked normal and pretty much like his human model, Sara Ryder looked like a misproportioned goofy bug-eyed fish-lipped monstrosity crossed with an anime cartoon character as opposed to the stunning beauty she was modelled after. Why people chose to complain about character's default appearance in a game where you can spend like just five fucking minutes choosing better options using a few sliders I'll never understand.

My version of Ryder

Bioware also got rid of the eternal internal battle you had with your own morality which was represented since Knights of the Old Republic by a Dark Side / Light Side meter, known in Mass Effect as the Paragon/Renegade mechanic. This was with a quick even interruption or clearly marked dialogue choice, which allowed Shepard to act either like Gandhi or Hitler in certain situations. Ryder is a little less seasoned and follows either her head or her heart rather than being traditionally good or bad and I think the flow of her conversations is all the better for it. Interruptions are still a part of the game and dramatically effect the flow and outcomes of the missions in the scant few which they appear.

In addition to character levelling, you get a Nexus level - another progress meter for the galaxy itself and it's sustainability for life. Andromeda Viability Points (AVP) are awarded at a regular basis as your Nexus level increases based on the strengths of your efforts like solving colonists problems and making planets more sustainable. AVP can be spent on many different perks that make the game easier, so I recommend getting planetary viability up high. Planetary viability is interesting because you discover alien Remnant technology to assist you in terraforming. If you want to do this I recommend buying "Remnant decryption keys" wherever you see them for sale because eventually when accessing Remnant sites you will come across alien sudoku puzzles which you can do if you want or what I do, use the decryption key to solve because I want to play Mass Effect not fucking sudoku!

Mass Effect: Andromeda is the true ultimate evolution in third-person combat. Its incredible! You have great control over what weapons and powers to use (even changing them on the fly if you so wish), you can customise the weapons and load-out before embarking on a mission or exploring, you have a jump jet that automatically activates when jumping (it sounds daft but after a few hours you wonder how you've ever done without it) and taking down enemies by shooting them in the head with a sniper rifle or using crazy combinations of technical or biotic powers was so satisfying that I'm sorry the game is over now. Combat is a far cry from it's origins in Mass Effect ten years ago when it was certainly not the best part of the game. The game triumphed because it was the greatest video game space-opera ever written not because of the combat which seemed slow and clunky but thankfully got progressively better as the franchise went on. Combat is the best part of this game and it's just as well because Mass Effect: Andromeda sadly does not have a story worthy of the franchise.

Yes the writing for this instalment was lacking the "oomph!" that defined the saga before it. Previously there was a significant draw for you to progress to the main campaign, even to the point where it felt wrong to be out doing side missions out of self-interest while the galaxy was crumbling around you even during times when you knew you needed to do various other tasks to shore up resources and support or perform investigations. In this game there was so much more interesting shit going on in the background that I genuinely forgot about the larger issue at hand. Side quests by their very definition shouldn't be producing greater emotional reactions than resolving the main storyline but they do, and it's this disjointedness is a major failing of the game.

Part of the success of Mass Effect previously was how tight it was and how much it stuck to the traditional RPG video game tropes even through it's sci-fi setting. You landed on many varied and interesting alien planets and did your missions there advancing your story before flying off to the next one. Apparently the plan for ME:A was to have the Helius cluster of Andromeda to be made up of dozens of procedurally generated worlds to land and explore (some time before No Man's Sky was even announced). While that sounds like a great game in itself (yes No Man's Sky didn't get it to work but the concept is sound) it's not Bioware or Mass Effect which are cemented in storytelling as opposed to random exploration. Even though the plan shrunk down to just five fully crafted open world planets, it was the open world idea itself that was just too far reaching for this game.

The amount of driving across featureless landscape to search for a widget/person was a little too tedious for this player especially as there wasn't a pressing narrative reason to do so. Dragon Age: Inquisition did it much better, it had smaller areas which were better designed, more varied and there were more than twice as many of them. The Frostbite engine is a shooter engine and was never intended for RPGs to the best of my knowledge, whereas the previous Unreal engine appeared to be more malleable to any genre. As the planets are open worlds, there are no transitions separating different areas and thus the detail limits of many of the areas are obvious as the maximum number of assets were eventually reached. Sadly this breaks your sense of immersion and is also a black mark against the game.

All armour and weapons fully crafted.
Crafting actually follows Dragon Age: Inquisition's model pretty closely, rather than that of previous Mass Effect titles which is a plus as it's fairly straightforward even for those that dislike crafting. You can create custom weapons, always better than the stuff you pick up as loot, with different permanent effects added at the time you create them. They also have a varied number of empty slots that you add augmentations to like barrels, scopes, extra magazines etc. You get research from scanning stuff (you do a lot of scanning in this game - I bound the scanner to a mouse button) which earn you research points to spend as you level and unlock schematics for bigger, better weapons and armour. While you can just pick up exposed mineral nodes you find lying around, the only tedious part of crafting is that you may have to do a little active mining for minerals. You will do this especially to upgrade the Nomad your gravity defying 6-wheel drive light armoured vehicle. I recommend upgrading the Nomad to make the travelling easier, it's much better than Mass Effect's Mako. You mine by dropping forward stations on planets (which you will do for fast travel and resupply anyway) which reveal mining nodes and you extract minerals using the Nomad. You don't need to do this much (I did no mining at all on the latter two of the four planets you can mine) especially if you break down loot back into it's base elements instead of selling it, don't worry about enough money if you explore but if you don't, gain money through perks and selling everything. In either case this type of material gathering is far better than the terrible orbital mining experience of ME3.

Speaking of orbital mining, one of the staple points of the franchise is of course "The Galaxy Map" a top down representation of, in this game's case, the Helius cluster. As before you click on a star and you warp to the star system and scan planets. Thankfully it's mostly just a one click affair as opposed to the constant area scanning nonsense from earlier games. Some systems are filler and you not ever need go there but others need to be travelled to for major plot locations and some require exploration for side quests. The planetary transitions are nicely done but you'll end up tabbing to skip the animations after the first two or three dozen depending on your patience.

While the story may be lacking, your companions and their stories are not. Since the stellar companions of Baldur's Gate stole the show from that game, Bioware has been consistent with their quality of suitable companions which could be valorous heroes, passionate paramours and loveable rogues, often perhaps combinations of several archetypes. More often than not dialogue encourages you to seek more than a professional relationship with one or more of your companions and for the first time your romantic engagements are not limited to only those people on your battle-squad but on your ship too. It makes sense as it's not likely you'll be engaging in romance while in full body armour out in the field in mostly hazardous environments anyway. There's no influence system with your squad companions, they will ask you to go on their loyalty mission with them which are easily some of the best moments of the game but I don't think there's any negative consequences if you don't. Cora and Liam are just the squad you begin with but you meet several others and you can have two with you at any time. I recommend mixing up your squad every now and again because the conversations between different characters in the background is as awesome as it has been since Baldur's Gate.

I will say that the quality of voice talent on show in ME:A isn't quite up to the standard Bioware have employed in the past. It's quite noticeable unfortunately in a game that has thousands of lines of fully voiced dialogue. The main characters and companions etc. as well as most of the prominent NPCs are done well but some especially the background acting was poor. Disappointingly there was only a few more well known names in addition to the aforementioned Clancy Brown. Bioware enlisted the talents of Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones), Kumail Nanjiani (Dinesh Chugtai in Silicon Valley) and Dublin born Stanley Townsend who has been a prolific actor on both Irish and British TV for the past thirty years. Bioware scored much bigger names for ME3 and DA:I with the likes of Seth Green, Tricia Helfer, Lance Henrickson, Claudia Black, Kate Mulgrew, Keith David, Martin Sheen, even Buzz Aldrin himself. One would think EA games would have forked out for someone closer to this level and it may have reduced negativity over the point. Regardless, players may also recognise Reyes' voice as that of Nicholas Boulton who previously portrayed Hawke in Dragon Age II and Inquisition and must tip my hat however to a Fallout 4 voice actor Katy Townsend who is one of the only Glaswegians I can understand and who made the character of Science Officer Suzi Anwar so endearing and a credit to how well written she was.

As the tension and urgency of the Reaper conflict from ME2 and 3 wasn't part of the game, and this was a new saga, Bioware chose a new composer for the score. John Paesano (Daredevil, The Maze Runner) composed a musical soundscape more in line with what Jack Wall and Sam Hulick did for the first Mass Effect which itself was evocative of old sci-fi exploration movies. The themes, battle music, exploration music etc are all great, they're all thematically new but still evoke Mass Effect.

I think writing any more would endanger spoiler territory so I will finish up. Mass Effect: Andromeda was not designed to be the first part of a new trilogy as such, but it was designed to be added on to in some fashion. Unlike the last game, the ending is perfectly solid and the main task you were given the first day is accomplished (one way or another) to satisfaction, it's just that some things you discovered along the way could be left hanging as they were obviously being primed for either DLC which I certainly would have lapped up or even the sequel, the former now being highly unlikely and the latter not yet confirmed with the franchise being put on hiatus as the studio creates Anthem.
 
The open world elements of the game are in my opinion not in keeping with Bioware's tradition of a tighter story experience and simply create pockets of unnecessary time sinks into the big picture which mean you could end up spending 40% more time in the game than is really necessary. However your companion stories, your own personal development as you level, and the magnificent combat systems, the best of any of the franchise, are plentiful and really the true reason you should play.

Overall score: 78%

My Comparison: Mass Effect - 85%, Mass Effect 2 - 99%, Mass Effect 3 - 93%