Friday, April 19, 2002

Shake, Rattle, And Roll!
Haven't felt any of these, but there have been a surge of Northern CA earthquakes. As this week was the 96th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake the timing is interesting to say the least. I lived through several quakes in Southern CA and I suppose it is only a matter of time before I have one here in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Reserve Fleet Crisis
The nightmare goes like this:

Two rusty cargo ships anchored side-by-side in the James River Reserve Fleet rip open in a major storm. More than 282,000 gallons of heavy oil, as dark and thick as molasses, pour into the James.

Within 48 hours, a black blanket of petroleum washes north onto Jamestown Island, a national landmark. Across the river, the sticky oil laps against an intake pipe that draws cooling water for the Surry nuclear power plant.

The spill also rolls south to the tip of Newport News and Portsmouth. Along the way, it soils sandy beaches, state wildlife sanctuaries, a historical park, prime bird and duck habitat, scenic waterfront properties, oyster seed grounds, clam beds, inland creeks and tidal marshes.

That is the start of an article series by the Virginia Pilot on reserve fleet tied up the James River. These ships are obsolete and no longer useful but would cost millions to dispose of properly. A real problem you don't hear much about.
Who Needs NATO Anyway?
Reader Don Wolff wrote to me over the weekend about my positive comments about Norway and the Baltic States. First he notes they are not subject to any real threats. Second, he observes:

Which raises once again the question, why NATO? What is the real threat? The Soviets are gone and the Russians demonstrated in Chetchnya that they are not a major military threat. Again, what is the real full intensity military threat?

I see NATO as a confidence building measure. Tying the European nations together makes it less likely they will go to war with each other. While I think war in Europe is unlikely, it is not impossible. Just look at Yugoslavia for one possible flashpoint- ethnic tensions.

As for Russia, I would feel better about them if I thought the political and economic changes there had reached critical mass and would not or could not be rolled back. I think we are one sustained world wide economic dip away from that sort of rollback. I agree there is no full intensity military threat today, but we should plan for the future where such a threat might appear.

NATO expansion is a topic intelligence, rational people easily disagree on. I'm favorable toward it, but certainly don't have the missionary zeal of a true believer. Anyone else want to try and sway me?
USN Force Cuts
I've seen it obversed in several places that both the Navy and Air Force budget plans are seriously flawed because they are spending lots of funds in future years to buy too many aircraft all at once. Now it appears that is fact is sinking in. The Navy is looking to cut the number of aircraft it will buy and this has made the Marines a bit upset:

The Navy is considering serious cuts in its fighter purchases, reducing the fleet of F-18E/Fs from 548 to 460 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet by 400 aircraft (200 Marine vertical take-off aircraft and 200 Navy conventional take-off types). This has the Marines furious (as it will cut two wings out of their force and drive up the price of the rest, and could convince the British to switch to the conventional version) and international JSF partners complaining that the price of the aircraft will go up. (The Navy insists that expanding export markets will make up the difference.)

In effect this is threatening the entire VTOL version of the JSF. Both the British and the Marines were looking to that plane to replace the Harrier. I have a hard time seeing 200 more international sales out there for that plane.

The cuts are also reducing the number of aircraft available now:

The Navy is also retiring its S-3 Viking aircraft (which are used for anti-submarine, tanker, surveillance, and missile strike missions) early to save money. This move will mean that Atlantic Fleet carriers will conduct their next deployments (in some cases two of them) with only six S-3s instead of eight. (This was to happen when F-18E Super Hornet squadrons arrive as they need less tanker support, but the carriers will lose two S-3s before gaining any F-18Es.)

The loss of tanker ability probably hurts the most right now. Afghanistan was a big tanker war, and anything with Iraq promises to be the same. We are giving up a force multipler.
Good Thing They Are On Our Side
The British are planning to build a death ray:

Britain has launched its new Ground Based Air Defence program, the first phase of which will improve the existing surface-to-air missile defenses. This will include new radars, software, and controls, as well as some missile improvements. The second phase of the project will include new directed-energy air defense weapons. The British will spend $10 billion over the next decade on GBAD.
BT Suit
Long time readers will remember that British Telecom is trying sue Prodigy for patent infrigment. BT claims they invented hyperlinks.

Well today the judge made an initial ruling against BT.

British Telecom suffered a blow in its bid to charge royalties for hyperlinks on Wednesday when the New York judge hearing the case brought against Prodigy Communications issued a ruling on the first phase of the proceedings.

In what is known as a Markman ruling, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said many of BT's claims that its patent closely mirrors methods common to the Internet were not valid. The Markman ruling is the phase of the trial that is concerned primarily with putting the words of the patent claim into plain English.

This one isn't over yet, but it looks like it will come out the right way.