Gross Incompetence — A tale of two stealth birds

By True R. Spence (Tokyo Tengu)

One of President Barrack Obama’s few – very few – clear victories was the termination of Osama Bin Laden during a special warfare operation led by US Navy SEALs on May 1 this year. That one incident was said to have been a defining moment in his Presidency — proof of his warrior credentials.

The media was in full rapture mode. Pundits gushed ecstatic and waxed profoundly on the macho virtues of our cuddly young generalissimo. They chortled with glee and busily assured each other that Obama was now guaranteed reelection at a minimum. Yet, as satisfying as that mission was, it did come at a significant cost. Specifically, a very expensive, top-secret military helicopter broke down and had to be destroyed in place.

Not much is known about that bird, so I will refrain from speculating. In Wikipedia, it is described as, “A previously-unseen modified Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk…” The article further notes, “The aircraft seemed to include features like special high-tech materials, harsh angles and flat surfaces, previously found only on sophisticated stealth jets.”

It’s hard to quibble about that one. The destruction of the bird was accomplished according to whatever “go-to-hell” plan had been created beforehand. Some portions survived – and no doubt are still being closely examined – but the worst was avoided. Most importantly, the mission itself was a success.

Fast forward to this December 4, and the mind-boggling loss of a fully functional, top-secret,  RQ-170 Sentinel  stealth drone to Iran, and you begin to wonder if you have indeed entered the Twilight Zone.

Why? Well, for one thing, this aircraft, even more than the abovementioned helicopter, is one of our nation’s technical crown jewels. Quoting Wikipedia again, “The UAV is equipped with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and possibly an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar mounted in its belly fairing.” The article quotes speculation,  “The two undercarriage fairings over the UAV’s wings may house datalinks and that the belly fairing could be designed for modular payloads, allowing the UAV to be used for strike missions and/or electronic warfare.”

The New York Times has reported that “the RQ-170 is “almost certainly” equipped with communications intercept equipment as well as highly sensitive sensors capable of detecting very small amounts of radioactive isotopes and chemicals which may indicate the existence of nuclear weapons facilities.”

Now, this is bad – very bad.

We undoubtedly lost a degree of stealth technology in the wreckage of the abovementioned helicopter, but since I doubt there are that many applications for helicopter stealth, the damage was minimal. And, as I mentioned above, they had time to implement their “destruct bill”. That would include yanking or putting explosive charges all the most sensitive avionics, before they flew out.

In contrast, the drone was the entire, fully functional reality of our latest stealth and reconnaissance technology. How many billions of dollars were expended, how many man-hours were spent in research, how many instances of sheer genius went into that little Christmas present Obama dropped into the laps of a nation that is arguably among our most obdurate foes?

OK, and no, I do not quite buy the conspiracy theory that Obama arranged to have the drone given to the Mullahs. But there is one point that is absolutely clear. That drone could have only flown into the unfriendly skies of Iran at the direct orders of National Command Authority – the President.

No intelligence director, general or admiral would dare authorize that mission on his or her own. Why would any of them want to stick their neck out that far? Furthermore, I don’t see the Obama White House as the type that would allow anything like that level of local control anyhow. Micromanagers have to micromanage and Obama’s crews are all micromanagers.

Get that dialed in clearly. This is not something the Obama apologists can be allowed to pin on the spooks or the boys and girls in uniform. The mission had to be ordered, or at the very least approved, by Obama himself.

He bought it. He owns it.

Now, on to the incident itself; I won’t discuss the cause, choose your own theory. It is here that Obama has demonstrated his total disregard for his Constitutional duties and proved that he is manifestly unsuited for his position as Commander-in-Chief.

Why? For one thing, I am positive – utterly and completely positive – that the person in charge of that operation had a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) spelling out exactly what should be done if a Sentinel wanders off the reservation. All competent organizations have “go-to-hell” plans because when the brown organic matter impacts the rotary air impeller, confusion is deadly. The US Military is addicted to such plans and has checklists for every possibility – most especially the potentially worst ones – because Murphy is never off watch.

All that means is once contact was lost; whatever organization sent in this wee birdie (either the CIA or the USAF) was obviously going to try their best to get it back. So recovery is given first priority. I am being vague about ownership here because I do not believe that whoever “owned” that drone could have operated it over Iran without some support from the US military, making it a joint operation at some level. Nor can I believe the bird was navigating on a single GPS feed. There had to be multiple signals coming off that bird. That means the handlers knew exactly where it had landed.

The clock starts here. What happens next?

The first thing they do is look in the back of the binder for the contingency plan that covers this situation. There might be several. Another thing you can be sure of is, before they sent that drone into Iran, they carefully noted the assets available to help recover or destroy it if that became necessary. That would be a normal and obvious part of the mission planning SOP. So, messages go out alerting those assets, flight crews are called in, fighter and helicopter crews get briefed in, munitions are broken out of magazines and loaded, etc.

Simultaneously, messages land on the President’s desk. “We have these plans ready to go and these plans on standby…”  Amazingly, the senders get back either an immediate refusal, or what is much more likely… nothing.

Thus, we are forced to choose from one of two conclusions. Either our Commander-in-Chief blew off a recovery from the start, or he choked. Neither response is acceptable.

The window was rapidly closing. If the Iranians did indeed manage to hack the Sentinel, and that is already as alarming as losing the aircraft itself, just think of how eager they were to get their hands on an intact drone. Thus, Iran’s military and Revolutionary Guard assets are on the move. If the Iranians can get sufficient firepower in place in time, they can effectively deny any successful attempt to recover the bird. This would mean destroying it in place was the only way to safeguard the drone and everything it represents as a strategic national technological advantage.

The clock kept ticking, options started fading – soon it was too late for any plan to succeed. The Iranians were on the aircraft like ants on a dead beetle. Every flyable jet they had available was in the air, all their missile crews were scanning the skies. The window had closed.

Bye bye, Sentinel. The “Beast of Kandahar is now in enemy hands.

Isn’t that just peachy? At this very moment, China and Russia are probably locked in a bidding war for bits and pieces of that bird. Crumbs the Mullah’s are going to be crafty enough to use to their greatest advantage. But you can be sure that both nations will eventually buy sufficient access. They will learn the secrets.

That is the crime that Obama is guilty of. Let’s be brutally clear here. Recovering the drone in place or destroying it before it became impossible to do so were Obama’s only legal, moral, ethical and logical choices; one or the other. There was no third choice.

The responsibility to use properly and safeguard absolutely the strategic assets of the United States is a vital and fundamental part of every President’s job description — and stealth technology, every bit as much as ICBMs and nuclear warheads — is a strategic national treasure.

If Obama was unwilling to sign off on a mission to recover or destroy the drone if necessary, he should have never sent it in.

Even, no decision was a decision. If, by exercising what amounted to a “pocket veto,” Obama chose not to do anything until it was too late for either mission to succeed, he still bares full and absolute responsibility. I won’t argue motive here. Choose your own. Whatever the reason, that decision or indecision was the moral equivalent of cowardice in the face of the enemy – or it was treason.

Think about it. Would a soldier who intentionally delivered, allowed to be delivered, who failed to even attempt to recover, one-tenth of one-percent of the secrets Obama has just handed to the Iranians see it swept under the rug? Let’s ask US Army Private Bradley Manning. And, please note what that fruitcake delivered to Wikileaks amounted to a lot of stale political gossip and not much else.

Obama delivered the finest and freshest fruits of several technological trees that took decades of blood, sweat, tears and billions of dollars to produce.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney did not give Obama one-tenth the Hell he deserved over this issue. Nor, obviously, has the media or anyone else.

So where does that leave us now? Until or unless people start treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, it’s not going to go anywhere – and it needs to. In a future conflict, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are likely to die in much greater numbers due to what was arguably the most contemptible, long-term-destructive-of-American-interests, acts of indifference, incompetence – or both – ever perpetrated by an American President.

Why did it happen? Was he criminally negligent, or was it because Obama simply gets a naughty thrill when sticking his fingers into the eyes of a group of people – patriots – he secretly despises?

In either case, it is unquestionably clear that Obama has demonstrated a level of incompetence and willful disregard – you can even argue hostility – to and for the responsibilities of his office that is far beyond any that can be allowed in an American President.

This needs much more discussion.

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About Tokyo Tengu

I'm a 58-year-old lovable fuzzball that enjoys spending time (when not working) reading and writing political commentary, enjoying good books, cooking, eating and bashing stupidity whenever and wherever I find it. (Not that I have to look very hard these days.) Despite being a long-term (25 years) resident of Tokyo, I am an unashamed and unabashedly Pro-Life American Conservative with an intense interest in the politics of the day -- in Japan, the United States and throughout Asia. My writings here and in other places focus primarily on how things are seen from Japan and around Asia, with special emphasis on Japanese national, political and defense issues, US Forces in Japan and Asia, and the burgeoning military power of China.
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