Pilots, maintainers and support personnel from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings and 12 F-35A Lightning II jets will travel to Kadena Air Base for six months as part of the U.S.’s ongoing security presence in the area, known as a theater security package. This is the second deployment of the F-35As stationed at Hill AFB, following a short show of force in RAF Lakenheath earlier this year.
The face of conflict is changing. While leaders like Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump still see conflict in the traditional light, many of their peers - and certainly the next generation - see conflict differently: Cultural, Economical, and Ecological. The kinetic warfare of the 19th and 20th century is a relic of past generations, a fact never more poignant than after recent speeches by three prominent politicians across two countries.
The F35's come from the 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Their commanderLt Col George Watkins, had this to say about the deployment to RAF Lakenheath:
"It's teamwork between us and the local population of the base here, as they're standing up their own F-35 squadrons here [...] so they can get some lesson's learned"
The deployment was planned months in advance according to the statement released by the Department of Defense, but the timing does come as international politics throughout the entire world are tense.
Consider the following questions:
- How does a NATO country, like Belgium or Spain, raise its defense spending rapidly over the short term (i.e. 4 years) without incurring the risk associated with research and development or costs associated with increased manpower?
- How does a businessman-turned-politician drive down the costs of a weapon's program whose costs are "out of control?"
- How does one make good on promises to "bring manufacturing jobs back home?" to appease Economic Security voters?
- How does an administration, in dire need of showing strength against a country who allegedly helped it get elected do so without leading to an accidental international incident?
The answer to all of these is through Foreign Military Sales; the one thing that the U.S. government has been decidedly good at over the last several decades. Currently, the most prolific export of the U.S. military sale market is the F-35 and it has been catapulted into the limelight as a cornerstone in the next Cold War.
You have no doubt heard of the F-35 or F-22 and wondered why these aircraft are so damn expensive, and why they are so controversial. I can't seek to answer those questions for you, but I can help to explain the academics behind fifth generation aircraft and their low observable (or "stealth") technology.
Low observable technology is important for several reasons, not least of which is the simple fact that you cannot shoot what you do not know exists. Hollywood movies like to highlight the importance of "heat seeking missiles" (professionally known as "infrared (IR) missiles"), but most modern warfare is conducted now beyond visual range and relies heavily on radar guided missiles. These are an impressive jump in technology, but they do rely heavily on your ability to detect the target on your radar.
More likely than not, the existence of fifth generation aircraft is signaling the start of a new arms race in which the four major super powers (European Union, United States, Russia, and China) are modernizing their air forces to ensure their pilots are able to fly longer and strike further against any adversary they may encounter. This recent push to modernize is likely an attempt for those powers to retain their competitive edge in a global deterrent based strategy similar to that of the Cold War. However, unlike the Cold War, these weapons can be used and exported without fearing for their direct contribution to humanity's destruction
Foreign governments are in a state of panic and are looking to "balkanize" the internet, domestic judges are ruling the methods unconstitutional, and lawmakers are looking to turn off the utilities at NSA plants. However, many people (myself included) take some solace in the fact that we may not be under as much scrutiny as we might think. We like to assume that if we can't make sense of that much information, then no one can; and the more we know about analyzing data, the more often we jump to that logical fallacy.
I was among those. Having taken graduate courses in data analytics, I was operated and espoused the belief that the NSA can't possibly analyze all of the information that they're collecting through PRISM, CO-TRAVELER, and Landscaping; and while I was not wrong, it turns out that they don't actually have to. After a conversation with +Andreas Schou, I was introduced to Graph Theory; the methodology that scientists have been using to make sense of large amounts of relational data for years.
Graph Theory is the study of graphs, which are mathematical structures used to model the relationships between objects. These objects are connected by "edges" which map the objects based on observed or mathematically inferred relationships. Graph theory is primarily used in the study of discrete mathematics, but can also be used in computer science to represent networks of devices, data, or information flow; sociology to measure an actors' prestige (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon); social network analysis; and analyzing associations within criminal organizations.
This associative analysis can help intelligence analysts determine the relationship between different objects (a credit card can be linked to a cell phone, which can be linked to a person who has a criminal record). The problem with PRISM (et al) is that the intelligence net that is cast is so large that information overload is a serious problem. How does the NSA, or any large data company (Google, Amazon, Facebook), handle these large data sets? As we know, any savvy criminal will have more than one phone and almost everyone has more than one e-mail address, credit card, or digital avatar. The sheer number of objects contained within a graph that attempts to map every transaction, phone call, and relationship will quickly become unmanageable.
Within graph theory, algorithms are relied on to handle and split the complex data into smaller, more manageable graphs. I'm not a data scientist, so I'm very fuzzy on the specifics of this, but large complex graphs can be split into smaller graphs through algorithmic computation. These smaller graphs isolate a section of objects that are known to be of interest to law enforcement agencies, and then this data can be analyzed. For example, if the Los Angeles Police Department picks up a known fugitive and determines that his phone number is 999-4442, then using graph theory the NSA could extract a subgraph of information relationships deemed most relevant to 999-4442; such as that fugitive's credit card, his burner phone, his favorite pizza parlor's phone number. Ideally, contained within this subgraph of information will be a link to another, unknown, criminal who may be participating in illegal activities.
Mr. Schou posits that through a combination of PRISM, CO-TRAVELER, and Landscaping information, the NSA can create a relational graph of virtually everyone in the world. The NSA's three degrees methodology for determining from whom they collect information is enough to guarantee that almost everyone is going to end up on the NSA's radar. Mr. Schou goes on to make the distinction that since the NSA is not actually collecting data against persons in their new metadata surveillance methods, but against phone numbers, credit card numbers, and virtual avatars, the surveillance net quickly reaches an exponential growth rate. For example, take a look at how this "three degree" methodology is explained with this slideshow:
Going back to our example involving the Los Angeles Police Department, the fugitive with the phone number of "999-4442" will enable the surveillance of 125,000 individuals; and this just looks at the data collection associated with PRISM. When you add in CO-TRAVELER and Landscaping methodologies, that Los Angeles fugitive is going to cast a pretty wide net. When you consider that some phone numbers are going to be related to significantly more than 50 individuals (have you ever called Microsoft's Tech Support?) then the exponential increase from this "three hops" rule is going to be infinite.
So who does this "Three Hops Rule" actually protect?