Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Pentagon's "shadow wars" in Africa

By Peter Feuilherade

America's new and still-evolving defence strategy is strongly focused on Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, as well as heralding a new phase of restraint in military spending. Over the next 10 years the Pentagon faces budget cuts of 487 billion dollars.

On his first visit to Japan as Pentagon chief in October 2011, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said America would remain a global economic and military power despite the cuts, and the Asia-Pacific region would be central to US national security strategy. Washington's shift in focus towards Asia is in response to China's growing military power.

But the expanding US military presence in Africa suggests that Washington is also increasingly concerned about the expansion of transnational terrorism into sub-Saharan Africa.

This article was first published in Defence Management Journal – Summer 2012 issue

U.S. and Mozambican Marines train together in Maputo - Photo: U.S. Africa Command (Africom)

US forces or advisers are active in the Horn of Africa, East and Central Africa, while in at least 10 countries in the Maghreb, the Sahel and West Africa US personnel are providing counterterrorism training and building up national armies.

Countering extremists is the top military priority for the continent, says General Carter Ham, commander of the US Africa Command (Africom), which oversees US military operations across the continent but is based in Stuttgart, Germany.


Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the biggest US base in Africa, hosts the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, set up a decade ago to counter Al-Qaeda's growth in East Africa. "By 2003, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command were also establishing an operational presence in the Horn. Their mission was focused on killing or capturing senior members of Al-Qaeda in East Africa," recalls Sean D. Naylor, senior staff writer of the US website Army Times.

2008 saw the operational launch of Africom, responsible for US military relations with 54 African countries. With President George W. Bush facing almost unanimous opposition from African leaders to hosting it on the continent, its HQ was located in Germany instead. Africom's mission, its website notes, is to "protect and defend the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defense capabilities of African states and regional organizations and, when directed, conduct military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development." Africom typically has fewer than 5,000 troops in Africa at any time.


The US media spotlight turned briefly to Africa in 2011 when the US sent 100 military advisers, mostly Army Special Forces, to help soldiers from four Central African countries - Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic - fight the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and capture its leader Joseph Kony. But for several years, the US Air Force has been flying drones over north-east Africa and Yemen from bases in Djibouti and more recently southern Ethiopia and the Seychelles.

In combating the Somalia-based Islamic insurgent group Al-Shabaab, only a handful of US troops are involved directly, usually special forces who enter the country on clandestine missions to kill militant targets. However, America has funded 9,000 African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi, and provided background support to invading  Kenyan and Ethiopian troops, all involved in military operations against Al-Shabaab.

In March 2012, the Africom chief told the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that Al-Qaeda affiliates in east and north-west Africa posed the greatest security threat to the US. Noting that Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab (which has recruited and trained dozens of American citizens) had publicly formalized their long-standing merger, he described the stated intention of the leaders of these extremist groups to work more closely together as "his greatest concern".

Unholy trinity

On the other side of the continent, the US is conducting counterterrorism training and equipping armies in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. US involvement could escalate if events confirm reports that some members of Al-Qaeda's core leadership have moved to North Africa from Pakistan after suffering heavy losses in US drone attacks there.

US officials say there are "clear indications" that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is involved in trafficking arms from Libya, and that the upheavals in Libya and Tunisia have created opportunities for AQIM to establish new "safe havens". The US, along with several European countries, is concerned that AQIM and Boko Haram, the militant group from northern Nigeria formed in the 1990s, together with Al-Shabaab, are "attempting to share training and to collaborate in other ways in pursuit of their goal of attacking the US and other foreign targets", according to a September 2011 speech by General Ham. Some analysts dismiss such an alliance as unlikely, given the cultural and ethnic differences that separate the three groups.

Both AQIM and separatist Tuareg insurgents in northern Mali opposed to the Malian government received sophisticated weapons from Libya in 2011, allowing Tuareg rebels to resume armed operations inside Mali in January 2012.

In March, a group of Malian junior officers angered by the lack of government support to help the army fight the rebels seized control in a coup, before agreeing to the return of civilian rule in mid-April. At the time of writing, rebel groups remained in control of northern Mali, their ranks reportedly swelled by foreign Islamist militants. The whole country was also mired in a regional humanitarian crisis, with over 1.4 million Malians in need of emergency food assistance, according to EU estimates.

The New York Times recently described Mali as "an impoverished desert nation, an important American ally against the regional Al-Qaeda franchise". Mounting insecurity there, and fears that destabilization could spread to Niger and elsewhere in the Sahel region, suggest that the American military mission in Mali is likely to have its work cut out combating regional terrorism.

The US will share similar concerns to France, which has warned that the seizure of northern Mali by Tuareg separatists, in a loose alliance with Islamic militants, could turn the region into an AQIM stronghold.

Oil rush

US military operations in Africa face a range of difficulties, including a lack of bases and international agreements on flight paths, limited communications and the reluctance of many African countries to have any significant US force within their borders. One option for3the US is increasing the use of sea-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

As the Pentagon cuts back on traditional military operations in the post-Iraq and Afghan war era and after defence budget cuts kick in, it will rely increasingly on smaller elite units to carry out targeted operations. US special operations forces (SOF) will expand to maintain a continuous presence around the globe. SOF will "begin to return to its roots as expert trainers of counter-terrorism forces in other countries", with a large portion of the worldwide SOF presence focusing on Africa and the Pacific, according to Pentagon officials.

However, public opinion and legislators in the US are concerned about the costs of military forays into Africa at a time of budget cuts, while the deployment of advisers has prompted comparisons with the escalation of US involvement in South Vietnam in the 1960s.

In Africa, the growing US presence is regarded with some suspicion too. "After the Libyan case of 2011 (the imposition of the no-fly zone) some African leaders, intellectuals and policy makers are advocating for change in the way international organizations or individual states intervene in African political crises. Some issues that make Africans suspicious about US involvement include the increased deployments of special forces, trainers and military contractors by the Pentagon, and the political objectives behind some of the interventions," Dr Petrus De Kock, Senior Researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told Defence Management Journal.

America's critics, meanwhile, see Africa becoming a battleground where the US and its European allies are jostling for access to the continent's strategic oil and mineral resources with China, which has been striking commercial deals with governments across Africa for decades.

The last few years have seen significant new oil and natural gas discoveries reported across East Africa, from the Horn of Africa in the northeast, down to Tanzania and Mozambique in the south, and inland in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo around Lake Albert.

As Africom chief General Ham said in March 2012: "With six of the world's fastest growing economies in the past decade, combined with democratic gains made in a number of African nations in 2011, Africa's strategic importance to the United States will continue to grow."

For all parties involved, the stakes are high and rising.

RAF warplanes keep 2012 Cosford Air Show crowds on their feet

Despite recent job cuts in the UK's armed forces, the RAF brings the past and the present together and puts on a great display at the 2012 Cosford air show on Sunday 17 June.

This story was first published on

Avro Lancaster bomber at Cosford - Photo: Peter Feuilherade

Frontline Royal Air Force (RAF) jets that recently saw service in Afghanistan and Libya as well as historic and iconic aircraft from earlier conflicts were in action again at the Cosford Air Show this week. The annual display, which was seen by some 40,000 people this year, is the biggest in the West Midlands and one of only three RAF officially endorsed shows.

The highlights included high speed displays by an RAF 6th Squadron Eurofighter Typhoon and two Tornado attack aircraft. Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s and Tornados both served in operations over Libya in 2011, and Tornados are currently deployed in Afghanistan to carry out reconnaissance missions and provide close air support for Coalition troops on the ground.

A fly-past by an Avro Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial flight evoked thoughts of the UK’s aviation heritage, as spectators remembered all the RAF personnel who had served in previous conflicts, particularly World War Two.

As well as a display by the ever-popular Red Arrows aerobatics team, the Cosford air show was also one of the last chances to see a flypast by an RAF Vickers VC10 tanker/transport before the aircraft’s imminent retirement from service. In March 2013 the RAF will stop operating its VC10 fleet, which was first deployed in 1966.

Red Arrows at Cosford - Photo: Peter Feuilherade

But as RAF staff at Cosford celebrated the 2012 air show’s success, they also reflected sombrely on the impact of the latest round of redundancies in the UK armed forces announced just a few days previously.

Nine hundred posts are being cut from the RAF, as well as 2,900 from the Army and 300 from the Royal Navy. The job losses are part of the largest personnel cutbacks for more than two decades. Those affected include members of all three services with experience of fighting in two Gulf Wars, peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo and counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Online is a game changer for amusement machines

Gaming goes for the personal touch


By Peter Feuilherade

First published in the Geneva-based International Electrotechnical Commission magazine and website e-tech in June 2012

While the irresistible global rise of online entertainment is bringing rapid change to the market for commercial amusement machines, businesses are also readjusting to the combined pressures of economic recession and regulatory change. A number of IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and SCs (Subcommittees) prepare International Standards for the systems and devices used in amusement machines found in public places. These make a significant contribution to an industry with a global value projected to exceed USD 110 billion in 2016.

Multiple machines to meet multiple needs

Amusement machines are electro-mechanical appliances found in public places. They include gaming machines, arcade video games, driving simulators, laser shooting appliances, pinball machines, "kiddie rides" and billiard tables.

Modern pay-to-play machines are no longer confined to amusement arcades. Increasingly they are found in bars, clubs, hotels and sports centres as well as being available for domestic and corporate entertainment hire.

Electronic gaming is a globally popular pastime for many people. Electronic games can be defined as interactive games that are played on arcade machines, consoles, computers and mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

Video-based multiplayer digital terminals with touchscreen technology offer combinations of fun games, card games and skill games. The market for "skill with prizes" machines is one of the fastest growing.

There are also gaming machines without prizes, score game and touch-screen machines, video games, driving simulators, pinball machines and laser simulated systems for shooting and other sports such as basketball, golf and archery. Electronic machines offer sports such as billiards, darts and football or air hockey.

Games played in amusement arcades have been steadily losing their appeal since the appearance of home consoles in the mid-1980s started the trend towards more personalized gaming.

IEC work ensures safety

Several IEC TCs and SCs develop standards for the components used in amusement machines.

IEC TC 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, plays a central role. It prepares product standards and safety requirements for electrical appliances primarily for household purposes, but also for other equipment and appliances in similar fields in which there is no dedicated IEC technical committee. Its responsibilities include drawing up specific requirements for the safety of electric commercial amusement machines whose rated voltage does not exceed 250 V for single-phase and 480 V for other appliances.

The usual safety standards for household electrical appliances apply to amusement machines. They include requirements and test criteria to cover hazards such as electric shock; thermal hazards (burns, overheated surrounds, insulation); mechanical hazards (cutting, crushing, explosion); appliances that catch fire owing to internal faults; radiation and toxicity (non-ionizing radiation and poisonous gases).

The growing use of electronic circuits (including programmable elements) for the provision of safety related functions and to enable remote control and remote servicing of electrical appliances through telecommunications networks is leading to improvements in design, construction and safety.

Cost is a major factor

The traditional arcade cabinets have been superseded by HD flat screen gaming platforms and simulator-style cockpit units that can cost from USD 10 000 to 25 000 or more. Many arcade owners are unwilling to invest such large sums in buying the latest top-range video arcade game machine that may only have a shelf life of a few seasons – not long enough to pay off its cost.

As the electronic content of amusement machines expands, other IEC TCs and SCs play a role in developing standards relevant to the industry, such as for the sensors used in amusement machines, the motion sensors in arcade video games and safety and overload sensors in kiddie rides.

IEC International Standards that cover sensors and their operation include the IEC 61508 series, Functional Safety, developed by SC 65A: Industrial-process measurement, control and automation, and IEC 61757, Fibre optic sensors, developed by SC 86C: Fibre optic systems and active devices. TC 76: Optical radiation safety and laser equipment and TC 47: Semiconductor devices, also deal with sensors used in amusement machines.

Not only has the home market for video games taken over, but consumers are now moving online as the costs of consoles and handheld gaming devices continue to rise, while downloading has become more accessible. The mobile market, particularly in terms of smartphones, has become a growth area for games.

Whither the pinball machine…

US firms dominated pinball machine manufacturing in the 1950 70s, when the popularity of this entertainment was at its peak. Now there are only a few US manufacturers in the global market, while some Chinese companies make generic pinball machines, largely for domestic sales and export to markets outside the US. Since the 1980s, pinball has become electronic, digitized and licensed. Modern pinball machines combine video graphics with mechanical action, often based on licensed themes associated with popular video games, films and toys.

Children first…


Coin-operated amusement rides for small children, known as kiddie rides, are usually located in amusement parks, shopping centres, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. Most rides include sounds and music, sometimes with adjustable volume control; some feature flashing lights, pedals and buttons. Modern rides may have a solid state audio playback device similar to flash-based MP3 players.

The highest standards of safety are of the utmost importance in the design and construction of kiddie rides as children do not receive adequate prior training in the rides’ use. This involves looking for child-specific mechanical and other hazards that could result from operation of the appliances, such as crushing as a result of pinch points that may be encountered on the rides.

Precautions commonly found include a button that allows the ride to be paused, safety sensors that detect if anything obstructs the ride's movement and which cause it to stop, overload sensors that stop the ride if the weight limit is exceeded, and a slow start/stop action so that younger riders are not alarmed.

To ensure these machines are safe, TC 61 published IEC 60335-2-82, Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety, which deals specifically with Particular requirements for amusement machines and personal service machines.

Global but fragmented markets

In the words of the Euroslot World Market Report 2011-12, there is no "global" market for gaming and amusements, but rather "a motley assembly of national markets" shaped by national or regional characteristics. The economic downturn, however, is affecting nearly every corner of the industry, especially traditional parts of the amusement sector which are already in slow decline because of the rise of e gaming.

The industry, as well as the manufacturers of amusement machines and associated products, have to contend not only with "the many commercial advantages of using the internet as a platform for gambling and entertainment, but also with the increasing ubiquity of smartphones as the means of delivery", says the report's editor Barnaby Page.

A September 2011 report by US-based BCC Research put the global total value of the electronic gaming industry in 2011 at around USD 69,9 billion for games and software, hardware and accessories and services. The report forecast that the total would rise to USD 111,8 billion in 2016.

Italy is Europe’s biggest gaming market, with video lottery terminals (VLTs), Amusement Machines with Prizes (AWPs), casinos and online poker all creating vast profits for licence holders and increased revenue for the government. Since the regulation of VLTs in 2010 to bring in revenue for the Italian government's rebuilding efforts following the Abruzzo earthquake, VLTs have been at the forefront of a gaming revolution, with prizes of up to EUR 500 000 on offer.

In Germany, there is great concern about the threat posed by the first state legislation on amusement arcades, which manufacturers, distributors and arcade operators say will have ruinous consequences. Nevertheless, the coin-operated amusement devices market is projected to exceed USD 1,6 billion in Germany by 2015. AWPs represent the most popular coin-operated devices. New installations, however, are declining for Amusement Devices without Prizes, especially for score game and pinball devices, which have both dropped in popularity.

In the USA, coin-operated amusement devices were the staple of video arcades in the 1970s and 1980s. The growing popularity and advancing technology of home gaming systems has now led to the almost total demise of large arcades targeted at young customers. They have been replaced by family entertainment centres, offering casual dining facilities coupled with large game rooms geared to a range of ages, including younger and older children and adults, and gambling operations, including casinos, horse racing tracks and, in some states, slot machines which compete with casinos. Slot machines have become so popular that they provide 70% to 75% of casino revenues.

Asia has become the largest gambling region in the world, overtaking Europe and North America. Most of the profits are derived from casino operations, which are set to provide a lucrative export opportunity for manufacturers of the relevant kinds of amusement machines. The UK company, Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC), predicts that by 2015, Asia's casinos will account for 48% of the global market, thanks to continuing growth in Macau and Singapore as well as new operations in the Philippines and Vietnam.

PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) broadly concurs, predicting that by 2015, Asia Pacific will account for 43,4% of global spending on casino gaming, with the US accounting for 40,1%. This is on top of rising spending on online gaming. The big question is whether online gaming revenues will add to existing offline revenues, or will cannibalize them.

The popularity of gambling, and the spread of online betting, has been accompanied by a fall in demand across most of Asia for electronic coin-operated amusement centres and arcade-type amusement machines. In India, for example, this sector was estimated to be worth less than USD 200 million in 2011..

The future

More than 40 years have passed since the launch of the first coin-operated video game in 1971. Now the video game sector has evolved into a popular and diverse market that has outgrown its original amusement trade confines. The collapse of the traditional arcade business in many countries has sidelined video amusement machines to the role of generators of secondary revenue for larger entertainment complexes, especially in the US.

But manufacturers of amusement machines and video lottery terminals can still look forward to expanding markets in Asia, where casino gaming is set for huge growth as the affluent middle classes seek new forms of entertainment.

The newest innovations in video-based multiplayer digital terminals combine features of computer gaming, such as dynamic playing fields and gaming levels, with the social interaction and palpable playing pieces of conventional multiplayer board games, such as pawns and dice. This has led to a number of partnerships between electronics companies and games vendors and developers.

Manufacturers of these products cite the tangible and visual interaction among users, including the option to incorporate social networking elements, as one of their main features. More intuitive amusement machines offering greater "gestural experiences" are also in development.

All of these machines, which drive an industry with a global value expected to grow by nearly 60% between 2011 and 2016, rely on the work of several IEC TCs and their standards.