Archive for the ‘logistics’ Category

Is there a drone bubble? It’s not clear whether this is more like the .com bubble, when a lot of useful stuff was built but a couple of years too early, or more like the housing bubble, when a lot of stuff was built in the wrong places to the wrong standards at the wrong prices and will probably never be worth much. It’s the nature of a bubble, of course, that it’s precisely at the top of the bubble that the commitment to it is greatest.

One of the things the RQ-170 incident tells us about is some of the operational limitations of the drones. Typically, they are piloted in the cruise from locations that may be a long way off, using satellite communication links, but when they land, they do so under local control via line-of-sight radio link from their base. This allows us to set some bounds on how much of a problem link latency really is, which will take us circling back to John Robb’s South Korean gamers.

Gamers are famous for being obsessed with ping-times – the measurement of round-trip latency on the Internet – because it’s really, really annoying to see the other guy on your screen, go to zap’em, and get zapped yourself because it took longer for your zap to cross the Internet than theirs. Typically you can expect 40 or so milliseconds nationally, 60-80 inter-continentally…or several hundred if a satellite or an old-school cellular operator with a hierarchical network architecture is involved. A sat hop is always clearly identifiable in traceroute output because latency goes to several hundred ms, and there’s a great RIPE NCC paper on using the variations in latency over a year to identify the satellite’s geosynchronous (rather than geostationary) orbit as the slant-range changes.

On the other hand, roundtrip latency across an airfield circuit a couple of miles wide will be negligible. So we can conclude that tolerable latency for manoeuvring, as opposed to cruising, is very little. Now, check out this post on David Cenciotti’s blog from January 2010. Some of the Israeli air force’s F-15s have received a new communications radio suite specifically for controlling UAVs.

You might now be able to guess why even drone pilots are going through basic flight training. Also, this post of Cenciotti’s describes the causes of six recent hull losses, all of which are classic airmanship accidents – the sort of thing pilot training is designed to teach you to avoid.

That said, why did all those drones get built? The original, 1980s UAV concepts were usually about the fact that there was no pilot and therefore the craft could be treated as expendable, usually in order to gain intelligence on the (presumably) Soviet enemy’s air defences by acting as a ferret aircraft, forcing them to switch on the radars so the drone could identify them. But that’s not what they’ve been doing all these years.

The main reason for using them has been that they are lightweight and have long endurance. This is obviously important from an intelligence gathering perspective, whether you’re thinking of over-watching road convoys or of assassinating suspected terrorists (and there are strong arguments against that, as Joshua Foust points out). In fact, long endurance and good sensors are so important that there are even so-called manned drones – diesel-engined, piloted light aircraft stuffed with sensors, with the special feature that they fly with intelligence specialists aboard and provide a much faster turn-around of information for the army.

Their limitations – restricted manoeuvre, limited speed and payload, and high dependence on communications infrastructure – haven’t really been important because they have been operating in places and against enemies who don’t have an air force or ground-based air defences and don’t have an electronic warfare capability either. Where the enemy have had man-portable SAMs available, as sometimes in Iraq, they have chosen to save them for transport aircraft and the chance of killing Americans, which makes sense if anti-aircraft weapons are scarce (and surely, the fact of their scarcity has to be one of the major unreported news stories of the decade).

But then, the war in Iraq is meant to be over even if the drones are still landing in Kurdistan, and the US may be on its way to a “pre-1990” military posture in the Gulf. This week’s strategic fashion is “Air-Sea Battle” and the Pacific, and nobody expects anything but the most hostile possible environment in the air and in the electromagnetic spectrum. And the RQ-170 incident is surely a straw in the wind. Also, the Bush wars were fought in an environment of huge airfields in the desert, and the ASB planners expect that the capacity of US bases in Japan and Guam and the decks of aircraft carriers will be their key logistical constraint. (The Russians aren’t betting everything on them either.)

I think, therefore, it’s fair to suggest that a lot of big drones are going to end up in the AMARC stockpile. After the Americans’ last major counter-insurgency, of course, that’s what happened. The low-tech ones are likely to keep proliferating, though, whether as part of the Royal Engineers’ route clearance system or annoying the hell out of Japanese whalers or even playing with lego.

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Update: I originally didn’t want to publish this because I didn’t think it was good enough, but I hit the wrong button. Anyway, Alistair Morgan read it and thinks one of the premises of the whole thing is wrong. Namely, the weapons were going in the same direction as the drugs, not the other way around. Well, at least the story moved on a bit, but this renders mostly useless a whole additional post I put together from reading a lot of crazy-but-interesting stuff out of the bottom of the Internet. Also, despite the Jessie J reference there’s better music at the bottom if you get that far.

So, Alistair Morgan’s twitter feed frequently hints at “cocaine, weapons, and Ireland” as well as police corruption as being factors involved in the case of his brother, Daniel Morgan, the private detective murdered in 1987, probably by people who were since employed by News International. It’s often been said that Morgan was on the point of publishing some sort of huge revelation when he was killed, but nobody knows what it was beyond his brother’s hints based on what the police told him at the time.

Since the eruption of the phone-hacking scandal, a number of sidelights have come up which linked the News of the World, its cadre of ex-police gumshoes, and its contacts inside the police force. Notably, it seems to have spied on the former Army intelligence agent-handler, Ian Hurst, on an NGO, British-Irish Rights Watch (because documents of theirs were on Hurst’s computer when they hacked it), and perhaps on the chief of police, Sir Philip Orde. It would have been hard for people working for the press not to have covered at least one Northern Irish story in the last 20-odd years simply because it was such a news staple, but it’s worth noting their interest.

The War Economy of Northern Ireland

So, what might link Morgan, cocaine, weapons, Ireland, and policemen? There are some fairly well-known stylised facts or stereotypes about the economy of the Troubles. The IRA mostly funded itself from money collected in the United States, from bank robberies, and from unofficial taxes it collected in the North. It also got contributions from friendly countries, specifically Libya. The Loyalists didn’t have a reliable source of their own money abroad like NorAid, and so specialised in protection and drugs. Both sides also got involved in smuggling across the border as a commercial exercise.

That’s a glib summary ‘graf; obviously, I collect a revolutionary tax for the struggle, you impose fines on drug dealers and dishonestly stick to some of the money, and they are merely thugs operating a protection racket. Traditionally, both Sinn Fein and the British tended to stereotype the Loyalists as basically criminal and the IRA as proper insurgents – there may be some truth in there, but the distinction is one of emphasis and degree and also of propaganda rather than of kind.

Having obtained money, they both needed to convert some of it into arms. The IRA got a famous delivery in the 80s from Libya in its role as Secret Santa, and also often bought guns in the US over the counter and smuggled them back. I don’t know how well characterised the sources of Loyalist arms are, which of course gives me license to speculate.

Permanently Operating Factors

Now for the cocaine, which has often been known to land in bulk quantities on the wilder, less populated bits of the Atlantic coast that also offer good harbours. This is a rare combination, as people live near ports. Two of the best bits on that score are northwest Spain and southwest Ireland. Having landed, you can move it on anywhere in the UK-Ireland common travel area without much more trouble. Since the creation of the Schengen area, Galicia is even better for this because there is such a choice of markets you can reach without a customs inspection. But in 1987 this was an un-fact, so you might as well go to Ireland.

This transit trade had important consequences – notably the rise of Martin “The General” Cahill, the assassination of Veronica Guerin, and probably a substantial chunk of the Irish property bubble via the laundering of profits and also by the boost to those ol’ animal spirits the drug provides.

Imagine, then, that an important criminal actor supplying the London market with cocaine also had access to a reliable surplus of weapons. There is the potential for trade here.

However, it’s not that simple – the famous Libyan shipment would have fit in a couple of shipping containers, and it kept the IRA going up until peace was signed, with a fair bit left over to be buried in concrete by the international commissioners on decommissioning. It is very unlikely that any plausible flow of arms to Northern Ireland would have paid for the flow of cocaine into the South-East.

We Don’t Need Your Money, Money, Money, We Just Wanna Make The World Dance…

There’s something else going on – Diego Gambetta would have already pointed out that you need to understand the trade in protection. To sell protection, you need weapons, which are the capital equipment of the business of private protection. In so far as the buyers in the UK were paying in guns as well as cash, they were arguably expressing a protector-protectee relationship. While on our territory, we protect you, and license you to provide protection. This was also reciprocated. In accepting them, were the sellers of the cocaine undertaking to protect it in transit on their own territory?

Another way of looking at this, which Gambetta would also approve of, would be in terms of costly signalling. Being both a supplier and a protector is a powerful position, but it might be worth letting the other side have it as a guarantee or hostage, to signal that you didn’t intend to break the agreement and deal with some other supplier. This makes even more sense given that you still have a regular supply of guns you could cut off or use against them, and therefore both parties have something to lose.

Now, Gambetta’s work mostly deals with Sicily, where a very important protection supplier has often been irrelevant. London is a very different society from this point of view. Whatever you think of the police, you can’t just ignore them as a factor. In some other societies, the police might be protection consumers, but here, police corruption usually takes the form of policemen selling protection. (In a sense, the more effective the police, the more tempting this will be. Nothing sells like the good stuff.)

So, gazing down on this complex, neo-medieval exchange of cash, credit, and protection, there is a sort of Sun King whose permission is required for any protection contract to be signed. It’s like a feudal society. My liege lord is only so, because he is the King’s subject, and the King at least theoretically owes duties to the Emperor, or later, directly to God. Our buyer is in a position to offer protection for his end of the business because he enjoys protection supplied by the police.

Who were the recipients, the sellers? They might have been drug dealers who needed to buy protection from one or other paramilitary group. They might have been drug dealers who wanted to build up enough arms that they could stop buying protection, or rather, change protector. Or they might have been paramilitaries who sold protection to the drugs trade. The distinction is surprisingly unimportant.

So, to put the pieces together, there was some group of South-East London villains importing cocaine from transit providers in Ireland, who were also exporting weapons in the opposite direction as part of an exchange of protection for their common business. This required buying protection from the police. Where did the weapons come from? And why is News International involved?

China’s neo-con blogging fever-swamp, via (of course) Jamie K.

For instance, Gao Yi, a well-known music critic, tweeted: “Compared with a war, US$7 billion is much more worthwhile. Right now, we lack the off-shore staging capacity for a mid-intensity war.

A well-known music critic? Now that’s special. You don’t get detailed comment on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s seabasing capability from Martin Kettle when he’s in one of his SUCK ON MY CULTURE, PROLE moods, or indeed when he’s editorialising, do you? Does Brian Sewell take a view on whether the much delayed Maritime Afloat Replenishment Ship project should go down the Dutch/Canadian JSS route, perhaps building on licence from Schelde in the UK, or stick with specialised tanker and dry-replenishment hulls?

It’s a pity that this doesn’t mean their politics is any more pacific.

One thing that is perhaps being overlooked by people discussing whether or not it would be wise to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is exactly what such a zone would set out to prevent. When it was first suggested, it was inspired by the general horror that the Libyan government was having crowds of civilians strafed by its Sukhoi 22 close-support aircraft. However, especially since several Libyan Air Force crews defected to Malta and to the revolution, air activity has turned out to be much less significant in what is beginning to look like a classical West- or Central-African civil war, based around Toyota pickups and 23mm Russian anti-aircraft guns and mercenaries paid with the money from exporting some mineral or other. You know the one.

It’s fairly well known that Libya sponsored several of the key warlords of 90s West Africa – Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and several others originally met up in Libyan-funded training camps. Interestingly, not only did one of the versions of Jetline International base itself in Tripoli and trade aircraft back and forth with two of Viktor Bout’s companies, but Gaddafi’s government maintains an impressive airlift capacity. As well as the two flag-carrier airlines, Libyan Arab and Afriqiyah, whose names track the changing priorities of foreign policy, the Air Force operates a semi-commercial cargo wing, Libyan Arab Air Cargo, with a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and even two enormous Antonov-124s, some of very few such aircraft owned outside the former Soviet Union.

I’ve put together a Google spreadsheet of transport-type aircraft with Libyan operators, sorted so that currently active aircraft are at the top, and generated URIs to look them up on Aerotransport.org, for subscribers, and on JetPhotos.net, in the two right hand columns.

https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?hl=en_GB&hl=en_GB&key=0AjP2Zn6KkPUwdGttaDJXVWplajVTNlpRSkpDOWJ5TFE&output=html&widget=true

There are a total of 180 airframes, of which 118 are active. It’s probably worth noting that there was a report that top managers at Afriqiyah had resigned rather than take part in Gaddafi’s war effort, and constant rumours of mercenaries being lifted into airfields in the southern deserts.

The upshot of this is that logistics, rather than tactical air power, might be the most important factor in Gaddafi’s efforts to defeat the Libyan revolution/win the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in combat, the aim might instead be blockade, as a complement to the international financial sanctions already in place. (A ship has recently been stopped in British waters carrying large quantities of freshly printed Libyan currency.)

On the other hand, it also adds complexity and risk to the whole issue. There are still plenty of people who want to leave Libya, and British government-chartered airliners are ferrying some of them from Tunisia to Egypt. It would be a bad business, to say the least, to shoot down an Il-76 full of refugees. It could be better to try to cut off the supply chain at source by grounding Libyan aircraft elsewhere in the world, although this requires the cooperation of those states who are still willing to let them recruit on their territory. Further, imposing a blockade also implies a responsibility for the survival of the civilian population. Sending aid to eastern Libya has already been suggested, of course.

For a little extra, the Russian Demography blog, venturing well out of its usual beat, notes that the Libyan Government’s Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet, 5A-DCN, took a trip to Minsk recently. Its ICAO identifier, useful with virtual-radar sites, is 018019. There are various things the regime might find useful in Belarus – mercenaries, again, small arms (although they don’t appear to be short of them), and perhaps least disturbingly, impunity. (Hat tip.)

Logistics!

So, the raids on NATO trucks held up when Pakistan suspended the border crossing. A good point is made in comments at Adam Elkus’s blog – what about the people who own the trucks?

What indeed. The so-called “transport mafia” played a critical role in the creation of the Taliban in the early 1990s, according to Ahmed Rashid. Back in the 1980s, one of the ways the Soviet-Afghan war transformed Pakistani politics was that an economy grew up to service it. Famously, this is what Osama bin Laden actually did for the mujahedin – his construction firm built the roads up to the border, his organisation received new recruits in Pakistan and passed them on. Logistics. Another element of this war economy was a network of transport firms that trucked the war material the Americans were supplying and the Saudis paying for up from Karachi to the border.

Most of these were close to the politicians who also benefited from the war – the NWFP Islamist parties and the feudal landowners who made up the right of the PPP. In fact, very often, they were actually owned by politicians, or by their proxies. To make sure the money fell in the right places and the trucks went to the right places, the Pakistani army created a new agency, the national logistics cell, which was responsible for divvying up the contracts and organising the operation.

After the war was over, the system stayed in place and became part of the general berserk vision of extending Pakistani and Saudi influence into Central Asia. The military would get to implement the strategic depth concept, and keep recruiting jihadis to use in Kashmir. The jihadis would get to continue their never-ending tour. The Saudis could spread Wahabism and dispose of their malcontents. The ISI would reinforce its special role in politics. And the transport mafia would benefit from what appeared to be enormous economic opportunities trading through Afghanistan into what had been the Soviet Union.

In fact, when the Pakistanis came to pick a proxy in Afghanistan after 1992, the choice was between Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the project of creating a new movement. The ISI wanted to stick with Hekmatyar, who they had originally sent into Afghanistan in the mid-70s. However, the other beneficiaries of the war weren’t satisfied with him – in the first Bhutto government, the logistics mafia and its friends were very powerful indeed. The key figure was the Interior Minister, the former chief of the Frontier Corps who had recruited the first generation of mujahedin in the 70s.

From a left-wing point of view, a crucial factor here was that the whole imperialist vision of caravans of trucks trading across the Hindu Kush as far as Siberia was a form of economic development that went straight to the traditional powers in Sindh via their new investments in the war economy. A stereotype view might be to say that the PPP was a mixture of Benazir and Bhutto – mass protest politics, and the feudal world. It was this intersection between internal Pakistani class and regional politics, grand strategic visions, and tactical opportunism that led them to support a group of Afghans based in Spin Boldak. Later, during the wars of the 90s, the Taliban repeatedly benefited from transport supplied by the NLC.

So you’ve got to wonder if setting fire to a load of trucks isn’t overreaching a bit. The role of transport and route security just can’t be overstated here; the irony in this McClatchy piece is intense.

For nearly a decade, the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to cut off the remote, high altitude mountain trails Taliban forces use to smuggle weapons and fighters into Afghanistan. Now, the U.S. military is turning its attention to the border crossing.

“More and more we’ve realized that they are not coming through the passes, they’re just coming through the . . . gate,” said one U.S. government official in Afghanistan who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could candidly discuss the unfolding plan to focus on the border crossing.

On the other side of the border, here’s the guy who charges $1,200 a truck for safe passage. People are starting to notice; the US Host Nation Trucking contract amounts to 10% of Afghan GDP, paid to companies controlled by the Afghan government’s relatives.

Obviously, there are a lot of people in Pakistan who would be delighted to set fire to trucks owned by a Northern Alliance defence minister’s son, but as far as I know a major dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan is precisely about whether cargo can move through Pakistan in foreign-owned vehicles. This strongly suggests the movement on the Pakistani side is controlled by the same old, same old people. Key quote:

Until now, the diplomat said, protection of the route had not been needed because the delivery rate had been remarkably efficient given the length and rough nature of the route from the port of Karachi.

I suspect that if they want it delivered, it will be delivered. I’ve even heard it suggested that some of the cargo burned was insured in advanced, which if true would be impressively sick – it’s not often you get to have your own foreign policy and pull off an insurance fire at the same time.

I do worry that a lot of the continued drive for government data release is really about the hope that the public will find useful sunday-for-monday press release fodder that will help spin the cuts. (By comparison, you try finding a full list of cuts.)

Did you know New Labour was spending your money on FRUIT FLIES? It reminds me a little of those Americans who started a Twitter feed to mock the ‘baggers complaining about stimulus fund projects and found that hordes of people believed every one of their randomly generated line-items. If you sort the list by size, you’ll find that the biggest organisations in it are the bits of HMRC that handle customer, or rather taxpayer, facing operations – processing tax returns, answering phone calls, dealing with visitors in person. All the stuff the guff squad gets het up about usually turns out to account for two AO 1s, half a desk, and a 10% share of the office dog’s time.

Meanwhile, Angus Gascoigne points out a new Microsoft Dynamics CRM-based product that lets you “manage, track, and respond to Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely and responsive manner”. I’m actually quite positive about this. Incompetence is as effective a barrier to freedom of information as secrecy – in fact, it’s arguably better. There are no legal bounds to incompetence. Also, quite a lot of FOI legislation, notably the UK’s, has exclusions based on cost, which means that it’s always in the interests of the government to maximise the costs of retrieving any given document. This is what the ISP industry used to call “strategic incompetence” in their OFCOM filings against BT – of course, we have to offer unbundling, but sadly your letter has gone missing yet again…

Making disclosure part of an automated workflow strikes me as nothing but a good idea – it’s hard to do things the other way than the default.

This story from Rajiv Chandrasekharan about two rival approaches to sorting out Kandahar’s electricity supply is informative, but not just about its apparent topic. Basically, the US Army wants to go for a quick fix, installing a lot of mobile generators and trucking in the diesel fuel, in order to get the lights on as soon as possible. The US civilians in Afghanistan disagree, on the grounds that it’s a temporary hack that will be far too expensive for the Afghans to support in the longer run.

Incredibly, it turns out, the US/NATO base at Kandahar air field produces and consumes about 100 megawatts of electricity; the estimate for the gap between current levels and requirements is 42 megawatts. Obviously, the military has a point in that if it’s possible to produce that much electricity in the field, it may be foolish to keep playing around with grandiose projects when a call to Aggreko could cut it.

On the other hand, as in Iraq, electricity is deeply political. We speak of generating power for a reason.

Deploying 42MW of mobile diesel gensets to Kandahar is one kind of solution; it defines the issue as a discrete project, which can be solved by standard logistics methods, drawing on a private contracting firm that specialises in delivering surprisingly large electricity projects in containerised form. It also commits whoever rules in Kandahar to import large quantities of diesel through the shaky logistics pipeline from Pakistan, which means that somebody has to find the foreign exchange to back the most expensive way possible of generating power, and keep the roads reasonably open, which has its own military and political consequences.

You could argue that it’s not actually a solution – in fact, it’s a substitute for a solution, a temporary, containerised fix delivered as part of a standard tool-kit for counterinsurgency. A lot of people would argue that there is no such thing. Certainly, though, this option implies that donors continue to pay the bills, somebody continues to patrol the roads, and someone continues to pay off the Taliban between there and Quetta. I can’t help thinking, looking at a lot of the growing technology of instant urbanism (suitcase GSM base stations, palletised VSATs, Aggreko gensets, Sun Microsystems containerised data centres…) that a lot of this stuff might actually be a sort of negative toolkit of local optimisations. I’m trying to be optimistic, though; a less depressing example is here, in which South Sudan gets its own brewery. (I never realised producing beer was so bulk-increasing that it was worth importing all the inputs except for labour.)

On the other hand, the US civilians’ alternative is to press on with the Kajaki Dam project; the British Army brought off an incredibly complex tour de force in finally getting its new turbines delivered, involving a major operational-level deception plan, the building of a new road, and 4,000 men, but it’s still not making much progress. Adam Curtis would probably have something interesting to say about the fact that it’s been the major development plan for southern Afghanistan since the 1950s. The reason is, of course, that it embodied a particular political vision.

In terms of what might be called conflict urbanism (see this post) the Kajaki dam would seem to be a really bad idea; the plan is to generate power out in Taliban territory and have Kandahar depend on that. We know how well long-distance transmission lines survive in an environment of insurgency and counterinsurgency from Iraq; not at all. Of course, given that something like 40% of the power goes missing in transit, this is itself a sort of suboptimal political solution on the part of the people who live near the wires.

By comparison, generating power in town and having it radiate out to the villages is obviously a very different kind of politics – the conceptual fit with the counterinsurgents’ intellectual legacy is quite clear. However, I can’t help but doubt that anyone’s going to be importing all this diesel into Kandahar in two years’ time, nor that Aggreko or whoever’s expat staff will be entirely cool with a stint there. Of course, the problem is deeper than that; the contractors’ war-risk insurance policies come to mind.

The bill is apparently a cool $200 million; at $4/watt, a 42MW concentrating solar power plant would come in at $168m and produce power independently.

But I suspect this is as likely to happen as the other way of getting enough foreign exchange for Kandahar to buy its own fuel is to be accepted. Another notable fact is that the US Army is looking at getting the GCC countries to pay for the diesel bill – entrenching, in other words, southern Afghanistan in the Saudi sphere of influence.

A little more Haitian logistics.

Cranefail

That’s what the container terminal looked like this week (from here). Nathan Hodge of Wired has two good pieces, about progress reopening the harbour and bringing in a huge barge full of drinking water, and surveying the bottom of the harbour, which may not be in the same place any more.

Brett Holman of Airminded dropped in this link, with an excellent pic of the airport apron.

Only one exit

Meanwhile, we get links. I have to say I really don’t know what to say about that suggestion, except that sending anything that needs refrigerating sounds no more helpful than sending anything that needs making up with water…

I’d also like to send the blog’s good wishes to an old friend who’s actually being deployed by their NGO.

So, are the Americans really “prioritising foreign soldiers over aid” in Haiti? Thankfully, the national press tried to answer this question with facts. Well, not really. Spencer Ackerman and Laura Rozen actually asked intelligent questions rather than the usual “Two days after the giant earthquake destroyed all port facilities, critics asked why UN aid was still taking so long to arrive in the stricken region. After all, this 70kg journalist and his 88g sat phone got through just fine…anyone been raped and speak English?” stuff.

Apparently there are about 140 air movements through Port-au-Prince daily on average, of which 50% are allocated to NGOs and the rest to US and other government aircraft. The rate reached 200 on the Sunday following the earthquake; this is despite there being no radar or radio navigation aids since the earthquake.

A logistics system is a linear production process. Computer people would prefer to think of it as a loop construct. Therefore, the total capacity is determined by throughput – by the rate at which it loops. That, in turn, is set by the slowest element of the process.

In this one, goods are being loaded on aircraft, that then take off, fly to Haiti, land, unload, take off, and return. Now, the aircraft can leave from many, many different airports, so I think we can rule out that step as being the limiting factor. For landing, the minimum separation between planes is the limiting factor; the standard 3 miles horizontal separation is a minute’s flying time at 180 mph (156 knots – the approach to Heathrow is flown to 4 miles out at 160kts), and the wake-turbulence separation for a heavy aircraft like a 747 is three minutes. So the maximum separation will be four minutes or thereabouts; a lot of the aircraft being used are able to slow down much faster on final approach and some are less heavy, so it’s probably somewhat less.

One aircraft every three minutes on one runway gives us 20 movements an hour. If they aren’t going to pile up there, they’ve got to leave at the same rate, so that’s 10 in, 10 out, and we’d reach 140 movements in 7 hours. Considering that the landing lights don’t work and the control is visual, they can’t be far off operating at capacity. But that’s still not the last word.

You may be able to land a plane every three minutes, but you probably can’t unload it in three minutes. And you’ve got to return the empties, as well; you can temporarily up the rate by using more of the movements budget for landings, but eventually this will mean you have to stop to send aircraft back. The best performance is achieved by operating at the highest average capacity. So, the slowest part of the process is probably unloading and turn-around more generally.

This brings up another issue. If we start the day with 10 aircraft arriving an hour, that then spend 3 hours on the ground, 30 aircraft will be there before the first one leaves; we’ll need at least 30 parking spots.

In fact, because unloading is the most restrictive step in the process, it’s optimal to always have a queue. Otherwise, there will be moments when the most scarce resource in the whole thing – a forklift truck and its driver – will be waiting for cargo to move, at which point we’re operating below capacity and wasting time.

In practice, this will be the operational limiting factor; it doesn’t matter if a plane has to wait to unload, but it does if the next one can’t leave the runway and the next one has to go-around and divert. So, we’ve arrived. Our limiting factors are forklifts and parking.

The USAF air traffic controllers announced a maximum two-hour turnaround on the night after the earthquake, and further insisted that all aircraft arriving in the airfield circuit have enough fuel to go to their destinations without refuelling, there being (obviously) none to spare in Haiti.

You get 11 hours of daylight there at this time of year, and presuming that it’s still visual-only, that’s 12 movements an hour, six in, six out. That’s about 0.25 Heathrows. With a maximum turnaround of two hours, this implies that there are 12 parking spaces available on the ramp. That should also explain what happened to that MSF flight; apparently another aircraft went technical on the ground, blew its two-hour slot, MSF had to go-around, and David Aaronovitch and Noam Chomsky were at once united in blowhardry, not for the first time.

Actually, come to think of it, you can get the NOTAMs for Port-au-Prince by going here and searching for MTPP. It turns out that an instrument flight plan is mandatory…just like at Heathrow, and they want to know how much weight, how many items of rolling stock (!), and how many passengers you have. Oh, and:

M0004/10 – QXXXX PALLETS DOWNLOAD AT MTPP WILL NOT BE RETURN TO USERS. 17 JAN 02:15 2010 UNTIL UFN. CREATED: 17 JAN 02:14 2010

In return for putting up with that, here’s some logistics porn.

Major offshore petroleum discharge systems (OPDS) components are: the OPDS tanker with booster pumps and spread mooring winches; a recoverable single anchor leg mooring (SALM) to accommodate tankers of up to 70,000 deadweight tons; ship to SALM hose lines; up to 4 miles of 6-inch (internal diameter) conduit for pumping to the beach; and two BTUs to interface with the shoreside systems.

Deploying the anchor element requires counterflooding the ship onto one beam so far over that the decks are awash. Relatedly, you know a navy is serious when it calls out ugly ships manned by civilians. The French amphibious command ship Siroco is on her way; RFA Largs Bay is too, replacing this entry on the RN Blog as the UK’s lead response.

Another On Roads thing is the special role of the North; indeed, as he points out, it’s the construction of the M62 that made the North of England a sensible geographical construct rather than an awkward stereotype that uneasily combined Lancashire and Yorkshire.

And so much early motorway building started up north; you have the role of tireless boosters and chief engineers James Drake in Lancashire and Stuart Lovell in West Yorkshire, the A580 East Lancs Road (the very first), the Preston bypass, the Manchester and Leeds urban motorways, and the epic engineering drama of the M62 itself. As its chief engineer put it, “for seven years we ate mud, walked in mud, sat in mud and were aware of mud, and there was mud in the sandwiches”.

This would have far-reaching consequences; not so long ago, I recall some journalist or other saying that they were very surprised, on going to Yorkshire to report the miners’ strike, to find all these huge roads leading everywhere. They would, of course, be a major theatre of that conflict, and a few years later, the rave/drugs wars as well. Later still, both the protestors and the Sheffield-based professional climbers hired to get them out of trees would go that way.

Can it be true that my mother and I ran the length of our local bypass, twice, wearing donkey jackets, boots, hi-viz vests, and carrying shovels? I rather think it is. It was a fearsomely hot day, and I don’t think we were even formally protesting, although, in a sense, what else were we doing?

Which reminds me; one of the very first road protests in the UK, against the Westway in the late 60s, or rather in favour of playgrounds under it, was started by someone who’d been reading about Guy Debord and was looking for something to start a row about.