The War Press

I can’t tell if the media get handed stories, “here, print this” or if they actually think about them (or pretend to) and then print the government’s talking-points, anyway.

It’s certainly hard to figure out what the “main stream media” is – is it the people who keep putting administration boosters on their shows, then calling them out for being liars? Or is it the otherwise-respectable outlets like the New York Times [stderr] that promote the war-party’s agenda without question? Or is it just when they lie by omission?

Take this one from CNN [cnn]:

Washington (CNN)A US Navy reconnaissance aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian fighter jet Monday in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, according to three US defense officials and a statement from the Navy.

During an encounter that lasted a total of 25 minutes, the Russian SU-27 jet passed directly in front of the US EP-3 aircraft at a high speed, the officials said. The US crew reported turbulence following that initial interaction in which the direct pass occurred.

The SU-27 then made a second pass of the US plane and applied its afterburner while conducting a banking maneuver, which is believed to have caused a vibration that was experienced by the American crew.

HAINAN ISLAND, China – The EP-3 awaits fuel removal and disassembly at the prepared worksite at Lingshui Airfield

That poor innocent US Navy plane, in international airspace, right in Russia’s back yard! Did whoever wrote/printed that piece even bother to think about why the Russians might have sent an interceptor up to wave a US Navy reconnaissance plane off? Completely missing is anything about how close the plane was to Russian air-space (which might also be relevant) or anything about what an EP-3 is. It’s a signals collection spyplane – one of those flying antennas that sucks up everything it can decode into a signal.


A total of 12 P-3C aircraft were converted to replace older versions of the aircraft, which had been converted in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The aircraft are known by the acronym ARIES, or “Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System”.

Flying spyplanes up and down other countries’ coastlines is a US thing; we’ve been doing various versions of that since airplanes were a thing. And, it pisses people off. The Hainan Island incident, in which a Chinese fighter collided with an EP-3, was another attempt by another nation to scare off an American spyplane. Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s either keeping the peace, or it’s a provocation. Does anyone want to be it’d be a provocation if the Chinese or Russians were flying spyplanes up and down the US coast?

None of this is notable, as far as I am concerned – what I dislike is how it’s reported. CNN didn’t even bother to mention that it was a US spyplane. There is no way that’s an unintentional omission; they are acting as a US Government propaganda outlet. If they were reporting the news as service to the public, they’d mention “it was a spyplane.” They would probably mention that there have been other countries that aren’t happy with US spyplanes flying their coastlines sucking up their communications. [wik]

Democratic nations don’t need to lie to their people, because they are doing what the people tasked them to do. The US is not a democracy, it’s a Department of Defense that has a government attached to its back end, to collect the taxes it needs in order to operate. “We do as we will” shall be the whole of the law.

------ divider ------

The Orion is also sometimes billed as an “antisubmarine aircraft” – which makes it sound like it’s maybe a plane for sinking submarines like they did in WWII. That’s not it, at all: it’s also geared up with a magnetic anomaly detector boom so it can try to find ballistic missile subs. Think about that a bit and you’ll realize that trying to track another country’s boomers is pretty aggressive – it’s part of preparing for a first strike nuclear attack. There is no other reason to try to remove another nuclear power’s deterrent. It ought to be obvious to anyone why the Russians and Chinese would try to send fighters up to chase the Orions away.


  1. komarov says

    It’s a bit morbid, but sometimes I’m curious to see just how much damage from this sort of event two nuclear powers would be willing to tolerate before actually going to war over it. Because if you lose a plane (or two, or ten) intercepting an intruder or being intercepted as an intruder that amounts to nothing. You have more planes, you probably don’t really care and just have to do your bit of posturing to avoid losing face – much more important than a few planes or pilots. Actually starting a war that will end in nuclear disaster would be monumentally stupid. So it would almost certainly happen, but the question is, when?

    It ought to be obvious to anyone why the Russians and Chinese would try to send fighters up to chase the Orions away.

    As you’ve written above that can go wrong. And things could escalate … eventually.

    But I wonder if you couldn’t have some fun with this while avoiding all the risk. The Americans are looking for magnetic anomalies? Fine, build some. Perhaps you could plant some submerged buoys designed set off sensors. If nothing else it would take some careful checking by the other side to make sure the signal is a decoy and not a parked sub.

    Autonomous submerged drones trawling the oceans might work, too, and would be that much more fun. Basically you’d have a fleet of false positives sailing up and down the seven seas, and the US would have to waste their time tracking them all. And if they spot an actual submarine and you don’t chase them away, maybe they’ll start wondering if it isn’t another false alarm.

    If you start getting complaints about your little schemes just bolt thermometers on everything. Now it’s a fleet of science stations and ROVs for marine research. If the US bother with any sort of justification they’re probably doing lots “atmospheric measurements”, so it would be totally hypocritical for them to complain.
    Which has never stopped anyone.

  2. lanir says

    I wonder if the sensor is something that could be overloaded by another signal. Most sensors have a point where they’re taking too much in and are either recording garbage or they outright break. Then again, not all signals are equally easy to generate, some signals might look too much like a direct attack, and there while I know jack all about engineering and plane flight systems, I do know there are other sensors associated with keeping the thing in the air. Fry enough of those or jack up the control systems and you might as well be shooting a missile at the plane.

  3. says

    But I wonder if you couldn’t have some fun with this while avoiding all the risk

    It seems to me that these problems are within the domain of public diplomacy. I suspect an open discussion about ballistic missile deterrent and “why are you trying to track our boomers?” with some public education – it might help.

    I’m probably being optimistic, though. I cling to the belief that if the people understood the secret actions of their government(s) they would be asking “why are you spending billions of dollars on that?” But apparently you can fool half of the people most of the time.

  4. cvoinescu says

    komarov @ #1: Very good points.

    Ianir @ #2: […] you might as well be shooting a missile at the plane.”

    And it would be perceived as equally aggressive. An electromagnetic anti-aircraft weapon is still an anti-aircraft weapon. I doubt it’s possible to make it look like a technical mishap.

    Marcus: Think about that a bit and you’ll realize that trying to track another country’s boomers is pretty aggressive.

    I’m not entirely convinced. Couldn’t unusual maneuvers mean they are preparing for something? In that case, you’d be justified to try to watch them, the same way you’d want to watch for any kind of new defensive activity (which may be a sign the offensive forces are planning something).

  5. komarov says

    Re: Marcus Ranum (#3):

    “why are you spending billions of dollars on that?”

    First off, I myself am blissfully ignorant. Confessions done, I’d be just as concerned that if more people understood these things they might wonder if maybe government should be run more like a business. A business would never run a trillion dollar war or buy million-dollar shells. It would be much more efficient.

    It’s about the only way I can imagine to make things worse, but I can understand why people might think that. You’re stuck in hell, who can you possibly ask for help? Oh, look, isn’t that Satan over there? Maybe he’s got an idea.

    Re: cvoinescu (#4):

    And it would be perceived as equally aggressive. An electromagnetic anti-aircraft weapon is still an anti-aircraft weapon. I doubt it’s possible to make it look like a technical mishap.

    If the weapon itself isn’t obvious you might get away with a little bit but not very much. Used too often would make it obvious that the failures are deliberate rather than accidental. Once your opponent is done checking their supply lines for electronics they’ll be thinking very hard about what else could cause these usually very reliable components to break down en masse.

    You could probably never do enough damage to deter someone like the US without giving the game away. Still, if your sworn enemy was Liechtenstein and you broke their only spyplane you could probably have a good laugh about it, albeit behind closed doors.

    Come to think of it, this is exactly the sort of thing superpowers might enjoy doing on a long day. They might not stick to single planes or military targets, but’s that’s just a matter of “scale” and “scope”. It’s all ants from up here.

    Couldn’t unusual maneuvers mean they are preparing for something?

    Location probably counts as a mitigating factor. Looking for Soviet Russian subs off the coast of New York? Fair enough. Black Sea? Not so much. That’s probably a uniquely American problem, which you only have when you consider the entire world your play area.

  6. Hardz says

    Depending on the load out of the EP-3 it would be capable of SIGINT whilst also being (possibly) able to operate in SEAD and ASW modes. They all are capable of operating as a reporting unit for OTHT (over the horizon targeting). Pretty sure the CIA took delivery of a few “black” versions of these as well.

    Being on the receiving end of any capable ECM/EW aircraft is not a fun experience, having one of these particular aircraft close to your borders can be perceived as a precursor to an imminent attack. Sure most of the time they are just there to annoy the hell out of you whilst they vacuum up any electronic data that flies about but they are never anything other than a threat. The most basic function of anything like the EP-3 is to just passively record all the electronic data possible so you can locate any serious military hardware and place names on units, all ships for example have specific radar frequencies so that you don’t blind the hell out of each other, once you have a list of frequencies listed against unit names it is easy to work out where everyone is.

    So many fond memories, Australia only had the Orion variant back when I was playing this game but it was a very useful aircraft. It really excelled in search and rescue, if you broke your yacht down near Antarctica in some insane around the world race this is what saved your bacon.

    As for the “International Airspace” side of things, I recall a US Aegis Unit during Desert Shield throwing the following line at an Iranian P3 that was in International Airspace. (pretty sure it was a P3 but my memory isn’t what it once was)
    “Iranian P3 this is USS (intentionally blank), you will turn north immediately or I’m going to put a bird in your cockpit!”
    Then several AAW ships locked fire control radars on the poor bugger, that pilot had a very bad day and was obviously in tears as he replied that they were going to comply. A “bird” was standard code of the day for a surface to air missile.

    The news is very rarely reliable in reporting any military incidents.

  7. Hardz says

    What you are referring to is Electronic Warfare (EW for short), the ways and means are many!
    The major powers invest fairly heavily into it as well as Electronic Counter Measures (ECM for short), it is a very interesting field to work in.

  8. jrkrideau says

    My first thought was WTF was an American plane doing there? If I were Russian, I would regard it as totally threatening. Well, totally threatening .

    I am sure that Americans seeing a Russian or Chinese militarily plane 50km off Miami or San Diego would be happy to see the increase in tourist traffic. /sc

    I’d say they were damn lucky that the Su-27 did not “accidentally collide” with it. What kind of “anti-collision” rockets does an Su-27 carry?

    From the little I have read, the thing is at least the equal or better that a Tornado.