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12 December 2007

Riding the coffin

We have been taken to task recently by several of our close friends on the sharper side of the profession for focusing too much as of late on the analytical and privatized segments of the field. While we are the first to note that it is far harder to write in the public forum regarding the darker aspects of the intelligence professional’s world, we have indeed been less focused on those rare opportunities which might serve to inspire discussion and debate regarding the history and future of the operational house.

Thus we are pleased to note, via Aviation Week’s Ares blog, the following glimpse of the future of covert insertion techniques that would no doubt make even an OSS or SOE veteran wince. It enters the public sphere tucked away in a longer discussion of future warfighting concepts.

“The spookily labeled Coffin In The Sky (CITS) concept was a result of Northrop Grumman's engineers talking to SOF operators. The bomber would carry up to 12 modified Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM) weapons, each fitted with a pressurized life-support container for one person. After launch, the missiles would fly deep into hostile territory, pop the containers open and release the operators for a HAHO (high altitude, high opening) parachute descent.”

Any piece of equipment named the “coffin” does not exactly inspire confidence, and reminds us of the old expression from the first days of discussing the probabilities of success of early orbital recovery systems – “NASA odds”.

What amazes us is not that the oddity of the concept, but rather the fact that is now a rational part of military futures exercises. This was once the stuff of pure science fiction – and as always, the jester’s at the table forecast it more accurately than the think tanks. The concept joins a rapidly growing list of successful predictions by author Bruce Sterling – who foresaw something very closely akin to the technique, including the consequences of a failed landing, in his short story Taklamakan. (Among his many other insights were the use of armed UAV’s for selective assassination and the rise of Islamic insurgency as a defining problem in Africa – envisioned in the 1980s’, no less.)

We have in our time done a lot of dangerous - and some might even say, foolish - things on the way into, and out of, some very bad places in the world. While we are not eager to repeat them unless absolutely required in pursuit of the mission, this new concept sounds at least as safe as riding in a taxi in some parts of the disconnected Gap, and certainly about as comfortable as the Fulton skyhook….

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