Author Archives: Craig Swain

About Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

Loaded HEAT Classic – Lauren Bacall

XBradTC asked me for input on Loaded HEAT this week.  Bottom line up front here.  I’m married, so there’s some ROE that I operate under.  After the risk analysis was complete, the recommended course of action was to go classic… as in someone even my Chief of Staff would agree is a classic beauty.

So I give you Lauren Bacall.   Born Betty Joan Perske, she had her big break in 1944′s “To Have and Have Not” opposite Humphrey Bogart.  She shared the screen with some of the best leading men of her day… and held her own.  That look.  That face.  That voice.

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, girls, Load Heat

On Being a Veteran: SGT York

Originally posted this two years ago on my Civil War blog, save for a few updates as to the year marks, this still comes closest to capturing what I think being a veteran means:

Today being Veterans Day, I’ve spend time walking through my old papers and files from “my history” a bit. But in the end, I started pulling out the folders on World War I. We’ve put several coats of paint on this calendar day in the last 93 years [Now 95], but it’s still the eleventh day of the eleventh month. And in my mind, the man who stands tall when I think of World War I is Alvin C. York.

In spite of his somewhat un-military (and under educated) background, York offered one of the best explanations why a nation such as the United States must have soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. On Memorial Day, 1941, York gave these thoughts while speaking at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington:

There are those in this country today who ask me and other veterans of World War Number One, ‘What did it get for you?’ … The thing they forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win them once and stop. You do not do that. Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those people who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them!*

President Franklin D. Roosevelt later used portions of York’s speech in his Armistice Day address later that same year. So perhaps it is fitting that I cite it here on Veterans Day.


* This portion of York’s Memorial Day is cited in Sergeant York: An American Hero, by David Lee (University Press of Kentucky, 2002).

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Filed under veterans

Tanks! Tanks everywhere! American Wartime Museum Open House

Every August the Americans in Wartime Museum hosts their annual open house weekend:

The Americans in Wartime Museum will hold its annual Open House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, August 17 and 18. The event will be held at at “The Tank Farm,” 13906 Aden Road in Nokesville, Virginia.

The Open House is a preview of our future Museum, which will be built in Prince William County, Virginia. To help us make our world-class Museum a reality, we are suggesting a minimum  $10 per adult donation for those attending the Open House. The donation is voluntary but will help us advance the Museum and its mission to honor the men and women who have served America during wartime from World War I to the present.

If you choose to register and pay the suggested donation online, stop by our Membership Tent when you arrive at the Open House. We’ll give you a bracelet and other items indicating your support for the event and the Museum.

The Open House will include a range of exciting and engaging activities for the entire family:

  •     An amazing array of vintage armored vehicles
  •     661st Tank Destroyer Battalion vets
  •     Demonstrations by the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company
  •     Displays and demonstrations by living history units
  •     Drawings for a chance to ride in one of our armored vehicles
  •     Veterans’ Roundtable
  •     Kids’ scavenger hunt
  •     Museum information and merchandise

In years past, when I had more free time, I posted several videos and photos from the open house events. Look, where else can you take your kids to see a Marine squad take out a bunker?  Dropping mortar rounds? With flamethrower? Supported by an M4?

These events help the museum towards their ultimate goal opening a 70-acre site in Dale City, Virginia (a convenient stop between the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the future National Museum of the Army that would be).

I plan to hang out there with my aide-de-camp on both days.

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Filed under armor, ARMY TRAINING

Seventy years ago: Victory at Guadalcanal

Seventy years ago today, Major General Alexander Patch signaled to Admiral William Halsey:

Complete defeat of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal effected 16.25 today . . . ‘Tokyo Express’ no longer has terminus on Guadalcanal.”

After six months and two days of grinding attrition on the land, air, and sea around Guadalcanal, the island was firmly under allied control.  The strategic implications were readily apparent to anyone looking over a map at the time.  The tide of war in the Pacific shifted – from the slack following the Battle of Midway to decidedly in favor of the allies.

Gens. Patch and Vandegrift receive a status briefing

The campaign also premiered the joint approach to warfighting in the Pacific.  Consider the “land” component to the campaign.  Although the Marines (notably the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, but with other smaller formations too) bore the brunt of the early fighting on land, later in the campaign the “Americal” Division and 25th Infantry Division (including XBrad’s 27th Wolfhounds) fought.  The Americal, unique in that it lacked a number designation, consisted of units originally intended to defend New Caledonia and other South Pacific outposts.  In October 1942 they joined the Marines defending Henderson Field.  The 25th arrived later in December, just as the Americans were taking the offensive.

For a short period of time General Patch formed the Composite Army-Marine (CAM) Division with the 6th Marines paired with the 147th and 182nd Infantry Regiments.  The CAM Division also assumed control of several Marine and Army artillery battalions.  The 2nd Marine Division’s staff served as the CAM Division’s headquarters.  Granted, this was a temporary measure – at most just task organization changes on the battlefield.  Still this is an example of the level of cooperation within the Army-Navy-Marines team at Guadalcanal.  Similar examples of joint (and combined) operations may be seen with the “Cactus Air Force” with Marine, Navy, and Army Air Corps squadrons.  Oh, and a squadron from the Royal New Zealand Air Force operating there too.  Was there perfect harmony between the services?  No.  But compared to the acrimonious relation between the Japanese Army and Navy, the rivalries on the US side looked more like minor spats.

So… go out and lift a glass today for those who derailed the Tokyo Express.


Filed under history

The faces and names may change, but the regiment lives on

From the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Park:


The photo is one of a set taken at the rededication of the Irish Brigade Memorial at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The 69th New York Infantry was one regiment in the famous Irish Brigade.  On this day 150 years ago, the regiment marched up the open ground outside Fredericksburg, Virginia to assault a Confederate force well placed behind a stone wall.  The 69th was, for all practical purposes, was destroyed.  But their charge was so orderly and brave that observers on both sides took notice.  The unit was reconstituted and reformed to fight in many other battles of the Civil War. The regiment continued to add honor to their name in both World Wars, as the 69th U.S. Infantry Regiment.  On September 11, 2001, as part of the New York National Guard, it was among the first military units involved with the War on Terror.

The faces and the names may change, but the regiment lives on.


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, history

Yes, Mr. President, now that you mention it…


Those pointy things on top of the rifles…  carried by those men in front of you… those are … what do they call them???…. bayonets!

Go figure.

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Filed under Politics

Uniform disenfranchisement: Military voting

Military voting crops up in the headlines every election cycle.  But my perception is this time around we are hearing a bit more about it, and much earlier than normal.  The prominent news story comes from Ohio (from The Examiner):

Ohio Veterans United, along with a number of military groups, including the National Guard Association have voiced opposition to a lawsuit filed by President Obama’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party challenging the fairness of Ohio’s early voting rules claiming that the state’s use of a two-tiered early voting process violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law…

In Ohio, state law allows families of armed forces members and civilians overseas to vote through the Monday before an election while early voting for all other Ohioans ends the preceding Friday. The Obama campaign wants a court order to invalidate the Ohio statutes. (Full Story.)

The surface issue here is if military personnel should have additional days under the early voting rules.  Personally I’m not ready to lend my opinion to this specific case.  Legally, I could see valid arguments against such practice. But my sentiment is in favor of the law, as it sounds like good common sense – give a little extra for those giving a little extra, if you will.  However I’m not at all convinced this is a case of disenfranchisement.  After all, the law covers early voting.  If the service member is willing to vote, then they need to get in line and vote.  If the doors are closed on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, as they are for everyone else, is this disenfranchisement?  … Rhetorical question.

If you ask me, we should be more focused on the absentee ballot system that is far more sensitive to the military voter … and all too easily disrupted.  In 2008, a flap of issues worked against military voters in Fairfax County.  Being part of the National Capital Region, Northern Virginia features a large percentage of military personnel.  Many of them are transient, and opt to vote absentee at their home of record (creative they are.. to dodge taxes!).  But there are a significant number who register and vote local.  And in the last presidential cycle they encountered issues getting their votes counted.  In October that year, news stories surfaced that a high proportion of the absentee ballots were rejected outright by the county registrar’s office … to the tune of 98%.  But the stat was dismissed as deceiving by some – 255 rejected out of 260.  So what difference is 260 ballots in a general election? (Don’t answer… Florida 2000…)

Even worse, those stories were surfacing in late October that year, as the first of the absentee ballots returned to the registrar’s office.  Those, and the even later returns arriving into November, and in some cases after the general election, were due to some delays at the registrar’s office just getting the ballots distributed.  Issues.. or shall I say excuses ranged from difficulty just setting the tickets to email server crashes.  I don’t recall the exact statutory requirement, but the bottom line was ballots were not sent out in time to reach military members through the mail, considering the APO system.  That part of the story was lost in the euphoria of “Virginia is a BLUE state”….

From my personal experience, the overseas military voter got screwed out of the vote more times than not.  In the fall of 1992 I was bound for a tour in Korea.  Before leaving, I’d gone to my home-of-record registrar’s office and filed for an early vote ballot.  The process was easy, made easier by the fact the registrar was an old family friend who’d watched me grow up.  He was proud and pleased to see me voting.  I’m certain my vote was tallied that year.

When I arrived on station in Korea, I inherited a stack of additional duties from my predecessor.  One of those was voting assistance officer.  With weeks before the vote, I had avoided a lot of the paperwork.  My job was instead to track the system.  Along the lines of countless other administrative statistics, the command wanted to know what percentage of soldiers had applied for absentee ballots and had received them.  Much like the “non-mandatory” CFC, 100% of the soldiers had applied for a ballot.  Tracking the received ballots was not scientific.  Top Sergeant asked for a show of hands at the formation.  The number of ballots received a week before election day could be counted on my fingers.  By election day I had to remove one boot to keep count.  But, like some spring freshet, scores of ballots arrived the week after the election.  Go figure.

Similar issue happened in 2004.  I left on assignment (this time as a contractor) for Afghanistan that summer.  Prior to leaving I’d registered for an absentee ballot.  When did I receive the ballot?  On December 12, 2004.   It was postmarked October 30, 2004.  No kidding.  I still have it in my papers… filed under “A” for “angry”.

Forget about voter ID laws and bat-swinging voter suppression techniques.  The old “it is in the mail” technique works every time.

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Filed under Politics

Occupy DC ending in a fizzle

DC’s Examiner carried the story last week:

Occupy DC’s base camp in McPherson Square morphed over the past nine months from a few dozen protesters in sleeping bags to a virtual tent city. But over the past few weeks, one of the most enduring encampments of the national anti-Wall Street movement has all but disappeared.

A library tent and a few tarps are all that remain of the ongoing vigil, and Occupiers who once spent their days in McPherson Square at the corner of 15th and K streets are mostly gone. Many of those who remain now meet in the offices that a labor union, the Service Employees International Union, rented for them a few blocks away. (read more)

Yes… departing the pattern… the protest that was more being seen than actually doing anything.

My daily walk to work passes McPherson Square (that’s Mc-fur-son!), and I’ve shared some of the scenes before. The video from the Examiner shows the square as it looked last week:

Since then, the Occupiers have dropped even more tents – including the “library” tent. The National Park Service, who administers the square, has already fenced off most of the ground for re-seeding grass. Soon the rest of the square will follow. Time to let the “grass roots” recover.

When I passed through on Friday, one of the newer signs caught my eye:

“To sin by silence when one should protest makes cowards of men.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Sounds like a Lincolnism. But is it? Um… well… not exactly. It comes from a poem written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (you know the “Laugh and the world laughs with you” lady) appearing in the 1910s. Clearly the sign makers didn’t consult Wikiquotes.

Now let me ask, what would be the reaction if someone else – say, Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum – had misquoted Abe Lincoln? Or what if that sign was held by a Tea Party member?


Filed under Politics

Reporting or Opportunism?

Sometime in December 1943, Navy photographer Charles Kerlee took this photo of a scene on Tarawa.

Tarawa, as you probably know, had just been captured in a bloody battle only a few weeks earlier.  There are many scholarly works I could cite to explain why some marine or marines decided to use an enemy skull in such a grim, macabre manner.  Doesn’t matter.  We, as a civilized society, consider it a transgression.  It’s taboo.  It’s wrong.  But it is a line that is sometimes crossed in war.

Kerlee’s photo went to the Navy’s files.  It was not released to the press.  Newspaper photographers captured many scenes like this during the war.  The photos emerged over the years from the files, but few were run in the newspapers during World War II.  Society – American society – just did not allow newspapers and magazines to run them.

For example, Life Magazine ran this photo in the May 22, 1944 issue (page 35 if you wish to browse the issue):

May 22, 1944 Life Magazine Picture of the Week...

The caption reads, “Arizona war worker writes her Navy boyfriend a thank-you note for the Jap skull he sent her.”  (And I think the expression on her face says a lot.)

I’ve not traced the definitive facts on the girlfriend and her Navy boyfriend.  Most secondary sources state he received some punishment, and of course the service issued statements explicitly condemning the action.  The public reaction to this photo was almost completely negative.  It is one thing to see depictions of the enemy’s wartime atrocities.  But it is another entirely to see atrocities acted out by one’s own.  After posting this photo, and a few others showing mutilations (such as a burned head on top of a knocked out Japanese tank), Life agreed to stop running such depictions. The editorial staff recognized the negative impact on the magazine’s, military’s, and nation’s reputation.  The magazine might, seizing the opportunity that grisly photos offer, sell a few more copies, but would loose in the long run.

Same country, same military, very similar situation….. different editorial staff:

Times Editor Davan Maharaj said, “After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops.”

Thus the Los Angeles Times justifies their editorial decision.


Filed under history

DoD to encourage beards

Interesting to say the least….

Pentagon Study Finds Beards Directly Related To Combat Effectiveness

Tampa, FL– Forget new gear, weapons, or sophisticated targeting systems. The newest tool coming to combat troops is low-tech: beards. In a report released yesterday, research think-tank Xegis Solutions noted that beards have a direct correlation to combat effectiveness.


“The time has come for the Armed Forces to accept the facts, and the facts are that beards save lives. All this time it was speculated that Green Berets were better because of their superior and intensive training while in fact, most of it had to do with beards.”

There’s no doubt that many in the Special Forces community will be angered, but General Mattis is convinced.

“It’s settled science. In light of this information we will enforce a rule requiring all males to wear at least one inch of facial hair at all times. Furthermore, any females able to grow facial hair are encouraged to do so as well.”

But did we really need to spend all that money to determine the link between beards and good soldiering?

Major General John Schofield - General of the Army, MoH awardee

… just saying….


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, Humor

B-52 Bomber Milestones

h/t to Doctrine Man!!:

B-52 Bomber Marks Major Milestones in 2012

They’ve been part of the landscape of Northwest Louisiana since the late 1950s, and this year the big B-52s at Barksdale Air Force base will mark a number of milestones. It was 60 years ago Sunday that the prototype YB-52 first took to the air, thrilling employees of the Air Force and Boeing and civilians in Seattle, who witnessed the event.

It was 50 years ago this summer and fall that the last of the 744 B-52s built, an H-model that is still flying out of Minot Air Force Base, N.D., rolled off the assembly line and was accepted into the fleet.

October also marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when all of the old Strategic Air Command’s bombers, including Barksdale’s B-52s, were put on 100 percent alert status for a full month.

And it was 40 years ago this December that the airplanes faced and met their greatest challenge ever, in the epic Linebacker II bombing campaign over the skies of Hanoi, then the most heavily defended airspace in the world.

When aviation buffs make up their lists of classic military aircraft, the B-52 is always there.  No greater measure of its longevity than to talk about crew members who were not born when the plane first flew… and we’ve been saying that about the B-52 going on twenty-five years.

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Filed under history, planes

The F-35 and implications for allies

We tend to see the F-35 through the lens of the US military requirements. Earlier this week, Jeffrey W. Hornung offered an interesting take on the F-35:

While the Defense Ministry is responsible for choosing the F-35, officials are concerned about its delivery and price. In February, Defense Ministry officials told the U.S. government there’s a possibility of cancelling its order if things change. This followed news that the United States delayed, Italy reduced, and Australia and Canada were rethinking their acquisition plans. All of these will increase the F-35’s cost. The Defense Ministry also requested the U.S. review its FMS-based acquisition program so Japan’s defense industry can have deeper involvement in the jet so as to acquire technical know-how.

The alliance has dealt with broken promises before, and relations suffered. We saw this most recently in 2009, when Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reneged on a 2006 Japanese promise to relocate troops from Okinawa to Guam, contingent on relocating Futenma to a replacement facility in northern Okinawa. The U.S. came down hard on Hatoyama. It was only after he stepped down that alliance relations could be reset and the process of rebuilding trust could begin.

The F-35 may very well be delivered on time and on cost. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case right now. Although the U.S. can’t be held legally responsible for changes in price or delivery dates under FMS rules, there will be political damage. The U.S. needs to think about how to manage this damage with its closest ally in the Asia-Pacific if the F-35 can’t be delivered as promised.

Worse, what to do if Japan cancels all or part of its order? Japan has a shrinking budget and needs new fighters. Any changes will put Japan in a precarious situation. While the other options available to the Defense Ministry weren’t 5th generation fighters, it nevertheless had other options better suited to aid its collapsing defense industry. Japanese officials are counting on the U.S. to deliver on its promise, much like the U.S. counted on Japan to deliver on its 2006 promise. Hatoyama showed the alliance how not to renege. Is the United States prepared to do any better regarding its F-35 promises?

Earlier in the article, Hornung details several changes in Japanese policy with respect to weapons development and sales, which were needed to “land” the F-35 on the western side of the Pacific.  Such underscore the economic factors in play and the high cost of cutting-edge technology.  If a nation cannot feel safe without a fifth-generation fighter, then the nation must pay for that platform – even if that means cutting legal corners to do so.

To me the F-35 is eerily similar to the F-111′s early guise, in the 1960s, as the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX).   From otherwise disparate requirements, DoD chiefs forced the Air Force and Navy to adopt a common airframe for a deep-strike interdiction bomber (um… fighter) and a long-endurance interceptor.  Tagging along were the British who ordered 50 of the F-111K variant.  One common airframe for everyone?  Sounds good.

By 1968, the F-111 program was terribly behind and over budget.  A limited initial operating capability deployment to Southeast Asia further tarnished the TFX’s record.  Tragically three aircraft losses were attributed to horizontal stabilizer malfunctions, not enemy action.  The TFX needed more development.  By that time the British and the Navy had backed out (each going on to independently pursue excellent solutions for what its worth).  Only after several more years of development did the F-111 emerge as a very capable bomber (in both tactical and strategic guises) for the USAF – serving until the late 1990s.  The Australians used their version of the F-111 up until recently.

In the 1960s, Cold War pressures meant the services could overlook some project over-runs and inefficiencies.  It was just one of the costs of being the leader of the free world, we were told.  Likewise, allies could overlook program failures, assuaged by assessments of what sat behind the iron curtain.

But in today’s world, one must worry about misguided weapons development projects.  With so much momentum behind it, I am certain the F-35 will eventually reach service at some point.  But the weapon system may prove more damaging politically than militarily.


Filed under Air Force, navy, planes

Navy just 4 years away from laser cannon

From Wired:

The dream of sailors, nerds and sailor-nerds everywhere is on the verge of coming true, senior Navy technologists swear.  Within four years, they claim they’ll have a working prototype of a laser cannon, ready to place aboard a ship. And they’re just months away from inviting defense contractors to bid on a contract to build it for them.

“Subsonic cruise missiles, aircraft, fast-moving boats, unmanned aerial vehicles” — Mike Deitchman, who oversees future weapons development for the Office of Naval Research, promises Danger Room that the Navy laser cannons just over the horizon will target them all.

Or they will be, if ONR’s plans work out as promised — not exactly a strong suit of proposed laser weapons over the decades. (Note the decided lack of blast at your side.) First step in reaching this raygun reality: Finish up the paperwork. “The contract will probably have options go through four years, but depending on which laser source the vendors pick, we may be able to demo something after two years,” says Roger McGiness, who works on laser tech for Deitchman. “Our hope afterwards is to move to acquisition.”

Translated from the bureaucrat: After the Office of Naval Research can prove the prototype works, it’ll recommend the Navy start buying the laser guns. That process will begin in “30 to 60 days,” adds Deitchman, when his directorate invites industry representatives for an informal idea session. Deitchman and McGiness plan on putting a contract out for the prototype “by the end of the year.”…

From a technological perspective, the Navy thinks maritime laser weapons finally represent a proven, mature technology. The key point came last April, when the Navy put a test laser firing a (relatively weak) 15-kilowatt beam aboard a decommissioned destroyer. Never before had a laser cannon at sea disabled an enemy vessel. But the Martime Laser Demonstrator cut through choppy California waters, an overcast sky and salty sea air to burn through the outboard engine of a moving motorboat a mile away.  (Read more)

I thought we’d posted the test video, from last year, but if not:

Hum…. wonder if these will fit on the LCS?

I hear the first deployment is slated for the USS Alan Parsons….


Filed under navy

Army to revive “General of the Army” rank

I guess it could work….

The Army announced last week that it is reinstating the General of the Army rank to oversee the transformation of the service into a smaller, more agile force.

During a press conference at the Pentagon, spokesman Douglas Marshall said that reinstatement of the rank was needed to prevent the eventual tug of war that was imminent.

“There are a lot of 4-star generals out there that are protective of their commands,” Marshall iterated. “We couldn’t put another 4-star in charge because he would just get steamrolled by other commands.”

Having a 5-star general in charge of the transformation will ensure that the Army is cut sufficiently in light of budget constraints. Understandably, not everyone is happy about the changes.

“From what I’ve heard, they’re bringing in a retired 4-star general to take the position,” noted LTC Matt Burgandy of the National Command Region. “That is going to have an effect on the upward movement of Army officers who have been dreaming of wearing a star themselves.”

Indeed, by bringing in a retired general, there won’t be a backfill. The cascading effect will mean one officer out there won’t get promoted sooner.

Some of the individuals being considered for this post are not surprising: David Petraeus, Tommy Franks, and George W. Bush. The Pentagon will announce the candidate at a special press conference tomorrow morning.


Filed under army

Mission Brief

Mission brief


Members of the Nagarhar Agri-business Development Team listen to a pre-mission brief, March 17, 2012. The mission of the ADT is to support initiatives that will ensure the sustainability of Afghan agricultural productivity.

Yes, what one of my old platoon sergeants used to call the “pre-boomtime rituals.”

And what are Agri-business Development Teams?  Read here.

Hearts and minds… fields and orchards.


Filed under Afghanistan

F-35 Overruns Top $1 Billion… with a “B”

Almost a “dog bites man” <yawn> story at this point. From Business Week:

Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s first 63 F-35 fighter jets are exceeding their combined target cost by $1 billion, showing the Pentagon’s costliest program lacks a reliable design and efficient manufacturing, according to U.S. congressional auditors.

The Pentagon is absorbing $672 million and Lockheed Martin the remaining $328 million in added costs for the aircraft in the first four production contracts, the Government Accountability Office said in prepared testimony today for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on tactical aviation. The committee is conducting the first oversight hearing on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the fiscal 2013 budget.

“The long-stated intent that the Joint Strike Fighter would deliver an affordable, highly common fifth-generation aircraft that could be acquired in large numbers could be in question,” Michael Sullivan, the GAO’s director of acquisition management, said in the statement.

The testimony previews the GAO’s annual report on the Defense Department’s most costly weapons program, which is to be published next month. The GAO’s findings and the Pentagon’s annual test report, issued in January, are the two primary sources that lawmakers and the public have for assessing the military’s and Lockheed Martin claims for the F-35.

The reports are also closely watched by the program’s eight international partners, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and Norway.

(Read more)

The GAO’s quote there is spot on. If this fifth-generation fighter is too expensive, nobody will care if it meets mission. Partner nations will drop out by the end of the year at this rate.

What’s worse is we’ve seen this movie before. And we know all about the crying at the end.

F-35 Lightning II

F-35 Lightning II (Photo credit: createordie)


Filed under Air Force, navy, planes

Artillery Evolutions: Anti-Tank Guns and their German Origins

From World War I until the end of World War II, from the standpoint of doctrine, the preferred way to deal with enemy tanks was an anti-tank gun. During World War I, only one of the belligerents developed a significant anti-tank capability – the Germans.  Ironically, when you consider World War II, the Germans fielded around fifty tanks including captured types during the war.  Facing thousands of allied tanks on the Western Front, anti-tank tactics were a matter of necessity for the Germans.

Although the American Expeditionary Force in France included a substantial armored force, few, if any, American troops faced a German tank in combat.  In the immediate post war period, while theorists debated the full potential of the armored fighting vehicle (A.F.V.), all agreed modern armies needed some anti-tank weapons.  Naturally, the Americans looked to the German experience as a foundation for anti-tank tactics and when selecting anti-tank weapons.  So was the German reaction to allied tanks during the Great War?

After the combat debut of the British tanks on September 15, 1916, the Germans turned to combined arms tactics and adapted existing weapons to counter to the tanks.  The infantry received steel cored bullets for the MG 08 machine guns.  In addition, for close range defense, the Germans issued package charges and bundled grenades.  The engineers studied tank movements and improved obstacles.  As is the case today, they also found mines effective against the tracks.  Engineers also trained to use flamethrowers against vulnerable openings in the hulls.  The artillery was at that time fielding light-weight versions of the standard 7.7-cm FK 96 n/A as an infantry accompanying gun.  These guns, along with smaller 57mm and 37mm guns offered decent performance against the early tanks.  Even the 7.58-cm leichte Minenwerfer (lMW) mortar  penetrated 10 mm of armor at close ranges.  Where these close range weapons failed to work, the Germans planned indirect fire and, where possible, aircraft strafing with armored piercing bullets.

The initial response to the tank worked well for about a year.  Allied employment of the tank was premature and tactically flawed.  Not only did the German high command believe their counter-tactics sufficient, they considered the tank of only limited value overall (explaining the limited German use of AFVs during the war).  This attitude changed after November 20, 1917 with the initial assaults in the Battle of Cambrai using between 430  and 480 tanks.  In the initial stages, British tactics, which included liberal use of smoke screens, confounded the German anti-tank efforts.    Slightly thicker armor on the Mark IV tanks resisted the German armor-piercing bullets.  Yet poor reliability and cross-country performance, along with evolving tactics, still proved the undoing of the British tanks.  After substantial gains, the tanks out ran their supports.  The British had squandered an opportunity.

British Mk IV tank knocked out at Cambrai

Still the Battle of Cambrai marked the first of many swings of the tank vs. anti-tank pendulum.  Faced with improved allied tanks, particularly the light French FT-17 (debuting at the same time, but not in the battle that is), the Germans started a crash program to produce a viable anti-tank weapon.  One weapon that offered promise was a converted 2-cm aircraft cannon.  With new armor-piercing ammunition, these cut through 13mm of armor at 250 meters.  But the German high command apparently preferred the standard 7.92mm machine guns.  Also heavier 13mm machine guns, then used as anti-aircraft weapons, received armor-piercing ammunition to improve utility of that type. Designated 13mm MG08 TuF, these saw limited service.

Foreshadowing the anti-tank rifles used in World War II, and perhaps even the modern lightweight anti-tank rockets, the Germans turned out a 13-mm Tankgewehr (T-Gewehr or anti-tank rifle) for issue to infantry units.  The T-Gewehr used an enlarged version of the standard Mauser bolt-action and had a bi-pod from a light machine gun.  The gun used the same cartridge as the MG 08 TuF, and was actually 13.2 mm for those with an eye for detail. Penetration reached 20mm at 500 meters.

Mauser 13.2mm T-Gewehr

But weighing nearly 40 pounds and possessing the kick of a full team of mules, the T-Gewehr had several tactical drawbacks.  Worse, the penetration figures were in “best case” scenarios.  At many tactical angles, the T-Gewehr could not penetrate the armor of the FT-17, the most common allied tank.   (As a side note, many references say the American John Browning copied the German 13mm cartridge when designing the famous M2 .50 caliber machine gun.  Although sharing a similar half-inch caliber, the two cartridges are actually different.  The Germans used a semi-rimed case while Browning opted for a fully rimmed case for easier extraction.  Truth is Browning designed the .50 caliber cartridge as an enlarged .30-06 cartridge, with development starting in 1910 without any help from the Germans.)

While the light infantry-carried weapons proved less than satisfactory, on the other end of the scale the Germans received favorable reports of 7.7-cm guns used against tanks.  While the infantry-accompanying guns did well, they lacked the mobility to react to tank thrusts.  More useful were the 7.7-cm Kraftwagenflak.  Yes… FLAK.  These were just light field guns on a turntable mount on the back of trucks.  Unarmored, but mobile, these guns were designed for defending captive observation balloons from allied aircraft.  But just as the 8.8cm FLAK turned against a later generation of British tanks in 1940, the 7.7-cm FLAK guns proved the better of those British tanks in 1918.  Trouble was the Germans were just not able to make enough gun tubes or trucks to meet the need – both anti-aircraft or anti-tank.

In the last months of the war, the Germans produced the 3.7cm Tankabwehrkanonen (or TaK).  The gun itself was the lash-up of a barrel from an old fortress gun (a Hotchkiss revolving cannon somewhat like the American Gatling gun in concept, thus one old gun made five new TaKs).  With a small wheeled carriage, the four man crew of the TaK could follow the infantry into battle.  But armor penetration was only 15mm at 500 meters.

3.7cm TaK, note the high sight line

As the war situation for Germany entered a more desperate stage in the fall of 1918, the Army called for an improved anti-tank gun.  Had the war continued, a 5-cm TaK may have seen service, which designers estimated would penetrate a full 50mm (two inches) of armor at 500 meters.  As mentioned earlier the tank vs. anti-tank pendulum was in full swing.

In summary, the German experience from 1916 to 1918 fighting tanks demonstrated the tank was best met with combined-arms tactics.  The experience also showed the need for weapons with increasing armor penetration.  These German lessons, gathered through post-war analysis, figured prominently as American officers drafted doctrine and considered new weapons through the 1920s and 1930s.  I’ll discuss the American interpretation of the German lessons in the next post of this series.


Filed under army, Artillery, history

Manus, Afghanistan, and the Long Game

From UPI:

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 14 (UPI) — The Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan will be used as a civilian transit center after international forces wind down their mission in Afghanistan, Bishkek said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Kyrgyz officials this week while en route to Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Air Base is a key transit center for troops and supplies for the international military operation in Afghanistan. Panetta, during his visit, said the base was important to the mission because neighboring countries had blocked alternative routes.

The Kyrgyz Defense Ministry, in a statement, said Bishkek is interested in a secure and stable Afghanistan. Bishkek, the ministry said, is ready to participate fully in the mission and understands the strategic importance of the air base.

“At the same time the Manas Transit Center infrastructure will be used as a civil transit center after 2014,” the ministry was quoted by Kyrgyz news agency as saying. “This position is dictated solely by national interests of Kyrgyzstan.”

International forces starting next will start the steps needed to hand security responsibility over to Afghan forces by 2014.

Sort of a “no surprise” story.  Kyrgyzastan has for decades been slowly de-orbiting the old Soviet sphere and falling under the influence of the Chinese.  The people in the streets of Bishkek are essentially saying “Yankee go home.”

Trouble, aside from the fact we have troops deployed in a country none of use can spell or pronounce accurately without aid of the internet, is that the looming closure of Manus threatens to close off options for the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan.  With the 2005 eviction from Uzbekistan’s Karshi-Khanabad (K2) airfield, Manus became a critical, and now tenuous, supply route.  The other option is through Pakistan, with no small set of worries.  For an administration already looking for the end game in Afghanistan, this may provide a clean-cut justification for large scale draw-downs.  Clearly the Kyrgyzs figure this too, pushing for a settlement by the end of this year.   They know the US is playing the short game.

But there’s another option on the table.  Russia may set aside facilities at Ulyanovsk, some 300 miles west of Moscow, for NATO use.  Swell, but that still means NATO aircraft would need to transit the airspace of several nations offering less than full support.   Nor does it provide relief for supplies using the land route into Afghanistan.

What’s in it for the Russians?  Perhaps a place at the table when the Afghanistan war transitions to the post-US phase?  A block against expanding Chinese influences in Central Asia?

Seems like someone is playing the long game.

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UN Torture Chief rules Bradley Manning’s treatment inhumane

From the Guardian:

The UN special rapporteur on torture has formally accused the US government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards Bradley Manning, the US soldier who was held in solitary confinement for almost a year on suspicion of being the WikiLeaks source.

Juan Mendez has completed a 14-month investigation into the treatment of Manning since the soldier’s arrest at a US military base in May 2010. He concludes that the US military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture.

(More here)

I don’t know what concerns me more:

A:  Some poor security guard had to strip search Manning every day in order to prevent a suicide attempt.

B:  A UN investigator burned 14 months looking into conditions of a 11 month solitary confinement.

On the plus side, the way things are going the UN will soon consider RoboCalls inhuman torture….


Filed under Uncategorized

Army’s Top NCO Talking Radical Reforms to Uniforms, Grooming

From Carl Prine’s Line of Departure:

Radical reforms to the way soldiers dress, greet superior officers and wear tattoos are coming your way if Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III has his way.

That seems to be what’s indicated by a series of 33 PowerPoint slides called the “AR 670–1 Update Brief” and that bear Chandler’s name, rank and title.  They were sent to Line of Departure earlier this week and highlight SMA’s attempts to spiff up an Army after more than a decade of war.

Prine offered this summary of the changes, which seemed more conjecture at this stage than actual proposals.  Here are some that caught my attention as I read through:

  • Strict standards for sideburns and mustaches.
  • Return to the more “conservative” and “professional” haircuts for women.
  • Revival of standards for cosmetics and nail coloring.
  • Tattoos… um… well… maybe you can have one.
  • No starch for the ACUs.  (Translation – the pajama look is IN!)
  • Soldiers cannot walk and at the same time engage in activities preventing exchange of salutes.
  • Bags must be black or camo pattern matching uniform, but can be worn with one strap over the shoulder (not crossing over the body)
  • Soldiers will salute and give the greeting of the day, even when in civilian attire.
  • Civilian clothing worn off duty must not be revealing.
  • For all intents, no body piercings… save earrings for women.

Appears to me a return to the pre-1992 regulations.  Please correct me if I’m wrong, as I haven’t been concerned with AR 670-1 for a while now.

No sideburns?

Now that is a slap at tradition if you ask me.



Filed under army

Dustbowl stories anyone?

Tank maintenance

Tank Maintenance
U.S. Soldiers from 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment perform maintenance on their tank on Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 20. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Zachary A. Gardner, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Public Affairs Office

Although the crew is from the “home team” at Fort Irwin, this photo prompted a trip down memory lane, recalling long hours spent either drawing out or turning in equipment at the NTC.  Anyone care to share a dustbowl story?  The one I have in mind involves a BDE CDR that Elsi may remember….



Kiowa Warriors over A’stan

Kiowa Warriors flight

Kiowa Warriors flight
Two Task Force Saber, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade OH-58D Kiowa Warriors fly toward a training range near Jalalabad, Afghanistan March 2, 2012. Saber’s Kiowas lead the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade in OH-58 hours, helping the brigade set flight-hour records in Afghanistan. The 82nd CAB has flown more than 65,000 hours since taking over in mid-October. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon, Task Force Poseidon Public Affairs)

Call it Bill Gunston’s Law of Airframe Dynamics – the longer an aircraft type is in service, the more “stuff” is hung off it.


Test flight

Test flight
An OH-58D Kiowa Warrior from Task Force Saber, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, fires a 2.75-inch rocket at a mountainside during a test flight in eastern Afghanistan, Mar. 2, 2012. The Kiowa warrior is the Army’s scout and reconnaissance aircraft, which often provides close support for ground troops on the battlefield. Saber’s Kiowas lead the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, which has flown more than 65,000 hours across all airframes since October 2011. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon, Task Force Poseidon Public Affairs.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, helicopters

Leadership Lesson from 150 years ago today: The Battle of Pea Ridge

On March 7, 1862, Federal and Confederate troops clashed, in one of the few major battles west of the Mississippi River, on the rolling ground of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The battle itself lasted two days, resulting in both a tactical and strategic Federal victory.  Of the many stories from this battle, allow me to share one thread offering a timeless lesson in leadership.

I won’t bore you with the grand strategy and what brought conflict into the out-of-the-way northwest corner of Arkansas.  Lets just stick to the nickle tour here.  In the previous months, Federal Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis conducted a winter campaign that drove the Confederate forces out of southwest Missouri.  Divided due to a cumbersome chain of command, the Confederates fell back.  In the first days of March, the ever colorful Major General Earl Van Dorn arrived and assumed overall command of the southern forces.  Van Dorn did what any aggressive commander would – attack.  Not satisfied with some direct assault on a well entrenched enemy, Van Dorn opted for a wide-flanking, three-day march (in terrible weather) to catch the Federals from behind.  The complex maneuver might have worked but for a chain of events on the battlefield.

Like many good flank attacks, Van Dorn’s plan looked better on the map than it did on the ground.  On the morning of March 7, lead elements of Van Dorn’s army reached Curtis’ main supply route.  But his trailing divisions remained stuck in traffic.  So Van Dorn ordered Brigadier General Ben McCulloch onto a side road in order to regain the time-table.  However that route put McCulloch in contact with rear guards of the Federal force.  Around mid-morning, the Confederates stumbled into the Federals.   McCulloch managed to brush aside Federal cavalry but had to deploy his men.  And by the time McCulloch deployed, the Federals likewise shifted forces to confront him.  With the battle joined, he had little option but to continue.  Momentum and numbers were on McCulloch’s side, however.  If he played the cards right, McCulloch would trap the Federals.

McCulloch was one of those larger than life Texans.  He’d served with distinction in the Texas War for Independence and the Mexican-American War.  Although lacking any formal military education, he prided himself on having studied most every manual of the day.  Perhaps he was not a military professional, but nobody doubted his bravery and natural leadership.

Ben McCulloch

Having decided to launch a coordinated attack, McCulloch gave basic instructions to his subordinates but held off providing more details pending a personal reconnaissance of the field.  McCulloch, subordinates knew they were going to attack, but didn’t know much more about the situation or McCulloch’s full intent.  Around 1:30 that afternoon, McCulloch rode forward, alone, in front of his infantry coming to a break in the trees along a large field, named Oberson’s field for the farmer who worked it.  As he rode through the woods, Federals in the 36th Illinois Infantry noticed a lone rider in the woods and opened fire with a loose volley.  One of the bullets found McCulloch’s heart, killing him instantly.

pea ridge 337

Tree line in which McCulloch was killed

With McCulloch dead, Brigadier General James McIntosh, a Floridian who’d graduated last in the USMA class of 1849, assumed command.  When he received word about McCulloch, McIntosh immediately rode to the front then ordered the planned attack carried forward – no coordination, no follow up planning …. just forward!

General James McIntosh

With that, McIntosh led his 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles forward into Oberson’s field.  As he and his men emerged from the wood line, companies of the 36th Illinois, which had fired on McCulloch, turned and fired on McIntosh’s men.  And just like McCulloch, one of the Federal bullets hit McIntosh in the heart.  He fell a few hundred yards east of where McCulloch died.

pea ridge 338

Tree line along Oberson's Field - Vicinity were McIntosh fell

So who was next in command?  Well the other Confederate brigade commander was at that moment struggling through the woods on the east side of Oberson’s Field.  Colonel Louis Hebert (USMA 1845 for those of you counting these sort of things), lead his brigade against the Federal right flank in accordance with McCulloch’s plan and McIntosh’s orders into a dense patch of woods.

Colonel Louis Hebert

In spite of the dense woods and difficult terrain, Hebert’s Louisiana and Arkansas troops gained ground.  In fact, they almost broke the blue line.  Problem was Hebert was all alone in this attack.  Very soon the Federals started working his flanks, making his gains untenable.

pea ridge 098

Morgan's Woods where Hebert's men attacked

In the midst of this struggle in Morgan’s Woods, Hebert never knew he was in command of the division. Didn’t matter much, as Hebert could barely control his brigade in the confusion, much less the rest of the division.  He was out of place and working from a busted script.  Worse yet, the Federals practically surrounded Hebert.  Later that afternoon the Louisiana colonel surrendered.

With McCulloch and McIntosh dead, and unable to contact Hebert, the Confederates fell into confusion.  Command should have fallen next to Colonel Elkanah Greer, commander of the 3rd Texas Cavalry.  But in the confusion, Greer was idle with his regiment waiting the next orders.  In the vacuum, Brigadier General Albert Pike gave orders.

General Albert Pike

Now I could easily spend thousands of words on Pike and his interesting life (He IS the only Confederate General with an open-air monument in Washington, D.C. by the way…).  But let me just say for brevity, Pike was not IN command but rather the leader of an attached brigade of allied Indians.  Upon learning of McCulloch and McIntosh, Pike concluded all was lost and began a unilateral withdrawal. Pike simply conceded any hope for turning the balance on the field.  Only after Pike had ordered a retreat did Greer realize his position in command.  At that point, the entire force, McCulloch’s former division, was in retreat.  This turn of events negated any opportunity McCulloch had seen around mid-day.

From the start that morning, a complex plan devolved when in contact with reality.  Four secessions in command, along with the distraction of someone outside the formal chain giving orders, further disoriented the Confederates.  Had McCulloch been clear on his intent, maybe McIntosh wouldn’t have been so hasty.  Had Hebert known of McCulloch’s death, perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten tangled in the woods.  And perhaps had of these leaders communicated a clear message to subordinates, Pike wouldn’t have “assumed” control of the situation. Confederate leaders, from Van Dorn to Greer, provided little more than the basic instructions to subordinates.  And as command devolved due to casualties, no man was prepared to assume command.

But for a few words of intent and direction, the battle unraveled.


Filed under history

Ray Harris’s World War II Podcasts

I posted this earlier on my blog, but XBrad elbowed me to cross-post over here too:

Recently I discovered Ray Harris’ The History of World War II Podcasts.  Thought I’d mention his excellent work as there are a few readers out there who’s focus is in that direction… and a good number of us who really need to diversify our military history!

Ray’s approach is somewhat different than other podcast series on the subject.  Instead of touching upon several different aspects of the war, he takes the listener through major events or campaigns providing both a macro- and micro-viewpoint.  For example, over the span of six episodes Ray covers the Dunkirk evacuation.  He addressed the rather sticky situation between allied Britain and France, the failures and successes in German high command, all the while detailing the daily operations in the port and on the beaches.

He devoted a full episode to the destruction of the French fleet in 1940.  As I’ve mentioned before I am rather familiar with that topic, having written my thesis on Operation Catapult.  I found Ray’s coverage well rounded and complete for the allotted time slot.

Currently he is working through the Battle of Britain.  The last few episodes have covered the opening actions in that air-battle – three days at a time.  Beyond just the standard trip through the Battle of Britain – Hurricanes, Spitfires, Me 109s, radar, Fighter Command, Goering, the Blitz, perhaps a bit about tactics, and then “the Few” – Ray’s approach walks us through the changes with strategy and tactics, all the while pinned against the backdrop of two nations at war.  The listener is not lost in the weeds discussing the aircrews and aircraft, but not held too high aloof considering the national leaders making grand decisions.

Ray’s got a great series going.



Harbor Dredging? Yes the Army handles that too…. But should it?

From the Corps of Engineers Flickr collection:

Dredging the Baltimore Harbor
Caption:  Dredging the Baltimore Harbor

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District contractor Weeks Marine uses their dredge, B. E. Lindholm, to keep the Cape Henry portion of the Baltimore Harbor Channel at 51 feet deep so ships can safely travel up the Chesapeake Bay to the Port of Baltimore. Because the Cape Henry portion of the channel is at the entrance way to the Chesapeake Bay, Norfolk District takes on this project in support of its sister district, Baltimore. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Bloodgood)

Weeks Marine’s hopper dredge, B.E. Lindholm

Caption: Weeks Marine’s hopper dredge, B.E. Lindholm

Dredge material is pumped on board Weeks Marine’s hopper dredge, B.E. Lindholm, from the depths of the Cape Henry Channel at the entrance way to the Chesapeake Bay. The dredge is working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, which is tasked with keeping the channel at 51 feet so ships can safely travel to the Port of Baltimore. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Bloodgood)

As the captions state, the dredge in these photos is a contracted vessel.  However the Corps of Engineers maintains a small fleet of its own dredges too (I think they are down to four currently).  Those vessels, supplemented by contracted resources such as the B.E. Lindholm, perform a mission dating back to 1824 – maintain navigation for the nation’s harbors and riverways.

Because of this task and other similar civil engineering missions, funding for the Corps of Engineers projects is not your traditional “beans and bullets” army stuff.  Unlike… say… tank procurement, the projects taken on by the Corps in these missions often have a direct impact on taxpayers.  “Infrastructure” is the word you hear most often in these budget battles.   And that also often puts the Corps in the unenviable position of executing someone’s pet project aimed at pleasing a particular constituent audience.  The civil engineering missions also place the Corps in the role of enforcer for a myriad of Federal regulations – ranging from the Clean Water Act to the National Historic Preservation Act.  Given this wide ranging mission, current plans for FY 2013 call for $4.731 billion just in discretionary spending, specific to the civil engineering tasks.

Given the budget cuts to the Army, should the Corps of Engineers retain this role?  Should the role instead be handed over to other government agencies, perhaps Department of Transportation or Commerce?  Or…. gasp… make the Environmental Protection Agency responsible for maintaining wetlands?  Maybe tell the Navy to dredge its own channels?

Would the Army do well to relinquish this long traditional role?  Or is this a role the Army should retain?


Filed under army