Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Bergdahl to report for duty.

SGT Bowe Bergdahl, since his return to US control after years of captivity in Afghanistan, has been a patient in a military treatment facility, undergoing reintegration. Apparently, that reintegration process is near completion, and Bergdahl will soon be reporting for duty with a troop unit.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has finished undergoing medical care and counseling at an Army hospital in San Antonio and could return to an Army unit on a Texas post as early as Monday, a defense official tells CNN.

Bergdahl was held captive by militants for five years before he was released in May in exchange for five senior Taliban members held by the U.S. military. He has always maintained his active duty status. He cannot retire from the service or be discharged until the investigation concerning his disappearance and captivity in Afghanistan is complete.

For about three weeks, Bergdahl has been an outpatient at the San Antonio hospital, and military officials have interviewed him about his time in captivity.

Bergdahl is set to take a job at Fort Sam Houston, the Army post in San Antonio, according to an Army statement Monday. He will return to “regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission,” the statement said.

Since Bergdahl was an infantryman, and there are no Infantry units at Ft. Sam, I suspect he’s going to be placed at a desk in a headquarters unit somewhere on post, with the primary duty of answering the phone. That’s actually fairly common for people who are otherwise not capable of performing a full range of military duties.  I’m curious about the two troops assigned to be his minders. I’m sure they’re just thrilled to be given that chance to excel.

Aggiesprite suspects there might just be  a whiff of politics involved with the ongoing investigation surrounding the circumstances of Bergdahl’s departure from his post in Afghanistan. I don’t know anything about MG Dahl, the investigating officer. I do know that to date, none of the other soldiers that were there have been reinterviewed.  And as I said in the comments at Aggie’s, I strongly suspect Big Army hopes this will fade from the headlines, and the Army can quietly discharge Bergdahl into obscurity.

About these ads

8 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, army

Fighting on the Fourth of July

This Ain’t Hell brings us this intense 15 minute documentary showcasing the fight of A Co., 3rd Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry on July 4, 2009.

 

If the VBIED doesn’t give you chills…

3 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan

Obama’s Capitulation in Iraq

To be sure, when the last US forces left Iraq in 2011, the American population was ready for it. And the US forces had achieved most of their goals. The Hussein regime had been toppled, and a nascent viable government and security force were in place. 

Militarily, a small contingent should have been left to help build the Iraq forces, and to continue to reinforce their technical and tactical capabilities.

But during difficult negotiations with the Iraqi government over the Status of Forces led the Obama government to exercise its preferred option, and simply leave Iraq completely. After a fashion, it allowed Obama to proclaim victory. And the proclamation was far more important than any actual benefit or cost to the nation’s long term security interests.

And so we see today that Iraq has slowly been shuffling toward sectarian civil war. And now, the resurgent Al Qaeda group in the region, ISIS, has achieved significant victories in the last two days, seizing both Mosul, and today Tikrit.

This is, of course, precisely the situation critics of the abandonment policy warned of in 2011.

And not a few veterans are livid that the administration has squandered the chance for stability that their brothers in arms bought with their blood.

Then, by declining to provide a long-term security assistance force to an Iraq not yet able to handle the fight itself, we pulled defeat from the jaws of victory and increased the peril our Iraqi friends would face. By not training and equipping Syrian freedom fighters in the summer of 2012, we provided an opportunity for al-Qaeda to rebuild strength in the region. The renewed Sunni insurgency in Iraq joined with the worst of the anti-Assad forces in Syria present a threat greater than the fragile Iraqi government can handle on its own.

We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

I understand that there is currently no popular public support for a recommitment of US troops to Iraq. But that isn’t the only option on the table.

It isn’t like the attacks on Mosul and Tikrit were wholly unexpected by the Iraqi government.

In fact, the Iraqi government requested US airpower, both manned and unmanned strikes, on ISIS assembly areas to blunt their attacks.

And Obama turned them down.

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for military assistance have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

The swift capture of Mosul by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has underscored how the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have converged into one widening regional insurgency with fighters coursing back and forth through the porous border between the two countries. But it has also cast a spotlight on the limits the White House has imposed on the use of American power in an increasingly violent and volatile region.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, declined to comment on Mr. Maliki’s requests and the administration’s response, saying in a statement, “We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions, but the government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support” in combating the Islamic extremists.

As I mentioned to a friend in relation to this topic either intentionally or through incompetence, the Obama administration has virtually always sided with the most islamist faction in every issue.

And a pretty fair amount of support could be provided to the Iraqi government without substantial presence of US forces inside Iraq. And while the American public is quite wary of any entanglements of troops on the ground, they’ve shown a remarkable complaisance toward US airpower being used. How many times has the US used drones in Yemen or Pakistan with little or no reaction from the general public?

Shift your eyes from the chaos in Iraq to Afghanistan, and we see the administration striving mightily to again flee the field. Look at the ability of the US to depose a mostly neutered Libyan strongman in favor of radical islamists, and to consistently back the most radical parts of the Muslim Brotherhood against popular opposition in Egypt. The administrations dithering and incomprehensible approach to Syria (admittedly, not a place with a lot of good options) hasn’t improved matters much.

Obama has repeatedly touted his “successes” as having “Al Qaeda on the run.” Sadly, it appears Al Qaeda is indeed running, sprinting for the finish line, while Barry trots to the locker room.

Obama will do anything to end  a war. Except win.

12 Comments

Filed under Politics, war

Thoughts on the Bergdahl fiasco and politics

Many Americans were rather stunned to learn that in spite of the motto “Leave no man behind” not ever soldier or veteran was overjoyed by the return of Bowe Bergdahl to US control.

Jake Tapper of CNN had the courage to pick up the story on the national level.

The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him — veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.

“I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”

Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A reporter asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted — and, if so, whether he would be punished. Hagel didn’t answer directly. “Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family,” he said. “Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”

I hate to be a conspiracy theory type. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But let’s take a look at some rather significant events of the past week or so.

The President made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Memorial Day to boost his image as Commander in Chief. Yet that photo op was spoiled first by the snub of Afghan president Karzi declining to meet with Obama. Then the White House badly blundered and disclosed the name of the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, releasing it in an email to no less than 6000 reporters. And it didn’t help that the one thing the administration has been transparent about in the last 5 years is our Afghanistan troop levels and withdrawal timetable.

The VA scandal leads to Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Coincidently, the very same day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carny resigns, giving the mainstream media a convenient topic to cover in lieu of the VA scandal. There’s nothing the press would rather cover than the press.

Then came news of the exchange of five senior Taliban members from Gitmo for Bergdahl. What the administration thought would be accepted as a feather in its cap was first greeted by the public with “who is Bergdahl?” and second by the backlash from soldiers and veterans who are convinced that Bergdahl is as best a deserter, and at worst in cahoots with the Taliban.

As the seniority of the traded Taliban came to light, the deal looked less and less like a bargain. Then came to light the fact that Obama had disregarded the law by not providing notice to Congress of the transfer of Gitmo detainees. The administration’s “urgent and exigent” explanation seems rather contrived in the face of the fact that negotiations for the release have been going on for quite some time. Further, the law in question doesn’t appear to have any such “urgent and exigent” carve out. So the administration is hiding behind the shield of the President’s inherent powers as Commander in Chief. Fair enough. But the Congress too has its inherent powers, specifically the power to regulate the armed forces. And regulate they have. Once again, the administration has determined that laws they don’t like are simply not laws at all.

The Army itself is not without a potential black eye here.

In the wake of Bergdahl, by whatever means, leaving US control, the members of his unit quickly acted to recover him. This lead to the deaths of as many as six US servicemembers. Worst still, members of his unit are saying they were forced to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements regarding the Bergdahl incident. Again from Tapper:

Many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops — from the seven or so who knew him best in his squad, to the larger group that comprised the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — told CNN that they signed nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him. Some were willing to dismiss that document in hopes that the truth would come out about a soldier who they now fear is being hailed as a hero, while the men who lost their lives looking for him are ignored.

I can think of a couple of legitimate reasons why troops might be required to sign an NDA. First, troops without an appropriate security clearance that come to possess classified information should sign one. Another would be to prevent the disclosure of sensitive tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTP.

Sadly, however, the most likely explanation is that the Army simply didn’t want bad news in the press.

Both the Administration and Big Army would now love to see the Bergdahl incident simply fade away. As noted in the linked CNN article  ‘Another senior Defense official said Bergdahl will not likely face any punishment. “Five years is enough,” he told CNN on condition of anonymity.’ 

Maybe, maybe not. But let’s have an open and honest investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s departure from US control and how he conducted himself while under Taliban control.

Ask the Skipper has his own thoughts on the matter. And if he’s not on your daily “must read list” you need to change that now.

6 Comments

Filed under army

SGT Kyle J. White to be awarded the Medal of Honor

On May 13, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Kyle J. White, a former active duty Army Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Sergeant White will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on November 9, 2007.

Sergeant White will be the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND:

Former Sergeant Kyle J. White separated from the Army on July 8, 2011. He currently lives in Charlotte, NC, where he works as an Investment Analyst.

Sergeant White enlisted in the Army in February 2006 as an Infantryman. After completion of training at Ft Benning, he was assigned to Vicenza, Italy, with 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry “The Rock” as a grenadier and rifleman which included a combat tour to Afghanistan from May 2007 until August 2008. Following Italy, Kyle was assigned as an opposing forces Sergeant with the Ranger Training Battalion at Ft Benning.

Sergeant White deployed in support of the War on Terror with one tour to Afghanistan.

At the time of the November 9, 2007 combat engagement, then-Specialist White was a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. His heroic actions were performed during a dismounted movement in mountainous terrain in Aranas, Afghanistan.

White’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral “2” device, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Parachutists Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Valorous Unit Award.

via President Obama to Award Medal of Honor | The White House.

From the Times-Herald:

 

The battle for which White is being honored was a textbook ambush by an enemy that vastly outnumbered the Americans and their Afghan comrades. Between firing his rifle, scrambling to retrieve wounded comrades and having his thoughts scrambled by two close explosions, White told commanders what was happening, according to an Army account.

“All of Afghanistan was listening to his call sign, Charlie One Six Romeo,” says Col. William Ostlund, then-commander of the battalion in which White served as a specialist.

“So when his platoon leader was killed, Charlie One Six Romeo was instrumental in controlling every single thing, from the fixed-wing bombers to the helicopter attack to the indirect (mortar and artillery) fire to treating casualties,” Ostlund says.

Fourteen Americans and a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers were attacked while strung out single file along a narrow trail devoid of cover. Scores of Taliban fighters crouched on the opposite side of the valley or were concealed ahead down the trail or on the ridge above. They opened fire at 3:30 p.m. as the setting sun was in the soldiers’ eyes. Many of the attackers were in shadows, all but invisible to the Americans.

The Taliban even videoed the action so they could turn it into a propaganda film. But the battle all but escaped notice in American media.

2 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

This is what happens to you when you are killed in Afghanistan*

It’s actually an article about the stress that Mortuary Affairs soldiers in Afghanistan face, but also contains an excellent description of the grim duty they perform, a duty faced with Dignity, Reverence, Respect.

The process starts when the phone rings. An officer tracking flights into the base calls the mortuary affairs unit with an alert that in 30 minutes to an hour an aircraft will touch down carrying a servicemember’s remains.

The team in the hangar responds with practiced urgency. One member of the “clean hands” crew contacts the unit of the deceased to gather details for a case file that will travel with the body to the United States. Two members iron an American flag to drape over the top half of an aluminum transfer case that will hold the remains.

If their team receives the call, Siverand and Valdivia climb into a box truck parked in the mortuary compound and drive to the flight line. In their downtime, while playing “Call of Duty” or poker, a relaxed repartee flows between them. In the vehicle, silence prevails.

The two pull up close to the plane or helicopter. They enter the aircraft and salute the dead servicemember and the military escorts accompanying the remains. The escorts help load the black body bag into the back of the truck. The body rides feet first. Siverand and Valdivia salute again, close the door and return to the compound.

In the hangar, under the cold glow of fluorescent lights, they wheel the remains on a gurney and stop beside a steel table. They move to opposite sides of the bag’s bottom end. Each pauses to steady his thoughts, to brace for a moment that never feels ordinary.

Valdivia unzips the bag. “I don’t like doing it, so he does it,” Siverand says. “But once it’s open, you scan what’s there and get to work.”

Mortuary Affairs is, thankfully, a terribly small community in the Army.

Incidentally, friend of the blog Jennifer Holik has written a two part piece on the Graves Registration Service in World War II. Part I. Part II.

Finally, an update on yesterday’s post on the Honor Guard social media incident. The soldier at the the heart of the incident has been suspended from participation in funerals, and the incident is under investigation.

*The title of this post is pretty blatantly ripped off from the opening sentence of a chapter in Geoffrey Perret’s excellent There’s a War to be Won. I prefer the term “homage” to “plagiarism.”

4 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan

AGS-17 Automatic Grenade Launcher

First in a short series of posts on fairly obscure Soviet weapons.

You do recall that the Soviet Union and China had a series of division sized clashes along their shared border back in the 1960s, right?

Well, they did. And at the time, the preferred Chinese tactic was much as it had been during the Korean War- massed human wave attacks. That’s pretty tough if you’re part of the wave. But its also pretty tough to defend against.  The need to counter possible future attacks, along with reports from the Vietnamese about US automatic grenade launchers just entering service, prompted the Soviets to design their own.

ags17-1.jpg

It took a few years, and never saw action against Chinese forces, but by the early 1970s, the AGS-17 was in widespread use amongst Soviet forces. A fully automatic, blowback operated grenade launcher fired from a tripod, the launcher uses a 30mm x 29 casing, with high explosive fragmentation warhead. It’s fed by a non-disintegrating metallic link belt stored in a 29-round drum.

The launcher can be used in direct-fire mode against targets out to 800m for point targets, or area targets out to its maximum range of 1700m. Interestingly, it can also be used in high-angle fire, almost like an automatic mortar, to engage defilade targets.

The AGS-17 saw extensive use during Soviet operations in Afghanistan, where it proved quite useful firing against Mujahedeen positions, especially RPG and anti-tank teams.  Variants were developed for mounting on vehicles, helicopters, and aircraft.  It has also seen widespread use in Chechnya and other Russian operations.

A refined, lighter version, the AGS-30, has entered service and is slowly replacing the –17.

3 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Around the web

The Medals of Honor on Letterman

I gave up watching Letterman pretty much about the time I gave up keggers in college. So I guess I missed these two (separate) interviews Dave did with Medal of Honor recipients SSG Ty Carter and SSG Clinton Romesha.

——

Comments Off

Filed under army

Thanksgiving

The “3 M’s” of morale  every commander needs to pay close attention to are:

  1. Mail
  2. Money
  3. Meals

Especially during Thanksgiving, a good hot meal is the least a commander can provide to his troops.

Imagine yourself stationed at a platoon or company sized outpost in the hinterlands of Afghanistan. In my era, most of my meals would have been MREs, with maybe one hot meal delivered in Mermite cans daily from the battalion trains in the Brigade Support Area.

But the Army in the past decade, with Brigade Combat Teams covering enormous geographical regions, centralized cooking simply isn’t practical. And for many outposts, the delivery options are either a risky ground convoy, or an expensive aerial resupply by helicopter. So many units at outposts have been augmented with a mess team to provide hot prepared meals on site. Larger outposts that have power generation may have a Containerized Kitchen as well as adequate refrigeration. Smaller, platoon sized outposts are unlikely to have such luxuries, but still often have a cook assigned.

The normal ration for these outposts is the Unitized Group Ration, or UGR. In fact, the UGR is really three separate rations.

UGR-A has perishable and semi-perishable foods, and requires an actual kitchen to prepare.

The UGR-H&S (Heat & Serve) is canned foods that simply need to be warmed prior to serving.  The Company Level Field Feeding Kitchen is well suited for this ration.

http://tentsshelters.tpub.com/TM-10-7360-209-13P/img/TM-10-7360-209-13P_13_1.jpg

The UGR-E is designed for even more austere environments. It contains everything for a hot meal, and the ration trays are self heating! Not only that, but a special turkey holiday meal menu is available.

Here’s a little bit on how the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) assembles UGRs.

As you sit down with friends and family today to give thanks for all the blessings in your life, take a moment to remember those Americans deployed world wide, and especially in Afghanistan, who will not be surrounded by family, but by their brothers in arms.

8 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Close Quarters Marksmanship

From Think Defence

Back in my day, close quarters shooting simply wasn’t done. The safety issues meant absolutely nothing like realistic short range combat shooting could be done. All firing had to be from the prone position. Which, if you’re in a field with thigh high grass is pretty difficult.

Comments Off

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Paladin PIM

Of all the combat arms in the Army in the Iraq War, and to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan, the least utilized, and thus least likely to be feted, and least likely to garner attention at budget time, was the Field Artillery. Now, from a parochial point of view, few things warm my heart more than mocking the gun-bunnies. But the professional warrior knows that not every fight will be like Iraq, and that against a near peer enemy, massed volumes of indirect fires will be critical to success.

Most of the technical advances in Field Artillery in recent years have been related to precision guided munitions, such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) and the Excalibur GPS guided 155mm artillery round.

On the towed artillery side, the Army and Marines have replaced their heavy M198 guns with the much lighter, digitally compatible M777 155mm howitzer.

But the backbone of Army field artillery has been, for about 50 years, the M109 155mm Self Propelled Howitzer. Mind you, the fleet has been greatly improved from the first iterations, but significant upgrades to the current M109A6 fleet haven’t happened in almost 20 years.

The basic tube and the digital fire control system are currently sufficient. What the fleet really needs is an upgrade to the mechanical side. And that’s what they’ll be getting. The legacy powertrain is being replaced with a kit that will use the same engine, transmission and final drives as the M2 Bradley fleet. This will not only give the Artillery much better power and reliability, it will also greatly simplify the spare parts and logistics challenges for the Armored Brigade Combat Team. It will also simplify training for mechanics.

The much more powerful engine also means greater generator capacity, and finally the M109 will receive an all electric turret drive system, to replace the current hydraulic system. Electric turret drives tend to be more reliable, and far easier to repair when they do break.

Modest improvements to the communications and fire control system (and today, that almost means the same thing) will also be added.

http://media.defenceindustrydaily.com/images/LAND_M106A6-PIM_Rt_lg.jpg

4 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

VMM-161

Friend of the blog Patrick is an MV-22 Osprey pilot with the Marines, and has kindly shared the rough draft of a video he’s working on.

Update: Sorry about that. The producer had to pull it down for a while. It should come back up in a new and improved format around mid-month. I’ll post it then.

http://vimeo.com/78429527

3 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

How the sequester is crippling the Army

As a dyed-in-the-wool fiscal conservative, we fully support the sequester. A line in the sand must be drawn against the ever increasing levels of federal spending. And if that impacts the budget of the armed forces, so be it. Even in a world with multiple and complex security challenges, the stupendous levels of federal debt are our greatest national security threat.

But the problems the sequester foists upon the services are real, and are having real, immediate impacts upon the services.

The actual monetary cuts the sequester imposes on the services are fairly modest. Under FY13 (last year) the main cause of pain was that the full dollar amount of savings had to be realized in only half the fiscal year.  The Obama administration fully expected a deal to avoid the cuts to be inked, and so steadfastly prohibited DoD and the services from even planning for the possibility of the cuts until the very last moment.  The way monies are allocated to the DoD meant that most funds for the FY were already allocated or obligated. In short, the only places it was even possible to make any cuts were in Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and Personnel funds. Some O&M funds simply had to be spent, merely to continue operations (like, say, Afghanistan) already underway. So the training budget for units not tagged to deploy were slashed.

And the passage of a Continuing Resolution, while providing somewhat reasonable levels of funding for the Army, is still disastrous in the long term. Why? Because the CR is just that, a continuation of previous funding authority. In effect, the Army cannot move funding levels from one account to another, and are locked into the spending priorities set well over three years ago.

I’m not the only one who sees things this way:

When I first joined the military the United States Army alone had some 780,000 troops in 18 divisions. It was near the end of the Cold War, the inter-German border still represented a very real potential combat zone and — if one was looking only at the numbers — this was probably about the high-point of the “peacetime” Army. We had the manpower we needed. The “Big Five” combat systems were coming into the field* and most of the detritus from the post-Vietnam period had been flushed from the system. Plus, in the past several years the Army had well and truly taken to the philosophy of honest and hard free-for-all training as a means of evening the gap by developing quality whereas our potential opponents had the quantity. This was best exemplified by the National Training Center (in the Mojave Desert of California) and the Combat Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany.

We trained hard and in all environments across the planet, and at any given moment we had at least a dozen “combat ready” divisions. (A division was, at that time, anywhere from 17-23,000 men.) And because good equipment and hard training costs money, it cost a lot of money. But in the wake of nearly perpetual poor performances of the US Army in the first battles of every war, our late-70s leadership decided “Never Again.” American units would train to the highest levels, with exacting but realistic standards, and we would do it so comprehensively that we would win, the first time, every time. In the process we would be saving innumerable lives, not only our own, but all sides because we would be able to fight so fast that the wars would be shorter. Only when a unit was fully trained would it be certified as “combat ready,” and that status would only last so long before it had to be trained again.

According to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, as of yesterday, the entire US Army currently has only two combat brigades ready for combat.

Why? Well, we are not that much smaller than we were a few months or years ago. Though the drawdown has begun, it is only just starting and it should last four years. Oh, wait, that was the plan… until yesterday. Now we are cutting 80,000 in just two years. Perfect. (Hyperlinks in original)

You’ve probably seen where the Army Chief of Staff announced that only two Brigade Combat Teams are fully trained right now.

WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Two years of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty have forced the U.S. Army to greatly curtail spending on training, leaving it with only two combat brigades fully prepared to go to war, the Army’s top officer said on Monday.
“Right now, we have in the Army two brigades that are trained. That’s it. Two,” General Ray Odierno told a news conference at the annual conference of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Odierno’s comments came as he and Army Secretary John McHugh discussed the impact of the recent U.S. government shutdown as well as across-the-board budget cuts that forced the military to slash spending in March, nearly halfway through its fiscal year.
McHugh and Odierno both appealed to Congress to find a way to give the military more financial predictability so it can plan effectively. McHugh said that with the way the military is currently funded, budgets that are approved today are based on planning that occurred three years earlier.
“You can’t run the most important military on the face of the Earth locked into three-year-old budgets,” McHugh said.
The Army was hit particularly hard by the cuts in March, known as sequestration, because of higher-than-projected Afghanistan war costs and the need to make up those funds from its operations accounts, which include money for training.
“We had to stop training, basically, in the last six months of the year,” Odierno said.

That doesn’t mean all training has ceased, but virtually all training above the individual, squad and platoon level has been curtailed. It costs a lot of money to send a company of tanks to the field for a week or two. Fuel, food, spare parts, ammunition, batteries and all sorts of sundries add up quickly. Even more expensive is sending an entire Brigade Combat Team to the field. Few posts actually have sufficient real estate to conduct quality training for an entire BCT so there’s the added expense of shipping the BCT’s people and equipment to a training area large enough to handle that size unit. And since that’s money the Army doesn’t have, they just aren’t doing it.

But units that haven’t trained together for their wartime mission, as integrated units, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully complete those wartime missions. As friend-of-the-blog Esli has often noted, so many troops have had multiple wartime deployments, but virtually no experience in maneuver warfare combined-arms operations at the company level, let alone at the BCT or division level.

If a crisis comes (and sooner or later, they always do), the Army will deploy troops as needed. And those troops will pay a price in blood to learn lessons they were supposed to pay for in sweat.

7 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Should the US merge its ground combat forces?

Of course not. But Jeong Lee, writing at the USNI Blog argues that they should be.

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad”  in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.

Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter. (Hyperlinks in original-XBrad)

Many defense experts may be debating what the future holds, but damn few think merging the Army, Marines and the SOF community is the way to go.

The argument that ground components must fight leaner and smarter certainly hails back to the Rumseldian Revolution in Military Affairs and the Transformationalists. How’d that work out for us?

Not to knock the Marines in any way, but the fact that they have been serving as a second army in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan strikes me as silly. Sure, some units being blooded is probably a good thing, but the main mission of the Marines should be to serve as  a rapid reaction and forced entry force, not a reserve of manpower for a leaner, smarter Army.

And since Mr. Lee brings up consolidation of duplicative forces, why not give the Air Force all the Navy’s aircraft?*

And here’s the thing about leaner landpower. It’s a strategic risk.  While I’d argue that the average Army Brigade Combat Team is more than a match for a comparable enemy force, the ideal is to have overwhelming combat power, both to quickly achieve objectives, and minimize losses to our force. The more closely matched in combat power, the more likely heavy losses will occur. Further, don’t fall into the amateur’s trap of thinking strictly in terms of a single component. The US great strength in warfare has long been its ability to fight combined arms and services. We can find dozens, hundreds of examples where we did so poorly, but the fact is, we’re head and shoulders above anyone else at it.  The CoComs, the Unified Combatant Commanders, were designed specifically to be in such a position that their parochial attachments to the service the grew up in is mitigated by understanding the need to effectively synergize the efforts of all the service components under their command.  It’s imperfect, but again, it’s better than anyone else’s system.

What are you thoughts on why this is a bad idea. Conversely, what (realistically) can we do to streamline the duplication of effort? What changes can and should we make?

*no, not really. I’d rather see the Navy take over the air mission, but I’m trying to make a point here…

10 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

CPT William Swenson to be presented Medal of Honor

This is for his actions in the same engagement where SGT Dakota Meyers earned his.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 16, 2013
President Obama to Award Medal of Honor
On October 15, 2013, President Barack Obama will award William Swenson, a former active duty Army Captain, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Captain Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of the Afghan National Security Forces with Afghan Border Police Mentor Team, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
Captain Swenson will be the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.
PERSONAL BACKGROUND:
Captain William D. Swenson separated from the Army on February 1, 2011 and currently resides in Seattle, Washington. He is single.
Captain Swenson was commissioned as an Army Officer upon completing Officer Candidate School on September 6, 2002. His military training and education includes: Infantry Maneuver Captains Career Course, Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Basic, Infantry Mountain Leader Advanced Marksmanship Course, Airborne, Officer Candidate School.
At the time of the September 8, 2009 combat engagement, Captain Swenson was an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of Afghan National Security Forces. His actions were performed as part of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division.
His military decorations include: Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge

I stole this from John Donovan’s facebook feed. Thanks, John. John also mentions his suspicion that, for whatever reason, the Bush era DoD had a strong reluctance to consider any award of the MoH to surviving troops, whereas the Obama administration has not shown such reluctance.

Interestingly, this is the second small unit engagement that has seen the award of the MoH to two participants. Both here and the battle of COP Keating were desperate fights, and both came in for widespread criticism for the way Big Army handled the fight. I have a suspicion that the scrutiny of the fights has lead to greater documentation of the actions, which in turn raised the visibility of the participants, and led to greater supporting documentation for the awards process. Of course, in CPT Swenson’s case, the awards package was “lost” leading to a delay in the decision to make the award. That’s absolutely shameful.

6 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, army, history

So much for loosening the belts – Stripes

SEOUL – Just days after the 2nd Infantry Division said in a Facebook post that its troops in South Korea wouldn’t have to wear reflective physical training belts — a subject of ridicule by some soldiers — the 8th Army is saying the belts are still required attire.

Some see the belts as an example of military overkill — especially when they must be worn during PT on roads closed to traffic and in broad daylight.

There are even Facebook pages dedicated to the issue. One, titled “The Reflective PT Belt” calls itself a “military humor page, and a support group for wearers of the reflective PT belt.”

Another, “I Hate Reflective Belts,” says it is open to “members of the U.S. Armed Forces who see the continued use of reflective belts becoming ridiculous.”

In a Facebook notice posted Monday, 2ID said “guidance” from the division command sergeant majors of 8th Army and 2ID “is that the PT belt will no longer be part” of the improved physical fitness uniform that consists of a gray Army T-shirt, black trunks and, in winter, black sweatpants with black-and-gray running jacket.

via So much for loosening the belts – Stripes – Independent U.S. military news from Iraq, Afghanistan and bases worldwide.

The reflective belt mania has become the poster child for risk aversion in the Army.Worse, this risk aversion, as exemplified by this inability for 8th Army and 2nd Infantry Division to get their stories straight, shows an unwillingness to allow subordinates to lead. If a division commander and his Command Sergeant Major can’t have the authority to decide whether or not the damn PT belt needs to be worn, maybe we shouldn’t trust them with weighty issues such as training for combat.

I’m sure somewhere, sometime, some soldier was run over by a vehicle on a dark post overseas, and the reflective belt would probably have prevented it.

But in years and years of running PT on various installations, not once did I ever come close to being hit by a vehicle. As the article notes, virtually every post in the Army closes major roads so troop units can use them for running during the morning. And the picture also tells a tail. Senior leadership is requiring soldiers to wear the reflective belt even when the Improved Physical Fitness Uniform has reflective panels on it, specifically so the soldier wouldn’t have to wear a reflective belt.

It is a military truism to never give an order you know won’t or can’t be obeyed, as it diminishes your authority. A corollary would be to never institute a policy that sees you mocked mercilessly for little or no gain. The contempt soldiers have for the reflective belt is reflected, if you will, with contempt for supine leadership that will not take the almost infinitesimal risk associated with paring back the fetish for the near useless policy regarding the belts.

Were I the Chief of Staff of the Army, my first order would be to ban the things.

2 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Tiered Readiness is coming.

Today, under the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) plan, Brigade Combat Teams  (BCT) go through a cycle where they are deployed or ready to deploy, recovering from a deployment or readiness term, or are training up to regain their readiness to deploy. For the most part, all BCTs in the Army have, for the last decade or so, shared equally in cycle. The large numbers of BCTs needed for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan dictated that almost every  BCT would sooner or later get its turn in the barrel.

But with Iraq over, and Afghanistan winding down, fewer and fewer BCTs are being tapped to deploy overseas. Particularly, the heavy BCTs, with tanks and Bradleys, aren’t deploying to Afghanistan.

More importantly, the Army is running out of money. It has already made the choice to shutter a large number of BCTs (though the remaining BCTs will gain an additional maneuver battalion).

But even with those cuts, the budget for manpower, training, and operations is under pretty severe stress.

So the Army, despite promising itself it wouldn’t do so, is going to take something of a strategic risk.

Cancelled training. Deferred maintenance. Grounded aircraft. That’s been the damage to military readiness from the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration in 2013. Now the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army says the service may have to keep many units at lower levels of readiness for years. This is not a short-term expedient but new policy.

“We’re looking at having certain number of brigades at a higher level of readiness,” Gen. John Campbell told me last week. “Many of our units will go down much lower.”

“Some people would call that tiered readiness, where we said we never were going to go again,” the Vice-Chief went on, referring to the Cold War practice where units not in West Germany or South Korea sometimes never received their full allotment of troops, equipment, and training dollars. “I’d call it progressive readiness.”

A preliminary plan may be ready for public discussion within weeks, Campbell said. “We’re working through that now,” he said, as the service builds its 2015-2019 budget plan, the Program Objective Memorandum.

Campbell’s remarks suggest new willingness on the Army leadership’s part to shift it position on readiness, one that’s been urged by many thinktanks.

“While Army leaders have avoided cutting readiness to every extent possible, it is no longer feasible under current budget plans – even before sequestration moves into year two,” argues Mackenzie Eaglen, one of the think tank experts who recommended cutting readiness levels to guarantee the military’s ability to develop and buy new weapons.

“There is already a readiness shortfall this year that is being funded through war spending and additional untold readiness gaps based on all the services receiving fewer resources than expected when Congress finally passed a defense appropriations bill for 2013,” she said.

It is hardly a perfect solution, but then, it’s also the world I knew back in my own days of service.

Some BCTs will still receive the money and manpower to stay at full readiness, known sometimes as C-1. Fully manned, and trained in all the essentials of the commanders Mission Essential Task List, and having gone through a cycle of training from individual skills to full up BCT sized operations in the field at one of the Combat Training Centers against a dedicated Opposing Force.

Other BCTs… not so much.

They’ll have less money for fuel and maintenance for their equipment. Fewer spare parts. A smaller allocation of ammunition for training. Likely, exercised at battalion and BCT level will be cancelled or curtailed. They’ll get fewer rotations at the Combat Training Centers. They’ll be last in line for receiving new equipment.

And perhaps most painfully, they’ll get fewer people.

We talked above about some units being fully manned. But the truth is, no unit is ever really fully manned. Let’s say a rifle company has an authorized strength of 100.  The Army says it will be fully manned. But you’ve got people transferring out, and waiting for new bodies to come in. Then you’ve got people on leave, at various Army schools, people who are sick or injured (they still count toward you being fully manned, but aren’t available for duty), troops who are awaiting discharge either for completing their service, or because they’re unsuitable for the Army. Then there are the demands placed from above. It is not at all unheard of for a higher echelon to levy units for manpower, either for a temporary tasking, or for extended periods. Our notional rifle company might be lucky to have 75 troops present at morning formation.

My first two duty stations, I was assigned to units that were fully manned. My third wasn’t quite as lucky. We were constantly understrength. While we always had enough people to fully crew our Bradleys, we had only enough troops left over to field a single, understrength rifle squad per platoon. We needed another 10 to 12 troops, per platoon, to be fully manned.

We had enough money and assets to train on individual skills, and small unit collective skills. But it is hard to train a platoon to fight properly when every bit of doctrine that governs employing the platoon assumes a much larger unit, with a good bit more tactical flexibility.

The Army’s reasoning is that for the foreseeable future, should these lower tier BCTs be needed for a fight, they’ll have time to plus up their manning, and their training. We can only hope they’re correct.

If not, we can always ask the survivors of Task Force Smith how things worked out for them.

3 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Wednesday Morning Apache

A long video of gun camera footage from a team of Apaches working in Afghanistan.

1 Comment

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Soldiers’ sore feet spur a campaign for better boots

They are shot at, bombed, and isolated in an inhospitable environment, where the weather cycles between extreme heat and cold, and the night brings the prospect of more attacks from a ghostly enemy.

Yet when the Army surveyed soldiers about improving conditions during their deployment, it discovered a seemingly unusual concern: sore feet.

“The soldier lives in his boots,” said Bob Hall, a footwear project engineer at the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. “If he’s having problems with his boots, he’s having problems with everything.”

More than a decade into the war in Afghanistan, Army researchers in Natick are in the final stages of a two-year process to develop a boot made specifically for soldiers to traverse the unforgiving environments of the Middle East.

Related

Graphic: Boots for Middle East

After calling for submissions in 2011, the Army has narrowed the field to three competitors, each of which specializes in American-made military footwear: Bates Footwear of Rockford, Mich., Belleville Boot Co., in Belleville, Ill., and Danner in Portland, Ore. Each version is its own marvel of fine-detail engineering.

‘The soldier lives in his boots. If he’s having problems with his boots, he’s having problems with everything.’

Quote Icon

“We know who makes the best boots out there, and we tap into the best technology the industry has,” said Sergeant Major Emmett Maunakea, who served four tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and advises a team at Fort Belvoir, Va., that develops equipment for soldiers. “There’s so much science that goes into it.”

And they had better be comfortable, too.

via Soldiers’ sore feet spur a campaign for better boots – Business – The Boston Globe.

Hmm…. a leather, canvas and nylon boot that’s lightweight. Seems to me, the original jungle boot pretty much fit that bill, at a hell of a lot less expense.

When I was in the 25th Infantry division, every soldier had on hand his two DMS full leather combat boots, as issued as part of his clothing bag allowance. But in the division, each soldier was also issued two pair of jungle boots, as Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment. The difference was, the soldier was responsible for the DMS boots, but jungle boots, as organizational equipment, could be exchanged at no cost to the soldier when they wore out or otherwise became unserviceable.

When the battalion would head over to The Big Island for training, we’d spent the majority of our time in the island’s vast lava beds. Accordingly, we were directed to bring only jungle boots, as a month or so of operations in that terrain would surely ruin any pair of boots, DMS or jungle or what have you.

In the 19 months I spent in the division, I probably went through 8 pairs of jungle boots.

4 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

RFI vs. Big Green

Strategy Page has a post up about the Rapid Fielding Initiative, a streamlined way of getting certain types of equipment into the hands of troops, outside the normal procurement channels.

When wars end there is a search for lessons. One of the most important lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan is that the same lessons tend to be relearned in war after war. The recent wars were different because there was some awareness of this repetition (learning lessons, forgetting them, learning them again during the next war). Perhaps the most important lesson learned this time around was that a lot (usually most) wisdom and innovations begins at the bottom, not at the top. In past wars leaders often believed they knew how to deal with the smallest details of combat operations and ordered disastrous policies to be implemented. There was a lot less of that this time around.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the military, especially the army, was quick to take advice from the troops actually doing the fighting. That was recognized even before Iraq and led to the RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative). Established in 2002, RFI recognized that the American army did not always have the best weapons and equipment available and that the troops and low-level commanders had a better idea of what was needed than the senior generals and politicians. RFI was intended to do something about that and do it quickly. During the next nine years the army approved the purchase of 409 items immediately, which is what RFI was all about. Last year the army began deciding which of these RFI items to make standard equipment (about a quarter of them) and which to discard (the rest, although many were obsolete and improved replacements were being sought). The marines went through the same process and found that most of their RFI items were worth keeping. This is due to the marines having a tradition of doing more with less (since they have much less money to spend per person than the army).

Not everyone was a fan of RFI. Traditional (government and contractor) weapons and equipment developers did not like RFI. Procurement bureaucrats like to take their time, even when there’s a war going on. This is mainly to cover everyone’s ass and try to placate all the big shots and constituencies demanding certain features. In wartime, this process is sped up somewhat but it is always slower than it has to be.

During a lot of my time in the Army, from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s, the Army swung from robust budgets, to fairly lean times (though rarely could the term austere be genuinely used).  But there’s never enough money, especially in peacetime, to buy everything you want. So the Army tended to prioritize procurement funding toward big ticket, long lead time items, be it vehicles, communications, or missiles.  Little stuff, such as the personal equipment soldiers actually wear or use, tended to fall to the back of the line. An example- in an era when virtually every person who camps or hikes can get a very nice, completely waterproof/windproof one-man tent from REI for around $100, the Army was still issuing the cotton duck shelter half pup-tent first fielded around 1912.

A good example of a piece of kit that quickly found its way to the troops is the Camelback hydration system. It’s easier and quieter to carry a larger volume of water with a Camelback than with traditional Army canteens. And so, virtually every troop now uses one. Troops started buying them with their own money. But  the Army quickly found a way to find funding to buy them for issue to the troops.

Still, rapid fielding of low cost items like personal gear isn’t without its risks. For instance, Let’s say a notional company makes a neat little widget that fills a niche for the troops. But they tend to only make 5000 a years. Suddenly faced with an order for 50,000, they’re going to struggle to meet demand, and, almost certainly, there will be quality control issues in trying to ramp up production. Existing supply line items already in the Army’s inventory tend to have established supply chains, and even surges in production tend to cause less disruption than for Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) items.

And while sometimes, new, better equipment for more advanced uses, say, communications, is available from vendors, just buying it doesn’t mean there are no problems.

In Craig’s series on the Past, Present and Future of Tactical Radios, he discussed the challenges of training soldiers to adapt to the SINCGARS family of tactical radios. Mind you, this was a system that was procured through normal channels. Doctrinal Field Manuals, and Technical Manuals were written, reviewed and published. New Equipment Training Teams (NETT) went to each unit as it fielded the SINCGARS and gave intense instruction in the use and maintenance of the radios. And yet, the complexity of the full range of features meant that the learning curve was still very steep, leaving many units to forego using the secure modes built in, and operating in unsecure, single channel mode- thus obviating the whole point of fielding SINCGARS in the first place.

Come the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even the SINCGARS family had shortcomings that desperately needed to be addressed. As Craig mentioned, the PRC-150/152 family of radios was available off the shelf to address those shortcomings, primarily in data transmission, and in integrating with GPS, but also to provide SATCOM and other waveform capabilities down to low level tactical units via a single radio system.  The Army quickly bought tens of thousands of these radios.

But while the radios themselves provided enhanced capability, that didn’t mean there were not some disadvantages to buying them this way.

Buying off the shelf means the Army hasn’t developed the doctrinal or technical training to teach soldiers how best to use or maintain the radios, nor to establish networks. Some doctrine would translate over from previous manuals, but each unit would tend to develop its own interpretation, and often such interpretations don’t translate from unit to unit. Thus, the point of expanding capabilities instead can turn to friction between disparate units trying to establish comms with one another.  Because the radios haven’t been bought through the conventional procurement system, spare parts and organizational and higher level maintenance procedures and training aren’t in place. In effect, buying a new system off the shelf to address a shortcoming can actually produce as many new problems as it solves.

Mind you, one reason this RFI for COTS equipment takes place is that the conventional procurement system is so sclerotic that even relatively simple systems such as backpack radios can take 10-15 years to wend their way through the procurement maze, much of that time spent even before hardware is first assembled. By the time a viable piece of hardware has been developed, technology has moved on so far that the fielded piece is already obsolescent, prompting the end user to instead lobby to buy COTS.

2 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Tintypes on the Battlefield

In an homage to Matthew Brady,

Ed Drew is an artist who’s studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, pursuing a BFA in sculpture with a minor in photography. He’s also a defensive heavy weapons and tactics specialist for the California Air National Guard.

When Drew was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan this past April as a helicopter aerial gunner, he decided to bring his passion for photography with him. What resulted were the first tintype photos to be created in a combat zone since the Civil War.
The Brooklyn-born photographer tells us that his motivation for the project was to stay sharp and not get rusty while he was away from home. “I was really interested in making art while I was in Afghanistan so I wouldn’t lose my momentum in my absence from art school,” he says.

Many of the photographs are of his fellow soldiers who fly Air Force rescue helicopters. Some of the images show the helicopters themselves.

Creating tintypes on the battlefield was a challenging experience. In between flying on combat missions, Drew found that his chemicals would react to the harsh environment there in ways that you wouldn’t see in the quiet safety of a photo studio. It made him “really appreciate every plate’s individual creation,” he says.

Be sure to look at all the pics. They’re fascinating.

These Are the First Combat Zone Tintype Photos Created Since the Civil War fYLIh3k

2 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

COINage- Or Broncos and Mohawks, Oh my!

We’ve written a few times about the Air Force program to develop a Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LAARA), primarily to arm nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq; allies that cannot afford, nor need, to operate high performance jets. These LAARA aircraft would normally operate in a permissive air defense environment over the host nation’s territory, and not have to cope with a sophisticated Integrated Air Defense System of radars and radar guided missiles. At worst, they would face the occasional MANPADS shoulder launched missile. The Air Force would likely own a small batch of any such production run primarily to serve as a training base for foreign users. The two prime candidate aircraft have pretty much always been the AT-6B Texan II from Beechcraft, and the A-29 SuperTucano from EMBRAER.

Given the rather stupendous costs of operating fast jets, in terms of cost per flight hour, we’re rather amazed how lukewarm the Air Force has been about the program. Fielding a wing or two of small, inexpensive aircraft would cost relatively little. It would also tend to show the Army that the Air Force was serious about meeting the needs of the Army, rather than maintaining its reputation for jealously guarding its independence. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Unfortunately, what I wrote in that last link seems to be rather spot on:

At this point, I’m not really concerned with which platform they choose, just that they choose one.

But I’ve got unfailing insight into the future. Let me tell you what will happen. The fighter mafia, not wanting to get stuck with unsexy airplanes, have been dragging their feet on this, and will continue to do so. As US involvement in Afghanistan is trimmed back, the push to buy these LAARA birds will diminish somewhat, and then the fighter mafia will use the looming $400bn in defense cuts to argue that we can’t afford to buy and operate a new airplane.

LAARA is a good idea, long overdue (I mean, we’ve only been fighting in Afghanistan for 9 whole years!) and will almost certainly never reach operational status.

LAARA isn’t a dead program yet, but I haven’t seen it twitch much lately, much less move forward. Part of that is institutional foot dragging. And then there’s the political side, with various blocs in Congress pulling for one or the other of the two bidders. Beechcraft has been rather irritating in its insistence that the program be rewritten and recompeted time and again to give them a chance, never mind the EMBRAER product has been ready off-the-shelf almost since day one.

The Air Force’s argument is that to a great extent, it’s armed MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones provide the capability for long endurance Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Light Attack that the ground units need. To a certain extent they do, but they lack the responsiveness that Army commanders want. Unfortunately, Army commanders don’t get to dictate what the Air Force buys.

But there is another constituency that really wants a manned ISR/Light Attack capability, and while they can’t force the Air Force to buy stuff, they can lobby their own service to provide a niche capability. Navy Special Warfare, primarily the SEALs, has long wanted to have a LAARA type aircraft available to support some of their operations. Big Navy may not want to see the world revolve around NavSpecWar, but they do want to see them succeed. And so the SEALs brothers in NavAir started poking around to find a way to field about four airplanes to support them.

Under a program name of Imminent Fury, NavAir in early 2009 leased a SuperTucano, and tested it extensively. But when the Navy looked to move to Phase II, sending a detachment of four planes to Afghanistan, Congress slapped them down, hard. Imminent Fury had been run outside the normal procurement channels. That’s a pretty fair sized sin, in and off itself. But worse, the Navy was seen as giving EMBRAER the inside track on the Air Force LAARA program itself. NavAir was told in no uncertain terms that not only could they not lease four SuperTucanos, nor send them to Afghanistan, they couldn’t lease a single one, even stateside.

But Naval Aviators are wiley warriors, and a little thing like losing their airplane wasn’t going to ground them. They simply started looking around for another airplane. What they wanted was a light turboprop airplane, seating for two, capability to carry a fair ordnance load, and the ability to carry a sophisticated sensor system. Oh, and they had to be free.  And as it turn out, they had a pretty good idea where to find a couple. After all, the Navy (as well as the Marines and Air Force) had operated just such a plane once. The OV-10 Bronco. The Marines had modernized their fleet in the 1980s. When they’d retired them shortly after Desert Storm, they’d put some in the boneyard, given some to friendly nations, and  given a couple to NASA, who are always in the market for cheap aircraft to support various test programs.

And so, under a program called Combat Dragon II, the Navy is quietly operating those two NASA Broncos, updated and designated as the OV-10G+.

And it appears that whatever modifications the Navy wanted done were completed in-house at Patuxet River, MD, as now the aircraft, with Black Pony insignia as a nod to the heritage of VAL-4, are out west at Nellis AFB supporting various exercises to demonstrate their capabilities.

OV-10G+ at Nellis AFB

OV-10G+ at Nellis AFB

Click to greatly embiggenfy.

And the Bronco isn’t the only Cold War era COIN aircraft in the news.

There just may be a market for its uglier Army cousin, the OV-1 Mohawk.

Where the Bronco started as an attack aircraft with some reconnaissance capability, the Mohawk was a reconnaissance aircraft with some attack capability. But other than some very brief use early in the Vietnam War, its attack capability has languished.

But there is a market for quite a few nations that face internal instability, such as in South America, for an airplane or two (rather than a squadron) to support ground operations. And maybe the Bronco would be an ideal fit for them. But most of the Bronco fleet is worn out from hard use. But there are a goodly number of OV-1Ds sitting in the desert with a decent amount of fatigue life remaining.

And so, ATK, with other industry partners, is quietly getting into the business of updating, and arming, Mohawks for overseas users.

The latest version of the OV-1D Mohawk Armed with a 30 MM chain gun

Obvious changes from a stock OV-1D include the sensor turret under the nose, the rocket launchers on pylons outboard of the standard external fuel tanks, and most intriguingly of all, the 30mm M230 Chain Gun under the centerline. Presumably it is articulated in a manner similar to its use on the AH-64 Apache.

All this retro aviation stuff has me looking for some bell bottom jeans and a Nehru jacket.

9 Comments

Filed under Air Force, army, ARMY TRAINING, iraq, navy

Jargon~ Tool of a Profession, or Tool of the Devil?

I try to write this blog with the layman in mind, and as such, I try to either avoid jargon, or at a minimum, provide a simple definition so the reader can understand the topic.

The services have always been pretty bad about jargon, but lately, there seems to have been a great upswing in the need to provide the most buzzwords in every possible endeavor.  The former Centers and Schools for the various combat arms have now become Centers of Excellence!  Well, I guess prior to the change of title, they were merely centers of mediocrity.

The Army this morning sent me an update on the plan for getting all of its stuff out of Afghanistan in the coming months.   So, do they call it The Plan For Sending Equipment Home? Of course not.

The Retrograde, Reset, Redeployment, Redistribution and Disposal mission (R4D) in Afghanistan will be a herculean effort. It requires innovation and creativity to meet the national objective of retrograding equipment back to the United States. U.S. Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) the Army Service Component Command to U.S. Transportation Command, is committed to ensuring success of the Afghanistan R4D movement mission…

…SDDC created the Velocity-Volume, Distribution & Retrograde (V2DR) approach to support the R4D equipment retrograde from Afghanistan. V2DR is designed to balance volume (lower cost) and velocity (moving faster) of returning equipment to include exploiting Best Value Routing, sound equipping forecasts, and maintain a free flow of carrier multimodal sites while adhering to equipment required delivery dates. The Joint Distribution and Deployment Enterprise is responsible for R4D. According to SDDC transportation experts, the V2DR approach was developed under the assumption that Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication and the Northern Distribution Network are open.

It seems to me the added verbosity lends nothing to clarity of communication.  It’s not like the Army has never had to redeploy large numbers of vehicles and other equipment before. But apparently, the most important part here is coming up with new titles for old jobs.  One can only wonder how many staff officers spent how many man-hours devising these titles, and then putting together powerpoint briefs to seek approval from their general to so name such endeavors and programs.  Mind you, all that time spent on that, is time not spent actually achieving the redeployment.

Mind you, this isn’t just a small beans rant on my part.

This fetishizing of jargon has real consequences. When you cannot clearly articulate a concept in relatively simple terms, it is almost a certainty that you yourself have no firm grasp on what it is that you wish to convey.

Galrahn has a perfect example of this, based on the Navy’s highly successful Maritime Strategy of the 1980s, compared to the intellectual mush that passes for strategic though today.  Take a look at some of the slides from the earlier strategic statement:

—–

—–

—–

—–

I’ve skipped a bunch of slides, but let’s face it, the guidance above is pretty clear. Even a lubber like myself can gain the thrust of what it was the Secretary of the Navy, CNO, and Commandant of the Marine Corps were telling their subordinates, and the American public. More importantly, it was clear, specific guidance on how to fight a war.

Compare that to the pablum that passes for the Navy’s current capstone doctrinal statement today, The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. As Galrahn notes:

The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower has almost nothing in common with today’s US Navy, an organization that is being stretched to the limits to meet COCOM demands; a US Navy that is deployed for war in the Middle East; a US Navy that has been deployed again and again to conduct some form of combat operations throughout the rest of the Middle East and Africa since the day the maritime strategy was signed; and a US Navy that is involved in a major pivot to the Pacific specifically for the purposes of reassuring allies during the uncertainty associated with the rise of China, who hasn’t exactly been making friendly relations with neighbors when it comes to maritime territories.
Explain why we need italics to emphasize statements like Seapower will be a unifying force for building a better tomorrow? The US Navy doesn’t build a thing in the world, it insures access so that others build upon the peaceful prosperity the US Navy enables. (emphasis mine-XBradTC)

Seapower may well be a unifying force for building a better tomorrow, but the “strategy” does little to tell sailors or America how the Navy intends to achieve that, nor how it will fight should other nations decide their vision of tomorrow is significantly different.

Perhaps it is the irony of this politically correct age that we can have a Navy that is (somewhat) engaged in war, yet cannot bring itself to mention warfighting in the very document it presents to the American public to justify its continued relevance.

6 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Junior Officer Brain Drain?

As the Army slowly disengages from Afghanistan, and in the wake of Iraq, the Army is struggling to draw down its force levels, while cutting its budget, and maintaining a high state of readiness, all while trying to form a clear strategy and mission for the future.

In the midst of that, it is also trying to ensure that its best and brightest junior officers don’t seek greener pastures outside the military. One of the problems there is, those very same officers it wishes to retain are  both those most likely to successfully transition to outside employment, and most likely to chafe under the restrictions of a peacetime army.

Darrell Fawley, one of those  junior officers, shares his thoughts:

The debate about the Army losing its best junior officers between LTG (R) Barno and LTG Hodges on ForeignPolicy.com has been followed eagerly by many of my current and former (those that have left the service) peers.  While both have different views on the issue, both regard retaining the top 10-20% of officers as something important for the Army’s future.  As a junior officer who has performed in the top 10% of my peer group and decided to remain in the Army, I’d like to add to this discussion.  While I cannot speak for my entire demographic, I can provide insight.

I don’t believe that the majority of officers that make up this demographic expect the Army to put together some sort of bonus package to retain them.  I’ve never seen statistics on the bonus payments the Army made a few years ago, but I’ve only met one person who took the money that wasn’t already convinced he would stay in the Army.  I believe that most officers that stay in through a captain-level key assignment (generally command positions and primary staff roles) are not motivated by money or tangible benefits.  However, these officers want to feel like they are not just cogs in the wheel.  They have a level of experience way beyond what their superiors had at similar career points.  We are just now seeing battalion commanders who commanded companies in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Further, the complexity of their positions is way beyond that of what it is for their superiors in similar positions in the 1990’s.  These officers want trust, meaningful education and a voice, they want to be able to rise above their peers who perform below them and they want to see the Army progress not regress.

Read the whole thing.

5 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Artillery Organization

When the Marines defend their huge investment in Close Air Support, it’s largely because they need it. They simply don’t have a lot of tube artillery available for support. Why? Because they will never have enough amphibious shipping to move it.

The Army, on the other hand, has since the middle of the 19th Century had a long tradition of excellence in artillery, and accordingly places a lot of faith in a lot of guns.

Let’s compare some of the fire support available to a division. Organic to the Marine division is an artillery regiment. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this regiment had three battalions of light artillery, 105mm tubes, and one battalion of 155mm artillery. All four battalions had towed pieces.

At first glance, Army artillery seems quite comparable.  A light division had “Division Artillery”~ effectively a brigade, with three battalions of 105mm guns, and one battalion of 155mm guns, all towed.   Seems pretty comparable.

But if we leave the light divisions, and look at the Army’s heavy divisions, we see a somewhat more robust organization. Each mechanized or armored division had a similar organization, but different armament.

Heavy divisional DivArty had three battalions of self-propelled 155mm guns (each with a self-propelled ammo carrier). It also had a battalion of self-propelled 203mm (8”) guns. Eventually, the 8” battalion would be replaced by a single battery of MLRS 270mm rocket launchers.

But the story doesn’t end there. Army divisions in Europe were intended to fight as a part of a corps, and indeed, as a part of a field army. And a great deal of the combat power of a corps or field army is located in units outside of the divisions. Each heavy corps typically had two separate artillery brigades, each with four battalions, usually three of 155mm and one battalion of MLRS, as they phased out the 8” tubes.

One of the key precepts behind US Army artillery doctrine has always been concentration. If it’s worth shooting at, it’s worth shooting at a lot. So it would be typical for the main effort of a corps operation to receive the support of both corps artillery brigades. And within that main effort  division, it would be typical for the maneuver brigade forming the main effort to receive the support of all the guns of both the division and the corps artillery, or at least a priority claim to their fires.* Conceivably, one maneuver brigade of three battalions would have the support of 12, or even more, battalions of artillery. That’s a level of fire support a Marine regiment commander could only dream of. And that doesn’t count the attack helicopter and Air Force tac air support our notional Army brigade might receive.  And because all these heavy artillery brigades were self-propelled, they could rapidly shift support from one area to another.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Army no longer faces the spectre of a single division having to stem the onslaught of an entire Russian tank army. And the past decade of limited warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has seen a much smaller need for massed artillery fires.

Instead, today’s artillery has shifted emphasis from massing fires to longer ranges and greater precision, via such tools as rocket assisted projectiles, guided unitary warhead MLRS rockets, and guidance kits for conventional 155mm artillery that permits a limited “boost/glide” profile.  The battlefield a single maneuver brigade occupies is much larger than in years past, even as little as 20 years ago. And simply to cover that area, the supporting artillery either needs a longer range, or the greater lethality of guided rounds (that way, smaller units of artillery, such as a battery or even just a platoon can disperse over a wider area to support more units and cover more battlespace).

*I’ll leave it to URR or Esli to explain the doctrinal niceties of attached, OPCON, Direct Support, General Support, or General Support Reinforcing.

6 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Artillery