Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Precision Guidance Kit

Artillery, the King of Battle, has long produced more casualties on the battlefield than any other weapon system. Since World War I, the massive barrages of artillery have been used to suppress, disrupt, delay and destroy enemy formations.  Areas from an acre to several square miles have been pounded into submission.

But until very recently, artillery has been an area weapon. Only last year we wrote with wonder at the revolution made possible by precision guided artillery shells such as the XM892 Excalibur.  In effect, gunners now have a “sniper rifle” with a 20 mile range.

Here’s the Excalibur Wiki.

But the Excalibur ain’t cheap. It is in effect, a gun launched guided missile. And while fewer Excaliburs are needed to prosecute a target than traditional 155mm shells, there are only so many that can be carried in a basic load. Guns still need to carry conventional rounds in their caissons for missions that don’t require precision.

What the Army really wanted was a “bolt on” kit that could be added to a conventional 155mm HE round, much as laser guided bombs and JDAMS are simply guidance kits strapped onto conventional dumb bombs.

ATK Systems has finally fielded such a system. The Precision Guidance Kit is a self contained fuze kit that simply screws into the fuze well of a conventional High Explosive 155mm round. This keeps production costs, shipping costs and training costs down. No special handling for the round is required, and there’s no need to carry additional types of ammunition, just additional fuzes.

Recently, active Army fielding of PGK has begun.  April 16 saw the arrival in Afghanistan of the fielding teams, and deployment with direct support artillery.

Fewer rounds to destroy a target, less collateral damage, better first round accuracy, and a relatively low cost. This is one quiet little program that has delivered.

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Artillery

Charter Cargo B747 Crash At Bagram

No sign of enemy action, in spite of what the Taliban may claim. Some reports of a load shift changing the center of gravity. That fits the video, but it is hardly conclusive. Other issues could include a faulty configuration for take-off or crew error.  The B747-400F normally has an operating crew of 2, but this aircraft has 7 souls on board. All were lost.

[Update: Welcome, Ace of Spades Morons- Poke around a bit.]

[Update 2- Welcome Hot Air readers]

Here’s the Aviation Safety Network post with some background on the incident aircraft, carrier, airport and the incident itself.

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Filed under Afghanistan

Bagram Batman

One of the annoyances of being stationed overseas was Armed Forces Networks, the provider of pretty much the only English language television available back in the late 80s/early 90s. It wasn’t so much that the programming was bad and out of date. The problem was, unlike regular commercial television, the “commercials” were in fact public service announcements from the Army reminding you of such weighty matters as “don’t bounce checks at the PX,” and “don’t beat your wife and kids,” and the ever popular “don’t abandon your privately owned vehicle when you rotate back to the states.” All delivered with the charm and panache one expects out of a government run entity.

AFN still runs overseas networks, particularly in fun places like Afghanistan, home to the sprawling Bagram Airbase. And while I’m certain most of the AFN produced content is as lame as it ever was, at least one campaign has shown someone, somewhere, screwed up and let a little humor into the system.

Meet Bagram Batman.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web

Call Me Maybe

I’m pretty sure I posted this somewhere a couple months ago when it first came out, but it is making the rounds again, and I can’t be sure if I posted it here or not.

So, a couple years ago, Canadian pop singer made the wildly popular ditty “Call Me, Maybe” with a rather uninspired video. Then the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders last year made their own video of it, which, let’s face it, was awesome. So awesome, some US troops deployed overseas did a scene by scene cover. So call it a two-fer. Guys, watch the right hand side, ladies, watch the left hand side.

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Filed under Afghanistan, ARMY TRAINING

Bronco at PAX

So, after Congress shut down the Navy’s plan to lease and operate four A-29B Super Tucanos in Afghanistan, it looks like the Navy has decided to try another tack.

Several OV-10 Broncos are still operational outside the DoD. Now comes word that the Navy has snagged one that NASA has been using and is apparently going to retrofit it to a combat capable role.

I’m stealing some info from a forum for veterans of VAL-4, the Navy squadron that operated the Bronco in Vietnam.

The following is provided courtesy of the OV-10 Bronco Association, Inc.  Thanks.

[redacted by XBrad] had the privilege of attending the first public showing of the updated OV-10G+ being operated by the Nay’s RCU-1, as a “Black Pony.” They are preparing a second airplane for light attack, battle field management and communications roles or as the unit calls it; “Find-Fix-Finish.” The airplanes are flown by Navy pilots with Marne WSO’s in the back seat. The ground crews include both Navy and Air Force personnel. This is not a Boeing project, it is a Navy program. The attached pictures and video were taken at NAS PAX river on March 22nd.

  If all goes well, this airplane will be joined by a second one. Both airplanes came from NASA and pervious to that were used by the State Department as spray airplanes. Before that, they belonged to the Marine Corps. If everything works out right, both airplanes will be here in Fort Worth for BroncoFest May 3 to 5, 2013.

  At present this project is proof of concept and is only funded through October. After that is anybody’s guess.

  You will notice there are no sponsons on the airplane. Those will be added soon. The normal configuration for the missions will be centerline and with external fuel and four seven shot pods for laser guided 2,75″ rockets.

Bronco image002 image003 image004 image005 image006 image007 image008 image009 image010

Funded through October means to the end of the current fiscal year. We’ll see what the FY14 budget has. I presume the impetus for this is coming from the special operations side of the house more than the NavAir side, and the fact that is as far along as it is says SPECWAR finds it pretty important. It wouldn’t suprise me a bit if they got money for next year, and maybe even another couple aircraft. There’s still quite a few Broncos out at the Boneyard.

And while they’ll eventually add the sponsons, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just forego installing the M60D guns in them. Mostly they’ll want the sponsons for holding the rocket pods.

As a long time fan of the OV-10, I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. Why the heck didn’t we do this a decade ago?

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Filed under Afghanistan, Around the web, navy, planes

Graveyard of Peaches: How Tennessee Will Win Its War Against Georgia | Danger Room | Wired.com

The War Between the States ended almost 150 years ago, but the Georgia state senate is making threatening noises against its neighbor. It should think twice. Occupying Iraq and Afghanistan is a cakewalk compared to the hellscape that southeast Tennessee poses for an invading army.

Last week, the Georgia state senate voted to sue the state of Tennessee in order to claim a sliver of land that would grant Georgia access to the Tennessee River. Georgia, readers must understand, has mismanaged its own water resources to the point where it now struggles to supply enough water for the residents of Atlanta (and its sprawling suburbs and exurbs) to fill their above-ground pools and wash the TruckNutz on their mini-vans. Dangerously, the state is actually seeking to redraw a border that has kept the peace for over 200 years, and all over a crucial resource — a resource belonging, rightfully, to the Tennessee of my ancestors.

I have nothing against (most parts of) Georgia. Growing up, though, my mother would drive my sister and me south on I-75, ostensibly to watch a Braves game or visit our cousins, but really to show us the horrors of life beyond the green mountains and valleys of our native southeast Tennessee, where much of my family remains. Other parts of Georgia are lovely: I had the good fortune to be stationed in Savannah for several years while serving in the U.S. Army. But the greater Atlanta area is a horrible twisted mess of concrete overpasses and far-flung skyscrapers. Once south of Cartersville, it’s easy to understand why William Tecumseh Sherman thought it wisest to just burn the whole place down and start over.

via Graveyard of Peaches: How Tennessee Will Win Its War Against Georgia | Danger Room | Wired.com.

Andrew might just have had his tongue just a bit in cheek here. After all, it was published on April Fools Day.

On the other hand, it is a pretty apt metaphor for the responses our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan have used. And having had a couple of Tennesseans working for me, yes, they are a fractious bunch.

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About that Air Force Chaplain getting the Bronze Star…

So, some folks are pretty upset to learn that an Air Force chaplain was awarded the Bronze Star Medal (BSM) for writing a power point presentation in the wake of a Koran burning incident in Afghanistan.

After the accidental burning last year of Qurans by U.S. troops in Afghanistan sparked deadly rioting, an Air National Guard chaplain from Springfield stepped in and potentially saved countless American lives.
For his effort, Lt. Col. Jon Trainer received the prestigious Bronze Star — a medal given for heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with operations against an armed enemy.

 

And he did it with a PowerPoint presentation. . . .

Within 48 hours, Trainer developed a PowerPoint presentation on the proper handling and disposal of Islamic religious material that was seen by every American — military and civilian alike — in Afghanistan. The presentation then was distributed to the U.S. for use in all pre-deployment training.

Well, that would certainly seem to be rather insulting to  the large numbers of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines (and the odd Coastie) who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other theaters in the Global War on Terror, and not received a Bronze Star.

It seems particularly frustrating as the news comes today that another chaplain will finally be recognized for his valor and intrepidity more than 60 years later.

But here’s the thing…

First, LTC Trainer is in no way the bad guy here. Lot’s of people saw the article at NRO and are ready to let their outrage meters max out. He actually felt the need to step into the comment section:

Hey folks. Lt Col Trainer here. I am an almost daily frequenter to “The Corner.” Imagine my surprise when a friend pointed out I was actually on the corner!

This is an end of tour award. Standard fair for the rank, position, and responsibility I held during this tour–Training Chaplain for all the of the chaplains in Afghanistan and Garrison Chaplain at New Kabul Compound in Kabul. Events of serious consequence occurred while in theater; the article highlights those. The way the original article is written implies the BSM was given for writing a PPT presentation. This does not represent the facts nor the bullet points in the BSM write-up.

I am quite disappointed that NRO didn’t bother to look into this situation a bit deeper before posting an article that seems to undermine my six month deployment in service of our great nation and the troops I am proud to serve.

He is quite correct. Such an award to a field grade officer at the conclusion of a tour overseas (known as an EoT or End of Tour award) is typical, and would normally only be remarkable by its absence. That is, if LTC Trainer had not received an award, people would wonder how he screwed up.

And this kerfuffle shows up one of the great problems with the Bronze Star Medal.

Created in 1944, it was an conceived as roughly analogous to the Air Medal for meritorious service or valor, less than that worthy of the Silver Star, but still worthy of recognition.  The requirements were:

(a) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
(b) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
(c) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

But there’s the rub. It is awarded either for meritorious service, or for valor. Those Bronze Stars awarded for valor are marked with a metallic “V” device. But it is entirely possible to earn the BSM without ever hearing a shot fired in anger, so long as you are deployed within a theater of operations. Worse yet, those medals that would normally recognize meritorious service, such as the Meritorious Service Medal, may not be awarded for service in a combat theater.

As a rule of thumb, when I see a Bronze Star without a “V” device, I automatically assume it is in the nature of an “I was there” award. Some people do earn them for one especially meritorious achievement during a tour, but most are simply EoTs.  But a BSM with the “V” device is an entirely different matter. Theoretically, all valorous awards of the BSM are roughly the same. I, and many others, tend to suspect that in reality, the award of a BSM(V) is a little easier for a senior NCO or officer than it is for a junior enlisted troop.  Further, there is a very strong feeling that the likelihood of a BSM award varies greatly between the services. The Marines especially, but also the Navy, are notoriously stingy with them, while the Army and especially the Air Force are seen as generous with them.

Personally, I favor a fairly generous policy for awards for valor. And indeed, I’ve no real problem with a fairly generous policy for awards in general. Heck, for a guy with a grand total of four days of combat time, I’ve got a fruit salad that makes me look like I defeated the Republican Guard singlehandedly armed only with a P-38 can opener. I never went hunting for awards, but I never turned one down, either. So I’d be a bit hypocritical if I started bitching about it now.

But so long as the Bronze Star remains an award both for doing your job well, and as an award for great personal valor, it will be especially controversial. To a lesser extent so will the services Commendation medals. The Department of Defense should take this opportunity to overhaul its awards program, and make the BSM strictly an award for valor. Lifting the restriction of awarding “peacetime” medals while deployed to a combat zone will still give the services ample opportunity to recognize merit, and restore some of the  prestige to its awards.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, ARMY TRAINING

Chinook

(Repost from 2009)

We’ve covered helicopters here before, such as the Huey, the Blackhawk, the OH-58 Kiowa and of course, Cobra and Apache gunships. Let’s talk about the big boy on the block. The Chinook. Or as it became known almost instantly in the Army, the Shithook. The CH-47 is the Army’s largest helicopter, used to transport critical logistical items, troops and artillery around the battlefield.

ch47

The Chinook has been around for a long time. It’s first flight was in 1961. But the issues surrounding its development deserve a little attention. In the late 1950s, the Army and helicopter designers began to realize that piston engines would never become a very efficient way of powering helicopters. Gas turbines (jet engines that provided power through a driveshaft, rather than thrust) were finally becoming a practical option for military use. With the advent of these new engines, the Army took a long look at what the next generation of helicopters should look like. Just how big should they be? At the same time, the concept of “air assault” or landing troops directly on the battlefied started to form. What was the best way to move troop unit? Should you use a smaller helicopter that could lift a squad? Or would the better bet be to use somewhat larger helicopters that could lift 15-20 men?  Smaller helicopters would cost more in the long run, but losing one helicopter in the assault wouldn’t result in as many casualties. The Army first decided to go with the larger helicopter, of about 20 men. The Vertol Company (later bought by Boeing) provided the Model 107. But the debate in the Army over helicopter size raged on. Some thought that the new UH-1B Huey could be scaled up to carry a full squad. That would handle most air assualt requirements, and still have a relatively cheap helicopter. The Model 107 would be larger than was needed. The other half of the problem was moving artillery and supplies. The Model 107 was just a bit too small for that job. The ideal was to move a 105mm howitzer, its crew, and a load of ammunition all in one lift by one helicopter. Boeing went back to the drawing board. The Model 114 was the result, and was soon bought by the Army as the CH-47 Chinook. And it wasn’t very long before the Chinook found itself in Vietnam, as part of the airmobile 1st Cavalry Division.  With Hueys to conduct the initial assualt, and Chinooks bringing in the follow-on elements and moving artillery, the Army’s pattern of air assault missions was set so soundly that it is relatively unchanged 40-odd years later.

But don’t feel bad for the Model 107. Even though it wasn’t selected by the Army, its development continued. Largely because the Marines didn’t have a lot of space on the Navy’s helicopter carriers, they were forced to go with  a somewhat larger helicopter. And the Model 107 fit the bill perfectly. They bought it as the CH-46 and operate it to this day.

Early Chinooks had engines of about 2,200 horsepower each. This was very quickly upgraded to about 2,600hp each. And improvements didn’t stop there. The rotor blades, rear pylon design, and transmission were all upgraded through the A, B, and C models to improve performance.  In the 1980s, the design was again refreshed, with attention focusing again on more horsepower, but also greatly improved avionics and better reliability, resulting in the CH-47D. Many “D” models were conversions from older models, but there were also quite a few new built airframes. These were delivered up until 2002.  And right about the time the last “D” model was delivered, the work on the latest model moved into high gear.

The newest model, the CH-47F is really an old model. While there will be some newbuild airframes, most will be remanufactured CH-47Ds. And since most of the “D” models were remanufactured earlier models, there will be some airframes well over 30 years old that will be expected to soldier on for another 20. Because of this, a large part of the program will be rebuilding them to make them easier to maintain, reducing vibration, making sure the components don’t have any fatigue issues, and making any issues easier to detect. Improvements in the avionics will include updating the instruments to the latest common “glass cockpit” standard, as well as building in the cabapility of operating in the Force XXI digital environment, which is the Army’s version of a battlefield internet.  Not surprisingly, the Army is going with more powerful engines as well. The latest version of the Chinook engines put out almost 4,900 hp each. The Chinook has gone from a useful load of 7,000 pounds in its early days, to over 21,000 pounds in the “F” modeland the new models are faster. Think about that. How many of us are faster and stronger now that we’re over 40?

By now, you ought to have figured out that the ‘hook is a pretty capable helicopter. Lots of other folks have reached that conclusion as well. Very few other nations have the same air assault capability that we do, but having a few heavy lift helicopters around is handy for them as well. Several other nations, notable Great Britain, the Dutch, and the Japanese have bought various versions of the Chinook. When Great Britain attacked to recapture the Falklands in 1982, they lost several Chinooks aboard the Atlantic Conveyor. Their one remaining Chinook was put to work, doing the job of several helicopters. In one instance, instead of carrying its normal load of 55 troops, the sole Chinook lifted 105 fully loaded troops. There are several tales of Chinooks in the Vietnam war carrying over 100 people (though usually lightly loaded Vietnamese civilians). I’ve been in a Chinook with about 40 other people- I can’t imagine just how crowded it was with over 100.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that without  the Chinook, the Army in Afghanistan would be crippled. Many of the smaller outposts can only be reached by helicopter. Given the high elevations and hot weather there, Blackhawks, normally very capable birds, struggle to carry a useful load. The Chinook, with its greater power, is able to support these high/hot outposts.

With the new “F’ models just beginning to come into service, we can expect this long serving veteran to serve for as much as 30 more years.

Mind you, we’ve scrimped on discussing the gunship version, or the several special operations versions. But here’s  a last look at the bird for you.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry, iraq

Range Time

One of the things about the Army I disliked the most was its ability to take one of life’s more enjoyable activities, shooting, and suck just about every scintilla of pleasure from it.  Endless, repetitive safety briefings, rodding the barrel on the line, clearing again and again, unrealistic scenarios, uncomfortable firing positions (seriously, every range worldwide uses the same uncomfortable gravel- what’s wrong with grass?), rodding off the line, brass and ammo checks.

Life fire maneuver events were marginally better, but still less than they could have been. Sometimes because of range geography, maneuver was severely constrained. Other times, the risk aversion was so high, it led to unrealistic maneuver, reinforcing bad habits, rather than good training.

One of the big risk mitigation techniques back before the current wars was an absolute ban on any kind of fire while standing or moving. While troops did this all the time using blanks or during force on force training, it was utterly verbotten during any sort of live ammunition event.

Of course, that silly restriction has changed as the reality of warfare has led to changes in training.  But because teams often fire while moving, intense training has to take place.  The three big rules of firearms safety don’t go away just because you are headed for combat.

If you have a large enough area, it doesn’t take a lot to devise a useful close combat range, at least for small elements, from individual to team sized.

I find it interesting that the teams are composed of members from all services. I’m not knocking the other services, but defining teams by service would seem to decrease friction, and speed training. But that’s just me.

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AC-130

A little 105mm to delouse a ridgeline.

Timber!

H/T: Weasel Zippers

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Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, army, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery

SSG Romesha, MoH, in his own words

H/T to This Ain’t Hell.

Esli and Outlaw gotta be lovin’ the Stetson.

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KMax

Kaman  Helicopters has a long history of taking an… unconventional approach to solving the challenges of rotary winged flight. A few years ago, they looked at the issue of helicopters with external loads, and decided that what was needed was something smaller than the enormous CH-54 Skycrane. But to maximize the external load, as little helicopter as possible would be used. And rather than the traditional crew of two, it would only use one pilot. Little helicopter, big load.

Taking the idea even further, and teaming up with LockMart, they decided no pilot was an even better option. Pretty soon, they’d paired up with the Marines to test this unmanned helicopter for delivering supplies to remote outposts in Afghanistan. Flying in supplies by helo reduces the number of ground convoys needed, reducing their vulnerability to IEDs. And by using an unmanned helicopter, that reduces the risk to aircrews, and frees up conventional helicopters for troop movements or evac missions or other uses.

I’m not entirely sold that this is an especially cost effective program, but it is pretty interesting to watch.

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Filed under Afghanistan, helicopters, marines

Decisive Action Training

DAT, Decisive Action Training, is the Army’s new moniker for a non-COIN, full spectrum warfare scenario where our units engage near-peer, professional, well equipped forces, to include mechanized forces. The “full spectrum” part means that even while engaging these capable enemy forces, our friendly forces is concurrently expected to perform the full range of missions such as stability and security operations, and provide training and support to host nation forces.

For the past decade, the needs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dictated that the Army’s Combat Training Centers (CTCs)  have focused almost exclusively on training brigade combat teams for COIN operations, usually as a capstone exercise during a training rotation just before deployment. But with the end of operations in Iraq, and with the end of the surge of forces to Afghanistan, the CTCs have begun to shift back toward a more “force on force” regimen.

As Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy’s Best Defense blog tells us, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment * recently went through one of these first DATs. Tom is more than a little concerned that a lot of the basic warfighting skills of brigades have eroded. He links to the following report as evidence of this failure of units to train to a sufficient level:

If you read just Tom’s article, and the above report, you’ll get the impression that 2CR can’t find their asses with both hands and a map GPS. Personally, without having seen either the complete After Action Review package, nor having actually seen 2CR operate, I can make some fairly educated guesses as to what the ground truth is here.

First, I’m certain 2CR did have any number of major shortcomings in its training rotation at Hoehenfels. That’s kind of the whole point of training. Rotations at CTCs are explicitly designed to stress the entire unit, particularly the command and control elements of a brigade combat team. Some units do well at rotations, and some do poorly, but none do a rotation perfectly. There are always things a unit can do to improve. Secondly, as much as the rotation is for training the brigade in the rotation, it is also a key tool for helping Big Army identify those trends that it needs to focus on across the entire force.

For instance, the report above spends a good deal of time identifying shortcomings in 2CRs approach to Mission Command, the Army’s current doctrine for how leaders command missions. Ideally, through MC, a commander identifies those tasks that he needs his subordinate commanders to accomplish in order to accomplish his own mission. He then tasks his subordinates to do those missions within  broad guidelines, leaving the details of exactly how to do it to them. This frees the commander to focus more on the big picture, and spend his time synchronizing operations, and better able to control the overall operation. But sadly, far too often, commanders, while following the party line on MC, fail to actually implement the philosophy. The report claims MC is something of a radical departure from previous command and control doctrine, but this is a tad misleading. In fact, almost since the end of World War II, the Army has touted some form of Mission Command, under various names, as the correct approach. As always, the problem has been that many commanders at all levels are often loathe to truly allow junior leaders the authority and autonomy to plan and conduct their own operations. Proper implementation of MC is a delicate balance of granting autonomy, while still ensuring that subordinate command operations are truly oriented to supporting the overall mission and synchronized in time and space with the higher command. All the networking and battle management tools available don’t magically provide this balance. That’s why today’s doctrine correctly notes that while “control” is a science, “command” is an art.

Ironically, the report identifies units operating in a COIN environment being under closer micromanagement than under a Decisive Action environment. But in truth, given the huge geographical areas a unit might operate in during COIN, sub-units often have far more autonomy. Decisive Action against a near-peer mechanized force calls for a far more concentrated friendly force, and commanders tend to exercise far more close control over the immediate actions of subordinate units. As an example, during Desert Storm, my brigade issued its order, the subordinate battalions issued their own orders, then each company issued its order, just as they are supposed to. But during the actual operation, the entire brigade moved as a single formation, with almost every combat vehicle being within visual range of the commander at all times. The subordinate commanders were, in effect, little more than guides for the rest of the vehicles.

There are some troubling aspects to the report. The basic field skills of the troops surely need some work. On the other hand, that’s a pretty easy skill set to teach, compared to some other tasks ahead of 2CR. Relearning to integrate the full capabilities of supporting fires will take a bit more effort. Without actually going out and shooting a lot of very expensive stuff, on very scarce ranges, it’s hard to truly learn that art.

Finally, while not excusing any shortcomings that 2CR may have, allow me to offer some reasons why they may not have performed as well as might be hoped.

Imagine the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Take the entire defensive roster, one of the better lineups around. Work them hard, all season long, game after game. Then suddenly tell them they’ll be graded, not on how well they perform on game day, but on how well they perform on a practice scrimmage. Against an NFL team. And oh, yeah, instead of playing defense, you’ll be playing the offense.  And for good measure, you still have to go out next weekend, and play a real game. As defense.

You see, 2CR has been focused on COIN for a long time. As was right and proper. And not only that, they have a deployment to Afghanistan scheduled, in which they will be, again, performing COIN operations. Just how focused were they on performing DAT?  I’d wager there were some folks in the chain of command that felt DAT was a distraction rather than a real training opportunity.

After a decade in which virtually every Brigade Combat Team in the Army has deployed and fought in a COIN environment, a decade where the Army had to relearn small war operations often at great pain, it is time for the Army to return its focus to more traditional warfighting capabilities. But to think that is a skillset units will instantly master is unrealistic. It’s going to take time, effort, sweat and more than a few hurt feelings to return to the level of competency that units need to establish.

*In spite of its name and having squadrons and troops rather than battalions and companies, 2nd Cavalry Regiment is in fact just another Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

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Daily Dose of Splodey

Marines in Afghanistan bringing some heat.

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Camp Bastion and other morning news.

Roamy expressed some frustration that she couldn’t find a lot of articles on the attack on Camp Bastion. Well, the papers have started to catch up.  I can’t think of a time since Vietnam when the US lost 6 planes on the ramp. Here’s a little more detail on the attack:

www.reuters.com1

Click to embiggen. It’s a big graphic.

Here’s an article at Long Wars Journal that gets into some detail.

The Marines have a long history of fighting to defend the perimeter of an airfield. In fact, exactly 70 years ago, the 1st Marine Division was ashore on Guadalcanal, fighting to hold onto Henderson field. And more than just small infiltration teams faced them. As of September 1942, the forces on the island were roughly equal. And the IJN would send heavy cruisers and battleships to blast Henderson Field repeatedly in the course of one of the closest run campaigns of the war.  So while the loss of two Marines, and 6 jets hurts, it’s not going to mean the end of operations there. 

……

China unviels yet another stealthy fighter.

Mind you, building one prototype doesn’t a fleet of fighters make. The prototype of the F-22 flew on 29 September, 1990. It would be another 15 years before it became operational.  Still, Mitt Romney’s plan to reopen F-22 production sounds pretty good to me, even with an estimated $1bn in startup costs.

…..

The WaPo has an interesting article on the B61 bomb and the costs of maintaining the nuclear inventory. Of course, since there is zero political support for developing new weapons, the old ones will have to soldier on, and that means increasingly expensive support.

The B61 is the backbone of “bombs” (as opposed to missile warheads) in our arsenal.  The primary delivery platform is the B-2 bomber. There was a time not too long ago, however, that if you flew fast jets, you qualified for and trained for a nuclear delivery mission. Today? I doubt more than a handful of tactical air pilots in  any service have ever flown a nuclear strike profile.  Maybe a few guys in the F-15E community. Dunno. It’s not something the Air Force spends a lot of time talking about these days.

…..

All sorts of good stuff like this over at War News Updates.

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Marines on Patrol

Your reading assignment for the day. I kid URR that I hate to give the Marines any publicity when every squad already has its own PAO, but this is a great article. And the very first thing that leapt out at me was how reminiscent of pictures of the beaches of Iwo Jima this picture is:

iwo jima redux

There are a couple minor quibbles to be had, but overall, a great article. Business Insider is quickly becoming one of my regular reads.

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Daily Dose of Splodey

I think you’ve seen most of these. Consider this a “best of” compilation. Some NSFW language.

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British MLRS in A-Stan

The Multiple Launch Rocket System was originally intended as the long range counterbattery weapon at divisional and corps level. Unguided rockets with a 70km range would rain bomblets onto Soviet artillery concentrations to suppress them and prevent them from firing on our troops. But the addition of the GPS guided round, with its single, 225 pound warhead, has transformed it into a versatile complement to close air support. Here the Brits drop some warheads on foreheads.

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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.

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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 24.kg 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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Howitzer Fire: M777

Howitzer fire

Caption:

Soldiers from 3rd Howitzer Section, Alpha Battery, 2-8th Field Artillery fire the M777 at COP Wolverine in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.

Poetry in motion…

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The Future of the Combat Outpost

From Tet during the Vietnam war to the present day, our enemies have intuitively grasped that the key to defeating the US lies not so much in success on the battlefield, but in eroding popular domestic support of US campaigns. In virtually every battle the US has fought in the last 50 years, the US has been able to seize terrain virtually at will, and inflict casualties on its enemies at ratios from 10-1 to 100-1.  In a strictly military sense, we’re unbeatable.

But unless and until the US is willing to reduce the lands of its enemies to utter wastelands, the enemy has only to remain a viable threat, and wait until the US forces inevitably return home. They then resume their campaign to overthrow any existing regime, and establish themselves as the ruling power, and in the process, crow about their victory of the the evil forces of America.

For a couple of reasons, such as media bias, as well as access to information, US victories over the forces of darkness receive far less coverage than US defeats. Accordingly, our enemies strive to defeat US forces in any venue, regardless of any tactical or operational military significance those operations may have.

In any counter-insurgency campaign, the first and most important objective of our forces is to secure the local population. That means US forces have to be co-located with them. Given the small numbers of troops we can commit at any one time and place, this necessarily means only small units can be positioned in most towns and villages, at most a company, but more commonly a reinforced platoon.  These forces are positioned in what are, in Army jargon, “Combat Outposts,” or COPs. Ideally, COPs are located close enough to be mutually supporting, either by fires or maneuver. Sadly, geography often means that isn’t possible.

Further, the small numbers of troops available to any COP means the commander is faced with the challenge of sustaining a viable defense of the COP, while also needed to get outside the wire. There are two reasons he needs to go out. First, the force MUST engage the local population. US forces must provide, and be SEEN to provide, physical security against insurgent forces, support host nation civic institutions and security forces, promote infrastructure development and generally “show the flag.” Further, US forces have to patrol within their areas of influence to deny enemy forces safe havens, and provide early warning of any impending attacks on their COP.  In Iraq, during the surge, the COP was part of an “ink blot” strategy in which a COP would first provide security for itself, then the immediate surrounding area, then through the use of offensive patrolling and attacks on insurgent hide positions, expand its region of security and influence. Obviously, the more terrain you secure, the more troops you need.

Hunkering down in FOBs and COPs just isn’t an option. Before the surge, US forces often didn’t have the manpower to get out among the population to the degree needed to establish control over any area greater than their compound.  But these compounds still needed to be supplied with fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts, and personnel. This lead to supply convoys having to travel through areas that US forces could not secure. Logistical units, those least suited for combat operations, became the focus of insurgent attacks, both from IEDs and from ambushes.  When your entire fight comes down to securing your supply lines solely to support bases which exist only to protect themselves, you’re fighting a losing battle. The initial impulse is to consolidate your forces in order to shorten your lines of supply and reduce the vulnerability of your supply lines. But granting an insurgent force a safe haven is a losing proposition.

Eventually, the Surge allowed US commanders enough manpower to both establish an interlocking network of COPs, and the forces to operate outside the wire to provide security to neighborhoods, villages, towns and entire cities.

Similar, though not identical, circumstances are in effect today in Afghanistan. There are combat outposts scattered throughout areas occupied by US forces.  While the Taliban forces have little chance of defeating US troop units on a large scale, that doesn’t mean that they cannot conceivable mass sufficient forces to defeat a platoon COP. Militarily, the destruction of one US platoon doesn’t mean much. The Taliban would not be able to retain the position. They’d be exposed to destruction by US forces. But that isn’t their objective, is it?   The blow to domestic American political support for operations there would be worth almost any price the Taliban paid. The secondary effect of showing the local population that the US was unable to guarantee their security would be an added bonus.

Via War News Updates, we find this article from Wired that discusses insurgent attempts to overrun one US COP.

 

Twice in the span of a month, the Taliban has unleashed human waves on one of the U.S. Army’s most isolated Afghan outposts. Twice, the American soldiers guarding the tiny fort have beat back the attackers, killing scores of extremists while suffering no losses of their own.

The U.S. troops’ skill, and luck, have been remarkable. They’re going to need both, as more large-scale attacks seem likely.

The Oct. 7 and Nov. 8 assaults on Combat Outpost Margah, in remote Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan, came almost exactly a year after one of the biggest pitched battles of the decade-long war. An October 2010 attack on COP Margah by hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers wielding rockets and AK-47s resulted in a lopsided tactical victory for the Americans. More than 90 Taliban died in a counter-barrage of gunfire, helicopter-fired missiles and satellite-guided bombs. As in the recent assaults, no Americans died — though the fighting left deep psychological scars.

If Army forces can keep the Taliban at bay for as little as 30 minutes, they can call upon massive amounts of firepower to support them, and break the back of the enemy’s assault.  But relying on luck isn’t what we are paying our military leaders for.

ADP 3.0, the Army’s capstone doctrine publication, foresees a future battlefield where combat will take place across a spectrum from low-level civil disturbances, to small scale insurgency, to mid-intensity conflict*, all simultaneously in a single theater.  As such, it is almost inevitable that any future theater the US deploys to will see distributed operations that include numbers of small troop formations establishing COPs.

Back in 2008, at what came to be known as the Battle of Wanat, the enemy was able to seize the initiative and inflict significant casualties on a US platoon as it was establishing a COP. A combination of geography, lack of troops, bad weather, and lack of early warning lead to the loss of 9 US soldiers lives, with many more wounded.  The Rand Corporation, a think tank with a long history of providing analytical support to the US defense industry, has provided a “hot wash” review of the situation at Wanat, and offers a look at potential solutions that the leadership on the ground faced there.  The document is a 36 page .pdf, but the meat of the document is only about 15 pages. I’d encourage you to download it and read it for yourself.

While most of the proposed solutions to the tactical problems described are technical, the fact is, the answer is, as always, in leadership and training. Small unit leaders such as platoon leaders, must be trained and capable of applying METT-TC analysis and implementing troop leadership procedures to prepare for operations in remote locations in which supporting ISR assets, fire support, and reinforcement from other units may not be close at hand. Leaders at company, battalion, and brigade level have to be aware of the difficulties they are imposing on these small detachments. They have to have a plan in place to support them. In fact, they’d better have a strong plan in place to determine whether establishing a COP at a given location at a given time is a wise use of their limited resources, or whether operations elsewhere should be used first to facilitate follow-on operations with a greater chance of success.

*Mid-intensity conflict being what we think of as traditional war, force on force, organized army against organized army. High-intensity war being reserved to describe nuclear war.

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The 105mm Howitzer

Whenever someone mentions artillery, the mental image that springs into my mind is a crew of redlegs from World War II or maybe Vietnam loading and firing a 105mm howitzer.

The primary light artillery piece of the Army in World War I was the 75mm howitzer  M1897 GUN (thanks, Craig) , based on a French design. President Truman commanded a battery of them as a Captain in the war.

But the Army wasn’t very happy with the French 75. It was light and handy, but the round wasn’t very impressive. It lacked penetration against fortification, and the range was rather anemic. Something better was wanted.

The Army used some of its tiny interwar budget to develop a 105mm gun in the early 1920s. It was generally pleased with the results, but there was simply no money to replace the 75mm guns in the inventory. More importantly, there was no money to replace the vast stocks of 75mm ammo in the inventory.

With the huge increases in military spending just prior to World War II, money finally became available for improvements to the Army, and the new 105mm howitzer was one of the top priorities. Having spent almost 20 years refining the design, the M2 105mm howitzer was quickly built in large numbers, becoming the standard artillery piece of virtually every infantry division.

The M2 (later to be redesignated the M101) and it variants was a weapon with a sliding horizontal breech block mounted on a conventional split trail carriage. That is, the gun rested over a two wheeled axle and the trails of the carriage would be used to tow it behind its 2-1/2 ton truck prime mover. When emplaced, the trails were split, and spades at the end of the trails were used to dig in the gun and absorb some of the recoil. The gun also had a hydropnuematic recoil system.

TM M2A1 left side

TM M2A1 right side

The tube could elevate to provide plunging fires at long ranges, or be lowered for direct fires if needed. There was a limited ability to traverse the tube on the carriage. If the tube needed to traversed more than that, the trails had to be dug up, the entire carriage moved by lifting and moving the trails, and the gun relaid by the aiming stakes.

The gun fired a 33 pound high explosive projectile using semi-fixed ammunition with a base charge and six increments.

Semi-fixed means that each round came with the projectile, fuze, cartridge case and powder in one complete assembly, much as you’d think of a single round of small arms ammunition. But the projectile could easily be removed from the powder cartridge, and the increments removed as needed to vary the range of the round. The projectile would be placed back onto the cartridge case prior to firing. Between this and the manually operated sliding wedge breechblock, a rapid rate of fire could be achieved.

The 33 pound M1 High Explosive projectile was heavy enough, and had enough explosive power that it could penetrate most earthen field fortifications such as foxholes and bunkers. Fused for instantaneous action (and later with VT) it was devastating against troops in the open. In addition, smoke, illumination and other projectiles were available.

With a range of 12,200 yards, the M2/M101 was well suited for its role as a direct support weapon for the infantry regiments.  Each infantry division would have three 18 gun battalions in the division artillery (three batteries of six guns each) for a total of 54 guns. While division often retained control of the battalions to concentrate on divisional targets, it was very common to see each infantry regiment operating with an artillery battalion in a dedicated direct support role. Often, this infantry/artillery partnership was called a Regimental Combat Team.

The M2/M101 was a very successful design, and remained in front line service well into the 1960s with our Army. In fact, the Canadian Army still uses a modified variant.

Two offshoots of the M2/M101 deserve mention here. First, with the rise of armored divisions in our Army in WWII, it quickly became apparent that self-propelled artillery would be needed to keep up with the fast moving tanks (and their half-track mounted infantry). Surplus M3 Grant tank hulls (and later purpose built M4 tank hulls) were modified to mount the M2 105mm gun.

300px-M7_Priest_at_APG

The resulting M7 Priest was highly successful, remaining in service for many years.

The other offshoot was the M3 105mm gun. Airborne forces were in their infancy during World War II. There was no capability to drop large heavy loads. The only way to bring vehicles and artillery to the airborne battle was by glider. But the M2 was simply too large for the Army’s CG-4 gliders. As a result, airborne divisions had to settle for the old 75mm gun as their divisional artillery.  At least until someone had the idea of a “sawed off” 105mm gun. By reducing barrel length by 27 inches, and by adopting a slightly beefed up version of the 75mm gun’s carriage, the M3 105mm gun would just barely fit into the gliders of the day.  The M3 fired the same projectiles as the M2, but because the shorter barrel length lead to incomplete burning of the powder charge. Faster burning powder charges were developed for the M3. The shorter tube meant that the M3 had a much shorter range, only about 7500 yards.

In addition to serving in the division artillery of the airborne divisions, M3s also served as an infantry support weapon. Each infantry regiment had a 6 gun cannon company. Originally equipped with 75mm guns, by the end of the war, many would be equipped with the M3.

After World War II, with the development of larger tactical airlift planes that could perform heavy drop missions (such as the C-119) the M3 in the airborne division was replaced by the longer ranged M2/M101. Also, some time after WWII, probably during the Pentomic Army reorganization, infantry regiments lost their organic cannon company.

By the early 1960s, the M101 was getting a bit long in the tooth.  The main problem was weight. The 2-1/2 ton weight of the M101 was a bit much for most helos to lift. Accordingly, the M102 howitzer was developed and adopted. The big aim was to reduce weight. The tube basically the same, but an entirely new carriage was adopted. Instead of the classic split trail carriage, a new fixed open box  trail was adopted. Instead of resting on its wheels and using spades at the trail end to provide a stable firing platform, a circular baseplate under the carriage was lowered and staked into position.

220px-M1114_towing_M102_Howitzer

Note the circular baseplate firing platform.

220px-M102_Howitzer_A1206_Tai_Iraq_2004_

One of the last M102s in Iraq, 2004

The lighter weight of the M102 made it easier to move by helicopter, and also allowed for it to be moved by lighter vehicles.  The circular baseplate also meant that the gun could easily be traversed through 360 degrees (or 6400 mils, as the gunners would say). The tube had a manually operated vertical sliding wedge breechblock. The gun used the same ammunition as the M101, and had nearly identical range. It was used in the same role of direct support in the infantry, airborne, and airmobile divisions.

First entering service in the early 1960s, it served throughout the Vietnam War and after. It began to be replaced in the late 1980s, but as you can see from the picture above, it was still in use with some National Guard units as late as 2004.

Mechanized and armored divisions still using the M7 Priest in the late 1950s finally began to replace them with the M108. This self propelled 105mm howitzer shared a common hull and cab structure with the M109 155mm self propelled howitzer. While the M108 was a successful design, however, it was soon decided that heavy divisions would instead use 155mm M109s as the main weapon of the direct support artillery battalions, and the M108 was quickly withdrawn from service.

In the mid-1980s, the US Army began looking to replace the M102, and was deeply impressed with the performance of the British L118 Light Gun in the Falklands. The L118 used separate loading ammunition. After a minor redesign to allow used of existing US semi-fixed ammunition and adopting US fire control and sights, the weapon was adopted as the M119 105mm howitzer and licensed production began at the Rock Island Arsenal. The M119 (and the M119A1 and A2 variants) is the current light howitzer for US infantry, airborne, and air assault brigade combat teams. It can be airlifted by airplanes and helicopters, air-dropped by parachute, towed by a Humvee, and in a real pinch, moved by hand.

300px-US_M119_Howitzer_

M119 firing in Afghanistan

The M119 uses a similar baseplate firing platform to the M102, and features a fixed open box carriage trail of tubular design.

The M119 still uses the same M1 round as the original 105mm howitzers. It’s longer tube does allow for a greater charge to be used, however, and “Charge 8” gives a maximum range of 13,700 meters.  Newer ammunition includes rocket assisted High Explosive rounds (HERA) with ranges of up to 19,500 meters, greatly increasing the area one battery can cover. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no immediate plans to field a GPS guided projectile. The apparent thinking is that Guided MLRS and 155mm Excalibur fires can cover most missions.

Historically, US artillery doctrine has stressed concentration of fires. That is, if an artillery battalion had three targets, rather than having one battery engage each target, the fires of the entire battalion would be dedicated to one target, then the next, and then the third.

But the dispersed nature of the battlefield in Afghanistan means that artillery has to be widely dispersed itself, or many units would have no artillery support in range. Accordingly, it is not uncommon to find single 6 gun batteries or even a two-gun platoon operating independently in support of remote outposts.

The 105mm howitzer has provided over 70 years of faithful service, and there are no plans to replace it.

The M102 105mm howitzer.

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Buildng Bridges in Afghanistan

Bridge inspection

Caption:

Bridge Inspection

United States Air Force Capt. Jon Polston and Air Force 1st Lt. Scott Adamson, engineers attached to Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team, inspect the underside of a bridge in Mehtar Lam, Laghman province, while traffic squeezes through the narrow pathway Sept. 7. The civil engineer team from the PRT traveled to the Jugi bridge in Mehtar Lam to asses the structural integrity following its recent completion, ensuring it will withstand the Afghan weather for years to come (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane).

The Mehtar Lam PRT is in the Regional Command -East sector of Afghanistan, not far from Kabul.  The road infrastructure in that area reminds me of the “you can’t get there from here” network in West Virginia… “reminds” may be too strong a word though.

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Wolfhounds in the A-stan

Esli’s been a busy little helper of the blog. He forwarded this picture of a troop from the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, The Wolfhounds* manning a TOW missile system in Afghanistan.

ako-400-20110901-6093271995852928c2c0b

Staff Sgt. Frankie Berdecia of Alpha Company 2nd battalion 27th infantry
(the Wolfhounds), operates a TOW missile system at Observation Post Mace
in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province near the border with Pakistan
August 28. (Photo by U.S. Army)

Now, the TOW system was designed to destroy tanks, but it is pretty handy at popping bunkers and machine gun nests also. More importantly, with the new ITAS thermal imaging sights, the TOW mount makes an excellent surveillance tool. If you can see it, you can hit it, and if you can hit it, you can kill it.

It’s possible to defeat detection by thermal sensors on the battlefield, but it sure ain’t easy.

*I was in the 1st Battalion. We never really acknowledged the guys in 2nd Bn as real Wolfhounds.

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