Make. A. Damn. Decision.

BJ Armstrong has, among other writings, a nice little piece on Admiral William Sims over at USNI Blog, which includes this wonderful snippet:

Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”

One of the most difficult things to instill in a leader is decisiveness. Much is written about the need for leaders to inspire teams, and establish goals and build consensus and whatnot. And those are indeed facets of leadership. But one key task a leader must execute is to simply make a decision.

Make. A. Damn. Decision.

That’s not to say that decisions should be made rashly. As in so much else, the Army has a process to support decision making, named, rather unimaginatively The Military Decision Making Process.

Copy/Pasta from Wiki:

  1. Receipt of Mission
  2. Mission Analysis
  3. Course of action (COA) Development
  4. COA Analysis (aka Wargaming)
  5. COA Comparison
  6. COA Approval
  7. Orders Production

That seems simple enough. You receive a mission from your higher headquarters, figure out what it is exactly you are to accomplish, and kick around different possible ways to accomplish the mission. Decide which plan to go with, then put the word out to everyone how to go about it.

Ah… if only…

One of the possible traps of MDMP may be familiar to many outside the military- paralysis by analysis. It’s very easy for staffs and commanders to focus on the Process part of MDMP and forget the whole point is the Decision part.

Another problem is, some people are simply afraid to commit themselves to a course of action. Every decision has consequences, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Indeed, usually there are both good and bad consequences to making a decision. There is always a desire to gain one more piece of information, examine one more possible course of action. And so, they fail to decide. Which is a decision all its own.

Which brings us to this:

“By the spring of 2014, the ISIS captors, we’re told, felt so confident in their situation that there was very little visible security around the hostages. And by May, eight Western hostages were held together in one location,” Herridge said.

Via Ace.

There may well have been issues that argued against attempting a rescue of Ms. Mueller and the other hostages. Hostage rescue attempts are very high risk under the best of circumstances. But, at least in hindsight, the risks certainly are less than the near certainty of execution at the hands of Islamic fiends. One finds it difficult, especially in light of the dithering shown by Obama in authorizing the raid on the Bin Laden compound, to believe that Obama made a rational decision to not attempt a rescue, but instead simply made the default decision to do nothing.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, history

Hypothetical Exercise- A Modern Mobilization Army

Over on twitter, Nathan Finney, aka The Barefoot Strategist, posed this question:

An interesting one. How would you go about doing so?

For the purposes of this little exercise, let’s posit that this is over and above an activated and federalized Guard and Reserve component.  Wiki tells us there’s just over half a million active duty Soldiers right now, with another slightly more than half a million Guard and Reserve troops, yielding a total force of about 1.1 million right now. Given that the US Army fielded roughly 8 million in World War II with only half the national population, finding another million or two warm bodies would seem to be rather easy.

But would it be?

The current military aged male population (for my purposes here I’ve rather arbitrarily selected 18-30 years) is very roughly around 30 million. Roughly 75% of that population is disqualified under current enlistment standards, either due to weight or other health issues, criminal history, or lack of education. That gives us a current population of qualified males of about 7.5 million to recruit from. Given the struggle to recruit 80,000-100,000 of this population annually, I do not think it realistic to achieve the additional numbers purely through voluntary recruitment. That leaves either conscription, or a gross lowering of the standards for enlistment. It should be noted that the standards for selective service in World War II, particularly in the last 18 months of the war, were far, far lower than today’s standards for enlistment. Many who went on to perform distinguished service in World War II would today be laughed out of the recruiter’s office.

There exists today virtually no real political support for conscription. Of course, there is no political support for such a massive expansion of the Army, either, so for the purposes of our exercise, I posit that the political support for enlarging the Army can also be seen as supporting a draft.

Another obvious pool of manpower reserves is the Individual Ready Reserves- those service members who have completed their initial obligation for active duty, or regular drills with a reserve compenent, but have not yet been completely discharged form the service. Every initial enlistment in the Army is for a term of eight years, with the first three or four typically served on active duty, and the remaining five or four in the IRR. Persons in the IRR don’t perform military duties, nor do they receive pay and allowances. But they are by law subject to recall. While some IRR troops were subjected to recall for Desert Storm, and a handful for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the last major recall of IRR troops was in the early stages of the 1950-1953 Korean War. I’ve mentioned that the Army recruits roughly 80,000-100,000 people a year. That means roughly the same number leave it annually. The greatest number of these are soldiers whose initial obligation is complete, and decline to reenlist. Of this cohort, some will not be suitable for recall. So let’s just go with a working WAG* of 50,000 over the last 5 years available for recall. That gives us a bump of a quarter million, easing the needed numbers via draft or recruiting. Theoretically, these troops have already been trained, but in reality, even after a very short break in service, the training required to again make them effective soldiers is little different than that needed to train a new recruit.

Speaking of training the troops, the existing Army training pipeline would likely prove incapable of surging production throughput to anywhere near the numbers needed. The initial training of Army troops is generally grouped by functional areas. Infantry and Armor go through training at Ft. Benning, Artillery at Ft. Sill, and support and service support soldiers go to basic training at Ft. Jackson or Ft. Leonard Woods, and then on to their specialized training at the branch school responsible for their career field, such as the Transportation Corps school at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Further, one of the advantages of having high quality recruits with fairly long terms of enlistment (which means a fairly long term of training results in a decent return on investment) is that you need fewer military occupational specialties. You can spend the time and money to train a fire control repair technician to fix the electronics on both an Abrams, and a Bradley. But if you desperately need to raise an Army quickly, you are almost forced to limit the breadth of any one  job’s training. You’d likely have to split that fire control technician into two specialties, one for Abrams, and one for Bradleys. That means the tooth to tail ratio of our expanded army will suffer somewhat. Still, speed is of the essence, and the old rule of fast/good/cheap applies. Pick any two. In this case, it would be fast/good.

Still, the institutional schoolhouses of the Army simply cannot absorb that large an influx of new soldiers. Some skills simply must be taught at the schoolhouse (say, much of the aviation maintenance field) but a greater portion can be taught in other ways.

In World War II, much of the occupational skill training for soldiers was done in the units mobilized for the war. And here our current Army has an advantage over our forebears of 1940-1943.  The Army of 1940 faced an expansion of eventually some 2400%. There simply wasn’t a large enough trained cadre of people. Finney’s proposed expansion, however, is significantly more modest. The obvious way to leverage the existing troop formations is to use them as the cadre, the nucleus of new units. For instance, each current Brigade Combat Team might be tasked to form an entire division, with each subordinate battalion transforming itself into a BCT (or rather, forming an additional two battalions to flesh out other BCTs activated). Essentially, everybody gets bumped a paygrade. This would likely result in some decline in the quality of leadership, but that would be almost inevitable in any expansion on the scale proposed.

Another challenge for our notional expansion is simply equipping the force. As a practical matter, some things cannot be expanded in such a short time. Two years is simply not long enough to ramp up production of things like helicopters, let alone train the aircrew for them. Other major weapon systems would also face shortages. The Army has a goodly number of M1 Abrams and M2/M3 Bradleys in reserve, but not as many as might be needed. Trucks of all types would be in critical supply. That could be augmented with some civilian procurement for many roles, but the authorized equipment for many units would likely have to be changed.

The minutia of equipage, uniforms, boots, packs, and such, should not be an overwhelming obstacle, but ramping up production and maintaining quality will likely be a challenge. Producing enough rifles might be a challenge, at least in the short term.  Equipping the force with modern radios would similarly be a challenge in at least the short term.

Finally, merely finding the space to house and train this notional expanded force would be a great challenge. The US has shed much of the vast amounts of training space it acquired in World War II. Reacquiring it would be next to impossible. For one thing, many of those spaces have become developed. Ironically, even though the proposed expansion is a good deal smaller than the size of the Army in World War II, the battlespace a reasonably equipped force today needs to train is vastly greater. More space is required to effectively train a mechanized battalion today than might be needed for an entire World War II division’s maneuver elements.

So, could the US vastly expand from it’s current Army of half a million soldiers to two million soldiers in the space of two years? Probably. But it would yield a force of greatly diminished quality.** Further, absent an existential, immediate threat to the country, there is simply no political support for such an expansion.


*Wild Assed Guess

**Though quantity has a quality all its own.



Updates on Company Level Feeding

For some reason, I’m obsessed with small unit rations and feeding. Mostly because I spent so much time eating the first generation MREs and not getting more than one or two hot meals in the field for weeks at a time.

Anyway, the current standard for small unit feeding is the KCLFF, or Kitchen, Company Level, Field Feeding.

But the Army is replacing this with the Assault Kitchen. First, take out whomever named it and beat them to death. The kitchen is not leading the charge.

Second, there are some pros and some cons to this “upgrade.”

First, the pros:

  • Much improved burner unit.
  • Smaller logistical footprint.
  • Heat on the move capability
  • Space for both AK and roughly four days rations on Humvee and trailer.
  • Easy to operate and maintain.
  • Ability to feed two hot meals per day.

Now the drawbacks.

  • Only suitable for heating UGR-H&S (Unitized Group Rations- Heat & Serve)
  • Not capable of preparing UGR-A and UGR-B (basically, fresh foods, and canned meals with some shelf stable items).
  • While KCLFF is rated for only one hot meal per day, it too can prepare two UGR-H&S daily under most circumstances.
  • Did I mention Assault Kitchen was a really stupid name?

UGR-H&S isn’t a bad feeding system, for the short term. But the inability to provide cooked fresh hot meals such as the UGR-A is a serious handicap if the supported company will be isolated for extended periods, such as deployed in a Combat Outpost in Afghanistan.



Seriously, NOT The Duffel Blog

In keeping with the second half of the blog’s name…

Dwarf Stripper Kat Hoffman Finds Love With Army Sergeant

But hey, if they’re happy, more power to ‘em. The world can always use a little more love.

Heh. Little.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Around the web

“B” Roll film of Hohenfels.

The JMRC (Joint Multinational Readiness Center) Hohenfels is a terrific little chunk of land in the gorgeous rolling hills of Bavaria, Germany. Nearby Grafenwoehr is the live fire range complex. Hohenfels is the force on force maneuver box.

I made about half a dozen 3-4 week trips to Hohenfels in my short tour in Germany. I never saw such nice weather there. It was either cold and wet (or snowy) in the winter, or hot and dusty in the summer.

Back in the day, right toward the end of the Cold War, the usual use of Hohenfels, then known as CMTC, was to put a heavy brigade through its paces.  The opposing force was normally supplied by a reinforced battalion from one of the division’s other brigades. Toward the end of my time in Germany, CMTC gained its own full time OPFOR, 1/4 Infantry (who are still there).

In addition to the Blue Force and the OPFOR, there is also the O/C Team. What used to be called umpires, the Observer/Controller Teams advise, assist, and critique the actions of the unit being trained. Much like a coach walks a player through his performance after a game, so the O/C’s help show the units under training their strengths (usually few!) and weaknesses (usually many!).

O/C’s are usually assigned to just about every echelon throughout the unit being trained. For instance, a mechanized Infantry platoon would typically have a senior Infantry NCO who has successfully served as a Platoon Sergeant. And the battalion commander would have as an O/C a fellow Lieutenant Colonel, one who has successfully completed his battalion command tour.

I *think* this exercise was just before our friend Esli assumed duties at JMRC.



Cratering Charge

Since we’re on a bit of a kick talking about the Engineers lately, here’s one of my favorite pieces of their kit.

As noted, the three primary missions of the Engineers are mobility, countermobility, and survivability. Countermobility is denying the enemy freedom of movement, usually by obstacles to block, delay, channelize or turn him. Common obstacles include concertina wire, anti-tank ditches, minefields, and abatis.

In places where a critical road route cannot be bypassed, such as a cut through a pass, cratering the road is an excellent method of delaying the enemy.

The use of explosives to move earth is something of an art and a science. Simply placing a large pile of C-4 on the road will do little. A slower “burning” explosive such as ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO) or H-6 is preferred, as it give more of a “push” than faster explosives, which are more of a “cutting” effect.

Also, a cratering charge, not surprisingly, has to be buried in the ground to have any militarily significant effect. In areas of soft soil, this can be achieved with a pick and shovel. But since we’re talking about cratering a roadway, that option is somewhat less attractive. It is both difficult and very time consuming.

The Army, therefore, came up with a novel system to quickly emplace and explode a cratering charge that requires no preparation of the site, only the charge itself, using off the shelf components to field a rather ingenious device.


The M180 Cratering Demolition Kit is two explosive warheads and a rocket motor mounted on a tripod.

Here’s how it works. Once the tripod and charges and associated det cord and detonators are emplaced, a blasting machine is used to trigger the charge from a safe distance. The blasting machine both ignites the rocket motor and a time delay blasting cap for the main 40lb warhead. The rocket motor propels the warhead down the tripod leg. The nose cap of the warhead strikes the M57 firing device.* The M57 sends an electrical impulse to the M6 blasting cap, which sets off the det cord and the M2A4 Shaped Charge warhead. The 15 pound shaped charge warhead blasts through the roadbed and well below. The rocket, continuing along its path, buries the main warhead well below the surface. The delayed action detonators blow the main charge, and the cratering effect takes place.

Typically, three to five M180s are connected and fired together to make one really big crater.

I’ve had the pleasure of actually watching one in action. It’s quite the thump. But surprisingly, I was unable to locate a youtube of one in action. On the other hand, I did come across this clip of young Engineer officers  performing cratering while at the Engineer Basic Officer Leaders Course. First with a hand emplaced shaped charge, they break sod, then hand emplace a cratering charge.



*Yes, the same M57 used in the M18 Claymore mine


Filed under engineering

A Rebuttal to MG Scales “Gun Trouble” article in the Atlantlic

We’re generally admirers of retired US Army Major General Robert Scales. He was a fine combat officer, by most accounts, and a talented historian. What he isn’t is an expert on small arms.

Back on December 28th, Scales published a piece in the Atlantic titled “Gun Trouble” bemoaning the continued deployment of the M16/M4 series of rifles by the US military.

Any lost edge, however small, means death. A jammed weapon, an enemy too swift and elusive to be engaged with aimed fire, an enemy out of range yet capable of delivering a larger volume of return fire—any of these cancel out all the wonderfully superior and expensive American air- and sea-based weapons that may be fired in support of ground troops. A soldier in basic training is told that his rifle is his best friend and his ticket home. If the lives of so many depend on just the development of a $1,000, six-pound composite of steel and plastic, why can’t the richest country in the world give it to them?

The answer is both complex and simple. The M4, the standard carbine in use by the infantry today, is a lighter version of the M16 rifle that killed so many of the soldiers who carried it in Vietnam. (The M16 is still also in wide use today.) In the early morning of July 13, 2008, nine infantrymen died fighting off a Taliban attack at a combat outpost near the village of Wanat in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. Some of the soldiers present later reported that in the midst of battle their rifles overheated and jammed. The Wanat story is reminiscent of experiences in Vietnam: in fact, other than a few cosmetic changes, the rifles from both wars are virtually the same. And the M4’s shorter barrel makes it less effective at long ranges than the older M16—an especially serious disadvantage in modern combat, which is increasingly taking place over long ranges.

Emphasis mine. Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.


To be sure, the M16/M4 is not without its faults. But then, every small arms design is a compromise between several competing factors. It should be reasonably light, lethal (in terms of terminal ballistics), accurate both as a matter of internal ballistics and ergonomics, durable, easy to maintain, and easy to train with. Generally, improvements in one area tend to adversely effect another. Most obviously, light weight tends to reduce durability.

Retired LTC Craig Grosenheider pens a rebuttal to MG Scales at The Rhino Den:

What makes the evolved M16/AR15 series so effective that the Army’s Individual Carbine competition conducted in 2013 – evaluating 8 other competing designs under demanding conditions – concluded there was nothing to gain by replacing it? In addition to the 2013 evaluation, the M16 series has outlasted a nearly non-stop campaign to replace it with “leap ahead” rifle technology, from the flechette based Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program in the 1960’s, to the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW/XM8) program, effectively terminated in 2005, and has even survived the 2009 limited adoption of the Mk16/Mk17 Selective Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR), a purpose built modular weapons system painstakingly designed in full cooperation with downrange “operators” to specifically address requirements of USSOCOM. SOCOM fielded the 7.62mm SCAR-H / Mk17, but declined to adopt the 5.56mm variant because in their opinion it did not represent a significant improvement over the current M4A1 Carbine. Despite the option to use nearly any weapon they choose, when a SOCOM operator arrives on the objective today he’s more than likely carrying a 5.56mm M4 variant.

Read the whole thing.

As noted by Grosenheider, the Army has repeatedly attempted (and failed) to make a leap forward in small arms technology. That leaves marginal improvements on the table. Which, as Grosenheider shows, is just what the Army has been doing with the M16/M4 family since its introduction particularly in the past decade.

Let’s go back to MG Scales on the Battle of Wanat.

Some of the soldiers present later reported that in the midst of battle their rifles overheated and jammed.

Yes, that’s true. The fact is, no rifle lightweight enough for general issue can handle more than a certain sustained rate of fire. There’s a reason machine guns weigh more than rifles, after all.  And even the soldiers that fought there understand this. Via @WesleyMorgan on Twitter:

Embedded image permalink

“I love the M4. That’s why it angers me that they misquoted me they way they did. If you read in my sworn statement that says exactly the same thing that I stated here and which is the same thing that I keep saying but somehow they love to take out all the shrapnel pieces that I talked about and just made it sound like I’m talking bad on the M4 and the machine gun weapon system. It just angers me very, very much.”

Surveys of soldiers have consistently found them to be highly satisfied with the M4 carbine, indeed, moreso than any other small arm in the inventory.

The bottom line is that the M16/M4 is a satisfactory family of weapons, and the ultimate arbiter of whether soldiers will be successful with it is in training them to maintain and fire them properly.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, weapons