Tag Archives: army

Bergdahl Lawyers Up

Via This Ain’t Hell, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, Bowe Bergdahl has engaged the services of Eugene Fidell to represent him during the investigation surrounding the circumstances of his capture.

Mr. Fidell has been a full-time lecturer at Yale for the past five years, and he served in the US Coast Guard. He is the co-founder of the National Institute of Military Justice and heads the committee on military justice for the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War.

While investigators have not yet spoken with Bergdahl, that is expected to happen “sometime in the near future,” says Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the Army.

Mr. Fidell is apparently taking the case pro bono.

While I personally believe that Bergdahl intended to desert his post, he is, like every other American, entitled to due process, and competent representation. One strongly suspects Mr. Fidell will give Bergdahl the same advice every competent attorney stresses to their client- don’t speak.

I’d like to see Bergdahl nuked for his crimes, but it’s more important to my mind that the military follow the rule of law that it exists to protect, preserve and defend.

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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.

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An interview with LTG H. R. McMaster

Just prior to departing Ft. Benning, H.R.  McMaster gave an interview with the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. A lot of it is geared to the local community, but quite a bit of it is applicable across the board, and worth a few minutes.

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster is a combination of warrior, intellectual and leader. He was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

McMaster earned a reputation for his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which questioned political and military leadership during Vietnam.

Dave Barno, a retired lieutenant general, described McMaster this way: “I watched senior Army generals argue over ways to end his career. But he dodged those bullets and will soon take over command of the Army’s ‘futures’ center. After years as an outspoken critic, McMaster soon will be in the right place to help build the right Army for the nation.”

McMaster has spent two years as commander of Fort Benning. He has been selected for promotion to lieutenant general, and has been reassigned to Fort Monroe, Va., where he will serve as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command. He has been in charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning for two years. McMaster recently sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams.

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One of the key strengths of our Army is what we call the “philosophy of mission command,” which is basically decentralized operations based on mission orders. It means, “Hey, I’m going to ask you to accomplish a mission, but I’m not going to tell you how to do it. You can figure it out.” That’s the strength of the American Army. It’s that kind of initiative and the ability to apply your imagination to solve problems. What I’ve found here at Fort Benning and across my career is if you give people the freedom to take initiative and help give them the resources they need to accomplish the mission, they’re always going to exceed your expectations.

When you’re a company commander or platoon leader at a remote Combat Outpost in Afghanistan, it’s hard for your commander to micromanage. There are some that are sure to try, but sheer distance has imposed Mission Command philosophy to some extent. Harking back to the WaPo piece on the challenges the Army will face in peacetime, one thing I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of is junior officers, used to operated well away from their chain of command, will increasingly chafe under the daily stress of the battalion commander being right across the street, and the multitude of taskings his staff generates that, to our hard charging officer, have no correlation to success in combat. These officers, who are just as capable of being successful as entrepreneurs as they were combat leaders, will walk out the door. The ones left behind, by and large, will be the ones that need more supervision. And the higher echelons of the unit will give it to them in ever increasing doses.  This “brightsizing” happens to every army in the transition to peacetime. And frankly, I don’t know how to mitigate it. And the worst part is, eventually those micromanaged leaders become senior leaders who, while fully capable of mouthing the philosophy of Mission Command, have internalized the lessons of oversupervision and micromanagement. Let’s hope enough of the cream of the crop can tolerate the avian excrement long enough to rise to senior leadership.

 

In the comments on a recent post, Byron asked about McMaster being passed over for Lieutenant General the first time.

While then COL McMaster was passed over for promotion to Brigadier General by the first promotion board, there is no promotion board for Lieutenant General. LTG is a nominative rank, and a rank of office. That is, only those positions authorized and required to be filled by a three star general, all of which require the advise and consent of the Senate. If you aren’t serving in one of those positions, you don’t get the three stars.

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Two Way Streets

I’ve served in units where I had complete trust in the chain of command, and I’ve served in units where simply no trust existed between the commander and the troops. And here’s the thing about units with mutual mistrust between the command and the commanded. It is always the fault of the commander if his troops don’t trust him. And it’s always because he doesn’t trust them.

Mind you, my perspective was usually that of a private soldier or junior NCO looking at the company, or battalion command, and  very occasionally at brigade command.

CDR Salamander has a guest post by an author who (likely for career reasons) takes a look at the issue from the perspective of the sea services, specifically, how junior Naval Aviation officers see their environment with respect to the admirals that run their slice of the pie.

“When the Tailhook investigation began, and certain political elements used the incident to bring discredit on Naval Aviation as a whole, and then on the Navy writ large, one is entitled to ask, on behalf of those magnificent performers who have never failed their leaders, where were their leaders?” As Naval Aviation leadership begins to face one of the worst retention crises in its history, readdressing this question, originally posed by former Secretary of the Navy James Webb at the Naval Institute’s 122nd Annual Meeting and sixth Annapolis Seminar in 1996, may help explain why some of aviation’s best and brightest have decided to leave.
Naval Aviation leadership is currently struggling with the real threat of not having enough pilots to fly the aircraft on its flight lines, and it’s not solely due to cyclic and predictable factors (economy, OPTEMPO). The more insidious problem, going largely unaddressed, is one of trust and confidence; more accurately, the fleet’s loss of trust and confidence in its senior leadership. This breakdown in trust has spread well beyond junior officers reaching their first “stay or go” milestones. Large numbers of post-command Commanders are electing to retire, instead of pursuing further promotion and increased retirement benefits. In both cases, officers are saying “no thanks” to generous amounts of money (for some, as much as $125,000), choosing instead to part ways with an organization they competed fiercely to join; one that, at some point, provided tremendous satisfaction.

I strongly suspect this dissatisfaction with the leadership isn’t restricted to this community alone. I’ve heard from quite a few people that feel the services have treated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a distraction from the real business of the services, of career building and social engineering.

Believe me, I’m all for hammering those who violate the regulations, those who break the law, and especially those who violate the laws of war. But it we need to ensure we’re not judging decisions made in battle with 20/20 hindsight from a safe office. Nor do we judge leaders for past actions based on the specious complaint of one servicemember, a complaint lodged months after the leader departed for another assignment. Or even years, in one infamous case.

Many people have complained of the onerous burden placed on training that is mandated, for such things as sexual harassment and assault prevention that does little to actually prevent sexual harassment or assault, but  paints the vast majority of servicemembers as potentially guilty, and adds nothing to the ability of a unit to fight and win.

There’s a great deal of life in the service that is quite attractive. It’s rewarding to be a member of something larger than yourself, to work as a team, to accomplish a hard, worthy mission, to share burdens and joys with your fellow Americans.

But there’s also a word that describes that which sucks the enjoyment and noble feelings from service.

Chickenshit.

Maybe we should look at cutting back on the chickenshit.

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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…

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For the first time, the Top Gun of a Bradley gunnery was a female

The drawdown in heavy divisions over the years since the end of the Cold War meant there were plenty of Bradley Fighting Vehicles that were surplus. Many were shifted into war reserve stocks, but still others were available for conversion to other roles. One recent conversion is the Engineer Squad Vehicle. Externally almost identical to the regular Infantry or Cavalry vehicles, the internal arrangements have been modified to store the equipment and tools of the Combat Engineer squad in support of the maneuver elements. From the BAE Systems press release:

The Bradley Engineer Squad Vehicle (ESV) is a mobile and survivable combat platform that enables the engineer assets in the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) to maintain the momentum of the fighting force while conducting required offensive, defensive, area presence and unique engineer/sapper operations.

The speed, armor and firepower of the Bradley ESV enhances its survivability while enabling combat engineers to effectively execute their assured mobility, countermobility and urban combat mission requirements when and where required.

The ESV provides the Heavy BCT with a basic combat engineer capability to reduce obstacles and clear rubble in an urban environment. The ESV carries the Engineer Squad and its organic equipment and serves as the Engineer Squad’s mobile and survivable work room, bunker, power tool and fighting platform. ESV will be equipped with a standard complement of combat engineer equipment including:

  • demolition sets;
  • mine detection;
  • marking and clearing equipment; and 
  • an assortment of various sapper tools and devices.

The ESV is also capable of employing unique Engineer Mission Equipment Packages (MEP) for obstacle neutralization. MEPs currently available include a:

  • lightweight mine roller;
  • lightweight blade (surface mine blade or straight push blade);
  • lane marking system; and
  • magnetic signature duplicator.

Additionally, ESV has the growth capability to accommodate and control future MEPs (to include robotic/autonomous mine and/or IED detection/neutralization systems, and mobile mine dispensing systems) as they become available. 

ESV will be the same Bradley variant (A3 or A2 ODS) as the BCT it supports to maximize commonality of the platform while reducing the maintenance footprint and required logistics support.

 

Further, the Army has recently opened up positions in Brigade Engineer Battalions to women. One of the first is MAJ Chrissy Cook, S-3 of the 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion.

Maj. Chrissy Cook made history in the 1st Cavalry Division two weeks ago when she led her Bradley crew to “Top Gun” status during gunnery, the first female Bradley commander to do so.
Cook, an engineer officer and S-3 for 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, led her crew to a top score of 835 with nine of 10 engagements passed to seal “Top Gun” status June 17, as well as a page in the history books as the Army continues to open doors to female service members for service in direct combat roles. As an engineer, Cook’s branch has long been open to males and females.

I guess they’ve changed the Tables a bit, because back in the Stone Age when I was a BC, 835 was certainly nothing to crow about.

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A Camera Lost for 70 Years Gives a Glimpse Into the Battle of the Bulge.

Cameras are ubiquitous today.  We’ve all grown somewhat accustomed to seeing combat footage from Iraq and Afghanistan, often taken by the soldiers themselves. 70 years ago, that wasn’t quite the case. There were some cameras, but not many, and film was hard to come by.

U.S. Navy Captain Mark Anderson and his historian friend Jean Muller were out with metal detectors, scavenging around Luxembourg, where the most heated firefights of The Battle of the Bulge took place.

While traveling through the hilly forest that once served as a brutal battleground, the pair came across an empty foxhole, and inside of that foxhole they found the personal possessions of an American soldier, left untouched for almost three-quarters of a century.

Among those possessions was a camera with a partially-exposed roll of film still inside.

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle in the history of the US Army, and much of it was fought with an intensity that would rival any other. The Army would suffer 19,000 Killed in Action, over 47,000 wounded, and 23,000 captured or missing. One soldier, first listed as Missing in Action, was later listed as Killed in Action when his remains were recovered.

And it was Louis J. Archambeau’s camera that CAPT Anderson found.

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The handful of images may be in poor condition, but they clearly show the discomfort and tension of that awful battlefield.

H/T to Jennifer Holik for sharing this on facebook.

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The Army’s New(ish) Carbine

Nothing generates passion like discussing the Army’s primary weapon, the M4/M16 family of 5.56mm carbines and rifles. Virtually every gun related blog has long, long threads with suggestions for better weapons and demands for a different caliber.

But the Army has polled its troops repeatedly, and to some surprise, the troops are generally very happy with the M4. The have a great deal of confidence in the weapon, and they like it.

And let’s face it, absent some miraculous change in small arms technology, any change to a new weapons would be an incremental improvement at best.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for modest improvement in the M4. The M4 carbine, a shortened, lightened version of the long-serving M16, was originally fielded two decades ago. It was never actually intended to be the primary weapon of the Infantry.* Instead, it was intended to equip soldiers that needed something more than a pistol, but for whom the length of an M16 would be awkward. Tankers, other armored vehicle crewmen and such.

But the handy little carbine was soon adopted by airborne and air assault infantry, for whom the weight savings were important. And the small size of the carbine made it popular with mechanized infantry as well, for the close confines of the troop compartment of their vehicles. And in Iraq, with close quarters combat inside the maze of buildings soldiers faced every day, the compact carbine was far easier to use than a full sized rifle. Eventually, the M4 ended up as the primary weapon for just about all ground combat troops.

One of the biggest complaints from the field was that the M4 used the same trigger group as the M16A2. It could fire semiautomatic, or it could fire a three round burst. But the burst feature was unpopular. Initially designed to save ammunition, it has some mechanical features that are annoying. If, when firing a first burst, you only hold the trigger long enough to fire one or two rounds, the next burst will not be a three round burst, but rather the two or one rounds not fired before. And the trigger pull required increases. Finally, while most of the time, suppressive fire should be in nice controlled bursts, there are times when longer bursts are needed.

And so, back in 2010 The Maneuver Center of Excellence (formerly the Infantry Center and School) requested that the Army switch to a fully automatic version of the M4. 

As it turns out, there is, and has for 20 years, been a fully automatic version of the M4. When the M4 was first designed, Special Forces and other special  operations entities liked the carbine very much, but insisted on a fully automatic version right from the start.

The M4A1, the fully automatic version, has a different trigger group, similar to the old M16A1 rifle that allows semiautomatic or fully automatic fire. Because of its potentially higher rate of fire, the M4A1 also has a somewhat heavier barrel, to better withstand the heat of firing.

http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/c/images/2014/05/23/346700/size0.jpg

While the Army is buying some newly built M4A1s, the majority of M4 carbines in Brigade Combat Teams will be modified to the M4A1 standard. Contact teams with conversion kits are travelling from the Army’s main small arms depot at Anniston, AL to various posts and modifying weapons one BCT at a time. Within a couple years, the process should be complete.

 

 

 

 

*Most Marine riflemen still carry long M16s.

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Fortitude.

Yesterday we honored the 70th Anniversary of Operation Neptune/Overlord, better known as D-Day, or the Invasion of Normandy.

Operation Neptune referred to the naval portion of the attack, while Overlord was the name for the ground operation.

But as momentous as D-Day itself was, as Cornelious Ryan famously tagged it, The Longest Day, the landings were only the beginning of what would become a massive campaign.

The Allied leadership, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Bradley, were quite confident the initial landings would be successful. The attacker has the advantage of choosing the time and place of the assault. To them, there was really no question that they would have a toehold on most if not all of the five beaches by the end of June 6.

The real question was, could they continue to reinforce and expand that beachhead? The initial allied assault was five infantry divisions and three airborne divisions. While they outnumbered the German forces in the immediate vicinity of the beaches on June 6, the Germans in northern France had two entire field armies. The struggle would be to see who could reinforce their units at the fight faster. Allied airpower worked The Transport Plan to prevent the Germans from quickly reinforcing the units on the coast.

The Allies were prepared to build up quickly enough to defeat the German 7th Army in Normandy, if only barely.

The problem was, the powerful German 15th Army was guarding the Pas de Calais. As soon as it became evident that the Allies would not conduct a landing there, it could be shifted south to join the 7th Army and overwhelm the Allied beaches.

The key became delaying that shift for as long as possible.

And that’s where Fortitude came in.

Fortitude was the code name for one of a  series of deception operations designed to confuse the Germans. Under the overall plan named Bodyguard, initially the plan led the Germans to consider landings in such disparate places as Greece and Norway. As the build up of D-Day forces in Britain made it clear that northern France would be the target, the plan shifted to convincing the Germans that landings would come at Pas de Calais. Pas de Calais, at the narrowest point of the English Channel would have been the most obvious place to land. And that’s why the coast there was more heavily defended than anywhere else. Consequently, that’s why the Allies chose not to land there, choosing instead the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy.

The Allies had wargamed the invasion of Normandy time and again (in fact, the Command and General Staff School in the US used a possible assault there as the core of its abbreviated syllabus during the war). Time and again they saw that if they could pin the 15th Army in Pas de Calais for 14 days, the build up would be strong enough to succeed. Fortitude sought to buy the Allies these critical two weeks.

Fortitude was actually two operations. Fortitude North used a fictional British 4th Army in Scotland to threaten an invasion of Norway.  By means of fake radio traffic simulating the units of the 4th Army, and by double agents, Fortitude North actually lead to an increase in the number of German divisions in Norway, troop that otherwise might have gone to reinforce France (or the Eastern Front for that matter). 

Fortitude South was designed to convince the Germans that the landings in Normandy were a diversionary attack, albeit a really big one. To sell Fortitude South, the Allies created the fictional First United States Army Group (FUSAG), notionally under the command of LTG George S. Patton. Patton had been relieved by Eisenhower in Italy, and if he wasn’t quite the golden-haired boy of US generals, he certainly held outsized sway in the minds of the German leadership, particularly Rommel. After all, he’d been the leader of the US invasions in North Africa and Sicily.* Choosing him to lead the invasion of Europe certainly seemed plausible to the Germans.

Fortitude relied on convincing the Germans that the Allies have far, far more troops and equipment in England than they actually did.

Four primary means would be used to build this illusion:

  1. Radio deception- by creating dummy radio traffic mimicking real units, the Allies allowed German intelligence to intercept traffic, and begin building an order of battle of FUSAG.
  2. Double agents- the XX Committee had captured and turned virtually every German agent in England. These double agents were carefully controlled to build their credibility with the Germans. During Fortitude, they were seen by the Germans as virtually gold-plated sources.
  3. Visual decpetions- German reconnaissance airplanes were  allowed to see troop buildups that strongly suggested an assault across the channel to the Pas de Calais. A huge array of inflatable tanks and trucks, tentage, dummy landing craft made from barrels, plywood and canvas served to reinforce visually what the Germans already sensed from their radio intercepts and double agents.
  4. Code breaking- the Allies had broken a considerable amount of the German codes and had a very strong capability to monitor German traffic. How did that help deception operations, you ask? Well that’s worth a little more discussion.

One of the great challenges of any deception operation is determining their effectiveness. If the enemy has smoked out the deception, he can lay his own trap.

The Allies, especially the British and expatriate Poles, had thoroughly compromised German radio communications. The Allies had achieved a closed feedback loop, where they were able to determine which deceptions were successful, allowing them to reinforce those fears, via the first three means, and to reduce efforts on less successful operations. By knowing what worked and what didn’t, the deceptions of Fortitude became ever more convincing to the Germans.

Fortitude was also a very integrated plan. All three of the primary means worked in coordination with one another. Further, other elements of the British and other Allied governments worked within the Fortitude framework to bolster the plan. BBC radio made announcements and broadcasts that could be perceived as intended for FUSAG or British 4th Army.

So wholly did Fortitude South flummox the German high command that not only did it succeed in pinning 15th Army down for two weeks, it had Hitler convinced for an entire seven weeks that Patton would come charging across the Channel to Pas de Calais. By the time the scales fell from his eyes, Operation Cobra and the great breakout from Normandy were at hand. Fortitude had secured the flank of the Allied invasion, succeeding far, far beyond its creators wildest dreams.

 

*Depending how you measure it, the assault on Sicily was actually larger than the assault on Normandy.

The wiki entries for Bodyguard and Fortitude are both interesting reading. Further interesting reading on Fortitude can be found here.

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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.

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The Box

A couple years ago, Venue had a pretty neat photo-essay of the training going on at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While NTC is the most famous “box,” as a practical matter, the maneuver area of just about every training site* is commonly referred to as “the box.” That distinguishes it from the cantonment and administrative areas of training ranges. Interestingly, the training areas on ones home station are never referred to as “the box” but rather as “downrange” or simply “the field.”

As noted in the Venue article, the last decade has seen the Army shift its emphasis from training in open terrain or deep in the woods to the urban environment. In the Army, we call this MOUT, or Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. And a lot of money has gone to making realistic urbanized training ranges. In my day, the Army approach to MOUT was to pretty much ignore it, and hope for the best. The “MOUT site” was generally nothing more than two, maybe three shells of two story cinderblock buildings.

Now, recognizing that quality training requires quality ranges, the Army has opened a new MOUT site at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, and it’s something else.

 

The AWG facility isn’t just for training in a MOUT environment. The Army intends to use it to try to look into the future, and see what tactics and techniques enemy forces will use to counter us, and devise solutions before we ever even face the enemy.

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Heavy Machine Guns in the Attack

US Army Infantry battalions during World War II each had a heavy machine gun platoon assigned to the battalion’s weapon company. This platoon had four M1917 Browning .30 machine guns. While rifle companies (and, toward the end of the war, rifle platoons) had two M1919 .30cal machine guns, those were air cooled, and had limited rates of fire and ammunition supply. Because the M1917 was water cooled, it could sustain a much higher rate of fire for a longer time, and each gun team could often use their assigned jeep and trailer to move considerable supplies of ammunition.

 

 

Like almost everything else John Moses Browning designed, the M1917 was a splendid weapon. It was rugged, simple, reliable and extremely effective. It served as the US Army’s primary heavy machine gun from World War I through the end of the Korean War. Its design was developed into the air-cooled M1919 and eventually evolved to form the basis of the M2 .50cal machine gun, which serves to this day in our Army.

Today we tend to think of the heavy machine gun in terms of the M2 .50cal, but the term of art then meant more than simply one of large caliber. Heavy meant that it was a support weapon, generally firing from semi-fixed positions while rifle elements maneuvered. The light machine guns would maneuver with their companies during the attack as need. Heavy machine gun platoons would displace as the supported units outran the range of their supporting fire, but not generally actually maneuver.

For you non-Infantry types out there, almost all the tactics described here are still applicable, even if the heavy machine gun is no longer in use. For instance, the primary, alternate, and supplementary positions are applicable to light machine guns, tanks or Bradleys, or any other supporting weapon.

By the way, who remembers filling out one of these?
http://xbradtc.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/4366c-rangecard.gif?w=444&h=595

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Big Lift and the birth of Reforger

In 1963, to demonstrate to the world, and especially the USSR, that the US could reinforce its troops in Germany, the Army and Air Force airlifted the personnel of an entire armored division from Texas to Germany. When they arrived, they fell in on prepositioned equipment, and quickly took to the field for large scale maneuvers. This was Operation Big Lift.

In the early morning of October 22, 1963, soldiers of the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas, lumbered up with their gear and individual weapons to an assembly of large cargo aircraft from the Military Air Transportation Service. Their destination was the front-line of the Cold War’s Central Europe.
Over the next 64 hours, the division, two artillery battalions, and assorted transportation units from around the country made the day-long flight across the Atlantic. An air strike force went as well. Altogether, the planes made over 200 flights, ferrying some 15,000 personnel and nearly 500 tons of equipment, one quarter of which belonged to the Army. It was the largest movement of troops by air to that date.
The deployment had been ordered by the U.S. government in consultation with its NATO allies to stem a likely attack by Warsaw Pact forces into West Germany. The scenario, however, was entirely notional. Instead of being met by hundreds of enemy tanks, the incoming troops were greeted by a 250 pound cake in the shape of a tank. The operation was, in fact, a preplanned exercise, aptly named BIG LIFT. Its actual purpose, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announced in a September 23 press conference, was to “provide a dramatic illustration of the United States’ capability for rapid reinforcement of NATO force.”

Interestingly, the airlift was conducted by Air Force transports.

A few years later, especially as Army readiness in Europe suffered during the Vietnam War, the Army again decided to show its ability to reinforce Europe. And thus began an yearly exercise dubbed REFORGER, or Redeployment of Forces to Germany.

Moving the equipment of a division overseas is a lengthy process, needing a month or more under the best circumstances. NATO certainly wasn’t sure that the Warsaw Pact would be kind enough to give that much strategic warning of any invasion of the West. So the Army instituted POMCUS, Prepositioning of Materiel in Unit Sets. Basically, every single bit of an armored or mechanized division would be stored in warehouses in Germany, and if the Army needed to reinforce Europe, they simply had to fly the people from an existing stateside division to Germany.

Rather than taxing the transport assets of the Air Force, commercial jets would be chartered, or those in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet would be mobilized to move the troops.

REFORGER itself came to be something of the capstone exercise for much of the Army. Remember, at the height of the Cold War, there was a massive US presence in Germany, and plans to send massive reinforcements, with the US III Corps first in line, followed by other elements as needed. Almost every year, not only would a US division be sent to Germany, but a major exercise involving most NATO nations would be staged.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, REFORGER eventually faded away. No longer certain where it might be called upon to fight next, the Army has since struggled to become more expeditionary, able to move units and their equipment to any battlefield.

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Mattis-Veterans aren’t Victims

Recently retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is probably the single most respected four star general of recent years, at least among the more junior members of the services. Why? Because he is blunt and direct. That forthrightness means you always understand where you stand with him. It inspires trust and respect. His letter to his Marines on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was certainly clear moral guidance:

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And his plea to local Iraqi leaders in to embrace the chance at peace was an instant military classic:

So now, in retirement, GEN Mattis has a new mission- to remind veterans and the public, that “veteran” is not synonymous with “victim.”

Victimhood is somewhat en vogue in America today, with virtually every possible group claiming some sort of favored status by means of some injury or slight by the “other.”

But victimhood implies a helplessness, a lack of agency, and a lack of ability or means to improve ones situation.

And GEN Mattis isn’t having any of that.

In a speech last month, Mattis tackled a concern that is on the minds of a number of combat leaders: A public that wants to paint veterans as victims and why that is potentially damaging to the fighting spirit of America’s warriors.
“I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods,” Mattis said. “I don’t buy it.”
“If we tell our veterans enough that this is what is wrong with them they may actually start believing it,” he said during questions after a speech at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco.

“While victimhood in America is exalted I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks,” Mattis said.

That’s not to say that we as  a nation don’t have an obligation to provide care and services to our wounded warriors. That’s not to say that those veterans struggling with PTSD or other issues should not avail themselves of services, or the support of their peers and veterans associations. But it is a reminder to veterans that they hold the key to their future. The same drive and determination that made them successful in the service can carry them through the challenges they face in the society at large. It is a notice to the public that the oft portrayed deeply flawed veteran is a trope, a caricature, of the veteran. The fact is, looking back at historical precedent, veterans tend to be better educated, better paid, and generally more successful than their non-veteran peers.

CDR Salamander has, for a decade now, warned of the attempts by some in society to paint all veterans as victims of circumstances beyond their control, as children in need of the nannying care of the progressive government and culture, with no true free will to care for themselves or to make their own future. To say he’s a fan of GEN Mattis’ latest mission would be an understatement.

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Guadalcanal Diary!

Well, actually, more a timeline.

Our fellow long-time Moron ArthurK has been “liveblogging” the Battle of Guadalcanal on twitter.

He’s also covering the great battles of Coral Sea, and presumably Midway.

Follow him at:

@GuadaBattle

And:

@GuadaLive42

Coral Sea and Midway would reverse the tide of the Japanese Navy, making possible the attack through the open Central Pacific.

But the epic struggle of Guadalcanal would be just as critical, opening the drive through the Solomons, and leading the way to the little known, but incredibly important drive through the Southwest Pacific. It was the SWP that held the resources Japan had gone to war for, and it was the drive there that would, in time, cut Japan off from them.

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The Brigade Cavalry Squadron

 

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Long ago, in the mists of time, back before the Army reorganized around the Brigade Combat Team concept, the Army was organized primarily around the Division as the primary tactical unit of deployment and employment. Each division had 9 or 10 maneuver battalions (either Infantry or Armor) organized into three Brigades.

Each Infantry or Armor battalion had a Scout Platoon, designed to provide reconnaissance, or what today would be called RSTA, for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition.

The Division also had a Cavalry Squadron, essentially an RSTA battalion, with two ground troops and two aviation troops.

Most of the Army division was organized along a fairly triangular scheme, with headquarters at each level controlling three maneuver units, and appropriate supporting elements. One glaring omission in this bygone era was the gap between battalion and division. The Brigades had no organic RSTA assets. You would expect to see a company/troop sized RSTA element at the Brigade level. Instead, there was none. The Division Commander might task his Cav squadron to focus support to one or two of the three Brigades, but usually he needed it to focus on his own RSTA priorities.

So when the Army reorganized and shifted the focus from the Division to the Brigade Combat Team (BCT), one thing they did was assign a very robust RSTA capability. Each maneuver battalion would keep its organic Scout Platoon, and the BCT would have an entire RSTA squadron (or battalion sized element, if you will).

Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan called for increasing the numbers of BCTs in the Army. And while there was some increase in the allowed end-strength of the Army, it wasn’t nearly enough to provide the manpower for all the new BCTs.

So the Army cheated. It would stand up new BCTs, each with, among other things, their own RSTA battalion (which carried the unit designations of various historical Cavalry Squadrons). But instead of each BCT having three regular maneuver battalions, they would only have two. So the prime maneuver combat power of the BCT was reduced by a third. What wasn’t reduced was the missions these BCTs were required to perform. And so, as Tripp Callaway tells us in his article, the Cavalry RSTAs in Iraq and Afghanistan were often pressed into duty as a third maneuver battalion.

This meant that, in effect, most RSTAs were usually utilized as miniature infantry battalions and were thus given corresponding direct combat and COIN tasks to perform, rather than the traditional reconnaissance and flank security tasks they were designed to accomplish.

In the COIN warfare of the War on Terror, that was an acceptable choice.

But should the Army find itself in battle with a more conventional foe, it is imperative that the RSTA should be used in its designed, traditional role.

The Army has a relatively small number of BCTs. And those BCTs are actually fairly fragile, though they have a great deal of combat power. The trick is finding exactly where and when to apply that power, and denying any enemy the opportunity to apply his combat power against us. Finding the enemy, his order of battle, his dispositions and his intentions  while denying the enemy information about our forces and dispositions is the traditional Cavalry mission.

But what about UAVs, you ask? As Callaway notes, in any conflict against a more conventional foe, UAVs will be vulnerable, both to direct measures like Air Defense, and to jamming or cyber attacks such as network intrusions. And for true, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, there’s no substituting the man on the ground. UAVs complement, not replace, a traditional approach to ISR.

As Callaway makes the central thesis of his piece, the use of RSTA units as conventional units has meant that their traditional Cavalry skills have atrophied. Just as bad, the “end user” of their product has also forgotten how to ask for or use their “product.”

Our austere budget environment has lead to a drawdown of the number of BCTs the Army will have. But it is not all darkness. One effect of the drawdown is that the remaining BCTs will receive a third maneuver battalion. This will (hopefully) free up the RSTA to return to their traditional role.

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Some Pushback on that Lind article… and some agreement too.

URR posted about an article by William Lind. Lots of people immediately panned the article (and by my lights, rightly so), mostly about the intellectual incuriosity of junior officers.

CDR Salamander, of course, took a poke at the article. But he also gives credit where due on some parts of Lind’s piece. For my money, the biggest structural problem in the officer corps is the stupendously bloated staff sizes. Your mileage may vary.

As with so many posts at CDR Sal’s, the real fun is in the comments. That’s your reading assignment for today.

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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.

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S-300 SAMS to Crimea

Interesting. I see all the radar masts, vans, and TELs, but no rounds. Wonder how they’re being transported?

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Capehart

Prior to World War II, the Army and Navy were relatively small services, and the percentages of married troops and sailors was quite small. But in the wake of World War II, and with the beginning of the Cold War, for the first time, America had a large standing Army and Navy. And the numbers of married soldiers and sailors, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the force, swelled. For the first time, housing for family members became a real issue for the force. Previously, posts had only a handful of quarters available on post for families. The rest were expected to find rental quarters off post. But the huge numbers of families overwhelmed available housing outside the gate of most posts.

In response, Congress first passed the Wherry housing program. Contractors would build quarters and lease them to the military for 40 years. But the program was considered a failure due to a lack of standard designs, cramped quarters, and poor quality control.

The next initiative was more successful. Named after its sponsor in the senate, Homer Capehart (R-IN), a series of standardized housing designs were produced. With Capehart housing, private contractors would build to the design provided by the government, and the government would retain ownership of the quarters, and provide, either through Public Works or contractor support, all maintenance and infrastructure support. In effect, the post commander would be the landlord. Before a post could receive funding for Capehart housing, the service had to assure the Congress that the installation was a permanent one, and would not be closed in the foreseeable future.

Between 1955 and 1964, nearly a quarter million Capehart housing units were built nationwide.

And if Capehart housing isn’t terribly attractive, it has been long lived.  Most installations that had Capehart housing still use it. Over the last 60 years, surely millions upon millions have called these cookie cutter houses home. Indeed, I spent five years in them.

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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.”

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Daily Dose of Splodey-Excalibur Edition

As a rule of thumb, I’ve always thought of the max range of 155mm artillery as 30,000m. Please note they’re shooting Excaliburs out to over 50,000m. And there’s room for growth there in terms of range.

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Douhet, Mitchell, Lambeth. All Airpower advocates, all wrong.

It must be budget battle time, as airpower advocates are coming out of the woodwork to tell us that the Air Force will win the wars, and the rest of us can just stay home.

Since the Cold War’s end, the classic roles of airpower and land power have changed places in major combat against modern mechanized opponents. In this role reversal, ground forces have come to do most of the shaping and fixing of enemy forces, while airpower now does most of the actual killing.

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 showcased, for the first time, this departure from past practice between air- and ground-delivered firepower. During the Battle of Khafji in January of that year, coalition air assets singlehandedly shredded two advancing Iraqi armored columns through precision night standoff attacks.

This role shift repeated itself with even greater effectiveness in 2003 during the three-week major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom that ended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Modern airpower’s achievements in these two high-intensity wars demonstrated that precision air attacks now offer the promise of being the swing factor for victory in an ever-widening variety of theater war scenarios. The primary role of US land power may now be increasingly to secure a win against organized enemy forces rather than to achieve it.

In organizing their response to Hussein’s forceful seizure of Kuwait in 1990, the leaders of US Central Command aimed to destroy as many of Iraq’s armored forces from the air as possible before launching any land invasion to drive out the occupying enemy troops. It remained unclear, however, how effective allied airpower would be under this approach until they actually executed the air campaign.

Three factors came together to enable allied airpower to draw down Iraqi forces to a point where allied ground troops could advance in confidence that they would be engaging a badly degraded opponent once the ground offensive began. First, allied aircraft were able to operate at will in the medium-altitude environment, unmolested by Iraqi radar guided surface-to-air missiles or fighters, thanks to an earlier US air defense suppression campaign.

Second, the introduction of the E-8C JSTARS aircraft permitted allied air planners to see and identify fixed and moving objects on the battlefield clearly enough to make informed force commitment decisions and to execute lethal attacks day or night. Third, allied planners discovered during the campaign’s initial preparation phase that aircraft equipped with infrared sensors and armed with laser guided bombs could find and destroy dug-in enemy tanks one by one in large numbers at night.

It’s a long article, but it doesn’t get any smarter. Let’s just fisk a little of what we have here.

First and foremost, let me state again that I’m not opposed to airpower. Air superiority, or at a bare minimum air parity,  is a necessary precondition for success in high intensity combat.

1. Uncontested medium altitude operations- There’s certainly no guarantee that future campaigns will allow our tactical airpower to operate freely over the battlefield, whether at medium altitudes or any other. While the Iraqi forces had a reasonably sophisticated air defense system for fixed installations, they lacked modern mobile air defenses for maneuver units. Future enemies learned a lesson about that. And Lambeth ignores the long time the Air Force had to devote to the suppression mission (SEAD-Suppression of Enemy Air Defense).  Time spent on SEAD was time and sorties not spent attriting Iraqi armor. Had the Iraqis made a large scale offense while the Air Force was still trying to achieve suppression, rather than the modest attack at Khafji, we groundpounders would have faced a much more difficult problem.*

2. JSTARS tracking and targeting- Well, that’s what it’s for, to give the commander an ability to look deep throughout the depth of the battlefield and identify and track enemy formations. But two things about that. First, few places on earth are as conducive to JSTARS tracking formations as the Iraqi desert. Second, having learned that the capability exists, any enemy can quickly devise countermeasures, which can be as simple as just having a bunch of people driving private autos around, either randomly or as spoof formations.

3. PGMs as anti-armor weapons- Tank-plinking was indeed a successful campaign. Why, a gazillion dollar F-111 could go out and in the space of a 2 hour sortie, drop its four GBU-12 500 pound LGBs, and probably kill 2 or even three tanks.  But for all the success of the campaign, vast amounts of Iraqi armor still survived, and was still capable of maneuver and engaging our forces.  As a counterpoint, I had a front row seat when my brigade engaged a Republican Guard brigade. In the space of about half an hour, we eviscerated the entire formation, destroying somewhere around 100 armored vehicles, and probably another couple hundred vehicles.

Further, the Air Force is still limited in its ability to attack armor or other moving formations in bad weather. Cloud layers will degrade laser designators quickly, leaving the attack aircraft either unable to deliver ordnance, or forcing them into the low altitude air defense environment, where they are terribly vulnerable.  Ground forces ability to engage can be degraded by foul weather, but not to nearly the extent of air power. Artillery doesn’t care if it is cloudy.

The bottom line is this- in spite of almost a century of airpower visionaries proclaiming that the days of muddy boots are over, airpower still cannot stop the enemy on the ground. It can impede it, it can attrit it, it can make movement costly. But airpower still remains a supporting fire, much as the artillery. No sane commander would attempt to fight a campaign solely with artillery.  One of the historical strengths of our armed forces since World War II has been our incredible ability to harness the synergy of combined arms, whether from the Infantry/Artillery team, or the unified application of land, sea, air and space power. Puerile arguments about the supremacy of  airpower do little credit to the Air Force Association’s flagship publication.

*Especially units like mine. We had people on the ground, but our vehicles hadn’t even reached port in Saudi Arabia yet.

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Pointing out bias, adulation and stupidity on the part of the press is one of the easier tasks before a blogger. It’s easy because people like Murray keep saying stupid things.

On a more positive note, the only sustained, genuine applause last night was in recognition of SFC Remsburg.

 

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by | January 29, 2014 · 8:48 am

Army Modernization Woes, The Big Five, and AirLand Battle Doctrine

Much of the Army’s critical combat systems are quite old. And Army plans for modernization have resulted in a series of bloated programs that have subsequently collapsed under their own bureaucratic weight.

But in the eight months since the equipment plan was released, so many of its programs have been called into question that a casual observer might easily conclude Army modernization is collapsing.  A new armored troop carrier that the Army Chief of Staff said “we have to have” as recently as last summer is effectively dead.  Both parts of a plan to upgrade armed scout helicopters already in the force while developing a more agile successor look doomed.  The service has begun to back away from elements of a new battlefield communications network previously described as its top modernization priority.

And that’s just what has happened in the last several months.  Since the Obama years began, the Army has dropped plans for a new family of networked combat vehicles, canceled both of its next-generation air defense systems, killed a key development effort in its artillery portfolio and starved its armored-vehicle industrial base to a point where both of the plants still assembling such vehicles look headed for shutdown later in this decade.  The other military services are trimming modernization plans too, but the Army has the worst record of bringing new programs to fruition.  Although its weapon budget is less than half the size of the Air Force’s or the Navy’s, it manages to waste more money through cancellations and restructures.

Thompson cites a couple issues the greatly influenced challenges to Army modernization. As noted, the end of the Cold War led to a procurement holiday. To be sure, some small programs went forward, but few major systems were slated for replacement. The success of the force structure and major systems in Desert Storm further argued against large sums being spent on replacing tanks and other combat vehicles. Indeed, the only major vehicle program to go forward was the decidedly unsexy Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles to replace existing 2-1/2 ton and 5 ton trucks.

The logistical challenges of moving large numbers of heavy forces to Desert Storm, combined with the profusion of networking capabilities led the Army to look to lighter, easier to deploy forces that could use information and agility to compensate for weight of metal. The (overly) ambitious Future Combat System family of vehicles and systems was to be the fruit of this plan, with the Stryker family of vehicles as the interim substitute.

The shift to Counter Insurgency (COIN) in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and operations in Afghanistan also prompted the procurement of massive numbers of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) on an (expensive) emergency basis, after the vulnerabilities of Humvees to large Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and Explosively Forged Penetrators (EFPs). Money spent on MRAPs was money not available for normal procurement program development.

Indeed, the effects of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly made the thought of lighter, more rapidly deployable vehicles far less appealing. Any lighter vehicle is more vulnerable to IEDs, mines and other low cost anti-armor systems. This had led the Army to go from looking at a 40 ton replacement for the Bradley carrying a nine-man squad, to a conceptual 70 ton behemoth infantry vehicle that carries as few at 5 or 6 infantrymen.

The repeated flailing in Army combat system procurement means that for at least the next decade, we’ll soldier on with the legacy systems of the Cold War, popularly known at the time as the Big Five.

In the immediate post-Vietnam War era, the Army faced a modernization challenge that makes our current problems look trifling. Given the austere fiscal environment, and the lack of popular public support for military spending meant that for any program to succeed, it would have to be tightly managed.

Senior leadership in the Army, with support from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and eventually the Reagan administrations, came up with a plan to focus on five procurement programs:

  1. The M1 Abrams tank
  2. The M2/M3 Bradley Infantry/Cavalry vehicle
  3. The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter
  4. The UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter
  5. The MIM-104 Patriot surface to air missile system.

All five programs, in spite of being heavily criticized during development and fielding, were successful, and serve still as the backbone of the Army’s combat systems.  Why?

With the end of the war in Vietnam, the Army faced a Soviet Union that was increasingly aggressive and the specter of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe loomed large.

That well defined threat actually gave the Army the chance to revisit its doctrine. There was simply no possibility the Army could grow to the sized needed to counter the Soviet force with conventional doctrine, nor with existing weapon systems.  The Army’s doctrinal evolution, through Active Defense into AirLand Battle, while describing the shared view of the nature of warfare universally, was tailored closely to the environment the Army faced in NATO.

That same focus allowed the Army to closely define what they wanted from the Big Five. The requirements for each program could be optimized for Western Europe, in terms of performance, and the infrastructure and logistics anticipated to be available.

That ability to focus on the largest, most capable threat, and accept less than optimal suitability for less threatening theaters. That meant the program manager could suppress calls for features on each platform that were in the “nice but not really needed” category. Keeping down the bloat of added features speeded development and kept costs down, both for development and unit costs. The programs were all built with plenty of room for growth, so those “nice” features could be added as budgets allowed.

That we never had to fight the Soviets in Western Europe didn’t mean our doctrine and procurement was flawed. As seen, both the equipment of the Big Five and the doctrine of AirLand Battle was adaptable enough to serve in Desert Storm, and serve as the kernel of further doctrine as the security environment changed.

Today, Army planners are faced with a world where we really don’t know where our next fight will be. That leads to arguments over what features are most critical in any procurement. Given the American propensity for being very bad at predicting their next fight, planners should think hard about a worst case scenario, and focus on that.

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