Tag Archives: army

Boyd, and Patterns of Conflict, Now with Video!

To say that John Boyd has a following would be an understatement. There’s the followers, and then there’s the cult. I’m a follower.

Jason Brown, studying Boyd during his professional military education, not only read everything he could find on Boyd, he also uncovered video of his Patterns of Conflict briefing. For you who aren’t terribly familiar with him, Boyd didn’t write essays or white papers, or books. He gave presentations. That had a great impact on the audience, and was of immediate impact. But it also meant the written record of Boyd’s thinking was somewhat lacking.

Several years ago, I tracked down a rare video of Boyd delivering “Patterns of Conflict,” the famous (and lengthy) briefing that framed his theory of warfare. At the urging of some junior officers (and a little technical coaching), I recently uploaded the video to YouTube. While my views on Boyd have matured over the years, the videos reveal the sage discourse I sought from him, as well as prudent counsel appropriate for today.


I think it would be fair to say the Marine Corps bought into Boydian concepts, most importantly the OODA Loop, more than any other service. And that’s fine.

My frustration has been that over the years, not a few cult members have chided the Army for failing to simply rewrite all its doctrine based on Boyd’s OODA Loop briefing.  Mind you, this was back in the day when AirLand Battle was still, essentially, the operative doctrine guiding the US Army.

Almost invariably, further questioning of the cultist would reveal that while they could say the words Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, they knew little or nothing of AirLand Battle (ALB), or its evolution from the previous doctrine, Active Defense.

There is little evidence that Boyd had anything to do, even indirectly, with the genesis of ALB. Interestingly, though, we can see some very clear parallels between the OODA Loop and the fundamentals of ALB. The fundamental concepts of Initiative, Depth, Agility, and Synchronization easily harmonize with the concepts of the OODA Loop.

That’s not to say OODA Loop and ALB were competing, but rather that a grounded understanding of the OODA Loop and Patterns of Conflict made grasping the true precepts of ALB much easier, and led to better implementation.



Spartan Pegasus- Airborne Ops in the Great White North

Of my basic training platoon at Ft. Benning, maybe half of us received orders overseas. About half of those went to Germany. The rest of us were split fairly evenly between Hawaii (where I went) and Alaska.

I remember laughing at one fellow receiving orders to Alaska, and was a tad surprised to learn he was delighted with the orders. Me? I don’t do well with cold. But some folks do.

Since World War II, the US Army has mantained a significant presence in Alaska. Among the nice things about it, there is plenty of space for training. Of course, the weather and terrain means that the units there are somewhat uniquely equipped.

I’m guessing the troops are from 3-509PIR, but I don’t know that for sure. The funny looking little vehicle in the heavy drop is an M973 Small Unit Support Vehicle, basically a BV206.



The Battle Against Booze

Carl Forsling has a piece in Task & Purpose lamenting the unrelenting war on booze in the services.

Every so often after work, I stop by the officers’ club at my base to see what’s going on. Without fail, unless I go to meet up with specific people or there’s a special event, the place is deader than Elvis. I’ll wave at the bartender and awkwardly look around as if I’m looking for someone, then make a quick about face.

With few exceptions, this is the way most military clubs are. They do a decent lunch business. Some enlisted clubs bring in decent numbers with pool and sports television, but none are eagerly anticipated social venues at the end of a long week. On some bases, there’s so little business that all the clubs have been combined to make what must be the most awkward social scenario possible.

So what? There are a million other places to buy beer. Why should the military club be sacred?

Josephus Daniels banned booze on US Navy ships in 1916. With a few very rare exceptions that holds true today. And General Order Number One for US troops deployed to Afghanistan, and before that, in Iraq, prohibited the possession and consumption of alcohol. And for the most part, I’m fairly OK with that.

Of course, contrast that the the US  ration in World War II, which, while honored more in the breach than actually being adhered to, called for two bottles of 3.2 beer per man per day, at least when not in combat.

By the time I joined in the mid 1980s, the services were already cracking down on DUIs and problem drinkers in the ranks. Any time you have a population of young people, especially young men, you’ll have a percentage that are simply bound to become alcoholics.

My first duty station was Hawaii. The drinking age when I arrived was 18. I was 19. But Hawaii raised its drinking age to 21, with no grandfather clause. There were a handful of establishments downtown that pretty much ignored the law and served under 21. And at then Wheeler AFB next door to my base, the NCO club was open to E-4 and above, and the base commander had established 18 as the drinking age.* Not surprisingly, my compatriots and I went to Wheeler fairly often. And while technically the drinking age on my post was 21, our chain of command never raised an eyebrow at troops actually in the barracks drinking underage, so long as they weren’t disruptive or otherwise disciplinary problems, or showing up for duty drunk. Think of it as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for alcohol.

When I was in Germany, of course, the drinking age was 16 or so. At any rate, if you were old enough to be in the Army, you were old enough to drink, legally. There were annoying restrictions on the amount of alcohol you could have in the barracks. One greatly annoying restriction was that most commanders prohibited the possession of hard alcohol in the barracks. Which, I prefer whiskey to beer, and always have. And right there on my ration card was an allowance for up to five bottles of hootch per month!

And when we went to Grafenwoerhr for  gunnery, most nights, we’d return to our cantonment huts in time for dinner. After dinner, the mess hall would sell good German beer, up to two bottles per man, with proceeds going to the unit Morale, Welfare and Recreation fund.

That’s to say nothing of the once vibrant Officer’s Open Mess (O’Club) at NAS Whidbey where I grew up. To say the junior officers there might have had a bit of fun on the bar would be an understatement.

But today, the Carrie Nation neo-prohibitionists have won. The mere thought of allowing, much less providing, alcohol at a command sponsored event makes some commanders tremble in fear. If your unit has a unfortunate string of alcohol related incidents, your chances of promotion and future command are in doubt. As Forsling notes:

…a few guys crapped their pants and now the whole military wears diapers.

To flash back to my first unit, in Hawaii, every Friday afternoon, after the close of business, and having been released for the day, my First Sergeant would sit on the back lanai with a case of beer on ice in a cooler. We were welcome to walk up, grab a can, and shoot the breeze, listening like eager pups to the old dog tell tales of Vietnam. Doctrine Man has a great post on mentoring over a cup of coffee. This was mentoring over a beer. More than just war stories were told. The love of the service, tales of good leadership and bad, hints for life and other wisdom was shared in an environment that, while military courtesy was still strictly observed, was far more relaxed than during the duty day. I probably learned more on the back lanai over a can of Budweiser than I ever did from any NCO Professional Development breakout session


*State drinking age laws technically don’t apply on federal installations. Instead, post commanders issue a punitive policy. Almost universally that policy limits the drinking age to that of the locality where the post is located, but I have seen exceptions.



No, the Army doesn’t want the A-10.

We argued that some time ago the Army simply wasn’t interested in taking over the A-10 should the Air Force attempt to divest itself of the plane.

And before you say “well, fine, give ‘em to the Army” or Marines, or what have you, understand, neither service wants the A-10 so badly they they are willing to pick up those associated costs, nor incur the major doctrinal upheaval integration of the A-1o would entail. That doesn’t even get into where the Army or Marines would find the manpower to operate the Warthog. It simply will not happen.

And now, Army Secretary McHugh has made that official.

The U.S. Army has no interest in taking over the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 attack planes, even if it would save the venerable Cold War-era aircraft from the bone yard.

The service’s top civilian, Army Secretary John McHugh, rejected the idea of accepting hand-me-down A-10 Warthogs from the Air Force.

“No chance,” he said during a breakfast meeting with reporters on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. “That’s not even been a topic of casual conversation.”

“With our own aircraft fleet we’re taking some pretty dramatic steps to reconfigure and become more affordable, and the A-10 mission is not something we considered. That’s an Air Force mission as it should be and I’m sure the Air Force feels the same way,” McHugh said.

The Marines? They’ve leveraged the future of not just Marine Aviation, but the entire Marine Corps on the F-35B. They want nothing to do with the A-10.


Filed under Air Force, army

A Brief History of Precision Guided Artillery Munitions in the US Army

In the 1970s, faced with the specter of thousands of Soviet tanks possibly rushing through the Fulda Gap, the Army was looking intently for ways to rapidly kill large numbers of tanks.  The TOW missile, the M1 tank, and host of other weapons were developed to face this threat.*

One development looked at the revolution in accuracy that Laser Guided Bombs had shown in the late stages of the Vietnam war, and concluded that a laser guided artillery shell would be just the thing to plink tanks. Normal artillery can make life difficult for tank formations, but the odds of actually destroying a tank are pretty slim with traditional artillery. But a laser guided 155mm artillery round, especially one with a shaped charge 6.1” diameter warhead, would destroy any tank in the world.

But there’s a big difference in the robustness required of electronics that will fly aboard an airplane, and be dropped, versus those that have to withstand the stupendous accelerations of being fired out of a gun tube.

Still, by the late 1970s, and early 1980s, American industry managed to field the M712 Copperhead laser guided 155mm Cannon Launched Guided Projectile. Copperhead required a forward observer equipped with a laser designator, and a clear line of sight to the target, not to mention reliable communications with the firing battery.

Beyond that, Copperhead actually cost a ton of money more than was originally expected. Because Copperhead was so expensive, tank killing by artillery fell instead to DPICM, or Dual Purpose, Improved Conventional Munitions. DPICM was essentially the clusterbomb of artillery. A shell was merely a carrier for a host of submunitions that would be scattered over a target area. Many of those munitions were small shaped charge warheads that could usually penetrate the thin top armor of Soviet tanks.

But Copperhead did work, and it was useful for certain very high value targets, and so it remained in the inventory, and indeed saw combat use in Desert Storm, and even as late as the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

M712 Copperhead approaches a target tank

For almost 30 years, that’s where the state of the art in precision guided artillery stagnated.

But much as the advent of the Laser Guided Bomb inspired the Copperhead, so to did the advent of the GPS/INS guided JDAM bomb inspire the next stage in precision artillery.

First up with the GPS guided G-MLRS 270mm Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which replace the DPICM warhead of a conventional MLRS rocket with a unitary warhead of about 250 pounds, and a guidance kit that gave it the ability to strike within just a few meters of its intended target at ranges of up to 70 kilometers.


Not surprisingly, the same technology was applied to a 155mm artillery shell, resulting the in the M982 Excalibur. The Excalibur 155mm guided projectile has been in operational use for over 7 years now. Excalibur is essentially a GPS guided missile launched from a gun tube. It both extends the range of artillery, and increases the accuracy.

XM982 Excalibur inert.jpg

But the Excalibur is fairly expensive. The entire projectile is a precision weapon. What was really wanted was a guidance kit that could be applied to existing stocks of conventional artillery ammunition to provide it was precision capability.

First up was the AMPI, Accelerated Mortar Precision Initiative, also known as the MGK, or Mortar Guidance Kit. By replacing the nose fuse of a conventional 120mm mortar round with an innovative GPS guidance system, the traditionally less than precise mortar system suddenly became capable of dropping the first round within 5-10 meters of the aim point.

It wasn’t a great leap to transform the MGK into a similar guided fuse for 155mm shells.

Unguided, conventional artillery will continue to have a place on the battlefield. But for many applications, both in the current Counter Insurgency fights, and in possible future near peer engagements, precision artillery has better effects, is a lesser logistical burden, reduced collateral damage, and can safely be used closer to friendly troops.




*By the way, the Air Force also spent a lot of time and money developing weapons and sensors for this very same role.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Artillery

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.



The Army’s Nuclear Ship

Wired has a piece on the almost billion dollar cost of a mid life overhaul of a Nimitz class carrier. It’s pretty interesting. Not only does it involve refueling the ship’s two nuclear reactors, but the RCOH pretty much rebuilds everything from the bulkheads in. Think of all the plumbing and wiring in a ship  designed to last 50 years. The RCOH is the one big opportunity to rebuild a lot of that stuff.

Now, you say, XBrad, that’s nice and all, but what does it have to do with the title of this post? Well, bear with me a bit.

The dawning of the age of nuclear power, as exemplified by the sailing of the USS Nautilus led to something of a frenzy in terms of nuclear power.

For a while, it seemed that in the very near future, everything would be nuclear powered. Heck, the Air Force was researching using nuclear reactors to power bomber aircraft, and actually flew a working reactor aboard a B-36.

The Army, which has always had a strong interest in prime power generation, saw nuclear power as an answer to the challenge of providing prime power in remote locations with little or no infrastructure, especially those that would be difficult to supply. And so it began research and experimentation with very small reactors. Most Army reactors were very compact, and designed to use Highly Enriched Uranium. All of the reactors under the Army Nuclear Power Program (ANPP) were one of a kind prototypes. Powerplants were used in Greenland, Wyoming, Alaska and even Antarctica.

As the wiki entry notes, a lot of the ANPP actually seemed more a solution in search of a problem. But there was one plant that actually helped solve a vexing problem.

The only ANPP plant that didn’t use HEU was the topic at hand. The Army often operates close to shores and ports, for obvious logistical reasons. And again, the need for prime power is often on the mind of the logistician. And so, someone had the idea that the Army could utilize a barge mounted reactor, not for propulsion, but for electricity and fresh water generation.

Rather than building a barge from scratch, the Army took possession of a surplus Liberty ship, and removed the steam boiler and engine, and build in its place, via its contractor Martin Marrietta, a 10 Mv Pressurized Water Reactor with Low Enriched Uranium and associated turbines and distillation machinery. The contract was signed in 1961, construction began in 1963, and by early 1967, the vessel, known as Sturgis (MH-1A) went critical while moored near Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.


While the Sturgis was being built and tested, an actual use for it was found, one that was, in fact, somewhat urgent.

The Panama Canal, was, of course, of strategic interest to the US, and at that time under the administration of the US. The locks of the canal are operated by gravity fed water from Lake Gatun, the body of water in the center of the isthmus when the canal was built. It’s normally replenished by the torrential rains there. Fresh water from the lake fills the locks to lift ships, and then is allowed to flow out into the ocean when the locks are lowered.

Electrical power for the Canal Zone was also powered by water from Lake Gatun, via a hydroelectric station.  The combined outflow of water via the locks and the hydro power station meant that during the dry season, the water level in Lake Gatun would fall to unacceptable levels. Power was required just to operate the Canal Zone, and the locks. That meant ship traffic through the canal itself had to be restricted. But if power could be provided without having to use the hydro plant, obviously that water would be available for the locks, increasing throughput of the canal.

And so, after a few months of testing and training at Ft. Belvoir, Sturgis was towed to Panama, and from 1968 to 1975 provided its power to the Canal Zone. It’s estimated that the water savings provided by Sturgis allowed an additional 2500 ship transits per year.

By the mid 1970s, conventional powerplants were built along the eastern and western termini of the canal, and Sturgis’ power was surplus to needs. Furthermore, since she had a one of a kind plant, parts and training were uneconomical. She was returned to the US, defueled, and put into storage in the James River fleet, where today she awaits decommissioning** and disassembly.


*Highly Enriched Uranium is, of course, more “power dense” than Low Enriched Uranium, but it still below weapons grade enriched uranium.

**Decommissioning in this case has a somewhat different meaning than for a warship of the US Navy.


Filed under army, ships