Tag Archives: war

Obama’s Capitulation in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Obama turned them down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Politics, war

A Modest Defense of the Air Force Plan to Retire the A-10 Warthog

The internets have been abuzz about the Air Force Chief of Staff’s decision to retire the A-10 Warthog. Untold numbers of pixels have been spent vilifying the chief, and pointing out what a lousy idea it is.

And it probably is.

But there are three strong arguments supporting his decision.

1. Money

2. The future battlefield

3. Availability of other CAS platforms

For the record, I am and always will be a fan of the A-10, and wish that it were to remain in service indefinitely. But barring Congressional intervention, it looks increasingly as if the demise of the Warthog is nigh. And Congressional intervention is by no means even a good idea.

Let’s take a look at the three arguments supporting GEN Welsh’s decision.

Money

First, money. Yes, the Warthog is relatively cheap to operate. But there are large fixed overhead costs with maintaining a type in service. There’s the training pipeline for pilots and maintainers, there’s the spare parts pipeline, and the technical contracting for the depot level overhaul and upgrades. Simply reducing the size of a particular fleet does relatively little to reduce these costs. Savings are only achieved by actually removing an entire type from the service.

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.

But the era of austere budgets is upon the DoD. Sequestration is upon us, and GEN Welsh has to make cuts, like it or not. And one way or another, the cuts he has to make will impair the Air Force’s ability to accomplish its mission. He has to decide which cuts impose the lowest future risks. And the choice of the A-10 can be seen as the lowest risk from a range of options that go from bad to terrible.

The future battlefield

Let’s actually look at the past a bit first. The A-10 was designed very much with the lessons of the Vietnam War in mind. Fast mover jets such as the F-100 and F-4 struggled to provide the quality of close air support in South Vietnam that the Army wanted.  Designed as high-flying supersonic fighters, they were too fast to visually identify small, fleeting targets on the ground. They were also quite vulnerable to small arms fire and other low-tech air defenses. And their design and thirsty turbojet engines meant they could only spend a short time on station before they needed to head home for fuel.

Simultaneously, the Air Force was having generally good results with former US Navy A-1H and A-1E Skyraider aircraft.  The Skyraider could carry and impressive warload, was capable of operating at low altitudes with a long loiter time, and was rugged enough that most of the time, small arms fire wouldn’t bring it down.  The gasoline engine was a real drawback, however, complicating maintenance, and logistics. The Skyraider was also quite slow, meaning its transit times from base to station were long, and if it was usually rugged, it was also something of an easy target.

The Air Force, as Vietnam drew down, began to look at the most daunting battlefield it faced, a potential war in Western Europe with the Soviet Union and the rest of the Warsaw Pact. Air Force planners knew the Air Force would be called upon to not only make deep attacks against fixed targets such as airfields and bridges, but also the vast swarms of Soviet tanks and other armor. Don’t forget, this was an era when the primary air-to-ground sensor was the unaided human eyeball.

The air defense threat was also evolving. Rather than primarily small arms as faced in South Vietnam, in any potential Soviet invasion, three weapon systems would be the greatest threat. The ZSU-23-4 radar controlled 23mm gun, the SA-7 MANPADS heat-seeking shoulder launched missile, and its big brother, the vehicle mounted SA-9 heat-seeking missile.

When the A-10 was designed and built, it was done with both the mission of killing tanks in the relatively close confines of Western Europe, and with countering those three specific threats very much in mind. The A-10 was of course built around the (eyeball aimed) 30mm GAU-8 cannon, and it was always envisioned that its other main armament would be the optically aimed AGM-65 Maverick guided missile. Virtually all the armor and active and passive countermeasures built into the A-10 were geared toward defeating the ZSU/SA-7/SA-9 threat.

Fast forward to 2001 and from there to the present. Aside from the initial assault into Iraq in 2003, American airpower has been working in a permissive, almost benign air defense environment. Only the smallest numbers of modern MANPADS missiles have been used by our enemies. And of course, in that benign environment, the A-10 has done a bang-up job. But with the war in Iraq over (for us, at any rate) and our involvement in Afghanistan winding down, the Air Force is again obliged to look at other possible future battlefields. Critically, they have a duty not only to look to the most likely, but more importantly, to the most challenging. The obvious “worst case” scenario these days is a war with China, which for our purposes, however unlikely, at least provides proxies for the threat weapons many other potential crises may present.

Without getting down in the weeds of improved kinematics and ECCM and such, suffice to say that today’s modern MANPADS are far, far more deadly than the SA-7/SA-9 of yesteryear. And the proliferation of effective, mobile short, medium and long range radar guided Surface-to-Air Missiles in potential conflict regions means the permissive operating environment of today is not likely to carry over to tomorrow. US troops, long accustomed to being able to call upon Close Air Support, with no thought to the risks imposed on the airborne asset, may find themselves in an environment where little or no CAS is to be had, particularly in the early days of a conflict, before an enemy Integrated Air Defense System can be, well, dis-integrated.  The A-10 today finds itself more and more vulnerable to modern air defenses, and for various reasons, can not realistically be expected to reduce those vulnerabilities to any significant degree.

Availability of other CAS platforms

The A-10 may be the airplane that instantly comes to mind when someone mentions Close Air Support, but in fact, it only flies a small fraction of the total CAS missions today. By some estimates, 80% of CAS is flown by other platforms, be they UAVs, F-15E or F-16, Navy and Marine TACAIR or others.

The A-10 was deliberately designed to be low tech. Guns, dumb bombs, unguided rockets were bread and butter. But the advent of first the Laser Guided Bomb, and now the GPS guided JDAM bomb, coupled with virtually every strike fighter having a sophisticated infrared targeting pod means virtually every weapon used in CAS today is a precision guided weapon, and virtually every strike is controlled by a Joint Terminal Attack Controller on the ground. This revolution has greatly increased the ability of fast mover jets to provide timely, accurate and deadly CAS to troops in contact, and at closer ranges to friendly forces than ever before possible. The Warthog’s famed ability to get in the weeds and go low and slow is no longer so much a strength as a liability. Indeed, only in the last couple of years has the A-10 been upgraded to allow it to use precision guided weapons. Were it not for that upgrade, the A-10 would be almost irrelevant in the modern CAS environment.

Senator McCain, blasting the Air Force decision to retire the A-10, scoffed at the thought of using the B-1B bomber for CAS. In actuality, in the permissive environment in Afghanistan, it has proven to be not just capable, but in many ways, the most desirable CAS platform. It carries the same Sniper targeting pod the A-10 carries (making it every bit as accurate). It also has a stupendous load capability of up to 24 2000lb JDAM bombs. Indeed, a reengineering of the bomb racks is increasing the numbers and types of weapons the B-1B is carrying, almost certainly far and away more than any single engagement might call for. And with its intercontinental range, the B-1B can loiter on station over a fight for as much as four hours, far longer than the routine 1.5 hour station time one might expect from a Warthog.

And let us not forget the improvements on the Army side that will reduce demand for CAS. The introduction of Excalibur guided 155mm artillery, and the GMLRS guided rocket (with a range of about 70km) give ground commanders an ability to call upon timely precision fires, fires that as little as five years ago could only be answered by CAS with precision weapons. That trend to increasing accuracy (and range) of fires will only continue.

Closing

The withdrawal of the A-10 may not be a good idea. But nor is it evidence of a conspiracy of fast jet generals determined to kill a long-hated platform (GEN Welsh was himself an A-10 driver, and proud of it). The Air Force is not trying to get out of the CAS business. Indeed, the vast majority of tactical aviators with any combat experience today, only have experience with CAS. It’s what they know, it’s what they do.

What is happening is the Air Force has to save money somewhere, and from where the Chief of Staff sits, retiring a plane whose mission can be fulfilled by other platforms is the lowest risk approach.

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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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China Begins Building Second Carrier

Actually, it’s their first domestically built carrier. Their first is a refurbished ex-Soviet carrier.

It will be interesting to see what the differences in the configuration are between Liaoning and the second carrier.

The speculation is that it too will use the “ski ramp” method for launching aircraft. Unlike US carrier with steam catapults, the ski ramp system is much simpler, but also limits the weapons and fuel any jet can launch with. China has worked closely with Brazil (which operates a carrier with steam catapults) so they should have access to the technology. And steam catapults are hardly new. They’ve been around for 60 years. Steam catapults may not be the easiest technology to master, but it is a rather straightforward engineering challenge.

We in the US think of our aircraft carriers almost exclusively in terms of power projection. From Korea, through Vietnam, Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the role of the carrier has been to sit off the enemy coast and send attacks ashore.

But China’s stated strategy is one of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD). That is, they are structuring their forces and doctrine to deny us the ability to conduct operations in certain areas, or make them prohibitively expensive in lives and political support.

If the follow on carriers in Chinese service do use a ski ramp, that would effectively limit their fighters to a loadout of a modest number of air-to-air missiles, and a decent internal fuel load. So if Chinese carriers cannot reasonably be expected to perform War At Sea Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) attacks on our carrier groups, what is their possible doctrine?

Here’s my theory, based solely on PIOMA:

A Chinese carrier battle group of one or two carriers and escorts is intended to provide local air superiority over itself, and execute limited challenges to air superiority over our carrier forces.

China wouldn’t even have to secure air superiority over our carrier group, but instead, merely make credible challenges from time to time, while avoiding being destroyed.

It doesn’t take a lot of credible threat to one of our carriers before a large portion of the sorties generated have to be devoted solely to Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the carrier for self protection. Indeed, the political consequences of losing a carrier, or even having one badly damaged, would tend to make force protection the first imperative for any US Navy operation. To say our current Navy is rather risk averse is to put it mildly.

And so, with a majority of the sorties of this notional carrier task force devoted to protecting itself, it has essentially become a self-licking ice cream cone. The carrier exists to provide air cover to the fleet, which the fleet is there to support carrier operations. See what I mean?

What do you think?

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, China, Defense, navy, planes

Robert Farley isn’t a huge fan of the Air Force.

And he’s pretty willing to tell you all about it.

I haven’t read his  book (though if he sends me a review copy, I’ll be happy to).

But he’s been more than willing to engage in a debate on what is the best role for airpower, and what is the structure that best provides it.

Farley penned a piece titled “Ground the Air Force” laying out his arguments.

The United States needs air power, but it does not need an air force.

In fact, it never really did. The U.S. Air Force, founded in 1947, was the product of a decades-long campaign by aviation enthusiasts inside the U.S. Army. These advocates argued that air power could not achieve its promise under the leadership of ground commanders. With memories of the great bombing campaigns of World War II still fresh and a possible confrontation with the Soviets looming, the nation’s would-be cold warriors determined that the age of air power was upon them. But it wasn’t. Advocates of an independent air force had misinterpreted the lessons of World War II to draw faulty conclusions about air power’s future.

That piece, of course, invited a response by COL Robert Spalding:

Robert Farley (“Ground the Air Force,” December 19, 2013) is so far wide of the mark that he brings to mind the difference between the miss-by-a-mile bombs of World War II and the precision-guided bombs of today that fly through windows. The defense establishment is certainly in need of new ideas. But getting rid of the U.S. Air Force will do nothing to make the Pentagon more efficient or effective. In fact, such a move would do grave damage to our national security.

Farley argues that Pentagon planners pushed for an independent air force because they had “misinterpreted the lessons of World War II” to conclude that strategic bombing — massive air raids on enemy cities — represented the future of warfare. But military leaders favored an independent air force because of what they had learned from the North African campaign: When ground commanders controlled aircraft, the results were disastrous. As Colonel F. Randall Starbuck writes in Air Power in North Africa, 1942–43: “One example, relayed by General Doolittle, was the incident where a ground commander asked him to provide a fighter to cover a Jeep that was going out to repair a broken telephone line. He refused. The plane that would have wasted its time on that mission shot down two German Me-109s.”

Farley’s counterpoint is here:

Was the jeep ambushed? Were communications restored? How critical were these communications to maintaining offensive momentum? Did anyone bother to ask? Maybe Doolittle did, and maybe he had good reason to believe that, on that day, one of his planes could catch and kill two Bf109s.

Col. Starbuck doesn’t tell us, and Col. Spalding doesn’t seem to care.
And this, in short, is why some people don’t trust the Air Force with airpower.

Deciding how to use scarce resources is the essence of military decision-making. Every commander will run short of assets, and have to weigh values in order to decide to let some missions go while pursuing others. Air superiority is surely a critically important mission, but so is communications maintenance and ground force protection. Pre-emptively choosing one mission over the others amounts to dogmatism, not decision-making.

In the West, seemingly based solely on the precedent set by the establishment of the Royal Air Force in 1918, we tend to see forces divided into armies, navies,  and air forces. A nice, simple triad of services. Of course, then you get various adjuncts, such as the Marines and the Coast Guard. And other additions, such as Naval Aviation, Marine Corps Aviation, Army aviation, and so on.

But it is not graven upon stone that there must be such a triumvirate of services. Let us assume the Air Force were to be abolished, or at a minimum, significantly reorganized. What might such a force structure look like?

One possible example is the Soviet Union.

Really?

Sure, why not? We in the Army have been stealing tactics and operational procedures and even equipment design ideas from them for decades. Why not organizational ideas? The Soviet Union was, and Russia continues to be, primarily a continental power, while the US is primarily a seapower. But the Soviet model can still serve to show what a different organization might look like.

The primary force of the USSR was the Soviet Army. The senior leadership of the Ministry of Defense, at the joint level, was always Army. The geographical district commanders (or Fronts)  for the various theaters of the USSR were always Army. This provided a unity of command. Obviously, in the US forces, having some geographical theaters under Army command makes less sense. The Pacific Command has long been seen as the property of the Navy, and with good reason, both historically, and operationally.

The Soviet Navy, even when it grew to be a true blue water fleet, was always seen as a supporting force, and while its various fleets may not have been under the direct operational control of an Army theater commander, the needs of that theater commander greatly influenced the tasking of each fleet.

In addition to Naval Air Forces as part of the Soviet Navy, the Soviet Union operated three “air forces.”

The first, Frontal Aviation (or VVS), consisted of what we roughly consider tactical airpower. Frontal Aviation Armies were directly subordinate to their Front commander. That didn’t mean they were solely dedicated to close air support, but rather this subordination resulted in close synchronization of effort between land and air power to achieve the Front Commander’s mission.

The second Soviet air force was the national air defense force, or PVO Strany. Tasked with the air defense of the Motherland, PVO operated directly under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, and was not concerned with providing air defense to deployed forces. PVO  had their own air defense radars, command and control system, and even completely different aircraft designs. PVO fulfilled a role very similar to our own  Air Defense Command, though it was a completely independent service, unlike ADC which was a subordinate command of the USAF.

The final “air force” wasn’t really and air force, but instead was an independent armed service devoted specifically to the Soviet Union’s nuclear deterrent. The Strategic Rocket Forces had little interaction with the other branches. Unlike in our own Air Force, where missileers were (and still are) often considered those who couldn’t hack it as pilots, the SRF was considered the very elite of the entire Soviet armed forces.

I’m not advocating that we suddenly adopt a similar structure for our own DoD. But changing times argue for a look at just what roles and missions we expect our services to do. And looking at how other forces address similar problems can stimulate thinking as we look to our own challenges.

And if the Air Force wants to remain relevant in the 21st Century, maybe they can come up with better arguments to address critics such as Farley than they have to date.

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Should the US merge its ground combat forces?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will the A-10 Be Shot Down?

The Air Force is looking to trim older platforms (that’s airplanes to you and me) from its inventory to free up money to operate and maintain the rest of its fleet. We wrote briefly a couple days ago that the KC-10 was among the platforms being considered. Heck, the Air Force is even looking at retiring the F-15C fleet. But no proposal will generate more howls of outrage among the public and especially among the ground pounders than the thought of retiring the A-10 Warthog fleet.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As an old Warthog pilot, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III spoke in near mournful tones Wednesday of the likely mothballing of the venerable A-10 close air support aircraft and tank killer.

“Can we save the A-10?” was the question from the audience Wednesday at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference here.

Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, came at the question in roundabout fashion. He loved flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, better known as the “Warthog,” Clarke said. He noted that the plane was “near and dear to land warriors” for its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm rotary cannon that is the heaviest such weapon mounted on an aircraft.

But the Air Force was “looking at reducing single mission aircraft,” Clarke said, and under the sequestration process “we’re not getting any more money – that option is out.”

The Air Force “has to have a fifth generation force out there” of stealthy, fast and maneuverable aircraft, and the low and slow A-10 just didn’t fit in, Clarke said.

“We’re on board with moving towards Air Force 2023,” the concept for the future of the force which has no room for the A-10, Clarke said.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, also declared his affection for the A-10, which happens to be an aircraft he has 1,000 hours flying.

“I love that old ugly thing,” Welsh said.

However, the chief of staff explained the service has to take part in finding over a trillion dollars in cuts to the defense budget over the next ten years because of sequestration. In this budget environment, he said the Air Force will likely be unable to afford the Warthog.

http://blastcache.com/files/2012/08/A-10_firing_AGM-65.jpeg

I think this is pretty dumb. The Air Force just spend a ton of money on refurbishing most of the active Warthog fleet to extend their service lives and make them capable of employing modern smart weapons.

But I can also see why the Air Force thinks this is a viable option. And a large part of it is the existence of those smart weapons.  When the A-10 was conceived and bought almost 40 years ago, there simply weren’t a lot of smart weapons, and the few that existed were hideously expensive.  Most Close Air Support missions would rely on old fashioned dumb bombs and cluster munitions (and yes, of course, the gun).  To be at all accurate, you had to get down in the weeds, which suited the A-10 just fine. Other jets, such as the F-4? Not so much.

Fast forward to today, and virtually no CAS missions are flown that don’t employ a precision guided weapon, most commonly the JDAM GPS guided bomb. With JDAM and similar weapons, there’s no real need to get close. The pilot doesn’t have to see the target. He simply has to have the coordinates, plug it into the bomb, and he’s reasonably assured a direct hit. That’s something other jets like the F-16, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and soon the F-35 are more than capable of doing. And have been doing for some time now. Heck, the B-1B has been doing it over Afghanistan for years now, and is a popular weapons because of its huge payload and good endurance.

Further, we’ve had the luxury in the wars of the past decade of almost total air dominance, with virtually no enemy air defense capability. But the Air Force knows this will not always be the case. The proliferation of modern MANPADS short range air defense missiles will make future COIN battlefields hazardous to low flying aircraft.  Syrian rebels have had some success against Assad forces, downing both helicopters and jets.  So using a high altitude jet flying above MANPADS range with some standoff capability via JDAM or other weapons makes a lot of sense.  Conversely, a lot of the CAS capability, ISR capability, and long loiter time ground commanders ask for can be provided by assets like the MQ-9 Reaper. And if a Reaper is shot down, you don’t have to go rescue the pilot. And should a more conventional war break out, the A-10 would be at even greater disadvantage against a wider array of air defense systems.

So while I think retiring the A-10 would be a bad idea, I don’t think it is an indefensible one.

But I know I’m gonna need earplugs for the howls of outrage about to come.

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Small Town Hero

Mav mentioned:

Every small town in this great nation holds some interesting history and this was the history in mine.

I’m visiting in The Dalles, OR, a small town on the edge of the Columbia River. It’s a lovely town, with a stunning view of the Columbia Gorge.

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It’s also the hometown of  Medal of Honor awardee SFC Loren R. Kaufman.

Citation:

Sfc. Kaufman distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. On the night of 4 September the company was in a defensive position on 2 adjoining hills. His platoon was occupying a strong point 2 miles away protecting the battalion flank. Early on 5 September the company was attacked by an enemy battalion and his platoon was ordered to reinforce the company. As his unit moved along a ridge it encountered a hostile encircling force. Sfc. Kaufman, running forward, bayoneted the lead scout and engaged the column in a rifle and grenade assault. His quick vicious attack so surprised the enemy that they retreated in confusion. When his platoon joined the company he discovered that the enemy had taken commanding ground and pinned the company down in a draw. Without hesitation Sfc. Kaufman charged the enemy lines firing his rifle and throwing grenades. During the action, he bayoneted 2 enemy and seizing an unmanned machine gun, delivered deadly fire on the defenders. Following this encounter the company regrouped and resumed the attack. Leading the assault he reached the ridge, destroyed a hostile machine gun position, and routed the remaining enemy. Pursuing the hostile troops he bayoneted 2 more and then rushed a mortar position shooting the gunners. Remnants of the enemy fled to a village and Sfc. Kaufman led a patrol into the town, dispersed them, and burned the buildings. The dauntless courage and resolute intrepid leadership of Sfc. Kaufman were directly responsible for the success of his company in regaining its positions, reflecting distinct credit upon himself and upholding the esteemed traditions of the military service.

SFC Kaufman was killed in action in Korea before his award was presented.

High above the town, in a beautiful, immaculately maintained park, there is a memorial to him, and to the other veterans of this small town who have gone forth to serve their nation and its ideals.

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Almost every town in America has something similar. And I’m always compelled to take a moment and enjoy each town’s, and reflect upon what a great nation I have had the honor and privilege to serve.

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Just because you’ve been discharged doesn’t mean you don’t still have a duty.

We’ve borrowed this most excellent letter from An Enlightened Soldier.

GEN “Skinny” Wainwright had the unenviable duty of surrendering US (and Philippine) forces in the Philippines to the Japanese in World War II. He endured the rest of the war in captivity. His sense of duty led him to believe he deserved court martial for failure to accomplish his mission and save his command. Instead, when the Japanese delegation boarded the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 to sign the articles of capitulation, GEN Wainwright stood by General of the Army MacArthur in a place of honor.

His command to his soldiers then is every bit as valid today.

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Filed under army, history, veterans, war

The Green Safety Dot and Risk Assessment.

Here’s your weekend “must-read” on the woes of the current Army culture.

Read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

No, that doesn’t mean we need to be suicidal kamikazes. It does mean we accept that combat is a dangerous world, where even those who take every precaution can still be killed or wounded. It means we embrace the courage of those who disregard mortal danger and do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. It means we shouldn’t reduce bravery to a chart balancing risk versus safety. It means we don’t train Soldiers to believe something as mundane as talking in a classroom requires a careful analysis of danger (no, not even if it’s just a training method). It means we shouldn’t act as if a physical fitness test, which we’re all supposed to be able to pass at a moment’s notice, requires mission planning more worthy of a combat patrol.

Risk assessment is a great tool.  The modern version of Risk Assessment came to us from the aviation community. And, understand, it IS important to do risk assessments there. In the post Vietnam era, the drive to accomplish the mission, always make every flight, led to some crashes, losses of aircraft, and worse, people, that really didn’t need to happen. And so, a risk assessment that takes into account the weather, the mission, the training and experience of the crews involved can give the commander a good idea of whether or not a mission is a good idea.

And to a goodly extent, bringing that concept into the ground forces is a good idea. Is your infantry battalion planning on conducting a river crossing exercise? What are some of the risks involved in that?  Can soldiers swim? Is hypothermia a risk? Will there be medics and ambulances in site? What about a trained rescue team?

But the requirements that Hernandez describes in his (go read the whole thing) essay shows the bureaucratic imperative at work. The process has become more important than the product. We see now the question asked of NCOs is “Have you done your risk assessment?”  The real question is, what have you done to reduce likely risks?

When small unit leaders find they cannot perform the simplest of training tasks because of unreasonable restrictions placed upon them by their superiors, their initiative is smothered. And that’s a tragedy. Because historically, one of the great strengths of our Army (and other services) has been that very initiative.

I’ve railed a time or two about the reflective safety belt becoming the emblem of this risk adverse mentality. The belt does little or nothing to enhance safety, but allows weak leaders to be seen doing something, anything, to promote safety.

Mind you, I ‘m a huge fan of safety. Soldiers don’t join the Army to die for a training event. But nor do soldiers  join the Army to live in a bubble wrapped world.

*Yes, I see that Roamy posted a link to the same essay. She posted hers first because I was busy making brownies. But great minds think alike.

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Wednesday Morning Apache

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

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First Attack!

The 1st Battalion, 227 Aviation Regiment has a long proud history.  Former member, and long time friend of the blog, Outlaw 13 collaborated with several others, and international film and television star Nick Searcy, to produce a great tribute to the unit.  It’s well worth your time.

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Filed under army, helicopters, history

Information Dissemination: Strength in Numbers: The Remarkable Potential of (really) Small Combatants

I’ll have to  go back after finishing today’s taskings, and read this in detail and give it some thought. I’m not convinced that a small craft approach is what we need in the Western Pacific, but I have long believed that such an approach would be fruitful in certain waters, specifically the Persian Gulf, and possibly off the Horn of Africa. And of course, the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas.

You are a tactical commander tasked with a mission to seek out and destroy one of the enemy’s premier capital ships in his home waters. You have two potential striking forces at your disposal: a world class surface combatant of your own with a 99% probability of mission success (Ps = 0.99) or a squadron of eight independently operating, missile carrying small combatants – each with a chance of successfully completing the mission no better than a coin flip (Ps = 0.5). Do you go with the almost sure thing and choose to send in your large combatant? As it turns out, the squadron of small combatants has an even higher overall Ps. But let’s assume now that you’ve advanced to operational commander. You might have more concerns than just overall Ps. What are the defensive and logistical requirements for each option? How much fleet investment am I risking with each option? What will it cost to replace the asset(s) if it is lost? What capability does the striking force have after successful enemy action (i.e. resilience)? An analysis of these factors, intentionally designed to disadvantage the small combatants, actually comes out overwhelmingly in their favor over the large combatant. The results verify what naval strategists and tacticians have long known: for certain offensive missions, an independently operating group of even marginally capable platforms can outperform a single large combatant at lower cost and less risk to the mission.

Put on your thinking caps, and let me hear your thoughts. You groundpounders might think of it in terms of armor versus light infantry in open versus close terrain.

via Information Dissemination: Strength in Numbers: The Remarkable Potential of (really) Small Combatants.

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Now’s not the time for slash and burn

At least, not when it comes to active duty troop levels.

One of my frustrations when frequenting Milblogs with a naval or air centric theme is that in tough budget times, the authors and commentariat are quick to offer up ground forces on the budget alter. “Oh, put the bulk of ground forces in the reserves!”

Well, here’s the thing. In the almost seven decades since the end of World War II, we’ve found ourselves time and again involved in manpower intensive ground combat.

Recently, retired Admiral Gary Roughead and defense analyst Kori Schake published a paper from the Brookings institution recommending that, in effect, all the looming budget cuts in DoD should come from the Army, and that the Navy and Air Force should see their funding levels maintained.

First, thanks guys, for validating the suspicion many of us harbored that AirSea Battle wasn’t a doctrine, but political maneuvering to preserve Navy/Air Force budgets. One can hardly fault a former Chief of Naval Operations for being a tad proprietary when it comes to his service’s budget.*

But to wave your hands and pronounce that henceforth, wars will be high technology affairs with little or no need for manpower intensive operations is to ignore not just the last seven decades of history, but all of history.

Comes now Steve Metz and Douglas Lovelace, arguing that, like it or not, we still need ground troops.

It would be nice if the United States could simply opt out of all messy conflicts, but it cannot. Global connectivity means that conflict in any part of the world has cascading effects. These are most intense in neighboring states or regions as combatants, refugees, money, disorder, crime, and weapons flow back and forth, but in most cases will spread even further. The recent conflict in Libya shows this contagion effect, when there is no sustainable security following the defeat of an enemy regime. In the future, major conflicts anywhere will affect the global and American economies, increasing commodity prices, disrupting the supply of goods and services, and creating uncertainty. U.S. economic growth will depend, in part, on whether the global economy is generally stable or conflict-ridden. This will make it difficult or impossible for the United States to totally avoid major conflicts (although it does not mean the U.S. will intervene militarily in every major conflict). The profusion of global diasporas will also make it politically difficult to ignore major crises or conflicts.

Now, Metz and Lovelace are not unbiased, either. They work for the Army War College at the Strategic Studies Institute.  But they’re quite right that in spite of all our efforts to avoid messy operations on the ground, we seem to always end up there.

I’ll grant that one reason we tend to fight land wars is that in recent history, our naval power has been so overwhelming as to effectively preclude a naval war. And I do fully support the nation keeping a strong, forward naval presence throughout those areas of the world that hold our strategic interest. But the Navy has done poorly at managing the relatively strong support it has received. That’s not to say the Army has done much better, but before the Navy and the Air Force raid the Army’s budget, maybe they ought to consider which branch has born the brunt of the nation’s fighting for the past 70 years.

 

*We’d be a lot more sympathetic if his term as CNO hadn’t been such a goatrope in terms of shipbuilding.

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Being a grunt sucks hard. Being a Russian grunt sucks harder.

We sometimes forget that for all our 12 years of the Global War on Terror, Russia has been fighting off and on since 1979.  And Ivan has never been particularly solicitous about the welfare of his  riflemen.

This video is long. 50 minutes long. And it is in Russian. I neither speak nor read Russian, so it’s hard to be sure, but I’d guess that most of the footage is from various campaigns against separatists in Chechnya. Some is obviously captured footage from the rebels, but most of it seems to be simply the same type of footage that American troops would take.

Be advised, there are parts that are very graphic.

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, war

Chinook

(Repost from 2009)

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

ch47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did the Chinese test their “carrier killer” missile in the Gobi desert?

From Business Insider’s Military and Defense blog comes a report that they did just that.

China’s PLA “sunk” a U.S. aircraft carrier during a war game in remote China using its DF-21D “Carrier Killer” missile, reports Taiwan paper Want China Times.

The China Times is a 63 year old Taiwanese paper slightly slanted toward unification, but with a solid reputation and accurate reporting.

The Times report originates with a Google Earth image published at SAORBOATS Argentinian internet forum.

The photo shows two big craters on a 600 foot platform deep in China’s Gobi desert that Chinese military testers used to simulate the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

There has been talk of the DF-21 for years with estimates of its range, threat, and theater changing implications, but this could be the first known test of the rocket.

DF-21D Carrier Test

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

The challenges any designer faces making an anti-ship ballistic missile are not trivial. First, you have to find the carrier. That’s not always easy. Eventually, yes, the carrier will likely disclose its position. But the first datum that a carrier is on station is likely to be Tomahawk and SEAD strikes against your homeland.  Second, just finding a carrier isn’t localizing to the point of a firing solution.  That doesn’t even begin to take into account any active countermeasures the carrier group may use. And oh, yeah, carriers move. Quite a bit. So not only must your ASBM maneuver, it will likely need a mid-course guidance update.  Maybe. If not, it has to have a seeker that can detect and discriminate targets from long range so it can begin its terminal maneuvers early.

Then there are the active countermeasures. If the missile uses a radar guidance, sooner or later, we’ll learn to jam that system. If it uses infrared, we can jam that as well.

But the most likely active countermeasure is the accompanying escorts. Today, the Navy already fields a number of Aegis cruisers and destroyers fully capable of detecting, localizing, targeting, engaging and destroying medium range ballistic missiles. In fact, since the missile would be approaching the carrier group, that reduces the crossing angle of the shot, and makes it easier and gives multiple shots at a given target.

Given the already fielded anti-ballistic missile capability of our Navy, we are not terribly concerned with the DF-21D. In fact, one wonders why the Chinese would even pursue such an expensive capability, when there are other approaches far more likely to yield success. The obvious approach is the use of submarines. Our surface based Anti-Submarine Warfare capability and training have been shamefully ignored for years, as the capability of diesel electric subs worldwide has improved. Even more “asymetrical” would be an even more primitive weapon, the humble naval mine. The Chinese could lay defensive minefields in areas around their shores to deny us free use of those waters. And if they were really smart, they could use offensive minefields against the ports and harbors that forward deployed carriers depend on. A carrier may be able to spend months at sea, but it still relies on logistics ships to provide it with jet fuel, ammunition, spare parts, and food. This combat logistics train shuttles from friendly ports to the carrier group and back. Deny the navy its logistics, and you’ve denied the Navy itself. And it would only take a handful of mines in any of a number of important ports to effectively shut down operations in the Western Pacific.

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Links of Interest

France’s rescue attempt in Somalia was pretty much a goat rope.  Rescue missions are risky, and have a high failure rate. Failing is one thing. Leaving a man behind? That’s a real black mark on the record.

And President Obama has notified Congress that US aircraft supported the operation. Eh, I’m not gonna get too excited about that. He complied with the War Powers Act mandate to notify Congress. And flying top cover over Somalia is fairly low risk. And believe it or not, France has been a fairly steadfast ally in  a lot of ways. So scratching their back from time to time won’t hurt much.

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France is also busy fighting in Mali. France has a long, long history of intervention in brush wars in Africa. When the US intervenes somewhere, there are calls from every corner of the world and from half the US population about having the blessings of the UN. France doesn’t bother with any of that nonsense. If they feel fighting Islamist radicals in Africa is in their best interests, it’s go time.  I’m hearing some rumors of US logistical support for the operations, but nothing firm yet.

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Steeljaw Scribe is getting the message China is sending. Are you?

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Some days just suck harder than others.

http://themellowjihadi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/A-ground-crew-member-from-Electronic-Attack-Squadron-132-signals-to-an-EA-18G-Growler-as-it-returns-from-a-flight-Jan.-10-during-heavy-snows-at-Naval-Air-Facility-Misawa-Japan..jpg

Via NavyOne.

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I think I’ve found my new favorite band.

D’oh. Video didn’t load first time around.

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Morning Links

Really? Seriously? Is there not ONE damn thing this administration does that isn’t full of lies and deceit?

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And there’s no way anyone saw this coming….

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Kalashnikov in intensive care. Of course, he’s 93, so it’s not a terrible shock.

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To horn in a bit on Roamy’s territory, this clip from SpaceX is pretty cool.

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Happy Boxing Day to our friends up north, and across the pond.

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Operation Christmas Drop, Via the ONT:

With a little luck, we may even have some content later today, or early tomorrow!

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Links of Interest

Because I care so much for our readers of the fairer sex, allow me to offer my services toward your health care.

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The Army will seek the death penalty in the case of SSG Robert Bales. Not a huge surprise there. If Bales did indeed murder 16 civilians, I can’t see any reason to keep him alive. 

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Marines set to introduce tough new standard for alcohol on duty.  Not that you should be drinking at lunch anyway. And I don’t think a twice a year testing program is overly intrusive. Unlike SecNav’s policy of testing every sailor at the gangplank daily, random tests twice a year seem reasonable.

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Over half of all soldier suicides last year were among those with no deployment history, and 85% among those with no direct combat history.  Going from civilian life to basic training is a bit of a shock. But at least you’re surrounded by a peer group experiencing the very same thing, in a very carefully structured environment.  Going from basic training to a new unit is even worse in many ways. You’re away from your friends and family, your new peer group doesn’t know you, and already has an existing, and very complex, social structure, and there is, outside of working hours, very little in the way of structure. Young men tend to do stupid things when unsupervised. That is a recipe for trouble.  How much of the increase in the rate of suicide in the Army is directly related to deployments, and how much is indirectly related is an open question. How much of it is a reflection of the society the Army serves? I don’t know. I rarely write about this topic because I have so little insight or cogent thought to offer.

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I’ve added an Amazon search link up top. If you shop via that link, I get a nice little referral fee, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  Help keep bloggers awash in mad blog money solvent.

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Strafing Germany

April, 1945. The noose is closing upon Nazi Germany’s neck. In the East, the massive front of the Red Army is advancing upon Berlin. In the West, Great Britain, America, and France have breached the Western Wall, and leaped the Rhine. The 21st Army Group, the 12th Army Group, and the 6th Army Group are occupying the industrial heartland of The Reich. The Wehrmacht fights on, but for the first time, scraping together old men and young teens into ad hoc formations. But as fast as they can be formed, the Allied forces grind them up. For the first time, large numbers of troops begin to surrender, particularly in the West. The jig is up, and both sides know it is only a matter of time before the inevitable surrender comes to pass.

But for all the territory conquered , there are still  large swaths of Germany that have yet to feel the sting of war. No Allied soldier has trod their cobblestone lanes, nor yet has the mighty 8th Air Force sent its fleets of Fortresses and Liberators against the villages and towns that dot the countryside. To be sure, there are shortages of many items, and virtually every man of military age has been called to service. But otherwise, these places are as bucolic as a picture postcard.

The Army Air Forces, well aware that after World War I, many folks were convinced that the Imperial German Army treacherously quit before defeat, wanted to make the point across the entire German country that the Nazis had been well and truly beaten. The war had to be brought to every hamlet and burg.

The heavies of the 8th Air Force were still occupied plastering war production in cities. And so the task fell to the 9th Air Force. Long occupied with supporting the troops on on the ground, and interdicting transportation behind the lines, medium and light bombers, and fighters of the 9th were tasked in the closing days of the war to redouble their efforts. Every train, truck and barge had long been a target. Now, the Wings and Groups of the 9th would fan out across the countryside. In virtually every village, there was a Bahnhof *and Reichspost. With bomb, rocket and gun, the B-25s and B-26s, the A-26s and A-20s, and most importantly, the P-47s of the 9th would lay waste to the most prominent local symbol of the German government. After this war, there could be no doubt that the German forces had been well and truly defeated. Every citizen would feel at least a little pain.

And of course, every strafing run was caught on gun- camera film. Here’s a remarkable collection of footage from one fighter group, the 362nd, in April 1945.  It starts with hand held camera footage of surrendered German troops. While most of the German Army fought until the bitter end, large numbers decided surrender was the wiser course of action. Amazingly, such was their level of unit cohesion that it was usually left to the German formation to move itself to collection points for disarming and internment. That’s why you see German soldiers still under arms.

Grab a cup of coffee, as this runs about 30 minutes.

*train station

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Filed under Air Force, history, planes

Decisive Action Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19 Years Ago Today- The Battle of Mogadishu

As John says, hard to believe it has been so long

 

A mission to grab top lieutenants of the leading warlord opposing US efforts in Somalia led to two Blackhawks being shot down by RPG fire. A three hour mission turned into a day and a half trial by fire.

Black_Hawk_Down_Super64_over_Mogadishu_coast

Super 64 over the Somali coast

18 Americans would give their lives. 73 would be wounded. One would be captured.

Two soldiers would posthumously earn their nation’s highest honor.

MSG Gary Gordon

SFC Randall Shugart.

Never Forget.

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The Middle East is going to hell in a handbasket. Should we just let it?

The Middle East, that is, all of Arabia and Persia, has been a basket case since before I was born. Deeply dysfunctional societies that rival sub Sahara Africa for poverty and violence.

The Bush administration’s operations in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq were an attempt to achieve a strategic realignment of the political landscape of the region. To some extent, it did do that. Of course, a decade of US intervention is hardly enough to change a thousand years of culture. So what’s next? The Arab Spring is bearing bitter fruit. Iran is striving to become the hegemon of the Gulf. Israel faces (as always) an existential crisis, and Turkey is no longer the sick man of Europe, but becoming the sick man of the Levant.

What should the US do?

Spengler, writing at the Asia Times, says our best course of action may be to let things get worse. His hinge of history, as it were, is to support, either tacitly or explicitly, an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The response in the short term would be bad, and make the region more volatile. But doing nothing has a price as well:

Absent an Israeli strike, America faces:

  • A nuclear-armed Iran;
  • Iraq’s continued drift towards alliance with Iran;
  • An overtly hostile regime in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood government will lean on jihadist elements to divert attention from the country’s economic collapse;
  • An Egyptian war with Libya for oil and with Sudan for water;
  • A radical Sunni regime controlling most of Syria, facing off an Iran-allied Alawistan ensconced in the coastal mountains;
  • A de facto or de jure Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the Kingdom of Jordan;
  • A campaign of subversion against the Saudi monarchy by Iran through Shi’ites in Eastern Province and by the Muslim Brotherhood internally;
  • A weakened and perhaps imploding Turkey struggling with its Kurdish population and the emergence of Syrian Kurds as a wild card;
  • A Taliban-dominated Afghanistan; and
  • Radicalized Islamic regimes in Libya and Tunisia.
  •  

    Read the whole thing, as they say.

    I’m not ready to sign off on all his conclusions, but it clear that our present course of action is deeply flawed and leaves us at risk, both in the short term and in the long term.

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    Camp Bastion and other morning news.

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

    www.reuters.com1

    Click to embiggen. It’s a big graphic.

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

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

    ……

    China unviels yet another stealthy fighter.

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

    …..

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

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

    …..

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

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