Tag Archives: war

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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Filed under Afghanistan

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?


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.


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.


Filed under Air Force

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…



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.


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.


Filed under Air Force, planes

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.


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


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.


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.


Filed under history

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.


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.



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.


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.


Filed under navy

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.


Filed under Air Force, army, history, navy, Politics, war

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


(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.


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.


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.


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


Some days just suck harder than others.


Via NavyOne.


I think I’ve found my new favorite band.

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


Filed under Around the web

Morning Links

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


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


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


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


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


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.



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.


Filed under Afghanistan, ARMY TRAINING

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.


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.



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.


    Filed under ARMY TRAINING

    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:


    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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    Filed under ARMY TRAINING


    On this day in 1945, on the teak deck of the USS Missouri, representatives of the Empire of Japan unconditionally surrendered to the United States, Great Britain, and allied forces.

    The cataclysm of World War II had ended. Millions of lives lost, untold treasure squandered. While two political regimes were utterly repudiated, the post-war world would see two others struggle for supremacy.

    Oddly, our two bitterest foes would become strong allies in that post-war environment, and our putative ally in the war would be our greatest opponent.

    America turned to beating her swords into plowshares, not knowing in that less than five years, she would again have to take up arms in defense of others.  GEN MacArthur, already well overage at the end of the war, would do perhaps his best work in the reconstruction of Japan. His tenure in Korea would be less successful.

    Millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, spared the invasion of Japan by the atomic bombs, were suddenly confronted with something they had dared not hope for just two weeks before- a future. They had donned khaki in the service of their nation, and quickly learned discipline and dedication, not the parade ground variety, but that kind that wins on the battlefield. They would now flee the ranks in droves. But they would not soon forget the lessons they had learned. Raised in the hardship of the Depression, battle tested by war, exposed to the world, they would return home knowing how not to run a country, and have strong ideas how one should be run. They would educate themselves, and work hard and strive to build lives with the second chance they were given. They would lead the US economy in an economic boom that was unprecedented. If they later were perhaps too soft on their children, can we blame them for not wanting them to suffer as they did?

    The USS Missouri would continue to serve her country for another 50 years. She rests peacefully just a short distance from the USS Arizona. One marks the American entry into World War II. The other, the end. Fitting, I think.

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    Filed under history

    American MiG

    We wrote about Constant Peg a while back, and mentioned Have Donut/Have Drill in that post.

    Both programs were pretty much classified up the wazoo, but knowing about the capabilities of enemy airplanes is only really useful if it gets down to the warfighter’s level. Accordingly, classified training films of the evaluations were made and shown to select crews.

    Oddly, the MiG-21 was flown under the cover name of “YF-110” which was the Air Force designation for the F-4 Phantom before the 1962 tri-service designation revamp. The Phantom, of course, would be the MiG-21’s primary opponent in the skies above North Vietnam.

    You may also recall I posted a video a couple weeks ago about the operational evaluation of the Phantom in the hands of Tactical Air Command. One thing that very plainly struck me was that the entire film focused on the air-to-ground capabilities of the Phantom. TAC saw itself almost entirely devoted to air-to-ground missions. In spite of all their fighter pilot swagger, TAC left the business of serious thought regarding air-to-air combat to the Air Defense Command folks. But ADC faced an very different challenge than the TAC folks. It’s one thing to intercept a TU-95 Bear hundreds of miles away. Swirling around with nimble MiGs over their own territory while you’re trying to bomb the suburbs of Hanoi is an entirely different kettle of fish. And given the emphasis on using the missile armament of Sparrows and Sidewinders, neither of which liked to be fired from a wildly maneuvering jet, the air-to-air skills of the TAC had atrophied to a disastrous state. Where the US shot down about 10 MiGs in Korea for every Sabre they lost, the USAF in the early years of Vietnam saw Phantoms with only a 2-1 kill ratio, and at times, losses among all jets were as bad as 1 to 1.

    Restrictive Rules of Engagement also squandered much of the Phantom’s advantages over Vietnamese MiGs.* The best way to shoot down a MiG is to bomb it on the ground. But fears of killing Russian advisors in bombing raids kept North Vietnamese MiG airfields off the target list for long stretches of time, and even when strikes were permitted, they were only allowed in fits and starts, not sufficient to keep the fields closed for more than brief periods.

    The dismal performance of the Phantom in the air-to-air regime led the Navy and the Air Force to do a lot of soul searching. AIMVAL/ACEVAL, The Ault Report, Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and later Red Flag were all results the the services tackling head on their earlier failures. Technical improvements to both the Sparrow and Sidewinder greatly improved their performance. More importantly, tough realistic training greatly improved the aircrews ability to fight MiGs and win.

    The MiG-21 was designed as a point defense interceptor, optimized for shooting down bomb-laden strike aircraft. It was fast as  a thief. It could also turn on a dime… for a little while**. While its delta-wing planform gave it great initial turning capability, it also had enormous induced drag, causing it to bleed airspeed in a turn like a hemophiliac. And in air combat, speed is life. The Phantom wasn’t nearly as nimble a turning jet. What it did have, however, was two great big thundering J79 engines that gave it a very good ability to sustain its energy levels through a fight. A ham fisted pilot would find himself out of airspeed, altitude and ideas very quickly, but a well trained stick-shaker could manage his energy level to outfly almost any opponent.

    The whole point of maneuvering in air combat was to place your jet in optimum firing position, which in those days was very roughly a cone of about 30 degrees from the enemy fighter’s tail, and a range of about half a mile to 1-1/2 miles. Woe betide the Phantom pilot who tried to yank the stick hard enough to turn with the MiG. He’d find that very likely, the MiG would turn the tables, and find the gomer riding in his “saddle.” Instead, US pilots were taught to abandon this “angles” fight, and instead fight an “energy” fight. If you can’t out turn an MiG, how do you do this? By exploiting the vertical. Humans are essentially two-dimensional thinkers.  Most pilots, wanting to turn, instinctively turn in a level turn, parallel to the surface of the earth. As noted, this bleeds airspeed in a MiG. But a well trained Phantom pilot would make turns “out of plane1” A Phantom pilot that wants to execute a tight turn without bleeding a lot of energy would pull into the vertical. This would bleed airspeed, sure. But it would also quickly gain altitude. At the apex of the zoom climb, the Phantom at low speed could quickly tip its nose back earthward, execute a roll (with the practical effect of very rapidly changing its compass heading) and begin pulling out of the dive. And all that altitude is quickly converted back into a high airspeed, leaving the Phantom with reserves of energy to either kill the MiG, escape combat, or make further maneuvers.

    Various other maneuvers, such as the “barrel roll attack” or the “lag displacement roll2” capitalized on the Phantom’s strengths, and minimized its weaknesses.  The “high yo-yo” allowed Phantoms to exploit energy for angles, and the “low yo-yo” allowed Phantoms to generate energy or range/angle offsets as appropriate.

    With improvement in weapons, and the vastly improved training of aircrews, by the time of Linebacker I in 1972, the US Air Force and US Navy increased their kill ratio to an impressive 12-1. Through the lean years of the 1970s, and on through the early 1990s, both services placed great emphasis on supporting the training in air combat needed to ensure success. Today, while there is still strong support, the emphasis has shifted somewhat to integrating air combat into the strike warfare arena, and using new weapons and sensors to make traditional dogfighting less likely. Many traditionalists decry this, but the fact is, since Desert Storm, most US air-to-air kills have been Beyond Visual Range engagements with little or no dogfighting involved.


    *On the other hand, there were some very good reasons for some of the ROE restrictions. The big restriction was that pilots had to make a positive visual identification of their potential targets. That took away the range advantage of the Sparrow missile. But given the large numbers of US aircraft operating over North Vietnam, and the relative paucity of MiGs, without that restriction, the was a very great possibility of fratricide. There’s a good chance this rule saved more jets than it lost.

    ** The preferred MiG-21 tactic was to attack flights of F-105 bombers by coming up from behind and slightly below. Quickly accelerating to supersonic speeds, the MiG would dash in, fire off its Atoll heatseeking missiles, and dive away for safety. The Atoll was a virtual clone of the early Sidewinder missile.

    1. The “plane” here isn’t the Phantom or the MiG, but rather the geometric concept of a plane, this one being the surface of the earth, which, yes, we know the surface is rounded, but for the purposes of aerial combat can be considered as a flat plane.

    2. The Lag Displacement Roll lets a Phantom that is overshooting the MiG go outside the turn of the MiG, denying the MiG the opportunity to reverse its turn and attack. Instead of instinctively turning in the direction of the MiG, the Phantom barrel rolls away from the MiG and outside the track of the MiG’s turn. Once outside the MiG’s turn, the Phantom continues an in-plane turn with the MiG. It’s turn radius is larger than that of the MiG, but it’s turn rate matches well enough.  Essentially, the turn comes to resemble two well matched runners on a track, with one on the inside lane, and one on the outside lane. So while the Phantom may not have a shot, he’s not at risk of becoming defensive either.  Eventually, the MiG will bleed away so much energy that it can’t sustain the turn, allowing the Phantom to gain an angular advantage as well, and set up a shot.


    Filed under ARMY TRAINING