Saturday, April 21, 2018

No Blood for Solar Panels!

For a large part of my adult life, liberals have cried "no blood for oil" to condemn reliance on oil for our economic health. That problem seems to be receding, but will competition for rare earths replace the central role of oil?

This is interesting:

The [2018 United States Geological Survey] has provided a sobering wake-up call. Assuring access to 42 vital minerals and rare earths that the USGS identifies as critical now ranks high on the list of national security and economic security issues in the 21st century. ...

The American public likes solar power. ...

Do you like your clean energy depending on the whims of the Communist Party in Beijing? That's the mob that approved the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of 2,000 pro-democracy demonstrators.

You have to admit that there is some dark humor in the fact that the push for "cheap and clean" renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels has just created the need to compete for the rare elements that allow us to build solar panels, electric cars, and windmills.

And smart phones, for that matter. Will there be blood shed for gallium so you can freely Snapchat?

The Deadly Enemies Paperwork and Image

Strategypage writes about the deadly effects paperwork and image have on military effectiveness. Let's hope Mattis can address the paperwork quagmire that takes up too much of troops' time. I'll hope ongoing combat addresses the "look" issue even though war didn't stop the paperwork ambush.

This is important stuff:

The new American secretary of defense is the first combat infantryman and combat commander to run the Department of Defense. Equipped with that background he sees a lot of problems his predecessors missed or underestimated. In particular the guy at the top understood the seriousness of a growing problem in the military; not enough time to carry out all the required training and verification events. In other words, too much paperwork and pointless busywork. This degenerative process got worse once the Cold War ended in 1991 and throughout the 1990s there were more and more mandatory training and verification tests. Many of these new requirements were based online, which somehow supposed to make them less onerous.

I hope this succeeds. It is a problem. Let me provide three examples from my personal life, 2 from the Army and 1 from civilian life.

First, the civilian side. When I was a research analyst one job was to fill out a form that identified long distance phone calls made from my phone to identify who was called, why they were called, and what research question this was related to. This had to be done every month. If the total calls per month resulted in more than a couple dollars in charges, it was noteworthy.

One day when I was carrying out my monthly drudgery, my boss came in to check on how things are going. I picked up my log sheet, and told him that I was astounded that I had to spend X amount of time at Y rate per hour to verify that the calls on this log that cost Z piddly amount was really worth it. Wouldn't it be better to simply come to me if I have a sudden spike of costly calls and otherwise just let me do my job?

He was silent for a moment and then said "You're right." He took the paper from my hand and told me I'd never see it again. He was a smart guy and a good boss. But I was still kind of shocked that he acted given the pressures of paperwork. And I never saw that paperwork again.

The second example is from my time at Fort Gordon for signal school. Uniforms were designed to suppress infrared signature and were not to be starched lest they ruin that feature. I have no idea if that is true but that's what I was told.

Yet having ironed and starched uniformed was considered the look of professionalism. As a National Guard soldier, I emphasized by casual nature while following the rules. I did iron my blouse front pockets while at Gordon, but other than that, wrinkles ruled. Indeed, the base sergeant that was my first point of contact when I arrived at the base noted on my personal record that I did not present myself as a professional soldier. But I was at the top of my class and a high performer on the PT tests, so nobody ever officially told me to change.

But one day a staff sergeant who was in the class along with me took my aside to dress me down for my presentation and told me that I should iron and starch my uniform. I listened as I stood at parade rest. When he finished I asked him if ironing and starching the uniform was required. Completely annoyed, he said no it is not. I thanked him for his advice and that was the end of that. At the end of the field training exercise (actually it was a station training exercise (?) since nearing the end of the fiscal year there wasn't the money to send us into the field), the active trainer wrote on my "report card" that I should be regular Army and not Guard. I took it as the compliment it was intended to be. Apparently my un-starched uniform (and the flu I was enduring during the STX) did not affect my ability to learn the MOS.

The final example comes from Guard annual training at Camp Grayling in northern Michigan. The issue was a debate on the bandage orientation that changed from day to day for a while. Opening up or opening down was the question for how to place the bandage carried on the front of the LBE. It was completely silly as word came down on the latest directive.

I started just randomly placing my bandage on my LBE each day. Not that this took up my time. But there were clearly officers up the chain of command using up scarce training time to determine just how the bandage should be placed.

But I was lucky that none of my experiences affected whether I would live or die; or win or lose. Let's hope Mattis succeeds in his effort to rein in the bullshit so that it can be safely said that none of the bullshit kills our troops or loses us a war.

Suck Up Much?

Wow! I do hope Putin has the decency to take this reporter to dinner!

Facing a stark choice between engaging the United States, Britain and France in combat or passively watching them strike his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin has opted for the peaceful route.

Putin opted for a peaceful route?

Putin had the stark choice of risking his weapons not working to stop the missiles fired by the allies or doing nothing.

Putin had the stark choice of risking a clash with the allies that he would lose or doing nothing.

Putin had the stark choice of angering the Arab world by defending Assad who gasses his own people and is a hand puppet of Iran or doing nothing.

So Putin did nothing during the attack on Assad's chemical weapons infrastructure.

But what Russia has done in Syria is not "the peaceful route."

Putin has been on the route of massive bloodshed and misery by backing Assad to the hilt by supplying Assad with the means to do even more killing; by engineering a faux chemical weapons deal with our idiot secretary of state that saved Assad when he was on the ropes; by bombing civilians directly; by standing aside as Assad uses chemical weapons; and by shielding Assad from repercussions in the UN Security Council.

The idea that Putin has chosen a "peaceful route" in Syria is offensive.

Oh, and check this out:

Putin condemned Saturday's strikes as an "act of aggression" that will worsen the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and have a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations."

This would be outrageous just considering Syria in isolation.

But when you recall that Putin has dismembered Ukraine by seizing Crimea and parts of the Donbas region (on top of carving out parts of Georgia) in defiance of the UN Charter that represents the system of international relations, the ability to report that with a straight face is amazing.

So fine, Putin portrayed himself to his people at home as a wise man avoiding plunging Russia into a nuclear war by standing aside during the attack. But why go along with that propaganda in reporting that interesting angle?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Screw the Reputation Talk

The fact that the F-22 was not used in the recent punitive strike on Syria is no reason to question the aircraft's capability. The plane simply wasn't needed for the mission and so why give potential enemies a chance to learn about the plane's capabilities in a less-than-vital mission?

I'm fine with this:

The F-22 Raptor is fast developing a reputation as the aircraft that gets left behind during combat ops.

The Air Force fifth-generation stealth fighter was not flying alongside a pair of B-1B Lancer bombers that dropped missiles on Syrian targets. Nor was it conducting overwatch in the area as the bombers for the first time deployed the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range in combat during Saturday's strikes against a chemical lab and two equipment facilities, according to U.S. Air Force Central Command.

The B-1s launched from outside of Syrian air space. The F-22 is useful for penetrating into highly contested air space. Honestly, if interceptors had tried to go after the B-1s inside Jordanian air space (I assume), other fighters on overwatch could handle them just fine if backed by other planes tracking the bogies.

And why give potential enemies a chance to see the plane in action and learn from it when it wasn't needed to conduct the mission?

Further, why risk an accident that might allow our foes to claim they shot it down--let alone risk an actual shoot-down--when the plane was not needed to achieve the mission? Do we really want enemies crawling over the wreckage?

Seriously, we have few enough of these high-end planes. If we need them, we'll need them badly and we'll be grateful we didn't needlessly use them before then just to help enemies learn how to fight them.

If we never need to use the F-22 for its prime mission of fighting for aerial supremacy, I'll be more than happy. Silly reputation talk be damned.

UPDATE: The Pentagon revised information to say that the extended range version of the JASSM was not used and to say that the F-22 was used for overwatch because it flew within the envelope of Syrian air defenses:

“Thanks to its unique fifth-generation capabilities, the F-22 was the only airframe suited to operate inside the Syrian integrated air defense system, offering an option with which to neutralize IADS threats to our forces and installations in the region, and provide protective air support for U.S., coalition and partners on the ground in Syria,” Graff said.

Also, the spokesman confirmed no allied warplanes entered Syrian air space.

I still don't get why the F-22 was needed rather than using non-stealth planes if they stayed safely over Jordanian air space (I assume) or over the Mediterranean Sea.

Unless the overwatch capability was mostly concerned with air defenses on the ground and so crowded Syrian air space in order to more rapidly fire at ground-based air defenses, it seems like a needless worry to think Syrian fighters would take off to attack planes already returning home by the time the missiles struck.

I haven't read the latest briefing yet, so perhaps it has more details than the article.

Was the F-22 used to avoid a bad reputation? I just don't like needlessly showing potential enemies the plane in action so they learn more about its capabilities.

UPDATE: In related news, Lavrov claims Russia dictated where America, Britain, and France could strike.

The Russians spin it that way, but as I said before, of course we wanted to avoid killing Russians on the ground. So we worked with the Russians so they would get out of the way. And they likely told the Syrians to skedaddle too, which is why nobody died in the strikes. But the facilities are wrecked.

Why the Russians would want to claim this is beyond me. Did they think through the image they conveyed of  Russia working quietly to "allow" a strike on their ally Assad?

Why Our Enemies Like Diplomacy So Darned Much

This should be worrisome:

[In 2017], the [Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, Syria's chemical weapons research facility,] was ordering up shipments from North Korea. According to the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions, in a report dated March 5, 2018, their investigations into weapons and dual-use shipments to Syria from North Korea turned up more than 40 shipments between 2012 and 2017 "by entities designated by Member States as front companies for the Scientific Studies Research Centre of the Syrian Arab Republic." Among these shipments were items "with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programmes."

Notwithstanding the 2013 chemical weapons deal that eliminated Syria's chemical weapons that somehow Assad continues to use, North Korea supplied Syria with material to rebuild the arsenal.

Yes, despite the smartiest of smarty Smart Diplomacy carried out by the most nuanced American diplomat evah (he speaks French, you know), somehow Assad continued to use chemical weapons following the Kerry-Lavrov deal which Kerry insists was simply grande.

How is it even possible for OPCW to map attacks in 2014, 2016, and 2017 (they took a break in 2015?) when the 2013 deal ended that problem! We have pieces of paper that assured us this is so!

Yet for some reason the Russians and Syrians are stalling inspectors to scrub the latest site of evidence.

No worries, though! Assad can continue to kill like he has for the vast majority of his victims the good old fashioned way!

We had these problems with inspectors and non-gas killings with Saddam until we destroyed his regime in 2003 and sent him to trial where he was executed for his crimes.

Tell me we wouldn't be reporting the same facts about Saddam as we are about Assad today if we hadn't taken out the ultimate weapon of mass destruction--the thug ruler and his minions who are determined to kill.

But I'm told that the 2015 nuclear weapons program deal with Iran has stopped Iran in its tracks. And we should not worry that North Korea will supply Iran with any material or technology that Iran might need to complete nuclear weapons.

Pity the media isn't worked up about past collusion with Iran or Syria to harm America.

Have a super sparkly day.


"Iran has several options if the United States leaves the nuclear deal. Tehran's reaction to America's withdrawal of the deal will be unpleasant," TV quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on his arrival in New York.

I don't know what "unpleasant" reaction Iran might have in mind, but thank God we know--because of the 2015 deal which allowed Iran to deny even having a nuclear program rather than agreeing to end a nuclear program--that Iran can't build nuclear missiles!

Thursday, April 19, 2018


If Pakistan continues down the road of becoming a Chinese client state, America really needs a secure supply line to Afghanistan through a friendly Iran.

Pakistan has long been the Black Sheep of America's allies, given Pakistan's role in supporting and fighting jihadis in Afghanistan. Pakistan is tilting to being pure problem by tilting more and more to China.

When Pakistan fully accepts being a client state of China, Pakistan may not feel any need to back jihadis in Afghanistan and support America's efforts to fight jihadis in Afghanistan. Pakistan would just drop the latter policies.

Which means we'd need, as I've long wanted, a friendly supply line through Iran. The supply line at least exists. Just not for America.

The supply issue would be just one of the many problems that would become lesser problems if Iran stopped being a mullah-run nutball nation.

Of course, if Pakistan chooses to be a Chinese client, the gloves can come off in the Pakistani tribal territories.

Would India react by drawing closer to mullah-run Iran to maintain access to Afghanistan or would India decide a non-nutball Iran would better serve Indian efforts to block China and undermine Pakistan's threat to India?

What will Pakistan decide? And what will America and India decide about Pakistan and Iran?

And a bonus decision: Will anybody be punished for opening Congress to Pakistani intelligence?

And do you really think Pakistan decided not to share that information with China?

What is Victory?

Over the years, I've periodically addressed the issue of victory and the idea of "just what on Earth do you people expect victory to look like?" as a counter to complaints that we are losing or have lost wars.

I recently addressed the Iraq War as well as our other post-World War II conflicts.

And I recently ran across a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre that pretty much sums up the problem:

A victory described in detail is indistinguishable from defeat.

There's a lot of truth in that. What other endeavor assumes death and destruction as the cost of doing business even if you win?

Would World War II have been considered a win if subjected to today's standards of mistakes and post-war problems?

Which addresses my points as well as including the strange ability to see our foes achieve victory no matter what. Because our critics see us in detail and hardly know the broad brush strokes of foes.

This is the corollary to the problem of assessing the progress of a war during the war when you see all your side's flaws but the enemy is concealed by the fog of war:

Man cannot tell but Allah knows
How much the other side is hurt.

That's from Rudyard Kipling.

People who expect perfection annoy me.


Russian and Iranian predictions of chaos are what one would call self-fulfilling prophecies.

Thanks for the heads up:

A Kremlin statement said Putin and Rouhani agreed that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the multi-sided, seven-year conflict that has killed at least half a million people.

"Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the U.N. Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations," a Kremlin statement said.

So get ready. Russia and Iran haven't given up stirring up and supporting violence in the Middle East. Assad may or may not refrain from using chemical weapons again; but Russia and Iran are not deterred from creating chaos in the Middle East.

It's easy to publicly predict what you've privately ordered your people to carry out.

On a not totally unrelated subject, I'm hearing that Russia "blinked" by not hitting our ships that launched the strike. I don't believe that is accurate given that the threat came from Russia's ambassador to Lebanon, which is not exactly Gospel from the Kremlin:

Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war.

I'd say the ambassador got a bit ... over-enthusiastic. Unless I missed a more authoritative statement, that is hardly evidence of "blinking."

God help us if every utterance by one of our ambassadors is elevated to a prediction of state policy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Objectives Defined?

We have objectives in Syria now. Is it avoiding the main question of whether Assad has to go, or not?

I've said we need to define what we want to do in Syria because the interim objective of defeating ISIL has achieved the interim step of denying the terror group a territorial base to support their terror and attempt to define Islam:

The Obama administration ignored the logical consequences of saying Assad had to step down by waging a parallel war as a de facto ally of Assad against the common enemy of ISIL that put off enforcing that declaration. The defeat of the ISIL caliphate has exposed the wide gap between the stated preference for Assad to leave and the focus of military action on ISIL only. So what do we do now?

Apparently we have objectives now:

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Haley listed three aims for the United States: ensuring that chemical weapons are not used in any way that pose a risk to U.S. interests, that Islamic State is defeated and that there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

What of the aims?

Depressingly, by defining the WMD issue in terms of how they threaten US interests in Syria, we abandon the 2013 Kerry-Lavrov chemical weapons deal not even 5 years old that committed Syria to abandon all chemical weapons and not use any.

Committing to the defeat of ISIL is good in that it learns from the mistake of leaving Iraq in 2011 when jihadis were almost completely defeated, which gave jihadis room to regenerate and capture more than they had controlled at the height of the Iraq War COIN phase. But in one sense that is simply conflating the objective for ISIL with an objective for Syria because ISIL is in Syria. Without ISIL, do we still have an objective in Syria if Assad actually abandons chemical weapons? Remember, if Assad finally defeats the rebels in the west, he could recommit to getting rid of chemical weapons completely because he won't need them. So what then?

That's where the third objective comes in: watching what Iran is doing.

Watching isn't as strong as saying we want to expel Iran from Syria, which is what we should want. But it does allow us to stay in eastern Syria and work to cut an overland supply route to western Iran and Lebanon where Hezbollah is based; and does allow America to protect our anti-ISIL allies even after ISIL is defeated in Syria for good. And we could replace ISIL focus with al Qaeda affiliate focus when that happens.

But by refusing to explicitly discuss Assad, who Obama once said had to leave office, Trump continues to kick the can down the road by leaving that issue to a separate call to address Assad through the Geneva peace process that has simply talked while casualties approach half a million dead in Syria.

Mind you, we don't have sufficient interests in what happens in western Syria to commit 100,000 ground troops to fight there and be capable of defeating Assad's army and associated militias.

And despite the technical precision of our missile barrage on Assad's chemical warfare facilities, this Russian effort demonstrates that while we may destroy things from the air, controlling the ground is what Russia is about:

Russia has sent two warships carrying tanks and military equipment towards the Middle East following co-ordinated military action in Syria.

The boats were spotted on The Bosphorus on Sunday, as Vladimir Putin warned that the world would experience ‘chaos’ if Syria was attacked again.

Note that the list of weapons doesn't include actual "tanks."

But what do we do in eastern Syria if Assad finally wins in the west and rebuilds an army capable of moving east to reincorporate all of Syria under his regime? We cannot achieve the last objective Haley stated, nor the unstated objective of protecting our allies in the east who helped us so far in the fight against ISIL, if Assad remains in power and eventually wins his civil war.

But that's the point of kicking the can down the road. The best that can be said is that perhaps the horse will sing.

Nobody is Coming to Help, So AFRICOM Needs to Help Itself

AFRICOM has a new commander. Will he commission The AFRICOM Queen?

America has a new commander for Africa Command:

The U.S. Army has tapped Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr. to serve as the next head of Vicenza, Italy-based U.S. Army Africa, where he will oversee efforts to train indigenous ground forces for counterterrorism fights on that continent.

Africa has gotten no higher on the priority lists given the potential for conventional conflict in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East that draws more of America's military attention.

One or more modularized auxiliary cruisers as I discussed in "The Africom Queen" might be the only way to get capabilities capable of addressing a lot of needs along the long littorals of Africa far from American forces in Djibouti or Europe.

As the Ghana issue shows, land bases in Africa continue to be a sensitive issue.

The platform for the auxiliary cruiser is the first problem to solve. Luckily, an increased need to rebuild dwindling sea logistics to support potential conventional war provides a new avenue:

The merchant fleet that would carry the U.S. military to war is in dire need of recapitalization and might not prepared to fight its way to a conflict zone, said a panel of officials tasked with oversight of military sealift.

And if America restores military sealift by building up container ships in that fleet, the hull for the ship type could be created, creating more secure source of platforms than a naval version of the CRAF that provides reserve airlift that I proposed in that article.

These days money is easier to get than Navy hulls. Will AFRICOM wait for assets to be given to it? Or will AFRICOM MacGyger their own modularized auxiliary cruisers for power projection missions?

Shoot, Communicate, Move On Out

Coping with Russian electromagnetic spectrum (including cyber) warfare efforts is nothing new and calling it part of new "hybrid" warfare (and you know what I think of that) is nonsense. But it is true that we need to learn from Russia's operations in the Russian-occupied Donbas region of Ukraine.

Yes, fighting insurgents and terrorists without such capabilities has instilled bad habits in communications:

U.S. troops have some bad habits to kick after a generation of counterinsurgency operations, the report said. During counterinsurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, U.S. troops often conducted “battle update briefs” to rear echelon command centers over the radio or a phone line.

“In a confrontation with Russians or their proxies, this type of action will get units targeted through electronic warfare and then killed with artillery,” the report said, adding that U.S. forces also need to practice better “radio discipline”—meaning shorter radio calls and other brevity tactics.

That applies to any electronic signal emission. Do read how Ukrainian units attempt to cope.

I remember signal training about breaking radio transmissions frequently to avoid enemy tracking. I guess that wasn't needed in the post-Cold War era.

The basic lesson is that if you emit, move. And if you don't want to move, don't emit.

And I recall decades ago reading about how an American electronic warfare unit let loose in a Cold War era Army field exercise wreaked havoc via the radio waves, including giving fake orders that sent American units off on wild goose chases that took them out of the fight.

We're starting to remember the long-standing Russian ability in this area because of Ukraine. It is good to have our attention gained with the clue bat applied to someone else.

We'd best learn this lesson before we experience it directly.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Now That Would Be Real Pressure

Is America seriously pushing a regional strategy for Afghanistan that combats Pakistani support for jihadis who destabilize Afghanistan?

The rise of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is very interesting:

A new movement has sprung up in Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated northern areas. Its supporters, wary of their region being used as a battleground for years, have taken on both the Taliban and the nation's powerful military. ...

PTM leader Pashteen doesn't mince his words and has made it clear who he holds responsible for the Pashtun suffering: "We have to identify the place that destroyed us," Pashteen said at a recent rally. "It is GHQ!" he said, referring to the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Last summer, I asked if a regional strategy could include my 2008 proposal to support Pakistanis in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to deny jihadis a sanctuary in Pakistan to wage war in Afghanistan. My 2008 proposal was:

[America] may have an opportunity to use a post-Westphalian Lexington Rule to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan.

If we can't get Islamabad to control the frontier area, it is time to bypass Islamabad and deal directly with the tribes who don't recognize the control of Islamabad in the first place. We cannot allow the fictions of sovereignty to keep us from defending ourselves from fanatics who straddle the gray boundary that lies between reality and international law.

Using limited military assets such as special forces and drones to back civilian armed assets such as the CIA or contract personnel (with either former or seconded special forces from Western countries, or perhaps even hiring security companies to provide the personnel) or even Arab special forces that would live and work inside the frontier areas, we may be able to turn the frontier tribes against the jihadis who target us.

We should be able to start at the Afghan-Pakistan border and extend the network of anti-al Qaeda tribes toward the interior of Pakistan.

There are different jihadis to fight but the problem remains the same.

And if we rule out pursuing jihadis into Pakistan, somebody has to control that side of the border to protect Afghanistan.

If we aren't already behind this, we could certainly try to encourage it and develop it in useful ways.

Money is like ammunition over there.

Anyway, it is interesting.

The Long War

This analysis condemning the Bush doctrine of naming an Axis of Evil of Iraq under Saddam, North Korea, and Iran ignores the simple realities of what we face now. With bonus collateral damage for World War II's success.


The Bush Doctrine was fundamentally flawed from the start. It assumed that the US would not be met with heavy casualties and wouldn’t cause civilian casualties. It assumed that the war in Iraq would be vindicated, which it wasn’t, and that the United States could withdraw harmlessly after routing the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and aQ (at least on the surface) and allow those secondary, long-term goals to achieve themselves. It ignored the fact that, to maintain stability after deposing two regimes with an extremely tight grip on their respective societies, a far more monumental, longer and deeply unpopular occupation would’ve been needed. It ignored the fact that such a large scale war would create endless amounts of collateral civilian damage and as such the invasions and occupations of the Bush Doctrine will go down in history, least of all in this article, as some of the most morally bankrupt, regrettable and failed exercises of American foreign policy in history.

What rot. Trendy. Consensus. But rot.

The condemnation is focused on Iraq but the broader point is about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. So let's look at where we are now with each.

Well, we did win the Iraq War. With pre-war plans to remain just as we remained in Afghanistan after the 2001 operation. Indeed, the Iraq plans were far more ambitious.

The Iraq War was good enough that President Obama launched Iraq War 2.0 in 2014 to save it. And the casualties took place not during the invasions but because brutal enemies continued to fight after the destruction of the Saddam and Taliban governments.

And as a result of the war, Iraq no longer kills its own people as Saddam did, Iraq no longer threatens neighbors with invasion as Saddam did, Iraq no longer aspires to gain and use WMD as Saddam did, and most significantly Iraq is now an ally that helps America kill jihadis rather than being a state that supported jihadi killers as Saddam did.

And we have prevented Afghanistan from hosting attacks on our homeland. I was reluctant to escalate in Afghanistan as President Obama did. I didn't think it would do any good opposed to a low-level effort to support sub-national actors in the formal state of Afghanistan to fight jihadis and keep them from running the place. I firmly believe that the brief escalations were purely for making good on the campaign claim that Iraq "distracted" America from Afghanistan, and the many more deaths as a result were fairly pointless. I could be wrong that the escalations didn't set the stage for what we have now and that without it things would be worse. Yet I suspect we paid an unnecessary price. But we had to pay some price to destroy the authors of 9/11. And walking away would allow the threats to rebuild. Certainly, Obama's embrace of the war validates that war, too, as a bipartisan consensus.

As for North Korea, we've really done nothing until the last year or so when we have finally worked hard to solve the problem--hopefully without war. So the problems we have with North Korea threatening the peace have nothing to with Bush who rightly named North Korea a member of the Axis of Evil.

And Iran? The Left would have impeached Bush for addressing Iran which has been nothing but named a member of the Axis of Evil. Sanctions were briefly tightened and then relaxed to get Iran a farcical deal that only pretends to stop Iran from going nuclear. At best it prevents Iran from going nuclear during the time of the deal even as the deal makes Iran more capable of racing to nukes when the deal expires. At best. And I still worry that North Korea is essentially Iran's nuclear weapons program to furnish the warheads for the missiles Iran develops.

So Iraq is a relative success early in the process of being a full success.

Afghanistan is a success as far as preventing it from being a terror sanctuary. But the cost has been higher than it needed to be. But stuff like that happens in a war.

Iran remains a threat but it has not been seriously confronted. And indeed Iran has been bribed in a failed attempt to make it a responsible power.

As for North Korea, it hasn't been stopped and everyone seems to have hoped not to be in the White House when the music stops in this game of nuclear musical chairs.

As for jihadis, at its heart the problem is an Islamic Civil War about who defines what Islam is. The war against jihadis is just a holding action to protect us and enable reasonable Moslems to reject the bloody vision of the jihadis for what all of Islam should be. How long will it take to change Islamic society? You tell me. But it is at least starting.

Is the war on terror and the Axis of Evil going on longer than we hoped? Yes, but that is the fault of fighting very bloody enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we've not worked to really defeat North Korea or Iran.

What was the alternative post 9/11? To let Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be horrible regimes that host people who want to kill us and threaten their regions? How's that going with Iran in the Middle East and North Korea in northeast Asia, where both are still unconstrained? Would our enemies have tired of killing and just stopped on their own?

Are we to accept nuclear Iran and North Korea? How many more nuclear states will follow those two? And how long will it be before nuclear wars between close neighbors break out? America and Russia had the luxury of distance, at least, to reduce the friction that could have led to a nuclear war during the Cold War. How good will all these new nuclear states' command and control and early warning systems be? Will fear of being hit with a disarming first strike lead to launches of nukes in pointless nuclear wars?

And if you want to speak of a war that didn't go according to plan, why is America and the World War II alliance that defeated Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy still struggling to defend the West from external threats?

Oh, and didn't we turn regimes with tight grips on their people--Japan, Italy, Germany, and later South Korea--into real and prosperous democracies despite needing a long time to achieve that? Or is World War II, a morally bankrupt, regrettable and failed exercise? One even bigger than what we've faced so far?

We're doing all right in this very difficult Long War. Don't be so bloody dramatic.

This Time For Sure

It would be nice if a tiny force of accurate long-range missiles is the solution to the North Korean threat to bombard the northern suburbs of Seoul. But I doubt it.

This is a nice weapon:

South Korea is forming a special artillery brigade consisting of its Chunmoo MLRS (multiple launch rocket system). ...

The new brigade would probably have at least three battalions, each with 12 Chunmoo MLRS vehicles. These 36 Chunmoo vehicles could carry 432 of the 239mm guided rockets and would be deployed to deal with the hundreds of fortified North Korean firing positions for their long range artillery. The Chunmoo 239mm guided rockets are designed to penetrate bunkers and destroy the enemy artillery and rocket launchers.

Maybe, finally, precision and persistent surveillance will be the solution that rapidly knocks out the North Korean protected artillery assets that threaten Seoul.

But I have a lot of confidence that clever people can dull the effect of the new weapon with concealment, mobility, and distractions.

And heck, with so few key weapons, why wouldn't the North Koreans devote a major effort to destroy the brigade? Special forces and long-range fires would work.

North Korea could burn their otherwise useless air force in a suicide mission to hit the brigade.

I just don't have any confidence that South Korea can protect Seoul without advancing north of the DMZ to carve a no-launch zone where the North Korean artillery is stationed.

But sure, I hope South Korea has a silver bullet solution to the problem.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Blowback from the Syrian Civil War

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that the Palestinian-Israel conflict was so central to all Arabs that solving any other problem required the Palestinian issue to be solved first. The Syriab civil war (which became a multi-war) killed that conventional wisdom.

Saudi Arabia is leading Arab states to work with Israel as Egypt did to Arab condemnation 40 years ago and as Jordan has done more quietly. The reason for the latest Saudi effort is to oppose Iran whose influence is rising in the region in the wake of Iranian expeditionary forces and support for actors hostile to the Sunni Arab world.

Funny enough, Egyptian support for Iraq against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War was the path Egypt used to regain the good opinion of the Arab (other than Syria, which supported Iran) world.

It is quite likely that the Syrian civil war paved the way for Saudi Arabia to more openly side with Israel. And not just from the common enemy of Iran.

No, I mean the fact that the Syrian civil war proved that the Palestinian question and hatred of Israel over that issue is not the central factor in the Arab world.

Recall that before the first revolts that flowed from the Arab Spring, Assad claimed that hostility to Israel was a pillar of his government:

In a rare interview, Bashar Assad was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as acknowledging that the toppling of Tunisia's longtime ruler and the protesters that have left Hosni Mubarak's government teetering in Egypt signaled a "new era" in the Middle East.

But he said Syria, which has gradually shed its socialist past in favor of the free market in recent years, was insulated from the upheaval because he understood his people's needs and has united them in common cause against Israel.

Yeah, a lot of Syrians proved they hate Assad more than Israel.

Further, Hezbollah proved that their main mission is to obey Iran which ordered them to fight and die to support Assad rather than confront Israel, which is supposedly their primary mission. Oh well. If even Hezbollah didn't think the Palestinian issue came first, why should any other Arabs think so?

And the prospect of Iran gaining a firmer grip on an Arab state by supporting Assad made finding an ally against Iran more important for the Arab states. Certainly more important than the fate of the Palestinians who long believed they are queen of the victim prom.

Will No Advisor Tell Putin He's Effing Things Up Royally?

The erosion of the Russian fleet from its Cold War peak continues, and is merely the most obvious result of the slowing momentum of their Cold War era military technology that is not being replaced by new innovations. And quality control is bad as well:

The Gorshkovs are not an isolated example. The same problems have been encountered with the Su-57 stealth fighter, the radical new T-14 tank, the new Borei SSBN and the Bulava ballistic missile it uses. In general Russian defense industries continue to have problems developing new engines. The Russian space program is having similar problems with its rockets. The list goes on and on. Russia plays down all these problems but the net result is they have very little locally produced stuff to replace their Cold War designs. Worse, China is now producing improved and more reliable versions of those Cold War era weapons, along with new Western tech (like large, missile armed UAVs) that Russia cannot master.

If not for their large numbers of nukes (and we have to assume that even if the Russians are no better at maintaining nukes than they are their major conventional systems that enough to be lethal do work), Russia would be a mid-level Eurasian power with too much land to defend.

But as I've noted, with nukes and weak neighbors, Russia can generate superior conventional power in the short run against selected targets. If the war is ended before whatever that "short run" is in practice, Russia wins. If not, well, Russia loses. Or uses nukes. Which just means everyone loses.

And for all the talk of how Putin is so clever to play a bad hand so well? Get real.

Russia has alienated the West which was not a military threat to Russia by pointless threats to the West given weight by Russian invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, even though the West was willing to help Russia upgrade their defense industry until 2014; while China stole and then surpassed Russian military technology and production methods.

And recall that China has dormant claims on Russian Far Eastern territory with a treaty keeping those claims dormant up for cancellation in 2021.

Putin isn't brilliant. He is weakening Russia's economy, failing to arrest the decline of Russia's defense industries, alienating potential allies, and strengthening potential enemies all for the "glory" of Abhkazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, parts of the Donbas, and bases in Assad's Syria.

And he's not that impressive riding a horse bare-chested, truth be told.

Chimps with nukes.

What Western plot could be as effective at wrecking Russia than Putin himself? Seriously, why isn't there a conspiracy theory floating around Russia on that possibility?

A More Heavily Armed Periphery

In 1996, in looking to the future scenarios that America would have to fight land wars, a very reasonable assumption was made:

We took a common-sense approach to finding enemies to fight. We eliminated wars of conquest against unconquerable states such as Russia, Iran (we projected they would be nuclear capable in 2025), and China. We eliminated whole continents we then saw as barren of vital interests for the United States: the Americas, Africa, and South Asia. That left us with only a few options: wars on the periphery against great power surrogates or a war against a rouge state such as North Korea.

Do read it all. In 1996, Russia was still relatively quiet and China had yet to materially rise (remember in that year China couldn't even find our carriers operating off of Taiwan in a crisis let alone attack them).

Today the situation is different with more capable Russia and China as potential opponents. But the point of fighting on the peripheries is still valid even though now we must contemplate a war on the periphery of a China far more powerful than in 1996 and which will grow more capable in the foreseeable future.

Fighting on the periphery of China with campaign-level Army forces is what I argued for contemplating in the recent edition of Military Review

Funny enough, earlier versions of the published story in Military Review that I failed to get published used the concepts discussed in the first cited article (Army After Next, Objective Force, and Force XXI) as jumping off points for the basic premise.

The very reasonable assumption still holds true. And we still need to figure it out.

UPDATE: And I suspect that rather than meaning America had no vital interests in the Americas, Africa, and South Asia, that the authors saw no threats that would require a major war to protect.

Or at least that's how I'd frame it.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Ray of Hope in the Middle East

Somebody didn't get the consensus memo on the "failure" of the Iraq War:

Oddly enough, Iraq, the country that lies between Iran and Syria, is about to hold free national elections on May 12. And what really stands out is that the vote has become a showcase for Iraq’s steady progress in overcoming religious and ethnic divides since the 2003 American invasion. ...

Iraq is still hardly a model democracy after nearly 15 years of elections. The political haggling after this vote may be difficult. ...

Still, with a Middle East so unsettled by religion-based rivalries, Iraq’s small steps in forming an inclusive identity need to be welcomed.

Indeed. The very idea of post-election "political haggling" is a tremendous advance over killing your way to power, no?

And I don't think Chicago is closer to being a model democracy despite a lot longer at it, truth be told.

Although I am deeply suspicious of three-time insurrectionist Moqtada al-Sadr. Is he truly an ex-Iranian pawn and warlord? 

We did win the Iraq War, as I've noted.

The progress in Iraq cited in that article points to the issue of when you deem a war won or lost.

When I was in college, I thought of the Korean War a draw given that South Korea was an autocracy still modernizing. Now with South Korea a democratic and advanced nation, I call that war a victory.

As time goes on, if Iraq remains on this path with American help, more people will have the chance to throw away the consensus memo.

The Abrams Will Be Obsolete One Day, But Today is Not That Day

Bob Scales has a point that existing weapons can't cripple the need to adapt our warfighting methods by chaining us to that sunk cost:

Let’s accommodate legacy weapons in our doctrine only if they fit. But be aware of the past. A mountain of excess Abrams tanks rusting in the Utah desert should not unduly influence how we prepare to fight tomorrow’s wars.

I agree. I even said that we shouldn't regret all the MRAPs rusting in a Utah desert after the war and worry about how to use them. They served their function of saving the lives of our troops who faced IEDs and the cost of that is well worth writing them off completely.

We do use some MRAPS when needed, of course. But we don't use them just because they exist.

Similarly, if the Abrams tanks are still useful, they should be used now rather than saved for a future method of warfighting that moves beyond them. We have a lot of them that aren't needed in the force structure or for loss replacement.

I think attaching Abrams battalions or Abrams/Bradley task forces (or perhaps just a company or team, if appropriate) to infantry brigades (infantry, airborne, air mobile, Stryker) would increase protected anti-tank power in a new world of preparing to fight peer and near-peer competitors.

That's what I wrote about in "Look to Abrams Tanks to Support the Infantry," Army Magazine, April 2018 (Arlington, Va.: The Association of the United States Army), pp. 42-45.

Not available online except for a journal subscription service that you may have access to.

Anyway, I'm open to the idea that the tank will soon be obsolete. Weapons change. Although it scares me that we might be starting FCS 2.0 when we don't have much time left to replace Abrams and Bradleys before they are obsolete even if their types (tanks and infantry fighting vehicles) are necessary.

But what, pray tell, has replaced tanks to provide lethal, well-protected, mobile systems? We've been hearing this prediction of tank obsolescence since 1973, yet the heavily armed and protected tank continues to be vital for combat operations.

And just because tanks can be killed doesn't mean they aren't necessary. Has the Abrams spoiled us about what to expect for an effective tank? Armies lost lots of tanks in World War II, yet as long as enough of the crews survived the destruction of their tanks, the tanks were replaced and the war continued.

One "problem" for evaluating the tank is that the closest thing we've had to great power armored warfare is in the Donbas region of Ukraine between Ukraine's Russian-designed weapons and Russia's weapons. But for years this has been a static war that doesn't tell us more than that artillery will shred unarmored or poorly armored units, and with recon that artillery--even with dumb rounds--is more lethal than ever.

American tanks were vital in Iraq from 2003 to 2008, against both conventional and irregular enemies, but can we take that experience and apply it to peer enemy armies?

The Next Armored Fighting Vehicles

So new tanks and infantry carriers will be optimized for urban warfare?

Army Futures Command is just a means to an end: modernizing the Army for high-intensity war against Russia or China. That includes replacing the iconic but aging M1 Abrams main battle tank, as well as other war machines, with an all-new Next Generation Combat Vehicle optimized for urban warfare, Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

I'm not so sure about the wisdom of optimizing the Army (or its vehicles) for urban warfare.

And I do want to know how infantry supports tanks when the tanks are firing off active protection systems to survive while far less protected supporting infantry become collateral damage.

I'm starting to think that the infantry should have two types of infantry fighting vehicles: One heavy enough to travel with tanks on the move carrying only a small infantry contingent; and another light enough to bring up and support full squads of infantry for dismounted combat.

This is a logical conclusion of my 2002 argument that we cannot  have lethal, well protected, and strategically mobile armored vehicles as the FCS program aimed to get (see article starting on page 28).

Tanks should be paired with infantry carriers based on the tank hull, with only a small dismount force and otherwise using remote weapons stations on the carrier operated via reachback technology by infantry to the rear, as I discussed in this Infantry magazine article.

But in general, infantry should be carried by cheaper, lighter vehicles that are produced in larger numbers capable of carrying a full infantry squad and provided direct fire support to them for dismounted combat. Ideally, these operate in a lower threat environment less exposed to enemy direct fire than the advance-to-contact environment requires.

Active protection systems are necessary for everything, of course, despite the threat to dismounts (and civilians in the urban areas, which I also noted in that 2002 article). Tactics that keep infantry away from the APS kill zones will be needed.

Yes, eventually there will be unmanned units to supplement manned units. Then, when protecting crew is no longer a universal need, we can really explore the possibility of using lethal but lightly armored and relatively simple unmanned ground systems directed by crews in heavy well-protected vehicles. The unmanned systems would be designed to be semi-disposable (with modules that can be salvaged from wrecked vehicles and used again) and replaced often as mass produced items.

I mentioned these Main Battle Tandem pairings as a replacement for the Main Battle Tank in this proposed article that didn't meet the cut for the Army Mad Scientist contest a couple years ago.