Friday, February 28, 2014


Ukraine's interim president's representative says Russian troops are flying into Crimea.

This is not good:

A day after gunmen seized the Ukrainian parliament and raised the Russian flag, a representative of Turchinov in Crimea said 13 Russian aircraft had landed on the Black Sea peninsula with 150 personnel on board each one.

If true, this does not speak well of Putin's intentions.

UPDATE: The US says this is basically true. But no worries, it isn't an invasion. It's an "uncontested arrival."

An arrival that Ukraine does not want.

But thank goodness it isn't an invasion. It would be embarassing for the president's warning to be ignored so soon:

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," Obama said in the White House briefing room.

Ah. "The world" has set another red line.

UPDATE: Let me add that, as the Russians claim, this is probably all legal. I'm sure the Russians have an agreement with Ukraine that allows Russia to protect their naval base by moving troops out of Sevastopol proper.

This doesn't make the troop movements any less dangerous. Every plane load of troops that lands in Crimea is one less that has to drop by parachute on D-Day, should that day come.

And if Russia occupies Crimea, accelerating the NATO membership process would be in order. As I've noted, if I understand it correctly, NATO rules preclude Ukraine from joining NATO while Russia has a base in Ukraine. If Crimea is not part of Ukraine, that erases that problem.

Legislating New Oppressed Minorities

Russia's parliament is preparing for the acceptance of the Sudetenland Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine. Which will create a new injustice rather than end the purported existing injustice.

This isn't worrisome at all:

Russian lawmakers say they plan to submit a bill to parliament that would make it easier for new territories to join the Russian Federation.

Mikhail Yemelyanov, a leader of the A Just Russia party, said the move was necessary because of the "unpredictable" situation in Ukraine.

He said that, under the proposed bill, a territory would be able to join the Russian Federation on the basis of a referendum or a decision of its parliament.

Crimea seems the most likely candidate for this measure. How will Russia interpret the planned May 25 refendum there?

But remember that those national maps disguise the fact that any movement of the border is going to put somebody on the wrong side of a border.

Pucker factor rising.

Give Them Missions That Matter

Iraqi troops will fight, but they need planning help. We should provide that help.

Iraqi troubles in fighting al Qaeda seem to scream for US assistance that would be small enough not to raise hackles. So far, we are expediting arms shipment (and Iraq has signed a controversial deal with Iran to supply small arms and ammo):

But some observers say weapons should not be the top priority.

"I can’t believe that after 10 years, the U.S. hasn’t given enough in small arms to arm the Iraqi armed forces twice over,” said a former U.S. senior adviser to the Iraqi armed forces, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive topic. “What they need is training and intelligence.”

American training of Iraqi forces stopped when the U.S. military withdrew in 2011, but discussions are underway to revive it.

Training would be great. Do it in another country like Jordan. Or hire ex-Special Forces contractors to do it in Iraq.

But even this isn't the biggest problem, as an Iraqi lieutenant colonel describes:

Hashem described one mission in early January in the Anbar capital of Ramadi, where the army is trying to crush pockets of insurgency, as a “mess.” The aim was to reach a bridge at the end of Street 60, a notorious stronghold for militants and tribesmen who seized the city in January. Troops from four divisions entered after sunset, he said, although only a few had night-vision goggles and the pre-mission briefing was weak.

“There were no maps, there were no details,” he said in an interview last month while on leave, recovering from an injury. The convoy lost eight Humvees after coming under fire and hitting a roadside bomb, he said, and at least one soldier was killed.

“We reached the bridge but it was a disaster,” he said, describing the purpose of the mission as “just to be there.”

The planning was virtually non-existent.

There is no reason that a small planning cell in our embassy, hosting Iraqi military officials, couldn't work on planning missions against al Qaeda using contract ex-special forces as the people on the ground to work with the Iraqis fighting, and which would work with larger US planning bodies back in the United States.

Nobody has ever liked to think of Iraq as the real war against al Qaeda. But al Qaeda keeps raising that inconvenient truth.

Something is Up Even If It Isn't the Balloon

Russian troops are definitely inside Crimea proper. Are they simply establishing a perimeter around the Sevastopol base or preparing for more Russian military action?

I should reexamine my position on whether Spetsnaz are moving around Crimea airports given this news:

Russian troops have moved into Crimea in what Moscow is calling a mission to “protect Black Sea Fleet’s positions” but which the Ukrainian government has denounced as an “armed intervention.”

The Russian foreign ministry said Friday that it had informed the Ukrainian government that armoured units from the Black Sea Fleet base near Sevastopol had entered Crimea in order to protect fleet positions.

The Russian naval infantry at Sevastopol have armored vehicles. But not many. And there aren't many naval infantry--3,000, I think.

So if the Russians want a real expanded perimeter rather than just road blocks, they'll need more troops--paratroopers flown in until troops can cross the Kerch Strait and march to the base--for that mission.

And if the need paratroopers, they need airports. I'm starting to think that rumors of Spetsnaz around Crimea airports have a basis in fact.

But I'm suspicious that way.

UPDATE: Of course, given that the legislative basis for annexing Crimea will take time to establish, as well as taking time for a Crimean body to credibly ask for Russian protection, such troop movements could simply be to desensitize Ukrainians to such movements before a real operation takes place.

That's what we did before the 1989 invasion of Panama.

So also watch for troops to be added to the Sevastopol garrision in the near future. We also did that.

And see if Russia's airborne troops and air transports are matched up and readied around Russia.

Russia planned a long time for the Georgia War. Given that the Ukraine crisis evolved to this new stage quickly, the Russians probably need quite a bit of lead time to arrange an invasion.

UPDATE: Russian troop placement well before the Russo-Georgia War of 2008. So Russia needs time just for a good showing in a war to take Georgia-sized Crimea.

Lord knows how much time Russia would need for the larger eastern Ukraine--let alone all of Ukraine--to avoid a military operation that makes it obvious that Russian military power is still fairly weak.

Abrams Fighting Vehicles?

If the issue of the Abrams tank is keeping the tank plants open, why not adapt older, excess M-1s to be infantry fighting vehicles?

The Army says it has enough modern Abrams tanks and would rather save money by temporarily close the plant. Heavy armor is still useful, contrary to the spin the article put on the Army's views on this more narrow subject.

Notions that we don't need armor are ridiculous.

Granted, nobody is saying that the vehicle in question is an alternative to the bulk of the Abrams or cancelled GCV infantry fighting vehicle.

But at best, it is a waste of scarce resources for a niche capability. I know our airborne troops miss their M-551s, but get over it.

At worst, there are people who will honestly believe that this type of cheaper vehicle is an alternative to building heavy armor.

Someone will yell "netwar!" and some people will swoon.

So we have little money, want heavy armor, won't get a replacement for the Bradley any time soon, and want to preserve tank plants until demand for actual Abrams tanks resumes in a few years.

So why not build Abrams Fighting Vehicles? Yes, take excess M-1 hulls in storage and convert them into infantry fighting vehicles.

The Israelis do it with their Merkava tanks:

The first 200 Namers were built in Israel, but the rest are being built more cheaply in the United States. A U.S. firm (General Dynamics) was contracted to manufacture most of the Namers and began production this year.

Several infantry battalion are already equipped with Israeli built Namers, mostly in the Golani Brigade up north near the Lebanese border. In early 2010 Israel used several Namer IFVs in Gaza. This was the first combat experience for the Namer, and it performed as expected.

Granted, the Merkava has an engine in front and was build with large ammo resupply doors in the back (a lesson of Golan in 1973). So making the rear an infantry compartment was relatively straightforward.

Israeli efforts to turn other tanks with engines in the rear didn't work out as well:

Israel had experimented with using T-55 and Centurion tanks as IFVs. This did not work because the engines in these vehicles were in the rear, where the exit doors of AFVs usually are. Thus troops had to enter and exit via top hatches. This was not a good idea in combat.

Yet there is a US company with experience with this concept.

I'd address the rear-engine issue of the Abrams in two ways.

Build up an infantry compartment in place of the turret so that a rear door in that compartment would allow troops to exit to the rear over the (shielded from heat) engine compartment to climb ladders down the rear.

This is awkward but at least it shields dismounting troops from fire from the front of the vehicle.

Second, reduce the need to dismount many troops. Make this vehicle one designed to support tanks on the move rather than a battle taxi to move infantry to dismount and fight on foot.

Just have a team of 2-4 infantry aboard the vehicle who use remotely operated weapons stations mounted around the Abrams Fighting Vehicle. This would be like our Bradley Scout Vehicles that carry only a small force of scouts to dismount when needed to check out something up close.

The rest of the squad (5-7 infantry) could be back at the headquarters augmenting local defense until needed for dismounted fighting should the thunder run stall.

This also removes a constant worry of mine about the casualty count of catastrophic hits on infantry carriers jammed with infantry.

These troops out of the field of fire could also take over the remotely operated weapons stations from the rear while the onboard infantry dismounts (or while the onboard troops are sleeping or otherwise unable to focus on the outside).

We have Strykers to move infantry squads for dismounted work. Why not have a vehicle designed to support tanks on the move without hauling potential casualties around, too?

And if this takes care of the worry about shutting down our tank plants and trying to restart them in a few years when the skilled workers may be long gone? That's great, too.


Good grief. Did Russian Spetsnaz just seize Crimea airports?

Because that's what this looks like:

Armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what Ukraine's government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, raising tension between Moscow and the West.

Russia's Black Sea fleet, which is based in the region, denied its forces were involved in seizing one of the airports, Interfax news agency reported, while a supporter described the group at the other site merely as Crimean militiamen.

They took a military airport near the Sevastopol naval base and a civilian airport.

Some don't carry their weapons like ordinary joes, if you ask me.

I'd like to add that the Spetsnaz would not be part of the Black Sea Fleet, and so the denial irrelevant.

I did say that I'd fly in paratroopers to reinforce the base if I was invading. If it is an invasion, we'll know soon. You follow up such a move with the big transports pretty quickly.

UPDATE: I stand corrected. The Black Sea Fleet apparently has a Spetsnaz unit.

Militias seem to be involved by their looks. But Russian Spetsnaz could be leading them. Our special forces specialize with working with indigenous forces, after all. Russia's would, too, I imagine.

Or this could be just locals acting on their own. If this is a set up for an invasion, we'll know quickly.

UPDATE: Live blog says Ukrainians regained control of airports. Also, that men had Spetsnaz uniforms consistent with navy units. This could be ex-Spetsnaz putting on their old uniforms and taking their own initiative.

Given that the airborne troops didn't quickly flow in, this seems likely. So no invasion, it seems.

UPDATE: Our intelligence people don't think Russia is planning an invasion.

Define "invasion" please. I will say that the figure of 150,000 Russian troops massed in exercises is misleading. That includes forces from the Ukrainian border to the Barents Sea and includes naval and air forces. I don't know how many ground troops are present.

But this wouldn't include troops preparing in the central region able to move toward Ukraine. Nor would it include southern district troops already on high readiness status from war in the Caucasus and the Winter Olympics security operations.

I don't think Russia could occupy all of Ukraine. But Russia could grab chunks in the east and in Crimea. Does that count as an "invasion" in our intelligence agencies?

And one more question: do the Russians evaluate the issue the same way our intelligence analysts do?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Never Mind

Wait. What? The LCS is now intended for low-threat environments?

I've been worried about the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) being touted for its ability to fight in green or even brown waters close to shore. These missions are inappropriate for the too-expensive and too-vulnerable LCS which can look forward to tangling with lots of lethal threats that close to shore.

Now, as the Pentagon floats halting construction (at 32?) in order to either modify future versions of the ship to be a static ship (without removable mission modules) or design a new frigate for the low-end of the fleet, a Pentagon person says this?

The LCS was designed to perform certain missions, such as mine sweeping, anti-submarine warfare, in a relatively permissive environment. It is now time to examine whether the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) has the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies.

Excuse me? Now the ship designed to fight in green (coastal) or even brown (so close that runoff from shore dirties that water) waters is one designed for a "relatively permissive environment" without serious threats? Really?

While I welcome this blinding flash of reality before the ships are sent in to a slaughter, that would have been nice to admit before we started building 32 of them, no?

Anyway, here are some leading contenders for the frigate role. Although how LCS variations could be included if the basic hull design needs a "relatively permissive environment" to remain afloat is beyond me.

All Options on the Table

The President is ordering the Pentagon to plan for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, if necessary.

Here we go:

President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact is not signed — and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

After all the talking about staying, President Obama may have to fall back on the "zero option" and simply leave Afghanistan just as we left Iraq.

This option is known in the White House as "Plan A."

This preference for just walking away without defending our gains can perhaps be made more clear by an intensive effort to guarantee at least a decent interval before bad things happen after we bug out:

The United States has intensified its drive against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants in Afghanistan before foreign combat forces depart this year, according to multiple U.S. officials.

The effort is taking on added urgency as the clock ticks down on a NATO combat mission in Afghanistan set to end in December, and as questions persist about whether Pakistan will take action against a group some U.S. officials believe is quietly supported by Pakistani intelligence.

This sounds like a version of our Cambodia incursion during the Vietnam War, which was designed to throw the North Vietnamese off balance so they could not interfere with our troop withdrawal. Knock them back and they are too busy repairing the damage to attack us.

Whether this can be done without major Pakistani help on their side of the border is a good question.

But this may indicate that all the Obama administration aspires to achieve for the Afghanistan War--after pretending to care about winning with two surges--is avoiding blame for defeat by creating a decent interval between our departure and the defeat of the Afghanistan security forces.

Which is a sad fate for the "good war," no?

Not that I think the Taliban are unstoppable. But the Afghan forces do need our help for some time to keep fighting the Taliban. There is no reason the Taliban should win if only we don't abandon the progress we've had and throw away the sacrifices of American, Coalition, and Afghans who have resisted the barbarous Taliban the last 13 years (and more, for Afghans).

So I stand corrected. I don't know if victory is on the table. Or ever has been.

Eliminate the Pretext for War

I speculated on Russian war aims and a Ukrainian military response. But Ukraine would be better served doing what it takes to deny Russia an excuse to intervene. Kiev should confirm the Russian lease of the Sevastopol base. Because if Russia annexes Crimea, Ukraine becomes eligible to join NATO.

Crimea is home to a lot of pro-Russian sentiment. Russia would have an easy time getting locals to organize flower-throwing welcoming committees should the Russians send in more troops to secure their base there.

And with a narrow northern outlet to Ukraine and access to Russia via the Kerch Strait and by water in the Black Sea, Russia could hold the Crimean peninsula more easily than they can defend their Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea.

So Ukraine's new government should confirm their intention to carry out the terms of the Sevastopol lease that Yanukovich signed with Russia.

At the time, I wasn't happy since it seemed like a step on the way to Russian control.

It was a step. But the Winter Revolt in Ukraine has tilted Ukraine back to the West. Now, that lease might be a means to keep the Russians at bay if the Russians judge that a lease going to 2042 in hand is better than conquering the Crimea and facing a never-ending opposition to that conquest.

Yes, a Russian base in Ukraine will prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, which doesn't allow member states to host non-NATO military bases on their soil, but there is another side to this coin.

If Russia occupies and annexes (or backs an "independent" government in) the Crimean Peninsula--or even just Sevastopol--all of a sudden Ukraine becomes eligible to join NATO because Ukraine won't own the territory that hosts Russian bases.

That, I think, is a threat we should hold over Putin to stay his forces currently exercising on Ukraine's borders.

I wouldn't mind if Ukraine joins NATO. But I can live without that as long as Russia doesn't become as dominant in Ukraine as Russia is in Belarus. I want to keep the Russians as far east as possible.

If Ukraine joins the European Union to integrate with the West (as odious as the EU is, it beats Russia's embrace), we can stick with the partnership process for NATO just to keep the threat of that move alive to deter Russian aggression.

I'm thinking this would count as smart diplomacy.

UPDATE: Ukraine's leaders need to hurry up with this. A welcoming committee is already forming:

Masked men with guns seized government buildings in the capital of Ukraine’s Crimea region on Thursday, barricading themselves inside and raising the Russian flag after mysterious overnight raids that appeared to be the work of militant Russian nationalists who want this volatile Black Sea region ruled from Moscow.

Remember, a Ukraine without Crimea is eligible to join NATO.

UPDATE: You know, I'm going nuts here. I've found statements that a country can't join NATO if it has non-NATO bases on it. But going through the NATO site, I can't find anything that says that.

I'll go through the documents again more thoroughly, but so far all I can find is a statement that NATO states can't enter into relations that conflict with NATO's mission. Is that the key provision since one could reasonably conclude that a non-NATO base potentially conflicts with the NATO mission?

UPDATE: Seriously, I think we should respond to Russia by announcing that a Russian effort to strip Crimea from Ukraine will be met with an expedited NATO response to any Ukrainian request for membership.

The major choices for me are whether Russia tries to take all of Ukraine; seizes eastern Ukraine and Crimea; or just seizes Crimea. The constant is Crimea which is a major base that allows Russia to defend against threats to Russia from naval forces in the Black Sea and enables power projection into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

I think taking all of Ukraine is beyond Russia's military capabilities.

And I think that just seizing eastern Ukraine is not much of a prize for Russia despite the ethnic Russians there. Is the old industrial base there really that useful for Russia? Without Crimea, too, eastern Ukraine is more of a burden for Russia, I think.

Crimea is the real and only alternative to all of Ukraine. So if we announce we'd expedite NATO membership should Russia invade in conjunction with a Ukrainian offer to abide by the lease to 2042 for the Crimean bases of Russia, I think we could keep Russia out of Ukraine.

The Southern Military District is Already Mobilized

Russia has mobilized forces in the western military district. But because they did not issue a similar order for their southern district which also borders Ukraine and which includes the Black Sea Fleet, you think Ukraine is safe? Think again.

Ah, you say, the southern Russian military district was not put on alert. So that means there is no military threat to Ukraine. This is all psychological pressure:

Still, while the exercises include most units from Russia's Western Military District and some from the Central Military District that spreads across the Urals and part of Siberia, it does not involve troops from the Southern Military District, such as the Black Sea Fleet and areas in southern Russia that neighbor Ukraine.

This seemed to signal that Moscow does not want to go too far. By flexing its military muscles Russia clearly wants to show the West it must seriously consider its interests in Ukraine, while avoiding inflaming tensions further.

Don't be reassured so fast.

You remember that Winter Olympics thing in Sochi that just wrapped up?

Yeah, that's in the southern military district.

So Russia has had that district mobilized for their Ring of Steel protecting the games for quite some time now.

Hey, you remember that, right?

With about 100,000 police, security agents and army troops flooding Sochi, Russia has pledged to ensure "the safest Olympics in history." But terror fears fueled by recent suicide bombings have left athletes, spectators and officials worldwide jittery about potential threats. ...

Air defense missiles, drones, high-speed patrol boats and sophisticated sonars capable of spotting submarines — the array of high-tech gear deployed makes Sochi look like it's preparing for an enemy invasion from both air and sea.

Prepare for an invasion. Prepare to invade. It gets hazy, no?

And the Russians are still fighting in Chechnya and surrounding areas in an ongoing war.

So what would a snap mobilization even mean in that context?

Have a nice, reassured day.

Link Bait

Could we at least make the North Koreans work a little for saber rattling?


North Korea fired four short-range missiles over the sea off its east coast on Thursday, a media official at South Korea's Defence Ministry said, while providing no information on the purpose of the firing.

Why even take notice of these launches? They were Scuds. Which are old Soviet designs based on even older German World War II missiles.

Have a ball, guys. Light 'em up. Who cares?

Twice as Evil as Before


US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called for global attention on North Korea, denouncing the isolated Asian nation as "an evil, evil place."

I remember when it was simplistic to speak of an Axis of Evil with North Korea as one of three evils.

Saddam is gone, of course. So scratch one point of evil.

And with our outreach to Iran, I guess North Korea alone--with two evils--is its own axis of evil, now.

Thank goodness we have smart diplomacy, now. It's way different.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We All Look Alike to Them

The Marine Corps may want to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan type of business to return to their amphibious roots, but reality will get in the way of avoiding being sent to the shores of everywhere and the halls of anybody.

Marching up from coastal Kuwait to Baghdad, and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq away from any water outside of plastic bottles and showers was unsettling to a Marine Corps afraid of being seen as a second (and redundant) army.

As a result, the Marines embarked on an effort to go back to their amphibious warfare roots (although those roots start from the 1930s and bloomed from 1941 to 1950, practically speaking).

As I concluded in that post:

The Marine Corps can't save itself from budget cutters by focusing on a niche mission that only it sees as valuable. The Marines surely need to regain competency in amphibious warfare. But they need to be ready to do what the nation needs them to do--even if that means fighting next to the Army in a long conventional or unconventional campaign.

The Marines can't afford to just stay long enough for the meet and greet, and then leave the Army to stay for the entire party and the clean up after.

So nice try. Here's what a Pentagon spokesperson said about Army cuts:

Furthermore, no discussion about potential ground maneuver capacity can leave out the Marine Corps, who have augmented the Army in every major conflict this past century. Because the Marine Corps' expeditionary, crisis response, and maritime focus is well suited to strategic priorities, this budget protected the planned end strength of 182,000 for the Marines.

Huh. I believe I've said much the same thing many times here.

Heck, I said it in print while advocating for complementary roles in Army-Marine Corps campaigns ashore.

Face it, since World War II, the Marine Corps has been the most significant "allied" ground force to fight at the Army's side in another country.

And no, retreating further from what the Army does into the realm of being a Net Fairy Corps is not the route to salvation.

The Marines can change any way they like. But as long as they look like Army troops and shoot bullets down range at bad guys, they will be ordered to support a smaller Army when our leadership decides to send in the ground power.

The Marine Corps should remember that they will go to war with the Army we have and not avoid it with the Army the Marines wish we had.

Now Even Leading From Behind is Too Aggressive

Tom Friedman says don't just do something, stand there. God bless him, of course he does.

Not that one should immediately jump to respond to every crisis. And nobody is suggesting American military intervention in Ukraine, for example.

Friedman brings up Syria, too. Yet the idea that America of all countries should just stay out of crises except within these amazingly limited parameters is just stunning:

Today, Obama’s critics say he must do “something” about Syria. I get it. Chaos there can come around to bite us. If there is a policy that would fix Syria, or even just stop the killing there, in a way that was self-sustaining, at a cost we could tolerate and not detract from all the things we need to do at home to secure our own future, I’m for it.

I'm for arming, training, and advising rebels. I don't even think we need to commit air power.

But the notion that we should only intervene--and note that Friedman even admits what our intelligence people have said about Syria becoming a threat to "bite us"--if we know for sure the policy will "fix" Syria is nonsense.

What will fix Syria with all its problems? There is no Silver Bullet perfect plan, that so many of his ilk think requires just sufficient big-brained thought to design.

All I ask is we attempt to bend events to be better for us or even just less worse.

"Just" stopping the killing would imply that a decisive Assad win is within that category. May I suggest that helping the rebels win faster is one way to stop the killing eventually.

Obviously, we have to be able to tolerate the cost. I mean, really, this is a big-brained policy recommendation?

And are we at the stage where spending on domestic priorities automatically trumps efforts to keep foreign problems from knocking down our buildings and slaughtering our people "biting" us?

My, my. Tom Friedman boldly stands with a perfect plan that costs us nothing and requires us to make no tough choices. The mind reels.

And I didn't even mention the best part of his advice--that whatever policy we implement, it should be "self-sustaining."

What does this even mean?

What policy anywhere on any subject is "self-sustaining." Are the Iranians and Russians funneling people, arms, and money into Syria to back Assad? How self-sustaining is that? Bending events takes effort. Just what is this rot?! Argghhh!!! The man is an idiot.

We've gone from leading the West from the front to leading the West from behind.

And now Friedman would just like to watch the world burn.

I weep when I contemplate that he is considered by our liberal brethren to be a deep thinker.

Okay. You know it's coming. It always does by this point.

I'm not saying you couldn't drown in a pool of Thomas Friedman's wisdom. But you would have to be drunk and face down to do so.

Will the Army Be Too Small?

I'm not willing to automatically condemn the Army reduction to pre-World War II personnel levels. I'm waiting to see force structure.

One, I'd rather shrink the Army than pretend we have an army by maintaining troop strength at the expense of training, readiness, and equipping them with modern weapons and gear.

Two, I'm not sure if going as low as the budget projects is too few troops for the 32 brigades we plan for the active component force. Odierno says he needs 450,000 to carry out functions and the budget calls for 440,000 to 450,000 active duty Army troops.

From a distance, the situation is complicated and not just a matter of having fewer troops than we had in 2001.

In 2001, we had 33 maneuver brigades or equivalents on active duty manned with 480,000 troops, which was 40,000 short of fully manning the force structure, if I recall.

During the Iraq War, while temporarily filling out the active force to make up for the earlier shortage, we reorganized the active Army to go to 42 smaller but self-contained brigade combat teams without adding troops on top of what we needed to man 33. We had hoped to add 10-15, but managed 9 more.

We added brigades by making them smaller, moving to self-contained brigade combat teams rather than relying on the division to supply all arms and support functions; by deactivating Cold War era units (like a bunch of separate artillery brigades) deemed unnecessary for the current wars; and shifted some support tasks (and even some security tasks) to civilian workers or contractors so these functions wouldn't fall under the end strength cap.

Then Congress made the temporary increase "permanent" and added end strength (30,000 more?) with the intention of reaching 48 brigade combat teams with a planned 550,000 (approximately) on active duty. But we ended that expansion at 45 for our maximum maneuver brigade strength.

Now we will reduce end strength to man 32 larger brigades with up to 450,000 troops. I think that this is enough to fully man 32 maneuver brigades. Remember, we shifted troops from obsolete jobs and shifted some jobs to civilian employees.

So let's see. Let me do my back-of-the-envelope calculations again. While actual brigades were 5,000 or so, with supporting troops included you can give a total Army figure to support one brigade.

In 2001, we needed 520,000 troops to fully man 33 brigades. Or about 15,750 troops per brigade "slice."

After shifting troops away from the 2001 model, when we got to 42 smaller (say 3,500 or so) brigade combat teams, we did this with 520,000 troops. Or about 12,400 troops per division slice.

After expanding the Army to close to 550,000, we planned to go to 48 brigade combat teams of the new (smaller) type. Or about 11,500 per brigade.

But since we just went to 45 brigade combat teams, that put us in practice at about 12,200 per brigade combat team.

The plan is to go to 32 larger brigade combat teams (size unknown to me) with 440,000 to 450,000 troops. That's 13,750 to 14,050 per brigade, approximately.

Either number seems to be sufficient to support larger brigades, depending on how much larger they are.

But we've also added drone units and expanded special forces. So that cuts into the end strength that could go to fully manning the maneuver brigades.

So until I see what the force structure is, I can't say with full confidence that the planned budget funds too few or enough troops for the Army's force structure. I think it is okay.

But is this adequately manned (if I'm right) Army enough for potential missions? That's another question altogether.

What I can say is that it is ridiculous to assert we can choose to decline a major land war. If our enemies launch a major land war, do we really say we'll get with them in a couple years? Or compromise on a smaller and shorter land war for all the marbles?

Some day, when a Defense Secretary notes that we have to go to war with the Army we have and not the Army we wish we had, rather than get all outraged over the statement of the bloody obvious, remember that today we wish to have that future Army we have.

Release the Kraken!

So thousands of Hillary Clinton's documents are being kept hidden at the Clinton Library. I assume Sandy Berger is donning his largest underwear to spring into action.

Yes, if the documents were flattering, they'd be front page news on the New York Times and Ezra Klein would be passing the word to write about them.

But they're not public, likely to be troublesome, and so not likely to be released until after Hillary's reelection win in 2020.

Say, just where is Sandy Berger these days? (And wow, a trip down memory lane at my original site).

Assad Has Not Crushed the Rebels

The Syrian rebels are holding on despite the Kerry-Lavrov deal that bought Syria time to fight the rebels and kill their supporters without worrying about our intervention.

The shock of realizing their was no hope of American intervention surely hurt the Syrian rebels. But Assad was unable to deliver a killing blow to the rebellion since that deal was signed. Assad may be stalling the completion of the chemical weapons deal, but the situation on the ground shows that the war will go on.

Assad is still trying to clear areas west of Damascus in his Rump Syria:

Syrian refugees are streaming across the border with Lebanon into this town to escape a punishing Syrian regime offensive in the Qalamoun region just across the border.

Newly arrived refugees speak of harsh and perilous conditions in Yabroud, the largest town in northern Qalamoun still in rebel hands, and the nearby villages. The strategic area north of Damascus is under heavy artillery shelling and air strikes, including barrels packed with high explosive tossed out of helicopters, known as barrel bombs.

And the rebels are still capable of attacking south of Damascus, as I discuss here, in our Southern Front based out of Jordan.

Remember, Assad has been able to go on offense in large part because he abandoned much of Syria to fight for a smaller area.

This has not worked. And now it is a war of attrition that his side has already suffered much--way out of proportion to their enemies--in fighting.

I still bet that Assad's side breaks first. But our failure to support rebels to the same degree that Iran and Russia support Assad makes the outcome far less certain than I'd like. And it raised the cost. Winning a war quicker by waging it more energetically is a less appreciated method of saving lives in war.

Red Storm Rising?

Russia is alerting troops in western Russia--for a drill, they say.

This is useful for both a warning to the new authorities in Ukraine and for invading Ukraine:

"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (0500 ET) today," Interfax quoted Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying. ...

The western district borders Ukraine, which lies between NATO nations and Russia. Shoigu said the drill would be conducted in two stages, ending on March 3, and also involved some forces in central Russia.

Russia has ordered snap exercises before. But this one has more significance, obviously.

This bears watching.

UPDATE: While the Western district would work for an occupation of the eastern parts of Ukraine and to threaten Kiev from Belarus, as well as pose a threat to the Baltic NATO states, I was thinking that the Southern Military District would be alerted, too, in order to operate against the Crimean Peninsula. See here for district maps.

But then it occurred to me that the Southern District is already on high alert from its Ring of Steel operation to secure the Sochi Olympics games.

So there you go.

UPDATE: Ukraine's new leaders are worried about separatism in Russified regions.

When establishing a unity government, the new authorities desperately need to bring in easterners especially to reassure them that they are part of Ukraine and not considered aliens who need Russia for protection.

An effort for Crimea needs to be made, too. But that area is for more actual Russian than just Russified or Russian-speaking. But the effort must be made as much to reassure easterners about the new government's intentions and to contrast more sharply with any heavy-handed Russian efforts in Crimea to exert influence or control.

UPDATE: Note that the Central Military District--if that is what the reference to units in central Russia refers to--includes two brigades of Russia's Spetsnaz (special forces).

I'm afraid that I rarely mention such special forces since I never think of them as just another (albeit very well trained) version of infantry. They are not maneuver units.

But I always assume they are involved in any military operation.

UPDATE: The exercises include 150,000 men, according to the Russian defense minister:

In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Shoigu said that the maneuvers involve over 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships.

That includes air force, navy, and I assume air defense troops, in addition to army troops.

But that's a lot of tanks. That appears to be a third of their active main battle tanks. A heavy division would have 200-300 tanks.

Does that number include mobilized reservists manning stored tanks?

Or is this just a loose use of the term "tank" when they really mean nearly 900 armored fighting vehicles of all types.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Worse Than a Crime. It Was a Blunder

Seriously? Ted Nugent doesn't find the target-rich environment of the failures of the Obama administration sufficient and he has to give the gift of sounding racist?

Let's say it together: President Obama is an American, Christian, president who is surely a loving father, a fine husband, and a joy to have a beer summit with (and who may have been a superb community organizer--whatever that is)--who happens to be a disaster of a president.

I have no idea if Nugent is racist. Sometimes when you are angry it is too easy to say something that you know is hurtful even if you don't actually believe it. But it sure sounded racist.

Just stick to the record. That's all you really have to address. Anything else should be out of bounds and--dare I say it--a sub-human response. MSNBC broke into a corporate orgasm when they heard that. And they say corporations aren't people!

Come on! We're Americans. We're all mongrels:

Well, okay. The president was never a soldier. And we might go to 13 and 3 after the Obama administration.

But we are all mutts. Which as everyone knows, is a mongrel dog.


The moon was struck on September 11, 2013:

Everyone agrees al Qaeda had nothing to do with this, despite the timing.

Susan Rice blamed the explosions on a crappy Internet video.

And Hillary Clinton insisted, "What difference, at this point, does it make" why the moon was struck?

Tip to Instapundit.

The Ukrainian War of Independence

If Russia occupies the border areas of eastern Ukraine to defend an autonomous zone and annexes the Crimean Peninsula, how could the Ukrainian military respond?

Very carefully. Good grief, the deployments are still based on Soviet patterns. Are 8th and 13th corps really going to be in the third echelon of a drive on the Rhine?

Specifically, the Ukrainians need to avoid fighting in the east because the damage and casualties might lead locals to look to the Russians to protect them and might change sentiments from political opposition to separatism.

If the Russians want to fight in the east, make the Russians move west and extend their supply lines and deplete their forces as they leave garrisons in their wake.

And make their claims of fraternal assistance to ethnic Russians obviously a fraud.

If Russia annexes Crimea, the Ukrainians should focus their military efforts on driving the Russians from that peninsula, or at least besieging the Russians in Sevastopol.

By focusing on the most blatant violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity, ethnic Russians might be persuaded to side with Ukraine.

The Ukrainians don't have a lot to work with. They have just 63,000 in the army and about 80,000 paramilitary troops. Plus 3,000 naval infantry.

The army is spread out across Ukraine:

6th Army Corps, Dnipropetrovsk (Units based in the area of the Southern Operational Command)
17th Tank Brigade, Kryvyi Rih
25th Airborne Brigade, Cherkaske
28th Guards Mechanised Brigade, Chornomorske
92nd Guards Mechanised Brigade, Chuhuiv
93rd Guards Mechanised Brigade, Cherkaske
55th Artillery Brigade

8th Army Corps, Zhytomyr (Units based in the area of the Territorial Directorate "North")
1st Tank Brigade, Honcharivske
30th Mechanized Brigade, Novohrad-Volynskyi
72nd Mechanized Brigade, Bila Tserkva
95th Airmobile Brigade, Zhytomyr
26th Artillery Brigade, Berdychiv
3rd Army Aviation Regiment, Brody

13th Army Corps, Rivne (former Soviet 13th Army) (Units based in the area of the Western Operational Command)
24th Mechanized Brigade, Yavoriv
51st Mechanized Brigade, Volodymyr-Volynskyi
128th Guards Mechanized Brigade, Mukacheve
11th Artillery Brigade, Ternopil
7th Army Aviation Regiment, Novyi Kalyniv

Add in the 79th Airmobile Brigade and a surface-to-surface missile brigade

Note that these "corps" are really division-sized formations.

There are reservists, but on the Soviet pattern they use, their memory of military skills will range from hazy to "I was in the military?"

The Ukrainians do have lots of armored vehicles and artillery, although I don't know how much of it is in working order. I'm not sure what to make of 5 tank divisions in storage. Could they possibly be manned in war? I'll assume that the Ukrainians can equip their active forces and at least have some heavy stuff for mobilized reservists and not just have a force of light infantry.

Give the Ukrainians credit for 100 reasonably modern fighters and 70 ground attack planes. Plus a decent amount of transport planes and some helicopters.

The navy is almost non-existent. The most interesting are 2 large air cushion vehicles capable of carrying up to 230 troops, a tank platoon, or a company of armored personnel carriers. This is from 2008 information. I don't see these vessels mentioned more recently. But the navy is irrelevant.

The first thing the Ukrainians need to do is call up reservists and equip as many as they can, and send them to the cities of Ukraine. This should be especially done in the north facing Belarus and in the east along the Dnieper River and down to the Sea of Azov.

The Ukrainians need these road blocks because the army will be thin on the ground on most of the border.

Ukraine's Sixth Corps should keep two mechanized brigades and a paratrooper brigade in the east to screen the Russians sitting in Kharkov and Donetsk, and points in between. Paramilitary police will support.

But these forces should not be too far forward in the ethnic Russian zones.

As information operations and diplomacy work on the communities east of the Dnieper and get them to throw in with Kiev, Ukrainian police units can move east carefully to absorb new additions of loyal territory.

Eighth Corps should keep all of its forces but an artillery brigade. This leaves a tank brigade, two mechanized brigades, an aviation regiment, and an airmobile brigade to protect Kiev and screen the north and northeast. Add in other police units.

As reserves are mobilized, some of this corps could be used as a reserve for the east or the main front in Crimea.

Thirteenth Corps will lead the offensive against Crimea.

It will move with its aviation regiment, three mechanized brigades, and an artillery regiment, for the narrow isthmus that leads to Crimea.

Sixth Corps units somewhat near the isthmus--a mechanized brigade, a tank brigade, and an artillery brigade, will join with an artillery brigade from Eighth Corps and the separate airmobile brigade and separate missile brigade, to move on the isthmus quickly, where they will be attached to 13th Corps.

As many air defense units that can be scraped together should be earmarked for covering Crimea to prevent Russian air reinforcements and resupply.

So the total will be 6 maneuver brigades, and aviation brigade, two artillery brigades, an airmobile brigade, and a missile brigade. Call it 30,000 plus whatever reservists can be sent in its wake.

And send 20,000 paramilitary police to garrison the pro-Russian areas along the line of communication.

Mobilized reservists can be sent to help control rear area strongpoints along the lines of advances as 13h Corps pushes south.

The idea is to move as quickly as possible to either drive the Russians from Sevastopol, or, if that isn't possible, to block the Kerch Strait and push artillery and the missile brigade to within range of the base to bombard the Russian fleet in port and facilities there--especially airfields.

Air defense units would attempt to isolate the base from air reinforcements.

Ukraine should burn their air force if they have to in order to enable the army to push south. You don't get points for losing a war and having stuff left over.

This applies to the navy, too, but I have little hope it could do much. If they can lay some mines around Sevastopol and use their limited amphibious assets to support their marine battalion in blocking the Kerch Strait until army or reservists can move up in support, that's above and beyond, under the circumstances.

The Ukrainian army would be nearly outnumbered by the notional 15,000 Russian paratroopers and 10,000 paramilitary troops sent to back the 3,000 naval infantry already in Sevastopol.

But if the Ukrainians can move faster than the Russians, the Russians might not be able to deploy quickly away from the airfields or from distant Kerch after crossing from Russia. Especially if Ukrainian air defense and fighter assets can throw up a credible screen (and if Ukraine's marines can tear up the roads and slow down this attempt to reinforce Sevastopol).

And the Ukrainians would have the advantage in firepower and speed, with a largely mechanized force. Much of the Russian force would be pretty light, with only lightly armored vehicles in support.

The Ukrainians would need to get the missiles in action against Russian ships in port.

Of course, this is all a paper exercise. I have no idea if the Ukrainian military is in any shape to move quickly and go on the offensive. The units are poorly deployed for post-Cold War missions. I suspect they couldn't really mount a credible offensive.

But what else could they do? Seal off Crimea and hope the Russians don't want to keep it?

Even if the Ukrainians can't capture Sevastopol, if the Ukrainians can put the base in range of artillery assets, Ukraine might be able to leverage the Russians out of eastern Ukraine in exchange for giving up the generally hostile region of the Crimea where ethnic Ukrainians are few.

But this is the only real military option that seems likely to have a chance of working. On paper, I admit.

Making War Heck?

Are these people serious? Will non-lethal weapons become the norm for wars? Is a stupid virus spreading?

This is just ridiculous:

“Killing people and destroying things for some political purpose” is how prominent defense scholar Richard Betts describes the essence of military force. Betts’ description reflects the pervasive view of military force held by most military and foreign policy experts. However, it does not account for a variety of non-lethal options that policy makers will have to consider using in future conflicts.

If the idea is that soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen will go into battle with non-lethal weapons, just end the debate right there.

One, non-lethal weapons are merely less-often-lethal weapons. If you don't want to kill people, don't fire things at them. And using "non-lethal" weapons makes any death seem much worse because of the expectations game.

These weapons are worse in propaganda because while these weapons are less likely to kill, they can leave disabled or blind survivors who make lovely poster boys (or girls) against our brutality. These are our enemies, remember. They'll use this gift of information warfare material. We just didn't want to risk using "non-lethal" weapons in Iraq for reasons such as this.

Second, any enemy will salivate over the prospect of facing our troops with "non-lethal" weapons while they try to kill us. Who wouldn't want that type of advantage?

Or our enemies dressed as civilians can take advantage of our rules to push the envelope by doing all the violence that they can without firearms, knowing we won't escalate to lethal force.

Fourth, doesn't this mean we will capture more of our enemies? But if we can't hold our enemies, what is the point of not killing them? Isn't this why the president has continued to insist that Guantanamo Bay will close and instead uses armed drones to kill enemies?

Fifth, the practical reason this is pointless is the rise of remotely piloted/driven weapons systems and eventually robots. Firing a bean-bag round at a drone raises the level of stupid doesn't it?

The stupid is mutating. Although to be fair, if we expect our enemies to fire bean bags and rubber bullets, it makes perfect sense to have unarmored vehicles that use their ability to avoid enemies to stay intact.

I'm not on board (although I did see one combat use for a "death ray"). Not one bit.

Look, the article isn't totally worthless if you just set aside the notion that actual warfare is obsolete. If one point is that cyber-warfare and other approaches allow us to pressure countries short of war, fine. Add those into the mix of pressure short of shooting war we already have.

Heck, fire hoses can be used when you don't want to shoot:

A Chinese coastguard ship used a water cannon last month to drive Filipino fishermen out of disputed waters in the South China Sea, illustrating aggressive enforcement of new Chinese rules, the head of the Philippine military said on Monday.

But the notion that these measures can apply the same pressure as a shooting war to compel a state to behave as we wish is just nonsense.

Like any measure of pressure short of war, the target nation will either cope with the pressure or--if it is really bad--consider the pressure the equivalent of war that will lead them to respond with their own means of waging war the old fashioned way by killing people and breaking things.

Funny enough, given their humanitarian motives (I'll be generous), suggestions for non-lethal weapons just makes it more likely we'll go to war. Leaders will believe that we can win without much death.

Yet once begun, such a pseudo-war will prove to be either indecisive or we will lose against an enemy that actually tries to kill our people, forcing us to belatedly escalate. Having lost an initial chance to stun and defeat an enemy, that war will be longer and more costly than first thought.

But hey, enough time has passed to bring up the subject again.

If you don't want to wage war, don't wage war. If you need to wage war, wage war. Save the "non-lethal" weapons for certain types of law enforcement situations or to help kill enemies with lethal weapons in some situations.

Stick to the Conference Rooms

I'm all in favor of military-to-military contacts with China's military. That ability could interrupt a crisis escalation to war. But let's not go back to the days when we thought showing off our military would persuade the Chinese they can't beat us. They weren't learning what we were teaching.

I hold my breath when I read that we are working with the Chinese military:

The United States is optimistic about military exchanges with China and wants deeper ties to help reduce the risk of miscalculation, a top U.S. military officer said on Saturday, playing down tension between the world's two biggest economies.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno told reporters in Beijing that he had had "frank, honest and important" talks with his Chinese counterparts on establishing deeper dialogue between the two armies.

Such personal links are good. It helps to build some trust and means of communication.

What I don't like is the idea that showing off our military will scare the Chinese away from fighting us, as I wrote in 2006:

We are officially in favor of these missions because we believe that if the Chinese see how powerful we are, they won't try to fight us.

This is a crock. The Chinese know we are technically more advanced. What they think is that we are too pampered to fight them. And seeing our nice barracks and PXs with Chanel No. 5 won't convince them that we are hard warriors able to absorb high casualties. Seeing our military up close will simply give them insights into fighting us or at least cause them to believe that they have insights into fighting us[.] ...

I think seeing [USS Arizona] on the bottom of [Pearl Harbor] taught the PLA officers that if they can achieve surprise, they too can put key elements of our fleet on the bottom.

As for what they learned from the Missouri [where the surrender of Japan was signed in 1945]? Well, if those stupid Japanese had possessed nuclear weapons capable of reaching Los Angeles, we'd never have dared approach Japan let alone conquer them.

We are the ones who have miscalculated. The Chinese won't learn what we are teaching. And if it comes to war, we will find out what they learned.

I will say that the article that prompted this did not discuss the idea of impressing the Chinese with our technology the way the 2006 article did. Eight years of massive technological advances by China's fleet may have ended that fantasy all on its own.

But let's be careful out there. Keep this to talking and exchanging phone numbers rather than show-and-tell tours of our military.

One Last Hope

I don't think that President Obama wouldn't strike Iran's nuclear infrastructure. I think the president's policies make it more likely that he will have to. And I think we have the capabilities to strike Iran effectively if Iran goes nuclear.

I just don't think the Iranians fear us. We let the Iranians get away with murder when they supported Sadr's death squads in killing American troops. We backed down in Syria where Iran fights to keep that client state. We let Iran up off the economic mat shortly after getting serious sanctions in place for a toothless interim accord on Iran's nuclear programs. And Kerry seems focused on Israel rather than Iran as the biggest problem in the Middle East.

But does all this mean President Obama won't strike Iran? This author thinks we would strike:

I still believe that there are circumstances in which Obama would use force to stop Iran from gaining possession of a nuclear weapon. It's no secret that he prefers a diplomatic solution (one brought about by a crippling sanctions regime he orchestrated with significant help from Congress) to this problem. It is also no secret that he believes a military strike might have unintended consequences that could actually lead to a redoubling of the Iranian effort to cross the nuclear finish line. But there are certainly circumstances -- two immediately come to mind -- in which I think he would use force to prevent the Middle East from falling into a destructive spiral of nuclear proliferation.

The author thinks that if we discovered a major nuclear facility that it would be proof that Iran is not serious about talking. And we'd strike.

Or if we discovered that Iran was making a dash for a nuclear bomb. Then we'd strike, too.

I agree we'd strike.

Although I believe President Obama really does think we could contain and deter a nuclear Iran (why he thinks that since we can't seem to contain or deter a non-nuclear Iran now, I do not know).

But I think that the impact on the president's domestic agenda should Iran go nuclear on his watch would be so great that the president would believe that the fight for income equality or something requires a minimum of a weekend of bombing to make it look like he is at least trying to stop Iran.

Whether that would be enough is another issue altogether. This effort would have to be a war and not some unbelievably small attack that checks a box in time for the Sunday morning Beltway shows.

One problem is that I don't think we will be able to predict when Iran goes nuclear before they go nuclear, any more than we have accurately anticipated any other state's passing of the nuclear threshold.

One problem is that Iran knows we are looking for indications that they have the capacity to race for a nuke. Why do we assume they are playing the same game as we are?

If I was an Iranian nutball, I'd know that there are red lines that would prompt an Israeli strike even if I was (wrongly) confident that America under President Obama would not. And I'd take actions to get around that:

The problem from Iran's point of view is that they can't know if crossing one of these lines could trigger an American or Israeli preemptive strike out of fear that further delay in attacking would be too late to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And if I was an Iranian nutball, I wouldn't assume the Americans and Israelis couldn't knock out my infrastructure.

Were I an Iranian nutball, under those circumstances, I'd want at least a few atomic warhead on hand before I announce capabilities to produce atomic weapons-grade material. Which would mean I'd have had to have bought some from either North Korea or Pakistan--or possibly even from some broke custodian of Russia's arsenal.

If Iran can announce both the ability to make nuclear bomb material and the possession of actual nuclear weapons--perhaps by detonating one in a test on their own territory--Tehran would quite possibly deter an attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

We're not dealing with idiots. If the Iranian mullahs believe there are red lines that trigger Israeli or American action, why wouldn't they take counter-actions rather than just blindly cross those lines and provide a pretext for military action against them?

My hope is that President Bush left President Obama the tools to take down Iran's nuclear infrastructure after Iran goes nuclear, while minimizing the risks of Iran using a nuke against an ally. I think Bush created it for his use should Iran go nuclear on his watch, since Speaker Pelosi would have impeached Bush for attacking Iran before Iran was openly nuclear.

But this capability--the Obama Option--is in President Obama's hands now. And we'll use it after it is known that Iran is nuclear:

Then we'll strike hard using advance penetrating precision weapons with a layer of defenses backstopping our effort to kill leakers, stretching from the Iranian target site back to our assets that might be struck. We'll use modified Sidewinders and AMRAAM on fighters over the enemy target to hit missiles in their boost phase, airborne PAC-3 missiles to strike missiles in flight once we know where the enemy missiles are headed, and ground-based point defense PAC-3s and area missile defenses based on land and sea. Add in airborne lasers later. Hopefully, we nail the missiles on the ground and if not, somebody on the ballistic arc manages a hit before detonation over the Iranians' target.

Remember, we are working with allies from the Gulf to eastern Europe to build missile defenses. Even President Obama's decision to scrap President Bush's plan for eastern Europe missile defenses works with this theory. Bush's system would have taken longer to deploy. The Obama system is going online this year, and while incapable of protecting our east coast, will protect southeastern Europe.

We have the advantage of being out of range of any current Iranian missiles launched from Iran. So that isn't an immediate problem. Unless Iran sends a missile-in-a-box by sea to the Atlantic; or unless Iran can count on a launch pad in Venezuela, which Iran has been friendly with, we are not at risk (although our troops in the Gulf region would be). So with a sword and shield, we'll hit Iran's nuclear facilities hard while counting on layers of missile defenses to stop anything that leaks through our attacks.

Remember, too, that while under attack, Iran is far less likely to be able to volley fire nuclear tipped missiles mixed with conventional missiles to overwhelm missile defenses. No, while under attack they'll fire them when ready before they lose them, and so our shields will be better able to intercept them.

So I'm not without hope, despite the farcical nuclear interim deal with Iran. I'd prefer it if there was a revolt in Iran that overthrows the Iranian mullah regime rather than counting on a military option. But my hopes for that route have been shattered for 11 years, now.

Now my hopes rest on the Obama Option.

Just What are the Russians Suggesting?

Russian Prime Minister Medvedev is reported as saying some rather disturbing things about Ukraine.

Just what is Medvedev getting at?

We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens. ... There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning there.

Oh? This government is illegitimate while the last gave you no doubts?

And just what is the threat to your interests?

And what Russian citizens are you speaking of? I thought Ukrainians lived in Ukraine.

Is this an expansive claim to represent ethnic Russians regardless of state citizenship?

Or is Medvedev referring to the Crimea. With a major Russian naval base there and 13,000 military personnel, including a naval infantry regiment, could these troops and their families be the citizens he speaks of? Did Russians settle in this area after leaving the military without giving up Russian citizenship?

What is going on is that Ukrainians don't want to be part of Russia or part of Russia's semi-colonial "near abroad."

So just what do the Russians plan on doing about their interests and "their" citizens in Ukraine?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bad News and Good News

Secretary of Defense Hagel is carrying out his Obama administration function of being a Republican cutting defenses. But more to the point, will these cuts mean the Air Force stops whining about Army UAVs?

We're broke and going more broke every day. So I understand the need to cut defense spending. Even at the risk of cutting too much, if it contributes to a balanced budget eventually, it is worth it. In the long run, our defense spending rests on the foundation of a large and growing economy.

(If defense cuts just allow spending elsewhere, it isn't worth it, I'll add.)

I even think the Army can endure a cut to 440,000 to 450,000 active duty troops as the new proposed budget calls for.

This cut is what I'm interested in:

The plans, to be laid out in Hagel's first defense budget Monday, call for the entire fleet of Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft to be eliminated, the newspaper said, citing Pentagon officials ahead of Hagel's release of the spending plan.

The twin-engine jet is the only Air Force aircraft designed solely for close air support of ground forces. It was developed in the 1970s to attack Soviet tanks in case of a European invasion -- capabilities the Pentagon deems less relevant today, the Times said.

It's much more than a tank killer today. But it is still a relevant capability as we refocus on conventional warfare training again.

But fine. We're making it obvious that as our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have or are ending, the Air Force is losing its brief period of enthusiasm for providing ground support for Army troops and Marines.

I hope that as the Air Force gets rid of their sole platform expressly designed to support the Army that they stop complaining about Army armed UAVs. Maybe that's the good news in all this.

Very obviously, the Army needs its own air force.

People Surprise Me, Sometimes

Ukraine will attempt to move West again.

This is interesting:

Ukraine's interim leadership pledged to put the country back on course for European integration now that Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich has been ousted from the presidency, while the United States warned Russia against sending in its forces.

But they recognize that Russia looms too large to simply turn away from economic relations with Russia:

As rival neighbors east and west of the former Soviet republic said a power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to the country breaking apart, acting President Oleksander Turchinov said late on Sunday that Ukraine's new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine's European choice".

Will this be enough to hold off the Russians?

I'll admit, after voters put Yanukovich into power I was worried about Ukraine's future in the West.

And when the government succumbed to Russian threats to abandon a pending deal with the European Union, I despaired.

But the people of Ukraine didn't want to accept this major decision in defiance of the wishes of the majority.

And the leaders either would not or did not have the means to unleash sufficient force to crush this expression of defiance.

But Russia is still looming over Ukraine. And Putin still pines for the old Soviet (or Czarist) borders.

So the task has gone from defending a square to defending an entire nation.


Let me understand this. Smart phones have resulted in people texting rather than talking with their "phones." I can understand that.

And WhatsApp, a texting app that Facebook apparently bought for seventy-twelve quintillion dollars, is set to upgrade their app to allow a live voice functionality:

WhatsApp currently has a voice function but only in note form. This new service will be live.

I know I'm not nearly as young as I used to be. But isn't that called "talking?" Doesn't your phone already do that?

Whats next? An app upgrade to allow you to text on plain paper in a stamped envelope by putting it in a blue box down the street?

Iran Still Wants to Win in Syria

All the talk in the summer of how Assad was winning the war ignored that Assad had contracted his forces to fight just in western Syria. Keeping America out with the chemical accord helped Assad. But Assad is reaching the limits of his capabilities. So Iran steps up.

Iran is increasing their assistance to Assad:

As Syria's war nears the start of its fourth year, Iran has stepped up support on the ground for President Bashar al-Assad, providing elite teams to gather intelligence and train troops, sources with knowledge of military movements say.

This further backing from Tehran, along with deliveries of munitions and equipment from Moscow, is helping to keep Assad in power at a time when neither his own forces nor opposition fighters have a decisive edge on the battlefield.

Assad's forces have failed to capitalize fully on advances they made last summer with the help of Iran, his major backer in the region, and the Hezbollah fighters that Tehran backs and which have provided important battlefield support for Assad.

But the Syrian leader has drawn comfort from the withdrawal of the threat of U.S. bombing raids following a deal under which he has agreed to give up his chemical weapons.

The help is with advisers and specialists rather than troops. For that, Iran turned to Hezbollah and a Shia foreign legion paid for by Iran.

Strategypage writes that Iran is focusing more on reviving the effectiveness of Syria's army, which I take it means Iran has reached the limits of using Hezbollah and a Shia foreign legion as the shock troops for Assad. Read the whole thing, which covers much more.

Our southern front is getting ready to open, it seems:

Several activists said the attacks came as opposition fighters were preparing to launch a push from the area toward Damascus in coming days. The rebels have tried several times over the past two years to reach the capital but were stopped by Syrian troops.

The activists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were speaking about military plans, claimed that thousands of U.S.-trained rebels are getting ready to attack government positions throughout Daraa province.

Assad's forces are bombarding the area to disrupt the coming attacks.

I don't know if we want to win, since we apparently conceive our support for southern rebels as a means to pressure Assad for negotiations (I should be grateful that Kerry doesn't see this support as a means to getting Assad to sign a global warming pact).

When the fight to win and we fight to negotiate, the imbalance of apparent will and effort does not bode well for us. Of course, that doesn't mean the southern rebels have to agree with our goals. As long as Saudi Arabia and others are willing to back these rebels for the win, our ridiculous notions of strategery aren't the last word.

There is a general stalemate with both sides making new efforts to gain traction this year.

The rebels seem to have endured the morale hit of that chemical arms deal without folding.

Assad has failed to deliver a knock-out blow as he promised his supporters he'd achieve. How is base of support keeps enduring the casualties his forces have endured is beyond me.

And Hezbollah seems eager to get out of Syria despite Iranian pressure to keep fighting.

The odds remain against Assad, as I've long thought. He has too few ground forces (let alone reliable and fresh forces) to battle all his enemies from Aleppo in the north to the Jordanian border (let alone anything east of the Aleppo-Damascus arc).

Unless we cut a deal with Russia that saves Assad, I don't see how Assad can win the war of attrition he is in.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Operation Kharkov Storm

If I was going to use Russian military force to settle the Ukraine crisis in my favor, what would I do?

First of all, while I'd like all of Ukraine, it is too big for my army to conquer easily. So I'll settle for much less.

I'd encourage Yanukovich to declare autonomous regions in the east, within Ukraine formally, but defended by local militias quietly supported by Russian advisers and weapons. I'd respond positively to Yanukovich's request for fraternal assistance.

I'd also annex the Crimea, claiming that the transfer to Ukraine in the Soviet period was premised on Ukraine remaining part of Russia and so is not valid. It doesn't matter if that stands up legally as a good argument. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. And with the Crimea being majority ethnic Russian, who will complain? Especially with lots of local militias springing up?

Assuming Russia has about 100,000 army troops capable of fighting, as the core of the potential force; and lots of paramilitary troops organized like army units, what would I have to start with?

The army would have 35,000 paratroopers and 65,000 regular army troops. I'll assume the Russians can pull together half of this force for Ukraine operations.

Russia will have other less ready troops that could be used for related missions, including logistics.

I further assume another 50,000 paramilitary units--especially after the Olympics missions are over--will be available for Ukraine.

Pure WAG, but that's what I'll assume. Russia is huge and the 400,000 army and paratroopers plus 400,000 paramilitary have lots of ground to cover. Say 25,000 paratroopers and 25,000 mechanized army troops for the invasion.

I assume Russian air supremacy.

I'd be confident from the Zapad-13 military exercises that my forces can execute a moderately sized mission to combat “escalation of relations with countries based on interethnic, interreligious differences, and territorial claims,” which would apply to the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine quite well, I'd argue.

Crimea would be secured with 25,000 new forces.

Fifteen thousand paratroopers would be airlifted to Crimea and ten thousand paramilitary forces would cross the Kerch Strait to reinforce the Russian naval infantry regiment and other troops based in Crimea.

The main effort in eastern Ukraine would be 65,000 strong, on the ground.

Forty thousand paramilitary forces would head into eastern Ukraine, with half committed to cities from Kharkov anchoring the northern flank and points south; and the other half in the southern part, especially around Donetsk. These non-army troops would be the visible face in the cities of the intervention.

Part of me would want to advance all the way to the Dneiper River line. But I'd want my troops to advance on what they can carry with onboard fuel without resupply efforts during the invasion peacekeeping intervention. So 100 kilometers is enough of a penetration to make my point. If negotiations go well, that region will vote to stick with Yanukovich (and Russia) without a fight.

Besides, let the Ukrainians roll across the river through potentially unfriendly Russian-speaking areas between my liberated zone and the river.

This intervention would be portrayed as merely a means to preserve peace, prevent a civil war in Ukraine, and defend ethnic Russians from the "fascist coup leaders in Kiev." I would deny any intentions to annex the region or otherwise strip the region from Ukraine.

But my "police" troops would be on the ground, and I could wait to take further steps to absorb the region de facto and later formally when circumstances are better.

The 25,000 army troops in three motor rifle or tank divisions (or their brigade equivalents) would be divided into three groups, with one division near Kharkov, one near Donetsk, and one in reserve inside Russia able to move against Ukrainian counter-moves against either major city. This operational reserve force would also include 10,000 paratroopers.

The Moscow garrison of two divisions would be readied as the strategic reserve.

The Leningrad military district would mobilize troops to pose an implicit threat to the Baltic NATO states as a warning to NATO to stay quiet.

I'd also deploy tens of thousands of second-line Russian troops to Belarus, which would also be ordered to mobilize their 140,000 army and paramilitary troops, to pose a threat to Kiev and western Ukraine to freeze most Ukrainian troops away from the east and Crimea.

These troops would send a message to Poland, too. As would military activity in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and the Baltic Sea.

And I'd shut down half of the rail traffic in the Northern Distribution Network supplying our forces in Afghanistan, under the pretext of security needs, just to remind us that our military relies on those supply lines.

Related to this, I'll leak suggestions that NATO is involved and display some captured "NATO" equipment (that I captured in the Georgia War of 2008) as proof of outside interference in Ukraine's internal affairs (see the UPDATE and the links there).

What I would not do is cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, which also flows through to Western Europe. No need to make the fraternal assistance unpleasant for others, right?

Ukraine's 70,000 army and 80,000 paramilitary would have difficulty coping with this. However unready Russian and Belarus forces along Ukraine's northern border are, Ukraine needs to defend that long border. Russia could ready other troops to reinforce and potentially overwhelm a too-small force defending Kiev and points west to the Polish border.

Remember, if Russia has 100,000 effective army troops in their army, Ukraine's total is surely far less.

The port city of Odessa and the south would need to be protected from Russian airborne and naval infantry forces located in the Crimean peninsula.

So very little would be available to send east to reclaim Kharkov and Donetsk from the soft secession that Russian intervention would enable.

And so my forces sitting on defense in eastern Ukraine, with film of happy residents mixing with my paramilitary police in their armored vehicles posing as their protectors, and with the blessing of the still-legally president Yanukovich welcoming my forces, would dare the Ukrainian military to organize an offensive in the east or try to pry my troops from Crimea.

So let's talk about this whole messy situation and avoid escalation to war, shall we?

That's what I'd do.

I'll have to ponder my response as the Ukrainian defense minister.

Totally Different

Red lines fade and are crossed at will. But this time we've drawn an orange line against Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The strong words are always ready:

President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, was asked on U.S. television about the possibility of Russia sending troops to Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin had hoped Yanukovich would keep closely allied to Moscow.

"That would be a grave mistake," Rice said. "It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate."

So what makes it a mistake? Would we make it a mistake? Or is this just one of those, "in the fullness of time, karma will get you" sort of mistake?

Or would a Russian intervention just be met with an angry administration retort, "What difference, at this point, does it make?!"

We're not about to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. So I'm not suggesting we back up words with force.

But I don't think Putin defines Russian interests the same way Rice does. What do we do if Russia--bizarrely in Rice's view--sends in troops?

Yes, We've Met

This was fun:

One hospital, one auto-repair shop, one tire store, and two days.

But it was my own fault, really.

I had the choices of slamming on my brakes and inviting a rear-end collision, swerving into the left lane and hitting a car, floating above the crater, or driving through it while maintaining control and avoiding hitting anybody else.

I chose the last option, and hence it was really all my fault.


Actually, from the clip, I could have gone all the way to the right and avoided it. But I don't remember it being obvious at the time that the hole didn't extend to the curb. Water may have obscured that fact.

My hubcap is in my trunk. It's mine.

It's Going to Be a Long Four Years

The Canadians are going to be insufferable after sweeping hockey and curling in Sochi.

Oh well. Enjoy! Our Canadian friends certainly earned their gold.

The Calm Before the Storm

So who is in charge of what in Ukraine? And what will the Russian do?

The president is no longer the president, the former president is freed, and the parliament is asserting power:

The whereabouts and legitimacy of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych were unclear on Sunday, after he left the capital and his archfoe Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from prison and returned to Kiev to address a massive, adoring crowd.

Ukraine's newly emboldened legislature voted Sunday to hand the president's powers to the parliament speaker, a Tymoshenko ally. But Yanukovych has said that parliament decisions in recent days are illegal.

Yanukovich is in the east. Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers dominate there. Yanukovich was reported in Kharkov initially and now in Donetsk. These are the two biggest cities near Russia. Is he rallying support in those cities? Will pro-Yanukovich militias be formed?

But I haven't read that the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine pine for reunion with Russia. So the majority shouldn't assume that the 1/6 of the population that is Russian wants secession. Don't treat them like the enemy.

Of course, Putin could simply claim he is defending them if he sends in the tanks.

The Russians aren't on board with events:

Russia came out Saturday firmly against the peace deal, saying the opposition isn't holding up its end of the agreement, which calls for protesters to surrender arms and abandon their tent camps. Tymoshenko's entreaty is likely to make the latter condition slow to be fulfilled.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday called his German, French and Polish counterparts and urged them to use their influence with the Ukrainian opposition to stop what he described as rampages by its supporters. European officials urged calm.

What a shock. No call to the United States.

So Russia is not on board. And Yanukovich claims he is facing a coup:

Mr. Yanukovych appeared on television Saturday afternoon, saying that he had been forced to leave the capital because of a “coup,” and that he had not resigned, and did not plan to. He said he understood that people had suffered in recent days. “I feel pain for my country,” he said. “I feel responsibility. I will keep you informed of what we will do further, every day.”

He also said that he was traveling to the southeastern part of the country to talk to his supporters — a move that carried potentially ominous overtones, in that the southeast is the location, among other things, of the Crimea, the historically Russian section of the country where a Russian naval base is located.

His essentially lawless government makes claims of a popular revolt being described as a coup laughable.

But it could be used as a pretext for Russian intervention.

Ukrainians can be relieved that so many Russian security personnel are focused on Olympics security for the moment.

Going to southern Ukraine apparently meant Donetsk. Given the Russian military presence in Crimea and the fact that ethnic Russians are actually a majority there, all Yanukovich would have to do to check on the status of that region is to call Moscow.

So what happens? (tip to Instapundit)

Does Ukraine win? If so, does a united Ukraine move West or to Russia? Does Russia make the mistake of trying to invade and conquer all of Ukraine? Does Russia recognize and rescue a Yanukovich-led eastern Ukraine while Russia reclaims the Crimean peninsula as part of Russia? Should Ukrainians vote on whether to stay or leave Ukraine?

In any case, what is happening in Ukraine touches the vital interests of many members of the NATO alliance. What Washington does in the next few days could have serious consequences for the future viability of the world’s oldest and most successful alliance system.

Events are moving quickly in Ukraine, and in revolutionary situations like this, it can be very difficult to predict how the process will unfold. But Ukraine matters much more in Moscow than it does in either Brussels or Washington (though not in Warsaw, Bucharest and Vilnius); President Putin seems to believe that his geopolitical position requires him to take risks and move fast.

Yes, Russia wants their border pushed as far west as possible on that flat terrain. But just because Russia has rational reasons for wanting to push their borders as far from Moscow as possible doesn't mean we have to go along. Russians can cite Napoleon and the Germans twice (and the Poles and Swedes, for that matter) as reason for their worry.

I can cite the European Union's military capacity as reason for dismissing Russia's worries or pretense of worries.

I disagree with the idea that we have no interest and should push for the partition of Ukraine.

Pushing Russia away from the Black Sea--should Russia lose their bases in Crimea if Ukraine doesn't want them there any more--in the long run makes Russian operations in the Mediterranean much more difficult. That would make their help for Syria a bit more difficult and deprive Russia of some leverage in Egypt.

And even if I can accept Ukraine in the European Union but outside of NATO, I don't want the Russians closer to NATO's borders with a creeping anschluss with Ukraine the way Belarus is slowly falling under direct Russian control.

Nor do I like the idea of setting the Brezhnev doctrine in motion a little as the Georgia War of 2008 did, taking some of the old USSR back. What would be next? Estonia?

We may not want to go to war over Kharkov. But we shouldn't bless Russia's conquest, either.

Luckily, China is a potential ally if the Chinese see splitting Ukraine apart as interfering with their claims for Taiwan. The Chinese tend not to like secessionist movements. If Peking sees eastern Ukraine as Ukraine's Taiwan, Peking would oppose splitting Ukraine up.

When the Olympics are over, Putin will have a lot of paramilitary police forces freed up that could be used to control the eastern cities of Ukraine in support of Yanukovich.