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How Active Armor Works

December 31st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

About twenty years ago I read an article by General Donn A. Starry, former head of TRADOC but by then (as I recall) retired. In it he speculated that the Soviets were probably working on electrostatic tank armor. Back then, whenever you read something like, “The Soviets are probably working on a microwave mind control ray,” from someone respectable and well plugged-in, what it generally meant was: “We are working on this, the Soviets must know that, and so they will probably work on it as well just to keep up.” In other words, it told you more about what we were doing than what they were doing.

Electrostatic armor – in theory – surrounds a target with a weak electromagnetic field, while an on-board capacitor stores a whale of a big additional charge. When a heat round detonates, the penetrator is formed from the molten metal of the thin metal sheet lining the front of the shaped charge. This sheet is often made of copper, but in any case it is conductive. When it enters the electromagnetic field, it closes the circuit and the capacitor discharges, zapping the penetrator stream with enough power to vaporize it – or at least really mess it up.

The problem is generating all that electricity to run the bug zapper. You can charge a good capacitor off the tank’s power plant, but that takes time. What if someone fires a second round at you right away?

At about the same time folks were doing a lot of work on directed energy weapons as missile defense systems and the Soviets were getting pretty good at explosive generation of power – an explosion contained in a closed chamber which could produce an almosrt instantaneous spike of electricity. Hmmm, I thought. Put those together and you might have something.

A couple months later I was at a banquet with a bunch of defense and defense industry types. The guys seated across from me were private sector guys working on electronics and I mentioned the whole electrostatic thing and the possible tie-in with explosive power generation. “Have you heard of anyone working on that?” I asked.

The guy across from me paused and looked up for about five seconds, thinking, then shook his head. Back in those days, when someone thought like that about the answer to a question, they weren’t thinking about what they knew; they were thinking about what they could say. He couldn’t say anything, but somebody was either working on or blue-skying the idea.

Nothing much came of the whole electrostatic thing, but the Soviets did roll out a succession of active defense systems. Unlike the Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) I talked about earlier, these systems do not react to a strike, but actually reach out to kill an incoming round.

The first of these systems was Drozd (Thrust) which consisted of eight small rockets  mounted on the side of the turret, along with a millimeter band radar to detect incoming antitank guided missiles. The system automatically fires a rocket which detonates and produced a cloud of fragments intended to destroy the missile, like a big shotgun shell. The system protects the front 90 degrees of arc of the tank.

Drozd-1 showed up the early 1980s on Naval Infantry T-55s. An improved version, Drozd-2, can engage missiles from about 240 degrees of arc with ten rockets.

Next came Shtora-1, also called an EOCMDAS — because saying “electro-optical counter-measures defensive aids suite” every time you talk about it is just too damned hard. Shtora has a couple electro-optical emitters (i.e. really bright lights) on a mast above the turret, some laser sensors, and a bank of anti-laser aerosol smoke grenades. The guidance system of most wire-guided missiles corrects the missile onto the target. It keeps track of the actual position of the missile in flight by tracking the thermal signature of the missile exhaust or a special IR source. The electro-optical emitters give off a stronger IR signature than the missile, confusing the guidance system into thinking the light above the turret is the missile and correcting the trajectory down, and it continues to do so until the missile flies into the ground. For laser beam-riding missiles, the laser sensor detects the laser designator’s energy and automatically fires a smoke grenade to break the beam. Shtora-1 was introduced in the late 1980s.

The most recent system is ARENA, which works on the same principle as the Drozd; the tank’s radar detects incoming rounds and fires protective fragmentation ammunition which destroys them. ARENA has a better engagement envelope and probably has a higher success rate against incoming warheads. Apparently ARENA is a response to the high tank losses Russian tanks suffered in Chechnya from RPGs, and so is set up to engage both faster missiles and slower rocket-propelled grenade rounds, making it pretty effective against just about everything but a long-rod depleted uranium penetrator from a main battle tank. Financial constraints have kept ARENA from mass-deployment, but the Russians have developed an export version (ARENA E) and are hawking it pretty hard. Don’t be surprised to see it turn up in some other armies fairly soon.

It’s interesting the west has done so little in the active armor field, but in part this is due to how successful we have been with more traditional armor systems. Considering how good some of the new hand-held anti-tank rocket launchers are, we might want to rethink that.

Bomb Attacks Rock Baghdad

December 31st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Eight bombs exploded within a two-hour period in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 2 and wounding 14. These bomb attacks targeted Christians, and follow a growing pattern, as well as underscoring a troubling pattern in the Middle East. Increasingly, some radical Islamic groups have begun targeting Christians, apparently in retaliation for “Christian” (i.e. U.S. and NATO) occupation of Iraq and continuing presence in the region. Those attacks reached a horrific peak in October when the congregation of a Catholic church was massacred, leaving over sixty dead.

One measure of Christian persecution is out-migration. Christians leave Iraq and Lebanon in significant numbers. Egypt is tough to call, while there is no noticeable out-migration from Syria or Jordan. The out-migration from Lebanon does not appear to be due to radical Islamic violence against Christians, but rather a response to the general level of instability and violence. Violence in that country is tribal and political rather than religious.

Syria and Jordan are both ruled by traditionalist and nationalist governments with a history of religious tolerance. The former Baathist government of Iraq, whatever other failings it suffered from, and they were legion, practiced religious tolerance for Christians.

Here is a link to a Juan Cole column with some good insights.

Rosie The Riveter Dies at Eighty-Six

December 30th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Well, not really. Rosie is immortal, but Geraldine Hoff Doyle, the model for the iconic World War II poster of the female riveter, just passed away. She died of complications from severe arthritis.

Doyle was photographed in a Michigan steel plant in 1942 and became the model for the famous poster of a beautiful female factory worker showing impressive arm muscles and saying “We Can Do It!”

The finely-chiseled features of the face, complete with gracefully arching eyebrows and classic mouth, were Doyle’s. The muscles were added by the artist – Doyle was tall and slender, a cellist by regular profession, and remembered as a “glamour girl,” by her daughter.

Doyle was unaware her likeness was used in the poster until 1984, when she happened to see a picture of herself in “Modern Maternity” magazine and read the accompanying article which named the picture as the inspiration for the poster.

Doyle is survived by five children, 18 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren. She’ll be remembered by millions.

Sudan Secession Referendum Near

December 29th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Next month the southern Sudan will vote for or against independence. The secession referendum is part of a cease-fire agreement brokered by the U.S. in 2005. The Sudan has experienced on-and-off civil war for decades, the country torn along ethnic and religious lines between the Arab/Muslin north and the Black African, non-Muslim south. The north has the majority of the population (22 million) along with most of the resources and urban areas. The south, with about 6 million people, relies on subsistence agriculture and has virtually no modern infrastructure in place, in part due to neglect by the north and in part die to the ongoing civil war. There are effectively no paved roads in the south, for example.

The civil war has caused over two million deaths to date. Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea have supported the southern secessionist forces and Sudan has in turn supported anti-government forces in those countries. Libya and Egypt support the notion of a unified Sudan, if not necessarily the draconian actions of the government to suppress the south. The highest-visibility region in the war has been Darfur, where suppression of the south has been widely labeled genocidal in scope and effect.

Ballots, printed in the United Kingdom, recently arrived in Juba, the administrative capital of the south. They will be flown to administrative centers in coming weeks and distributed from there by UN and NGO personnel.

Once the referendum is over, what is to prevent the north from continuing cross-border campaigns against the south? The best bet is the Satellite Sentinel Project, a unique dedicated satellite surveillance system launched jointly by the UN, Google, and the NGOs Not On Our Watch, the Enough Project, and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. The aim is to provide real-time satellite surveillance of the border along with ground analysis and then provide running publication.

Not On Our Watch was founded (and funded) by U.S. actor George Clooney, and Clooney has provided the financing for the project’s start-up phase.

“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching, the world is watching,” Clooney said in a statement.

“War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.”

Ten Myths About Afghanistan

December 28th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The ever-informative Juan Cole recently ran a column on the top ten myths about Afghanistan. Many of these are things you’ve found me writing about. I heartily encourage you to take a look at this column by Cole. His hyperlinks identify solid sources which back up his systematic deconstruction of the “Conventional Wisdom” on the war in Afghanistan. These are not imaginary straw-man arguments conjured up just for the satisfaction of knocking them down. These are the key claims made in support of the current policy.

Here are the ten wide-spread claims he takes apart.

10. There has been significant progress in tamping down the insurgency in Afghanistan.
9. Afghans want the US and NATO troops to stay in their country because they feel protected by them.
8. The “surge” and precision air strikes are forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
7. The US presence in Afghanistan is justified by the September 11 attacks.
6. Afghans still want US troops in their country, despite their discontents.
5. The presidential elections of 2009 and the recent parliamentary elections were credible and added to the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s government.
4. President Hamid Karzai is “a key ally” of the United States.
3. Shiite Iran is arming the hyper-Sunni, Shiite-hating Taliban in Afghanistan.
2. Foreigners are responsible for much of Afghanistan’s fabled corruption.
1. The US is in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda.

Cole is the writer who called the invasion of Afghanistan “The right war at the right time.” The bloom is off the rose.

India China Rapprochement Effects

December 24th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

There’s been a lot of discussion (including in this column) about the growing rivalry between India and China, the reality of a budding arms race, and the possibility of future conflict. In some cases, this possibility is discussed with barely-suppressed giddy anticipation. “Hey, they got all this stuff and they’re aiming it at somebody else!”

What receives less consideration is what happens if China and India decide to do something really radical – get along. Last week the Netaji Research Bureau in Kolkata, India, organized a seminar to discuss exactly that subject. Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo expressed his opinion: rapprochement between the two emerging global powers would first transform Asia, and then the world.

The Asia part is pretty easy to see. Asian countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, are not looking forward to the prospect of having to choose sides in that brawl. Strained relations between China and India, particularly with modernized armed forces on each side, are more likely to produce proxy wars between their allies and satellites than open war between the two main players. That sort of conflict would be bad news for countries like Vietnam, which are certain to become badly-used pawns in a regional power struggle, and also certain to come out of such a struggle with too much money tied up in armaments and not much to show for it, no matter which of the bigger powers comes out on top.

As to transforming the world – well, maybe so. If the two countries with the largest populations in the world, a common border, emerging global economies, and a history of not getting along can somehow get past all that and make nice, everyone may be forced to fall into line, just to have a chance of competing economically.

That would be odd, wouldn’t it?

FIST Could Revolutionize Defense Procurement

December 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the largest single piece of new hardware procurement the armed forces are currently pursuing, now that the F-22 Raptor project has melted down into a molten puddle of red ink. Both of those programs will end up taking twenty years from inception to fielding of a weapon system, and a big part of the procurement system we have right now is that the whole world changes a lot in twenty years. Increasingly, these sorts of procurement times are the rule, not the exception. One result is that the specifications for the hardware keep morphing to meet that new world, or simply to meet the latest military fad which has caught the headlines. Lots of army vehicle projects died on the vine because the world changed out from under them before real vehicles could come off assembly lines.

A group of Air Force officers have been arguing for a while that there is a better way. They call it “Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, and Tiny,” or FIST. One real-world example of FIST is the MC-12W intelligence gather aircraft, a manned variant of the C-12 unmanned system, optimized for intelligence gathering, and which went from concept to deployment in thirteen months.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has gotten on-board with its “Sim Tank,” more formally (if awkwardly) title the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) initiative. It aims at taking basic computer design and modeling a step beyond current software limitations to make the final output of computer modeling “correct-by-construction,” or assembly-line ready. Interesting stuff, and here’s a link to a good article in Wired.

What’s Wrong With Drone Strikes?

December 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I’ve repeatedly written here about the virtues of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as weapon systems. I think they are the coming thing, and not simply as low-intensity reconnaissance and occasional strike platforms. In fifty years I’d be surprised to see a single manned combat aircraft flying. Of course, in fifty years I’d also be surprised to still be around to see anything flying, but you know what I mean.

But there is a difference between the utility of a piece of hardware and the wisdom of its employment – and sometimes that difference is a yawning chasm. The continuing campaign of drone strikes against northwestern Pakistan may be a case in point. The CIA recently had to pull its section chief from Islamabad, where Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist from Northern Waziristan, publicly accused him of being responsible for the death of the journalist’s brother and son in a drone strike gone wrong.

The CIA cited security issues as the reason for his withdrawal, and there is certainly something to that. When the public finds out who the CIA section head is in a country, especially a country in which the CIA is conducting a vigorous campaign of targeted killings via drone missile, security ought to be a concern. Of equal or greater concern was the prospect of a CIA official dragged into a Pakistani courtroom and charged with capital murder. Not the Christmas present anyone in Langley was looking for.

It does serve to bring into the light the whole issue of the CIA-directed UAV drone strike program of targeted killing.

It’s an interesting point of law. Assassination is illegal; targeted killing under some circumstances is not – specifically it is not illegal if it is conducted in self-defense. People actually shooting at you or planning to shoot at you are legitimate self-defense targets. Assassination is a different matter – it’s generally considered to be killing someone because you don’t like their politics, or their actions run contrary to your own national interests. That may be annoying, but it’s not legal to kill them over it.

Of course the self-defense rationale can be pushed to absurd extremes if you are not careful. This guy is driving a truck full of fertilizer which a group has purchased to make a bomb, is it okay to blow up the truck, and the innocent driver, as an act of self defense? No. At least that’s what I think, and I think most legal scholars would agree. A growing number of folks would, I suspect, just shrug and say, “Oh well.”

I have some real skepticism concerning the long-term efficacy of the drone campaign. It’s killing some bad people, no doubt about that, but it is also raising new recruits and elevating the anti-US sentiment level in the region. If there are people angry enough to take the place of the people we are killing – and so far there are – then we are not decapitating (removing heads) so much as swapping out one set of heads for another. Are the new heads better fort us than the old heads? I’m not so sure they are.

Some folks at the CIA have the same concerns, by the way, but I’ll leave all of our concerns about efficacy for a moment. My core concerns are not efficacy, and I don’t think they should be. If our only concern is efficacy, what’s next? Flying airliners into skyscrapers if someone can run the numbers and show it’s “effective”? If we don’t care about what’s right and wrong, we are lost. So what problems do I have with the right and wrong of the drone campaign?

The first big problem I have is that it is conducted by the CIA. Since the campaign started in 2004, it has killed between 1,286 and 1,981people (low-high estimates). That’s not a covert op any more; that’s a military campaign. Military campaigns ought to be conducted by the armed forces, not intelligence agencies. Why? In a democracy the citizens have a right to weigh in on whether a military operation is a good idea. Most operations, we get to do that. But we don’t get a vote on covert ops. I’m not that crazy about covert operations in general – I’m okay with intelligence agencies which collect intelligence. Blowing sh*t up is, or at least in my perfect world would be, somebody else’s job – like the armed forces. Call me a crazy idealist.

So here we have a covert operation which has been going on for six years and is well on its way toward killing two thousand people, but since it’s “secret,” public discussion has been more limited than I’d like. It’s hard for Congress to conduct public hearing about it because, you know, it’s secret.

 Of course, the only people it’s really secret to are U.S. citizens. Folks in northwest Pakistan are pretty up-to-date on it. I have this naggin feeling that one of the reasons we are running a major military campaign under the fiction that it is covert is in part to avoid public scrutiny and discussion, and I think that is a poisonously bad idea.

The second problem I have is this campaign coarsens us. It gets us talking about effectiveness, as if we are a nation of cost accountants, to the exclusion of morality. Lots of innocent civilians get killed by this campaign as well as bad guys. Lots of mothers, grandparents, little kids. It bothers me that, as I mentioned before, a lot of us look at that, shrug, and say, “Oh well.” 

That’s not something I want us to get a lot more practice doing, lest we become too good at it.

Remembering Skyline Drive Part II

December 21st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

On the morning of December 16, 1944, 57th Panzer Corps’ massed artillery, reinforced with a brigade of Nebelwerfer multiple barrel mortars, opened fire and plastered the positions of the 110th Infantry along Skyline Drive. The barrage died out after half an hour, but by then all the field telephone lines from the forward positions to battalion and regiment had been cut. 26th Volksgrenadier Division assault troops had already crossed the Our River and quickly infiltrated past the forward string of company strong points. Surprise was so complete, and communications so disrupted, that for much of the day the American infantrymen in the line had no idea they were in the middle of a major German offensive. They knew they were under heavy attack but assumed it was a purely local affair.

When the routes forward to the line companies were cut by infiltrators, the 28th Division released two medium tank companies from the attached divisional tank battalion. These had to fight their way forward to link up with the infantry, but still the resistance could as easily be due to German patrol activity. Only in the afternoon of the 16th did it become clear the Germans were attacking throughout the Ardennes, and attacking in overwhelming force. By then all six forward rifle companies were surrounded and under heavy pressure. Several had already turned down demands for surrender. But every German attack had been stopped by U.S. fire. The field artillery battalion attached to the regiment fired concentrations most of the day, when they weren’t firing over open sights at Volksgrenadiers trying to overrun the gun positions.

By nightfall, every forward strong point still held out. German armor and other vehicles were snared in a giant traffic jam at the bridge east of Marnach and were hours behind schedule. The same was true below Hosingen, where 26th Volksgrenadier Division’s bridge was placed and where the tanks and assault guns of the Panzer Lehr Division waited to cross. By early evening tanks and assault guns joined the attacks on Marnach and Hosingen.

The biggest problem facing the forward rifle companies of the 110th was ammunition. They fired almost all of their ready ammunition during the day and no supplies could reach them that night. With enemy armor joining the fight, resistance began to crumble. Most of the forward positions were overrun during the night, or the U.S. defenders decided to break out to the west. The 28th Division released most of the II/110th Infantry Battalion back to Fuller’s control, along with a light tank company, and on the morning of the 17th the 110th launched a series of counterattacks with the aim of relieving whatever forward positions still held out. With phone lines cut and radio batteries dead, all contact had been lost with the forward companies and so there was still hope they held out. These attacks ran into the advancing armor of 2nd Panzer Division and infantry of 26th Volksgrenadiers and were shot up and thrown back. Using scratch units hastily assembled from men on leave and men filtering back from the forward rifle companies, the 110th dug in around the chateau at Clerf, the regimental command post, and delayed the 2nd Panzer Division’s crossing for most of the rest of the day.

By the end of the fighting for Skyline Drive, the 110th had effectively ceased to exist as an organized force, but it had delayed the advance of the entire 57th Panzer Corps for well over a day. Later, the panzer corps would be unable to dislodge the 101st Airborne from the key road junction of Bastogne. But if the 110th had caved in that first day, if 57th Panzer Corps had been able to advance on schedule, Bastogne would have fallen before the paratroopers could have arrived to defend it.

The fall of Bastogne would not have changed the outcome of the war, or even the outcome of the Ardennes Offensive, but it would have changed its course in ways we can speculate about but not know for certain. We cannot know for certain because, against all odds, against all logic, a half dozen rifle companies of Pennsylvania Guardsmen held onto a few key village road junctions against staggeringly overwhelming force, and would not let go until their ammunition ran out –in many cases literally fighting to the last bullet.

It’s something I spend a moment or two thinking about every year about this time..

Remembering Skyline Drive Part I

December 20th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In mid-December, 1944, Colonel Hurley Fuller’s 110th Infantry Regiment held a ten-mile stretch of the U.S. 28th Division’s front in the Ardennes. The 28th Division was a National Guard outfit from Pennsylvania, the “Keystone State.” Their shoulder patch was a red keystone, but the Germans did not understand the significance of the patch’s shape and so called it “the bloody bucket.” The division earned that nickname the hard way in the Huertgen forest that autumn. It suffered over six thousand casualties in the close, nasty fighting around Schmidt, and had moved to this quiet sector to rest and absorb replacements.

Over half the regiment’s strength was made up of new men, but the replacement quality was high and the leadership cadre of the regiment tested and proven. The regiment held a naturally strong position, a long ridge paralleling the Our River to the east and the Clerf River to the west. A road connecting Diekirch to the south with St. Vith to the north ran along the spine of the ridge, essentially marking the regiment’s main line of resistance, and the 110th nicknamed the road Skyline Drive.

Although the units of Fuller’s regiment were up to strength, the 28th Division withdrew one of the regiment’s three battalions to act as the division reserve. This left Fuller with six rifle companies, plus supporting heavy weapons, to hold ten miles of front. There was no question of holding a continuous front and so the regiment held a series of strong points in towns at key road junctions: Heinerscheid (Co. A), Marnach (Co. B), Munschausen (Co. C), Weiler (Co. I), Hosingen (Co. K), and Holzthum (Co. L).The positions were too far apart to provide mutual support but, after all, it was a quiet sector.

It would not stay that way for long. The ten-mile front held by the six rifle companies of the 110th corresponded almost exactly to the assault frontage of the German 57th Panzer Corps of Hasso von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army. Almost exactly. Actually, the 57th Panzer Corps’ assault frontage was only seven miles wide, so the northern outpost of the 110th at Heinerscheid was in the 48th Panzer Corps’ sector and was astride the main attack route of 116th Panzer Division. As to the 110th’s remaining five rifle companies, they would receive the full attention of the 26th Voksgrenadier Division and 2nd Panzer Division. The remaining division of the German corps, the Panzer Lehr, would serve as a second echelon and would exploit after the front was broken.

For General Luettwitz, commander of 57th Panzer Corps, and for the commanders of his subordinate divisions, breaking through the 110th Infantry was not the principal concern. The defenders were too few, and the initial attack too carefully orchestrated, for the outcome to be in doubt. The real question was how to get the armor of the two divisions forward as quickly as possible. The east-west roads between the Our and Clerf Rivers were twisting, hilly, and muddy. The initial major objective of the corps was the town of Bastogne, which dominated the road net in the southern Ardennes. Without Bastogne, the drive for the Meuse could not be sustained. The challenge was to get the corps’ armor forward as quickly as possible and take Bastogne before the Americans could move reinforcements in. So the objective for the first day was to advance past Skyline drive and secure the crossing sites of the Clerf River, so the armor could push west to Bastogne on the morning of the second day.

The 26th Volksgrenadier division had been holding the line for several weeks while it absorbed replacements, and so was very familiar with the terrain and U.S. opposition. It would attack the III Battalion of the 110th Infasntry with two infantry reguiments, while its third regiment p[provided the forward screen covering the assembly of the assault troops for the entire corps. The dismounted panzer grenadiers of 2nd Panzer Division would attack the I/110th Infantry Battalion sector. They would concentrate on taking Marnach (held by B Company/110) as quickly as possible, as Marnach controlled the exit routes from the crossing site where 2nd Panzer engineers would build their bridge and begin bringing the armor across.

That was the plan. Tomorrow I’ll tell you what happened.

How Reactive Armor Works

December 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

If you’ve seen photos of tanks in the last twenty years, you’re seen reactive armor – those blocks festooned all over some armored fighting vehicles. Have you ever wondered what they do and how they work? You have come to the right place.

Reactive armor, more completely known as Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), was originally designed to defeat High Explosive Armor Piercing (HEAT) warheads, the sort found on antitank rockets and missiles. Before you can understand how ERA stops them, you need to know how HEAT warheads work. And, of course, before that you need to know how conventional anti-tank warheads work.

Conventional rounds work by brute force: mass, velocity, all that stuff. The momentum of the penetrator carries it through the armor, or not, depending. The impacting penetrator transfers so much kinetic energy to the armor, the material of the armor loses its structural integrity and behaves as a fluid, enabling the moving mass of the penetrator to push the material of the armor aside.. So far, nothing unexpected, right?

The HEAT warhead usually moves at a lower speed, sometimes a much lower speed, but the explosion of the warhead creates a narrow jet of super-heated metal moving forward at extremely high velocity, and this jet of metal is what penetrates the armor. Here’s where it gets interesting. Although you may have heard that a HEAT warhead “burns” through the armor, you heard that from an ignoramus. It does not burn through the armor any more than a conventional round does. In fact, the high-velocity metal jet penetrates armor exactly the same way a conventional penetrator does, and its performance can be calculated using the same fluid dynamics equations.

The important difference between the two types of pentrators is that in a HEAT round the penetrator is itself a fluid, although a fluid with a lot of momentum. But because it is a fluid, it is easier to distort it and break it apart into smaller chunks. That’s how ERA defeats it.

The first effective ERA blocks were Israeli-designed Blazer blocks, coming into service in 1978 and seeing service in Lebanon in 1982. Blazer was later deployed on US M60 tanks, and photos of blazer-mounting USMC M60s in the Gulf War have become iconic.

The original Blazer blocks had a thin metal sheet on the front and the back. The penetrator jet of a HEAT round punched through the outer cover and detonated the explosive block behind it. The explosion propelled the remnant of the front metal sheet cover out and up, taking the back end of the pentrator jet with it. That first generation of ERA generated between 350 and 400mm equivalent worth of additional armor protection against large caliber HEAT warheads.

The Soviets saw the effects of ERA in Lebanon and had been working on a similar system of their own. In 1982 they deployed their own first generation ERA, called Kontakt EDZ, EDZ standing for “Elementy Dinamicheskoi Zashity,” roughly, dynamic protection elements. The first vehicle to sport this ERA system was the T-80BV (the V standing for vzryvno, or explosive), but it appears that by 1985 all Soviet vehicles in Germany had EDZ packages. Kontakt EDZ was more sophisticated than Blazer. The blocks were smaller, so each block which exploded left a smaller area exposed. Also, the blocks had a trapezoidal cross-section which causes the front plate to rotate away from the explosion, increasing its effect on the penetrator jet.”

Around 1985, the Soviets began deploying a significantly improved version of ERA, called Kontakt-5. Kontakt-5 uses a significantly thicker front and rear plate on the explosive block. The result is that it is not simply effective against HEAT rounds, it also provides significant protection against conventional armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds. The design of the explosive block is such that after detonation the front and back plates accelerate way from the block, rotating in opposite directions. As the tip of the penetrator passes through the back plate, the rotation in opposite directions of the two plates provides sufficient torque to snap the penetrator in two. This seems to provide the equivalent of about 300mm of additional armor protection against conventional penetraring rounds, and even more against HEAT rounds.

 To put that 300mm in perspective, it is almost twice the equivalent of the German King Tiger’s frontal armor protection.

Jane’s International Defense Review in 1997 ran a confirming article (quoted bbelow) on US test firings at Soviet-manufactured T-80s with Kontakt-5 ERA and reached the same conclusions.

“Speaking at a conference on Future Armoured Warfare in London in May, IDR’s Pentagon correspondent Leland Ness explained that US tests involved firing trials of Russian-built T-72 tanks fitted with Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour (ERA). In contrast to the original, or ‘light’, type of ERA which is effective only against shaped charge jets, the ‘heavy’ Kontakt-5 ERA is also effective against the long-rod penetrators of APFSDS tank gun projectiles.”

So next time people start talking about ERA, you’ll know what they’re talking about. More importantly, you’ll know if they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Here’s a link to a more detailed history of ERA development.

Next time we may talk about active armor protection systems.

My Favorite Holiday Gift

December 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

A couple years ago, I discovered an outfit called Heifer International, or rather my family did. Heifer has been around for over sixty-five years and their focus is on making poor people around the world agriculturally self-sufficient. They do it by using charitable contributions to give livestock to poor farmers – not simply slaughter livestock, but livestock which provides continuing income: sheep for wool, dairy cows for milk, chickens for eggs, oxen and water buffalo as surrogate tractors, etc. All of the animals provide manure used as organic fertilizers in other crops.

Heifer also provides veterinary support and education in animal husbandry. Furthermore, their giving includes a requirement to “Pass on the Gift,” which means the recipients commit to giving a proportion of the offspring from their animal to their neighbors. Heifer is not simply helping individual farm families; it is building successful agricultural communities.

For the last couple years, my mother-in-law has told her kids not to buy her a present. Instead she has them chip in and buy a water buffalo. She’s retired and living on Social Security and a teacher’s pension, so it’s not as if she’s rolling in money. Doesn’t matter. I think if you wait until you can afford to do the world some good, it’s going to be too late.

Find a way this holiday season to make the world a little better place.

Here’s a link to the Heifer International site.

New Afghan Progress Report

December 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

There have been a lot of reports lately concerning the success of the increased tempo of allied operations in Afghanistan, including anecdotal evidence that the Taliban’s ability to continue the war is crumbling. There is also anecdotal evidence the Taliban is stronger now than it was a couple years ago and is managing to replace its losses with new recruits. What’s a guy to believe, huh?

Now Congress has received briefings from the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), and the news isn’t very good. The results of the NIE were leaked to, and reported by, the Los Angeles Times. Apparently as a result of those briefings, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who is up for the House Armed Services Committee chairmanship next session, has said it may be time to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and reduce the size of our footprint there. As Juan Cole observed in his column the other day, if Republican congressmen are beginning to call for withdrawal from Afghanistan, it will be very hard for President Obama to resist that pressure.

Return To The Congo

December 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Back in May of 2009, I wrote a column entitled Death In The Congo – Can You Hear Me Now? (Here’s a link.) The title referred to the fact that the ongoing civil war was driven not by ethnic, tribal, or religious tensions, but rather by demand for scarce raw materials needed in western consumer electronics – laptops, digital camera, and especially cell phones. That civil war has gone largely unnoticed in this country, in part because it’s far away and in a place from which few Americans hail. Even African Americans are mostly from western Africa.

Certainly the war was not ignored because not much was going on. In the nine years from 1998 through 2007, 5.4 million peopledied  in the Congolese Civil War, which makes it the most costly war, in human terms, since World War II. The issue has resurfaced, or rather been re-discovered, as shoppers line up for consumer electronics this holiday season. Dealing with the problem is complicated. Nobody, including human rights organizations, wants to just boycott resources from the region as that would economically devastate the miners in the region – who don’t exactly have a great life as it is.

Here’s a link to an article in the Washington Post with a good summary of recent (unfortunately unsuccessful) attempts to fix things.

Korea Conflict Update from Former U.S. Intelligence Chief

December 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Dennis Blair, the former U.S. National Intelligence Director, has predicted low level armed conflict in the Korean peninsula. South Korea has clearly reached the end of its patience and is likely to answer any further provocation with low-level military strikes – what is known as a “proportional response.” Large-scale conflict is unlikely. Blair observed that the North understands major aggression against the south will mean “the end of the regime,” and as I’ve remarked here before, in Pyongyang, regime preservation is Job One.

Here’s a link to a story in Global Security News.

Talks Stall In Palestine

December 10th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Readers may remember a couple weeks ago I talked about the proposal to trade free F-35 joint strike fighters for an Israeli 90-day freeze in new building in the West Bank. There was a lot of skepticism over the likely outcome of such a freeze. Now the question has become academic. The F-35s are off the table and so is a building freeze.

Why? One explanation is “cumulative bad vibes.” The freeze would have excluded East Jerusalem itself. Folks wondered if the Israelis would ever agree to even that limited a freeze, they wondered if the Palestinians would come to the table given the East Jerusalem exclusion, and they wondered if 90 days was enough time to get anything done. They wondered that a lot, and loudly, and nobody had a very good answer. Now we’ll try “Plan B.”

Plan B amounts to indirect talks, with the U.S. acting as an intermediary between the two parties. A few months ago, the Israelis insisted only direct talks would work, but when the talks were going on, they didn’t have much of substance to say. Now that the direct talks are dead, the Israelis seem more comfortable with indirect talks.

One of the reasons the housing freeze got to be such a deal-breaker is that Israel is in the middle of spiraling housing costs and a shortage of affordable housing — in short, a housing bubble. The first casualty of that bubble may have been the talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli economy may be the next casualty – housing bubbles haven’t been ending well lately.

Here is a link to an article on the breakdown in direct talks.

Here is a link to a report on the Israeli housing bubble and its possible effect on the talks.

Why Is Peace Is Bustin' Out All Over? Part II

December 9th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

This is the second part of a two-part column on the annual report of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Frasier University. The first part noted the dramatic decline in international violence since the Second World War and particularly since the end of the Cold War. As the report notes,

“The extent of the decline was striking. Conflict numbers dropped overall by more than 40 percent from 1992 to 2003. High-intensity conflicts––those that result in 1,000 more battle deaths a year––declined even more steeply and for a longer period, falling by 78 percent between 1988 and 2008. Remarkably, these changes––and what drove them––have received little scholarly attention. It is now 20 years since the Cold War ended, yet only a small handful of articles––and not one full-length study––have been published that attempt to explain these changes.”

It strikes me that explaining those trend lines might be a good idea. For a change, we seem to be collectively doing something right. But what?

There are two general theories as to what is most successful in reducing conflicts: the coercive (or deterrent) theory, and the cooperative theory.

The Coercive Theory
The coercive theory holds that higher levels of armaments, and particularly the spread of nuclear weapons, makes war less viable. There is an abundance of historical writings holding the theory to be true, enough so that proponents of this theory like to label it the “Realist” approach, as if anything else is unrealistic. I’m always leery of folks who like to win the argument in advance by defining themselves as the winners, but there’s no question there is a wealth of historical aphorisms which agree with them. “Those who desire peace should prepare for war.” That sort of thing.

There is also a certain logic to it, and a clear appeal to the natural insecurity people feel when confronted with the prospect of violence. Which would you rather trust to prevent violence: vague notions of cooperation and mutual benefit, or the ability to smack the bad guy yourself? It has the virtue of a state being exclusively in control of its own destiny, instead of having to rely on others.

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate expression of this theory, and one of the leading proponent of the pacifying effects of nuclear weapons, Kenneth Waltz, has argued, “[P]eace has become the privilege of states having nuclear weapons, while wars are fought by those who lack them.”

Sounds pretty good, huh? The problem is that since nuclear weapons were developed and fielded, the four countries which have fought the most wars – The United States., Russia/Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France – all are members of the nuclear club. Also, nuclear weapons have been unsuccessful at deterring conventional aggression against nuclear states or their allies. As the report notes,

“US nuclear weapons did not deter China from attacking US forces in the Korean War, nor North Vietnam from attacking South Vietnam and US forces in the 1960s and 1970s. Israeli nuclear weapons did not dissuade Egypt from attacking Israel in 1973, and the Soviet nuclear arsenal did not deter the mujahedeen from waging war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s––nor did it prevent a Soviet defeat.”

It is also not clear that conventional arms or alliance building has been the major contributor to the decline in conflicts. Instead, the second theory may have more impact.

The Cooperative Theory
The cooperative theory holds that the factors most important in reducing international conflict are the spread of democracy and increasing economic interdependence of countries.

The proponents of the peace-through-democracy argument have statistics on their side. While democracies often wage war, they heardly ever wage war on other democracies, so the spread of democracies increasingly reduces the number of possible war-generating combinations. Or so the theory goes. The problem I have with it is that I am not convinced it can be expanded indefinitely. When democracies are a minority of governments, they find the shared form of government a common bond in a hostile world. If everyone’s a democracy, though, the club’s not exclusive any more and I doubt it will have the same effect – given the fact that democracies still manage to work themselves up to war quite often.

Economic interdependence is probably more of a factor. As has been noted here before, economic interdependence is never a guarantee against warfare, but then nothing is a certain guarantee. The Cato Institute has claimed that available statistics analysis of the effects on conflict reduction suggest, “economic freedom is about 50 times more effective than democracy in diminishing violent conflict.” Another recent study has suggested that every ten persent increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) in a country reduced the likelihood the country would become involved in international conflict by 3 per cent.

Probably the most important economic driver for peace, however, is the inexorable demand of the modern state for economic growth. With rapidly growing populations, and rising economic expectations, modern states are less able to interrupt the domestic economy with a major war effort.

William Cowper once wrote, “But war’s a game, which, were their subjects wise, kings would not play at.”

Perhaps the subjects of the modern world have simply, and finally, acquired a needed measure of wisdom.

Remembering Lt. Annie Fox

December 7th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

On December 7th, 1941, Army First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox was on duty as Chief Nurse at the Army hospital at Hickam Field, Hawaii. Throughout the Japanese attack and its aftermath, she showed both cool leadership and heroism, as a result of which she became the first woman ever awarded the Purple Heart decoration. The Purple Heart was not at that time associated with receipt of a wound, but that was changed shortly after Pearl Harbor and, as a result, Lieutenant Fox’s decoration was later changed to a Bronze Star.

The citation for her award read, in part,
“During the attack, Lieutenant Fox, in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head Nurse of the Station Hospital. . . in addition she administered anaesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact…”
Lieutenant Fox passed away in 1987 at the age of 93.

Remembering Pearl Harbor in Film

December 7th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Today is Pearl Harbor remembrance day, and I’m not sure I have much to say about the attack itself which has not been said better elsewhere. But my thoughts turned to how we have portrayed the attack in film, and how good or poor a job folks have done at that. It is interesting how few times the attack has been portrayed. Aside from a wartime propaganda film (December 7th), I can only think of four films which portray the attack.

From Here To Eternity (1953): This is still the best of the lot – nominated for thirteen academy awards and winning eight, it still stands up today. It features some great performances and a terrific feel for the culture of the pre-war U.S. Army. What I like about the film is that it spends so much time building the feel of pre-war Hawaii, and immerses you so completely in the tangled peacetime lives, that when the attack comes you get as good a sense of its jarring unreality as I think is possible in a film.

In Harms Way (1965): A great cast, headed by John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, and a great director – Otto Preminger — combine to turn in a film I always found pretty disappointing. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it; it just never takes off and soars. It’s what you’d expect going in, and not an ounce more. Too bad. Some nice model work and action sequences, and a fair portrayal of the attack itself, except you never feel any surprise or excitement.

Tora Tora Tora (1970): This is considered the gold standard of Pearl Harbor films, and I can’t really disagree with that. A lot of care went into crafting an historically accurate account of the attack from both the U.S. and Japanese sides, and on that level it succeeds admirably. The problem I have is it is so self-consciously historical that the acting is pretty leaden and there is so real sense of the emotional impact of the attack. It feels like a documentary most of the time – but a pretty good documentary.

Pearl Harbor (2001): Okay, here’s the movie everyone loves to hate – everyone but me. I like it, despite it’s obvious flaws. Here are three reasons why, for me, it’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

1. The Sound of a Spitfire. Something which has always struck me at air shows is the difference between T-6 Texan trainers – probably the most common airplane there – and genuine fighters, like the Spitfire and Mustang. Those fighter engines aren’t just louder, they’re deeper, coarser. I don’t just hear the difference; I feel it in the fillings of my teeth. Seeing Pearl Harbor in the theater, particularly in the Battle of Britain scenes, was the first time I remember a plane on a film roaring like a real fighter, instead of buzzing like a trainer.

2. The Emotional Impact of the Attack: Seeing men’s fingers reaching up through steel gratings, trying to escape from a flooding compartment, and failing, seeing civilians strafed in Honolulu, and the hopeless aftermath at the hospital, seeing cargo nets full of bodies dredged from the harbor – those are images of enormous emotional power. In my opinion, Pearl Harbor catches the visceral violence of the attack in a way no other film has.

3. Swing: I love the music, the dance, and the style of that era. In my opinion, Dan Rather Tom Brokaw got it wrong in The Greatest Generation. He talked to people too late in their lives to capture the essence and energy of their youth, but their music speaks for them. This was a gutsy, irreverent generation, with acres of attitude and a sense of fun and adventure that would put most others to shame. The young stars of Pearl Harbor do a good job of capturing that. And hey, I’ll watch Kate Beckinsale in just about anything that doesn’t have vampires in it.

Why Is Peace Bustin' Out All Over? Part I

December 6th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Bombarded as we are by the 24-hour news media, it is easy to fall into the belief that we live in an increasingly violent and war-torn world. It turns out, just the opposite is the case.

The Human Security Report Project at Simon Frasier University in Vancouver, Canada reports every year on the level and cost of international conflict. The latest report is out and you can read the complete text here. It makes for some interesting reading.

For starters, let’s look at international conflict, in which category HSRP includes both interstate (wars between two nation-states) and extrastate (wars of national liberation against a colonial power) conflicts. These have declined steadily from an average of six and a half conflicts a year in the decade of the 1950s to an average of slightly less than one conflict a year in the partial decade of 2000-2008 (the data cut-off for the study).

Much of that decline was explained by the effective end of wars of national liberation following the decade of the 1970s, but traditional wars between national states have declined as well, from an average of three per years as recently as the decade of the 1980s to the current low.

So the simple truth is nations are shooting at each other a lot less than they used to.

The other type of conflict, intranational, or civil wars, initially went up following the end of the Cold War and the end of the wars of national liberation, as factions in newly independent nations struggled over allocation of power in the new governments. But civil wars have declined since the 1990s as well, despite a large number of new high-visibility civil wars in Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia. The report explains,

“The perception that the number of new conflicts had increased substantially was quite correct––in fact, twice as many conflicts started in the 1990s as in the 1980s. The fact that in the 1990s an even greater number of conflicts ended attracted little attention. But, it was this latter little-recognized development that led to the decline in conflict numbers.”

In other words, older civil wars were ending at twice the rate new ones were starting, leading to an overall decline in conflicts, and a dramatic decline in the average intensity and cost of conflicts. Again from the report,

“In the 1950s, a decade whose battle-death toll was driven by the hugely destructive Korean War — the average international conflict killed more than 21,000 people a year. In the 1990s the average annual toll was approximately 5,000. In the new millennium it was less than 3,000.”

So it turns out the mainstream media’s pitch that we live in an increasingly violent, dangerous world is good for viewership, but maybe is not entirely accurate. Go figure. But the burning question, at least in my mind, is “Why?” Not why does the media get it wrong, but rather why are the numbers trending down? Why are there fewer conflicts and fewer people getting killed?

That might be something worth knowing, huh?

So more on that in Part II.

New Book on Post-9/11 Strategy

December 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

As regular readers know, I get obsessive about strategic approaches to problems, and I become positively antsy when I sense we are approaching a problem without any sort of coherent strategy at all. Afghanistan is emblematic of that sort of problem, and its unhappy results.

There is a new book out on post-9/11 U.S. public diplomacy in the Middle East, and why it has failed almost universally. The problem was not a lack of creativity, ingenuity, persistence, or resources. Not surprising, the problem was the lack of a coherent strategy, particularly one suited to the modern social network and information age. Mired in traditional Cold War mass-media information strategies no longer effective for modern audiences, Zaharna argues the U.S. efforts such as Radio Sawa, Hi! Magazine, and Al-Hurra TV, produced effectively no significant results.

Battles to Bridges: U.S. Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy after 9/11, by R.S. Zaharna, was recently reviewed in Foreign Policy in Focus. Take a look at the review and it may pique your interest.

Russian Air Force Update

December 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Russian Air Force has been a wasting asset for a number of years. Now  the Russians want to change that with an ambitious program of modernization and expansion.

The Russians plan to acquire 1,500 aircraft over the course of the next decade, modernize 400 older aircraft, make a six-fold increase in the UAV fleet, and an 18-fold increase in precision weapon stockpiles, which will make precision weapons 70% of their ordnance holdings.

It will be a good trick if they can pull it off. If you starve the aeronautics industry for years, it is not that simple to just turn on the assembly lines again and expect quality aircraft to come out the other end, on schedule and on budget.

At a time when global budgets are tightening, it is also questionable whether Russia will be able to sustain this commitment over the course of the decade. When oil prices spiked a few years ago, Russian defense spending shot up, but when oil came back down, so did spending levels. The Russian economy is heavily dependent on natural resource extraction and sale, and that is highly dependent on global economic activity, particularly manufacturing. Unless the global economy picks up soon, the Russian Air Force is going to have to cut back its Christmas list.

Here is a link to an article on the proposed spending increase from Novosti.

Remembering The T-55 Tank

December 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Tom Clancy once described the T-55 as “the last good tank the Soviets made.” There is something to that. I think the phrase “revolutionized warfare” is grossly overused, but the Soviet T-55 certainly represented a turning point in tank design.

The model for tank design, and tactics, which matured during World War II, called for three classes of tanks, based on armament and protection: light, medium, and heavy.

Light tanks initially were used for most of the traditional cavalry roles, but by the end of the war had been relegated to reconnaissance. That was a job better handled by dedicated reconnaissance vehicles, and so the light tank, as a class of combat vehicles, faded away.

Medium tanks were the workhorse vehicles of armored formations. Designed to be easy to mass-produce, medium tanks were reasonably well-armed and protected, but their protection definitely took a back seat to mobility and reliability, while their armament was emphatically a dual-purpose gun with as much attention paid to fighting infantry as enemy armor.

Heavy tanks occupied the high end of the tank park – heavily armed and armored (as their name suggests), they were able to engage and destroy any vehicle they would encounter, including enemy heavy tanks, while their armor rendered them relatively safe from anything but the largest enemy anti-tank weapons. They also placed a heavy burden on maintenance, logistics, and infrastructure resources of the forward troop commands, and were difficult to build and expensive, which generally limited the number actually deployed.

The post-war generation of tanks followed this trend, at least at first, although the categories experienced some fairly rapid weight-creep.

The U.S. developed its World War II-era heavy tank, the M26 Pershing, into a family of post-war medium tanks (not surprising, considering the Pershing weighed about the same as the German Panther), armed with a 90mm gun. The Pershing itself spawned the M46 (a 1948 version which was only a slight improvement over the original), the M47 (entering service in 1952), and the M48 Patton (1953). The heavy end of the equation was filled by the M-103, a 65-ton mother of a tank, mounting a 120mm gun (requiring two loaders instead of one), which was reasonably-well protected but slow and with an overloaded (and hence temperamental) drive train. It entered service in 1957.

The British post-war medium was the Centurion, another development of a tank fielded in the closing days of World War II and equipped with an 83.4mm (20-pounder) gun. The heavy counterpart was the 120mm-armed Conqueror, which tipped the scales at 66 metric tons. The British built about 180 Conquerors between 1955 and 1959, but they suffered from the same problems as the U.S.M103: poor reliability, poor mobility, and a big logistical footprint.

The Soviets started out with the same conceptual mix, using the wartime T-34/85 as their medium tank and the IS (Iosef Stalin)-3 as their heavy, replaced by the slightly improved IS-10 in1952 (and almost immediately renamed T-10 upon the death of Stalin).

The Soviet IS-series heavies mounted a 122mm gun and weighed in at about 46 metric tons, so were quite a bit lighter than the western heavy tanks. That is significant, because it indicated where the Soviets went next with their tank design thinking.

The World War II-era German Panzer V Panther had good protection, mobility, and firepower. It virtually formed a class all its own — not quite up to facing the heavy tanks, but outclassing every other “medium” tank on the battlefield. Of course, it was a medium in name only. At 44.8 metric tons, it was virtually the same weight as the Soviet IS-2 and heavier than the U.S. Pershing (which came in at a bit under 42 metric tons). But it was designed to be mass-produced, and became the largest-production German tank of the war.

The western allies essentially followed the German lead, fielding a mass-produced medium tanks in the 40-45 ton range and a high-end heavy tank ten to twenty tons heavier – the force structure equivalent of the German Panther and the German Tiger. The Soviets took a different path.

In 1953 the Soviets began fielding the first mass-produced version of the T-54, which was soon replaced on the assembly lines by the T-55. The design merged the T-34 and IS design streams into a single all-purpose modern battle tank. It weighed 40 metric tons, had between 100 and 200mm of armor in front, and mounted a high velocity 100mm gun (which had slightly better armor-piercing performance than the IS-series’ 122mm gun). In other words it was the same weight or lighter than the Western medium tanks (42 metric tons for the Pershing and 52 for the Centurion), had as good or better frontal armor, and a better gun. It wasn’t going to set any world land speed records, but it was much more reliable than contemporary heavy tanks,  had the logistical and infrastructure footprint of a medium tank, and was designed to be mass produced.

In a stroke, T-55 rendered most of NATO’s tank park conceptually obsolete and changed the dynamics of tank production industrial strategy. Instead of a high-low mix of mediums and heavies, the future battlefield would be dominated by a single all-purpose vehicle, the Main Battle Tank.

Britain and the United States both responded by declaring the cumbersome heavy tanks obsolete and scrambling to up-gun their medium tanks to MBT status. The weapon of choice was the British-designed L-7 105mm gun, maybe the best all-around tank gun ever fielded. The British mounted it directly on the Centurion while the US re-designed the turret of the M48 to accept the new gun and dubbed the resulting vehicle the M60. (Later we would manage to fit the 105 in the M48 turret, and the M48A5 version is virtually identical in performance to the M60.)

As good a tank as the M60 was, and it was a fine all-around combat vehicle, it was always an expedient. Later the British would field the Chieftain, we the M1 Abrams, the Germans the Leopard, and the French the AMX-30. But all of these tanks are inspired by, or reactions to, that first glimpse of the T-54/55.

It is easy to forget today the sensation that T-55 caused at the time. Eventually we would find out that the 100mm gun had accuracy problems, the loader station was very awkward and slowed the rate of fire, the suspension tended to shed tracks unless the driver knew what he was doing (and a lot of T-55 drivers didn’t), but all of that came later. For a while, the Soviets had the best all-around combat tank in the world. By comparison, all the Soviet tank designs which followed were junk.

Afghan Negotiation Fiasco – Egg Enough For Every Face

November 29th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

As many of you have no-doubt heard, the negotiations between the Taliban and the Karzai government in Kabul, Afghanistan have broken down. Actually, they never took place. It turns out that the Taliban negotiator, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, appears to have been a shopkeeper from Quetta, Pakistan who passed himself off as the high-ranking Taliban leader to British military intelligence (MI6).

U.S. intelligence was suspicious of the false-Mansour from the start, noting that the shopkeeper was several inches shorter than the actual Mansour. There are reports circulating that at least some members of the Afghan government were certain he was a fake – having met and worked with Mansour when he was an official of the Taliban government prior to the U.S. invasion. Other elements of the Afghan government, however, strongly denied the rumors of the fraud right up until the whole charade came crashing down.

What was the purpose of the deception? Money. MI6 reportedly paid the false-Mansour hundreds of thousands of pounds to “keep the talks on track.” That’s probably better than what his shop in Quetta brought in.

There are also suggestions that the shopkeeper was a plant by ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, to monitor the talks and see what was being offered by each side. Maybe. I have a feeling there is a measure of face-saving wishful thinking in that. If MI6 is going to be made to look like bungling amateurs, far better that the architect be an experienced and region-savvy intelligence agency, as opposed to a shopkeeper from Quetta.

One result of the breakdown is that the Karzai government has suddenly gotten more interested in prosecuting operations in the field. That’s not surprising, considering the extent to which the attractive alternatives are dwindling.

A Replacement For The M2 .50 cal?

November 28th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun, lovingly nicknamed “Ma Deuce,” first saw widespread combat use in World War II, and for about seventy years it has soldiered on without significant change. Along the way, it has taught a number of people valuable lessons. For example, it taught German infantry waiting, with Panzerfausts in hand, to assault approaching Sherman tanks, that placing a wall between themselves and the enemy was not always sufficient protection against some machine guns.

The .50 caliber was originally acquired as a dual-purpose weapon, doubling as an anti-tank gun. Well, tanks were somewhat thinner-skinned “back in the day,” as folks like to say. By the time the US entered the war, the M2 wasn’t much use as an anti-tank gun, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be in an armored car or half-track facing one — or hiding behind anything but a reinforced concrete wall.

Now the Army is working on a new .50 caliber machine gun, intended initially to supplement the M2. Because of its light weight, it will be issued to units which currently do not use the M2 in large numbers, such as light infantry and airborne units. It is nevertheless a probable first step toward eventual replacement of that venerable war horse.

The XM806, the new weapon, is half the weight of the M2, has only 60 per cent of its recoil. Because of the reduced need for an elaborate recoil compensation system, the crew no longer has to adjust headspace and timing after a barrel change, which will make barrel changes probably as fast as for most general purpose machine guns (GPMGs).

Here is a link to an article on the new weapon in

Robot Weaponry Update

November 26th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Recently the Japanese director Ozira Hirata’s production of the play “Sayonara” was performed in Tokyo. The play features only two characters: a seriously ill woman and the android caretaker purchased by her otherwise-absent and uninvolved family. The part of the woman was performed by the American actress Bryerly Long. The part of the android caretaker was performed by the android Geminoid F, designed and built by Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, who is widely known for his robot designs.

There is an inescapable logic of an android playing an android – for one thing, it’s hard to imagine the critics not finding the performance “believable.” Geminoid F, however, is more of a waldo than an android. It sits on stage while a human actress sits in a room off-stage. The human actress delivers the lines into a microphone and the line is delivered on-stage through a speaker. Relays attached to the human actress record her body motions which the android mimics, including the illusion of breathing and a limited range of facial expressions.

Geminoid F is thus the thespian equivalent of a UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle. It is remotely piloted, but not capable of autonomous action. That lack of autonomous action is the principle reason UAVs have limited air-to-air capability. Feedback lags between the remote pilot and the vehicle – about a quarter of a second – are enough to give the manned aircraft a decisive edge.

The RAF recently unveiled the next step in unmanned aircraft: the Taranis Taranis is billed as a “fully autonomous” unmanned aerial system, capable of penetrating enemy territory and defending itself against aerial threats, without reliance on a remote pilot.

As I have written before, the advantages of unmanned versus manned aircraft are, in the long run, overwhelming. The weak link remains the command link, but Taranis is only one of many on-going development programs, both here in the US and abroad, bypassing that weak spot. We are on the brink of a revolution in military technology, heralded by the autonomous combatant system.

Here is a link to a good preview article on what’s coming.

Thanksgiving Greetings

November 25th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday. The celebration consists simply of a feast of food native and unique to North America. Turkey, potatoes, pumpkin, corn, squash, cranberries – all of these foods were unknown to Europeans before settlement of North America and so became emblematic of the bounty of this continent. The feast is accompanied by appropriate expressions of gratitude for the meal and the opportunity to gather as a family to enjoy it.

Thanksgiving is celebrated as a national holiday only in three countries: the United States of America, Canada, and Liberia, a tradition brought there by former U.S. slaves. The celebration in the United States varied in timing from year to year and region to region until 1941 when President Roosevelt signed into law the official observance on the fourth Thursday of November. Our Canadian friends celebrate the holiday much earlier, on the first Monday of October.

The first Thanksgiving harvest celebration in North America may have been at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621, and that is the one we generally commemorate. But the first such feast may actually have been in Virginia in 1619. Or it may have been in Spanish Florida in 1565. I like the fact there is some ambiguity in the celebration’s origin. It makes it harder for up-tight self-appointed holiday police to lecture us about how we have to celebrate it if we’re going to do it “right.”

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of its simplicity and lack of commercial complication. That is not to say it is free of commercialization – we live in a world of commerce. It is treated as a gateway celebration to our most commercial of holidays, Christmas, but that said, Thanksgiving itself remains a holiday without elaborate costumes, exchanges of gifts, or greeting cards. It is simply the day we gather with the people most dear to us, enjoy each other’s company, and share a bountiful feast. And later maybe a nap.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Throwing Ahmadinejad Under The Bus

November 25th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

On November 5th I reported the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had rebuked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Since the Revolutionary Guard was widely viewed as a key domestic political ally of Ahmadinejad, this was a development worth taking notice of. Now members of the Iranian parliament moved to impeach Ahmadinejad, publishing a list of 14 counts of violating the law, many of which amounted to acting unilaterally without approval of parliament. According to the Wall Street Journal, the charges also included ” illegally importing gasoline and oil, failing to provide budgetary transparency and withdrawing millions of dollars from Iran’s foreign reserve fund without getting parliament’s approval.”

The charges were withdrawn under the orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but this should not be interpreted as support for Ahmadinejad against the Parliament by Khameni. At the root of the current dispute is Ahmadinejad’s efforts to engineer a constitutional revision shifting power from the legislature to the executive. Khameni opposes any change in the constitutional balance of power and earlier this month rebuked Ahmandinejad over this issue and encouraged the Revolutionary Guards, judiciary, and Parliament to join him in doing so.

So if Khameni is not backing Ahmadinejad, what does this mean? Probably one of two things.

First, Ahmadinejad’s political power base may be sufficiently weakened that he no longer constitutes a serious challenge to the establishment, and so there is no point in a public trial and the attendant embarrassment.

Second, Ahmadinejad’s power base may be sufficiently intact that Khamenei does not want to risk an open confrontation at this time. In either case, it shows the extent to which the regime is internally divided.

The motivation for the impeachment – aside from the charges themselves – is clear. But first, a story.

Quite a few years ago, when I was still active in game publishing, a foreign publisher expanded its operations in the United States. It had a popular product line and generated big sales, but its business practices were different than those wholesalers and retailers in The States were used to, and so they built up a fair amount of ill will. They had a novel solution to the problem. First they hired a sales manager with a very extroverted personality, who soon became the public face of the company. Then after a year, when the sales manager had become the personification of all that anger and dissatisfaction, they fired him and announced a new set of customer-friendly policies.

Think of Iran as the unpopular foreign publisher, Ahmadinejad as the extroverted sales manager, and Parliament as the board of directors, looking for a likely candidate to throw under the bus, and thus help fix their lousy public image.

Korean Tensions Heat Up

November 24th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Yesterday the North Koreans fired over 100 artillery rounds at a South Korean island in the disputed maritime area, killing two South Korean Marines. This is the same area where earlier this year a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean warship. This latest incident has put the entire Korean peninsula – and most Pacific Rim armed forces – at higher readiness levels.

Here is a link to a Reuters report on the situation.

Here is a link to an AP report.

Here is one to BBC.

My perspective on this is that Kim Jung Il is introducing his son and heir into the family business. For those of you who don’t follow Korea closely, the Kim family business is the protection racket. They provoke a crisis and then shake down the world for protection money. The entire purpose of developing a nuclear weapon, in my opinion, was to make the threats and crises more credible, hence upping the potential payoff.

The last thing North Korea wants is a real war. The Kims are very unlikely to survive a real war, and survival of the regime is Job One in Pyongyang. The only thing North Korea is almost guaranteed of getting from a real war is a quick and decisive thumping.

Earlier this year I did a short piece on the warship crisis and said the following with respect to the balance of forces on the Korean Peninsula.

“North Korea has numbers on its side – lots of very lightly armed leg infantry, most of who suffer from chronic malnutrition. (Young North Korean men are, on average, four inches shorter than South Korean men of the same age due to chronic malnutrition.) North Korea has a fleet of tanks mostly consisting of barely-operational T-55s, designed and built over a half century ago.

“Its air force is nearly as dated, with 70’s era MiG-21’s a “first line” fighters and two ground attack regiments still flying MiG-17 Frescos.

MiG-17 Frescos! When you talk about classic war birds, it’s tough to top the Fresco. Man, I love that plane, but it’s another 50’s era piece of equipment. It belongs in a museum, not on a combat flight line.

“Even keeping its antique tanks and planes gassed up may be a problem. North Korea is critically short of petroleum, and even though it has kept a bare bones strategic reserve for the event of war, there’s really no guarantee, and screwed up as things have gotten up there, that the “official” war reserve is still intact. Black marketers may have already siphoned part of it off.

“You should never completely dismiss the capabilities of a potential opponent, but in terms of force modernization and operational capability it’s very hard to measure North Korea’s and South Korea’s armies using the same yardsticks. North Korea doesn’t even show up on most meaningful metrics. Without getting into a lot of detail, here’s a very telling comparison. South Korea does not simply spend more on the military than does North Korea; South Korea spends more on the military than North Korea’s entire Gross Domestic Product.”

That’s what I wrote then and it still stands. For those of us old enough to remember the Korean War, or at least the post-war spate of war films, the North Korean People’s Army will always be the Inmin Gun. That has a wonderfully sinister sound to it, but the truth is the Inmin Gun is a hollow shell: lots of obsolete World War Two-era artillery, lots of obsolete 1950’s-era tanks, lots of obsolete 1960’s-era aircraft, and grotesquely inflated muster rolls.

Here is a measure of how absurdly inflated their muster rolls are – a useful piece of demographic trivia the next time someone starts hyperventilating about how many “troops” the North Koreans have. The claimed strength of the Inmin Gun is 1.1 million active soldiers backed by 8.2 million reservists. Wow, that’s a lot of guys, right?

Well, not just guys. The current best estimate of total North Korean military fit peoplepower – that is, all people not physically disabled between the ages of 17 and 49 – is 4.81 million men and 4.85 million women, a total of 9.66 million of both gneders. The total listed army strength, including reserves, is 9.3 million. That means that if they actually mobilize that many people, there will be exactly 360,000 men and women left in the whole country between the ages of 17 and 49, fit for military service, and not in uniform.

One wonders what you have to do in North Korea to get an exemption.

Wandering Aimlessly Away From Afghanistan

November 21st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The United States President Barak Obama and fifty world leaders attended the NATO summit this weekend. On Saturday a resolution to turn complete responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghan government by 2014. There was, however, no agreement on how that was to be accomplished. In other words, the U.S. and its allies do not know exactly where they are going to, only what they are leaving behind – Afghanistan.

One senior U.S. official admitted it was impossible to predict where Afghanistan would be in 2014 in terms of security forces, governance, or corruption. quoted the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying, “Many of those variables are not yet knowable — they’re not known and they’re not perhaps knowable with regard to Afghanistan. So, that’s why the president has not yet made this decision about when he’s going to change the U.S. mission.”
As to security forces and corruption, the outlook is not good. The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) recently completed a review of the Afghan police and concluded they are corrupt, poorly trained, have an unacceptably high attrition/turnover rate, and most do not know the law. Karen Price, the British Foreign Office’s special representative for Afghanistan has warned that the Afghan police are so bad, the locals turn to the Taliban, who are providing a “very effective form of dispute resolution”.
It’s true, but I don’t see that it has much impact on the 2014 withdrawal timetable. Would hanging another four or five years make any difference?

Remembering The Railsplitters

November 19th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In World War II, the Unites States Army contained three broad categories of combat divisions, indicating their origins: Regular Army, National Guard, and AUSA. The regular army divisions were pre-war standing divisions and the National Guard Divisions were state organizations brought into federal service for the duration of the war. Both had an institutional existence prior to the war.

AUSA – Army of the United States of America – divisions were a different story. These divisions were formed from scratch during the war, and while some numbers had been used before and the new divisions took over the traditions associated with those numbers, in practice they were entirely new creations with no history other than the one they would write for themselves.

The 84th Infantry Division was one of those AUSA outfits. It was given the number previously used in World War I by a division formed from National Guard contingents from several states where Abraham Lincoln had lived, and so it had been nicknamed the Lincoln Division and given a shoulder patch featuring a rail with an axe embedded in it. The new 84th Division kept the division patch but gave up the nickname “Lincoln Division” and became instead the Railsplitters.

Unlike the original division, the new 84th was formed from recruits from all over the United States, build around a small cadre of officers and NCOs drawn from the 4th Infantry Division of the Regular Army. The largest single contingent of recruits came from California, but the division had no distinct regional identity or loyalty. It was one of many American Everyman divisions.

Basic training for the 16,000 men of the division began in January of 1943 and continued throughout the year, culminating in a series of maneuvers in Texas and Louisiana. The division was alerted for overseas duty in August of 1944, boarded ship in mid-September, and assembled in England in October. The first elements of the division came ashore in Normandy on November 1, and by November 10 the entire division was assembled in eastern Belgium, prepared to enter combat. It was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, transfer of a division from a training camp to front line combat in U.S. history.

It entered the line as the northern-most division in the U.S. sector, and its first battle was fought under the command of British 30th Corps. Its mission was to attack up the Wurm River valley and break the Siegfried Line at the point known as the Geilenkirchen Salient. The division’s assault sector was covered by concrete anti-tank obstacles, thick belts of minefields, and several rows of massive concrete pillboxes, all linked by trenches and covered by barbed wire entanglements. British Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, 30th Corps commander, described as the most heavily fortified sector on the Western Front.

This was a very tall order for a green U.S. division just off the troop ships, and the Railsplitters would make their first assault with only two of their three infantry regiments. Weather further complicated the mission. It rained every day of that long November. The Wurm River valley was normally wet this time of year, but in 1944 rainfall was twice the average, grounding air support and restricting armor to the roads. Foxholes flooded. Weapons jammed, choked with mud. By the end of the month the division had almost 1,000 cases of trenchfoot.

But despite those challenges, the division jumped off on the 16th of November and immediately broke the German front and shattered the defending German 183rd Volksgrenadier Division. Germans threw the 15th Panzergrenadier Division in front of the Railsplitters followed by part of the 9th Panzer Division. After another week they sent in the 10th SS Panzer Division, even though this was earmarked for the upcoming Ardennes Offensive, but the Railsplitters took the key town of Lindern on November 29th and held it against repeated counterattacks by the 10th SS and 9th Panzer Divisions.

The division spent a little over a week resting in preparation for the assault crossing of the Roer River, but the German Ardennes Offensive interrupted their preparations. The Railsplitters were pulled out of reserve and sent racing south, arriving in Marche on the north side of the Bulge on the night of December 20/21. At the time the front was wide open, and for three days the 84th Division held Marche against the 2nd and 116th Panzer divisions, with both flanks open until the 2nd Armored and 75th Infantry divisions closed in on either side. Then the division drove south to Houffalize and then helped eliminate the last of the Bulge.

In the spring of 1945 the division was back in its old stomping grounds, spearheaded the assault crossing of the Roer River and pushed into Germany, captured the city of Hanover, and then drove to the Elbe River. On May 2, 1945, a patrol of the 84th Division contacted a patrol of the Soviet 89th Rifle Corps. The Red Army patrol was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Kovobachkin, a graduate of the City College of New York.

“Am I glad to see you!” Kovobachkin said in perfect English. “I’ve been waiting for this for four years!”

And so the Railsplitters’ war ended.

So what? What’s the point? The division had an interesting combat history, but no more interesting than several dozen other U.S. divisions. It’s combat performance was outstanding, but again there were dozens of divisions whose performance was just as impressive. In many ways, the Railsplitters were just an ordinary U.S. infantry division, and that’s why I have always found their story so compelling.

Hitting the toughest part of the Siegrfried line without air support and in the worst weather imaginable, and bulling forward through four different German divisions, moving south into the Ardennes on a day’s notice, holding an isolated island of resistance at Marche that broke the advance of 47th and 58th Panzer Corps, driving across the Roer River and across Germany – that’s average.

That’s what the U.S. Army in World War II was.

Trading F-35s For Middle East Peace

November 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In an effort to re-start he stalled middle east peace talks, the United States has offered to bankroll the acquisition of 20 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters by the Israeli Air Force, in return for a ninety-day Israeli moratorium on West Bank construction, but not on East Jerusalem construction. The total package is worth $3 billion, which is in addition to the normal annual military aid to Israel, which is pegged at $3 billion for fiscal year 2011.

Critics of the deal question whether a ninety-day moratorium is long enough to achieve a breakthrough in the talks, and there is some question whether the Palestinians will even talk given the lack of a freeze on East Jerusalem construction.

The hope is that even a very rough agreement on boundaries could help the settlement issue in the future. It would remove the incentive for more building in areas that will end up in a Palestinian state and make additional building in Israeli areas less controversial. Just reducing the uncertainty could help move the peace process forward.

Three billion dollars for a ninety-day window does one thing: it shows the US, at least, is serious about coming up with a deal and doing it quickly. Is it worth the gamble? Everyone will tell you the answer to that question in about three months, and half will say they knew it all along. If I were a lot smarter than I am, I could tell you the answer today. Unfortunately, no such luck.

Here is a link to an article in The Daily Mail, and another on to The Jerusalem Post.

Here is a link to the latest Congressional Research Service report on U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel.

Medal of Honor Awarded

November 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Back on July 1st I reported that the Pentagon nominated the first living candidate for the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. Today (November 16th 2010) President Obama awarded that decoration to Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta in the White House. The citation fir the decoration is worth reading.

Then-Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007. When an insurgent force ambush split Specialist Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands.

Congratulations, Sergeant Giunta, and well done.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Update

November 15th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I reported last week that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter faces a November 22nd Defense Acquisition Board evaluation which is widely expected to produce a longer development time and higher price tag. The part of the program in trouble is the F-35B Short Take-Of and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant for the United States Marines, among others. The last few weeks saw public emergence of a growing sentiment in the Pentagon to just scrap the F-35B and concentrate funding on the A and C variants. Additional impetus for that was provided by Great Britain’s announcement they would not be purchasing the 150 F-35Bs it had planned on and would instead concentrate on F-35C carrier variants. This makes the Bravo version a single-customer project,

Last week a presidential panel joined the chorus by recommending the F-35B be completely scrapped, with funding shifted from “the most risky version” to the least risky. Ten years ago the Pentagon would have pushed ahead with all three versions, but the new fiscal condition facing the armed forces – and the world – makes it more likely the Marines will lose their STOVL fighter.

We’ll probably know within a week or two when the program’s new Technical Baseline Review in released.

New Weapons Stretch Definition of War

November 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

At what point does information become a weapon and, when it does, does that make its use an act of war? The question is not rhetorical, at least as far as the U.S. State Department is concerned.

Last year Saudi Arabia fought a war with al-Houthi rebels based across the border in the mountains of northern Yemen. Almost exactly a year ago the Saudis started running air strikes against them, but produced more civilian than rebel casualties, in part because of poor target information. The Saudis asked us for the latest satellite imagery for targeting, but the State Department and other elements of the U.S. government opposed the request on the grounds that intervention in a border conflict might violate the laws of war, even if that intervention consisted of providing high-tech information.

The Saudis got their satellite information from the French instead, and launched a series of more effective air strikes which, by this February, had driven the Houthis to the bargaining table and all but ended the fighting.

Here is a link to an op-ed piece by David Ignatius which gives more background on this issue and points up the need for some clarification of international law. When technology races ahead enough to render the old rules obsolete, or at lest ambiguous, it’s a good idea to update the rules so everyone on both sides of the bombs knows what’s up.

Happy Veterans Day – And Happy Birthday George

November 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Today we celebrate Veterans Day. Originally set aside as a commemoration of Armistice Day ending World War I, in 1954 the act was modified to a tribute to all veterans of U.S. wars. Nevertheless, the original intent of the commemoration remains the same, as embodied in the act of congress establishing November 11 as a national holiday:

“(I)t is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”

These are sentiments with which every veteran I have ever known would readily agree.

Coincidentally, November 11th is also the anniversary of the birth of General George S. Patton, Jr., arguably the most aggressive general the United States has ever produced, and certainly one of the most successful. He was born 125 years ago today.

To every veteran reading this, thank you for your service.

New Government in Iraq – Or Not

November 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Although the Wikileaks revelations temporarily derailed the push by Prime Minister Nuril al-Maliki to form a coalition government, by early today it seemed he had managed to form a coalition with a majority in parliament. Parliament met today, President Jalal Talabani was sworn in for a second term, and then he instructed al-Maliki to form a government. The constitution requires the prime minister to form a government within thirty days of the opening of parliament.

Then the members of the Sunni Iraqiya List walked out of the session, and there went part of the new power-sharing coalition.

We’ll see if al-Maliki can put Humpty Dumpty back together within the required thirty days.

F-35 Will Cost More and Take Longer

November 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, currently the single most expensive weapons program in the budget, now looks as of it will cost more and take longer, at least in the development phase. Part of this is the result of trying to do everything with one airframe – presumably that will save money down the line, but it can get expensive when you have to get everything working right up front. At the moment the holdup is the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version for the United States Marine Corps. The other versions are ahead of schedule and keep coming in under budget, but the STOVAL version needs additional development and testing.

Vice-Admiral David Venlet, the F-35 program manager, is conducting a Technical Baseline Review in preparation for a November 22 Defense Acquisition Board evaluation. That may establish the need for more development work and testing, which means more delay and more cost.

Here’s a link to a column by a defense professional with a different take on the cost overruns. His argument is that Lockheed-Martin is bringing the program in under budget but it is the Pentagon testing community itself which is driving the project costs up. I’m not sure he’s right, but it’s an interesting look at internal Pentagon politics.

The Truth About Social Security

November 9th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

To hear some folks talk about it, Social Security is on the brink of bankruptcy and is facing deficits which will spiral into the future and soon become unsustainable. People in their forties express certainty the system will go broke before they retire, because they have been repeatedly told so, even though that is patently untrue. I will leave to others the fun of arguing why some folks love to sound the panic alarm. What I’ll limit myself to is some factual observations.

First, what shape is Social Security in? If congress does nothing at all, Social Security will, be able to pay 100% of all scheduled benefits for the next 29 years. After that, with no changes at all, Social Security payroll taxes can pay 79% of the scheduled benefits for another century. So, far from the problem mushrooming into the foreseeable future, it stabilizes after 2039, provided we can cover the revenue shortfall.

Covering the revenue shortfall is actually not that difficult. Eliminating the cap on taxable social security income handles much of it and pushes the full payout date back fifty more years.

Here’s a piece by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the payroll, cap fix.

Here is a link to seven solutions to make the system solvent for the foreseeable future. None of these are back-breakers, either.

Is it worth it? You bet. Social Security is one of the most successful programs a government has ever undertaken. Before social security, the elderly were the poorest segment of the population. While retirement is still not a snap for folks, the widespread destitution of the elderly has been largely relieved. Social Security benefits were always meant as a supplement to other forms of retirement income, and for many Americans they mean the difference between independence in retirement and dependency on younger family members. About two thirds of current retirees derive half or more of their retirement income from Social Security.

That also means younger members of their family are better able to provide for the education of their own children, since they are not simultaneously having to support their own elderly parents. Many continue to help their parents, but “helping” and “supporting” are not the same thing.

Proposals to privatize the system almost invariably ignore the fact that it is not simply a retirement program but also serves as disability insurance. About twenty percent of the current recipients of Social Security payments are disabled.

The real mystery of social security is not how to fix it – it is why we don’t just do it and move on to the next thing on the to-do list.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Rebuke Ahmadinejad

November 5th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Lots of people who thought they had Iranian internal politics all figured out were left scratching their heads after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards issued a strong rebuke to the Iranians President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The rebuke came after Ahmadinejad’s recent remark that the Iranian parliament “is not on top of the affairs” of Iran. He argued that originally the prime minister, elected by parliament, was charged with running the country, and so the Parliament was the senior branch of government. “But now the executive branch has to run the country and other branches have to support it.”

As it happens, this remark was in direct contradiction to a remark by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the revolution, who said specifically that the Iranian Parliament was the senior branch of government. Consequently, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, long considered a key ally of Ahmadinejad’s, issued a strong rebuke for the president, saying his remarks were an affront to the original founder of the republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, and an attempt to undermine the current leader, Imam Khamenei.

The Guard also criticized Ahmadinejad for advocating an “Iranian” school of thought instead of an “Islamic” school of thought, and a number of Ahmadinejad’s former conservative allies in Parliament have launched similar criticisms of him for his increasingly nationalistic rhetoric. The judiciary has criticized him as well, apparently at the urging of Imam Khamenei. With the reformist bloc, Ahmadinjad’s principal internal opponents, broken, Khamenei apparently has become concerned at the president’s growing power. One interpretation of this, then, is simple internal power politics, with Khamenei lining up support from Parliament, the judiciary, and the Revolutionary Guards to head off Ahmadinejad’s power grab.

Another possible explanation has to do with the nature of revolutionary movements which come to power through violence and which overthrow an old, established conservative order. The first cohort of leaders, flushed with victory, is committed to the revolution itself and its ideals, with little loyalty to the state itself – since for much of their lives the state was the enemy. Their priority it the export of revolution for idealistic reasons. The second cohort of leaders is more inclined to think in nationalistic terms and view the export of revolution as a tool of the state’s foreign policy. Their principle goal ceases to be the export of revolution to foreign lands and becomes ensuring the revolution bears fruit in their native land.

France moderated its revolutionary ardor following the Thermidorian reaction and concentrated on French security and prosperity. The Soviet Union embraced the notion of “Socialism in One State” under Stalin, disbanded the Comintern, and embarked on the Five Year Plans to develop and industrialize the nation. Both states continued to export revolution, but only where it brought tangible benefit to the home country.

I see no reason why this would not hold equally true for the Islamic Revolution. I suspect what we are seeing here is the evolutionary shake-out between the original revolutionary idealism and a more nationalistic state-centered view. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.

Saudi Cooperation Foils Parcel Bomb Plot

November 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Western intelligence intercepted two bombs apparently  intended to blow up cargo aircraft in the United States and the United Kingdom. Both countries have hailed the success as a triumph of joint intelligence efforts, and it certainly was, including the US and UK as well as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Last Saturday President Obama placed a call to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and expressed his “strong appreciation for the critical role played by Saudi counterterrorism officials.”

The latest round of attempted al Qaeda bomb attacks against the United States and the United Kingdom drive home the folly of viewing the war on terror as a struggle with Islam. Were it not for the tip-off from Saudi intelligence, the bombs would almost certainly have gotten through. Even after British intelligence was tipped off that bombs were in a cargo shipment, even after they had isolated the cargo, it still took twenty hours to figure out which parts were disguised as bombs. 

No technological screening would have aught these devices – it took inside informants, and in case anyone is unclear on this point, those inside informants were Saudi Muslims.

Here’s a link to a story on the Saudi connection

Here’s a link to the Washington Times’ take on it.

Here’s a link to a Reuters article on the background struggle between Saudi intelligence and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Renewed Bombings In Baghdad

November 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The series of attacks yesterday (November 2nd) in Shiite neighborhoods throughout Baghdad have killed as many as 117 people, making this one the costliest single coordinated terrorist attack in the war. Seventeen car bombs exploded and the attackers also used mortars, rockets, and other means to launch the attack. The Sunni-based al-Qaeda in Iraq launched the attacks with the clear intention of re-starting the ethnic civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.

The effort is unlikely to succeed for two main reasons. First, the Sunnis lost the last ethnic civil war convincingly, and the overwhelming majority of them have no interest in taking another bite out of that apple. Second, the ethnic cleansing which was a part of that civil war eliminated virtually all mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad and the surrounding areas, with the result that it’s now actually hard for Sunnis and Shiites to kill each other. It takes major planning and logistical support, the sort a determined and well-organized group can muster. But it will be hard for grass-roots violence to take hold again, simply for lack of targets of easy opportunity. But we’ll see.

Here are links to AP and Reuters reports on the attacks.

Magic Wand Follow-Up

November 2nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Back in February I ran a column entitled “Magic Wands of Security.” It was a short one. so I’ll repeat it here:

There is a land where the people believe magic wands can detect bombs and firearms. The magic wands require no batteries, nor do they ever need to be plugged into a power source; they run off the static electricity generated by the soldier or policeman using them. If there are explosives present, a small antenna on the end of the wand points toward them.

Just like a divining rod pointing toward water.

Over eight hundred of these magic wands are in service, at a price tag of as much as $60,000 each. They cost only $250 each to actually build, which is a pretty good profit margin, but hey, what’s the price of security? The problem is, they are about as useful in finding explosives and weapons as those black plastic eight-balls with answers on the bottom. “Prospects are doubtful.”

Where could you find a land where people are willing to shell out millions of dollars for magic beans? Iraq, of course. After all, it’s the land of flying carpets and magic lamps. More recently, it’s the place where we sent pallets of cash – literally shrink-wrapped pallets stacked high with banded bricks of currency – worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and which then disappeared. It’s a trick which would make David Copperfield even more famous.

And a felon.

The only good news in this fiasco is that the U.S. didn’t actually buy any of these worthless gizmos – only the Iraqis have. U.S. soldiers have been skeptical of them from the start.

Oh, the other good news is that the British manufacturer of the devices has been arrested for fraud, so at lest this one gushing artery of cash has been staunched. Here’s the link.

Now if only we could figure out where those pallets of cash went.


Eight months later, the inventor of the device is in prison, the British have banned any further export of the item, and in Baghdad, the Iraqi security forces are still using them.

Everyone knows they are worthless. The Iraqi police and soldiers know they are worthless. The Iraqi Interior Ministry’s inspector general, Aqeel Al Turaihi, just completed a report confirming they are worthless and many lives have been lost due to reliance on them. What was the response of the Interior Ministry?

They shelved the report and quickly granted immunity to the official who signed the $85 million no-bid contract. The wands are still in service.

Baghdad – city of magic.

Sixty-Five Years of US Foreign Policy in 765 Words.

November 1st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The U.S. emerged from World War II as the pre-eminent global power, opposed only by the Soviet Union and its satellites of the Warsaw Pact. Containment of the Soviet Union and its proxies – the Cold War — became the centerpiece of post-war policy. That policy played itself out in the successful marshalling of a powerful Atlantic Alliance facing the Warsaw Pact in Europe, unsuccessful support of the former French colonies of Southeast Asia against leftist nationalist forces, the generally successful suppression of leftist liberation movements in the western hemisphere, and support for Israel in the Middle East against the Arab clients of Moscow.

The decline and fall of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War. The defining event, from the perspective of the United States, was the Gulf War (August 1990-February 1991). The war was as much a diplomatic triumph as it was a military rout. We assembled a coalition of Arab states to crush the most powerful single Arab Army, and did so with the backing of the Soviet Union, that state’s last significant foreign policy act before disbanding itself in December of 1991.

Following the defeat of Iraq, the conversion of Egypt to a US ally, and the end of Soviet aid to Syria, the major Arab military powers of the Middle East had been neutralized, one way or another. The former Soviet bloc imploded economically. “Communist” China emerged as a power aimed at exporting cheap manufactured goods rather than ideology. Game over.

The nineties were devoted to picking up the pieces, or trying to: Yugoslavia’s splinter states, the horn of Africa’s failed states, both coming apart for different reasons, but both the direct result of the Cold War. With all of Israel’s major armed neighbors effectively neutralized, all that remained was to broker a peace deal with the Palestinians, a goal which proved more elusive than expected. There was no “big theme,” to our policy, but the neoconservative movement began pushing a “big idea” – that US military and economic power was so overwhelming, it had the ability to shape the world to suit its needs.

911 changed everything, but for U.S. foreign policy its first effect was to unleash the neoconservative theory of global strategy. Campaigns launched in Afghanistan and Iraq aimed at reshaping those countries into valuable US client states. The neoconservative theorists, however, had forgotten or ignored a critical lesson of strategy: the enemy gets a vote. Invasions and occupations rapidly devolved into bitter, violent insurgencies.

U.S. policy changed to damage control mode, and remained there throughout the rest of the decade of the 2000s. The attempts to create “model states” in Iraq and Afghanistan having failed, the new objective became simply winding down the wars and leaving behind stable governments which would not be overtly hostile to US interests.

The Global War on Terror, which had been the driving force behind the invasion of Afghanistan, and at least an implied justification for that of Iraq, quickly became a holding action as well. The overwhelming majority of Islamic terror attacks were directed at rival Islamic groups, not the U.S. or the West. The inability or unwillingness of al-Qaeda to mount another large-scale attack on the United States, and the end of major attacks in Europe after 2004, reduced the struggle to a sort of cold war, fought largely in the shadows or in the Middle East.

The remaining challenge for U.S. short-term foreign policy is to find a path to stability in the Middle East, the source of most violent Islamic radicalism. Whether the U.S. will manage that remains to be seen. It needs to start thinking globally and thinking decades ahead. Jihadism will, in all likelihood, have little effect on America’s future. Of far greater impact will be the ability of the United States to fix its educational and infrastructure shortcomings, maintain its hold on technological leadership, secure access to foreign markets, and cut the Gordian knot of fossil fuel dependence.

Meir Dagam the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, recently observed, “Israel is turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.” It is a perceptive remark which looks ahead instead of to the past. The threat is no longer from the heavily-armed surrogates of the Soviet Union which Israel was instrumental in defeating. At the same time, leftist Libya, long an opponent of militant Islam, has, improbably, been transformed from a dangerous enemy of the United States to an un-named co-belligerent.

There is truth in the observation of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger: “The United States does not have friends, it has interests.”

Bin Laden Singles Out France

October 30th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Since September of 2007, on the sixth anniversary of the 911 attack, Osama bin Laden has released fifteen recorded statements – all but the September 2007 video message being audio tapes. The most recent message, released today (October 27), claims that the recent kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger was is response to France’s treatment of Muslims, specifically the law banning the burqa, and promised further attacks. This is the first time bin Laden has singled out France for criticism and threatened action, although France has previously been mention in conjunction with other NATO members.

Here is a link to a Reuters chronology and summary of all fifteen statements.

The Taliban, Al Qaida, And Change

October 29th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. NATO troops have killed hundreds, possibly several thousand, Taliban warriors and mid-level leaders in Afghanistan in the recent offensive, but the total Taliban strength on the ground is ten times what it was following the U.S. invasion in 2001. Yesterday’s losses are replaced by a steady flow of young recruits.

That’s one side of the equation. Here’s another. Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shuri faction of the Taliban, headquartered in Pakistan, has had some trouble with some of the new younger field commanders, who are not as disciplined or ready to follow orders as their older predecessors. Recently he sent a Muslim scholar to Paktia Province to lecture the youngsters and bring them into line. So the youngsters killed him.

Here’s another. The Haqqani faction is currently one of the most hard-line of the insurgent groups, and has the closest ties to al Qaeda. Before the U.S. invasion, however, they despised them. Why? Al Qaeda is a Sunni Arab movement, while the Haqqanis are Pashtuns and their theology is closer to Wahabism. The Haqqanis have no patience for a bunch of uppity Arabs telling them how to pray, and they have no interest in global jihad. Their current alliance with al Qaeda is purely pragmatic – al Qaeda has access to funds, equipment, and training assets useful to expel the invaders (us). Once we’re gone, I give that marriage six months.

Here’s another. In the late 1990’s, shortly before the 911 attack, Mullah Omar became so disillusioned with Osama bin Laden that he reportedly confiscated his cell phone and placed him under arrest. While he was trying to figure out how to get him and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, we invaded. There’s a thought process we might have been better off not interrupting.

Will the Taliban lay down their arms? As Scott Atran observed in the New York Times, that’s about as likely as the NRA doing so.

When the dust settles in Afghanistan, are we going to like the guys in charge? Probably not very much.

Is there a fair chance we can sever the Taliban, local insurgents, and whoever shows up to run things from al Qaeda and global jihadism?

Yes there is.

Power Struggle In Key Gulf Emirate

October 28th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Most of you have heard of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Somewhat fewer have probably heard of Ras al-Khaimah. Ras al-Khaimah is one of the emirates making up the UAE, and the death of the ruling monarch, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed al-Qasimi, provides a reminder that the UAE is more of a loose confederation of sovereign states than a truly united nation. The two sons of the late sheikh wrestle for power, with the military possibly ready to play king-maker, while the rest of the gulf states look on with some concern.

What makes this more than simply a curious modern installment of 1,001 Arabian Nights is the issue which divides the two brothers – support for Iran. The elder has accused the younger brother (who currently holds power) of using the territory of the sheikdom to smuggle nuclear technology and material to Iran. Ras al-Khaimah is situated right on the strategic Straights of Hormuz.

Expect to hear more about this in the coming weeks.

Israeli Solders Banned From Social Network Sites

October 27th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Israeli Defense Force recently blocked Facebook and Gmail access from work sites on Israeli military bases, although they are still available in break areas. There are two groups of incidents responsible for this., The first is the leak of sensitive secret information. The second is the posting of embarrassing photos on social media sites showing Israeli soldiers abusing Palestinians and in same cases vandalizing Palestinian property.

The concerns over classified information leaking are certainly legitimate. The concern with embarrassing photos is more complicated. Certainly these sorts of photos inflame tensions between the IDF and Palestinians, and in that respect endanger the lives of Israeli soldiers. But the ultimate source of that friction is improper behavior by service personnel. Simply keeping the photos off-line, or keeping people from recording the incidents in the first place, is an imperfect solution.

Despite the ban, the Israeli NGO “Breaking The Silence” has recently posted additional photos of soldiers spray painting graffiti on Palestinian buildings, posing with wounded and bound Palestinians, and engaging in other questionable conduct.

Here is a link to an article in Haeretz covering the social media ban.

Here is a link to Digital Journal covering the same subject.

Here is a Jerusalem Post article covering the more recent posting bu “Breaking the Silence.”

C-130 Replacement In The Mill

October 26th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Air Force wants a replacement for the C-130 in place by 2024, although current plans are to purchase only about half the number of planes as currently in service. That means, assuming operational capabilities of the fleet remain constant, a much more capable individual aircraft. There is no clear specification yet – ideas being floated include major upgrades of the existing C-130 or C-17 design, a great big tilt-rotor design, and even a lighter-than-air vehicle.

Here’s a link to Defense Tech with more details, as well as a cool artist’s conception of the tilt-rotor design.

Wikileaks First Casualty: Iraqi Government?

October 25th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The publicly-expressed concern over the massive dump of Afghan documents earlier, and Iraq War documents now, by Wikileaks is that some intelligence sources have been compromised, and some collaborators endangered. That is why the US government has asked Wikileaks to redact the names of such collaborators before making the documents public.

This raises an interesting question: If that is really the big issue, why didn’t the U.S. government steal Wikileaks’ thunder by redacting the names and sources and then simply releasing the documents on its own? Once it did so, there would have been no impetus for Wikileaks to have done so simply with the addition of sensitive names in place.

The answer is the real concern behind keeping the documents secret was not protection of intelligence sources; it was hiding information our government, and our allies, find unbearably shameful. Pretty much everyone understands that.

Iraq conducted parliamentary elections over six months ago, and the new parliament has been un able to form a majority coalition government ever since. The previous prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki has headed an interim caretaker government and worked to put together a new ruling coalition. Last week it looked as if he was almost there, having signed up 138 legislators as backers and needing only 25 more to form a government. He had momentum and it appeared likely he would close the deal by the end of October.

Then came the Wikileaks, and among them the revelation that Iraqi government security forces, in the bloody civil war from 2004-2007, engaged in widespread torture and murder of Sunnis, some of this while al-Maliki was at the helm. This was widely suspected – no, widely believed – in Iraq already, but belief is one thing and documents detailing the acts are another. One can be worked around, the other less so.

Al-Maliki has charged that the timing of the release is “suspicious,” implying that, because he is favored by Iran, the Wikileaks may be an effort by the U.S. government to blow up his conceptual coalition before it properly forms. Personally, I think if you can believe Wikileaks is an arm of U.S. foreign policy, I think you can believe just about anything.

In any case, anyone on either side of this fence who blames Wikileaks as the cause of a government falling is on the same bus as someone who blames a prosecutor for “breaking up a family” by incarcerating the bank-robbing father. Let us remember that there would be no shameful documents to leak if people had not first done unspeakable things.

Here is a link to the CNN report on this issue.

Here is a link to Juan Cole’s column on the issue, along with an extensive report from Jordanian TV.

Europe's Home Grown Terrorists

October 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Here’s a pet peeve of mine: common sense. Well, not real common sense; common sense is a good thing. My pet peeve is when people lecture me that something is “just common sense,” when what they mean is, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about, and I can’t back any of this up with anything, but I believe it anyway.” Here’s a great example of that sort of “common sense” which I bet every one of you has heard: “Not all Moslems are terrorists, but most terrorists are Moslems.” Nobody ever backs this up with numbers, of course. They don’t need to. It’s “just common sense.”

It’s also “common sense” that terror attacks are on the rise, that the tide is running toward more and more violent attacks, mostly from Islamic extremists, of course, particularly in Europe.

This year Europol released its EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, covering the years up through the end of 2009 (the last year for which we have complete data). Here is a link to the complete report as a pdf. According to Europol, there were 294 “failed, foiled, or successful” terrorist attacks reported by EU member nations in Europe in 2009. That number was down 33% from 2008 (when there were 441 attacks) and was about half the number in 2007 (when there were 581 attacks). So the trend line is down, not up.

And of those 294 reported terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009, how many were by Islamists?


That’s right, one out of 294, or about one third of one percent of the total.

Of the total, 237 were by separatists organizations in France and Spain, 40 were by leftwing and anarchist groups, 4 by rightwing groups, and 12 were by single-issue or unspecified groups. And, of course, 1 was by Islamists.

What about here in the United States? The FBI’s report Terrorism 2002-2005 (link here) includes a detailed chronology of terror attacks stretching back to 1980. Of all the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil for that span of time, only 6% were by Islamists. By comparison, 7% were by the Jewish Defense League.

Does that mean there is no terror threat from radical Islamic jihadists? Of course not. There is a genuine threat from militant extremist organizations. Intelligence organizations here and in Europe are working to thwart those attacks, and will keep doing so. But when we assess threats to our security, and particularly when we start thinking about surrendering our own civil liberties, or limiting those of one subset of our population, let’s keep a little perspective, okay?

Let’s exercise a little common sense.

Getting Ready For WikiLeaks Round 2

October 22nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In July, WikiLeaks released about 77,000 documents relating to the Afghan War. Now it is about to release 400,000 documents concerning the Iraq War, and the U.S. government is preparing for the inevitable storm to follow. The documents were pre-released to major news organizations and their contents shared with the US government, so the government has some idea of their scope and content. As a result, CentCom has already been told the names of Iraqis and allied mentioned in the documents.

Expect this document dump to include information on how the war went south early on, how our government was blindsided by an insurgency they were convinced would never happen.

Pyongyang – The Capital Of Bizarroland

October 20th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Pyongyang is the epicenter – capital seems an inadequate word – of the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il. Recently Jim Axelrod of CBS News attended the Arirang Mass Games there and came away with a severe case of culture shock. Here is a link to his article and it’s worth a read. One of the things which weirded him out: the games were held in a stadium with 75,000 attendees and 10,000 performers, and in the surrounding parking lot there was a single car. How, he wonders, did they all get there?

One aspect of the article is misleading, however. Axelrod did not get a real look at North Korea as a whole, only Pyongyang. Outside of the capital things are vastly different – not necessarily more sane, but crazy in different ways.

British Defense Cuts Take Shape

October 19th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The UK Defense Review is complete and David Cameron today announced plans to reduce the British defense budget by eight per cent, leaving the armed forces with a two per cent GDP share and still the fourth largest budget in the world. In a time of falling budgets most places, however, the proposed cuts will leave painful holes in the force structure and will lead to considerable reductions in manpower. Here are the highlights of the reductions.

The cuts reduce personnel by 42,000 overall, with 25,000 (the largest single slice) coming from Ministry of Defenses civilian employees, 7,000 from the Army, 5,000 from the RAF, and 5,000 from the Navy.

The carrier Ark Royal will be retired immediately, along with the entire fleet of Harrier jump jets. The number of large surface combatants (frigates and destroyers) will drop from 23 to 19.

The Trident missile upgrade will be delayed for five years, which will save £750 million.

The Army’s active inventory of tanks and artillery will drop to 60% of its current level.

The Nimrod long-range reconnaissance aircraft will be retired.

Here is a link to the complete text of the UK National Security Document.

Remembering USS Wahoo

October 18th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

When I was a lad in grade school, Thursday was a special night. At 9:00 PM, my normal bed time, The Silent Service came on, and it was the one school night I got to stay up late – I was that much of a submarine nut and my parents were reasonable enough to know when to bend a rule in the interests of youthful enthusiasm.

For those of you not fortunate enough to remember this early TV show, each episode was a dramatization of a real incident from the submarine service in World War II, reenacted with actors as a teleplay using an actual fleet class submarine (on loan from the US Navy) as a set, and access to the Navy’s library of actual footage of underwater attacks, submarines surfacing and submerging, even crewmen escaping from a submerged submarine using re-breather gear and the forward escape locker. Disputes over copyright ownership have kept this classic show from being rebroadcast or released on DVD, so I cannot tell you if it was as good as I remember, but I really ate it up.

I do not know whether that show kindled my interest in submarines or if something else did and the show was incidental. I do know that my interest drove me to read every book about World War II submarines I could find. At times my folks had to come with me to the library to assure the librarian I really could read that advanced a book – such as Beach’s Run Silent, Run Deep (a true classic), or White’s Up Periscope (. . . not so much). If I didn’t have the needed reading skills when I started out, I stretched and grew quickly. I suppose I owe a great deal to that particular passion.

Then one boring Christmas spent with my Grandparents, I found a paperback copy of Forest J. Sterling’s Wake of the Wahoo, perhaps the greatest book about the submarine service I ever read. As a kid, I was not supposed to be interested by non-fiction, but I was entranced by this day-by-day account of life on-board a submarine through five combat patrols, as well as how the crew spent their “down-time” between cruises.

In November of 1942, Sterling was assigned as yeoman (essentially the clerk/typist) for USS Wahoo on its second combat patrol of the war. At first he had no assigned battle station submerged, but found sitting in the mess hall more nerve-wracking than actually doing something. He went to the ship’s executive officer and was told to report to the conning tower the next time Wahoo went to battle stations submerged. He did, and was given the ship’s copies of Jane’s All The World’s Ships. From then on, on every submerged attack by Wahoo, the attack periscope officer (usually either the captain or executive officer) would describe the target and Sterling would look it up and identify it. He was in a unique position to describe Wahoo’s underwater attacks and the tactics used.

On Sterling’s second cruise with the Wahoo, the ship was taken over by Lieutenant Commander Dudley Morton, nick-named “Mush” by his fellow officers and later known that way throughout the navy. Morton went on to become one of the most audacious and successful submarine skippers of the war, and Sterling stood by his side as he made every submerged attack for the next four combat patrols.

After several combat patrols, Sterling put in for Chief Yeoman school and Morton endorsed his application. In September of 1943, Wahoo left Pearl Harbor on her seventh combat patrol and, as it usually did, put in at Midway Island to top off its fuel tanks. Another yeoman was waiting on the pier there. Sterling’s application for chief’s school had been approved. He was transferred off Wahoo, his replacement boarded, and forty-five minutes later Wahoo left Midway, never to return. On October 11, while exiting the Sea of Japan, USS Wahoo was attacked and sunk by a Japanese ASW aircraft. Morton and all hands went down with her.

Lieutenant (later Admiral) Richard O’Kane served as executive officer on Wahoo for its first five combat patrols, then received his own boat, the USS Tang. In Tang he went on to become one of the most successful sub skippers of WW II, one of the few to rival “Mush” Morton’s achievements. His many decorations included the Silver Star with two gold award stars, a Navy Cross with two gold award stars, and the Medal of Honor.

“Mush” Morton did not receive the Medal of Honor. On Wahoo’s third combat patrol, and after sinking a Japanese troop transport, Wahoo surfaced and Morton ordered the crew to machine gun surviving Japanese soldiers in the water and prevent any rescue attempt. His rationale was that the soldiers themselves had been the target of the attack all along. Despite that, it was a clear violation of the Hague Convention on the treatment of shipwrecked personnel. Richard O’Kane, then the executive officer of Wahoo, later believed this incident was the only reason Morton did not receive the Medal of Honor. Probably so.

I started this column some weeks ago but have had a hard time finishing it. This is where I explain to you what it all means, but I cannot. When I was twelve years old and first read about Wahoo, the morality of Morton’s decision was obvious to me. As I grow older it is less so. In my opinion, “Mush” Morton was one of the brightest, most courageous, audacious and charismatic junior combat leaders we produced in World War II, and my admiration for his qualities as a combat leader knows no limit. That said, I cannot absolve him of his crime – for crime it clearly was. But I cannot, or will not, judge him for it either. This is where I should, if not shove you in some direction, at least let you know which way I am leaning. I cannot even do that.

I’ll tell you what I do think. I think that when we send young men and women off to war, we ensure they will have to make decisions like this, decisions to which there may be a legal answer, but for which the moral and ethical issues are far more complex — impossible decisions. But every time we send them to war, they have to do exactly that. That is the inescapable nature of the beast.

So I think the real crime, the crime I care about, is voluntarily putting any leader, any soldier, in that position unless it is a matter of national survival. I have come to believe the Clauswitzian postulate that war is simply “policy by other means” is a notion of towering evil. To my mind it is made no less evil by the near-unanimity of its embrace by governments and military high commands.

Brain Trauma Diagnosis Now Easier

October 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Army now has a simple blood test with can detect brain trauma. Mines and IEDs have become the primary generators of casualties in war zones, As body armor and explosive-resistant vehicles become both more common and more effective, concussion and traumatic brain injuries have become the most common form of wound or injury, but they are difficult to diagnose. This is very big news, and very good news.

Here is a link to an article in USA Today with more details.

USCybercom's First Commander

October 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

USCybercom has its first commanding officer, General Keith Alexander. In his confirmation hearings he outlined the challenge he faces in stark numbers. The Pentagon’s computer networks are probed 250,000 time each hour. About 6 million times a day, by “more than 140 foreign spy organizations trying ti infiltrate US networks.”

The US has gotten very serious about ensuring the security of its cyber networks, military and key civilian infrastructure alike. That also makes a lot of folks nervous about the civil liberty impact of such efforts. President Obama has pledged that US efforts to protect secure networks from penetration and disruption “will not include – I repeat, will not include – monitoring private sector networks or internet traffic.”

Laudable words. The problem is that the pressure to get something done quickly has resulted in very rapid action with very little oversight. As Richard Clarke, author of Cyber War observed, ““We created a new military command, to conduct a new kind of ¬high-tech war, without public debate, media discussion, serious congressional oversight, academic analysis or international dialogue.” This form someone who clearly understands the challenge facing us and who supports strengthening our cyber defenses.

It’s a subject of considerable complexity, but it is one which will only grow in importance and in its potential impact on our lives. Here is a link to a very good, very thorough article from Finanacial Times on the current state of cyber threat and cyber security.

Afghan Taliban Talks Moving

October 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

It’s impossible to tell what’s being discussed, but for the first time it is pretty clear real, substantive talks are under way between the Afghan Karzai government and elements of the Taliban.

The US is not participating in the talks, which is a really good idea on a lot of different levels. Our presence at the table would simple complicate the chemistry. But we now openly acknowledge the talks and have given them our blessing. The most tangible evidence of that blessing came this Wednesday when we admitted to giving safe passage to a number of Taliban leaders to the talks.

Fingers crossed.

Russia And The Afghan Blockade

October 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Last week we reported that Afghanistan was effectively under blockade by Pakistan, by virtue of the key crossing site on the ground logistical route being closed. I expect that NATO figured this was short-term posturing by Pakistan and, once they had made their point, the blockade would be lifted. Maybe so, but you have to wonder when they will next need to make a point. Although the blockade was lifted Sunday, NATO logisticians are nervous.

The latest effort to bypass a blockade, or at least provide a secure back-up land line, involved approaching Russia to allow NATO to run convoys through Russian territory and into Afghanistan from the north. Their answer is back – Nyet.

For the last decade the US and NATO have been sticking their thumbs in Russia’s eye over the Baltic states, Geogian military assistance, the anti-ballistic missile shield, and NATO membership by former Warsaw Pact nations. Maybe that was a good use of those thumbs, and maybe Russia’s eye needed a couple thumbs in it. But now that NATO needs a favor, Russia’s answer shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone.

Here’s a link to an article in The Nation.

Royal Navy Confirms Sea Viper Missile Firing

October 12th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Here is a pres release just in from the British Ministry of Defence, which may be of interest.

Sea Viper, the Royal Navy’s groundbreaking new air defence missile, has been fired from a Type 45 Destroyer for the first time, the MOD confirmed today.
At the MOD’s range in the Hebrides, HMS Dauntless successfully fired an Aster 30 missile and hit a moving target drone.

The Sea Viper can engage multiple targets simultaneously, meaning it is capable of defending the new Type 45 fleet and ships in their company against multiple attacks from the most sophisticated aircraft or missiles approaching from any direction and at supersonic speeds.

Sea Viper also has state-of-the-art Sampson radar, allowing it to react to high-speed, very low-level, anti-ship missiles and can track targets to a range of up to 400 kilometres. The Aster missiles are capable of speeds in excess of mach four and are highly agile.
Captain Richard Powell, Commanding Officer of HMS Dauntless, said:

“This firing is the culmination of a series of trials of Sea Viper as the system moves towards acceptance into the Royal Navy. Both my ship’s company and the equipment manufacturers have done a sterling job in preparing for and conducting the test.
“We are delighted with the success of this firing which is particularly important for the UK as the Sea Viper system will also work in support of land and air forces.”

Richard Smart, Head of Team Complex Weapons at the MOD, said:

“Sea Viper is one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world. Its ability to engage multiple targets gives the Royal Navy unparalleled protection from air attack which, together with the ship’s speed and agility, makes the Type 45 a truly formidable fighting force. The first firing from HMS Dauntless is a fantastic achievement that has successfully built on the weapon system’s extensive qualification programme.”

Afghan Taliban Talks Proceed

October 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

One of the most widely-known “secrets” for the last year has been the ongoing talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban. Now President Karzai has made it public and official: talks are taking place with elements of the Taliban to end the war.

At first there was much speculation that the talks were theatrical productions staged by Karzai to prove to the US government that he was his own player and not dependent solely on the US for survival. Taliban participation, so far as it went, mostly consisted of listening, not contributing anything of their own.

That appears to be changing. Rumor has it that the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban group based in Pakistan and led by Mohammad Omar, has now given its representatives to the talks authority to cut a deal regarding participation in the government by Omar’s faction.

Notably absent from the talks are the Haqqani faction, which has been the principal target of the recent escalations in drone missile attacks. US intelligence labels the Haqqanis as particularly brutal. Separating the insurgents into different groups and labeling some worse than others is undoubtedly a necessary preliminary to the US signing off on a deal with the “less radical” Taliban element.

As to the Quetta Shura, their willingness to deal now may be triggered by the escalating tempo of the ground war, but it is just as likely a response to the growing challenge to its leadership from more radicalized insurgent factions, such as the Haqqani. There is more than one opponent facing the Quetta Shure, and more than one way for them to lose the war. Maybe they think it’s time to see how good a deal they can get.

Here are four news stories on the new tenor of the talks:

Christian Science Monitor

Al Jazeera

The Washington Post

Hindustan Times

Viewing Iraq Today

October 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Here is a link to the latest entry in a multi-part story from Time on the emerging face of Iraq. Once you get past the political morass in Baghdad, there’s a lot of positive stuff going on. This article, a former US soldier’s return to and observations on the Iraqi city of Ramadi, is a fascinating before and after view – how much it has changed, how it changed, why it changed. In the author’s words, “The anti-al-Qaeda movement (the Sunni Awakening) was just taking hold in Anbar when the American brass woke up and realized that the U.S. couldn’t kill its way out of an insurgency.”

Couldn’t kill its way out of an insurgency. Now there is a lesson to ponder on.

It is unfortunate that so much of the turn-around in Iraq has been linked to the troops surge. I suppose that was inevitable, because that is a simple single cause which folks can understand. As I wrote earlier, the troop surge was a component in breaking the insurgency, but not the only one and probably not the most important one. The unilateral cease-fire by the Mahdi Army (the largest single Shiite militia), and the beginning of the Sunni Awakening movement – both of which pre-dated the surge – probably had more to do with the steady decline in violence. As Nate Rawlings reminds us in this article, the Sunni Awakening started first, then the US noticed it and began backing it with money.

It is unfortunate to attribute all of the results to a troop surge because it leads us to believe all we need is another surge in Afghanistan to turn things around there. As if we really can kill our way out of an insurgency.

The Thirty Greatest War Novels of All Time

October 9th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

These are the thirty greatest in my opinion, of course. Once in a while it’s useful to think about the novels which have made an impression on us. The following is a list of those which I think stand out. I make no claim to having a single unifying criterion by which all of these made it. Some are enduring classics which continue to influence writers, some are ground-breaking firsts, and some are just personal favorites. I have arranged them in rough chronological order by historical period covered, not by the order in which they were written. I’m sure many of you have personal favorites which were not included, or know of obvious classics I have overlooked. Don’t be shy about sharing them.

The Last Kingdom (and series) – Bernard Cornwell
Prince of Foxes – Samuel Shellabarger
The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
War and Peace – Leo Tolsoy
Captain Horatio Hornblower (and series) – C. S. Forester
Master and Commander (and series) – Patrick O’Brian
Sharpe’s Eagle (and series) – Bernard Cornwell
The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Killer Angels – Michael Shaara
The Horse Soldiers – Harold Sinclair
Memoirs of an Infantry Officer – Siegfried Sasoon
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Dr. Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
And Quiet Flows The Don –Michail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov
For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
Piece of Cake – Derek Robinson
Sword of Honor – Evelyn Waugh
From Here To Eternity – James Jones
Run Silent, Run Deep – Edwin L. Beach, Jr.
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
The Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer
The Thin Red Line – James Jones
The Cane Mutiny – Herman Wouk
The Bridge Over The River Kwai – Pierre Boulle
The Young Lions – Irwin Shaw
MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors – Richard Hooker
The Bridges at Toko-Ri – James Michener
The Hunt For Red October – Tom Clancy
Red Army – Ralph Peters

Afghanistan's Tenth Year of War

October 8th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Today we begin the tenth year of warfare in Afghanistan. It is, of course, a day like any other, but benchmark dates like this are also a good opportunity to step back and take a look at where things are going.

According to some reports, things are going swell. Here’s a link to a report which says the Taliban are on the verge of collapse. Their best leaders are dead, their soldiers are outnumbered, poorly-equipped, and demoralized.

“The Taliban are getting an absolute arse-kicking,” said one top-level Westerner deeply involved with Operation Ham Kari, the latest big push by US and British forces in Kandahar, as reported in The Australian. “It’s been their worst year since 2001-02. We’re taking them off the battlefield in industrial numbers. We’re convinced that the initiative has really shifted.”

Maybe so. But here’s a report from U.S. Marines fighting in Marjah, and in their opinion the Taliban are still full of fight.

But as I said, it’s worth taking a step back from the platoon and company level battles and ask how the war is going. The answer, in my opinion, is it is not going well. It’s not that the fighting isn’t going our way; it’s that the fights we are winning are not securing war-winning objectives. They are not bringing the war to a successful conclusion.

We fight the Taliban in the countryside and beat them wherever we can find them, but the purpose of beating the Taliban in fire fights is to enable the Afghan government to come in behind us and establish secure, fair, and stable governance. If they cannot, all the fire fights do is spill blood. So far, the Afghan government has been unable to have much impact on the countryside outside the city limits of the provincial capitals, and sometimes much beyond the outskirts of Kabul.

If that government cannot deliver the goods at the village and town level, we need to bring our people home. All they are doing there is killing and being killed, and to no strategic purpose. We cannot win the war without the mechanism of a just peace, and right now we clearly do not have that mechanism.

Instead we continue the fight and escalate it, in hopes something will turn up, in hopes we will somehow “turn the corner.” We seem to believe doing the same thing we have been doing for going on ten years, but doing it harder, will change everything, as if by magic.

It is changing things, but not in the way we want.

Our reluctant but essential strategic partner in Afghanistan is Pakistan, the only Islamic state with a nuclear arsenal. Frustrated with Pakistan’s ability to police its tribal border regions, we have taken it upon ourselves to do so unilaterally, with cross-border special operations and drone aircraft missile strikes. The drone missile strikes kill key Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. They also kill innocent civilians, and they enrage the Pakistanis who see these U.S. acts as the ultimate in arrogance. We routinely violate their sovereignty, without their permission, without even notifying them, and we do it because we choose to, and because we can.

Last week that growing national rage boiled over in Pakistan and the Pakistanis closed the main logistical route across the border into Afghanistan. Well, to be accurate, they closed it to NATO logistical convoys. It is still open to the Taliban. More ominously, reports have begun to emerge that the ISS, Pakistan’s security service, is encouraging Taliban groups negotiating with the Afghan government to break off their negotiations and continue to fight. Pakistan denies the charges, and it’s always hard to pin things like this down, but the fact that some U.S. officials consider the reports at least possible is a gauge to how really pissed off the Pakistanis are right now.

And here’s the kicker: Afghanistan is a landlocked country with sheep and rocks and not much prospect of getting anything better in the near future. They have the capacity to be an annoyance, but not much more.

Pakistan, however, is different. It has a large, modern army, access to the sea, and the capacity to be a regional or even global economic player of it can get out of its own way long enough to rebuild its educational system. And it has nukes, somewhere between 60 and 200 warheads.

Some writers are already noticing that the Afghan War is evolving into the Pakistan War.

Here is what I think we should recognize: the strategic prize in the region is Pakistan, not Afghanistan. If we undertake specific actions which give us a military advantage in Afghanistan at the price of destabilizing Pakistan, we are acting stupidly. We are risking dollars to win pennies.

If Pakistan begins to crumble, we will finally wake up, and we will scramble to do whatever we can to arrest the slide, and by then it will be too late.

The Royal Navy's Newest and Most Bitter Foe – The British Army

October 7th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The fight which has recently exploded between the Royal Navy and the British Army over budget cuts has produced language which, had I read it in a political novel or techno-thriller, I would have dismissed as absurd. There is no way senior officers in either service would publicly speak of the other in those words. Surely not.

“This is appalling and should never have been allowed. We will not forgive and we will never forget,” a senior Naval officer said when it was disclosed that the Army had been secretly lobbying the government over their budget share using, it has been suggested, “black ops” assets.

“They must be smoking a crack pipe,” one senior Army officer responded, pointing to an alleged Navy proposal to scrap all of its amphibious warfare ships in order to keep two carriers in the force structure, eliminating the Royal Marines in the process.

The Navy responded by publicizing examples of Army waste, “such as their excess number of senior ranks, phantom headquarters that serve no purpose and spending £800 million on their next armoured vehicles with nothing to show for it,” according to a Defense Ministry insider.

I imagine folks in rival services think that sort of thing a lot, but you don’t expect to hear it said out loud. Certainly not by the British. Good heavens, man, what is the world coming to?

At the root of the dispute is the growing sense of panic in the British Armed Forces over the looming and draconian defense cuts which they face. I also believe that the heat of the internal dispute reflects the lack of light either service has been willing or able to cast so far on the genuine nature of Britain’s long-term defense needs and how best to meet them. When strategic vision fails, all you are left with are squalid little turf wars such as this.

Afghanistan Under Blockade

October 6th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Last Thursday, a U.S. helicopter apparently violated Pakistani air space, launched a missile attack on a ground target, and killed a number of Pakistani paramilitary troops manning a border checkpoint. On Friday Pakistan closed most key border crossing points to NATO traffic and trucks began backing up in enormous traffic jams, making tempting targets for terrorist attacks.

Today attacks on stalled tanker trucks led to one driver being killed and 20 tankers burned. This was the fourth such attack since the blockade began. On Friday 30 tankers were burned in Shikarpur and two more in Balochistan. On Monday about 25 tankers were destroyed in Rawalpindi.

NATO reports the blockade as having no effect on operations to date, but that almost certainly means NATO units are drawing down existing stockpiles inside Afghanistan. Truck convoys through Pakistan supply NATO forces in Afghanistan with 70% of their bulk cargo needs and 40% of their fuel.

The U.S. is about to turn over its internal investigation of the air space violation incident and has already apologized and expressed its condolences to the families of the dead border guards. Tensions remain high, however, and the incident underscores the precarious nature of the NATO force in Afghanistan. Although alternative means of supply exist, they are far more costly and difficult. The northern route through Kyrgyzstan is threatened by political instability as well and over-reliance on air supply will probably lead to a deliberate campaign by the Taliban to shut down or cripple the major air bases in Afghanistan.

The British Field Marshal Archibald Wavell was fond of saying that amateurs thought about tactics while professionals thought about logistics. The professionals have a lot to think about this week.

Reaper UCAV Operational

October 6th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The MQ-9 Reaper is arguably the first operational Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). Originally called “Predator B,” is is clearly a follow-on and development of the MQ-1 Predator, but it’s development has gone so far beyond Predator it is cleary an animal of a different sort altogether.

Although it has the same sort of sensor package as Predator, it is much heqavier and has a much higher payload. Clearly Predator is a reconnaissance platform which can mount weapons as a secondary function. Reaper is from the start designed as an unmanned hunter-killer.

Here is a link to a recent artivle on the MQ-9. Although Reaper is a lot more expensive than Predator, it is actually enjoying more export success than did its predecessor. I’ve written about this before. There are reasons to keep pilots in cockpits and reasons to take them out. As our sensor and control technologies advance, however, the arguments for keeping the pilot there become weaker and weaker, especially in high-risk environments. UCAV’s are not simply a significant part of the USAF’s future, they are likely to become the strike aircraft of choice in hostile environments for much of the world.

An iPhone App For Air Strikes

October 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Soldiers these days are smart, smarter than I am about a lot of stuff, and plugged in. Ever since PCs made their debut in the 1970’s, soldiers have been writing their own programs to use computers to make their lives easier. These days the tech item of choice by soldiers has been the iPod, followed more recently by the iPhone, the iPod Touch (iPod with cellular phone capability), and the iPad, all of which are basically very small personal computers.

Apple tightly controls the software applications available for its machines, but this year the Army got together with Apple and ran a contest for the best military iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad applications, as well as the Google Android operating system. The fifteen best entries received cash prizes, with $27,500 going to the top three applications.

Now there’s really an app for calling air strikes from your iPhone.

Well, maybe not your iPhone.

Powered Exoskeletons Coming Soon

October 1st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Strength-augmenting powered exoskeletons are getting pretty snazzy, and they will probably be accepted for series production, and military service,  in the not-too-distant future. The current odds-on favorite is Lockheed-Martin’s HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), the latest version of which weighs only 60 pounds, is a sleek form-following framework with high mobility, and which allows the wearer to lift 150 pounds effortlessly. The Marines are likely to start testing the suit next spring, but it faces potential competition from Raytheon’s bulkier XOS-2.

Both will be on exhibit in October at the Association of the US Army Exposition near DC. Here is a link to a Defense Tech article on the two suits, with videos.

Rare Earth – Great Band, Not So Great Foreign Policy Lever

September 30th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

There has been a lot of concern lately over China’s large holdings of “rare earths,” a group of 17 extremely rare metals which were mostly curiosities a generation ago but which are now critical components in high tech electronics – computers, cell phones, weapon s systems, you name it.

With the rare earth elements forming a potential technological bottleneck for developed economies, the fact that China has such a large share of the world’s proven reserves gives them the conventional thinking goes, a potential strangle hold over potential opponents. China could, for example, simple stop exporting rare earths to a particular country and cripple its economy. That, at any rate, was the argument, and here are two articles making that case, one in Wired and one in Market Watch.

We have a case study of this in the making. Following the diplomatic flare-up over the East China Sea territorial disputes between China and Japan (which regular readers will remember from a week or so ago), China has imposed a de-facto embargo on exports of rare earths to Japan.

Cause for panic? I don’t think so, but I’ll let Tim Worstall of Foreign Policy magazine make the case. Why? Because I love the title of his column: You Don’t Bring a Praseodymium Knife To A Gunfight.

Britain, France, Budget Cuts, and Nuclear Deterrence

September 30th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Faced with continuing financial difficulties, France and Britain are implementing deep cuts in defense spending. Although some Americans tend to think of both countries as faded powers, the truth is that France and Britain have the fourth and fifth largest military budgets in the world; only the US, China, and Russia outspend them on arms.

One of the sources of the high price tag of defense in these two countries is that they each continue to maintain an independent strategic nuclear deterrent force. One of the British weapon systems on the chopping block is the Vanguard class of trident-armed nuclear ballistic missile subs; the projected 20-billion-pound price tag to replace and modernize the trident missiles in the class may be too much to swallow. The recent statement by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that the cost of modernization would have to come from the existing defense budget rather than additional spending by the treasury has a lot of people looking at the damage to Britain’s conventional forces such a nuclear modernization would entail.

But there is a potential solution.

Britain and France each have four nuclear missile submarines. This allows each country to maintain one nuclear missile submarine at sea at all times – the basis of their strategic nuclear deterrent force. If Britain and France pool their resources, they can cut the number of operational submarines in each fleet in half and still have – between them – one submarine at sea, committed to responding to a nuclear attack against either or both countries.

The fiscal benefits of such an arrangement are clear. The politics are difficult. French President Sarkozy proposed the joint patrols before the British parliamentary elections, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown rejected the idea in the run up to the elections. Now that the elections are over and the reality of the financial crisis has to be faced and dealt with, Brown is taking a second look.

Once you get past being appalled at the thought of the Royal Navy and Marine Nationale as comrades in arms, the proposal is a no-brainer. Any nuclear attack on either Britain or France is an attack on both, due simply to their geographic proximity and economic interdependence. Brown and Sarkozy certainly understand this, as Sarkozy noted in a speech in Cherbourg over two years ago: “Together with the United Kingdom, we have taken a major decision: it is our assessment that there can be no situation in which the vital interests of either of our two nations could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened.”

If the British and French can behave like adults on this, there is hope for the world.

China-India Arms Race Looms

September 28th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

We Americans have a couple national personality quirks.

One is our recent bout of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following the 911 attacks, the principal symptom of which is that we are frightened of everything and everybody. It’s understandable, but still I look forward to the day when we can all look at the world with more hope and less fear in our hearts. In the mean time, whenever anyone looks at us cross-eyed, we start thinking about upping the defense budget again.

Another personality quirk is our tendency to be self-absorbed. Sometimes it seems as if we believe that the rest of the world spends all its time thinking about us, and that each nation’s opinion of us is the most important factor in their policy decision-making. If we see a fellow carrying a gun, our first thought is that he intends to shoot us, because we can think of no other reason he would have a gun.

Well, maybe he intends to shoot someone else.

The Chinese military buildup is an example of this. The Chinese are building guns; they must be planning on shooting us. That would be odd behavior, considering two facts. First, our two economies are very interconnected, largely because they are so compatible. Second, in the realm of foreign policy, we don’t really have any serious beefs with them and they don’t have any serious beefs with us.

Now India – that’s a different story. India’s and China’s economies are not compatible, they are almost mirror images. Both are emerging economies trying to switch from subsistence agriculture to low-end manufacturing while trying to bootstrap a technology sector and playing catch-up on infrastructure. They are natural competitors, not partners. Beyond that, they have a history of nasty border disputes which sometimes end in shots fired.

The coming arms race is not between us and China; it is between China and India.

Here is an article on their naval arms race.

Here is one of their arms race in space.

And here is the scariest one of all, their emerging nuclear arms race.

But here is a consolation of sorts: it turns out it really isn’t all about us.

Cyber Attack on Iranian Nuclear Power Plant

September 27th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The big news today in cyber-land is the malware attack on Iran’s first nuclear power station. The Stuxnet worm, which I am certain you are going to read more about in the coming months, was detected on the personal computers of many of the staff of the Bushehr reactor. Despite that, plans to bring the reactor on-line next month remain in place. According to Mahmoud Jafari, the Bushehr project manager, the plant’s operating system was not infected.

The Stuxnet worm was first discovered by experts in Germany this July. It has since been detected in machines in Iran, India, Indonesia, and the United States, as well as others. It is designed to target weaknesses in the Siemens-developed systems used to manage water supplies, oil rigs, power plants and other utilities. It moves from machine to machine by means of flash drives or other removable memory devices, so does not require an internet connection to replicate. It is the first known worm designed specifically to take control of systems operating major infrastructure facilities.

This worm is so powerful and sophisticated it has professional hackers shaking their heads in admiration. Voice of America reports, ” Several cyber experts point to the sophistication of the worm as an argument it might be the work of a state program, while political observers suggest the same, given that Iran has suffered disproportionately.” With over 30,000 infected IP addresses, Iran has experienced over 60% of the attacks world-wide.

In other words, this was probably created by a nation state and was aimed specifically at Iran, probably Iran’s nuclear program. If so, it is a near-perfect example of the exercise of intellect without wisdom.

Whether Iran has a nuclear weapons program remains unproven and uncertain. One thing which is certain, the Busheht nuclear reactor is simply a civilian power generating facility which does nothing to advance Iran’s weapon’s program, assuming such a program exists. It is not a nuclear fuel enrichment facility; it’s just a power plant.

So why target it? Again from Voice of America, here is what Political Science Professor Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo observes:

“It is very clear there was an attempt to send a strong message to Iran and its nuclear program by informing the Iranian authorities that their program is not immune and that someone can enter and penetrate and destroy and sabotage the whole process.”

So think about this for a moment. Some nation – we know not who – launched a cyber attack on a part of the Iranian civilian power infrastructure which was not part of any alleged weapons development initiative. Whoever did so did not do it with the expectation of actually setting back a military program, but rather to “send a message.”

Here is the message they sent: it is acceptable to launch sophisticated cyber attacks on non-military civilian infrastructure projects as a means of demonstrating disagreement.

What do you think? Is that a good idea or a bad idea? Do you think it is acceptable for anyone who disagrees with – for example — the United States to launch cyber attacks against our power or communication grid as a means of voicing that disagreement?

Here is a link to a BBC piece on the cyber attack.

Here one to AP.

Here one to a PC Magazine column on the virus itself, how it works, and what makes it so special.

Russia Nixes S-300 Missile Sale to Iran

September 24th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Russia’s top-of-the-line S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile is pretty hot stuff, hot enough that the prospect of sale of the latest version of the missile to Iran has been a continuing worry. The S-300 is supposedly capable of knocking down any strike aircraft except for the latest generation of stealth aircraft: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. When the latest round of sanctions was agreed to, Russia’s foreign minister initially argued that the S-300 was not subject to the arms embargo, which made pretty much everyone do a double-take. Recently, however, the Russians have agreed to ban sales of the S-300 to Iran.

Iran, not surprisingly, is not crazy about the idea and has told Russia they should grow a pair and stand up to the US. Not in quite those words, of course, but close.

Interestingly enough, it is likely that Iran already has several S-300s, some purchased from Croatia and shipped to Iran by Libya, and more recently several missiles from Belarus, although Belarus and Russia deny this.

Of subsidiary interest is this article from DefenseTech, which wonders, absent Russian export of the S-300 to Iran, if the F-22 and F-35 are worth their price tags. I wonder that myself, but not based on something as transitory as whether or not Russia sells one missile system to one mid-eastern country.

The Amazing B-52

September 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

As I have mentioned before, one of the interesting things about our fleet of B-52 bombers is that the average age of the aircraft in service is older than the average age of their crews, usually by at least a decade. The very last B-52 rolled off the assembly line in October of 1962, forty-eight years ago.

The remaining fleet of B-52 H models have undergone numerous upgrades and more are in the works. Their age suggests limping old birds, but the B-52 fleet has an 80% operational serviceability, significantly better than either the B-1 or B-2 bombers. They have a range of 8,800 miles and can carry about 70 tons of ordnance. Their only serious shortcoming is speed. Speed, however, is useful mostly before an opponent’s air defense system has been hammered down. In recent conflicts, the opposing ADA system has either been nonexistent or flattened within hours, so that hasn’t been much of a problem.

But here’s what I find really fascinating about the B-52.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers conducted the first powered flight of a heavier-than-air craft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Since then, planes have evolved through the canvas-and-baling wire biplanes of World War I, to metal-skinned piston monoplanes of WW II, through sub-sonic jets, super-sonic jets, orbital craft, an International Space Station, and probes to the outer planets and satellites of our solar system.  Quite a trip.

Think about that for a moment. Think about the enormous progress that represents – the development of powered flight, from sticks and rags at Kittyhawk to the outer reaches of our solar system.

Now think about this: for over half of that span, for over half of the entire history of powered flight, the B-52 has been in squadron service with the United States Air Force – fifty-five out of one hundred and seven years.

It’s going to be in squadron service for at least thirty more years.

At least.

No telling what upgrades they’ll come up with by 2040.

Ahmadinejad – An Enthusiastic Ignoramus

September 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

A few days ago Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, gave an interview to the Iranian press which touched on the Cyrus Cylinder and the reign of Cyrus the Great, the first shah of ancient Persia.

Cyrus the Great was an historical figure of towering importance, the man who not only forged the Achaemenid Persian Empire but also crafted its form of government and style of rule in such a way as to enable it to endure for over two centuries. One of the few documents surviving from his reign is the so-called Cyrus Cylinder, a cuneiform-covered column erected to commemorate (and justify) his incorporation of the ancient lands of Babylon into his empire. It is an interesting document, with an even more interesting modern history.

The cylinder is an early example of royal propaganda and self-justification. That sounds harsh, and the truth is that from what we know of the reign of Cyrus he was an extraordinarily enlightened ruler by ancient standards. He was responsible for freeing the Jews from captivity in Babylon and returning them to Palestine and, unlike most ancient monarchs, practiced a policy of religious tolerance throughout his reign, a policy followed by his successors. Religious and ethnic tolerance, combined with the encouragement of trade and scholarship, had much to do with the longevity and comparative stability of the ancient Persian empire.

But that information comes from sources other than the Cyrus Cylinder. The cylinder itself is a fairly conventional inscription explaining how the deposed king of Babylon was a really bad guy and how everything Cyrus did, he did for Babylon, not himself. It was only in 1971 that the cylinder began assuming a political importance beyond its historical and archaeological significance. At that time the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Palavi, used it as the symbol of the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian monarchy. More importantly, he used Cyrus’s religious tolerance as the historical basis for a modern Iranian secular monarchy.

It was an interesting analogy and not altogether crazy. The fact that 1971 missed being the actual 2,500th anniversary of the Achaemenid monarchy by thirty years was glossed over. The fact that the Cyrus Cylinder’s text did not really constitute, as the shah claimed, ”The First Human Rights Charter in History” was addressed more directly. A phony version of the translation was manufactured and widely circulated. The initial text was retained intact, but then a bogus passage was inserted where there is actually a missing segment of the cylinder’s text, as if it were the missing part. It read, in part,

“I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them as long as I shall live. From now on, while Ahuramazda lets me rule, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I shall never resolve on war to reign.”

The bogus passage also claimed to end slavery in the empire. In fact, slavery remained a feature of the Achaemenid Empire, as with virtually every ancient society, although the Achaemenid Persians relied less on slavery for key economic activities than did, for example, the Greeks, and far less than did the Romans.

So what does all this have to do with President Ahmadinejad? The Cyrus Cylinder, owned by the British Museum, is currently on loan to Tehran and on display there. When Ahmadinejad commented on it the other day, he referred to it as the Declaration of Human Rights, and then went on to paraphrase parts of it – or rather parts of the imaginary passages inserted probably at the encouragement of Shah Palavi, the monarch overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and replaced by the Islamic Republic of which Ahmadinejad now serves as president.

So Ahmadinejad is quoting forged, and widely repudiated, passages of the most famous historical document of his country. On top of that, he is quoting passages probably forged by the Shah, who his regime replaced. On top of that, they are passages used to support the idea of a secular Iranian government, a principle fundamentally opposed to the current constitutional theocracy.

The contradictions inherent in this position are not lost on clerics and politicians in Iran, and criticism of his actions began almost instantly, starting with Member of Parliament Ali Motahari, hardline conservative and son of the late revolutionary cleric Morteza Motahari. “The actions of Cyrus,” Motohari declaimed, “were not in line with the prophets’ teachings.”

No kidding.

It is tempting to ask, “Just how stupid is Ahmadinejad?” But he is not stupid. When he quotes forged passages or invented conspiracy theories, he does not think he is lying.

I know a lot of people so convinced of the correctness of their position that they spout “facts” which they make up on the spot – convinced they aren’t lying, convinced the facts must be right, because they are logically linked to their core belief. Tell them their facts are wrong, show them, prove it to them, and they shrug. Maybe those facts are wrong, but somewhere there must be some other facts which are right and which support their position. There have to be because their position is right. They know it. They are also, as a general rule, not terribly curious to discover additional facts. They already know more than enough.

Like those people, Ahmadinejad is neither a conscious liar nor is he stupid. He is simply, by enthusiastic choice, an ignoramus.

For those interested in further reading about the Cyrus Cylinder, here is a link to a good summary on Jona Lendering’s Livius web site.

Resurgence of Turboprop Combat Aircraft

September 21st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Force-on-force scenarios drive a lot of military procurement, but most conflicts in the world are asymmetrical, not force-on-force. Militaries are beginning to notice that (nothing gets by them) and drawing some appropriate conclusions.

For example, a modern jet fighter can cost as much as 80 million dollars, which may be money well spent if you are flying against a major power, but if you are up against someone with no air force at all, not so much.

The better buy may be a light attack turboprop, which can come in at about 2 million dollars, and can be flown for about 500 dollars an hour, as opposed to ten thousand dollars an hour for a modern jet fighter. They can carry sophisticated ground surveillance sensors, carry a respectable payload, and have great loiter time. Their infrastructure requirements are more modest and they are easier to maintain and harder to shoot down than helicopters.

Who’s buying? Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Venezuela, and, believe it or not, the United States Air Force.

Secret Afghan Settlement Talks Under Way

September 19th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

One of my favorite observations of the nature of the political process was delivered over a century ago by Otto von Bismark, the famous “Iron Chancellor” of Prussia who was instrumental in forging the modern German state. He said, “Anyone who likes laws or sausages should not watch either being made.”

It was true then and it rings just as true today.

First, a little background. In general, insurgencies do a lot better if there is a sponsoring nation, preferably nearby or able to funnel aid through a nearby friend. The Afghan insurgency against the Soviet Union benefited decisively from US aid funneled through Pakistan. This suggests an obvious question: who is supporting the Taliban’s insurgency against the Karzai government in Pakistan today?

The answer is complicated, in part because there is not just a single insurgency or a single Taliban, but the widely-reported Wikileaks release of documents on the Afghan war certainly provided part of the answer – Pakistan, or rather the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency. ISI supported the Taliban regime from the time it took over until the US launched its invasion in 2001. At that time, and in response to strong pressure from the US, Pakistan backed off of its overt support for the Taliban but the ISI maintained its covert ties to the Taliban, as well as continuing its support for some elements based in northwest Pakistan. If fact, this was an open secret long before the Wikileaks revelations, which simply provided a lot of the gory details.

Pakistan is not the only source of support. Out of 1.6 billion Moslems world-wide, there are probably only about 20 million Wahhabists, and most of them live in Saudi Arabia where it is the official state religion. The Taliban is one of the few major groups dedicated to Wahhabism outside of Saudi Arabia, and so they receive considerable covert financial support from private Saudi sources.

The “War on Terror” is neither simple nor clean. Individual acts of terror directed at helpless and innocent civilians are unambiguously evil, but the moral ambiguity of the struggle increases quickly the farther the remove from that single event. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Pakistan this past week and in the weeks ahead.

Pakistan was recently visited by Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was followed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and General Petraeus, the theater commander. There followed a series of behind-closed-doors meetings involving Pakistani Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI, and General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, Pakistani army chief of staff.

Scheduled to arrive this week is Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, director general of Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah, the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate and special envoy for King Saud to deal with the Taliban “problem.”

Om September 25th, Ali Mohammad al-Shamsi will arrive in Pakistan. Al-Shamsi is the former ambassador to Pakistan from the United Arab Emirates, but more importantly has numerous personal contacts with the Taliban.

According to Asia Times, preliminary talks between the Taliban and US have already taken place, using the Saudis and Pakistanis as go-betweens. Several meetings with Taliban representatives have also been set up in safe houses for Saudi Prince Aziz, the aim of which is to generate a breakthrough in the US-Taliban talks. When al-Shamsi arrives on the 25th, he will spend two days in high level meetings with his contacts in the Taliban leadership.

Right now, even as you read this, the sausage machine is cranking in Pakistan. Perhaps nothing will come of it. Perhaps the result will be a peace settlement in Afghanistan, a laudable goal indeed. But looking too close at the process may not be for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

China-Japan Tension Mounts in East China Sea

September 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I wrote a few weeks ago about the likelihood of future conflict in the South China Sea. Now tensions are mounting in the East China Sea between Japan and China in an area claimed by both nations. The area contains a natural gas field, called the Chunxiao field by China and the Shirakaba sector by Japan. China has a drilling rig in the area but exploratory activity has been on temporary hold.

The latest flare-up began when the Japanese Coast Guard arrested a Chinese fisherman near the Senkaku Islands in waters claimed by both countries. China responded by lodging formal protests, stage-managing public protests, and canceling talks on joint development of the gas field. Japan has remained calm so far, but Japanese aerial reconnaissance has now detected the transfer of drilling equipment to the Chinese rig. The Chinese claim it is simply replacement equipment for items worn out, but if China begins drilling and extracting gas from the field, look for things to heat up some more.

More Afghan Vote Fraud

September 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The last presidential election was made absurd by the level of vote fraud, over a third of the votes cast for President Hamid Karzai having been declared fraudulent by the UN-backed Electoral Complaint Commission (ECC). Karzai responded by cutting the number of non-Afghan members on the ECC. That should fix the problem.

A nation-wide parliamentary election is scheduled for the eighteenth, just two days away, and it appears the run-up to that election includes flooding the countryside with fake voter ID cards. Some media sources place the number of fake ID cards at over three million, or about one sixth of the total Afghan electorate. Fake cards have been used in past elections but in much smaller numbers, so this election could break previous records for graft and corruption.

The prospect of widespread vote fraud – again – in upcoming elections comes on the heels of violent anti-government (and anti-US) street demonstrations in Kabul which left at least one dead and thirty-five injured, and the take-over of the Bank of Kabul by the Afghan central bank following a panicked run by depositors.

It is possible the Afghan election authorities will move with efficiency ad dispatch to head off this attempted fraud. It is also possible that Afghan security forces will manage to provide sufficient security for candidates and voters, allowing this election to go forward and produce fair and representative results. I hope so.

Shredder May Be Future Military Scout Vehicle

September 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Last month the Canadian firm BOG Werks presented its latest brainchild, the DTV Shredder, at a military vehicle conference in Detroit. Here is a link to an article with a video which, I have to admit, looks surprisingly cool.

The Shredder resembles a Segway in overall configuration but substitutes a track for wheels, giving the vehicle more stability and better off-road performance. It’s also been compared to a tracked skateboard. The control yoke is moveable and aids the operator in keeping his balance in tight turns and at speed. It tops out at 30 mph, with a trailer can manage a payload of 1200 pounds (including the operator), and can climb 40 degree slopes.

To me it looks as if its principal utility is off-road in areas where a conventional vehicle would either have trouble passing or would have too large a signature. Riders can keep a much lower profile than if horse-mounted or on a motorcycle, so it’s potentially a useful means of getting individual soldiers in and out of bad terrain quickly.

Check out the video. Looks like fun.

MRAP Saves Lives in Afghanistan

September 12th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

An immediate dividend of the winding down of combat in Iraq has been redeployment of IED detection assets to Afghanistan, along with a massive influx of MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles). The MRAP as a tall vehicle, well off the ground, with an armored boat-shaped bottom to deflect mine blast energy out and to the sides.

The most common variant in Afghanistan is the M-ATV (MRAP All Terrain Vehicle). It weighs in at just shy of two tons and carries five passengers. There are about 12,000 MRAPs in Afghanistan now. What difference does it make? 80% of the time a Humvee or cargo truck is hit my a mine or IED, one or more of its passengers dies. That happens only 15% of the time when an MRAP is hit. Combat casualties are up overall, but that is due to the higher tempo of operations. The proportion of casualties from mines and IEDs has declined.

Here’s a link to a good article on The Strategy Page.

Where Were You On 911?

September 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I am a member of the generation which unanimously remembers where we were when we heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. Not all of you are. But all of us, you and I alike, are members of the generation which remembers where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001.

I was at home in Illinois, working – writing. My mother, who was then alive, called me and told me to turn on the television, that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I did. At that point it was believed to be an accident, albeit a terrible one, and as I watched the live feed the second airplane slammed into the other tower. I didn’t see it on tape later, knowing what it was – I watched it happen live.

I have lived through history-changing moments before but it is often not possible to know how dramatically the world has changed until later. But when I saw the second plane fly into the second tower, I instantly knew how terrible a moment the world had just experienced, and that the world would never be quite the same for the rest of my lifetime. I suspect all of us did.

Then a plane hit the pentagon and it became personal. My wife Tessa was in Washington at a training and briefing session for senior managers at her agency. Her agency is part of the Department of Agriculture and has nothing to do with foreign policy or defense, but the Federal Government occasionally likes to let leaders in different agencies know what’s going on in other parts of the government. It’s not a terrible idea. That morning her group had gotten a briefing from a former ambassador to Iraq. How’s that for irony?

She wasn’t in the pentagon. She was across the street and down a couple blocks. All I knew was she was in Washington. I tried calling but all phone communications were locked up. About an hour later she managed to get through to me. She was okay. Standing in front of her building she could se the fire and the rising column of smoke from the pentagon just down the street. As soon as I heard her voice, I had a hard time finding my own — about as emotional as big tough guys like me get.

The oldest daughter of my best friend worked in the World Trade Center. She was a couple months pregnant. As she drove into work that morning, the baby started kicking and she didn’t feel well, so she phoned in sick and went back home. She was the only survivor from her division, which was housed several floors above the impact point.

Tessa had a hell of a time getting home to Illinois. With all air travel grounded, the car rental agencies began charging ridiculous windfall prices. Finally she and a co-worker went in together and bought a clunker of a car and drove it back to Illinois. A lot of folks had to use creative ways of getting back home in the week after the attack.

My friend’s daughter spent the next several months, the end of her pregnancy, going to the funerals of all of her co-workers. The funerals were spread out over that much time because identifying and releasing remains was difficult and complicated. When her daughter got to be a couple years old, she was a very fearful little girl, easily upset, very insecure.

My friend’s daughter and her family have moved back to their hometown in Ohio. They’ve settled in well there and her daughter has shed most of her fearfulness, left behind whatever shadow she had been born with, become a happy little girl.

Tessa and I now live in Gainesville, Florida. Across town, some knucklehead is using the occasion of the anniversary of our national trauma as an excuse for his religious bigotry. He’s burning copies of the quran. We’re watching “Sell This House.”

Those of us who want to heal are healing.

Korea Plans Mystery Meeting

September 9th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Korea is preparing for the largest meeting of military and party officials in decades, a party congress of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Billboards have blossomed all around North Korea’s capital Pyongyang and military units rehearse march-byes in the suburbs. So what’s the big mystery? What the meeting is actually about.

Considering North Korea has been in the grips of a murderous famine off-and-on for over a decade, considering the fact that the central government tried to choke off a burgeoning free market last year with a set of ham-fisted currency reforms which triggered ruinous inflation, wiped out the saving of most ordinary North Koreans, and broke the rubble of the north’s shattered economy into even smaller pieces, there’s potentially a lot for the WPK to talk about.

But none of those issues wiil be addressed. The only issue likely to surface is the presidential succession. Will Kim Jung-Il name his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his successor? Or will he simply give him several ceremonial posts?

Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-Sung, the original president of North Korea, laid the groundwork for his succession over a decade in advance and carefully prepared the organs of state power for the event. Kim Jong-Il has done virtually nothing, making the prospect of leadership succession in the north as ramshackle as everything else about that blighted land.

The succession is so shaky, and Kim is so unpopular with his own people and many of the party elites, that there is now speculation about the possibility of a coup upon his death. Here’s a link to an article covering that.

Afghan Financial Collapse

September 7th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Regular readers of this column have heard me preach endlessly (it sometimes must seem to you) about corruption. It is a poison which cripples our efforts in Afghanistan, undoes the progress made by our people on the ground, and renders their sacrifice a cynical exercise. The idea of American men and women giving everything they have for a better life for Afghans, and having the payoff turned into pallets of cash smuggled to Dubai, really leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

There is the possibility that the entire corrupt house of cards in Afghanistan may be on the brink of tumbling down. Last week it nearly did when Afghans began a run on Kabul Bank, the largest private bank in Afghanistan and the bank through which a substantial part of the governments funds pass. Army and security force payrolls, for example, are funneled through the bank. The run stripped it of over half of its liquid reserves and prompted the Afghan central bank to step in, force the resignation of several senior officers, and “stabilize” the situation.

For now.

Here is a link to Juan Cole’s column on the subject. Bear in mind that Cole has been a consistent supporter of the war in Afghanistan, calling it, “the right war at the right time.” He offers a good look at the financial structure of Afghanistan, and a healthy dose of righteous anger. Sometimes righteous anger is the only response which makes any sense.

The Coming Food Crisis

September 7th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

While scenes of massive wildfires and Muscovites coughing in smoke-choked streets make great television images, the real news from the Russian heat wave is the ban on exports of grain. The heat wave has impacted the wheat harvest sufficiently that the export ban was seen as a necessary hedge against domestic shortages – the last thing Prime Minister Putin wants to have to deal with right now. The ban was temporary at first but has recently been extended to at least mid-2011.

Russia’s climate troubles have only accelerated the onset of a crisis which has been looming for some time, the growing food shortage. Global wheat prices shot up 38% in July, 3.7% in August, and about 7% so far this month. Almost drowned out by the news of wars and rumors of wars, the number of food riots in formerly food-exporting countries has been growing steadily for years. Yesterday’s food riots in Mozambique, sparked by a thirty percent increase in bread prices, are the most recent examples.

There are a lot of things behind the African food crisis, but one is the land-grab in progress from more developed countries outside the region. This amounts to contracts negotiated with usually-corrupt national governments to turn over large tracts of farm land to foreign corporations for export-only agriculture. The result is not simply hunger but also mounting political instability. The coup in Madagascar last year, which has left the country on the verge of anarchy, was triggered in part by discovery that President Ravalomanana had signed a contract with the South Korea conglomerate Daewoo turning over control of 50% of the nation’s arable land for export-only crop production.

The imminent end of cheap oil has something to do with this as well. One of the principal driving force behind first-world nations negotiating large-scale land contracts with African nations has been the desire to produce bio-fuels. Of course, the idea of devoting vast tracts of land in a country to growing sugar cane for bio-fuel while the people of that country starve is – aside from immoral – unsustainable, as the coup in Madagascar suggests.

By the same token, the mechanism we have chosen to deal with temporary famines in developing countries has had the effect of making the food crisis permanent. When production falters, we ship in food aid, food grown by first world farmers, often with government subsidies, and give it away, destroying the economic viability of local agriculture. We saw the same thing in Haiti, recently, when the influx of foreign medical assistance – desperately needed as it was – had the unintended consequence of driving local medical providers out of business.

There are solutions to all of these problems, and they do not require revolutionary changes. Stop subsidizing bio-fuels. In a famine, purchase local food as a source for aid as a first resort and use imported foodstuffs as a last resort. Here is a link to an analysis piece with a number of good ideas on solving the problem.

More Suicide Bombings in Pakistan

September 6th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Pakistan has been rocked by several suicide bomb attacks in the last few days, targeted against Shiite demonstrations, which left over one hundred people dead. The Taliban has claimed credit for these attacks, but the Taliban claims credit for pretty much all attacks of this sort in the region. If it were the Taliban, it wouldn’t be a departure from previous behavior. I wrote about a series of Taliban attacks on other religious sects in Pakistan last July (link here).

But as to the current attacks, it is far from certain the Taliban are actually responsible. Here is a link to an analysis piece in the Tehran Times. I’m not convinced its conclusions are right, but the article itself gives a really eye-opening view of just how complicated and tangled the politics of insurgency in northwest Pakistan have become. It’s also a good insight into what the Iranians think of the Taliban – not much.

Remembering Objective Peach

September 5th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

A friend of a friend fought in Gulf War One (Desert Storm) and his son fought in Gulf War Two (Iraqi Freedom). In talking about their shared experiences, the son observed that he and his father had fought each others’ wars. “In your war, the Iraqis were supposed to fight, but most of them ran. In my war they were supposed to run, but a lot of them fought.”

Nowhere was that dichotomy as pronounced as at Objective Peach, the code name for a key road bridge across the Euphrates River about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Baghdad. At about 3:00 AM on April 3, 2003, a U.S. battalion combat team of the Third U.S. Infantry Division, Mechanized, fought off the largest Iraqi counterattack of the war. The Iraqis committed elements of three brigades with between 5,000 and 10,000 soldiers, backed by tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery, and they conducted converging attacks from three directions.

Here’s a link to an overview of the battle. This account – let’s call it the “official version” – is factually accurate, and tells you the most important single thing about the battle: the battalion combat team of the 69th Armored, under Lieutenant Colonel Ernest “Rock” Marcone, when hit from three sides by a superior force, and without any clear intelligence warning from higher headquarters, kicked ass and took names.

Here, however, is a link to a different report on the battle, from Technology Review, and one which is in many ways more interesting. While Colonel Marcone and his battalion did a great job at Objective Peach, the entire apparatus of sophisticated electronic intelligence gathering and dissemination failed almost completely. Maybe it worked great at the theater level, but down at the sharp end of the bayonet it was just not there.

Here’s what Colonel Marcone says about the run-up to the bridge and its capture:

“Next to the fall of Baghdad, that bridge was the most important piece of terrain in the theater, and no one can tell me what’s defending it. Not how many troops, what units, what tanks, anything. There is zero information getting to me. Someone may have known above me, but the information didn’t get to me on the ground.”

As to the counter-attack in the pre-dawn hours of the next morning, Marcone had received an alert that an Iraqi mechanized brigade was moving south from Baghdad, but he had no warning of the size of the actual attack launched against him. While electronic surveillance cannot catch everything, it is not unfair to wonder how it missed what was effectively a division-sized attack, one which moved a lot of troops and mechanized equipment into assembly areas and then jumped off, all without any clear warning to the troops on the ground.

This was not an isolated event in that respect, nor was it confined to one division or one service branch. Here’s what the Marines’ lessons learned report concluded about the experiences of First Marine Division: “The Division found the enemy by running into them, much as forces have done since the beginning of warfare.”

I am not inclined to dismiss technological improvement, and I think the troops should have the best tools we can give them. We should never forget, however, that over and over again, battles are won not by technology alone, but by really outstanding warriors.

Peak Oil and the Bundeswehr

September 2nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The German blogosphere has been active following the leak of a confidential report by a think tank of the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces). The Future Analysis Department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center’s report deals with the issue of peak oil, and if was probably withheld from publication due to its potentially explosive analysis.

The concept of “peak oil” refers to the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then levels off followed by a gradual decline. Because so much of the world’s reserves are in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis are tight-fisted with precise information on those reserves, it’s hard to calculate when the world will hit the peak oil line. There is growing concern in official circles that we are approaching that point. For example, the British government has recently labeled concerns about peak oil as being alarmist, while the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has privately been canvassing experts for opinions and advice on peak oil contingency plans.

Contingency planning is in order, if the Bundeswehr is right. The report suggests that the likely peak oil date is 2010 – right now – and that the effects of peak oil on market and prices will begin to show in ten to fifteen years. One of the reasons the effect will be delayed will be the difficulty in separating short term market ups and downs from the long-term structural tightening of supplies. Once that begins however, the Germans expect some dire results.

Reduction in International Trade: The movement of the overwhelming majority of bulk goods world-wide relies upon cheap oil. There are lots of alternatives for generation of electricity and to an extent local transportation, but for moving things by sea it’s tough to top oil. If oil prices go up, it imposes a tariff on trade, and will gradually reduce it. The world has been getting flatter for the last couple decades. It is likely to get less flat in the next few decades.

Politics Replace Markets: China, as I wrote last year, has been making developmental investments in Africa and South America in return for guaranteed buys of oil and other raw materials. As the market is less able to meet the resource needs of every potential customers, politically-derived contracts will assume more and more importance.

Regional Economic Crises: Not every country and region will be able or willing to make the preparations necessary to deal with the tightening of oil supplies. Those which don’t will face particularly dramatic economic crises, and produce regional instability.

And that’s just a preview of the possible ramifications. Expect to hear a lot more about peak oil in the coming year.

What Does This Say?

September 1st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

About a year ago, Iman al-Hams, a 13-year-old Palestinian school girl, wandered into the security zone surrounding an Israeli camp near the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Israeli soldiers who saw her reported to their commander that (from the recorded radio transmission) “a little girl,” apparently lost and “scared to death,” was in the security zone and was carrying a school bag. There was always the possibility that the bag contained a bomb, but Iman was over 100 yards from the Israeli security positions, well outside of the lethal area of a bomb blast.

Soldiers opened fire. Iman dropped her school bag and tried to leave the area. The bag was hit several times by rifles fire, confirming that it did not contain a bomb. As Iman tried to leave she was hit by fire from one of the posts and fell.

At this point an Israeli officer, identified only as “Captain R,” led a detachment of soldiers out of the base into the security area, in his own words “going a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill.” He approached Iman and, according to witnesses, shot her twice in the head, turned to walk away, turned back and emptied the magazine of his assault rifle into her body. The post-mortem examination showed at least seventeen wounds. At no time in the entire incident was any hostile action taken against any Israeli soldier.

“Captain R” then transmitted the following to the troops under his command: “Anything that moves in the zone, even if it is a three-year-old, needs to be killed.”

“Captain R” was charged with illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer, and obstructing justice (for asking soldiers under his command to alter their accounts of the incident).

This week he was acquitted of all charges. One can only conclude this is not considered conduct unbecoming an Israeli officer.

Nineteen U.S. Soldiers Die in Afghanistan

August 31st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In a series of IED attacks in eastern and southern Afghanistan, either nineteen (New York Times) or twenty-one (Daily Telegraph) U.S. soldiers have died in the last two days. This marks one of the the bloodiest two-day period for U.S. soldiers since the war began, but is generally in line with the escalating casualties in the war.

Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, attributes the climbing NATO casualties to the increased operational tempo made possible by higher troop strength on the ground. The troop surge, Petraeus argues, has allowed NATO to hit previously secure insurgent strongholds where resistance has been high.

An End to the Ghurkas?

August 30th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Britain faces daunting budget challenges. It currently runs a budget deficit worse than that of Greece and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has ordered the Ministry of Defense to cut its budget by between ten and twenty percent. Britain’s 69 billion dollar defense budget in 2009 is the third largest in the world, after second-place China (99 billion) and of course first-place United States (663 billion).

The most likely place for the axe to fall is an elimination of the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Gurkhas are an odd part of the British armed forces in any case. The recruits are Nepalese, not British subjects, and one reason (aside from tradition) for maintaining the Gurkas in the face of budget problems in the past was their lower cost. Retiring Gurkha soldiers returning to their homeland were paid a pension only about one third that paid retiring British nationals. A second reason was a shortage of British nationals willing to volunteer for the armed forces.

The cost differential changed last year when British actress Joanna Lumley spearheaded a public drive to allow retired Gurkhas to settle in the United Kingdom with a full pension. Fair’s fair, and in my view the reform was long overdue and is one more thing to like about Lumley, not that one is needed. It did make the Gurkha’s a bit less of a bargain, and the upsurge in British recruiting for the last few years has all but sealed their fate.

Even if Britain eliminates its Gurkha battalions, the tradition will continue. When India gained its independence, the British and Indian armies split the Gurkha regiments between them. Since then the British contingent has contracted while the Indians added a seventh regiment and numerous battalions to each of the parent units.  The Indians currently have 42,000 Gurkhas (”Gorkhas” in Indian service) under arms in forty-six battalions, a strength which dwarfs the approximately 3,500 men still in British service.

Hurray For The Two-Party System

August 28th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Everyone loves to complain about their government and pick at the limitations and flaws in their constitution or charter of governance. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard lectures about how much better a multi-party parliamentary-style government on the Westminster model is than is our own two-party political system with a separate executive and legislature.

Yes, it is true that we often have one party in control of the executive while the other controls part or all of the legislature, which cannot happen in a Westminster-style parliamentary government. By definition, the leadership of the majority in parliament constitutes the executive. A Westminster-style parliament also allows for a more nuanced division of political loyalties, I have been told. Divisions within parties, such as the “Blue Dog” Democrats and the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party, apparently don’t count.

But there is a problem with Westminster-style parliaments. What happens when no single party gets a majority? Well that’s easy. The party with the most seats forms a coalition government. But what if no one party has even a clear plurality? What if the number of seats separating the “winner” from number two is only a handful? What if there is no clear and easy coalition to form which can govern? There is a term for this outcome: Hung Parliament.

We have a Hung Parliament in Iraq right now. Even as we are withdrawing the last of our combat troops, the Iraqis are unable to form a coalition capable of governing, and so the former government continues as a caretaker government, but a largely powerless one due to its lack of a mandate and the desire of its members to find a place in whatever permanent government emerges from the chaos of political wheeling and dealing.

Sure, you say, but that’s Iraq. Of course they are a mess, but that doesn’t prove the parliamentary system is screwed up.

Here’s the thing. Right now, for the first time in history, every key Westminster-style parliament in the world is a Hung Parliament: the United Kingdom, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. In the United-Kingdom an unlikely-bedfellows coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has formed a government. In India the governmental coalition includes eighteen different parties, none with a number of seats even approaching a majority. In Canada there has been a Hung Parliament across three general elections.

In Israel’s entire history there has only been one time when one party held a majority of seats in the Knesset (parliament). At present the party with the largest number of seats, (Kadima with 27) holds fewer than a quarter of the total seats and is not a member of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Israel provides an object lesson in the dangers of a divided parliament. With so many parties and the country so divided, for any party to form a government it must include one or more extremist fringe parties. In catering to their agendas, the policy of the government creeps away from the center and toward the extremes, further splintering the political cohesion of the nation.

The two-party system, by contrast, tends to push candidates and policies toward the center. Sometimes this is given as a weakness of the system. I’m not so sure.

I think the handwriting is on the wall for traditional parliamentary-style governments. There are a variety of electoral and constitutional reform movements pending in all of these countries. Some are not much more than cosmetic patches but eventually more dramatic changes are nearly inevitable.

The enduring mystery for me is why we decided to saddle the Iraqis with a form of government that has so little going for it other than  nostalgia.

The CIA and Corruption in Afghanistan

August 27th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The U.S. government has been pressing the Karzai government of Afghanistan to get tough on corruption, and is seriously discussing making aid conditional on cleaning up the mess. Last month Mohammed Zia Salehi, the Chief of Administration of the Afghan National Security Council was arrested on corruption charges by a U.S. and British-backed anti-corruption task force. He was caught on tape soliciting a new car for his son in return for hindering a U.S. investigation of a money laundering scheme involving Afghan government officials, drug dealers, and insurgents.

It is usually a good sign when someone that high up gets busted. That he was released from custody only a few hours later following the personal intercession of President Karzai is less encouraging.

Now several high-level U.S. officials have confirmed Salehi has been on the CIA’s payroll for quite some time, although in what capacity remains unclear. It is hard to think of an appropriate reason for a senior government official of a nation to be in the pay of the intelligence apparatus of another government, even an allied one. When we find out that members of the military or other government officials are getting paid by the intelligence services of Israel, for example, we put them in prison.

Salehi, it seems, is not the only Afghan governmental official on the CIA’s payroll. Ahmed Wali Karzai, governor of Kandahar province, brother of President Karzai, and repeatedly implicated in drug smuggling and influence peddling, is as well. Anonymous sources – dispute by the CIA – claim similar payments are made to numerous members of the Afghan government and Karzai’s inner circle, despite internal CIA concerns that such payments contribute to a culture of corruption and hidden private income.

Do I sound like a broken record on the subject of corruption? Too bad. This is the cancer which destroys societies.

Largest Security Breach Ever of US Military Computers Confirmed

August 25th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Washington Post reports that Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III has confirmed the most significant breach of U.S. military cyber security took place in 2008 when a flash drive was inserted into a DoD computer somewhere n the Middle East and a program was uploaded into the system. “That code spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control,” he says in an up-coming article in Foreign Affairs.

This is the first confirmed on-the-record penetration of U.S. military classified computer systems by a foreign intelligence agency. The rumor, so far unconfirmed, is that Russian intelligence was behind the breach. According to Lynn, the pentagon’s response to the 2008 attack, called Operation Buckshot Yankee, constituted a turning point in U.S. cyberdefense strategy.

My first-ever column for Great History dealt with the issue of cyberdefense security. It is worth mentioning again that international law still lags behind the contemporary reality of warfare in cyberspace. Cyber conflict is viewed as an extension of espionage, which is not itself considered an act of war for the simple reason that just about everyone does it to just about everyone else. If it we responded with a declaration of war against everyone who spied on our military we would be at war with, among other people, Israel — and they with us for the same reason.

The question is at what point espionage becomes actionable hostility. If a program is inserted which will crash a nation’s early warning and national command control systems, does that constitute an act of war? Right now under international law it does not.

Russian Space Weaponry Update

August 24th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The Russians have, for some time, tried to get the major powers to agree to banning all weaponry from space. Uncharitable individuals might attribute this to the fact that they were behind in research and development of such systems, despite having access to Soviet Cold War-era preliminary work. In any case the U.S. has rejected any such ban.

About eighteen months ago General Valentin Popovkin, a Russian deputy defense minister, announced they were going ahead with development and acquisition of an anti-satellite missile. The announcement appeared to be a diplomatic response to deployment of U.S. anti-missile missiles in eastern Europe, but work on the original anti-satellite weaponry has never really ended and was tied in to the ABM system the Soviets experimented with. Here is a link to a good summary of the work, along with progress and some nice artist renderings of the orbital interceptors.

More recently, the Russian spacecraft producer Energa has floated a conceptual design for a military satellite in the 20-ton range with an orbital life of 10-15 years and powered by a small nuclear reactor. It would have all the normal capabilities you would expect: “monitor territories and airspace, provide informational superiority – including in armed conflicts – and perform target designation and traffic control.” Of special interest, however, is the tantalizing statement that it will also have an offensive capability. What sort, and whether it is aimed at orbital control or a more ambitious capability, is unclear.

Corruption: The Global Disaster Waiting To Happen, Part 2

August 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In my last column on global corruption, I said that there was talk of Pakistan becoming the first “failed state” with a nuclear arsenal, and that Pakistan may only be the tip of the iceberg. If Pakistan is the tip, what is the massive center?


Within the last month China officially passed Japan as the second largest economy in the world. Its economy, at a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $8.75 trillion, is a bit more than half the size if the U.S. economy (currently at $15 trillion). China also has the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, the second largest military budget, and is on-track to become a superpower equivalent to the United States in about twenty years.

It is on track if you just lay a ruler on the graph and draw a line straight out. It is on track if nothing goes wrong, but something is going very, very wrong. Of course I’m talking about corruption.

Last week I wrote a column about the Chinese housing bubble.  When our own housing bubble collapsed, it sent a shock wave through our economy which is still creating after-shocks. China’s has yet to collapse, but inevitably will, and it is beyond the wisdom of this author to predict the long-term effects on China’s continued growth, and even stability, when it does. Let’s just say, “Not good,” and leave it at that.

As you may recall from that column, the underlying structural cause of China’s housing bubble is rampant corruption at the local government level – broad systemic corruption throughout every region of China.

Back in 2007 the Carnegie Endowment released a report on the future of China’s economy and listed corruption as the major looming threat to its future. Why doesn’t China pass some laws and deal with it? According to the Carnegie Endowment report, China had plenty of laws. The problem was the lack of enforcement, since the corruption extends into the legal and judicial system as well.

That was three years ago. Since then, China has launched a number of new initiatives to fight corruption, but according to reporting by the BBC corruption is on the rise, not decline, and in 2010 is listed by Chinese themselves as their number one concern. Last month China announced a new set of laws addressing local corruption. The laws require local officials to report all of their assets and investments, but significantly it does not provide for the public release of this information, and without public scrutiny there is very large “so what?” element to this latest set of reforms. As in 2007, so also in 2010, you can pass all the laws you want, but laws by themselves cannot end the corruption if the structure charged with enforcing them is itself the problem.

In the mean time, China faces increasingly severe floods and, as in Pakistan, the scope of the natural disaster is producing increasing resentment at the ineffectiveness of corrupt local and regional governments to deal with the crisis.

While China is the biggest single potential disaster epicenter for growing corruption, it is by no means the only one, nor will it necessarily have the greatest effect.

The three regions in the world which have the flat-out most corrupt governments – and the slimmest prospect of any improvement in the situation – are Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and the Newly Independent States (NIS), the current catch-all for Russia and the other newly-created national governments created from the ruins of the Soviet Union.

The other thing which all of these regions have in common is that the dominant component of their national incomes comes from resource exploitation. In the case of the Middle East and the NIS, the resource in question is energy, primarily oil. When you combine a single easily-controlled resource of high cash value with corrupted governmental institutions, you have a recipe not only for disaster, but for an entirely new sort of disaster – global non-national criminal cartels with a strangle-hold on key energy supplies within the next fifteen years.

Far fetched? Here is what the United States’ National Intelligence Council said in its Global Trends 2025 report:

Over time, given their far-reaching tentacles into government offices and corporate board rooms, criminals may be in a position to control states and influence market actions, if not foreign policies. For many resource-rich countries, energy revenues provide the basis for the whole economy and energy policies are a key consideration in foreign policy decisions.

The likelihood of penetration by criminal networks is probably greatest in Eurasian markets where organized crime has been an institutionalized part of the political and economic environment and where over time organized crime figures have evolved into influential businessmen and become valuable partners for corrupt officials.

As Russian and Eurasian suppliers capture a larger and larger portion of the energy markets in Europe and Asia, we expect these organized crime networks to expand their operations, fostering greater corruption and manipulation of foreign policies to their advantage.

The only possible upside to this scenario is that they may finally getting around to making the Buckaroo Banzai sequel: Buckaroo Banzai Versus the World Crime League.

Remembering A Piper on the Beach

August 21st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Bill Millin, at the age of 88, passed away this last week of complications from a stroke. Here is a link to the New York Times article on his passing.

You may never have heard the name before, but most of you will remember his portrayal in the film The Longest Day. Bill Millin waded ashore on D-Day along side Brigadier Simon Fraser, better known as Lord Lovat, commander of the British 1st Special Service (Commando) Brigade. Millin later recalled that his kilt had floated up around his waist as he waded through the surf.

Following heavy casualties in World War I, British regulations forbade playing the bagpipes on the battlefield. When Lovat told Millin to play on the beach, Millin reminded him of the regulations.

“Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply,” Lovat explained.

So Millin marched up and down the fire-swept beach playing “Highland Laddie,” “Road to the Isles,” and other tunes Lovat requested. Later Millin met some of the German soldiers manning the beach defenses and they told him they did not shoot him “because they thought I was crazy.”

When Lovat’s brigade pushed inland and relieved the hard-pressed airborne defenders of Pegasus Bridge, Millin again led the way playing the pipes, which is the scene recreated in The Longest Day. Rarely have moments so dramatic and inspiring in a film had roots so solidly anchored in reality.

Regular readers of this column may recall that the actor Richard Todd, who in the film played Major Howard, commander of the airborne troops holding the bridge, was not only himself a veteran of D-Day but had actually been a company commander in Howard’s command and was present at Pegasus Bridge when Lovat’s brigade arrived. Here’s a link to that column.

Corruption: The Global Disaster Waiting To Happen, Part 1

August 20th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

A good many global problems face us today: dwindling supplies of fresh water, diseases such as HIV and malaria which threaten hundreds of millions world-wide, drug cartel trafficking and violence, violence by political and religious extremists, climate change and its impact on agriculture as well as increasingly severe and unpredictable regional weather, increasing demand for energy with finite fossil fuel reserves, over-fishing of the oceans, pollution on a global scale and with global impact.

As daunting as these problems seem, all of them have solutions, or at least policies which can ameliorate their worst effects. But for much of the world, those solutions are impossible to implement because of the 21st Century’s 500-pound gorilla – corruption. All of our best hopes for the future, may founder on the reef of corruption if we do not start treating it as the critical challenge it is as opposed to vaguely annoying background noise.

Transparency International, the German-based non-governmental organization which takes corruption as its entire focus, recently released their annual report on global corruption. It has some arresting observations about the growth of corruption world-wide:

* Corruption in and by the private sector is of growing concern to the general public

* Governments are considered to be ineffective in the fight against corruption – a view that has remained worryingly consistent in most countries over time

* Ordinary people do not feel empowered to speak out about corruption

We talk about corruption in this country, but we talk about it in the abstract. It touches our daily lives mostly through news reports of another governor or legislator charged with ethics violations or nest-feathering. For much of the world, corruption is personal, palpable.

Here in North America, only two percent of people reported paying a bribe within the last year. In the European Union, Western Balkans, and Turkey, the number was between four and five percent. In Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific, ten percent. In Sub-Saharan Africa and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, between twenty-six and twenty-eight percent. And in the Middle East and North Africa, forty percent of the people reported having paid a bribe within the last year.

Transparency International also publishes a ranking of nations by perceived corruption. Using the perception of corruption is necessary, since there is no way to measure corruption directly. Nevertheless, this is clearly not an exact statistical measure, as sources even of perception are spotty, varying from year-to-year and country-to-country. That having been said, the index provides a rough look at relative corruption around the world, by region and by country. In their latest index 180 countries were ranked. New Zealand came in at the number one spot for lowest level of corruption. Somalia came in at 180 with the highest level of corruption.

Interesting numbers, but so what? Take a look at Pakistan for your answer.

Pakistan is a key player in the war on terror, a front-line combatant in fact. It is also a nuclear power, with an estimate arsenal of between twenty-four and forty-eight Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) warheads. There have been reports that North Korea developed its nuclear arsenal utilizing help from Pakistan in return for access to North Korean missile technology. Since Pakistan is such a good pal of ours, we don’t like to talk about that. But I digress.

The recent floods in Pakistan have killed well over one thousand people and left tens of thousands homeless. Religious organizations and local military units have stepped in to help with relief work because the Pakistani government has proven almost totally ineffective in dealing with the emergency. Why? Because Pakistan is ensconced solidly in the bottom quarter of nations world-wide when it comes to honest governance.

Corruption doesn’t “get things done.” In the long run it saps every institution of vitality and effectiveness.

Discontent in Pakistan is rising and do not be surprised to see a change in government within the week, either as a result of an open military coup or a “quiet” coup, as the military picks civilian surrogates to form a new government. Whether this will tamp down growing popular unrest remains to be seen, and the interaction effects of an enormous natural disaster with a government rendered impotent by corruption remain to be completely mapped out. There is talk, however, of Pakistan becoming the first “failed state” with a nuclear arsenal.

And Pakistan may simply be the tip of the iceberg.

Last U.S. Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq

August 19th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The last U.S. combat brigade just pulled out of Iraq, ending the U.S. ground combat mission there. The last 1200 troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, crossed into Kuwait at the Khabari border crossing point shortly before dawn today. The route and timing of this last withdrawal was shrouded in secrecy to avoid any “parting shots” from potential insurgents looking for bragging rights down the road

Whether it’s time to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” remains to be seen. We are leaving Iraq without a functioning government. Ever since the election last March, no party has been able to put together a ruling coalition and the latest round of power-sharing talks broke down last week. As payments to the former insurgents of the Sunni Dawn movement have dried up, attacks on Shiites have increased. The Mahdi Army, the largest and most effective of the Shiite militias, has been quiet since adopting a self-imposed cease fire in 2007, but if Sunni attacks increase and no strong central government emerges capable of tamping down the violence emerges, that likely will change.

It is worth remembering that the dramatic drop in violence in 2007 was due principally to two things which pre-dated the much-publicized surge. Those were the unilateral ceasefire of the Mahdi Army and the rise of the Sunni Awakening. When one of the two main sources of violence in a fight stops shooting and the other one switches sides, things get quiet pretty quick. Regular readers may recall I wrote about that last January.

When you don’t have major political changes on the ground like that, what does a surge get you? We’re seeing the answer to that in Afghanistan.

So now the US combat troops are gone and it is up to the Iraqis to hold together this fragile peace. Are they up to it? One of the groups which does not believe they are is the Iraqis themselves, including the political leadership of the country. There is a growing sense among Iraqi politicians that they have failed their country dramatically. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an emerging sense of how to chart a new course. If there were, we would probably have a coalition government in place.

China's Housing Bubble Ponzi Scheme

August 18th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

You think we had a housing bubble? It’s nothing compared to China’s, as described in a recent article by Charles Hugh Smith. Here’s how it works.

Almost all land in China is controlled by local governments and developers can only get a 40-year lease on the property. The lease payments, and the initial development fees, make up 40% of all local government revenue, so local governments have an incentive to keep lease payments as high as possible. This is further driven by local corruption – lease fees going directly into the pockets of local officials, state subsidized housing units going primarily to the families of local officials, and so on.

At the same time, many large economic enterprises are state-owned, and these state-owned enterprises (SEOs) have access to government loans at or near zero percent interest. They have used their access to free credit to invest in the speculative luxury real estate market, driving the prices higher, so an increasing amount of the liquidity of China’s central banks is tied up in luxury condos. The assets are still there, and are nominally increasing in value, as lease fees to the local governments keep escalating. But the bulk of the Chinese people have been priced out of the market and over 60 million luxury condos are currently vacant across China.

This is another greed-fueled disaster waiting to happen, and when it does, it will have global ramifications. China’s sovereign investment funds are too important to economic activity outside of China for it not to.

Foreign military deaths in Afghan war exceed 2,000

August 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

By unofficial tallies  the total number of foreign military personnel killed in the war in Afghanistan reached 2,0002, including 1,226 Americans and 331 British. This is still les than half the total foreign military deaths suffered in Iraq, but with the official end of combat operations coming up the end of this month, the focus of attention – strategic and political — will continue to shift to Afghanistan.

At the same time, it is worth noting that 1,271 Afghan civilians  have been killed in the first six months of 2010 alone, according to the United Nations. 76 per cent of those deaths were caused by the Taliban, 12 per cent by pre-government forces, a dramatic drop from last year, when 30 per cent of the total was caused by pro-government forces. The sharp reduction in civilian deaths caused by pro-government (mostly NATO) forces was largely due to a 64 per reduction in deaths caused by air strikes due to tighter rules of engagement.

In-coming commander General David Petraeus has “nuanced” the rules of engagement of his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal. As the new rules of engagement are classified, it’s impossible to know what changes have been made and in any case it is impossible to predict what exact effect they will have on troop security and civilian casualties.

The U.S. Shadow War Against Radical Islam

August 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Although covert military action has been a feature of the U.S. war on terror since 911, the scope and tempo of action has escalated dramatically in the two years since President Obama’s election. This New York Times article offers a rare look at some of the incidents from this secret war.

Mission Command and the Army's Capstone Concept

August 13th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

With the official adoption of the Capstone Concept in December of last year, the U.S. Army embraced Mission Command, another phrase for mission-oriented orders. The notion is hardly new, but for those of you a little rusty on the idea, here’s how the U.S. Army’s TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) Pamphlet 525-3-0 The Capstone Concept describes it:

Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent (FM 3-0).

Stripped of the buzz words, what does it mean? More to the point, what distinguishes Mission-oriented orders from other command styles? In a nutshell, mission-oriented orders inform subordinates what objectives are to be taken, not how to take them. That second part is up to the subordinate leaders to work out.

There is a recent article addressing the theory of Mission-oriented orders, as well as some of the historical background on their development, in Small Wars Journal, by retired USAF Colonel Dave Shunk.. Just the other day retired Army Major Don Vandergriff wrote a commentary and elaboration on the original article, and both of these pieces are worth reading. I love thought pieces like this which try to get to grips with the theory and practice of battlefield command. This is a subject theoreticians and practitioners have struggled whit for over two thousand years – that we have written records of.

Here’s what struck me about the two commentaries: the intellectual sources both authors choose to draw on for the roots of Mission Command are the German Army of world wars one and two, as well as a few references back to Clausewitz and Moltke. There are the usual references to Auftragstaktic, as well as dismissive references to the traditional Anglo-American top-down command styles.

People do love to go on and on about how cool the German Army was, don’t they? I wonder why. It’s not because of their record: two world wars, two silver medals. Sometimes I think it’s just because Auftragstaktic, Schwerpunkt and Falschirmjaeger sound so sexy in German.

There is an old, old story in the Army, even older than your author, if you can believe that. A Captain examines three freshly-minted lieutenants to see how good their training is. He assembles them on the parade ground along with a flagpole, a collection of pioneer tools, a sergeant, and a squad of privates. He asks the three lieutenants to compose the best order for erecting the flagpole, given the resources at their disposal, and gives them a minute to think about it. He then asks each of them in turn and tells them their orders are all incorrect. There is only one correct order: “Sergeant, put up that flag pole.”

This story is told to illustrate any one of a number of military truisms, depending on who is doing the telling, but for me the core of the story is the recognition of the obvious logic of mission-oriented orders – and the fact that obvious logic has been recognized by the U.S. Army for a very long time indeed.

If I have a bone to pick with contemporary fans of the German system of command it is that they know a lot more German military history than they do American military history, and most damningly, are inclined to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with “logical” suppositions which are usually wrong. For example, one of the above cited authors compares the “German” system of mission-oriented command with the “Anglo-American” system of rigid top-down command. That’s a pretty good description of the British command style in World War II, but it has nothing to do with the U.S. style.

The British relied on very long, detailed operational orders. Without an army-wide common tactical doctrine they were almost forced to, but that’s a different story. The point is, their field orders ran to tens of pages sometimes and it was almost impossible, until fairly late in the war, for the British to successfully improvise a battalion-size attack in less than 48 hours. When they tried, it usually ended in a fiasco.

The Americans and Germans, in almost identical terms, comment on the length and needless detail of British field orders. U.S. orders, by contrast, were brief and mission-oriented, very similar to German field orders, so lumping the British and Americans into some imagined “Anglo-American” command style makes no sense.

Did we somehow forget all that after World War II? No. The level of command flexibility and low-level initiative demonstrated in the First Gulf War was pretty remarkable. While I cannot testify to the practice of every unit in deployed to Kuwait, at least two of the returning division commanders (Paul Funk of 3rd Armored Division and Ronald Griffith of 1st Armored Division) within weeks of the end of the fighting commented on the fact that at the division level and below the entire war was fought with “frag” orders. Frag orders are short amendments to an existing order, often given orally. The fact that the war was fought with frag order means the original orders were flexible enough that the changing situations – including a change of pivot point and terminal phase line passed down from CENTCOM to VII Corps in the middle of the campaign – could be met with a few minor corrections. That’s only possible when you are fighting under mission-oriented orders.

Another problem with the worshipers of the Wehrmacht’s expertise is that they tend to think that everything the Germans say they did, they did. The U.S. Army, on the other hand, can say “mission-oriented orders” all it wants to but there remains the suspicion that it is just a slogan or talking point, not really understood and practiced.

Here’s an example. In the discussion of the current changes Vandergriff wonders if the talk of Mission Command will just end up a bullet point on a meaningless Powerpoint presentation. By contrast, he points to the German Army which practiced what it preached. He wrote:

Another example of this attitude are the instructions for German

“You must grasp the full meaning of an operation so that, should your leader
fall by the way, you can carry it out with coolness and caution.”

The above illustrates that:

1. The Germans even instructed lower ranks completely about the objective of
an operation.
2. They expect that even the lower ranks are able to lead.
3. They have trained their men to do that.

With respect, it does not prove that at all. The document in question was captured in the pocket of a German paratrooper in Greece and translated by U.S. Army intelligence, which is largely responsible for its wide dissemination. One document in one guy’s pocket proves all these things?

If the Germans had captured an American soldier with a similar document in his pocket, what would that prove? That the American had a print-out of the bullet points and buzz words from a Powerpoint presentation?

The German Army’s record in World War II was not exactly stellar in that regard, either. They talked a good game, but a lot of their leaders got punished pretty severely for departing from the letter of their orders. The U.S. Army, by comparison, was a model of command initiative and excellent leadership. General George S. Patton said that a commander should issue order one echelon down and know the location and situation of his units two echelons down. That, in a nut shell, is an excellent description of the detail level and mind set of the mission-oriented commander.

And it was not, in my opinion, something we “learned” from the Wehrmacht. It’s been a theme in American command styles virtually from the start. Washington’s orders before the battle of Monmouth to his advanced guard are clearly mission-oriented and depend on the commander exercising initiative. The orders of General Ulysses S. Grant, available in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, are models of clarity and simplicity.

That is not to say we’ve never had problems with command suffocation of subordinate initiative. Our problems came after the World War II and I think they had less to do with not understanding the logic of mission-oriented orders and more to do with the nature of small wars and counterinsurgencies – the business we got into in the 1960s.

Stories of battalion, brigade, and division commanders orbiting in helicopters over a single company in a firefight in Vietnam are undoubtedly true. What is also true is that the nature of a small war is that at that particular time that was probably the only element of the battalion, brigade, and division actually engaged with the enemy. In the past, we counted it a virtue for a commander to know where the most critical point was in the battle and to physically place himself there so as to better control the fight. With helicopters and radio links, it’s actually gotten to be distracting and annoying.

Similar stories from Iraq, including the comment during the Battle of Fallujah about the Pentagon trying to fine-tune the battle with a 7,000-mile-long screw driver, have a similar resonance. The battlefield changes. Commanders will want to get their “hands dirty” helping out whatever elements of their command are under fire. They have to learn a different sort of discipline to keep their hands off their subordinates’ decision-making.

I just don’t think they need to read German to figure that out.

Renewable Energy Surge In Portugal

August 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

A recent article in the New York Times by reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal highlights the remarkable stride Portugal has made in shifting from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy. It has pretty good motivation to do so; it is poor in fossil fuels but has relatively abundant flowing water and wind for power generation. As a result, five years ago Portugal made a commitment to move its power generation, to the extent possible, from fossil fuels to renewables.

The results have been impressive. Five years ago only 17% of Portugal’s electricity was generate using renewable energy; today that number stands at 45%, and Portugal has done some pretty creative things to overcome some of the problems of renewables – such as uneven generation. Wind blows at different rates and solar only provides power in daytime, so excess power generated in off-peak time is used to pump water up into reservoirs to use for hydroelectric generation in peak times.

The surge in electrical generation hasn’t made as much of a dent in total energy production, since the transportation net still runs primarily on fossils fuels. In 2011, however, Portugal will become the first country in the world to have a nation-wide network of electric car charging stations.

Here’s an additional article on Portugal’s move to renewables in the Guardian.

Genetically Modified Canola Evolving In The Wild

August 9th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The latest issue of Scientific American has an interesting article on genetically modified canola plants. That genetically modified (GM) crops have gotten out of their intended fields and found their way into other cultivated fields is nothing new. What’s arresting here is that researchers have found GM plants in North Dakota in the wild, far away from any cultivation. “We found transgenic plants growing in the middle of nowhere, far from fields,” says ecologist Cindy Sagers of the University of Arkansas (U.A.) in Fayetteville. And they found them all over the place.

Usually escaped hybrids die out quickly. That these strains are so widespread means they are “stable outside of cultivation” and are cross-pollinating with other varieties. The most powerful evidence of that was the discovery of strains with “stacked traits,” resistance to multiple herbicides, a condition researchers have been trying to develop in laboratories but which Nature has beaten them to. That means the canola plants are trading genetic material with other GM canola plants and evolving fairly quickly.

The concern with this sort of survival in the wild and evolution is that characteristics meant to make a crop more hardy in the field will make the species in general more invasive, making it able to crowd other species out of fields. Hearty crops in the field where you want them are called “weeds” in fields where you don’t. So far, however, this is more of a scientific curiosity than a cause for alarm, considering the fact that 90% of the U.S. canola crop is already genetically modified in one way or another.

Dutch Withdraw from Afghanistan

August 8th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

This last week the Dutch contingent formally withdrew from Afghanistan,  although a few aircraft will remain in theater to support operations for months. The decision was not taken lightly. Last February the Dutch government fell in the midst of a parliamentary debate on postponing the withdrawal.

The Dutch are the first NATO member to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Dutch contingent was not a token one, either. The contingent totaled 1,950 troops and became noted for it “3D” approach to counterinsurgency – defense, diplomacy, and development.  During the four years they were in Afghanistan, 24 Dutch troops died and 140 were wounded.

The word is that the Dutch withdrawal has not influenced France, Great Britain, or Germany in their resolve to stay the course.  There is some confusion, however, as to exactly what that course is.

As the Dutch Army packed up to leave their principal base, the base loudspeakers blasted out the old Animals song, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”

Air Force General Posthumously Pulled From Under The Bus

August 7th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Back in 1972, President Richard M. Nixon threw decorated Air Force Lieutenant General John D. Lavelle under the bus. He felt bad about it, as White House recordings discovered by two biographers confirm. “Frankly, Henry,” Nixon said to his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, “I don’t feel right about our pushing him into this and then, and then giving him a bad rap. I don’t want to hurt an innocent man.”

The issue was whether secret bombing missions against North Vietnam had been authorized or had been ordered by Lavelle on his own, and it was a hot issue at the time. Lavelle insisted in hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had acted under orders, but was unable to prove his claim. The result was that Lavelle was relieved of command, demoted to major general, and forced to retire in disgrace.

So Nixon didn’t “feel right” about flushing Lavelle’s career and reputation down the toilet, but his feelings didn’t inform his acts. When asked directly about the air strikes at a press conference, Nixon replied, “It wasn’t authorized. It was proper for him to be relieved and retired.”

Biographers uncovered declassified Defense Department communications as well as transcripts of the Nixon conversations in 2007 which confirmed that Lavelle acted on orders which originated with Nixon himself. They then began the process of getting Lavelle’s rank restored posthumously. Sen James Webb (D.-VA), himself a Vietnam veteran., pushed for the review as well, and last Wednesday President Obama asked the Senate to restore Lavelle’s reputation and missing stars.

Although Lavelle is deceased, his wife Mary Jo is currently 91, and said, “Jack was a good man, a good husband, a good father, and a good officer. I wish he was alive to hear this news.”

Me too.

Here are links to articles by CBS News, AP, and AFP.

The Intelligence Community: Have We Created A Monster?

August 6th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Last week the Washington Post released the first in a series of investigative articles on the growth of the U.S. intelligence community since 911. It is a fact-packed and eye-opening piece, and the follow-on articles are sure to produce a national discussion on the role, growth, and efficacy of the intelligence community.

Here are a couple interesting items from the article. Something like 854,000 people hold top secret security clearances. Over 3,000 government organizations and private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence gathering. Since 911 we have added over 17 million square feet of office space for intelligence agencies, the equivalent of three complete Pentagons.

The thrust of the article is not simply that intelligence gathering has grown, but rather that it has metastasized. It is out of control and the Intelligence Community has learned little or nothing of value about information sharing in the wake of the 911 failures. The  Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which was created to solve the problems of inter-agency secrecy and turf wars, has, according to the Post, simply papered over the problem with another layer of bureaucracy.

The White House was aware the article was coming and had the ODNI prepare a cogent and well-argued reply, which you can read here. After reading it I have the feeling that it plays “gotcha” a bit with the Post. The Post article is clearly the product of an enormous amount of careful research, but by its very nature some aspects of the intelligence community remained hidden from view. The ODNI is in a position to reveal heretofore unknown facts to poke holes in some of the Post’s analysis – such as the fact that the number of security badges issued to private contractors does not accurately reflect their proportionate contribution to the intelligence establishment as some of them are part-time or temporary hires.

So the ODNI reply makes some good points factually, and makes me wish the Post knew some of this before the article instead of after it, which is sort of the Catch-22 of trying to evaluate secret agencies from open source material. I think once the dust settles the most interesting and enduring question raised by this entire exchange will be recognized as how a free society can monitor and judge the performance of its intelligence apparatus without compromising it. I think it is possible, but I don’t know that we’ve figured out how yet.

But beyond that rather philosophical question we are still left with the Post’s central thesis, and ODNI cannot answer that charge except in the vaguest of ways. Yes, the ODNI admits, coordination remains a problem, but we are “working” on the problem, and making “progress” toward solutions.

Last January, before the Post series appeared, Melvin A. Goodman wrote a piece on the intelligence community addressing seven “myths,” many of which bear directly on the same issues raised by the Post article. Goodman’s piece, however, was in response to the collective intelligence failure which allowed a Nigerian terrorist to board a U.S.-bound airliner and nearly destroy the aircraft and kill its passengers. As with 911, the problem was not failure to gather information but rather failure to share it between agencies and failure to appreciate what the information meant. From Goodman’s article:

“Tremendous amounts of useful intelligence are collected, but intelligence analysis has not been appreciably improved. The NSA had information on the Nigerian bomber that wasn’t shared with the CIA and the FBI; the CIA prepared a biographic study of the Nigerian bomber, which it didn’t share with NCTC. The State Department did not pursue whether the Nigerian bomber had a US visa, let alone a multiple-entry visa, in his possession.”

Goodman’s points are well-considered and the Post’s analysis serves to buttress them with detail. We have not heard the last of this.

One thing to bear in mind when trying to sort through all this material: the annual budget of the U.S. intelligence community currently stands at about $75 billion. By way of perspective, that is more than the total military budget of every country on earth except China (depending on which estimate of China’s military spending you believe), and it’s pretty close to China’s entire defense budget. One thing is certain: our intelligence failures of the last decade have never been due to a lack of resources. They have, if anything, been due to a glut of resources producing competing “empires” within the intelligence community.

At the end of the Cold War our intelligence budget stood at slightly less than $40 billion dollars.  Even accounting for inflation that still means we have experienced a massive growth in the intelligence budget, and the intelligence community, since 911. It’s worth asking ourselves whether we really need a larger intelligence apparatus to deal with a handful of religious fanatics than we did to stare down the Soviet Union and its allies of the Warsaw Pact, with the largest land armies in the world and the second largest air forces, navies, and nuclear arsenal, and with a large, sophisticated, and well-funded professional intelligence apparatus if its own.

China Prepares Anti-Ship Missile Facility

August 5th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Back in February I wrote a column on the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) naval build-up, the most interesting (at least to me) aspect of which was the development of an anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) as a potential counter to U.S. carrier strike groups. There are now indications that China is preparing to deploy its first ASBM unit in northern Guangdong province, co-located with an existing ballistic missile unit. The fact that this coincides with the PRC’s Ministry of National Defense toying with the idea of withdrawing missiles opposite Taiwan is also interesting.

What it means is unclear, which of course is part of its interest. It may be that China is moving to normalize relations with Taiwan, in the wake of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agrement. Maybe so. Relations with the U.S., on the other hand, are likely to get stickier. We Americans are not at our best when we feel nervous, and those ASBMs aimed at our beloved carriers make us nervous indeed.

Here an article from Asia Times and another from AP.

Great History Makes Top 50 History Sites

August 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

We wanted to take a moment and thank all of our readers for their loyalty and support. Obviously you like what you read here because Great History was just included in a listing of the 50 best military history blogs. The internet’s a big place so it’s gratifying to know our voice carries through all that noise. Recognition such as this doesn’t come without buzz from the readership, so thanks.

July Worst Month Ever For Afghanistan

August 2nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Sixty-six U.S. servicemen died in the line of duty in Afghanistan in July, making it the most costly month in the war to date. The previous most costly month in the war was last month, June, when sixty U.S. servicemen died in the line of duty.

There are currently 95,000 U.S. service personnel in Afghanistan, a number which will top 100,000 by the end of August. Most readers know there has been a “surge,,” but few realize how dramatic and sudden the buildup has been. Since early 2009 the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has tripled.

The build-up came with a target withdrawal date. A lot of people said the withdrawal date would cause the Taliban to go to ground and wait us out. I thought that was pretty stupid and said so, but I am not crazy about being right on this one. The Taliban tempo of operations has increased in pace with ours. I guess they didn’t get the memo.

Here are articles from the Washington Post, Voice of America, and Seattle Times.

Arlington Cemetery Scandal Brewing

August 1st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

A scandal has been simmering over poor administration of the Arlington National Cemetery. The remains in 211 graves were either misidentified or unidentified, causing John Metzler Jr., superintendant of the cemetery for the last nineteen years, to resign. Now additional testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee suggest that the number of misidentified graves may be much higher – between 4,900 and 6,600.

Metzler accepted “full responsibility” for the failures and then in testimony blamed his staff for underperforming and Congress for not appropriating enough money. This makes me wonder what “full responsibility” actually means. Of course I’ve been wondering that ever since Nixon accepted responsibility, but not blame, for Watergate.

Renewed Sectarian Violence in Iraq?

July 29th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Forty Shiite religious pilgrims were killed and at least 68 injured by two roadside bombs in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala. This comes in the midst if a constitutional crisis in Iraq — largely unreported here or drown out by more attention-grabbing disasters – brought on by the inability to form a government in the wake of the March 7th elections. Iraq remains in the hands of a caretaker government of Nuri al-Maliki, himself trying to negotiate a leadership role in the next government and running on the strength of his record. The record doesn’t look as good as it did a couple months ago.

The unanswered question is Iraq is whether the relative peace the country has experienced for the last few months is the new reality, or if it is calm before the storm. As the U.S. pulls out, much of the financial and security “glue” which held the ramshackle peace together will be removed as well. Can the Iraqis replace it with a glue of their own? Sooner of later they will have to.

Missing Sailor in Afghanistan Found Dead

July 29th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The body of US Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, missing in Afghanistan since last Friday, has been found. The Taliban claimed to have taken him prisoner after a brief firefight in which his companion, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, was killed. Newlove had been the object of intensive searches by NATO and Afghan security forces for the last several days. His body was found in a stream following heavy rains. No information was released on the cause of his death.

What happens if Israel Attacks Iran?

July 27th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I try to follow, to the extent possible, what is going on with US foreign policy toward Iran, and Israel’s place in that. It’s tough. It is like watching a high-stakes poker game between good players and not knowing what cards the players are holding. There is no way of knowing for sure who is bluffing, who is playing what they believe is a winning hand, and whether that belief is correct. Maybe all of them are bluffing. Maybe none of them are.

One element of the troubling situation with Iran is the uncertainty regarding Israel’s intentions. There has been a lot of saber-rattling, but to what extent is Israel actually prepared to walk the walk? Is their military action contingent on US approval, or might they just launch a strike anyway under the theory that it is easier to gain forgiveness than permission? We don’t know, and I find that more than a little unsettling. I will not say “frightening,” because big tough guys like me are immune to fear — at least in print.

A lot of ink has been spilled on whether or not Iran is actually trying for a bomb and what the effect would be if it actually achieves membership to the nuclear club. For what it’s worth, I think Iran is going for the “Japan Option,” which is not to actually produce a warhead or commit to building one – both Japan and Iran are signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – but to have the technological ability in place to develop a weapon fairly quickly if it considers the global situation changed to the point where it needs to do so. As I say, that’s my guess for what it’s worth, and I’m not convinced it’s worth all that much.

There is no question Iran’s actions have produced an atmosphere of ambiguity. Iran publicly denies any interest in joining the nuclear weapons club, even has issued fatwahs against them, but has been less than entirely forthcoming about the exact state of its nuclear research program.

This reticence to share information may be due to paranoia – the notion that no matter what it says, Israel may be likely to strike simply to punish Iran for its involvement in Palestinian and Lebanese politics. The more information it gives up on its nuclear research program – even if entirely peaceful – the more targeting information Israel has at its disposal and the more damaging the strike when it comes. It may, on the other hand, be due to a desire to cover up an actual on-going weapons program. We are back to trying to guess which cards they are actually holding.

Although a great deal has been argued about whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program and what the potential effects of an Iranian bomb would be, very little public consideration has been given to the potential consequences of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel. William Kritstol, editor of the Weekly Standard and conservative icon, has openly called for the United States to itself bomb Iran and dismissed the potential negative consequences of such a strike as “likely to be limited.”.

I suppose I would find that more comforting if Kristol had not also said, in 2002, that there would be no important negative consequences of an invasion of Iraq, that we would, in fact, be welcomed as liberators. Of if he had not said in 2003, “The first two battles of this new era are now over. The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably.” Or if, at about the same time, when the question of possible sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiites was raised, he had not said, “There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”

For William Kristol, it seems, there is never much of a potential down-side to military action, or to be more accurate, “almost no evidence of that at all.”

But something new has been added to the mix, the recently released report of the Oxford Research Group, authored by Paul Rogers: MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAN: IMPACT AND EFFECTS. What are the likely effects of such a strike?

1. End Domestic Opposition To The Regime in Tehran
The Green Movement is a loyal opposition and it will respond the way any loyal opposition would to a direct military attack on the nation from outside. It will close ranks with the government. Make no mistake, a direct military attack on Iran will end the Green movement’s opposition to the Islamic Republic and consolidate domestic support for the mullahs.

2. Produce Considerable Civilian Casualties
A strike would not simply intend to inconvenience the Iranian nuclear program; it would aim at crippling it. You do not cripple a scientific research effort simply by knocking down buildings and breaking centrifuges. In Rogers words, “at least as important would be the requirement to do as much damage as possible to Iranian attempts to resuscitate a nuclear research and development programme after the attack. It is for this reason that so much attention would be focused on technical personnel, with a determined effort to kill as many such people as possible. Since this would include university facilities and other research centres, the end result would be an attack with a very broad effect.”

In other words, any hope of a “clean, surgical” strike is a pipe dream.

3. Guarantee an Iranian Bomb
Once someone takes the gloves off and actually hits Iran, any remaining reluctance by Iran to go ahead and develop a bomb is likely to evaporate. The first diplomatic move from Tehran following such an attack will probably be a formal withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Then work will start in earnest on a nuclear weapon.

4. More Air Strikes, And Then More Air Strikes, And More Air Strikes Still
Israel will know that the most likely Iranian response will be to accelerate work on a bomb. Again, from the Oxford Research Group briefing, “Perhaps the most important aspect of an Israel attack on Iranian nuclear and missile facilities is that it would almost certainly be the beginning of a long-term process of regular air strikes to further prevent the development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. From Israel’s perspective, there will already be recognition that an Iranian response would be an attempted nuclear break-out, rather than a termination of the programme. Hence, once Israel had started to limit Iranian nuclear and missile developments, it could not easily stop.”

The inescapable consequence of a Middle East locked in a perpetual regime of air strikes by Israel against Iran include an end to any near-term possibility of peace in Gaza or the West Bank, which of course would be the surest ways to cripple the global jihadi/terrorist movement.

5. Crush the U.S. Economy
Right now we are looking at a double-dip recession. A spike in oil prices, increased instability in the Middle East, a possible “third front” demanding US military and intelligence attention and resources, all add up to another body blow to the western economies at the worst possible time.

Is Oxford alone in warning against direct military action against Iran? Far from it. Secretary of Defense Gates has warned of the dire consequences of such an act, as has Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, as have a choir of other military senior officers and officials.

None of that, however, has kept Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) from sponsoring a House bill (HR1553) all but calling on Israel to attack Iran, nor has it kept one third of the Republicans in the House from signing on to the bill.

My take on all this? This is the same “We feel like showing how tough we are and damn the consequences” thinking that got us neck-deep in the Big Muddy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, led us blindly into the longest period of continuous warfare in our nation’s history, led us into it by people who, when it comes to planning a military campaign and weighing it’s possible gains against its likely consequences, couldn’t find their backsides with both hands and a mirror.

But that’s just my opinion.

Another Bad Day in Afghanistan

July 24th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Five or six U.S. servicemen are dead and two captured in Afghanistan. Five died in a roadside bomb attack in southern Afghanistan. One more (according to the Taliban) died in captivity after a vehicle was seized south of Kabul. Two other soldiers in the vehicle are now captives of the Taliban.

Here are articles on the incidents from CNN, Reuters, and AP.

Time to Re-examine Defense Priorities

July 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In the wake of 9/11 we went on a defense spending binge – there really is no other way to view it. Career professionals in defense procurement who are honest will tell you the same thing. It was as if someone turned on a fire hose of money and pointed in at the military. It was not always spent wisely or well, but it sure got spent. Back in March of this year I wrote a column called “In Search of Enough Security.” At that time I made the following observations:

(M)ilitary spending has more than doubled since then (9/11). The actual Defense Department baseline budget has gone from $308 billion in 2001 to $534 billion this coming year, but to that number has to be added another $130 billion for ‘overseas contingency operations,’ and another $350 or so billion for defense-related expenditures not in the DOD budget, and you end up with a cool trillion in real military spending.

We outspend the entire rest of the world combined. Chop out our major allies (UK, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Israel) and we out-spend the rest of the world over one and a half times. China is in the midst of a major build-up. We outspend them by between seven and nine times.

There is no need to identify evil conspiracies behind this torrent of defense spending, The demons were mostly those of our own damaged psyches in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As a nation we suddenly felt vulnerable, a sensation we are unaccustomed to. As a nation we are also inclined to want to fix a problem and defense spending seemed like a reasonable approach. In my opinion it was about as rational as any post-traumatic attempt at self-medication through excess — which is to say not very rational at all.

The most recent budget increases the defense budget, but that may finally be about to change. At last legislators and senior defense officials are beginning to take a hard look at our broken defense procurement system and enormous overhead costs, and trying to find better ways of doing things.

How bad is the problem? For starters, forget about weapons procurement, overseas military operations, and off-budget defense-related expenditures. Just look at the non-operational overhead cost of the U.S. armed forces. It runs us $200 billion dollars a year , and that’s before we buy a single tank or airplane or move a single service person overseas.

I know, more meaningless numbers, right? So here is some perspective on that overhead figure: it is equal to the combined total military spending of the next four largest military budgets on the planet: those of China ($65 billion), Russia($50 billion), France ($45 billion), and the United Kingdom ($43 billion). It is larger than the gross domestic products of 141 out of the 181 national economies in the world, as currently listed by the International Monetary Fund.

And that’s just overhead.

Can we cut all of that, or even a majority of it? Of course not. But there are a lot of things we can do much more efficiently than we manage at present. An independent panel of corporate executives, acting as efficiency consultants to the Pentagon, submitted their draft report yesterday with recommended efficiency savings of $100 billion over the next five years. That’s a start.

More promising still are the early recommendation of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a broad-spectrum group of defense and budget thinkers assembled at the behest of a bipartisan group of legislators, including bedfellows as odd as Barney Franks and Ron Paul. Here’s a link to the draft of the report, released last June, which identifies potential savings of $960 billion in defense spending by 2020.

What we need is a genuine national debate about defense spending, the foreign policy goals that spending is intended to support, and where these stand in our national priorities. The increasingly partisan nature of Washington has made that debate difficult for many years, but growing bipartisan support for a reexamination of defense spending makes it more likely we will hear some reasoned discussion of issues instead of just party talking points.

How bipartisan is it? An increasing number of Republicans are coming out in favor of cuts in defense spending, and here are a few stand-out examples.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) joined Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in sponsoring an amendment to cap defense spending. The amendment was not passed, but a number of Republicans voted for it and it would have capped spending at below the requested amount in President Obama’s 2011 budget.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) sent a letter to President Obama’s deficit commission which argued specifically for defense spending cuts.

Kori Schake, former foreign policy advisor to John McCain and now with the conservative Hoover Institution, recently argues that, “Conservatives need to hearken back to our Eisenhower heritage, and develop a defense leadership that understands military power is fundamentally premised on the solvency of American government and the vibrancy of the U.S. economy.”

Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Iran Confirms Shahram Amiri a Double Agent

July 22nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Last week I wrote a column about Shahram Amiri – the defecting Iranian nuclear scientist who unexpectedly un-defected – speculating that he was a double agent. The semi-official Iranian news agency Fars now quotes an unnamed source in the Iranian intelligence community confirming that Amiri was a double agent.

U.S. officials have claimed that Amiri was an informant for the CIA “for years” while in Iran, passing along vital information on the Iranian nuclear program. Last year he disappeared while visiting Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The CIA claims he voluntarily defected. Tehran claimed at the time he was kidnapped. Amiri made YouTube videos claiming he had been kidnapped and tortured. Now he is back in Iran.

Was he a US spy we kidnapped, tortured, and then left to wander around unsupervised until he finally asked to go home? Unlikely.

Was he a double-agent whose defection and then return was planned all along? Maybe, but that would be an odd ploy, since it would eliminate him as a future Iranian conduit of false intelligence to the CIA.

Was he a genuine defector who had a change of heart and decided to play along with Iranian intelligence to get back in their good graces? Maybe, but that means this is largely his creation and I don’t like his long-term chances back in Iran.

He’s certainly a double agent now. The question remains, how long has that been the case? Any way you slice it, everyone ends up looking kind of stupid, each player to a greater or lesser degree depending on which scenario you buy into.

The unnamed Iranian intelligence source described this goat rodeo as “an intelligence battle between the CIA and us that was designed and managed by Iran. . . . We had set various goals in this battle and, by the grace of God, we achieved all our objectives without our rival getting any real victory. . . . We sought to obtain good information from inside the CIA. While Amiri was still in the U.S., we managed to establish contact with him in early 2010 and obtained very valuable information accordingly. He was managed and guided (by us).”

Here are articles from the New York Times, Global Security Newswire, and CNN with most of what is known about this in open sources. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Langley, Virginia right about now.

Violence Flares in Yemen

July 21st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Yemen has been a troubled state for years, beset by a secessionist movement in the south and periodic tribal uprisings in the north. This last week saw a spike in fighting, mostly in the north where Houthi rebels clashed with the rival Ibn Aziz tribe, which is itelf allied with the central government.

Most of the fighting in Yemen is about familiar complaints: economic disparities between the regions, inequitable division of the nation’s resources, and discrimination along religious sectarian and tribal lines.

Al Qaeda has a presence in Yemen and is trying to take advantage of the mounting conflict to align itself with anti-government rebels and so gain more secure bases in the area. If the Yemenis could tamp down the violence, and find some peaceful solutions to the issues behind them, everyone would be happy except for al Qaeda.

The good news is that Qatar has offered to mediate between the northern rebels and the government, and the rebels are open to the idea. Qatar brokered a cease-fire in 2008 in the north which now seems to be unraveling, but at least they have a track record and the trust of both sides. The Saudis are also prepared to get involved, so with a little luck this can be contained.

Here are articles on the latest fighting from AFP, Reuters, IRIN, and The Guardian.

Deepwater Horizon Update – July 19, 2010

July 19th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The cap placed on the wellhead over the weekend is still holding, but there are a couple anomalies which bear watching. The principal concern has been the pressure in the well, which has been low. The target pressure is 6,800 psi  but the pressure tests have stubbornly hovered below that level. That may be due to a variety of causes but the two most likely are:

1) More oil escaped into the Gulf than thought, depleting the deposit enough to lower residual pressure at the wellhead.

2) The well itself has been compromised and oil and gas are escaping into the surrounding strata.

BP and the government are monitoring the cap. Sunday several “seeps” were detected near the well, and there were several “anomalies” noticed at the cap itself.

Seeps are not all that rare in the Gulf, so do not automatically mean the well shaft is compromised, but if the seeps continue and turn out to be oil from the well, that’s a problem. The “anomalies” at the cap early on appeared to be small leaks. As of this writing (within the last hour) that has been confirmed, but retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s spill response chief, has characterized the cap leaks as “inconsequential.”

Here are three articles on the seepage and cap leaks, from AP, Reuters, and The Irish Times.

The remaining concern is that a deep leak could result in erosion which will render the seabed floor unstable and cause multiple uncontrolled high-volume leaks. As the Dallas Morning News reported today, “Scientists still aren’t sure whether the lower-than-expected pressure readings mean a leak elsewhere in the well bore, possibly deep down in bedrock, which could make the seabed unstable.”

The immediate action being considered is to open the cap and allow oil to flow again into the Gulf to reduce pressure in the well and limit any further damage to the surrounding seabed. Admiral Thad Allen today said, “Ultimately, we must ensure no irreversible damage is done which could cause uncontrolled leakage from numerous points on the sea floor.”

So far, though, none of the leaks and seeps have been serious enough to vent the cap.

Fingers crossed.

Afghan Security Forces Not Ready For Prime Time

July 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

It turns out the Afghan security forces are not nearly as capable as some sources in the army have suggested. In fact, their readiness and proficiency bring to mind President Lyndon Johnson’s assessment of the abilities of the Organization of American States way back in the 1960s, when the world was younger.

“The OAS,” President Johnson said, “couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.”

I don’t believe President Johnson is sufficiently appreciated for his earthy eloquence.

As for the Afghan security forces, once the special inspector general’s report hit the streets, the poop started hitting the propeller. Not only are they poorly trained and equipped, there is a shortage of US instructors and mentors, and the logistical system is rendered ineffective by corruption. (Now that last one is a real shocker.) More troubling, the Army has consistently overstated the security forces’ capabilities and underplayed their shortcomings.

These are the guys we are supposed to start turning the war over to in exactly twelve months.

Here’s a link to the Washington Post article.

Here’s the McClatchy article.

Here’s the L.A. Times article.

Here’s the New York Times article.

The Strange Case of Shahram Amiri

July 16th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Perhaps you have heard of Shahram Amiri, the Iranian scientist who may or may not have defected to the U.S. a year ago and now has returned to Iran amid charges that he was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA. For those not following the details of this still-unfolding story, or simply confused by them, here is a brief recap.

In June of 2009, while on a pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia, Shahram Amiri disappeared. The U.S. has a standing offer to Iranian nuclear scientists of five millions dollars (payable over time) and a new identity if they will defect, and rumor has it we have had several takers on the offer. Amiri, according to the CIA, was one of them, a voluntary “walk-in” who, it is said, provided considerable information about the state of the Iranian nuclear program, possibly including secret facilities not known of in the west.

Things started getting weird, however. Not long after Amiri “came in.” He reportedly  showed no interest in collecting the five million dollars in reward money and in the last couple months started posting YouTube videos claiming he was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA. Last Tuesday he showed up at the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC, sought refuge there, and announced his desire to return to Iran.

Our government was clearly caught off-balance by this. The State Department pronounced him free to go, but seemed confused when asked about the background of his arrival here. He came to study, they said. Oh? Which school?

Um . . . don’t really remember.

Did he defect to the U.S.?

“I just don’t know the answer,” P.J. Crowley, the State Department’s spokesman replied.

Notice, Crowley did not say, “We don’t comment on that.” He said, “I just don’t know.” Wow.

Now Amiri has flown back to Iran where he was, according to the BBC, met with a hero’s welcome.

If you are confused by all this, you are in good company, including, it would seem, the U.S. State Department. What in the world is going on here?

For starters, I don’t find the vague answers from the State Department suspicious so much as evidence of being blind-sided. They all pretty much boil down to, “Huh?” Answers this lame are the result of never having thought about the question, which suggests innocence — if not competence, foresight, or any of a bunch of other desirable attributes we could all rattle off.

Amiri’s story of kidnapping and torture also sounds pretty implausible to me. It’s not that we’ve never done stuff like that; we just don’t usually then let the guy wander around loose in the U.S. making YouTube videos about it. I mean, come on.

If the kidnapping and torture sound weak to us, how do they sound to Tehran? What, one wonders, does the Republican Guard think of all this? And yet, Amiri returned to a hero’s welcome. Maybe later he will be quietly shot. Maybe it will be portrayed as a CIA assassination, which will probably play well to home crowds, no matter how implausible it is on its face.

That is not to say we do not assassinate people – we do. We just don’t usually do so when there is so little to gain by it, and we are unlikely to risk a live human agent inside Iran just to do a little wet work on a guy who made us look like the Keystone Cops a hundred or so news cycles ago.

But what if the hero’s welcome is real?

Someone, presumably one of the shadowy Iranian defectors, told the U.S. that there was a secret nuclear weapons lab in a cave near Qom, Iran. When the “intelligence” was made public, the Iranians let the UN International Atomic Energy Agency inspect the site, and it turns out it was nothing but a hole in the side of the mountain.

Why would a defector feed U.S. intelligence false information suggesting the Iranian nuclear program was more advanced than it actually was? What advantage would Tehran gain by deliberately planting this information through a double agent?

One obvious advantage would be to deflect a potential military strike against a false target, keeping the location of genuine weapons labs (if there really are any) either secret or at least ambiguous. How many strike packages can the Israeli Air Force “sneak” through Saudi air space, after all.

Middle-Eastern analyst Juan Cole  has suggested that Amiri was an Iranian double agent, but he attributes the false intelligence to a different motivation. He suggests Iran finds itself in a situation he calls “Saddam’s Dilemna.” I like his reasoning on this one. Saddam’s Dilemna works something like this:

If you have nuclear weapons, the world leaves you alone. If you don’t have nuclear weapons, and there is no prospect you will, the U.S. leaves you alone but your neighbors can be difficult. If you might have nuclear weapons, your neighbors leave you alone, but the US gets nervous. So the trick is to convince your neighbors you might have nuclear weapons while convincing the US you either have none, or you are so close it is too late to do anything about it.

That’s pretty much what Saddam tried. He tried to convince his neighbors (and domestic political enemies) that he had a potent deterrent in his WMD arsenal, while trying to persuade the U.S. that he was no threat to them. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. Saddam bungled it, as he did so many things in his life, and we all know where that led. I’m not sure it’s a tightrope anyone can walk successfully.

If Iran is trying to do so, it’s hard to see all this having a happy ending.

Tough Day in Afghanistan

July 15th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Eight U.S. servicemen die in Afghanistan on July 14, all in southern Afghanistan in the vicinity if Kandahar. Three died in an insurgent attack on the headquarters of the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) in Kandahar. Four more troops died when their vehicle triggered a roadside bomb and one serviceman was killed in a firefight in the south.
Here is a link to the story.

Say Goodbye to the B1 Bomber

July 15th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The B-1 “Bone” is probably reaching the end of its service life, while the B-52 fleet will soldier on, despite the fact that the airframe age of a lot of those bombers is older than the men flying them. The reason is an interesting blend of budgetary politics, a changing world political order, and Air Force leadership trying (for a change) to get out ahead of the budget decision-making cycle.

Here’s a link to an article with a pretty good take on the background to the decision.

Happy Birthday, France

July 14th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

July 14, 1789 – the fall of the Bastille.

France still celebrates Bastille Day as the birth of modern France, the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Republic. 1789 was an auspicious year for us as well, the year the Constitution was ratified and we became the nation we are today. We celebrate our independence from July 4 of 1776, but it was in 1789 that we truly emerged as the United States of America.

We owe a debt to France from those early days. Without a powerful French fleet and land army, the revolutionary war might have had a different result, or at least taken a good deal longer to resolve. France loaned us money as well, lots of money, to finance our revolution. We defaulted on most of those debts, and the financial impact on the French economy probably hastened their own revolution, so maybe we pulled off two revolutions in the span of fifteen years. Sic semper tyrannis.

Of the western European states, we have since fought major wars against Britain, Spain, Germany, and Italy, but never France. France is one of our principal NATO allies and has about 3,000 troops currently in Aghanistan. One of those soldiers died in combat last week. France learned of his death today, on its birthday.

French President Sarkozy announced the soldier’s death, met with soldiers who had fought in Afghanistan, many of them wounded, and then vowed that France will continue to do its duty in Afghanistan as long as necessary.

Sincere birthday wishes to our friends and allies across the Atlantic.

Here is a link to an article about Sarkozy’s announcement.

Here is a link to a Stars And Stripes article with the impressions of U.S. troops fighting along side the French in Afghanistan.

Deepwater Horizon – Worse To Come

July 10th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The April 20, 2010 well blowout and fire at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf og Mexico continues to hemorrhage oil into the Gulf of Mexico. More troubling are the signs that the high-pressure discharge of oil, gas, and particulates is weakening the geology of the ocean floor around the wellhead. Cracks have formed in the ocean floor and oil has begun leaking from those cracks as well as from the wellhead itself, suggesting that the integrity of the well shaft itself has been compromised, either by the high pressure flow or damage sustained during the failed efforts to “top-kill” the well with high pressure mud.

The appearance of cracks in the ocean floor suggest that the pressure of the blowout has not only weakened the structure of the floor but may also have partially hollowed it our under the well head, raising the possibility of a partial collapse of the sea floor. Some not-very-well-sourced reports have raised the possibility of an imminent large-scale collapse of the seafloor in the area of the well. Let’s hope those are just hysterical crackpots being themselves.

Of interest is the fact that no one outside of BP knows the details of the geology under the well site because BP did the geological survey and refuses to release the information – classifying it as proprietary trade secrets. Beyond that, no one has any experience with an event of this type or magnitude, and so no one knows what’s likely to come next. Some sort of geological activity is possible, even likely, but the results of it are unpredictable beyond giving a range of outcomes.

One possible outcome is localized subsidence around the wellhead resulting in ocean floor rock and mud being forced into the fissures around the well by the pressure of about five thousand feet of water above it, and serendipitously repairing the ocean floor. That would be nice.

At the other end of possibilities is a sudden and fairly large collapse of the ocean bottom which could release up to several billion barrels of oil into the ocean (this is, by the way, possibly the largest single oil deposit on the planet) as well as creating a tsunami which would at least affect the other nearby deep drilling platforms, and could (depending on intensity) devastate all of the Gulf states.

That wouldn’t be near as nice, particularly as I live in Florida.

Here is a link to a good review of the disaster to date along with a non-hysterical look at the developing geological problems.

Is a Negotiated Solution in Afghanistan Possible?

July 9th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Although there is talk of Karzai trying to open back-door negotiations with the Taliban using Pakistani military intelligence as a go-between, it is not clear that he can pull off any sort of settlement, and it won’t be clear for some time. In fact we may never know whether it was possible in a strict sense – just because someone fails in an attempt does not mean they could not have succeeded had they tried a different t approach.

Here is a link to a New York Times article with a solid take on Pakistan’s position in all this – what they want and what role they feel they can play.

Here is a link to a Washington Post article which gives a good sense of who the players in a possible negotiated settlement might be and what the obstacles to such a deal are.

I found it particularly notable that the author, Daniel Serwer, makes a point about the President’s recent West Point graduation speech. He notes that the president clearly articulated out desired end-state for Iraq — “an Iraq that provides no safe haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant.” He made no similar statement concerning the desired end-state in Afghanistan. No reasonable settlement of the Afghanistan conflict is possible without such a goal clearly in mind. As I have observed on more than one occasion, it is hard to end a trip when you don’t know the destination.

Turkey An Emerging Global Player

July 8th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Despite the misplaced panic about Turkey joining Iran in some new Axis of Islamic Evil, Turley shows every sign of emerging as a force for global peace and stability. The repeated electoral victories of the Justice and Development Party have enabled Turkey to accomplish several things, most notable among them being a dramatic reduction in the role of the military in Turkish political life. Considering there have been four military coups in the last forty years, that’s a considerable and positive accomplishment by itself.

Turkey’s principle foreign policy goal is refreshingly far-sighted: zero conflict with its neighbors. It has reduced tensions with Iran as well as increasing trade, but it has also dramatically reduced tensions with Iraqi Kurdistan and promoted trade there as well. About half the foreign firms working in Iraqi Kurdistan are Turkish, and relations with Turkey’s own Kurdish population have improved. Turkey has reached out to Armenia, although the fault lines run deep there, and has gone far toward improving relations with Greece. Relations with Syria have improved as well and Turkey used that as a platform for brokering informal talks between the Israelis and Syrians over the Golan heights. Those talks looked like they might go somewhere until Israel’s disastrous invasion of Gaza brought everything to a halt.

The fear that Turkey is turning away from Europe and the west, and toward Iran and fundamentalist Islam, appears  to be unfounded. Turkey rather seems ready to serve as a bridge between West and Middle East, both economically and diplomatically.

Turkey’s motives are not altruistic, of course, but there is nothing wrong with enlightened self-interest to my mind. Turkey has had to deal with the fall-out from the US-led war in Iraq, particularly in the Kurdish region. It has done so pretty well, all things considered. As an active NATO member it currently has troops fighting in Afghanistan, another US-led war. It does not want to deal with the fallout from a third US-led war in Iran, and so is doing what it can to defuse that situation. The uranium enrichment deal it put together with Brazil was in pursuit of that goal. As near as I can tell, Turkey has no more interest in seeing Iran with nuclear weapons than we do. The difference is one of approach, not goals.

I think it is wrong to look at Turkey’s normalization of relations with Iran as a shift away from Europe or the US. Turkey is still committed to the west. Diplomacy is not the zero-sum game it was in the Cold War, nor is it a rigid scale along which a country moves, with us at one end and Iran, or Russia, or al Qaeda at the other end.

It is true that Turkey no longer enjoys the close relations with Israel it once did, but that is due less to a deliberate move away from Israel by Turkey and more to the current Israeli government’s habit of treating its allies like condoms.

Here is a piece by Juan Cole on the deteriorating relations between Israel and Turkey.

Here is a good piece from Foreign Policy in Focus on the direction of current Turkish domestic and foreign policy.

The First Step Toward Programmable Matter

July 6th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Darpa (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in science fiction films is often cast as the evil agency funding the horribly misguided weapons research which gets out of hand and threatens to destroy life as we know it. It the real world, they are the guys with the coolest toys.

Take, for example, the idea of programmable matter. It’s been a science fiction concept for decades, but in 2007 Darpa decided it was time to get going on a real world prototype. Darpa funded researchers from Harvard and MIT, and the result is the recently-unveiled self-folding origami panel. It’s a sheet less than a half-millimeter thick, divided into triangles and covered with thin actuators and electronics. When triggered, the material folds itself into the shape of either a plane or a boat.

Admittedly, this is not exactly the quicksilver terminator. But it is a start toward programmable matter which Darpa sees as eventually leading to self-altering uniforms, radical variable-geometry aircraft, and even a “universal spare part.”

Here is a link to an article and a video of the sheet folding itself into a plane and boat.

Here’s a link to a little more detailed article about the research.

Taliban Bombs Moslem Shrine in Lahore Pakistan

July 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Taliban suicide bombers attacked the shrine of the patron saint of Lahore on Thursday evening, leaving at least 42 dead and wounding 175. On one level this is a clear effort by the Taliban to destabilize Pakistan, and bring home to urban Pakistanis that there is a price to be paid for government campaigns against Taliban strongholds in the northwest.

Beyond this fairly obvious motivation, however, the bombing show something else. The recent targeting of holy sites in Pakistan by Taliban suicide bombers (Shiite religious processions in December and February, in May a mosque of the Ahmadi sect, and now a Sufi Moslem shrine) highlights a theological divide between the radical Wahhabism of the Taliban and the overwhelming majority of the rest of the Islamic world.

Wahhabism forbids music (as is often used in Shiite religious processions) and the visiting of religious shrines to gain God’s favor (a feature of Sufism), hence the attacks on religious events and buildings the Taliban considers heretical.

Out of 1.6 billion Moslems world-wide, there are probably only about 20 million Wahhabists, and most of them live in Saudi Arabia where it is the official state religion. Only Saudi oil money gives this branch of Islam any traction at all outside of the Arabian peninsula. Oil revenues have funded mosques and religious schools throughout the Islamic world and have taken control of a lot of the Islamic media — in other words wherever money talks, it talks Wahhabi. It still hasn’t stuck at the grass roots level  most places except among the Taliban. The Taliban is a religious minority even in Afghanistan, and a fairly unpopular one at that.

They aren’t making a lot of friends in Pakistan these days either.

Here is a Pakistani report on the bombing.

Here is a report from Business Week’s correspondent in Pakistan.

Here is a commentary by Juan Cole.

F-35 Obsolete On Arrival?

July 2nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

It’s no secret I’ve thought the cancellation of the F-22 Raptor in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter made pretty good sense. Now it begins to look as if the F-35 is facing some similar problems. Escalating program costs and delayed introduction to service are symptoms, but they are not the core issue. The core issue is value delivered.

The assumption of both the F-22 and F-35 designs was that their advanced electronics and stealth capabilities would give them a degree of survivability in the air which would make their investment worth while. They would cost a lot but they would deliver good value for that investment. The rate of development and adoption of advanced radar and surface-to-air systems by potential adversaries, notably China, changes the numbers in that calculation. F-35 costs more and more, and yet its value-delivered looks like less and less. Here is a link to a Defense News article covering this.

It seems to me that the heart of the problem is that F-22 and F-35 are, in an odd way, legacy designs. We have a tradition of pushing manned strike aircraft through enemy air defenses to deliver ordnance on target, and we’ve been able to accomplish that consistently by keeping a technological edge over the opponents. That may be an aircraft-dependent edge, in the case of the F-117 stealth fighter and its follow-on designs. It may be an electronics edge, as in the case of various “Wild Weasel” dedicated electronic warfare aircraft and a variety of EW jamming pods and radiation-homing missile carried by strike aircraft themselves. It may be a doctrinal edge, allowing all these other features to come together in enemy airspace.

Whatever the explanation, we have always been able to overcome ground-based air defenses and push through strike packets. The F-22 and F-35 price tags were a reflection of the escalating costs required to do exactly that – push through increasingly sophisticated and lethal ground-based air defense systems. The problem is those systems seem to be increasing their capabilities faster than we can design aircraft capable of surviving them.

What is the answer?

First, we have to have a clear idea of what the requirements of strike missions will be. The Air Force already has a study under way to assess that. A big part of that will have to be figuring out the environment in which we will have to deliver strike missions. There are two very distinct environments for strike missions.

One is against low-tech opponents, such as the Taliban and al Qaeda. Target identification is problematic but the ground threat is low. Missions like that really benefit from a human in the cockpit to make tactical decisions over the target. A high-tech solution is not always the best solution in this case. Aircraft with long loiter times, fairly slow speed over the target, and preferably two sets of eyes in the cockpit, are best for this.

The second environment is high-tech and high-intensity. Deploying enough manned aircraft to survive and penetrate this sort of air space may end up bankrupting us. I predict we will start hearing voices – faintly at first – questioning the high-tech manned-aircraft solution to this problem. It goes against a lot of Air Force tradition, but unmanned vehicles – either drone aircraft or cruise missiles — are almost certainly a more affordable and sustainable solution to this problem. So much of what we spend on F-22 and F-35 is spent to keep the pilot alive. If there is no human being in the vehicle, we can take a much more dispassionate view of cost versus return in saturating a system with low-cost low-profile vehicles.

If you want an idea of what such an aircraft might look like, here’s a link to the just-unveiled X-45 Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), designed for suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) and regular strike missions in a high-intensity environment. Why does this make sense, aside from eliminating the pilot as a potential casualty when the vehicle is lost? Modern combat aircraft are limited in their performance by the pilot, not the airframe or power plant. Unmanned aircraft can make turns which would leave a human pilot unconscious or dead.

Unmanned aircraft also have no life support systems, no canopy, no ejection seat, no cockpit armor – all things designed to let the human pilot do his or her job and survive the experience. As a result, a UCAV with payload equal and performance superior to existing fighters will come in at about 10,000 pounds – one third to one quarter the weight of a conventional plane.

This may take some getting used to, but it’s what’s coming.

Pentagon Nominates Living Soldier for Medal of Honor

July 1st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

For the first time since the Vietnam War, the Pentagon has nominated a living soldier to receive the Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for heroism. The action in question took place in Afghanistan in the fall of 2007. Since the nomination is still under consideration and may result in award of a lesser decoration, the nominee’s name remains confidential. Reportedly even his family does not know the recommendation has reached the White House and is under presidential review.

Here is a link to the complete story in the Washington Post.

Congress Cuts Civilian Aid To Afghanistan

July 1st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The US Congress has cut civilian aid to Afghanistan by almost 4 billion dollars in response to growing evidence of corruption. Here is a link to an article from BBC. Afghanistan is now listed as the second most corrupt country in the world (after Somalia, but presumably closing the gap) by Transparency International. Money for contractors providing security for road construction projects has reportedly been paid directly to the Taliban as protection bribes – which I guess is one way of delivering security. There have been persistent reports of pallets of cash leaving Kabul by plane for Dubai, a mix of drug money, bribes, and stolen US aid money. Whatever happens in Afghanistan, Karzai’s family and cronies will probably have a safe and comfortable future.

I hate sounding like a broken record, but this is the core problem with our counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. Our campaign requires significant improvements to infrastructure and governance, but those are things we have little control over. We can appropriate money until the cows come home, but we cannot buy good government and we cannot force it at gunpoint.

Russian Agents Busted

June 29th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The New York Times (link) just broke a story on the arrest of ten people in the Washington DC area, arrested on federal charges of serving as secret agents for the Russian government. Their job allegedly was ”to search and develop ties in policymaking circles” in the United States as well as send back intelligence reports.

Each defendant was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government. The crime carries a maximum penalty of five years. Nine of the ten were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which could land them  in the slammer for another twenty years..

In other words, this does not appear to have been a hard-core espionage ring aimed at gaining top-secret defense-related information. What these folks were probably doing (based on what they have been charged with so far) would have been legal if they had registered as agents of the Russian government. They were (again, based on what charges have been filed so far), secret lobbyists. Their crime was in systematically concealing their ties to the Russian government.

We’ll see what develops. It is possible these initial charges are just the basis for the arrests and more charges will follow, although this reportedly is the end result of a multi-year FBI investigation, so these may be the final charges.

Given the often-military orientation of this column there may be a tendency to shrug off a case like this since it does not involve defense-related espionage. But there are reasons people acting on behalf of foreign governments need to step up and say so. There are enough legal ways to corrupt and distort the policy-making process as it is. People who feel the need to do so in secret are, one would presume, up to no good.

Flashpoint: South China Sea

June 28th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The South China Sea, famous in nineteenth and early twentieth-century romantic adventure yarns as a pirate-infested area of treacherous shoals and countless (well, about 200) uninhabited coral islands, may prove to be the new hot spot in Asia. China claims the entire area but large chunks of it are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. The claims are difficult to adjudicate because of the nature of the islands. Some of them are islands only at low tide, and many of them have no fresh water supply so not only are they uninhabited, they have never been inhabited and there are no historical settlement patterns upon which to adjudicate a claim.

Although these competing claims have simmered for decades, they have occasionally produced naval clashes, the most recent being in the 1980’s between China and Vietnam. What has kept these clashes from getting out of hand has been the fact that the claims were of interest to navigation and fishing rights, but the islands themselves were pretty worthless. Now that may be changing.

Recent oil exploration by Exxon Mobile in waters claimed by both Vietnam and China have cranked the threat level higher. If oil is discovered in this area (and its discovery has been anticipated for some time) everything changes. Territoriality suddenly becomes very important, and that means a basic difference of opinion between the U.S. and China over territorial waters becomes more important: we recognize 12 miles, they claim 200 miles.

Also, lingering bad feelings from the last naval clashes two decades ago have produced a naval arms race in the region. China is building a large naval base on Hainan Island, where it plans to base its new aircraft carrier. Since none of the other regional powers have much chance of contesting Chinese surface or air superiority, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam are buying submarines. As the waters become crowded with prowling submarines, the chances of a collision multiply, especially since they are new to the submarine business, and are unfamiliar with underwater rules on right of way, direction, and depth.

Here is a very good article covering the background and key points in the growing tensions.

McChrystal Gone – Now What?

June 24th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I had originally intended to write a column about the imminent departure of General McChrystal, but what I had to say was pretty much the same thing an ocean of writers from all points on the political compass agreed on: time for McChrystal to hang up the uniform, take his multi-million dollar publisher’s advance, and write his book. He has either forgotten how to function within the chain of command or he deliberately staged his own departure. Why would he engineer his own relief? Better to depart now, some have suggested, for openly criticizing policy than be remembered as the failed general who supervised the evacuation under fire of Kandahar — or Kabul. People won’t be as anxious to read that book.

Ungenerous and pessimistic assessment? Perhaps. We’ll see.

But whatever the genesis of his departure, much more important are the strategic stress fracture lines which the indiscipline and immaturity of his staff exposed by their unguarded comments.

On the purely mechanical level, the scorn heaped by his staff on others in the administration reflects a divide – always present and always fractious – between the advocates of counterinsurgency versus the proponents of counterterrorism.

Counterinsurgency aims at reshaping a nation and its society over the long haul, emphasizes infrastructure improvements, ground-level security, and building a bond between the local population and the security forces. Its purpose is to reduce the ability of terrorists not only to operate in an area, but to draw recruits and non-military support from it. “Hearts and minds” may be an over-used term, but it gets used so much because it hits the nail on the head. Counterinsurgency is about winning hearts and minds.

Counterterrorism is about killing bad guys and . . . well, no, that’s pretty much it.

Are these two approaches necessarily in conflict? Can’t we carry out a counter-insurgency while also prosecuting a vigorous anti-terrorism campaign? It’s tough, and the controversy over drone aircraft strikes is a window into that difficulty.

The CIA has been one of the advocates for drone aircraft strikes against “high value” targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The prosecution of these strikes is counter-terrorism at its most primal level. The Predators fly out and destroy a target believed to hold important terrorist leaders. The counter-terrorist folks like this because it kills bad guys without putting our own personnel at risk. The counter-insurgency people don’t like them because they enrage everyone living around the strikes and so generate many times more potential insurgents than the terrorist leaders they eliminate.

The counter-terrorism guys say that doesn’t matter, because these strikes have the potential to decapitate the terrorist leadership. The counter-insurgency guys point out in response that the Predators rely on good human intelligence on the ground, and the more we piss off the people on the ground the less good HumInt we get and the less effective the Predator strikes become.

There is now a group of analysts within the CIA itself who are increasingly disillusioned with the long-term efficacy of their own UAV strike program. (Here is a link to an article on that.) As the strikes go on and on without producing the expected collapse of these “decapitated” organizations, the strike criteria has become broader and broader, and some charge that the strikes continue in part because they are seen as a way of showing the public that we are “doing something,” even if it isn’t producing much of anything but bodies, rage, and more Taliban recruits.

Counter-insurgency, on the other hand, has its own problems, and nowhere are they more evident than in Afghanistan. First and foremost, a counterinsurgency campaign requires the civilian government it is being waged in support of to be worth more than a bucket of warm spit. We, however, have no real control over the value of the indigenous government. We can say we support democracy, but if the government is a corrupt election-stealing organized crime family, there’s not much we can do to fix that. We can overthrow the government, of course, and replace it with one of our own choosing. We even have a word for that sort of government: “Quisling.”

The real problem with the debate between the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism camps is simply this: we do not have a sufficiently clear strategic vision to decide the issue. We do not have a clear vision of the peace we wish to attain, and so we have no clear idea of the sort of war we should wage to attain it. We are arguing about means, and it is a sterile, meaningless argument without hope of resolution until someone musters the courage and wisdom to tackle the real issue — objective.

What is the peace we seek? What is the shape of the post-war world in which we wish to live? That is the first question that must be answered in order to craft a coherent strategy. Until we do that, we will continue to flounder.

Wounded Warrior Program Broken?

June 22nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

In 2007 the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Program established thirty-five Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) in response to the shocking failure of conventional Army medical facilities – most notably the Army’s Walter Reed Hospital – to provide effective care for soldiers recovering from wounds and injuries. The WTUs were intended to receive soldiers from deploying units who were undeployable for medical reasons – injuries or illness, as well as provide care for returning wounded soldiers. The purpose was to provide an environment in which injured, wounded, and ill soldiers could recover quickly and return to full duty status. (Here is a link to the Army’s WTU web site.)

This is a noble idea. It has, unfortunately, gone badly off the rails.

For units preparing to deploy, the WTUs have, according to some reports, become dumping grounds for problem soldiers. (Here is a link to a Tom Ricks column quoting several serving officers on the subject.) This has become so widely known tht the troops for whom the WTUs were created consider it demeaning to be assigned to the units.

At the other end, returning wounded and traumatized soldiers, instead of receiving personalized care, are often simply dumped into WTUs where they are “warehoused,” in the words of one returning wounded Iraqi veteran. Soldiers with PTSD symptoms are given one consult with a nurse each week and the rest of the time are heavily medicated – not the best way to deal with depression or suicidal feelings. (Here is a link to a report on returning wounded veterans in WTUs.)

The Army needs to clean up its act with respect to primary care facilities for wounded soldiers, but it also needs to clean up the WTUs. Started with the best of intentions, it now appears that they have suffered from “mission creep”  and taken on duties which, far from complementing their primary mission, actually have compromised it.

Korean Update

June 21st, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

No telling what will happen next in the Korean peninsula, but some background never hurts. This is a link to the Congressional Research Service’s latest briefing on North Korea – what’s going on there, what our policy goals are, a history of our engagement efforts, and continuing concerns.

Afghanistan's Trillion Dollar Screw Job

June 20th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

You know how whenever anyone wins the big lottery, about a year later you can read about how it ruined their lives? Well, now you can add Afghanistan to that list.

The last week or so folks have been all a-twitter about the report of hidden Afghan mineral riches – a cool trillion dollars worth, by some reports. Why this is news is a good question. I mean, the realization that minerals generally found in remote, mountainous places are present in Afghanistan, one of the most remote, mountainous places on earth, is not exactly a gee-whiz moment. There have been reports of the copper wealth present in Afghanistan for years. Really, the big news in this new revelation is mostly the number – one trillion dollars. That’s what’s getting the attention, and of course it’s just an estimate, which is a polite word for WAG.

So if this is a non-story, why am I writing about it? In part it’s because a few readers have asked about it, and if readers are actually curious about something, I figure I should try to scratch that itch.

But really this harkens back to a column I wrote about a year and a half ago about the Congo. The parallels between the Congo and Afghanistan are striking – physically remote, undeveloped, dirt poor, and possibly sitting on a huge pile of valuable minerals. In the Congo’s case we’ve known about them for a long time, long enough for the Congo’s neighbors to turn the Congo into a living hell. The conventional wisdom is that Afghanistan’s closest neighbors will, over the course of the next generation, probably make Afghanistan a living hell as well – even more than it already is.

Another lucky lottery winner.

Here’s a link to a New York Times article titled, appropriately enough, “The Curse of Plenty.”

Violence Mounts in Kyrgyzstan

June 18th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

I’ve written about the problems in Kyrgyzstan several times. It’s not something making the news most places. It started with the fall of a pretty corrupt government and now seems to be drifting into ethnic cleansing against the Uzbek minority and the possibility of wars with its neighbors over border issues. This block of former Soviet republics in central Asia is a potentially very bad neighborhood, and I have the feeling we will soon look back on the comparative stability of this last decade with some nostalgia.

Here is a link to an article on the latest developments.

Here is a link to another article on the violence, this one from Radio Free Europe.

Turkish Relations With Israel Deteriorate

June 17th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Turkey and Israel were once fairly close allies, but all of that is unraveling quickly, and that is bad news for just about everyone involved. The interesting thing, to me, is that some members of the U.S. Congress are tying this to Turkey’s vote against U.N. sanctions against Iran and see it as a general move in that direction. This ignores a couple things.

First, it ignores that fact that Turkey brokered a uranium enrichment deal with Iran and Brazil after we gave them the go-ahead, and it was only after they got the deal we wanted that we changed our minds and pulled the rug out from under them. See my previous blog on that score.

Second, the attack launched by Israeli commandoes was against a Turkish ship in international waters and killed eight Turkish citizens and one U.S. citizen of Turkish descent. The idea that being upset about an illegal attack in international waters of one of your own nation’s ships and which left your own citizens dead is “evidence of a shift toward Iran,” is just plain loopy. It is proof that once a certain breed of political terrier gets a bone between its jaws, it just cannot let go.

Turkey has troops on the ground in Afghanistan and almost three quarters of the aerial supply tonnage for the effort in Afghanistan flows through Incirlik airbase in Turkey. Turkey is a valuable U.S. ally and a key NATO member, but there’s a fair chance we’re ready to piss all of that away over the Gaza blockade and a set of Iranian sanctions which everyone agrees won’t work.

To quote Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, “Sell Crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.”

Here is a pretty good update and analysis on the situation between Turkey and Israeli from Juan Cole.

Iran Nuclear Stew Simmers

June 15th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

With Iran’s announcement of its plans to open an additional uranium enrichment plant, and a move in the Iranian legislature to reduce Iran’s relationship with the International Atomic Energy Administration, the pot continues to simmer. Global Security News has an interesting update (link here) which makes a couple interesting points. Saudi Arabia has, apparently, already given Israel unofficial over-flight permission – nothing official, of course, merely an assurance they will “look the other way.” That assurance was backed up by a recent exercise the intent of which was, apparently, to make sure the Saudi Air Force did not accidentally scramble and intercept an over-flying Israeli air strike packet.

Now that’s an interesting security exercise.

Remembering The Bocage Part 2

June 13th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Last time I discussed the enormous tactical problems the bocage presented to the United States Army in World War II and how it exposed shortcoming in the combined arms doctrine of not only the United States, but also every other army in the war. Committing tanks and infantry as separate echelons to deal with distinct threats – antitank weapons or automatic fire – simply did not work in the Norman hedgerow-enclosed micro-battlefields.

One contributing problem was that, although the U.S. Army had state-of-the-art combined arms doctrine on paper, it had not practiced it as well as needed in live training exercises. Infantry-artillery cooperation was well-practiced, in large part because it was comparatively easy to have an artillery forward observer team train with infantry. Tank-infantry joint training was administratively more difficult to arrange and so it happened less often.

Regardless of the reason, U.S. attacks in early and mid-June of 1944 stalled in the close bocage terrain. It was not U.S. policy in the face of high casualties and failure to just keep trying the same approach until someday it worked. Something had to change. But how?

The sense at 1st U.S. Army (General Bradley commanding at that time) was that centrally-developed solutions pushed down to the divisions were probably not the right approach. The divisions in the line had plenty of experience with the problem and plenty of talent to draw on. The divisions were told to develop solutions and train their troops accordingly, to do so without interrupting continuing operations, and to do so in time for the upcoming attacks in the first half of July. The 29th Division provides a good example of how this ambitious directive was accomplished.

The division had conducted costly and unsuccessful attacks from June 16-18 and again on the 20th, at the end of which time it was exhausted and spent. Major General Charles H. Gerhard continued to command the division’s frontline operations and directed his deputy commander, Brigadier General Norman Cotta, to devote himself to solving the problem.

Cotta assembled his team, reviewed the experience of the recent battles, and within days had developed a set of tactics to cope with the problem. Using troops pulled out of the line for rest, a demonstration unit of a tank platoon, an infantry platoon, and an engineer squad were assembled, briefed, and on June 24 demonstrated the new tactics in a hedgerow area in the rear. Based on the demonstration exercise, the tactics were modified slightly and division headquarters wrote, printed, and distributed training circulars to all units in the division within the next few days.

The infantry regiment in reserve, which was preparing to launch the July attack, was then rehearsed in the new tactics. The regiments still in the line rehearsed their own reserve battalions and the individual rifle companies as they rotated out of the line into reserve.

The tactics developed involved teaming a single rifle squad with a single tank and coordinating their actions with an engineer team to assist in obstacle clearance, a 60mm mortar team to drop rounds behind the German positions and so isolate them, and an additional BAR for automatic fire. (They originally used a .30 cal. light machine gun but the June 24th demonstration showed it was not sufficiently mobile.)

To insure cooperation between the tank and infantry the squad leader used tracer rounds to designate targets, as well as more conventional smoke grenades. Platoon and company command tanks were given SCR 300 backpack radios, the type used by rifle company commanders, and kept the turret hatch open to accommodate the radio’s whip antenna. Most importantly, ordnance corps mechanics improvised field telephone mounts on the rear decks of the Shermans, using empty .50 caliber machine gun ammunition boxes as covers and tying the phone jack into the tank’s intercom system. The innovation was so successful that most Shermans in Normandy were so modified within a month and it became a standard feature on newly-manufactured tanks from that autumn on.

The 29th Division went over to the attack on July 11th and within hours the assault units had broken through and German resistance crumbled. The experience was repeated by other assault divisions at the same time. It was the opening act of the U.S. breakout, the destruction of the German western armies, the pursuit to the Rhine River, and the ultimate end of the war.

Although the story is frequently told of the Cullen hedgerow device, the truth is that different hedge cutters were developed by different divisions throughout this period, although Cullen’s design received U.S. 1st Army backing and was mass-produced, using salvaged steel from German beach obstacles. But the Cullen device was not the answer to the bocage; it was just one small part of the answer, which was an army-wide intensive search for solutions and a willingness to implement them immediately.

How did the U.S. Army win its war in Europe? Answer this question first: how did it re-write its combined arms doctrine, test it, generate the needed documentation, distribute it, re-train its front-line troops, design, build, and distribute the needed new equipment, and then launch a successful offensive, all in the twenty-one days between June 20 and July 11, 1944?

That’s how it won its war.

Suggested Reading:
Michael D. Doubler, Busting the Bocage: American Combined Arms Operations in France, 6 June – 31 July 1944, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Combat Studies Institute

Remembering The Bocage, Part 1

June 11th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

It’s June, and a young man’s thoughts turn to Normandy. Well, this young man’s have. We just passed the sixty-sixth anniversary of the D-Day landings, and as I write this we are experiencing the sixty-sixth anniversary of the U.S. Army striking up an intimate acquaintance with bocage, the system of Norman hedgerows planted on earthen embankments which divided farm fields and lined most country lanes. It is worth taking a moment and recalling the bocage fighting, in part because it was demanding combat, and those weeks in the bocage constituted a service by our veterans worth remembering in its own right. But beyond that it is worth remembering for what it demonstrates about the United States Army in World War II, and its ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome.

The bocage was a tactically very challenging environment. It compartmentalized the terrain and blocked line of sight, so it was very difficult for forward observers to bring supporting artillery fire in to support an advance unless they were right up with the leading rifle squads – not the preferred location for an asset that valuable and vulnerable.

The earthen embankments not only blocked line of sight, they also blocked vehicular movement, except at the occasional breaks in the hedgerows left open to allow access to the fields by farmers. Those breaks were easy to cover with AT gun fire in advance, and digging a hole in the embankments someplace else took time and telegraphed the attack route to the enemy. Explosives could blow a hole fairly quickly, but the sheer number of embankment to be crossed required lots of explosives, and that put a strain on supply lines as well as being a difficult and dangerous item to haul around right up at the point of contact.

Vehicles tried to drive through the hedgerows but tanks just rode up the side of it and threatened to tip over backwards. If they could get over, they exposed their vulnerable belly armor as they did so.

More importantly, the type of combined arms warfare the U.S. Army had trained for just didn’t work in the bocage. U.S. doctrine called for the combat arms to advance in separate waves. When the tanks ran into AT guns, the infantry took over the advance to overcome them. When the infantry ran into entrenched automatic weapons, the tanks took over the advance. In 1944 that’s prtty much how every army on the planet preached and practiced combined arms warfare.

But in bocage, the battlefields were tiny and advancing forces tended to run into a mix of weapons all at once. Unsupported infantry got hosed by the emplaced machine guns. Tanks on their own got knocked out by the AT guns or panzerfausts. Everyone started taking heavy casualties and nobody was getting anywhere.

One of the questions I hear a lot is why the U.S. Army did not anticipate the tactical challenges which bocage presented. They had received reports from the French resistance and had aerial photographs, so they knew something about it. Of course, there were problems with interpreting the information and projecting from it how much a problem it would be, but people can argue endlessly over what they should have anticipated or been able to figure out. But here is an even more interesting question, interesting in part because you never hear anyone ask it.

Why didn’t the Germans anticipate all of this?

After all, they weren’t just listening to reports by the Resistance and pouring over photographs. They were physically right down there in the bocage, they had been for four years prior to Overlord.

It’s not enough to say they planned on defending instead of attacking, because their defensive doctrine required vigorous and immediate tactical counterattacks. They needed to attack successfully in bocage, but they never figured out how. Even when the elite Panzer Lehr Division moved west to oppose the American advance, their attempts at counterattacks were costly and unproductive. The Germans never developed a satisfactory tactical solution to the bocage.

But the U.S. Army did, and how it did so is one of the most interesting stories of World War II. We’ll take a look at that in part 2.

Shape-Shifting Rotor Blades Coming Soon

June 10th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

No, we’re not taking about lycanthropic aviation, but if you like hard science out on the edge of science fiction, this new morphing rotor blade technology developed by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is pretty cool, and long over-due. We haven’t had a serious advance in rotor technology since – well, I can’t think of when, unless you count the fact that the new Sikorsky rotors on the Blackhawk don’t go “wup-wup-wup-wup” like the rotors on the Bell Hueys always did. (I kinda miss that.)

DARPA is tasked with finding really out-there weird science stuff and bringing it into the factory where it can do some good. Does that sound like a great job or what? Here’s a link to what they’re working on for rotors.

Iran's Green Movement Makes Steady Progress

June 10th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

It’s not grabbing headlines with giant demonstrations, but the Green Movement is alive and well. Reza Aslan notes in a recent analysis piece that the clear achievement of the Green Movement, in large part through its sacrifice, has been exactly what it set out to do – to persuade the world that Iran’s Islamic Republic was neither Islamic nor a Republic. That is has certainly achieved, particularly in Iran where even most supporters of the government have abandoned the pretense that the government in Tehran is still true to the ideals of its own revolution. Since the concepts of religious legitimacy and consent of the governed are both taken seriously throughout Iranian society, and in fact are the basis of the claim of legitimacy by the government, this growing disillusionment spells genuine trouble. Whether it means the regime is “crippled,” as Aslan argues, is another matter.

Here is a link to his very interesting analysis.

Prompt Global Strike

June 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Back in March I ran a column on the “secret” Air Force X-37B unmanned orbital space plane being set to launch. In late April the X-37B successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, entered orbit, and is still there. The X-37B, since it is unmanned, has a much longer orbital endurance than the space shuttle, 270 days as opposed to 16 days for the shuttle. The orbiter has a payload bay described as “about the size of a pickup truck’s bed,” and it’s believed a primary mission of the vehicle will be to launch a flurry of small intelligence satellites into specific orbital locations in the event of outbreak of hostilities in a region. Other missions may include deployment of an anti-satellite weapon or capture of enemy satellites, as well as more conventional friendly satellite maintenance missions. All of that is speculative however – its mission profile is, after all, secret.

At about the same time the X-37B was launched, amid a blizzard of news speculation, another system was test fired, this time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a Minotaur IV rocket carrying the prototype of the Prompt Global Strike system. This is a precision sub-orbital weapon, capable of being piloted not only to a specific target point, but also sufficiently maneuverable to avoid neutral orbital space. It never leaves the atmosphere and so utilizes the latest in heat-resistant tile technology also used on X-37B. Prompt Global Strike (PGS) combines pin-point accuracy (or so the sales brochure reads – one assumes, since it is secret) with a massive conventional warhead.

This was a weapons system which the Bush administration considered developing but decided not to, having been persuaded by the Russians that it was destabilizing. The Obama administration has decided to forge ahead, partly calming Russian fears by folding PGS into the new START treaty, basically eliminating one nuclear-tipped ICBM from the arsenal for every PGS fielded and promising to keep the total number of fielded systems below the number necessary to launch a pre-emptive first strike.

That last point is important, since its one-hour time to target makes it a very worrisome system. Were anyone else developing it, we would certainly brand it a first-strike weapon aimed at either decapitating a country or stripping it of a credible deterrent. We would be right to do so, and it is exactly the same weapon in our hands. We trust ourselves to use such a weapon wisely and with restraint. Odd that the rest of the world is reluctant to do so, don’t you think?

Here is a Christian Science Monitor article on the X-37B.

Here is an article from the London Times on the orbiter and suggesting a motivation for launching it shortly before the Prompt Global Strike test launch.

Here is a New York Times article in more depth on Prompt Global Strike.

Here is another article on PGS from the Washington Post.

Combat Robots Still Not That Smart

June 3rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The European Land Robot trials in Hammelburg, Germany, last week featured a lot of moments that looked like out-takes from the film Short Circuit (1986), such as a large robot from the University of Siegen, festooned with multiple cameras and sensors, whose only task was to follow a person walking around, but which repeatedly beeped and stopped and had to be restarted by its engineers.


The most promising entry was probably the MuCar-3, developed by the University of the Bundeswehr, the German military academy. It is an SUV outfitted with sensors and computers enabling it to follow another vehicle, stop when it stops, back up when it backs up. The likely use would be in cargo vehicles, enabling driverless vehicles in a convoy to reduce human exposure to mines and IEDs.

Even the MuCar-3 has its limitations, however. It needs a human-driven vehicle to follow and, at least for now, it needs a back-up guidance system in case it gets confused, that back-up system being – you guessed it – a human driver. Of course, the need for a human driver in a robot vehicle designed to reduce human exposure to danger is an obvious limitation. As Lt. Gen. Werner Freers, the German army chief of staff observed, ” Maybe this is not the end of wisdom.”

Right. Robots have a long way to go before they move from remotely piloted vehicles to genuine autonomous, or even semi-autonomous, systems.

Here’s a link to a story in the Los Angeles Times about military robots.

China's Naval Build-Up

February 22nd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

China’s military has been expanding in sophistication and capabilities for over a decade, but it is finally getting close to actually amounting to something. And there are lots of interesting things about it.

Almost every mercantile power in history has either ended up with a capable blue water navy or it has stopped being a mercantile power. It has been centuries since China was a mercantile power, but all that has changed in the last two decades. As China grows to one of the largest economies in the world, it will inevitably acquire a blue water navy with the ability to secure the sea lanes on which Chinese commerce depends. Pretty much everyone gets that. The question is, how does the world adjust to this new reality without getting sucked into a new arms race?

The U.S. has been asking for transparency in the Chinese naval expansion since mid-decade, and we’ve been getting it. That’s one of the reasons a lot of people are concerned about it: we know so much about it because it’s being done in plain view. The U.S. and Chinese navies are also working hard at cooperative personnel exchanges. See this AFP release for an example.

But it’s still a build-up, it’s still an altered tactical environment in which U.S. military personnel may have to operate. Here are some interesting aspects.

There is a power-projection element in the build-up, but it is almost entirely aero-naval, not ground. Ten years ago the Chinese had the amphibious capability to land one infantry division on a hostile shore. Their amphibious capability today? One division. Likewise they can drop 5,000 lightly-equipped paratroopers – say a reinforced brigade – and less than that if they’re going to put heavy weapons and munitions down with them. That’s also about what they could do a decade ago. So what does that power projection capability get them? Sea lane control – the sine qua non of a global mercantile power.

But that’s not all. The Chinese are also working on some pretty interesting maritime area denial ideas. After all, the 500-pound gorilla (or maybe guerrilla) in the room whenever anyone looks at maritime warfare is the USN’s carrier battle groups. I remember back in the ’80s when some folks were running around like chickens with their heads cut off about the Soviet naval build-up. “The Soviets have five carriers now. FIVE!”

Yeah. And every one of our carriers had an embarked air wing with more fixed wing combat aircraft than all five Soviet carriers combined, not to mention its own AWACS and EW aircraft. In the conventional force reduction talks the Soviets always got crazy about the fact that we wouldn’t count our carrier air groups in the European balance of forces. Well it’s only fair, we would reply, we aren’t counting yours, either.

And then everyone would have a good laugh.

Those carrier battle groups were the 500-pound gorillas then and they still are today. The Chinese are building carriers of their own, but they’re not intended to go toe-to-toe with ours. For that mission they are developing an anti-shipping ballistic missile. Not a cruise missile mind you, but an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a maneuverable reentry vehicle/conventional warhead. Cruise missiles, by comparison, are a snap to shoot down. These birds the Chinese are working on will be hellishly difficult to intercept and are designed to sink carriers. They are going to make it very hard for our carriers to throw their weight around anywhere near Chinese territorial waters, which is the point.

Like I said, very interesting.

Here’s a link to a briefing by the Congressional Research Service on the Chinese Naval Build-up.

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