Tag Archives: Military

The future of aircraft carriers (the scrap heap?)

Aircraft carriers are hideously expensive and, in the world of anti-ship missiles, increasingly vulnerable when facing a semi-sophisticated opponent.  Sir Humphrey takes a very good and detailed look at how the cost issue is pushing more and more nations out of the carrier club.

So, what will nations that worry about their bottom line do if they want to project power but can’t afford a carrier and/or might not want to put all their eggs in one basket?

Drones make sense.  They’re cheaper than outfitting a manned aircrew and have a great deal of future potential.  DARPA seems to be looking to address this issue with plans to create a drone that can carry a decent payload over an extended distance but can also take off and land on relatively small ships.

While we’re probably far ahead of most of our competitors, this technology will certainly be achievable and spread.  Once even a small ship is capable of launching a capable drone that can conduct offensive operations becomes a reality, aircraft carriers are going to look more and more like dinosaurs.  Why spend the huge costs involved in building a carrier (and airwings…and support ships…and escorts) when you can build a number of smaller ships which can operate individually for routine missions or ‘swarm’ when the punch of an aircraft carrier is needed?

Kvick Tänkare

A little while ago I wrote about the power of fonts and that Baskerville was the most trustworthy font.  Well, Errol Morris has an excellent follow up to that piece about the originator of the guy who made the font.  My favorite quote:

Voltaire, when asked on his deathbed by a priest to renounce Satan, famously replied, “Now is not the time to be making new enemies.” And when a friend tried to convince Baskerville that the plague of flies inflicted on Egypt was proof of the existence of God, Baskerville argued that all that it proved was a shortage of spiders.

Anyone who thinks socialism failed in America has never spent time on a military base.  Rosa Brooks is off to a good start in her new FP blog.

Lunghu provides some indicators to let you know if you’re working in a dysfunction organization:

  • Management places special emphasis on their purported role as “leaders.”
  • The enterprise “strategic plan” merely describes what the organization is already doing, not how it intends to respond to unexpected challenges.
  • Every level of the organization uses the complexity of the operating environment as an excuse to avoid planning for likely contingencies.
  • Hackneyed business cliches are used as a replacement for substantive communication.

I tempted to give up the internet forever after reading this headline.  After all, I think it’s pretty clear we now have, literally, seen everything.

Gordon Ramsay’s dwarf porn double Percy Foster dies in badger den

Sounds to me like these should be the default cars in congested urban areas.

Sadly, these vehicles do not function by farting out a loud stream of gas that propels them forth.

The author makes it sound like this is a bad thing but I suspect the manufacturers realized that their target demographic shouldn’t be 12 year old boys.

In which I (briefly) lower myself into the muck

I will try my hardest to keep election season partisanship out of this blog (uh, oh…I sense a ‘but’.  eds.) but, this is related to topics generally covered here and so I think it’s fair game.  Plus it’s totally bogus.

Check this out.

A group of former military and intelligence operatives launched an aggressive campaign against President Obama Wednesday, accusing the president of claiming undue credit for the Usama bin Laden raid and suggesting his administration is behind politically motivated security leaks.

“Mr. President, you did not kill Usama bin Laden. America did,” Navy SEAL Ben Smith said in the video. “The work that the American military has done killed Usama bin Laden. You did not.”

Let’s begin:
Dear ‘Team OpSec’,
Go fuck yourselves.
TwShiloh 1
So, these ‘intelligence operatives and special forces’ types think they are responsible for killing bin Laden.  Let’s follow that chain of logic for a minute.
If they think the credit for bin Laden should only go to the armed forces, I suppose that means their willing to accept responsibility for things that didn’t go quite as well.  For example:
  • The ‘American military and intelligence community’ didn’t do a very good job at stopping bin Laden over the past 15 years.  What, were we trying to lull him into a true sense of security?
  • They also let bin Laden (and others) slip through their fingers at Tora Bora.
  • The intelligence community also failed to see that WMDs in Iraq were not, in fact, a ‘slam dunk’.
  • They were not able to achieve success in Iraq or Afghanistan
So, assuming these ‘quite professionals’ are the paragons of professionalism they want you to think they, I suppose they’re going to follow up this effort with an apology for a decade of continual screw ups.
I don’t know about you, but I won’t be holding my breath.
And their position is an obvious lie in that they didn’t act until they go the approval from the president.  Please, tell me who were the people that, if the president didn’t give the approval, were going to leap up and say:
I don’t care what the president says, we’re going to get that SOB.  C’mon, boys! Fire up the choppers.  Our careers will be over but this is for America!
Yeah, don’t hold your breath for that either.  He gave the approval on what was, by all accounts, a very risky proposition.  If the operation had failed I think we can all be confident that we wouldn’t see these *ahem* ‘quite professionals’ lining up to say:
“Mr. President, you did not fail to kill Usama bin Laden. America did,” Navy SEAL Ben Smith said in the video. “The work that the American military has done come up short and we failed to kill Usama bin Laden. You did not.”


Hey, man.  You don’t like leaks of classified material for political purposes, get in line.  There’s probably a good argument to make there and your efforts might actually be constructive. If, however, you want to explain why this leak is more of a threat to civilization than that leak you’ve got some work cut out for yourself. Leaks of classified information are, as someone described it recently, the ‘currency of Washington’ and have been for decades by everyone (politicians, civil servants, the military and lobbyists).

But it’s not about that.  You don’t give a crap about leaks.  You just don’t like this crypto-Socialist/Jihadi/Muslim/Black separatist/terrorist/illegal alien guy sitting in the White House.

And for that, you can take your campaign and shove it up whatever orifice of yours you chose.

  1. Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.  Serious discussion to follow.

Afghan miscellany

While in Afghanistan, one of our highlights was the Friday bazaar.  It was the only real opportunity for us Westerners to feed out addiction of shopping.  Everything from antique weapons to bootleg DVDs (Suck it, MPAA!) were available for purchase.

And also, apparently, all sorts of products derived from endangered animal species.

Western soldiers on deployments have both relatively high salaries and access to bazaars, and they’ve helped create a niche industry on overseas bases and outposts for goods made from imperiled species. This is the souvenir trade with a dark side.

Bagram circa 2003 - Think Bartertown in Beyond Thunderdome

Yet another thing I suspect no one thought of when we started this mission in Afghanistan.

We’re a decade into the Afghan way and we still haven’t figured out how to handle those danged poppies. The At War blog on the NY Times talks about the issue and demonstrates how little (as in none) we’ve been able to move on this issue.

American forces don’t do anything about the poppy crop (it’s not population centric), but pay the Afghan government to destroy poppy fields. I’m not sure what the equation looked like that figured it’d be too counterproductive for foreign troops to destroy poppies but somehow wouldn’t undermine credibility in the host government to take cash from foreign governments to destroy poppy crops, thereby impoverishing farmers but I’m sure it’s a hoot.

Of course, left to the Afghan government the eradication program has been used as a stick to punish anyone who offends the person in charge of the district/province/national counter-narcotics forces. Case in point is the profiled governor who proposes cementing up wells so local farmers can’t irrigate their fields. He also proposes cementing the occasional farmer in wells just to make sure the locals get the message.

The end of the article wraps up with a suggestion from the American brigade commander. Let’s pay the farmers to grow poppies (monopolizing the market) and build a pharmaceutical industry. That won’t seem particularly original since (as the article notes) the idea has been kicking around for a long time.

So, what does it mean when you ask the same questions for ten years and get the same, small range of answers (all of which are unacceptable for one reason or another)? Well, I guess it could mean that we aren’t imaginative enough to come up with the ‘right’ answer or maybe we just have to make one of those answers acceptable.* I’ve been in favor of the monopolizing the market approach as it doesn’t risk pushing the locals into the arms of insurgents and deprives them (the insurgents) of cash.

But, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an appetite for new programs now in Afghanistan (even if they’re old ideas) so we’ll just keep on, keepin’ on.***

Finally, just a reality check:  Guys (and gals) are serving in Afghanistan now who don’t really have a direct memory of 9/11.  What’s weirder to me is that there are soldiers serving there now that were not even ten years old when I was there.

‘Houston, I think we’re old, now.’

*Or, you could just keep on going with something you know won’t work and try not to think about it too much.**

**Also known as current government policy.

***As a side note. It might be worthwhile to keep in mind as we approach 2014 and everyone is clapping each other on the back about how we’re withdrawing from Afghanistan, that in 2003 there were around 20,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan.




Kvick Tänkare

Photographer Jon Tonks has a project in which he travels to the few remaining British overseas territories and (as you’ve probably guessed) takes pictures.

A history of body snatchers.

For nearly a week in early December, black smoke billowed from the French Embassy in Iran. Years of diplomatic archives were being burned in the swimming pool of the embassy, initiated by French officials. The measure was intended as preventive, two days after the raiding of British diplomatic sites in Tehran.

I’ve always thought that my experience in the military (particularly the early years when I just got out of high school) were invaluable in making me a mature, responsible adult (*ahem*. eds). Some researchers wanted to see what, if any, effect military service has on young men and maturity and so compared German conscripts and those who didn’t serve.  Their findings are a bit disappointing.

The groups differed in one way only: the effect of increasing agreeableness was one third larger for the civilian than the military group.* This suggests that military training attenuates the upward trajectory of agreeableness seen in early adulthood.

Now, I’m not sure how applicable this study is across the board.  Conscripts are different from an all volunteer force.  Different armies treat their soldiers differently both in terms of care but also in terms of responsibility and development.  I still think my military service did more to make me a well rounded individual than if I only went to university.

The definition of a bad day.  A dinosaur catches a fish and then a fish catches the dinosaur.  The latter fish chokes on the dinosaur and everyone dies.  It’s like a Jurassic Shakespearean tragedy.

For Mrs. TwShiloh:

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The beloved warthog

World Politics Review has an update on the Air Force’s long attempt to kill off the A-10 Warthog.  While the A-10 is much loved by ground forces everywhere, not so much by the Air Force who don’t like carrying water for the Army/Marines.

Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II

Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (Photo credit: curimedia)

After all, Hollywood isn’t likely to make a movie with Tom Cruise about a pilot who shoots slow moving tanks.

So, they’re trying to replace the A-10 with the F-35.  In all fairness, they make the case that the A-10 will only get more vulnerable over time at low altitude as more lethal weapons come on the market and metastasize throughout the world trouble zones, forcing aircraft to go higher up.  At that point, what difference does it make if you have a sturdy, reliable airplane like the A-10 or a poodle like aircraft that requires an extensive entourage of handlers and relies on shaky technology?

The Air Force conceives of itself as a strategic institution dedicated to shaping the entirety of a campaign, rather than as an organization that plinks away at enemy tanks in support of ground troops. Not only does the A-10 stand outside of that self-image, it draws resources away from the Air Force’s preferred strategic mission. By contrast, the F-35 allows the Air Force to redistribute resources from what it considers the antiquated mission of close air support to the much more important, from the USAF’s point of view, strategic mission.

The author recommends that in a perfectly rational world, the Air Force could probably satisfy the close air-support mission with something like the Embraer Super Tucano. I can’t speak to the ability of that aircraft but agree that it’s highly unlikely the Air Force would expend anything but the paltriest of resources on an aircraft that looks so..mid-20th century.


Cop or soldier?

Balko put together a very interesting (and disturbing) quiz of photographs and let’s you see if you can guess which are pictures of soldiers and which are pictures of cops.

Check it out.

Since I have experience in both fields I tried to take the quiz as quickly as possible to minimize the amount I could ‘game’ the system.  It still happened (there aren’t many mud walls like you see in Afghanistan here in the states and one or two of the photos got national attention and were recognizable) but I was only able to score 16 out of 21 correct.  That’s shocking given my time with the military and I’d have to assume that for citizens without that familiarity and forced to make a quick determination the distinctions would be almost impossible to make.

Forget about getting any real discussion about the pros and cons of creating police forces with military grade equipment in the U.S.  News that law enforcement deaths are on the increase will be seen as a reason to escalate (we need bigger guns! drones! tanks!) rather than reevaluate current methodologies.

The best comment on all of this was over at BoingBoing:

When I was a kid, the tough one was telling cops and postmen apart.


God save the Queen (and COIN)

Before I dive into Chapter 1 of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan, just a couple of notes highlighting the importance of the subject.

Spencer Ackerman has a post up on Wired about a forthcoming report from CNAS that talks about the inevitable defense cuts (and if you want more – much more – detail on the subject go to his blog here).  It ain’t pretty:

 First on the chopping block, according to its forthcoming blueprint for defense cuts: counterinsurgency. Next: the Army and Marines who wage it.

Right now, the Army is prepping to shed 49,000 soldiers by 2016, bringing it down to around 520,000 active-duty soldiers..Even in the relatively rosy scenario of $400 billion cuts over a decade, the Army needs to shrink to 482,000 soldiers…Oh, and if the budget has to come down by $850 billion over ten years, prepare for an Army of 430,000 soldiers.

And if the Army’s in for budgetary pain, it can commiserate with the Marines. The Corps plans on slimming down to about 187,000 Leathernecks. Not enough, says CNAS: cut another 7,000 under optimistic budgetary scenarios; and another 37,000 under the most pessimistic one.

That means less ‘go it alone’ and more ‘Who’s with me?!’

Second, Peter has decided to provide additional context and insight on the subject of coalition state-building for awhile and has a post up about the U.S./Dutch relationship circa 2009.  It might seem to be really inside baseball stuff but this is exactly the sort of jockeying and horsetrading (what’s with all the equine talk?) that you kind of need if you want to get beyond the whole ‘Bah! Cheese eating surrender monkey!’ talk.

Enough preamble….let’s move on.

Anglians Helmand 3

Image via Wikipedia

Anthony King writes about the British experience in Helmand Province from 2006-2009.  You may remember I wrote about a talk by a combatant commander who described his experiences in Helmand during this time period and you might want to overlay those observations with the discussion here.

Given that the British are the second largest component of forces in Afghanistan I reflected how little we hear about them (or anyone else) in the news.  Given that Afghanistan, even under the ‘best’ circumstances, has been seriously neglected I shouldn’t be surprised.  Still, King gets us up to speed pretty quickly and ties everything up in a nice bundle.  H argues that the British experience in Helmand needs to be seen in the context of a couple of factors:

  • the desire to repair their reputation in the wake of their poor showing in Basra
  • the desire to maintain the ‘special relationship’ with the U.S.
  • some features of British military culture (perhaps all military culture)

It’s the last one that I’d like to focus on now.  It’s probably not surprising (yet remains frustrating) that organizations like militaries or law enforcement that are wrapped up in a culture of action aren’t particularly interested in getting involved in other sorts of activities.  Still, I think King describes the deep cultural pressures of many organizations when he writes about the British army:

Because a brigade and its commander have only six months in which to put their mark on the campaign (and earn promotion and medals), there seems a predilection for engaging with the enemy; the number of bullets expended, enemy contacts and medals are concrete and emotive metrics of performance which are most highly valued by the military.

So, why should we expect (even by 2009) militaries to engage in COIN when the culture and rewards all remain focused on traditional warfare?  Even more so when, as LTC Jones said, nobody in the U.S. or the UK (or anywhere else) actually reads their doctrine.  At the conference I went to the jury was out as to whether that was a big deal or not since everyone (supposedly) understood the jist of COIN doctrine and that was good enough.  Perhaps that wasn’t a good assumption.

Both King and LTC Jones seem to agree that late 2009/early 2010 were tipping points for the British in Helmand.  They were able to concentrate their forces.  They were able to apply more sophisticated analysis to their area of operations to better understand their environment.  They began to intervene in a very specific approach to local politics.

Unfortunately, (one of the drawbacks of the publishing world) King’s article only describes the British experience up to early 2010 so it’s not clear if that tipping point was true or a mirage.  Further, given the artificial time constraints on the operation, is it too late for a turn around to do any good?

The British experience also demonstrates the difficulty in converting the principles of COIN into actual progress. In other words, you can do things ‘right’ and still lose ground.  So…

…while DFID’s [Department for International Development] development projects have typically helped the lives of ordinary Afghans, they have often failed either to encourage local communities to support the Karzai government or to reject the insurgents.

Pretty sobering stuff.

I’m not sure how much the ‘special relationship’ between the U.S. and UK was at risk and so would like to see a bit more evidence that British actions in Helmand had as much of an impact as King seems to imply.

King’s observation that a “war-fighting ethos may have been sub-optimal for fighting a counter-insurgency” seems to be more evidence supporting Thomas Barnett’s idea of a ‘SysAdmin’ force.  Here’s a refresher on that concept if you’d like one:

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Kvick Tänkare

Ah, an excuse to talk about how old I am.  When I was a wee lad, I loved dinosaurs.  Back then, though, we still thought dinosaurs were slow, ponderous things.  Warm blooded?  Feathers?  Yeah…why don’t you put down the weed and read a book you hippie!

So, I so wish I could hop in a time machine and show my pee-wee self this.

“Incredible” Dinosaur Feathers Found in Amber.  Preserved for 70 to 85 million years, these feathers are part of a newly revealed trove of likely dinosaur and bird plumage found trapped in amber in Alberta, Canada.

How cool is that?  Actually dinosaur feathers.  Not a fossil.  A real, freakin’ dinosaur feather.

Eh, probably for the best I didn’t see that as a 6 year old.  The total coolness of it would have probably burst my head like a popcorn kernel.

A bit more recent, but still really cool.

Several human skulls found mounted on wooden stakes have been uncovered from a Stone Age lake bed in central Sweden in what is believed to be the first discovery of its kind anywhere in the world.

Ahhhh….Oktoberfest….what memories….

Changing subject (but not countries)…

Sven has a brilliant post about how he’d go about building a military force for a Third World nation.  He’s put so much thought into it we might want to begin worrying.

You don’t need much equipment for a typical developing countries’ military, especially not heavy equipment. Some cheap NORINCO small arms, mortars and RPGs plus a few patrol boats, some trucks and pickups, tents, some fatigues and boots plus a useful radio equipment are about all that it takes.
All else is a question of personnel (competence and motivation).

Perhaps offensive but I can’t help myself…(The Hurricane file part 2)

My apologies in advance.

BREAKING:  The New Jersey National Guard has decided to build its own naval force.  During Hurricane Irene it decided to field it’s two new submarines, acquired from the Polish Navy.

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Perhaps they should have modified them with Italian tank engines.*

Not our finest hour, to be sure.  The only (small) consolation is the law enforcement officer that pops out of the rear truck.  Hopefully that was the person who made the fateful decision to push through.

Polish submarine ORP Bielik, ex. HNoMS Svenner...

Here's a real Polish submarine to ease my conscience. Image via Wikipedia

*Italian tank engines, the joke goes, have one gear for forward and four for reverse.