June 13, 2011

Diesel-Electrics vs. Nucs - round 720823084

This article touches on a question dear to my heart, because I love submarines. However, after reading it a couple of times, I have some problems with the argument being framed here. NOTE: I do not do this for a living, and this is just off the top of my head after reading the article in question.


The first problem is that there are several enormous assumptions embedded in the argument which are never acknowledged much less addressed. Here are a few of them, in my opinion.

The authors speak approvingly of the (lower) cost of AIP diesel-electrics in comparison to the current build class of U.S. SSNs. They quote a cost of $500 million/boat based on a recent sale of 212 boats from Germany to Turkey, and a procurement cost of $2 billion for the U.S. built Virginia class. There are some numbers missing here, however. First, what would the actual switchover costs be? I am assuming, myself, that the authors are proposing that U.S. industry build these AIP boats. If so, how much would it cost to produce a new design and to retool (or tool) yards to produce this new design? Are we confident that the production costs for such a boat in a U.S. yard would be comparable to the production cost in a yard which has been building similar size and technology submarines for years?

Let's look at the price. The $500 million submarine displaces approximately 1,800 tons submerged. The $2 billion submarine displaces some 7,800 tons. The cost/ton of the smaller boat is therefore approx. $277,778. The cost/ton of the larger boat is approximately $256,410. Certainly the diesel boat is cheaper per unit - but does that tell us we need diesel boats, or smaller boats? If nuclear power is that much more expensive, we would expect to see a cost/ton advantage on the diesel boat which does not emerge. Admittedly, the Type 212 is one of the high-end conventional submarines on the market, with fuel cells and AIP - but would we propose building anything less capable? Is it possible to build a smaller nuclear boat, given the similarity in cost/ton? Older nuclear submarines were certainly smaller. Would a smaller nuclear design optimized for littoral missions at the expense of blue-water (as a diesel-electric would be) really be that much more expensive?

What would the cost be of setting up and maintaining a support infrastructure for non-nuclear boats? At a minimum, this would include separate maintenance and logistics tails, along with new and different training for non-overlapping skillsets among crews. While I'm sure that in most cases submariners would be able to move between boats without difficulty, in at least a few engineering tracks the skill sets would not transfer. More importantly, if (as the authors note) the missions of these new boats are primarily in the foreign green water, would a new system of tenders and ports be required to support these boats on deployment? Most current users of diesel/AIP boats employ them within easy reach of home ports. By definition, U.S. Navy boats would not operate in this mode. While I'm certain these boats could self-deploy, what would having consumable fuel requirements do to their deployment ratio, with and without tenders?


As part of their argument for the efficacy of diesel-electrics, the authors point to two incidents in which such submarines performed well against the U.S. Navy. However, neither incident involves the mission areas for which they advocate the procurement of these boats. Penetrating CVBG defenses in the blue-water certainly would be a mission that the U.S. Navy would allocate to its blue-water SSN force. The real question that they are posing with this example then is this - are diesel-electric boats any better at this than U.S. navy SSNs would be?

There are persuasive arguments for the efficacy of the smaller AIP boat in the littorals when compared to the current SSNs of the U.S. Navy. The real question, though, is not whether diesels do that better - but whether they do it better *enough* for U.S. Navy mission profiles (long deployment distances, solo operations in harms way) to make their acquisition worthwhile? If we're mostly concerned with tracking enemy diesel-electrics, are there asymmetric means (better satellite sensors/imagery, better/more aircraft platforms) which might perform enough of that job to make this change unnecessary?

There are many questions which need to be answered besides 'whether diesel-electric boats can do specific mission types better than nuclear boats' before we can begin to understand if this is a profitable direction for the U.S.

For a clearer view of this issue, including a better operational perspective than I could muster, see here!

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November 1, 2009

Energy use in bombs

My bro and I, using far too much time and computers to track our awful math, have worked out that the Average American (using energy consumption numbers from 1995, gack) uses roughly 0.093 kilotonnes of TNT per year, or around 1/160 of a Hiroshima-sized atomic weapon.

By even worse and more likely to be incorrect math, a 15-kt detonation represents the amount of energy that 3000 people would use in the form of food over their lifetimes, assuming 75 yr lifespan and a 2,000 kcal/day diet.


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September 12, 2009


I have to admit, when I first read the headline here, I kept thinking of this. I'm going to hope that was SWJ being clever.

"Mutual understanding." Oooohhhhhh.

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September 9, 2009

The BBC falls prey to sensationalism

This irks me. I don't think that anyone reasonable ever claimed that there was no such thing as a liquid explosive which could take down an aircraft. Unfortunately, all that this film shows is is that...yes, there are liquid explosives in existence which could be used in half-pint quantities to do considerable, quite possibly fatal damage to an airliner in flight.

What it doesn't show is that there exist such explosives which are:

  • Reliably transportable to the airport and onto the plane
  • Easily prepared surreptitiously either on the flight or past the security cordon
  • Easy to conceal and transport secretly once assembled (i.e. no strong odd smells, sudden toxic effects from the mixing process, can be effectively kept in easily-obtainable containers)
  • Easily and reliably detonated

While the film does show 'mixing actions' and what appears to be the use of a standard drinks container to hold the resulting explosive, that's not enough. I understand that they're not going to identify the compound, much less the steps required to create it. However, they do note that an 'explosives engineer' was tasked with doing this demo - and he sure looks like he's handling things gingerly during the process.

Is that because he's habitually careful? Okay, but I'd be much more afraid of this if you showed me a substance that he could casually toss around in the bottle, fully prepare from (relatively) safe ingredients at his little mixing table in the field, sniff around the bottle a few times, and then walk to the plane and back without looking like he's afraid it's going to go off at any second.

Again, I'm not saying that this experiment didn't, in fact, show just that kind of explosive - but my point is that we don't know that, and *those* facts about the liquid explosive in question are much more troubling and relevant to policy. The fact that it exists and can make a big bang? Not so much. We already knew that.

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August 28, 2009

Down at the Pub, Afloat

I am tickled by the notion that in the US Navy the ships USS Stout and USS Porter can pass by each other on the high seas and their captains agree to meet for a beer later.

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July 30, 2009


Either the Russian Navy is practicing for decap shots at fifty klicks range, or... Heh.

Stiff upper lip, chaps. She'll hold. Be cool. She'll hold.

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June 3, 2009

Can you say 'shill'?

I knew you could.

Anytime someone uses the word 'wrongheaded' to describe a policy decision, it sets off alarm bells for me.

Although that may just be because in the book 'Baked Potatoes: A Pot Smoker's Guide to Film and Video' there is a quote from Roger Ebert saying something like 'how anyone could be so wrongheaded as to watch movies on marijuana is a mystery to me.'

But yeah, that article makes me react in exactly the same way.

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June 1, 2009

Your Lack of Encryption Disturbs Me.

From a story on a Global Hawk emergency landing by Ares, the Aviation Week blog, comes this winner of a quote:
This is hardly the most dramatic in-flight emergency for the young UAS program. Earlier during testing of the Block 10, a Global Hawk conducted what appeared to be a standard self destruct sequence to the surprise of operators. They later discovered a radio tower at another base was testing its transmissions using a self-destruct code for the UAS. Though they were geographically separated, the UAS flies high enough -- around 65,000 ft. -- that the aircraft picked up the signal and followed orders, plummeting to its death. Needless to say, the testers at least got some data from that incident.
Wow. Let me get this straight - the 'self destruct' code for a Global Hawk is either a) something simple enough that another station might decide to pick it accidentally as a test pattern, or b) is something that said radio stations (assuming they are Air Force) have decided is a perfectly fine pattern to use for transmitter testing.

Either way, Houston, we have a problem.

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May 19, 2009

Disposable bots and security theater

So according to Gizmodo, the Ember mini swarm bot from iRobot is designed to be small and cheap so that "they could be left behind on the battlefield if needed."

So yeah, it wouldn't be hard to pick up one of these things, stuff an IED in it, and then leave it in a current oparea. Not at all.

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March 30, 2009

I Mourn me the B747

A while back, a colleague and I were adamant that the U.S.'s 'Next generation bomber' could and should be a militarized 747 variant. Our rationale was that it had similar carrying capacity in terms of cargo weight, was a well-understood and readily-available airframe, and offered ample volume for military systems to be added. In addition, the military already operated several 747s.

We heard many arguments about why it couldn't be done, but none that we really 'bought' - they all sounded like 'because we don't want to fly civvy air!' to us. However, recently I was speaking with an Air Force colonel who is also a B-52 pilot, and he offered the best-explained reasons it won't work.

The 747, as a civilian airliner, is a hollow tube of a monocoque fuselage designed to be pressurized during flight. In addition, the cylindrical nature of that fuselage is what allows it to evenly distribute the forces generated by said pressure across the structural members. A bomb bay, however, must by definition be at ambient pressure. It should be at such before opening in order to avoid sudden pressure changes, and of course it will be once it's opened.

The issue is that if you were to section off a part of that cylinder and move it 'outside' the pressurized area, then the load on the bulkhead separating it from pressure will tend to concentrate on structural points rather than evenly distributing - and this will cause difficulty making the airframe strong enough to perform properly. Even if it can bear the strain, the cycles of pressure differential during normal operation will lead to increased metal fatigue.

Weight and Balance
The weight of the weapons a bomber intends to dispense must be placed as close to the center of gravity (or, at least, the fore/aft balance line) as possible. That way the sudden change in the aircraft's weight profile while dropping ordnance is balanced. On the BUFF and other 'high-wing' bombers, the mainspar passes through the fuselage high enough that the bomb bay can be placed very close to if not directly astride the midpoint of the wings. This means that when the ordnance is released, the airplane lightens but does pitch up or down at all.

On a 747, however, the mainspar is low - it passes through the lower part of the fuselage in order to maximize cabin space. As a result, the bomb bay cannot be placed directly below the wing balance line, but can only be placed fore or aft of the mainspar, with consequent disruption to the aircraft balance.

In addition, airliners are built (my advisor says) to travel sedately and predictably from one place to another. While their airframes are designed to handle external stresses from turbulence, they are not built with the intention of the aircraft suddenly shifting its internal structural load as it dispenses ordnance. Again, you'd end up with metal fatigue or failure without significant changes to the airframe.

I mentioned the Evergreen Aviation 747 water bomber. He agreed that the water bomber could carry a cargo weight equivalent to ordnance, but pointed out that the tankage for this cargo could be aligned overtop the mainspar and the water dispensed from valves, not large bays. I checked their website, and yep, he's right - not only that, the dispense system is done via pressurizing the tank, so once it's empty it can be sealed and remains pressurized to avoid pressure differentials weakening the airframe.

Finally, the water bomber is intended to drop its cargo low and slow - around 400 to 800 feet, at a speed of 140 knots, or just 30% above stall speed. Thus, even if the tanks were not pressurized, there would be a negligible difference between internal and external pressure.

I'm almost convinced. :-) Not that I doubt him, but I still think there's a role for a commercial heavy-lift airframe in the bombing missions the U.S. has seen. The USSR once threatened to treat all Boeing airframes as enemy targets if the U.S. built weapon-carrying versions - at least, I've heard that from various pilots, although I can't immediately dig up a source - and whether true or not, it points out a problem of militarizing the 747 airframe. KAL-007 was shot down despite being obviously a transport, and various persons associated with the shootdown maintained that it was 'easy to convert a 747 into a reconnaissance platform.'


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October 15, 2008

Guest blogging

So. I've been offered (and accepted) a guest blogging spot at one of the defense blogs that I read most avidly. I'm blogging there anonymously, so I won't link directly (damn this age of Google!) but, if you want, look for the blog named "information dissemination" dot blogspot dot com. There's no space in the blog name. I'm blogging as...well, I'm not the blog owner. I'm sure you'll figure it out.

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August 18, 2008

How on earth is this a good idea?

Non-Nuclear Warhead Urged for Trident Missile, says the Washington Post.

In other words, and let's be clear, this 'blue-ribbon defense panel' thinks that we should absolutely invest national treasure in a system designed to allow a President to authorize the use of intercontinental ballistic missiles (because no matter what's on the front, that's what a Trident is and will be) in order to attack a target with conventional weapons.

Let's look at this. The number one objection that jumps to my mind is also mentioned in the article:

One major congressional concern was that to other countries, such as Russia or China, the launch of a conventional Trident missile could not be distinguished from a nuclear one and could be mistaken for the start of a nuclear war.

The panel recognized that problem and suggested several ways to mitigate it, but in the end it concluded that the benefits outweighed the risks. The panel said that before any deployment takes place, there should be diplomatic discussions, particularly with partner countries. It said these talks should include "the doctrine for its use, immediate notifying of launches against countries, and installing devices (such as monitoring systems) to increase confidence that conventional warheads had not been replaced by nuclear ones."

The panel also said that few countries, other than Russia and perhaps China, would be able to detect a sub-launched missile "in the next five years," and that because of the few warheads that would be involved, "the risk of the observing nation's launching a nuclear retaliatory attack is very low."

In other words, "this is a risk, but gee, it's not enough of a risk to not do this. Anyway, the only people we'd scare are China and Russia, and we can use the hotline and brief them about where these things are so they don't get nervous when one pops the cork."

First point in rebuttal: Yes, you're quite correct, Russia and China are the only nations with a really good capability of detecting the launch of one of these. But since those are the only two nations with whom we're seriously worried about having an actual missile-based nuclear exchange, that would seem to me to make this argument entirely null and void. "Oh, don't worry, the only people that would see it anyway are the only other hostile ones with missiles." Uh, what?

Second point in rebuttal: Let me get this straight, you want to allow hostile nations the take from a monitoring system aboard our ballistic missile submarines? How is that a good idea? Honestly. Even if you dedicate a boat to this mission and only put monitors on that one, the only way that you're going to be able to offer any reassurance at the time of firing is by continuously telling your adversary where this submarine is. Color me stupid, but doesn't that completely miss the point of having a submarine in the first place? Also, even if you only give that information to Russia and China...wait, you're assuming Russia and China won't give the information to states we might be having issues with?

Moving on. Why, in fact, do they think we might want such a capability? They offer two main target sets. One: hostile missiles preparing for launch. Two: 'high-value' targets of opportunity, like, say, Osama bin Laden, who we need to hit before they can get away.

Sigh. Okay, let's start with number one. If you see somebody prepping a missile. There are three reasons this would concern us. One, that missile can hit U.S. sovereign territory (I WILL NOT use the fucking word 'Homeland.') Two, that missile can hit a U.S. ally. Three, that missile can hit deployed U.S. military forces. Let's take those in turn.

The only powers which at present can deploy missiles which threaten U.S. sovereign territory are...wait for it...yes, that's right: our allies, and Russia and China. No matter what they tell you about needing missile defense in central Europe, Iran cannot presently hit the United States with a missile. Even if they were to get a couple of nuclear weapons, you'd have to convince me that they'd think the best thing to do would be to stick them on a missile which (if past performance is any guide) has only a partial chance of working, and then fire it at us. Won't wash. Furthermore, the only type of missile where you're going to get this kind of warning is a liquid-fuelled missile. Who typically uses those? Well, Iran and other small missile players, and...China. Hm. If we can't deter China from using nuclear weapons on missiles, we've already lost, people. Unless you're trying for a splendid first strike against a nation that at least technically has SSBNs. Even if they only have one, don't you think they'd be smart enough to send it to sea before trying this mad stunt?

Moving on. Hitting an ally. Well, that's true - there are a lot of U.S. allies that are within missile range of our favorite threat axes. But again, is an ICBM the best way to handle this? Let me ask a more disruptive question - how do you know there's a nuclear weapon on top of that missile? If you don't know, then popping off an ICBM seems like a really bad response. It may make me a realist bastard, but I honestly can't say that firing an SLBM in anger is better than letting an HE warhead of the size you can stuff on top of an IRBM get launched, even at an ally. One thing we know about those missiles, from experience - they're incredibly inaccurate. And if they've only got HE on them, I'd prefer we not take the risk.

Three. Hitting deployed U.S. forces. If there are U.S. forces in sufficient numbers on the ground in the vicinity (I say on the ground, because you're not going to hit a moving ship with the kinds of missiles we're talking about) then there's no reason for them not to a) be prepared to take cover and b) attempt to engage the missile either with boost-phase systems or with last-ditch systems like THEL if possible. Again, though, there's no reason to be firing SLBMs.

The second target set is 'high-value targets.' Let me just ask this. Do we really want to get into the habit of using SLBMs to try to kill individuals? Even at the most optimistic, the Trident-II has a CEP in the dozens of meters, and it will take it twenty to thirty minutes to reach its target once it has been fired. And once it fires, it's going, there's nothing you can do about it. If the target is in any kind of built-up area, you've just called down an ICBM strike on that area, no matter what - and while you might not hit the target, you're going to do a shitpot of damage to something.

If we're going to be shooting at individuals, I want good enough intelligence that we can take the time to send a manned platform or at least a UAV with a man in the loop to take the shot. I cannot posit a target set of the 'ooh it might move!' type that is worth firing a nuclear strike system in anger over.

I keep harping on about this being a nuclear strike system. That's because it is. When you fire it, you will be firing a weapon system that has existed for fifty-five years with only one purpose, hammered into the minds of everybody in the world who cares about this: launching nuclear weapons. That's what an SLBM does, up to now. I don't care how well you know that this one is different - you're worried about every other force that sees it launch; and not only that, you're asking them to successfully decide, under the threat of immense pressure and short decision cycles, that this SLBM is 'different' and is 'not a threat.'

The only time I'm comfortable with the notion of firing these things at all is in designated test ranges, and with advance warning of scheduled tests.

So why this proposal?

I have to say that it's part and parcel of the struggle the Navy is having trying to figure out what its purpose and mission is in today's world. The Ohio boats, and the missiles they carry, are indeed an awesome technological achievement. They have served admirably (and will continue to do so) as a nuclear deterrent. Don't, whatever you do, do anything that might detract from that mission. These aren't attack submarines. They're boomers. We want them safe and concentrating on one job, which we hope they never have to do. I don't want Ohios as a 'first response option' in any way, shape or form.

If we're that desperate to spend the money on quick strike, put it into a hypersonic spaceplane which you can hang bombs off of. I'd support that.

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August 13, 2008


I think the blocky objects on the turret seen here on a burned-out tank in Tskhinvali are reactive armor modules (best seen in picture #4). Given that they didn't burn or explode when the tank burned out, I could be wrong, but I'm not sure. If they are reactive armor blocks, it would make me nervous to have high-explosive modules sitting around where folks can grab them. Of course, given what just went on in Georgia, that may be the least of anybody's problems.

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August 11, 2008

Things I'm Watching For in Georgia

  • The use of the word 'Domino'
  • Spectacular or at least completely disruptive damage to the oil/gas pipeline infrastructure with dubious or unknown actors
  • Whether or not NATO will and can get the Georgian contingent in Iraq back in-theater, and where they will take them (and how, if Russia has command of the skies and ports, which they appear to)
Seriously, if I were the Georgian policy-making or strategic community right now and felt that I'd miscalculated the Russian response to my arty-heavy COIN push, I'd be thinking of how to further cement the mindshare advantage that Georgia seems to enjoy right now. The problem as I see it is that although Georgia might have this sort of public opinion and diplomatic advantage, modern Georgia has two real economic centers - the pipelines and the cities.

The Russians have the ability to destroy the cities. The quickest way is to simply enlist Georgian help by trying to pen Georgian forces inside them and then engaging, which according to some reports has already happened in Tskhinvali to the point of utter destruction. Other reports have Georgian units flowing into Gori(?) and other cities in what looks like an attempt to preserve units by forting up; however the Russians are experienced with urban reduction and combat (see Grozny). The Georgians may just figure that if they lose the cities there's not much left in any case so they might as well try to link force preservation to urban centers.

As for the pipeline, Western Europe's winter fuel is (in a large part) due to come through those pipes. As others have said, if Russia pushes far enough to look like they're going after the pipelines then they will signal a quite different set of objectives from either the initial 'securing the enclaves' strategy or even 'consolidating control of their borders' - it starts to look like a serious economic petropolicy grab. Don't know what the outcome of that will/would be, but it's certainly a different animal from the simple intervention in Georgiag/Ossetian/Abkhazi affairs that it has been sold as.

Given this, it would be to Georgia's advantage if pipeline disruption occurred that could be blamed squarely on Russia. It would make the strategic space much more fluid, especially as affects Western Europe/NATO and the UN, if that pipeline is seen to be affected by the Russian push past the enclaves. So I have to wonder at what point bombing it themselves starts to look good in principle (already has, I'd guess, if they could reliably pull off the blame-switch) and at what point it starts to look viable in reality.

More as it happens. I have been fearfully lax in keeping up on my terrain and ORBAT data for this dustup, so I'll have to remedy that. If you're curious, go read Information Dissemination, War Is Boring, The New York Times or others.

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June 5, 2008

Rust vs. paint

Hm. I need to find data on how long a standard ship coating takes to degrade to rust. I just realized that of the ships I'm looking at, it's fairly easy to determine which are in use based on their coloration; brown is rust, and if the topside of a ship is showing lots of rust, then either a) it hasn't been painted yet (it's under construction) or b) it's laid up and nobody is maintaining it. Usually, b).

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May 30, 2008

Cack-handed photo interp

So I'm noodling around with Google Earth again, just for fun. I'm trying to see if I can find (with any confidence) the building that the Indian SS(B?G?)N, known apparently only as 'ATV', is being built in. I end up at Visakhapatnam naval base, and am trying to see how well I do ID-ing ship types.

I know, I'm a geek.

Anyway, I did find the following. India, according to GlobalSecurity.org and my copy of the Naval Institute's Combat Fleets of the World, has five D 51 Rajput class destroyers in service - these are modified Kashin class ships built by the Soviets in the early 1980s. According to GlobalSecurity, two are homeported at Visak., and the other three at Mumbai. However, I find four of the five at Visakhapatnam - one steaming out of the channel, and three at quayside, with two looking like they're being worked on to some light degree. I'm wondering if these ships are prepping for decommissioning? Or just refitting? Or just a port visit? Dunno.

This is the kind of stuff I spend braincycles worrying about. I know, I know.

(Here's a Google Earth .kmz of the site, with my IDs so far listed, if you care.)

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May 2, 2008

More Photo Interp errors

Doh. I was self-checking, and it looks like I totally missed the actual named V2 test stand - Test Stand 7. I found it on Google Earth after reading a reference that told me what quadrant of the island it was in. Took me 25 minutes, and I was only sure after designating it as 'my guess' and then checking with WWII aerial recon photos.

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May 1, 2008

How to waste a couple hours of a military geek's time

An open-source photo interpretation challenge!

Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis offer up a photointerpretation exercise for those of us who consider ourselves wonks. I took 2:45 to do the exercise (45 mins too long, unfortunately) but I didn't do badly. I found and ID-ed all the aircraft; correctly analyzed the airfield, found both power plants (but flunked on identifying one of them). I found both naval vessels and ID-ed them (one on the second go, after I realized that Google Earth has a 'measurement' tool) and found the railroad, the Fi-103 launch area (but not the ramps) and was mostly correct identifying WW2-era ruins. I mistakenly pointed out some more modern buildings, but gave myself a quarter-point because I'd hedged on those, saying the roofs looked too new. :-) I found two V-2 test stand areas. I almost drove myself nuts trying to find the V-1, but Peter withdrew that as a target; he says it's impossible to see the way it's mounted.

So, all in all, not too shabby.

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March 28, 2008

The Competent Munition is no more

One of the first actual military projects I worked on was the Competent Munition program at the Charles Stark Draper Lab, in Cambridge, in the early/mid 1990s. It was a GPS and (optionally) inertial guided round for the USN's 5"/54 gun systems.

I see via Wired that the ERGM, its eventual program name, has been cancelled.

I don't know the story; I do know that a lot of really cool technology was created and stuffed into really tiny and really harsh environments in order to make the Competent Munition/ERGM a going concern. I don't really have any feelings one way or the other about its cancellation, but I do wonder about the progress and course the project ended up following.

If I don't find a decent summary somewhere in the wake of its cancellation, maybe that would make a fun paper.

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March 25, 2008

Gun silliness

I have never really been in favor of issuing handguns to pilots 'to defeat terrorism,' for a couple of reasons which nobody has been able to argue me out of. First of all, the cockpit of an airliner is the last place I want a gunfight. Second, if the pilot is at his or her duty station, then no matter what other person he shoots at, they will likely have passengers directly behind him or her. Finally, deliberately placing guns on civil aviation flights just seemed to me to be asking for accidents which really had a higher probability than a skyjacking, and given what bullets do to airplanes, that seemed a bad idea.

Of course, I did tell myself that at least they'd likely have appropriate equipment.

Today I read this, and the first thing I thought after saying "Yep, there you go, unintended discharge in flight" was hey, wait a minute, don't they make ammunition specifically for use in situations like this? Well, yes, yes they do, and it's called Reduced Recoil, Low Penetration ammo and seems to be a type of frangible ammunition.

I really, really, really want to know if that pilot's USP was loaded with RRLP ammo. If it wasn't, I want to know why not.

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November 5, 2007

This ain't your daddy's war.

Can anyone seriously imagine grounding an entire aircraft type in World War II because one of them deconstructed in midair? I sure can't.

I'm not saying we shouldn't ground them. I'm saying that this is yet another example of our nation demonstrating that it's not at 'full military power' - which, to me, is what our military (especially the Air Force) is for. If you're not fighting to preserve core objectives (and by definition, if you can shut down a major component of your ground strike, you're not really as a nation doing so) then take a good hard look at why and where you're fighting.

Is this trip really necessary?

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October 17, 2007

Shades of the V-1

For all those who think that stationing drones over the U.S. - say, at airports to watch for SAM threats - is a good idea, please read.

And don't tell me "but these would be automatic/safer/newer/fanfuckingtastic drones" because the particular error is irrelevant. The point is that if we build it and fly it, it's going to fall out of the sky at some point for some reason. You accept that fact every time you step on board an airplane, and you play your odds. The point is, though, that the way to cope with this is not to claim 'oh we'll fix that in the next release' because there is no way to 'fix' the fact that aircraft occasionally stop flying uncontrollably. You can, however, mitigate the risks of this fact of life.

One crucial way to mitigate this risk is to avoid stationing aircraft over highly busy and populated areas (like major U.S. airports).

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July 12, 2007

Ted Postol Opines and I Agree, mostly.

The irrepressible Ted Postol has an op-ed in the Times in which he states that the U.S. should accept Putin/Russia's offer to cooperate on missile defense warning systems vis-a-vis potential Iranian launches. I agree with him. This is probably somewhat due to the fact that he taught and trained me (yes, there is a distinction). I would add that the issues Ted explicitly punts in this Op-Ed are extremely important - namely, whether missile defense can be effective and, by implication, whether it should be done at all. Of course, it's an op-ed, and to get it published it needs to be on point; that's why he punted, but his explanation of such manages to get the fact that those issues are important into the debate nevertheless ("Whatever you do, don't think about an elephant.")

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February 24, 2007

I am a gun geek.

For all those who can tear up when presented with the emotions of a cadre of men and women towards a beautiful, ungainly, lethal, graceful, clunky, distinctive, iconic metal bird...

...a farewell to the F-14 Tomcat, from some of those who knew them.

hat tip Defense Tech

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October 10, 2006

Best Quote Yet on DPRK's Fizzlebangs

From Jeffrey Lewis at ArmsControlWonk.com:
"I close this discourse about operational confidence by noting that the United States has built a missile defense that does not work, to defend against a North Korean missile that does not work, that would carry a nuclear warhead that does not work.

This is all very postmodern."

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August 4, 2006

This is a good use for a military.

We need a task force for this, stat. Moreover, I think Rumsfeld should be in personal command.

Seriously, though, drop birds not bombs, baby.

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July 30, 2006

Sheer, unending torture

...is when an author whose work you respect and enjoy publishes one of your favorite books ever, and as far as anyone can tell has had one and maybe two more books in the series written ready to go for coming on ten years now but they're not published. The sample chapters for The AI War and The Man-Spacething War are enough to make me break things in frustration.


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June 29, 2006


Um, we're putting Boost Phase Interceptors on B-52s?


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May 29, 2006


The irrepressible Ted Postol (from whom I was once privileged to learn a teensy bit about weapons system analysis) is still at it, and has produced a simple diagram explaining why putting medium-range missile interceptors in Poland to defend against Iranian missiles is a bad idea not only for geopolitical reasons but (as is his specialty) for simple technical ones. Namely, it's an easily defeatable 'defense', and to make matters worse, it's defeatable by the target (Iran) launching weapons at Poland (where the interceptors are) because the proposed U.K. based radar has too high a horizon to see them if they take this (lower) trajectory - unless you put complete radar systems and the like at the Poland site, which in turn causes yet more trouble with the proposal (and produces yet more hit-it-first motivation).

Dr. Postol has a knack for taking complex strategic and policy arguments and finding problems with them based on strict physics which cut across party lines. Of course, this tends to make various people very irritated with him an awful lot of the time. On the other hand, it also (in my opinion) means that issues he investigates tend to have more of their fights center around actual fact-based problems, which is (again in my opinion) a plus.

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May 25, 2006

Sea Swap and the SSN fleet

Some time back I wrote a paper on sizing the U.S. Attack Submarine (SSN) fleet, in which I attempted to come up with a mission-based methodology for producing a fleet size. This was pre-9/11 but post Cold War. One of the largest factors of the final size was the deployment ratio, or the number of boats required total in order to maintain a certain number on station at sea. The deployment ratio that could be attained made a huge difference in the total number of hulls required, obviously, as a multiplier. A question that I asked but wasn't able to satisfactorily answer was "Why can't the Navy dual-crew SSNs the way they dual-crew SSBNs?"

Well, an answer is closer, if not settled. They can, really, which is what I sort of thought at the time too. While there may be technical issues with current subs which make this more difficult - notably, systems which require maintenance on regular cycle which can't be removed from the submarine for depot maintenance due to limited access port sizes on the boat (SSBNs have larger accessways specifically to allow depot maintenance of critical system components to maximize at-sea times) this is something that could certainly be solved in a new-design SSN, of which we've had at least one since I wrote that paper.

It's nice to know I at least managed to get something close to right - i.e. yes, that number was important; yes, the Navy thought so too, enough that they experimented, and yep, it makes a big difference.

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April 14, 2006

Divine Strake, Bunker Busters, and the Jackhammer Buff

So the Hot New Argument is of course whether or not the U.S. is actually seriously considering using nuclear penetrators to go after the Iranian nuclear (enrichment?) facility at Natanz. Arguments over how much cover (twenty meters? Seventy-five meters? Measured from the floor? The ceiling?) and over what type of cover (bored? Cut and cover? Rock? Shale? Soil and broken rock?) are the rage. An enormous conventional explosion test named Divine Strake is planned for this summer at the Nevada Test Site. This has gotten many panties in twists about the legality, morality, and desirability of the U.S. pursing nuclear earth-penetrating weaponry - either the development, testing, deployment or use thereof.

Which begs the question, what else do you use?

One method which has been mentioned several times is the 'multiple bomb' technique. This has much to recommend it, in my opinion. Unlike 'global thermonuclear war' scenarios, where the use of nuc penetrators might in fact be a relatively scaled response, when going up against a developing nuclear power I am firmly in the 'this is a bad, bad, BAD idea' camp. While it's true that 'carpet bombing' is not likely to be very effective, recent technologcal developments offer an alternative.

I'm not talking about smart bombs per se. Those are seeking weapons, and there will be no designator signal available for them to home on - even if there was, it would be a near-impossible task to hold such a designator on a spot steady enough to produce the 'multiple strike excavation' required. Furthermore, scene-matching or target-recognition will be complicated by the fact that after the first bomb hits, the scene will of course be unpredictably (and dramatically) changed - at least enough to deny subsequent targeting systems accurate enough fixes.

However, competent munitions - in other words, navigating weapons - would be just the ticket. Typical U.S. gravity bombs can be coupled with a navigating tailkit and tail-mounted fuze for cratering use; the bomb itself costs approximately $4,200.00 and the guidance/fusing units in the low tens of thousands. While a 2,000 lb. bomb does not produce a very deep crater - feet, perhaps - the use of DGPS guided tailkits could quite possibly drop successive bombs within a quite small CEP - probably well within the crater size. Given that the U.S. has plenty of time to go about this, what's to stop us simply hammering away at the same spot with these weapons?

There are many advantages. Collateral damage is hugely minimized compared to the ridiculous use of a high energy weapon. No matter what the politicians tell you, this is a nuclear weapon. This will not be like an 'underground nuclear test' where the device is placed carefully in a hole drilled several hundred feet into the earth, then sealed in, and detonated. No matter what, there is a chance of weapon failure; of the breach of the physics package at the surface or above it; of insufficient penetration and detonation in atmosphere. Think about that for a moment. Even if everything works except for the fact that it doesn't quite go that deep - and remember, they're trying to find it if it will reach seventy five feet, when test site tunnels are much, much deeper than that - then you have an atomic detonation. In the atmosphere. On a foreign sovereign nation.

The United States has just used atomic weapons on someone's country.

We haven't 'destroyed a nuclear facility using a contained explosion.' We haven't 'prevented another country from irresponsibly gaining nuclear weapons.' We have attacked another nation with atomic weapons.

Back to the point. The Gravity Bomb Tapdance method is much, much cheaper. At $4,200 per bomb unit and let's say $50,000 per navigation kit, even if you decided to throw a hundred bombs at the target, you're still only in $5,420,000. I'm not sure what a B61 warhead costs, but I know it probably has on the order of six to eight kilograms of Pu-239 in it. You do the math. A Tomahawk strike? The newest, cheapest Tomahawk cruise missiles (which don't penetrate the ground) cost around $750,000 each.

You could minimize the number of sorties required to produce this effect, as well. A B-52H Stratofortress, which can drop the Mk.84 LDGP bomb, can carry 45 of them using the HSAB wing mounts as well as internal load. So two B-52 missions could drop 90 weapons. One design study I would love to see is if there is enough excess energy in the profile of a Mk. 84 to allow the attachment of retarding kits and ballutes to the rear of some of the weapons in the loadout, and then to simply drop the entire stick and have the navigation systems fly varying arcs so as to produce staggered 'time on target' arrivals. If the first weapons released went for maximum glide, and the later ones went for maximum retard, then dropped the retarders while still at altitude in order to gain velocity, it might be possible?

Anyway. Ideally, you would be able to just upload a target coordinate to all the weapons in a BUFF loadout at once, and then simply pickle the entire load. Weapons would arrive in quick succession. For maximum cratering effect, in addition to tail-mounting the fuzes, some basic case hardening work might be done on the bombs themselves; perhaps strengthen the noses. After all, the British built purely gravity bombs in World War Two (the 'Tallboy') that broke the sound barrier, and penetrated up to a hundred feet of soil before exploding. Those weapons weighed approximately six tons, and were dropped from only fifteen to twenty thousand feet from Avro Lancasters (by the famed 617 squadron, originally on the U-Boat pens in France, later on the V-3 supergun system and other targets).

If you wanted to sex up the idea more, and actually build new weapons, then the first thing I would do is take a look at the French Durandal cratering munition. This weapon, designed to be dropped at low altitude against runways, was intended to be 'lobbed' upwards slightly by a fighter/bomber...at which point it would tip over and fire a short-lived but powerful booster rocket to give itself downwards vector and slam through the runway surface before detonating. Perhaps you could design a new Mk. 80 tailkit that had the DGPS navigation system and a final-seconds booster - once the weapon was within say a hundred feet of its target ground point, and knew it was on profile, it could ignite the booster. That might give it another few feet of penetration before detonation. The good part is that that could possibly be just added to a tailkit system as well.

In any case, it's quite possible there are massive holes in this idea, which is not original...I just played with it a bit. Some colleagues and I have been tossing that one around ever since Gulf War I and the 'Hardened Penetrator Weapons' that were ginned up for the command and control bunkers, and others have tossed it around as well.

Maybe I should do some math...I used to have some data on Mk. 84 cratering effects somewhere, damn it. Where's my copy of GWAPS?

Posted by jbz at 4:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

I Love the 'Why Didn't I Publish This' self-flagellation

It's not often I get to read something in the New York Times that talks about an idea I was kicking around a couple of years ago as 'The Hot New Thinking.' But (if I might be excused for blowing my own horn) I got to do that today.

Any of my MIT colleagues who argued with me about that idea are welcome to start arguing again. :-) :-) Dave? Chris? :-)

Let's be fair: this is not new. It's part of an ongoing debate between 'kill count' and 'zone control' that's been going on in counterinsurgency circles since, oh, the first colonial wars, probably.

But the only reason this article is 'now making the rounds' in Washington is because the solution runs directly counter to the 'transformative way of war' that Donald Rumsfeld etc. were busy selling during the initial Iraq war planning. Their problem (as some folks outside the Washington agency navelgaze have always yelled) is that that 'new way of war' was really a 'really good way to fight militaries that looked like ours.' It speaks not at all to the problems of actually handling nation-building (oh right, we weren't going to do that) or of providing after-war stability(see, that would have required having a plan other than 'Iraqis will throw roses at us').

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March 19, 2005

Grazie molto, camerati!

Despite being riddled with technical inconsistencies (cougherrorscough), this article does present an interesting problem if what it posits is true. Expect to see everything from hysteria over terrorist access to said weapons to environmentalist panic with a great deal more reason behind it, although unfortunately I'd have to say the Bay of Naples really probably wouldn't notice.

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November 23, 2004

Obviously, they're needed for hunting.

Clearly, assault-style weapons with 20-round clips are perfectly appropriate for deer hunting. Bless the NRA, and more importantly, bless our nation's leadership for allowing the assault weapons ban to expire, in gutless fear of the NRA! Now we can be sure that those who really need such arms for the annual season can easily get hold of them.

What the hell is wrong with a bolt-action .30-06, anyway? Nobody has a sense of tradition anymore. I mean, hell, if a bolt-action is good enough for U.S. Army Snipers (M24 Sniper Rifle) then suck it up. If you miss the deer on the first shot, well, the deer won. Maybe s/he gets away that time. Is that so bad? If you wound the deer on the first shot, then work for your dinner. Use the bolt. If you have to track the poor thing down and finish it off, well, consider it your penance for missing - and do better next time.

Or use a bow. The one time I've been hunting for live game, I used a longbow. It took me all day and six lost arrows to get that rabbit, but damn he was tasty. Now, if I had to feed myself doing that, I'd likely starve. Heh. But I consider it sporting. Either that rabbit had eight or nine chances to escape, or eight or nine of his cousins got away from me first.

Posted by jbz at 8:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

IAF vs. USAF redux

The defense policy wonk-o-sphere is abuzz with the recent widely-reported results of Operation 'COPE INDIA' - a joint U.S./Indian Air Force exercise near the Indian base at Gwalior that took place in February. That it took place was not noteworthy - what is noteworthy is the degree of frankness with which U.S. Air Force personnel are admitting that they got a big ol' can of Subcontinental Whoop-Ass opened up on 'em. From the Associated Press: "'We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we thought we were,' said Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, the chief of Air Combat Command, which oversees U.S. fighter and bomber wings." In general, it is being reported that in some contests, the Indian Air Force took up to 90% of the engagements.

The USAF is, predictably, harping with concern over the age of the F-15C (the fighter used in these competitions and the US's mainstay air superiority platform) and pointing to these results as evidence that recent lack of investment in US air superiority is coming due.

The most telling numbers I've seen on this issue is the comparison of training time - if the Indian Air Force receives almost twice the pilot-hours per month as the USAF, under more operational conditions, this result is hardly surprising.  One of the largest advantages the U.S. has enjoyed over its adversaries is in training.  Training and planes are expensive, and as has been true for some time, the U.S. has found it easy to outspend its opponents.  Note that training does, in fact, increase pilot proficiency; this is not meant as a slap at American pilots.

There are some tidbits that bear thinking about, IMHO.  Perhaps largest, for me, is the 'big picture' elephant that isn't in the room - the F-22.  Recent Air Force statements and reports have indicated that the USAF feels that the F-22 is a 'make or break' platform, one to which they are willing to sacrifice the R&D and even procurement of other platforms such as the V-22 and the JSF.  It represents the continuation of USAF technical superiority over notional adversaries.  The F-15 platform is, indeed, aging; therefore, it makes sense for the USAF to indicate that these recent contests might point out the need for a more advanced fighter.

Except for one thing: the prominent mention by several parties that one of the most effective aircraft in the Indian arsenal was not the vaunted MiG-29 or Su-27 variants, but the Bison - an upgraded MiG-21, which is originally of 1960s vintage.  The MiG-21 cannot in any way be called technologically superior (or even on a par with) the F-15C.  Therefore, it is somewhat strange to hear the USAF say that it needs a more modern fighter, as demonstrated by their defeat at the hands of a fighter significantly older than their own platform.

I realize this is speculation without data.  It is quite possible (likely, I think) that the main asset of the MiG-21, its high sprint speed, was utilized in concert with the capabilities of the other aircraft mentioned on the Indian team - Su-30, etc. - to create tactical situations which the less-numerous American forces were unable to defeat.  The MiG-21bis 'Fishbed N' (which I am assuming the Indians were using) was manufactured up to 1987 - it has an upgraded engine, more modern avionics and better arms than the original.  Most importantly, it remains a lightweight, high thrust airplane with a high top speed - better able than larger aircraft such as the MiG-29 and Su-27 to match the F-15C's high thrust-to-weight ratio and hence performance.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how the F-22 would better answer the problem than increased and revised training - especially since the F-22 will not be available in numbers even to match the F-15, suggesting that the outnumbered USAF teams were going to be rule rather than exception in the future.

An additional piece of information I would have appreciated is whether the engagements were fought 'open,' or were restricted to visual target range or fought from BVR.  I would suspect that the more maneuverable MiG-30 and zippier MiG-21s being singled out as stars indicate that close-in engagements negated much of the USAF's traditional electronic advantage and distance engagement experience.

This is all just noodling on my part, however.  It will be interesting to see how the USAF responds to this other than by asking for more F-22s...and to the Indian Air Force, congratulations and clear skies!  Getcha next time. :-)

Posted by jbz at 12:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 2, 2004

The More Things Change...

...well, we all know the end of that quote. Today, the relevance of this cliche is supported yet again by our favorite morons in the Defense Department. Apparently, the chief weapons tester for the Pentagon was concerned, in 2003, that the Stryker combat vehicles being produced for the Army were much weaker than had been required. The program was, in his estimation, being damaged by continual lowering of specs to meet performance. Most importantly, the Stryker had performed poorly at protecting its occupants from RPG fire.

In a bold move, he wrote directly to the top to air his concerns, only to be asked whether he was "trying to embarrass" people. With those words, the current leadership put their own image ahead of the lives of American soldiers on the ground, trying to prove their pet ideas against reality.

This, sadly, is not the first time this has happened, and probably won't be the last - when a soldier's concerns are slapped down by those above him in the name of politics and PR. There was a movie about this, recently, which (except for the name of the system under development) could have been written for this very situation. Its name was The Pentagon Wars, and it recounted similar behavior on the part of Army brass during the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. If you care, it starred Cary Elwes and Kelsey Grammar.

Ironically, the Bradley is now the 'older, more trustworthy' system that the current commanders are trying to retain or get more of, rather than trust the Stryker and its 'Rube Goldberg' protections.

Posted by jbz at 4:53 PM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2004

Why not Comanche?

There may be a legion of reasons the Army would like to pull funding from the RAH-66 Comanche program, as was announced today. There may be a myriad of epic backroom politics, a plethora of front-chamber deals, and perhaps even a personal grudge or six involved. I don't know. I, personally, fixate on one aspect of the whole situation: the Silver Bullet Syndrome.

Put bluntly (and the Army has, publicly) we just don't need the Comanche at this time. I am personally somewhat surprised that an Armed Service has apparently decided to give up a 'sexy new' program in order to (they claim) handle the more mundane demands of force integration and readiness, but here we are. I will strike out on a limb and state that personally, I consider this but the first high-profile casualty of the current state of 'continuous sort-of war' that the United States seems to have slid into.

For those not in the know, the Comanche was to be the Army's next-generation 'armed reconnaissance' helicopter. It was to be stealthier than the Apache, faster than the current scout, the OH-54 Kiowa, and armed somewhere between the two. The concept was aired almost twenty years ago, when the demands on Army Aviation were fairly fixed - support the ground force maneuver war doctrine, against a notional large-scale armored and mechanized opponent in the European theater.

Under those conditions, an armed scout made sense. On a fluid mechanized battlefield, the most lethal threats a helo was likely to face were mounted air defense platforms such as the ZSU-23, and perhaps high-tech MANPADS in the hands of infantry - but only at close range. The role of the scout helicopter was to range ahead of the main force, locating targets, calling in fires, and - if necessary - providing emergency fast-moving firepower to augment lighter units. The Apache was the firepower, really; heavily armed, and armored, it was intended to go in harm's way by ambushing oncoming units. Using it to perform interdiction strikes and more offensive sweep operations, as the Army began to do in the Gulf War, was not originally on its agenda.

Fast forward to today. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the most severe threat to helicopters is not high-tech; it's low-tech. Massed small-arms fire, RPGs and man-portable automatic weapons are by far the most common threat to American helicopters operating in the field. While there are, indeed, MANPADS strikes on helos, they are (so far) exclusively IR guided, line-of-sight shots - against which the vaunted stealth of the Comanche offers no protection. Furthermore, in such operating conditions, two things offer better chances of survival - armor and redundancy, as the Apache has, or massive suppressing fire, which the Apache also has. A large degree of survivability could be added to the existing utility helo fleet through the installation of flare and chaff dispensers, perhaps; but this costs money.

The Army notes another problem. There is no standard aviation unit at present. There is a wild mix of airframes and numbers across the various aviation brigades in the force; Reserve units are still using 1970s AH-1s and UH-1s instead of Apaches and Blackhawks. This means that there is almost no commonality in the logistics tail between a frontline unit and its reserve aviation component.

Basically, the Army is proposing to take the huge chunks of money already allocated to Comanche - $17 billion at minimum, through 2010 - and to refit the existing units with aircraft identical to the present frontline units, as well as to upgrade the existing aircraft with survivability and lethality improvements, and to fund the readiness of the aviation component. This is a fairly radical proposal for American defense procurement. Note that they're not talking about giving the money back, just spending it elsewhere. The base effect would be to ensure that when units are deployed, they would deploy with a common set of aircraft; to ensure that there are additional heavy attack helos (Apaches) to meet demand, and to fund long-lead and marginal spares and training to keep availability up.

This doesn't leave us entirely without scouts; the OH-54D Kiowa Warriors are not all that old, and will be around for some time. Plus, the Apache Longbow upgrades include the addition of a mast-mounted sensor array (MMS) similar to what the Warriors carry; these units will be able to perform the original mission - long-range scouting in a maneuver battle - and purchasing additional units means that they can do so without detracting from the available combat power of the main force.

There are, of course, questions that must be asked. To wit: Why was this decision made now, after the Comanche plant had been built? Is this related to the constant stresses of post-9/11 OPTEMPO and the consequent demands on the aviation forces? Are we really sure that we want to give up the high-tech anti-armor (and, lest it be forgot, stealthy Special Ops strike support) capabilities that the Comanche would have offered? If, in fact, this is due to the increased demands on the aviation forces that the present one-point-five wars are making, why is this shortfall being met by reallocating Army capital budgets rather than by additional outlays for readiness and operations? Coupled with the four service Chiefs' testimony before Congress that none of their services had received any information about special drafts to fund the coming year's operations, this is a pertinent issue. There are rumblings that the Bush administration is planning on delaying any such funding requirements until after the election, which, while legal, borders on the pusillanimous, especially if it leaves our forces in any way compromised. Given the present state of affairs, I do not trust the Bush administration (or, for that matter, the Chiefs of service, albeit for different and more understandable reasons) to tell me, as an American citizen, when my armed forces are being hamstrung for political expediency.

Posted by jbz at 12:57 AM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2003

What Did We Learn, Part II

I was recently privileged enough to attend a talk by a staff member of CENTCOM (who must remain unidentified) on the subject of 'planning the war in Iraq.' At that event, I learned a great deal, some of it relevant to the rants I posted earlier. Take all of this with however much salt you wish, but the fact that it is a non-attribution talk tends to raise my estimation of its veracity and/or usefulness, actually.

Our unidentified staffer (OUS hereafter) gave an overview of the process of planning Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a brief picture of the depth and complexity of the enterprise. In so doing, s/he touched on several issues I personally found interesting. Because I"m an egotist, I'll jump to their response to my question first.

I referenced the AAR mentioned in the prior post, and asked hir if s/he had any comment on the 3ID's frustration at apparently not having any Phase IV plans or direction from 'higher HQ' (which must perforce include CENTCOM, hir organization). The response was fairly detailed and stretched over responses to several audience questions, but can be summed up as follows.

  • There were extensive Phase IV plans done by the military planners, with contingencies.
  • Phase IV as a military operation - i.e. using those plans - was not executed.
  • When asked why, OUS replied that DoD and State (and higher) wanted 'more control of the reconstrution and security operations' - i.e. didn't want the military planners to have opaque control of the process.
  • The current operations in Iraq are therefore not Phase IV of the military planners' ops; they are a mishmash of actions undertaken by the State department, the Cabinet/NSC, various NGOs, etc. etc.
  • The decision to not execute the military plans for SASO/Phase IV was made "by the President of the United States. He is the Commander in Chief." (note quotes).
  • The officer in question refused to state that the outcome (i.e. present situation in Iraq) would be any better had the military plan been executed, saying that there were assumptions made that were incorrect (by the military in their planning).
  • They did note that the lack of an integrated plan immediately following the war allowed several bad trends to accelerate (release of criminals from prisons by the outgoing regime led to safety concerns and looting which led to increased arms presence and fear among civilians which in turn led to absenteeism from critical infrastructure maintenance jobs which in turn led to more discontent...etc.) Although plans were eventually implemented, there were early lapses that squandered U.S. authority, position, and local gratitude/opinion.
  • No one expected this level of cohesion and effectiveness from the Ba'ath security forces.
This last is an interesting point, because earlier in the talk, in response to a question from another audience member, OUS had spoken of how the 'bad trends' above had led to a 'widespread discontent' and 'resistance' from the general civilian population - which was the Bush Administration's 'party line' and break with Britain's intelligence in recent weeks. The British had insisted that the recent wave of attacks was the result of a tightly organized group with lots of resources and preparation, suggesting Saddam loyalists and/or paramilitary; the Bush Admin insisted it was merely an increase in unconnected incidents from discontented locals, foreign fighters, various factions, and the like. While evidence is mounting that the actual attacks (especially the less planned and professional ones) are, in fact, being carried out by folks like this, it is also becoming clear that they are being fomented, paid, supplied and recruited by some shadowy unidentified group - the size of which is not known, but the planning, resources and 'prepositioned nature' of which can be inferred from its success rate and the continued ratcheting upward of attempted attacks despite increasing U.S. response. For OUS to openly discuss mistakes in assumptions and the importance placed on the prewar Ba'ath security forces implies that the military planners, at least, considered this sort of response a threat. When pressed, OUS admitted that the military had, in fact (in Phases III and IV - Combat Ops and SASO) planned to cope with the attempted reconstitution of an organized resistance. However, s/he denied that the military plans were designed to cope with one the size of which is currently operating. When asked why, s/he pointed out that the military plans assumed no 'gap' in the implementation of Phase IV ops, which would mean that the 'trends' would not have been allowed to develop so far.


So the reason things are so bad is the party line (they're disconnected and the result of widespread anger) and the military is saying that in their original plans, there was the assumption that a preplanned and directed resistance will be a problem.

This sounds an awful lot like the military was overridden (once more) on the basis of wishful thinking.


Posted by jbz at 6:55 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2003

Siege, Mk. II

A Proposal for Coping with Terrorist and other Combatant Opponents in Urban Or Rural Terrain Containing Civilian Populations.

Note: This was written in October of 2001. I offer it as a proposal proven somewhat off the mark by recent events, but (I believe) still malleable into a workable policy.

The question of who was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 appears to be coming close to being answered, at least as far as the U.S. Government is concerned. The organizations and networks spawned by the actions and resources of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi dissident, seem to be receiving the bulk of the U.S. investigation’s time and attention.

The next natural question is to ask what, then, shall we do? I offer here a small proposal. For purposes of argument, I will presume that bin Laden and/or his network (if not necessarily the man himself) are responsible, and that at the time this is decided, he remains in Afghani territory under the (at least tacit) protection of the Taliban government.

The Objective

This alone will spark debate, at least as soon as it is seriously considered in the policy and public arenas. What, precisely, are we trying to do? The terms ‘bring to justice,’ ‘punish,’ ‘defend ourselves,’ ‘retaliate’ and simply ‘kill’ have all been floated on American television since the attack, when applied to bin Laden and company. Even in the perfect world of a supposed action, we cannot agree on the final disposition of these persons, even assuming they have been identified and apprehended, or at least located.

The base objective, it seems to me, is to destroy their ability to carry out, incite or even motivate terror attacks against the U.S. and its citizens and allies. The most effective means of doing so all presuppose that we manage to apprehend or kill those persons most directly responsible. However, there are many obstacles in our path. Some of the most significant appear to me to be the following:

  • Identifying our targets. Here, we’re actually fine – in reality, we appear to have a good idea about some of them and the willingness to wait some time for solid information.
  • Locating our targets. This is problem number one, and must be addressed first.
  • Isolating our targets. Not easy, but doable.
  • Reaching our targets. This is a bad one, given the location, characteristics and history of Afghanistan and the surrounding areas.
  • Capturing/Killing our targets. The final goal of this particular operation.
  • Avoiding Civilian casualties and creating further reason for hatred of the U.S. This one’s really going to be rough.

They’re not insolvable. Let’s start with locating the targets, since I have (I believe) effectively punted the first step in the list above. Locating is a proactive as well as reactive process. While we are indeed trying to discover their location(s), it behooves us to also work to limit their range of movement and freedom of action. Even if the area to which we are attempting to constrain them seems impossibly large and complex, the effort should be made. Here, it seems, the U.S. administration appears to be making progress, helped considerably by the horrific nature of the attacks themselves. Nations traditionally sympathetic to bin Laden and company are declaring themselves less so; Iran has closed its border with Afghanistan to avoid refugee flows and condemned bin Laden. An Iranian World Cup qualifying match observed a minute of silence in tribute to those fallen in New York and Washington – a small but extremely powerful gesture considering the nation offering it and its history with our own. Pakistan, the primary supporters of the Taliban government, are (publically, at any rate) dropping their supportive stance, and (as of Sunday the 16th of September) have gone so far as to declare that U.S. aircraft will be allowed to use their airspace in any operations in the region. This is an enormous concession; compare, for example, to strikes on Libya in which France refused the U.S. overflight clearances. To have a government whose nation contains large groups who sympathize with the Taliban to make this offer indicates the gravity with which they view this event.

So, containing them may not be that difficult. If they are ejected from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the indications are that the U.S. will be able to purse a diplomatic course towards chivvying them into a region with effective and sympathetic law enforcement – INTERPOL, for example, has issued a ‘Red Notice’ for bin Laden’s capture. So let us assume that they are not evicted from Afghanistan. What then?

Afghanistan is a terribly inhospitable region. Deserts and mountains make up most of the country, with few resources available to succor those who would hide in the wilderness. While it is indeed possible, as bin Laden himself proved during the Soviet invasion, it is difficult. Also (and this is the key point) during that invasion, civilian support was available, even if only in tacit form, as were direct avenues of resources, support and intelligence from the United States Government itself.

Yes, I am leading to a point. The key, then, is to separate the terrorists and their sympathizers from popular support both internationally as well as domestically. The Taliban, who shelter bin Laden, while controlling the majority of the country, do not enjoy popular support. Their hold on power rests more on the force of arms and the general exhaustion of a populace suffering from two decades of war. Ergo, there may be avenues to divide the population of Afghanistan from bin Laden’s support; even, if necessary, from support of the Taliban.

The United States should aggressively seek to carry out the following tasks.

  1. Establish a semipermanent presence adjacent to Afghanistan. Pakistan is the logical choice; direct coterminous borders may not be necessary (although they would help).
  2. Station combat troops, with an emphasis on special forces personnel, in these adjacent areas. We should not employ them in combat blindly, or with no other objective than to ‘get him or them.’ That’s too vague. They should be nearby, however.
  3. Divide the task of response into two sections; actions taken w/r/t the Taliban, and actions taken w/r/t bin Laden. They are different; the former claim the prerogatives of sovereign statehood; let them then also assume the risks. The latter and his associates, on the other hand, are wanted for crimes, dead or alive as the traditional saying goes; you cannot, however, employ the same means that can be applied to nation-states.
  4. The Taliban, if necessary (if they do not cooperate) should be subjected to a vigorous air campaign. It should not be undertaken, however, without carefully and clearly warning the population of Afghanistan that they are not our target, and that they should endeavor to avoid potential target areas (say, Kabul) because at some point after a specified date, we will begin operations.
  5. Finally, employ the carrot and the stick vis-à-vis both the Afghani population and bin Laden’s associates. This is the heart of my argument (I know, I only tok two pages to get here).

The Carrot and the Stick

The United States, we are told and shown, is hated because it is rich, selfish, thoughtless, and is/has been involved in many areas of the world where its involvement has directly or indirectly destroyed or worsened the lives of the local population. The Intifadah arose among the orphaned dispossessed Palestinians who suffered in camps from Israeli oppression (backed with American money and weapons). Any bombing or combat action that harms civilians, especially miserable ones (as the Taliban remind us) will likely simply create a new generation of haters, and cement bin Laden’s Jihad.

In addition, governments have little motivation to assist the U.S. in such actions since they must answer to their own people, especially after the U.S. leaves. In general, it’s a bad idea to simply attack people, places or things in response. What, then, to do?

I propose offering both sides of America. If we find it necessary to bomb Afghanistan, as we may, we should work to ensure the safety and goodwill of the common population, who (we are fond of believing) will eventually have a say in the leadership of that nation. I hear you arguing but what should be do precisely?


I propose we give America to those who would otherwise be left homeless, hungry, wounded and tired. I propose we offer the civilian, noncombatant people of the region a choice. Try hard to find and apprehend our targets with special forces ‘flying squads,’ but don’t expect it to work. Try very hard to close the noose around them. Even if we do not have ‘permission’ to operate in Afghanistan, paralyze the Taliban with airpower and use airborne forces and air power to ‘herd’ bin Laden’s people. However, once we have them isolated in a relatively small area (and the operative term is relative; if we can only track them to a million square kilometers but that area contains relatively little in the way of resources, fine. If they try to hide in a city, as they might (the U.S. has been public recently about its extreme wariness about undertaking urban combat), then this will work even better.

Find a relatively safe area near the objective zone. Build a city. At least, build a small town. Build a hospital, and dining facilities, and sanitation. Bring in electrical generators. Spend lavishly to create an area of relative comfort in the region. If possible, take and convert an existing town, but build if we must. Staff the hospital with American doctors and medication. Offer fast food (if it isn’t offensive to the locals) or at least decent meal kitchens. Have social workers. Have entertainers. Have carpenters, tradesmen, etc. Then invite the local population to move in.

Note: this does not need to be a permanent settlement! The purpose is not to upgrade the permanent living conditions of the local inhabitants! Nope, the purpose is to give them an attractive reason to remain uninvolved, to cooperate, and most important, to get our of harm’s way. Allow anyone who wishes to avail themselves of the facilities, with only one rule: No weapons allowed. We don’t care who you are; as long as you’re not on our ‘watch list’ then you’re welcome. House them. Feed them. Teach them. Entertain them. Live with them! Staff this facility with American volunteers on a rotating basis.

But here’s the important part.

Somewhere nearby, begin the buildup of forces that you will need to actually go into the city, or the region, and find then kill or apprehend your objectives. Let the civilians see you building up. Tell them plainly, as well as everyone else in the region:

”We are here to deal with terrorists and look to our own safety. We have no quarrel with you. We realize that we may have to do things to this countryside and/or city that are horrific. We cannot avoid that unless the terrorists are handed over to us or apprehended. In the event that we are forced to act, however, we will do our best to ensure that you, the people of this region, have received America’s best efforts to ensure your safety, comfort and well-being while this unfortunate task is being handled.”

Then do it. Bomb the nearest city flat. Send the 1st Armored in after them, with the understanding that sending them into a city means taking the city down flat. Do whatever it takes, knowing that you have done your level best to remove civilians from the line of fire. If you come across them, do what you are able for them and direct them to the rear. But damn it, lay waste once you do have to go in!

If this works, the following will be true:

  • We might repair the image of our nation somewhat
  • Those innocents that would normally suffer during this type of action and thus continue to spread anti-U.S. sentiment and gospel would have a reason to at least attempt to understand our position. If we are able to do so, they may even end up grateful for what help we can give them. To ensure this, we must give unstintingly inside those enclave walls.
  • The perpetrators are robbed of local support. Even if the locals don’t like us, they can walk to the enclave and avoid supporting the terrorists.
  • The lesson of what America can do when it (as a polity) is pissed is not lost; however, neither is the lesson that America can and does provide for people as well; provide food, water, electricity, care, laughter, medicines, what-have-you.

The point is that the civilians then have a vested interest in actually improving the situation before we are done fighting; they can see our better qualities as well. They may see that we are, in fact, helping their babies or their parents. The question is, then what do we do? What if they don’t come out?

So what?

If you’ve done this correctly, eventually they will either be isolated enough that we can go into cities or areas after them without significant interference, or they will be found and arrested or killed. People will see what it means to have a cranked-up, pissed off American military on the move, but won’t be sitting in the line of fire. Furthermore, alliances can be tightened; agreements bolstered.

Posted by jbz at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2003

Bombing to Win (cheap)

In recent years, the spiraling cost of military acquisition in the U.S. has been a constant topic in 'the biz.' There's a (in)famous aphorism that if one continues the current trends in procurement and budgeting, in something like 2045 the entire U.S. Air Force will consist of a single fighter. (Hm, I need to find that reference.) While this is an extreme, the trend is undeniable - the F-14 Tomcat was one of the world's most expensive fighters (if not the most) when it debuted in the early 1970s, and it cost $30 million a copy. The latest version of the F-18 Hornet, the F-18 E/F 'Super Hornet', is a marginally improved version of the F-18 - which means it still has substandard legs and a mezzo-mezzo bombload - and its cost per unit has topped $70 million, by some estimates.

That's for a single-seat fighter. In the bomber world, things are even worse - the famed B-2 Spirit 'stealth bomber' is, depending on who you ask, anywhere from $414 million to $2 billion per plane. The name of the B-2, the Spirit, reflects the Air Force's recognition of the stress the aircraft placed on their credibility - especially with requisitions for the equally pricey F-22 Raptor upcoming. Each individual airplane is named 'Spirit Of (some U.S. State)' as a sop to the various politicians who supported the project.

There has been, in recent times, at least lip service towards the 'doing it cheaper' school of thinking. One of my favorite methods of cutting costs involves what a colleague of mine and I tend to call 'Air Octol.' Looking at the Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS), it is clear that the vast majority of bomb tonnage was dropped not by expensive B-1B Lancers or hypercostly B-2 Spirits, but by the venerable (and highly reliable) B-52 Stratofortress. These Korean-war-era airplanes have been given renewal after upgrade, and are now expected to be active in the U.S. force well past their 50th year of life, perhaps as far as 2035, when the flying aircraft will be approximately 70 to 75 years old.

The B-52 is, essentially, a militarized version of the 707. Not the same airframe, but Boeing designed them nearly simultaneously, and their size and eventual load capacity ended up not dissimilar. The B-52 has received engine upgrades, with others in the planning pipeline, giving it more efficient turbofan engines and modern electronics.

Our proposal is this: Rather than build extremely expensive 'high capability' bombers like the B-2, or 'supersonic capable low-altitude penetrators' like the B-1, why not just build replacement B-52s? Better yet, why not take an airframe which is already available in large numbers, has an extremely varied and broad maintenance availability, and convert it?

In short, why not build a 747 bomber variant?

The freighter versions of the Boeing 747 have been tuned and iterated over multiple designs for efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and reliability. They have massive carrying capacity as well as ample space and power for electronics (modern flight entertainment systems being what they are, much less modern avionics). A fully-equipped 747, kitted out for passenger service, can be had these days brand new for under $200 million. Without any interior amenities, the price drops to approximately $150 million. Why not take advantage of the economies of scale in production of the airframe and build 40 or 50 new bombers?

One common argument is that the airframe and hull of the jetliner, built for different weight distribution than a bomber, are not able to handle the stresses of weapons loading. My response: freight in a 747 is loaded in standard containers, each of which can weigh over a ton loaded. With the most common weapons airdropped from bombers being 1000 and 2000-lb guided bombs, this shouldn't be a problem. Furthermore, the freighter variant is designed to allow varying loads to be packed into the airplane. The total carrying capacity of the 747-400F is over 124 tons of cargo. Even allowing for 24 tons of that to allocate to dispensing systems and doors, that still gives the plane an awesome payload.

Another objection: you can't put bomb bay doors on a jetliner, and it can't handle sudden large changes in weight loading. Well, pshaw. I offer this (found at BoingBoing). If you can dump large quantities of water out of a moving jetliner, it doesn't seem that difficult (I acknowledge that I am not an aero eng) to drop discrete packets out of the beast. Furthermore, there are bomb bay doors clearly visible in that shot. :-)

So yes, this entire post was based on finding that picture and gleefully adding it to my stack of 'why not do this the cheap way?' evidence.

Posted by jbz at 1:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2003

What did we learn from this?

One effective procedure the United States Army utilizes is the AAR, or After Action Report. This is an attempt to collect the 'lessons learned' from any significant action or deployment undertaken by a unit, disseminate them amongst the rest of the organization (Army) and to draw recommendations from their experiences for future use. The Army has an entire unit, named CALL ( Center for Army Lessons Learned), which is part of TRADOC (TRaining and DOctrine Command). It is tasked with collecting, processing, collating, synthesizing and distributing these bits of institutional learning throughout the force.

Recently, the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) (Don't you love all the acrobreviations?) published a report based on its experiences in the Second Gulf War ( Operation Iraqi Freedom). The 3ID was a frontline unit, tasked with fighting its way to the outskirts of Baghdad and then seizing and holding the Saddam International Airport, as well as providing support to units in neighboring sectors. The good part? This report was made available via their public website, briefly, before being yanked off the Internet. However, the good folks at Cryptome.org managed to snag a copy and make it available to us the public. As an analyst, I found it to contain a whole collection of juicy bits, especially if you have a low opinion of the approach to this war taken by the National Command Authority.

Note: This document is not classified SECRET, or anything higher. It is marked 'For Official Use Only.' However, placement on the 3ID website could be interpreted as official use. In any event, since the information is available through cryptome and probably elsewhere, I am not revealing anything which is not already exposed, so I'm going to go ahead with this.

Wow, that was a really long preamble.

I read this document with a critical eye for several issues. First, I was concerned about various purely tactical and/or technical issues that cropped up during the war (someday I'll blog my rant about Apache attack helicopters versus dug-in, prepared armor without support). For the moment, however, I want to stick to my ongoing fury with the Administration for what I cannot in good conscience call anything but insanely optimistic planning (or lack thereof) and hence, a complete lack of reasonable preparation for the aftermath of a successful combat action in Iraq.

Let me start with these paragraphs, from p. 289:

Issue: For political reasons, leaders declared that U.S. forces were 'liberating forces' rather than occupying forces. This may have caused military commanders to be reluctant to use the full power granted to occupying forces to accomplish our legitimate objectives.

Discussion: As a matter of law and fact, the US is an occupying power in Iraq, even if we characterize ourselves as liberators. Under International Law,occupation is a de facto status that occurs when an invading army takes effective control of a portion of another country. If necessary to maintain this public affairs position, our national command should have stated that while we were "liberators," we intended to comply with International Law requirements regarding occupation. This status would have provided us authority to control almost every aspect of the Iraqi life, including the civilian population, government, resources, and facilities, making it easier for us to accomplish all SASO (Securing and Stabilizing Ops, I think - jb) missions. Occupation law also imposed upon us obligations to protect the civilian population to the best of our ability. Because of the refusal to acknowledge occupier status, commanders did not initially take measures available to occupying powers, such as imposing curfews, directing civilians to return to work, and controlling the local government and populace. The failure to act after we displaced the regime created a power vacuum, which others immediately tried to fill.

Recommendation: Military leaders must use authority granted occupying forces. We could have done this consistent with our government's stated position.

In my interpretation of this, the U.S. military was denied legitimate and effective tools for increasing the security of a conquered area and populace. This was not even done due to political concerns over the use of those tools, in which case a statement specifically forbidding their use would be expected; rather, it was done because no guidance was issued from above, implying that the planners of the war did not understand the ramifications of their plan for the safety and success of their forces on the ground. While I don't know if military advisors brought these matters to their attention, it still represents a severe lack of foresight to the detriment not only of their mission goals but their forces' safety.

This is in keeping with continuing stories that, before the attack, the administration and Rumsfeld clashed heavily with military commanders over the size of the forces required to undertake the job. Persistent stories then indicated that the military command was rebuffed several times when requesting force levels near the 200K range, with the administration claiming that 40K should be enough. Fortunately, either those rumors were untrue (although I give them credence based on the stories at the time) or the military fought back, because the forces that went in did, in fact, number near 200K. However, even then, there were problems immediately apparent in the paucity of support personnel such as military police to handle prisoners, and rear-echelon units to guard supply lines - the ambush and capture of the now-famous Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her platoon is only the most egregious example.

So we have, in the paragraphs quoted, some evidence that (in the 3ID's opinion) there was a lack of prior planning for the occupation on the part of the 'national leaders.' This is an unusually strong statement, especially for an Army after-action report; given that these reports usually are internally circulated only, there is no reason to harp on conflicts with outside agencies other than to note that the Army should be prepared to handle them. However, the document continues on p. 289:

Issue: No civilian authority in place prepared to serve as civilian administrator of Iraq and no Phase IV plan.

Discussion: The President announced that our national goal was "regime change." Yet there was no timely plan prepared for the obvious consequences of a regime change. As late as 15 April, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance ( ORHA) had, at best, a working draft plan of post-Saddam Iraq. Additionally, the delay in having the civilian authority on the ground (while perhaps justified by security concerns) made commanders reluctant to move too quickly regarding Phase IV SASO activities, as they were concerned that their actions might be inconsistent with ORHA efforts - which either did not exist or had not been shared with the military.Despite the virtual certainty that the military would accomplish the regime change, there was no plan for oversight and reconstruction, even after the division arrived in Baghdad.

Recommendation: Resolution of this is not in division (3rd Infantry division -jb) control. State, Defense and other relevant agencies must do a better and timelier job planning occupation governance and standing up a new Iraqi government. If this is not possible, the best alternative would have been to let the military plan and execute the mission for a month or more, then turn it over to the civilian overseer. This would have avoided the power/authority vacuum created by our failure to immediately replace key government institutions.

So, to further our trend, there simply was no plan available. However, preparations for this war had been underway for up to six months. The war was launched without a proper plan for what would happen even in the case of success (deposition of Saddam's regime and assumption of control on the ground by U.S./Coalition forces)!

In a concrete example of the shortfalls that plagued the 3ID, the report discusses the complete destruction and then the as-yet-incomplete resurrection of the Baghdad police department - surely a central institution for restoring and maintaining order (p. 290):

(paraphrase:The Baghdad police dept went from 40K to 2,500 police after the war, and at the time of writing, they're STILL not on the streets...)

"Recommendation: Higher headquarters needs to understand theimmediate need and impact of the local police in the aftermath of war. The people wanted police and needed security. But we had no plan to accomplish this."

In conclusion, the 3ID offers a high-level look at the problems with Phase IV (securing and stabilization, ongoing operations after the defeat of the Iraqi military), on p.293:

Higher headquarters did not provide the 3ID (M) with a plan for Phase IV.As a result, 3ID (M) transitioned into Phase IV operations in the absence of guidance.

Recommendations: Division planners should have drafted detailed plans on Phase IV ops that would have allow(sic) it to operate independently outside of guidance from higher HQ. Critical requirements should have been identified prior to LD(deployment), and a plan to execute a SASO mission for at least 30 days should have been ready to execute immediately. A liaison officer (LNO) from ORHA during planning would have greatly assisted this process.

This is a chiding of 3ID itself, by its own evaluation, for not planning to cope with higher HQ's lack of guidance. Although one can argue whether or not this is a valid criticism, given that it is not the division command's job to determine how to keep order in Iraq after conquest (at least, other than narrowly defined in their sector and under guidance from above), it is clear that the problem itself was severe. There simply was no information flowing down the chain on either what to do after the closing of 'major combat,' or the present issues surrounding deployment and operations were so far out of the military's 'comfort zone' that there was no time for or prioritization of these concerns.

Throughout the document, when macro-level concerns are addressed, there is a clear tendency for 3ID to indicate problems by citing a lack of division-level planning for 'holes' in the operations plan. It is not the board which issued this report's job to critique those holes themselves, and that is why the emphasis on those gaps and failings of levels of command higher up the chain is highly unusual in a report of this nature.

In short, our forces on the ground were screwed by a presidential administration that had painted itself a pretty picture of being greeted with flowers and cheers for overthrowing Saddam, and wasn't willing to consider much of anything past that - and, in fact, was so confident about the outcome that they were willing to waste time sparring with the military over the nature and size of the forces required to do the job - something which is not their job nor within their purview. Their job is to set objectives; it's the military's job to determine how to carry them out. For this group of chickenhawks to not only presume that they had a better idea of the outcome, but to spend time overriding military professionals as to the requirements for the action, is reprehensible, to say the least.

Posted by jbz at 3:18 PM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2003

.50 Magnum sign of the times

I read Popular Mechanics on a semi-regular basis, and I don't typically see ads for guns...but in the December 2003 issue (100 years of powered flight) there is an ad for a Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum handgun - essentially, a .50 magnum load in a 5-shot revolver.


Not that I object to 'handgun hunting' which is what the ad purports to be talking to. I don't even mind that they're advertising the gun, really. What I mind is the sneaking feeling that I get that this is a reflection of the Neocon preferences that are oh-so-unfortunately visible in American society these days.

Posted by jbz at 3:39 PM

November 2, 2003

Strelas and Second Guessing

Today's helicopter downing in Iraq graphically demonstrates the degree to which the lack of pre-war planning for the aftermath has begun to cost the United States military, its soldiers, and the Bush administration. In a week which has seen the number, sophistication and variety of attacks on Coalition forces rise dramatically, the world is left to watch Bush and company spin stories about how the attacks are the results of 'desperate partisans' while their most solid alliance (that with Britain) struggles to contain the rising disagreement between the two nations over intelligence inside Iraq.

The weapon used to down the CH-47 Chinook just south of Fallujah was a SA-7 Strela, a MANPADS weapon from the Iraqi army arsenal. 'Hundreds' of those weapons are missing from Iraqi army stockpiles, according to the Washington Post. This brings back the specter of Vietnam most graphically; helicopters, originally the symbol of American military might, turned at the war's end into the symbol of American retreat from South Vietnam with the famous shot of a Huey atop the Embassy compound evacuating personnel.

Here's the problem, as I see it. Leaving aside, for now, the rationale for the war in the first place, one fact which is clear now (and was clear then) is that Saddam and his disciples had ten years to prepare for the guerrilla resistance which is springing up. The U.S. had made it quite clear what their intentions where, and had made it even clearer what would happen when Iraqi military forces met U.S. forces in set-piece battles. The effectiveness of Saddam's 'vanishing act' alone should indicate the degree of difficulty the U.S. has had and will continue to have in gathering intelligence inside Iraq. The Administration and the U.S. DoD's public statements, at the opening act of this fracas, were full of confident evaluations of the results of combat against the Iraqi military. With a few points of contention, I have no problem with that; they were essentially correct, and even the few serious miscalculations during 'major combat' (my favorite example: sending Apache attack helicopters unsupported against an entrenched and dispersed armor unit south of Baghdad) do not bely the fact that the U.S. forces had Iraq's military completely outclassed.

The problem then, as it remains now, was what happened afterwards - and on that note, the Administration was resolutely blindered. Much reference was made to 'liberated Iraqi peoples' and the like, implying parades and confetti - but no serious analysis, it seems, was done of what the challenges would be in maintaining an occupation and reconstruction effort with a ten-year-in-the-making preplanned resistance infrastructure, coupled with what appears to be a constant influx of suicidal and/or trained and experienced fighters from around the world who have been itching (it seems) to have a go at the U.S. on 'home turf.'

Okay, enough. As the title says, second guessing. Here's the real meat: What do we do now? There is little coming out of Washington except 'We're winning! This proves it!' and little coming out of the field commands except casualty statistics and parries of reporters' questions.

This is the problem that no-one seems to be willing to touch. The Democratic candidates, for all their rhetoric about the miscalculations of the Bush administration, have been almost completely silent as to what a better plan might be. Republicans have been caught up in defending or critiquing their leader, and have been no more help. That seems to leave it up to us, the citizens of this country, to figure out what the heck we need to do.

Those are our forces; our soldiers, and our allies. They are stuck in a rapidly-degrading situation while we sit here at home and debate how to de-elect or re-elect our president in a year's time. We need to spark debate not so much on what Bush and company did wrong (leave that to the election spindoctors) but on how we fix it. Despite a feeling that national security and military operations are best left 'to the experts' we have to be involved in this. The reason is simple - those operations and forces are intended to provide for our security. In order to do that job, we need to be clear on what 'our security' means: what should the goals in Iraq have been, and what are they now?

The Administration seems to be floundering from one position to another. The original public justification of WMD, after taking a beating and sparking a scandal within the administration with the Plame exposure, seems to have fallen beneath the rug of the Oval Office. We're now told that the War on Terror seems to have demanded it, despite the fact that at the outset, the one thing that did seem to be pretty clear was that Saddam did not have operational links to al-Qaeda. How, then, is this our objective now? Simple: the debacle in Iraq has been labeled a 'terror' operation, which means it fits. I beg to differ here: whatever the motives, means and methods used against our forces there, no matter how hideous, all of it can and must be looked at as a resistance against occupation. We are a foreign power, and we are occupying Iraq - regardless of how you look at the reasons for doing so. Thus, trying to lump the ongoing combat over there into the War on Terror is not only semantically incorrect, but (in my opinion) weaselly expediency of the worst kind.

There is, possibly, a broad path which will take us out of this semantic and strategic trap that the Bush administration seems to have gotten us into. That is as follows: The United States must remove itself from the position of dominant occupier and target inside Iraq as soon as possible.

This is not going to be easy. Bush and company managed to alienate nearly the entire international community in undertaking this mess, meaning it will be nearly impossible to simply transfer the mantle of authority to a well-meaning international coalition. Furthermore, our continuing fumbling around in Iraq is costing us any goodwill we might have had from the Iraqi population, as the anecdotal 'bystander' quotes from the helicopter downing today indicate. However, it is likely that Iraq is suffering from the influx of foreign jihadi and suicide fighters, and (as Britain insists) the resistance is an organic net of groups with various agendas who have been conveniently provided with a common target (us) rather than a hierarchical organized group reporting to the remnants of the Ba'athists and Saddam. At the very least, there are enough weapons floating around Iraq and its neighbors, and the borders are porous enough, that it seems unlikely that the only fighters involved are prewar Saddamists. Furthermore, Saddam has demonstrated before that he is perfectly willing to support groups with whom he has no common positive goal if it discommodes his enemies. Given the history of internal strife in Iraq, there would be no shortage of groups with disparate motives who would not refuse resources to attack the Coalition if they were offered. As Saddam has shown, he can be ruthless in quelling internal dissent, so there is no reason to think that he and/or his team would not prefer internecine chaos if it hurt the U.S., banking on their ability to crush internal opponents if the Coalition occupation is forced to withdraw.

In any case, Bush and co. are right about one thing: these attacks and their architects are showing no concern or regard for Iraqi civilians. At the moment, however, the populace appears willing to overlook this or attribute their losses to the Coalition's presence. I would propose that in order to demonstrate the danger of allowing the types of people coming in to carry out these attacks free reign, the U.S. should accelerate all efforts to turn over internal authority to native Iraqi institutions, and avoid statements like 'the long hard slog' and 'In it for the long haul'. This is not because we intend to abandon Iraq, but because we intend to restrict our exercise of power to military operations designed to destroy personnel and institutions we object to.

The U.S. attacked Iraq because the misbehavior of its government placed the conflict between Saddam and the U.S. in the international arena, where the U.S. excels at the use of force. The current occupation is demonstrating yet another time the different requirements between classic combat operations and governance by force. The U.S. is unwilling to engage in governance by force (a fact for which I remain profoundly grateful) and yet it is being forced towards this position by the attacks. The initiative has been ceded to our opponents inside Iraq, whoever they may be, because the U.S. military does well only when it has a defined opponent against whom it can focus its combat power. The U.S. military, by design, is not a law enforcement organization. However, that's what Bush and Company seem to be trying to use it for. The British discovered the hard way the difference between a combat military and a civil governance military in Northern Ireland. The U.S. military is set up, designed and intended to protect the U.S. through the conduct of military combat operations with the goal of deterring or destroying a known and visible opponent. This is a good thing; it makes it harder to use the U.S. military to, say, crush internal dissent in St. Louis.

However, in Iraq, we're doing just the opposite. We are attempting to utilize the U.S. military to enforce civil order. It's not built for that. In Vietnam, the U.S. military was essentially successful at defeating the Viet Cong as long as they attempted to engage as a military opponent; the Tet Offensive was their last gasp at classic military operations before two critical changes. One, they received Northern support, and two, they reverted to the more-effective and less-costly civilian insurrection and guerrilla tactics that came to dominate that war.

In Iraq, we are witnessing that same shift. The military of Iraq has been essentially destroyed and disbanded by the U.S. and its allies; therefore, the fight has shifted from one aimed at defeated or denying access to the U.S. military to one that, by intention or unfortunate happenstance (although I believe intention) is aimed at forcing the U.S. military to attempt to maintain order. Maintaining order is a much, much harder job; in order for you to fail, your opponent must simply disturb things, rather than actually defeat you. Plus, the U.S. forces, sitting in a culture with which they are not familiar and subject to constant harrassment, will respond as they did in Vietnam (and as the Russians did in Afghanistan) by slowly losing their respect for the local population and infrastructure in favor of the use of (fire)power to preserve their own lives. This is not an indictment of the U.S. forces; merely a natural response of a military organization to hostile surroundings.

A military is based on the notion of 'us' and 'them' - you can't have a military without that basic concept. In the U.S. case, the 'them' is defined during peacetime, in training and in general experience as 'the people we're shooting at' which is how it's supposed to be. A military, properly used, is good for only two things (to re-use one of my favorite aphorisms, stolen shamelessly from a respected professor): killing people and breaking things. It is the job of policymakers and strategists to determine how that capability can be applied to the task of achieving the goals they have set before them by their constituency.

So, in a roundabout fashion, back we come. It's our job, as Americans, to determine what we have a military for. Traditionally, it is to serve as a last option to preserve American territory, lives and sovereignty - and to do so by unleashing as much hell as possible at 'them.' Attempting to 'housebreak' it to do other tasks that don't involve that simple bit of clarity reduces its effectiveness, as the U.S. military admits when it requires units that have been 'trained up for peacekeeping' to undergo several months 'retraining' in order to take up their turn in rotation for 'ready' units.

What to do, then?

My answer, simplistic as it is, is this: return the conflict to an arena where the U.S. can maximally utilize its traditional advantage. Withdraw from the task of 'maintaining order' inside Iraq as quickly as possible. Continue to supply any requests for material assistance that the Iraqi people and government produce, with as little delay as possible. BUT:

Make it clear that attacks on U.S. nationals and allied personnel, while carrying out any mission of assistance or delivery of aid, are therefore acts of war between Iraq and the nations whose assets have been targeted. As such, they run the risk of inviting the kind of full-bore response that the U.S. military is good at. Removing U.S./allied forces from day-to-day duty inside Iraq would go a long way to demonstrating to the populace 'caught in the middle' that we aren't the ones trying to prolong this fight. However, any such withdrawal must be accompanied by the threat (and exercise, if it is required) of military reprisal for any guerrilla actions that occur.

After all, unlike the Israelis, we do not have a stake in the land, here. We're not there to preserve Iraq for our use. We may not have even had a decent reason for being there in the first place. But we can strive to return our relations with the Iraqis to 'nation-to-nation' links as opposed to attempting to maintain order through gross misapplication of U.S. power on the ground.

Whew. That wasn't as clear as I'd have liked. I'll have to revisit it. Comments welcomed.

Posted by jbz at 1:43 PM