Thursday, April 28, 2016

What does it really mean when Russian jets buzz US ships?

The US Air Force and Navy continue to get harassed by Russian jets.  The encounters are provocative at the very least and seem to be a throw back to the Cold War Days.  In this especially acrimonious election cycle, it is easy to believe that these encounters between Russian and US forces is the result of the Obama Administration.  Some may even argue that Putin senses that after more than 14 years at war, the US military has been taxed to its breaking point.

There may be some truth to those perceptions but it assumes a Western point of view that is too US centric, meaning there may be other factor contributing to the near skirmishes that the general public isn't following.

First, the Obama Administration has quietly resurrected its "Pivot to Asia" strategy, this time though relying more on military show of force than diplomacy.  US Navy vessels as well as US Air Force B-52 bombers have been making much to do over several artificial islands that Chinese have constructed. The State Dept argues that these islands violate right-of-way for sea traffic and as such the US intends to test the Chinese resolve.

Keep in mind that it wasn't that long ago the Russia and China (along with Brazil, India, and South Africa) formed the economic coalition, BRICS at a time when the EU is falling apart and the US economy is struggling.

Brazil has become vulnerable due to the outbreak of Zika virus right before the Olympic games.  If the games get cancelled or if a lot of countries start to pull out for fear of spreading the disease, the Brazilian economy will go bust (which it may regardless).  As though that wasn't enough, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff faces impeachment.  She just travelled to New York to ask the UN for help.

Given that Venezuela still blames the CIA for the death of their former President Hugo Chavez, it may not be much of a stretch for Brazil to believe the US for their economic woes as punishment for forming BRICS.

Meanwhile, the US has taken the unusual step of deploying F-22 fighters to Romania, which of course is pretty much right next door to Ukraine.

Perhaps Russia's increased aggressiveness is more about backing China and Brazil against perceived interference by the US.  The F-22s is more about show that actually positioning any forces that could counter further actions by Russia in Ukraine.

All of which makes one wonder what has been set in motion that the winner of the Presidential election will be left to deal with in 2017?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jack of All Trades and Master of None

"Jack of all trades and master of none"

The rhetorical figure aptly described the officer corps of the US Air Force back in the mid-1980s.  As a brand new second lieutenant, I was admonished to as quickly as possible find opportunities to "broaden" my career path such as joint assignments, staff assignments or even taking a tour in another career field as a means of improving opportunities for promotions.

The emphasis was always on upward mobility (which equated to promotions) then becoming adept at aspects of the job.  Even if you joined because all you wanted to do was fly, you were to get over that as quickly as possible because you just weren't going to get promoted if you remained in the cockpit too long.

We were told through our superiors and supervisors that it was the job of the officers to aspire to command as quickly as possible.  Mastering the nuances of the career field was the responsibility of the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), especially since USAF eliminated warrant officers back in 1959.

The mentality of the USAF officer corps (including the Reserves and Air National Guard) was "up or out".  Officers who really loved what the were doing, such as pilots or maintainers, and remained in their career fields too long were passed over for promotion.  Meanwhile, those who become adept at career assignments become the next O-6 or general officer.  Thus it appears to many officers and NCOs that senior leadership is composed mainly of men and women who are masters of nothing more than the politics of assignments. This is what is behind the maelstrom of blogs and responses that you can read over at John Q. Public.

Officers, especially senior officers, are not supposed to think outside the box in the USAF and can only spout the party line.  As the officer pyramid narrows at the top, it becomes increasingly easy to spot those that don't abide by those unwritten rules.  A top pick for a prestigious assignment gets suddenly sent elsewhere, or perhaps an OER just isn't as "fire walled" as it needs to be.

USAF officers are taught to admire historical figures like Billy Mitchell, Curtis LeMay, or Robin Olds yet none of those great officers would survive in today's Air Force.  They were mavericks even in their time but in today's culturally sensitive, politically correct, Total Force such officers would never have made it past the rank of captain.

Now none of this is new nor am I the first to write about it.  What got me started on this rant was something I learned last week as I was attending my daughters graduation from USAF Basic Military Training (BMT).  The NCO corps is now being forced into same mentality as the officer corps.

If an NCO in today's USAF wants to make it to E-7 (master sergeant) then he or she needs to have in addition to attaining a 7-level ("craftsmen" requiring successful completion of OJT and career development courses or CDCs) in their career field need to then also complete one assignment as a recruiter AND one assignment as a drill instructor AND one other special duty assignment outside their career field!  Oh and all of this is cast against a 20 year career.  WTF?!

I truly hope that I misunderstood this.  NCOs in the USAF are the technical experts and the continuity for the units.  Making it an "expectation" of having career broadening assignments takes that away and makes the USAF nothing more than a bunch of careerists looking for the next assignment instead of becoming experts in airpower.

And perhaps this inevitably given how technology is rapidly reshaping our entire economy. If self-driving cars may mean the end of truck drivers and delivery people, then drones have already started to replace pilots and all of the personnel needed to put said pilot in the cockpit.  Drone operators, as long as there are still some, don't require the same logistical support at all.  Without the logistical need out goes the need for specialists in life support, parachutes, flight medicine, avionics, UHF/VHF radios, survival and resistance training, pararescue, personnel, finance, travel, billeting, etc.

The worst part is the officer corps, the very ones who should be on guard concerning these changes, are the ones least prepared to deal with it.  Now the NCO corps seems to be on a course to join them.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thoughts on the TSA from last week

Last week I did something I haven't done is probably ten years…fly commercially.  I used to travel a lot when I was in the service and flew on airlines quite frequently.  Cost-saving measures and increased security measures as a result of 9/11 makes me dread flying and I avoid it whenever possible.

Circumstances last week required me to fly and as result, I got to see TSA at 4 different airports (including two major hubs).  I also used to teach courses for TSA screeners at CVG so let me share my impressions and observations.

- TSA in general are just to damn grim.  You can still be professional and stop would be hijackers while smiling and being nice.  Try it, it might help your image.

- TSA spends an inordinate amount of money, manpower and time trying to prevent a particular scenario, i.e. armed terrorists boarding the aircraft as passengers.  In so doing, they have created a lot of animosity on the part of passengers.  They also have created another threat without realizing it that I will cover in my conclusion.

- TSA does not engage the passenger enough in their efforts.  Instead of treating every boarding passenger as a suspected terrorist (guilty until proven innocent?), they should do more to educate passengers on potential threats and what to be on the lookout for.

- TSA only makes their presence known at the front-end, nothing at the back-end.  They lose the ability to learn from exiting passengers of any suspicious behavior or conversations that may have been overheard.

- The doctrine of TSA still remains much as it did when it was first created; the best way to stop a 9/11 attacks is by screening passengers boarding airlines.  Nearly all of their manpower and resources therefore go into airports and nothing at all is done for trains, buses and ships.

TSA needs some serious revamping.  The personnel need to less robotic in the delivery of messages, people tune them out.  When people don't follow instructions, TSA reacts as though they are a suspect instead elimination other factors such as the person may not speak English or is hearing impaired.  TSA agents need to be more conversation with the passengers than confrontational (ask any cop, they do it all of the time).

Here is a radical concept, get rid of the screening areas.  What?  Yes, get rid of them and instead increase the number of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) to get out amongst the passengers.  Anyone who act suspiciously, quietly escort them to a screening area.  More random checks present a much harder problem for the terrorists than current model.

Another reason for getting rid of the screening areas is they are a bottleneck.  At one major hub I flew through, the screening area went right into the terminal where multiple concourses connected.  Any attack at the bottleneck would have killed or injured passengers waiting to be screened as well as those trying to make connecting flights.

TSA assumes they are the only way a terrorist will be stopped.  In truth, the passengers are a much more active defense as the situation with Richard Reid (the Shoe Bomber) and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab (the Underwear Bomber) prove.  Engage the passengers and make them feel a part of the solution instead as suspects.  TSA is only about stopping weapons from coming on board, they aren't really set up to gather intelligence about who may be transiting the US.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Attack in Brussels

So now we have more bombings, this time in Belgium…another country that has opened their borders to "immigrants" fleeing the "ravages of war" in Syria.  Some patterns are appearing but we aren't allowed to notice them.  For instance, all of the "immigrants" appear to be young unaccompanied males in good health and wearing nice clothes.  People fleeing from a war zone don't normally look so comfortable.  They looked emaciated, scared and include women and children with tattered clothing.

The suicided bombers in Belgium did not fly-in recently to commit the attack, they were already in place.  The attack appears to be in retaliation for Belgium's capture of the leader of the Paris attacks, however it is just as likely that that various terrorist cells are just attacking whenever they are ready.

There were two interviews on NPR this evening with experts that took great pains to point out that Belgium has 'lax gun laws" even though none of attacks today used firearms.  One expert though did make a point that is likely to get buried by the press;  the attacks are designed to get Europe and the US to have more ill feelings towards Muslims in order to promote the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh ideology.  

Calls by the White House, Mr. Obama and his sycophants in the media to remain calm and fear no Muslim will fall on deaf ears.  Trump has been riding on the crest of this fear throughout the Republican primary and this latest attack will only further boost his approval ratings (as though he needed any help).

The State Department has already put out travel advisories for Americans traveling to anywhere in Europe.  All of the major European airports will look like military compounds for the next few weeks.  The British who support the UK leaving the European Union will use these attacks as more reason to exit.  After all, it will be argued that it was the liberal immigration policies of the EU (championed by Angela Merkel) is what led to the attack in Brussels and Paris.

Juxtapose the violence in Europe and perceived threat of more violence with the violence that is becoming the norm around Trump political rallies.  The violence as his rallies as being portrayed as a continuum of the racial violence that was so famously highlighted in Ferguson, MO.  We could very likely see a clamp down by the White House on any "hate speech" via some type of martial law on thought.  Mr. Obama's calmness while attending a baseball game in Cuba is disconcerting for unlike others, I do not take that as a sign of his lack of awareness or concern but rather a confidence that matters are falling into place.

Yes indeed, things are moving along quickly in 2016.

Friday, March 4, 2016

North Korea, Russia and the Donald

Donald Trump is not the spawn of Satan that his critics think him to be any more than he is the savior of the country that his ardent supporters believe.  Similarly, President Obama is not the most wonderful President ever as his ardent fans want to believe nor has he run the country into irrelevance than his critics want to believe.  Both men are nothing more than public figures upon which we project our particular views and biases based on our experiences.  We expect them to act and think in a particular way based on our perceptions and therefore it becomes hard to separate truth from fiction.  Hence the amazing amount of emotions and venom being spat across social media as the Presidential nominations drag on.

We need to keep this in mind even when dealing with matters besides Presidents, wannabe Presidents or anyone else in the public eye for that matter.  Case in point, Kim Jong-un announces "North Korean Nukes Need to be Ready" (CNN).  American politicians find it expedient to believe North Korea would be willing to use nuclear weapons since our experience is that we had them and used them against Japan.  We really don't know what North Korea's intent is, we can only superimpose our own biases and experiences against their statements.  On the other hand, since we don't know their intent or how they view others there is a danger that they could use nuclear weapons.

The latter is not as easily supported factually since North Korea has limited resources and has not demonstrated they have to technology necessary to strike US soil.  But the problem if we totally dismiss North Korea, we may miss key indicators of advanced technology.

Russia has huge amount of nuclear weapons and are keeping theirs updated.  What is forgotten is that the former Soviet Union was inspired to develop their nuclear arsenal after watching the US drop the two bombs on Japan.  To date, neither the Soviet Union nor current day Russia have ever used nuclear weapons. Yet out own experiences and biases cause American politicians to think the worst for as over-priced consultants are always quick to remind their clients, "You can't AFFORD to not do this!"  So we automatically assign malice-aforethought to the news of Russia deploying forces to Armenia.  Our experience wants us to believe, and American politicians and media WANT us to believe, that this is a sure sign of Russian aggression.  But if we look from the Russian point of view we see Turkey as the land of trigger-happy descendants of the Ottoman Empire that shot down a Russian fighter jet that was supporting Western efforts to defeat ISIL.

2016 continuing to be a very interesting year!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The secret about aircraft carriers

It was just about 30 years ago that "Top Gun" introduced the world to the F-14 Tomcat and to a lesser extent, carrier operations.  The movie helped boost Navy recruiting efforts and even if people weren't inclined to join the military, they still enjoyed watching Maverick and Goose flying their Tomcat.  Even today, "Top Gun" is the movie most people when they think of aircraft carriers.

But they thrilling shots of F-14s being shot off of the flight deck or catching the cables during landing masked a secret.  Even before the first roll of film was ever shot for "Top Gun", the dominance of the carrier based fleet had been disproven just a few years before.

The Falklands War was the result of Argentina invading colony of the United Kingdom (unless you war from Argentina, then it was about the British invading your island).  Pretty much it is a forgotten war, not well remembered even by those who were around to remember it.

The Falklands War was at the height of PM Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan's time and efforts to shape a world to oppose the Soviet Union.  The Falklands may have been an obscure colony even to many British people but there was no way the "Iron Lady" was going to back down.  She sent a fleet of Royal Navy ships (which had to be hastily assembled since the Royal Navy had been drawing down ever since WWII) and sent 3,000 miles to defend the British flag.

Everyone pretty much assumed the Royal Navy and Royal Marines would mop the floor with Argentinian military but the Argentinians put a great fight and had an ace pup their sleeve.  For the UK, much like the US Navy, based power projection on large carrier-based groups.  And that's just what the Argentinians had planned for.

Argentina had purchased the Exocet anti-shipping missile.  The Exocet made use of a revolutionary tactic of surface-skimming technology to flying low, just over the waves making it virtually invisible to the technology of the early 80s.  The Harrier jump-jets did not have any capability to track or shoot-down the Exocets.

Fortunately, the Argentinians lacked enough of the Exocets and experience in using them in combat to take out the British carrier.  But notice had been served to all navies with carriers, even a small nation could defeat the mighty carrier battle group.

While the Falklands War may not be well remember, the lesson of the Exocet has not been forgotten.  Iran, China and Russia have all developed anti-shipping missiles that are more than capable than the Exocet of 1982.  These new missiles can strike well beyond the range of any of the carrier's weapon systems (including their jet fighters).  The Center for New American Security just released a study calling attention to this development and condemning the US Navy's continued reliance on aircraft carriers.

If the pre-eminence of the carrier was challenged some 34 years ago, then why does the US Navy still build them?  The same question was asked almost 100 years ago by Billy Mitchell.  BG Mitchell is considered by the USAF to be the father of the Air Force and was a distinguished aviator during World War I.  He was also court-martialed for treason for questioning the US Navy's then love for battleships and had the temerity to prove his point by first blowing-up the USS Indiana (an old battleship) and the German Ostfriesland (WWI battleship) with aircraft!

This was radical thinking as the US Navy at the time was convinced that dreadnoughts were the future of naval warfare, not the carriers which Mitchell was a proponent of (airpower was in its infancy and no one believe aircraft carriers would ever replace battleships).  Billy Mitchell proved the ability of bombers to take out even the most heavily armored ships of the era.  He also proved that that Pacific Fleet was in great danger by being parked conveniently in Pearl Harbor.  For all of his genius and foresight, he was court-martialed and permanently reduced from brigadier to full-colonel.

Despite the overwhelming proof he produced, the US Navy continued to build battleships and focus their strategy as though naval warfare had remained the same since the time of the Spanish Armada.  Then on Dec 7, 1941 the Japanese attack the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor exactly the way Billy Mitchell predicted 20 years earlier.

Ever since, the US Navy has focused all of their attention on aircraft carriers.  To be fair, the modern aircraft carrier does represent the ultimate in "power projection".  But is also a huge, slow moving target that has just been waiting for technology to catch up to it.  In 2000, the USS Cole was taken out by a very low-tech weapon.  Basically a fast boat loaded with explosives sped out to the USS Cole while it was refueling and before the crew could react, a 40 feet hole was blown into the hull of the destroyer.

A carrier is just a much bigger, slower moving ship than a destroyer.  While there are other ships to defend it, a missile using stealth technology can strike the carrier.  It was only a matter of time before missiles were developed with the range to strike the carrier before its fleet gets in range of the missile launch site.

Despite all of the evidence, the US Navy is still building aircraft carriers with 3 more to be delivered between now and 2025.  A conflict with Russia, China or Iran is not going to see carriers vs carrier type engagements.  Anti-ship missiles will be launched from long-range aircraft, submarines, ships or even the coast.  All of these scenarios will keep US carriers even further away from the battlefield.

Much like the USAF needs to give up the notion that only fighter pilots can be senior leaders, the US Navy needs to give up the notion that carrier-based fleets are still relevant.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Saudi Arabia to base troops in Turkey to invade Syria

Late last night as I watched the snow falling, I saw this headline posted on Facebook;

"Saudi Arabia Sends Troops and Fighter Jets to Military Base in Turkey Ahead-of Intervention"

For the first time, Saudi Arabia will base troops out of Incirlik AB in Turkey.  The US and Coalition Forces have been staging out of there since Desert Storm but this is the first time Saudi forces will be based there.  The article goes on the say that Saudi Arabia basically intends to remove Assad from power.  That is a rather chilling development and one brought with much peril for the entire region.

To understand a little better that implications of Saudi Arabia's intent, we need to understand the history of Prince Sultan AB (PSAB) and Al Udeid AB (in Qatar).  After Desert Storm, the Saudis were very concerned about Saddam Hussein and agreed to allow US forces to fly defensive missions out of PSAB for Operation Southern Watch (interestingly, Operation Northern Watch was flown out of Incirlik AB).  The presence of US Air Force and other flying units grew at PSAB over the years following Desert Storm.  But the Saudis always put tight limitations on how much the US forces could expand and what types of missions could be flown from PSAB.

When 9/11 happened, forces were being built up at PSAB to launch attacks against Iraq.  However, the Saudis balked at this change in missions, going from defensive to offensive strikes.  As a result, the US went looking for another home and Qatar offered up Al Udeid (along with Al Saliyah).  Unlike PSAB, the US and Coalition Forces could launch any type of mission they wanted.  Further, Qatar gave the US practically a blank check to build as much as they wanted (in 2004, Qatar offered to build Gen Paetreaus a brand new $38 million state of the art headquarters building at Al Saliyah if he would relocated CENTCOM there).

The CENTAF and the other coalition partners moved their operations from PSAB to Al Udeid and we have been flying out of there ever since.  So why did Qatar show so much love?  Quite simply, Qatar is a small nation on a thumb of a peninsula in the Persian Gulf.  While Qatar is an extremely wealthy nation, it has no real military to speak.  Qatar was always worried that if Saudi Arabia ever decided to invade there wasn't really much they could do about it.  I remember asking a senior Qatari pilot what aircraft they were getting to replace they Mirage fighters they had just sent back to France.  He just laughed and said, "What do we need an air force for?  We have the greatest air force in the world parked right out there!"  It hit me like a sledgehammer, we were their insure against any aggression.

Oh but you see, Saudi Arabia has been want to NOT get directly involved.   But then in August 2015, Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in response to the civil war.  Taking a page out of Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia did not go it alone as fighter aircraft from Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Qatar all flew missions.  Somalia even allowed the use of their airspace.

Now Saudi Arabia is getting ready to invade Syria and thus far Washington has been silent.  A more aggressive Saudi Arabia may not be the best thing, especially if they intend to remove Assad with no plan as to who is going to replace him.  Let's not forget that the opposition to Assad is what gave birth to ISIL/ISIS/Daesh.  Picking the right person with the right network of support to replace Assad is fraught with peril not only for the people of Syria but the region as well.

We should also be cautious of any Saudi/Turkish partnership.  As I've already written about, the Turks want to control the Anatolia water project so getting a Syrian government that's on board with that project is in their best interest.  With Saudi Arabia now becoming a more aggressive presence in the region, one has to wonder what the Iranian/Russian response will likely be.