Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Fallacy of "Arrow"

I started watching the TV series "Arrow" on the web.   It is a version of the Green Arrow character from the comics.  Basically the son of a billionaire dons a hood and uses a bow to fight crime.  Think Batman minus the Batmobile.

"Arrow" relies on a plot device of the hero having to go to places in person to interrogate a suspect or confront the bad guy.  The hero always ends up in peril and has to shoot someone with an arrow.  Good stuff but not quite the way it would work in the real 21st Century.

I give you Exhibit A:

That's Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 available for around $300 dollars from the Apple Store.  Our billionaire hero could afford a much more sophisticated and stealthy version but the point is surveillance drones are readily available, cheap and would not require a hero to expose himself (or herself) to danger for the mere sake of collecting information.

The same technology could easily track suspects and bad guys to and from their "secret" hideout without our hero having to drive around recklessly attracting the attention of local law enforcement.

Ah but what about the revenge/justice aspect that makes us watch the Green Arrow or Batman?  Don't they have to be present to face-punch the bad guy for committing crimes?

For that I give you Exhibit B:

That's the world smallest drone capable of deliver a dose of poison to any soft-skinned target.  Our hero would never have to risk being shot or caught by the police again.  He would merely have to launch a miniature drone in the vicinity of his target and let the drone do the work.  Perhaps not as satisfying as a face-punch or arrow through the heat but easily more effective and less risky.

The two drones above are the ones that are being talked about in the open.  The drones being made under classified programs are likely even deadlier and smaller.  Imagine nano-robots that could be placed in a drink or even inhaled by the target.  The nano-robots could then kill the target without leaving a trace or perhaps make a target violently ill until they confess their secrets.

The drones demonstrate why large standing militaries will become a thing of the past.  Drones can sit on the shelf for months without their skills becoming degraded and then immediately used when needed.  Drones don't present the risk of a troop being caught and tortured.  Small drones like the ones above can operate below the tree-line making detection by radar or satellite almost impossible.

The anonymity of drones presents one of the biggest dangers.  If a soldier or spy is caught, it is rather obvious what country employed them.  However, with drones it is not so obvious and may actually create the opportunity for third parties to create conflict.  

Reducing the size of the military is attractive from a budget-cutting perspective.  Relying more on drones to do tasks such as deliver supplies and operate vehicles makes sense from a safety perspective and in the long run will save money and lives.  The risk though is to become too reliant on drones and robots which allows their use with little regard to consequence.  The more we use drones, the more our enemies will develop and deploy drones against us.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"More agile and equipped with the latest weapons"

That's the goal of a smaller military under Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel.  Inevitable discussions turn to downsizing after a war (on in this case two).  Military forces have to grow to meet the increased OPSTEMPO but once they forces are withdrawn, there is little reason to maintain large numbers of troops and equipment.

According to USATODAY,  the Secretary said "To that end, the Pentagon is liquidating much of its $40 billion fleet of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the signature truck of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're heavy and lumbering and associated with wars of occupation. Definitely passé."  Interesting, a similar mindset in the late 1950s said missiles meant that fighter jets would no longer need to be armed with canons.  Then in the Vietnam war it was determined that the F-4s were are a tremendous disadvantage because they lacked canons.  Or the mindset that said large maneuvering units fighting in the desert were a thing of the past…until Desert Storm.  Or what about the mindset that wanted to ignore the guerrilla type warfare of Vietnam…only to see it again in Afghanistan.

Let's be honest.  The Department of Defense is looking to cut its budget and is using these arguments to support that end.  If you want a truly expeditionary, quick reaction force you already have it in the US Marine Corps.  The doctrine of the USMC (MCDP 1-1, dated 1997) it states, "The United States Marine Corps is a key instrument in the execution of American national strategy.  Marine expeditionary forces possess extraordinary strategic reach.  As an expeditionary force-in-readines, the Marine Corps has been consistently called upon to implement key elements of our national security strategy and its supporting national military strategy."--FAS.ORG

The Marine Corps is designed to be light and lethal.  For long term engagements, the Army follows with heavy forces.  Making the Army lighter doesn't make much sense as that's not what they do or how units are doctrinally created.

The Army is already on a path to shrink from 540,000 soldiers to about 490,000 by the end of 2015, and will likely slide further to 420,000 by 2019, according to reports. (Defense News)

Why then do we need to look elsewhere for a nimble, small force able to rapidly respond?  According to Paul McLeary in Defense News, "Instead, look for an Army with fewer soldiers and more robots".

Robots don't require pay, medical benefits or pensions.  They also very good for OPSEC as they don't tell their friends or sweethearts were they are going or what they've done.  Robots don't need promotions or incentive pay.  Robots don't talk to the press.

Future wars (and the future is very soon) will see more robots (both air as well as ground) waging combat as well as performing logistics functions.  The move towards more robots brings up a very ugly eventuality that without risking American lives Washington will become more willing to send drones into harm's way.  If there is no risk to us, what incentive do future Presidents and members of Congress have to not send in a force of robot soldiers to quell hostilities in some country?  How will we even know?

Update:  Gen McChrystal was quoted in  talking about drones, "“There's a danger that something feels easy to do and without the risk to yourself, almost antiseptic to the person shooting, doesn't feel that way at the point of impact. And so it lowers the threshold for taking operations because it feels easy, there's a danger in that"

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter Olympics

Forty-two years ago, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.  Elite counter-terrorism units did not exist (even though the Special Air Service (SAS) has existed since 1950 it would not be until the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London that they would make their mark as a counter-terrrorist unit).  After the German police negotiations failed, they attempted to rescue the Israeli hostages via air assault and snipers….something the German police were not trained to do in 1972.  The results were all hostages, one German police officer and 5 of the 8 terrorists were killed.  The failure resulted in the formation of the famed GSG9 (Grenz Schutz Gruppe 9).

Forty-two years later, US officials "believe there would be major obstacles to mounting a large-scale rescue effort as Russia has historically been reluctant to allow foreign military forces – especially those of the US – on Russian territory, according to a source familiar with Obama administration discussions."--The Guardian

The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia located on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. Sochi is the largest Russian resort city and one of the very few places in Russia with a subtropical climate, with warm to hot summers and mild winters.  The irony of hosting the Winter Olympics in the one place in Russia where it DOESN'T snow has not been lost on the world.

What seems to have been minimized is what a particularly dangerous region this tends to be.  Let's begin with Abkhazia.

Abkhazia is a disputed territory on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and southwestern flank of the Caucaus.  Abkhazia considers itself independent, a status recognized by Russia but disputed by Georgia (and a majority of the world governments) consider is part of their republic (albeit autonomous).  On Jan 17, 2014 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) published the following from the Abkhazia board meeting, "The main directions of foreign policy of Abkhazia as it was said by the President of the Republic of Abkhazia is strengthening of strategic partnership with the Russian Federation and progress of wide international recognition of independence of the Republic of Abkhazia."--Ministry of Affairs Board Meeting

The potential for a clash between Georgia and Abkhazia could occur during the Winter Olympics as could the uprising in the Ukraine that has been waging since nov 21st.  "The events (on Sunday) come in the wake of weeks of public protests after Yanukovych's decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead."--CNN

The Ukraine forms the northern shore of the Black Sea.  According CNN, Caitlin Hayden (spokeswoman for the National Security Council) said, "The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine's democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law"

Two areas in the region have reasons to make trouble at the Winter Olympics but there is a third region that many have forgotten about. About 400 miles to the east of Sochi is Chechnya.  There is a long a violent history between Russia and Chechnya.

During Czarist times, the Nakh and Malkh tribes of the region wanted to be free from Russian (which was Christian at the time) and turned to Islam as its liberating ideology.  The Ottomans ended-up betraying the rebellion which was led by Mansur Ushurma, a Chechen Naqshbandi (Sufi) sheikh to the Russians who excited him in 1794. The resistance of the Nakh tribes never ended and was a fertile ground for a new Muslim-Avar commander Imam Shamil, who fought against the Russians from 1834 until 1859. The leader who took over for Shamil was Chechen Boysangur Benoiski who broke through the siege and continued to fight Russia in full scale warfare for another 2 years until he was captured and killed by Russians.

By 1860s, Russia switched to a policy of deporting the Nakh which did weaken but not completely end the resistance.  Under the Soviet Union, Chechnya did not fare much better.  Some Chechens rose up against Soviet rule during the 1940s, resulting in the deportation of the entire ethnic Chechen and Ingush populations to what is now Kazakhstan and Siberia in 1944 near the end of World War II where over 60% of Chechen and Ingush populations perished. The Chechens were allowed to return after 1956 but found many Russian immigrants on their lands. Struggles between Chechnya and Russia up until today.

The First Chechen War took place over a two-year period that lasted from 1994 to 1996, when Russian forces attempted to regain control over Chechnya, which had declared independence in November 1991. Despite overwhelming numerical superiority in men, weaponry, and air support, the Russian forces were unable to establish effective permanent control over the mountainous area due to numerous successful Chechen guerrilla raids.--Wikipedia

The War of Dagestan began on 7 August 1999, during which the Islamic International Brigade (IIPB) began an unsuccessful incursion into the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan in favor of the Shura of Dagestan which sought independence from Russia. In September, a series of apartment bombs that killed around 300 people in several Russian cities, including Moscow, were blamed on the Chechen separatists. 

In response to the bombings, a prolonged air campaign of retaliatory strikes against the Ichkerian regime and a ground offensive that began in October 1999 marked the beginning of the Second Chechen War. Much better organized and planned than the first Chechen War, the Russian military took control over most regions. 

In October 2002, 40–50 Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater and took about 900 civilians hostage. The crisis ended with a large death toll mostly due to an unknown aerosol pumped throughout the building by Russian special forces to incapacitate the people inside. In September 2004, separatist rebels occupied a school in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia, demanding recognition of the independence of Chechnya and a Russian withdrawal. 1,100 people (including 777 children) were taken hostage. The attack lasted three days, resulting in the deaths of over 331 people, including 186 children. 

Russia installed a pro-Moscow government in 2003 which reintegrated  Chechnya with Russia.  In April 2009, Russia ended its counter-terrorism operation and pulled out the bulk of its army.

Sorry for the long history lesson but it was necessary to set-up the emergence of this guy.

That's Doku Umarov the Chechen jihadist leader blamed for the two suicide bombings in Volgograd in Russia over Christmas.  Canadian counter-terrorism agencies have dubbed him the "Russian Osama bin Laden" and said he poses the greatest terrorism threat for the Sochi games.  According the the Daily Mail, "The report warns: ‘Doku Khamaiovich Umarov is a fervent Islamist who espouses AQ’s [Al Qaeda’s] ideology of global jihad...His view that Israeli, US and UK interests are legitimate targets raises concerns that any Westerners could be targeted."

Checnhya, Abkhazia, and Ukraine all have a long history of violence and the Winter Games will provide over 15,000 visitors from around the world as potential targets for terrorists.  Recognizing this threat, Vladmir Putin has ordered over 40,000 troops into Sochi and surrounding areas to provide security.  From all accounts, the Russians are not playing around and security is quite intense.

Yet despite these precautions, this video of the two suicide bombers from Volgograd is up on CNN.  It is easy to over-estimate the ability for a potential terrorist attack but in this part of the world, it seems almost too likely.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Magician's Assistant

In stage magic, the pretty assistant often serves to misdirects the audience's attention away from what the magician is really doing during the illusion.

When the story about Mark Snowden first broke, it felt like we were being made to look at one thing instead of what was really going on.  The documents he revealed showed the NSA spied on Americans.  Perhaps unnerving but hardly surprising.  J. Edgar Hoover was notorious for keeping secret files on anyone and everyone he perceived as a threat.

The fact that the NSA had spied on German Chancellor Angel Merkel is not as surprising as it it disappointing.  Keeping tabs on your allies has always been part of the foreign affairs games.  According to CBS News,  the NSA also spied on Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Brazilian President Dilam Rousseff.  They are naturally pissed off but with the Mexican drug cartels and the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil, intercepting information from those countries isn't shocking just politically awkward.

The trouble with spying is you never know what you are going to find out.  Especially in the post 9-11 world of hunting the next Osama bin Laden, the NSA and CIA have a remarkably unrewarding task for figuring out which nobody is the next somebody.  They are looking for a needle in a haystack by treating every piece of hay as though it were a needle.  Hence the need to collect this huge volume of data on allies as well as enemies a like.

But something about Snowden still bugs me.  In 1985, a former Navy communications specialist John Walker made the news for having been a Soviet spy.  Unlike Snowden, Walker did not divulge lists of information but rather the cryptological keys for encrypting US military communications.  According to former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, "the information Walker gave Moscow allowed the Soviets "access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness and tactics." U.S. Naval Institute

John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, stated in an interview that Walker's activities enabled the Soviets to know where U.S. submarines were at all times. Lehman said the Walker espionage would have resulted in huge loss of American lives in the event of war.

Walker's treachery gave the Soviets that same advantage the US had as a result of cracking the Enigma cypher…the Soviets knew how to decrypt our secure communications.  Further by having the actual cryptological keys meant they could break future codes that were based on similar algorithms.  The US intelligence system would have to create a completely different set of cryptological keys that were not based on anything Walker had shared.

Thus far, it appears that Snowden did not leak any cryptological information.  He did divulge some third parties and methodologies but this is part of the spy game.  Eventually the other side figures out how you are finding out about their information.  The President's call yesterday for tighter restrictions on NSA activities almost seems like closing the barn door after the horses are out.

I was pondering all of this when I came across an interesting post from Jon Rappaport.  He posts the 36 day timeline of Snowden's arrival in Hong Kong to his arrival in Moscow.  Why was the NSA unable to neutralize his laptops via radio signals (which we now hear the NSA can do to any computer even if not connected to the Internet)?

I tend to agree with Rappaport, what if the information Snowden released was a plant?  Perhaps either to create false trails or cause a target to respond differently.  It would explain a lot that just doesn't seem right.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Disrespectful and Simply Not True"

Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett’s (President of the National Guard Association) statement came in response to Odierno’s Jan. 5 remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, where he said the National Guard would not be capable of taking on more of the active-duty force’s responsibilities if the active force structure falls much below the 490,000 floor that the chief set for 2015.--Defense News

I'd been on a rant about the state of the USAF but things are not going very well for my friends on the green side of the house either.  Specfically MG Hargett is reacting to the following statement from GEN Odiernon, Army Chief of Staff:

The capabilities are not interchangeable,” Odierno said, “there’s a reason why the active component is more expensive. It brings you a higher level of readiness, because they’re full time. “They are trained and ready to do things at a higher level because they spend every day focused on that,” Odierno said. “Our National Guard, [which has] done an incredible job in the last 10 years, trains 39 days a year.”--Defense News

"Yare, yard" as the Japanese would say.  The Army National Guard earned the moniker of "weekend warriors" probably at the end of the Vietnam war.  "One day a month, two weeks a year" was the catch phrase for Guard recruiters.  During the 1970s through the 1990s, the National Guard became the place to mothball legacy systems and have a decent manpower pool to augment contingency operations by the active duty.  This model though is exactly opposite what the nation's founders had in mind.

The American Revolution was fought by the Continental Army and Minuteman (citizen soldiers).  This model provided the founders with a way to fight wars without maintaining large standing armies.  The desire to avoid large standing military was based on two reasons.

Up until colonial times, monarchs maintained large standing armies by letting them take over farms.  The armies would live off of the larder of the farms, eating crops, killing livestock, hunting game and raping the women and children.  In return the farmers got nothing but the monarchs saved their wealth. Avoiding the tyranny of monarchs is one of the framing principles of the Constitution.

The other reason was by having a part-time military concept, it decentralized war-making power to the various governors instead of just the President.  The founding fathers had seen how a monarch could wage war on a whim and destroy his country in the process.  They wanted to avoid that potentiality and kept the standing Army small.  It also was a safeguard to insure the US government did not overly interfere with the states.

The latter reason is the one most 21st Century citizens fail to understand.  The Army and Air National Guard exist to insure state sovereignty and to make it difficult for Washington to wage war unilaterally. World War II caused this to be largely ignore since the manpower and equipment needed far exceeded the ability of the active forces.  National Guard units were mobilized across the United States to fight in Europe and the Pacific.

Let me make a point here that really bothers active military planners.  The Army and Air National Guard have TWO commanders-in-chief.  During federal activation, the National Guard falls under the President of the United States just like every other armed service.  However, when not under federal activation they report to the governor.

The duality provides a check and balance between the interests of the federal government and the interests of the citizens (represented by the governor).  Therefore, the active military planners know they have to go through those pesky governors who may not agree with their war plans.

The National Guard became, after World War II and certainly Vietnam, a reserve contingency force.  Its equipment was not current and its soldiers and airmen were considered less capable then their active duty counterparts.

Things began to change after Desert Storm and fall of the Soviet Union.  Many forget that President George H. Bush was the first to start reducing the active force structure closing many overseas installations that were considered holdovers from the Cold War.

The troop drawdowns sent many Desert Storm veterans into the Guard and Reserves.  At the same time, the Guard started to receive the same versions of weapon systems as were being used on active duty.  The two seemingly unrelated factors changed the face of the National Guard.

When the active Air Force struggled to maintain enough aircraft and personnel for Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch (the no-fly zones of post Desert Storm), they looked to the Air National Guard which was now flying the same F-16s that they were.  Thus was born the air expeditionary force.

It took the Army and Army National Guard much longer to embrace this concept mainly because of the incredible logistics it takes to move ground units into theater.  When Operation Enduring Freedom first began, it took Army Guard units months of mobilization stateside before they could be sent in theater.  Primarily to insure Guard units skills were up to those of their active counterparts.

So there resides the first inaccuracy of General Odierno's criticism.  Since at least 2002, the National Guard has been training more than 39 days a year.

The second inaccuracy is the Army National Guard is there not for the active duty as much as the governor.  During catastrophes, emergencies and riots, the National Guard responds.  The active duty cannot due to federal regulations as well as it would take them away from supporting overseas contingencies.  Reducing the National Guard means adversely impacting the ability of governors to deal with state emergencies.

The National Guard was also picked to receive specialized units to deal with homeland security events because these units would NOT be deployed for contingencies.  Each state has specialized units for dealing with a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) event.  These units form the nucleus of larger response packages for events such as pandemic infections.

National Guard soldiers often perform the same tasks at the civilian jobs as they do in their unit.  Maintenance personnel, IT professionals, medical personnel, vehicle operators, etc often hold jobs that are very similar to their military jobs.  Hence the general's comment that active duty practice their jobs every day, and they National Guard does not, is grossly inaccurate.

I was in Qatar in 2004 as the Air Reserve Component Liaison for CENTAF.  I remember meeting an active duty USAF physician who was struggling because he thought he did not have any ER nurses (based on his manning document).  I pointed out three ANG nurses who all worked in civilian ER hospitals and he was shocked.  The nurses also had more experience than anyone else in the hospital (including the doc).  General Odierno's comments show the same bias.

What is most depressing though is the lack of outrage by governors over the general's comments.  The National Guard Association can testify all it wants but nothing will check the active duty Army short of 50 governors raising hell.

I tend to disagree with Congressman Rangel on most but on one thing he and I both agree.  He has been a strong proponent of reinstating the draft.  He believes that only by having everyone subject to be sent to war will we get more Americans involved in understanding the true cost of war.  At first I found his recommendation insulting to the professionalism of the all-volunteer military.  But as time went on and I heard more and more people forgetting that we were still sending troops into harm's way, I started to agree with the merits of his proposal.

Similarly, having the active duty military making all of the decisions without challenge from the state governors takes us away from the intent of the Constitution.  It makes it easier for Washington to take military action without regard to the rest of America.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Air Force officers cheat on proficiency exam

According to an article in the Daily Mail,  34 officers at Malstrom, AFB texted each others the answers to a proficiency exam.  Malstrom is one of three bases for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The story does not go into detail but since these were officers taking a proficiency exam, we can assume they were most likely missile launch officers.  The one difference between the USAF and other branches are officers are the war-fighters (i.e. pilots, navs, weapon systems officers, missile launch officers, etc) with the enlists troops being the technical experts.  In the other branches, the enlisted troops or warrant officers are the war-fighters and the officers are the commanders.

The scandal is more pathetic than one realizes.  Proficiency exams are all part of any operational AFSC (air force specialty skill).  In order to maintain mission-readiness (MR) on a given weapon system, an officer is tested constantly via written every month and practical exams every 60-90 days (depending on the command and weapon system).

The officers above were most likely were taking a standard proficiency test to maintain their MR-status.  What makes the incident especially shameful is that all proficiency tests questions are pulled from what used to be called a Master Question File (MQF).  There term may have been replaced but the MQF is a bank of questions on a particular weapon systems.  You drill and drill the answers into your head because those questions (or very similar) are the ones you will be tested on either on the proficiency exam or your practical evaluation (think check ride).

When I was in mobile radar, we helped quiz each other before we had to take a proficiency test or go through a practical evaluation. It kept your skills sharp, helped identify areas you needed to work on and built a sense of unit cohesion.  There is sense of prestige of being able to claim you are "MR".

The utter lack of respect for what they are doing just seethes through every article I've read on this incident.  Thirty-four officers were so damn lazy they couldn't study for material on the very skills they are required to perform.  Thirty-four college educated, technically bright, psychological stable (based on testing they had to undergo to go into nuclear weapons) were still so unimpressed with their jobs they took the easy way out to passing a proficiency exam.

It is beginning to look like Maj Gen Michael Carey was the norm instead of the exception.

What really is most disgusting about this scandal is how it makes the readiness of our nuclear forces appear to the Russians and Chinese.  Not only have the Russians and Chinese been working on increasing their nuclear forces (along with their conventional forces), both Russia and China have leaders that will not back down from the United States.

Nuclear weapons have primarily been about deterrent.  What deterrence is left if the officers responsible for launching those weapons are seen as indifferent to their mission?

Putin is a trained KGB officers from the days of the Cold War.  He cannot be missing the implications of this and the Carey scandal for his own objectives.  Factor in the NSA scandals and Putin must see the United States as more vulnerable than ever.  The vulnerability does not mean an attack (at least not in a military sense) but certainly Putin can take a much stronger stance in the future with the United States.

China may already be planning ways to further exploit these lapses in judgement.  During the height of the Cold War, we were always cautioned about getting into excessive debt for fear this could be exploited by Soviet agents.  China is a much bigger economic power that ever was the Soviet Union so it is even easier for them to find a young troop that has over extended their credit line.

The obvious failure on the parts of the officers in the this scandal to realize their importance of their jobs is amazing.  Somehow, over the last 10 plus years of being at war we've become in many ways less combat-ready.  I've speculated before that the lack of involvement by nuclear forces have made them feel their mission is unappreciated.  But I'm not certain this is the complete answer.

Our culture is going through many changes, often glommed into the term "entitled".  The behaviors I've written about in my past few entries are seem to be related to that mindset.  The military in general and the USAF in particular needs to recognize this sense of entitlement and adjust internal procedures accordingly.  Be aware that it doesn't matter if the recruit is from an Ivy League school or from the inner cities, their is a sense of entitlement there that is subtle and different from anything we've dealt with in the past.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Iranian Sanctions

Two headline views of the same story:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — President Hassan Rouhani has praised a landmark nuclear deal struck in Geneva as his country's victory, telling a home crowd it effectively means the "surrender" of Western powers to Iranian demands.  U-T San Diego

Biden appeases Netanyahu over 'sanctions architecture' against Iran -- US Vice President Joe Biden says Washington is committed to enforcing its "sanctions architecture" against Iran in an attempt to appease Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  PressTV

So is the new deal a win for Iran or an appeasement of Israel?  Perhaps the real answer is somewhere in-between.  The United States has had a very long history with Iran.  Starting with the placement of the Shah Pahlavi into power (and subsequent Iranian Revolution leading to the take-over of the US Embassy in Tehran), the United States has struggled with Iran.  On one hand, the US had sold Iran then state-of-the-art F-14 Tomcats.  On the other hand, the US supported Iraq's War against Iran (including the use of chemical weapons).

The latest deal perhaps really represents the inability of the US to bring Iran in line.  Nuclear weapons continue to be the ticket to being considered a world power (or at least a nation that other world powers need to acknowledge).  The US lacks the ability to manifest real change in Iran.  It also lacks the impetus to begin yet another overseas conflict.

Israel has no conflict of conscience when it comes to Iran; they see Tehran and its nuclear weapons represents and imminent threat to Israel.  Netanyahu has no problem stating that if Iran's program advances too far they will take action.  Most likely this is the reason Vice President Biden is trying to appease Netanyahu.

And for Iran is does certainly make it look like they have stared down the US.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Military Industrial Complex

"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex."--President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

The military-industrial complex is the relationship between industry (now more commonly called defense contractors), the military (either the DoD or one of the separate military branches) and of course legislators (who often vote for things that will be built by their constituents rather than demonstrated need).  The role of legislators is often the least remembered and is why people don't understand the impact of the Goldwater-Nichols Act 1986 to increasing the military industrial complex.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act was intended to increase the ability of the DoD to conduct joint (inter-service) and combined (inter-allied) operations AND improved the DoD budget process.  The impetus was to improve the poor relationships that exist between Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.  The thought being to increase efficiencies, legislate cooperation amongst the services.  To insure compliance, mandate a corresponding change in the budgeting process.

It does make sense that the various branches of the military should be able to operate on the battlefield to achieve a common goal (without committing fratricide).  It also makes sense to save money by combining procurement efforts.  However, you can't always legislate everything.

Let's look at a simple example.  Based on the wording of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, you would think one thing the military would go to is a common battlefield uniform.  This almost worked with the Battlefield Dress Uniform (BDU).  Each service used the same manufacturer and placed their own own accoutrements (such as name tapes, service identifier, rank, occupational badges, etc).  The BDU was not perfect.  The pattern was designed to blend in against the forests of Europe.  Not really the best thing for the desert which is what happened in Desert Storm.  Then came the first generation of Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) creating a separate uniform.  By the time the wars started in Afghanistan and Iraq, each branch started looking for new utility uniforms.  The Army went to a moss green digitized pattern that really didn't work in the desert.  The Air Force and Navy still switched to DCUs when in theater.  The Army tried to split the baby with their digitized ACUs.  The Marines created their own digitized ACUs.

One common need, five different solutions.  So much for jointness.  But let's look at an example of applying Goldwater-Nichols they way they meant.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, fifth-generation multirole fighters under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions with stealth capability. The F-35 has three main models; the F-35A is a conventional takeoff and landing variant, the F-35B is a short take-off and vertical-landing variant, and the F-35C is a carrier-based variant.--Wikipedia (sorry, it was the most concise definition of the program that I could find).

Despite this being in one sense a "single-procurement" and accomplishes many of the "jointness" intended by Goldwater-Nichols Act, it is achieved at dizzying costs.  According to Defense Update, the last cost for the F-35A is $85 million per copy.  The article continues, "“The 2014 procurement cost for 19 F-35As will be $2.989 billion. However, we need to add to that the “long lead” money for the 2014 buy that was appropriated in 2013; that was $293 million, making a total of $3.282 billion for 19 aircraft in 2014. The math for unit cost comes to $172.7 million for each aircraft."

The F-35 is supposed to insure that the various services maintain air-superiority for years to come.  However, the sheer costs per copy makes one wonder if how will military planners are going to be to risk these aircraft being shot down?  Going back to Desert Storm, why even engage in dogfighting when stand-off platforms can bomb the enemy's aircraft while still on the ground negating the need to risk your $172 million dollar fighter?

This is what is missing in Robert Farely's article in Foreign Affairs, "Ground the Air Force".  He attempts to argue the case for disbanding the USAF and putting its people and equipment back into the Army and Navy.  The biggest reason why this won't happen is because of the military-industrial complex.  As I've just outlined, it would mean less money towards big ticket aircraft projects.

For example, I doubt had the USAF remained part of the Army would air refueling have ever been developed.  The focus on manned-bombers would mean less funding for other weapon systems that ground officers would find more beneficial (such as light-armored wheeled vehicles).  It is not in the interest of the military-industrial complex to allow the USAF (or any other military branch) to go away.

Gaining efficiencies in a bureaucracy is counter-intuitive.  It takes so long to gain approval for the smallest change in the project that the contractor(s) inevitably gets to charge for delays and cost-overruns.  Legislators are not interested in reducing bureaucracy which insures their ability to garner votes and support by adding their pet project to ridiculously long pieces of legislation.

Let's not forget, the military-industrial complex is not just an American institution.  All of the hang-wrangling that went on about switch from the Colt 1911 to the Beretta M-9 really does not consider how many components of our other weapon systems are manufactured abroad.  For every dissenter about using an Airbus airframe for the next air refueler neglects to see how many components on our current aircraft are made from parts from overseas vendors.

It is this line that gives raise to conspiracy theorists and war-haters alike that war is really only about making money.  China is a great example of a huge economic power that could benefit economically from engaging in a war with Japan (nothing sells your product like being able to add "combat proven" to the product description).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't Meddle

At least that's what Beijing has told Washington in regards to increasing hostile relations between China and Japan. China and Japan are locked in a dispute over another set of islands (not the Kurils).
The islands located in the in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, have lately strained bilateral relations of the two leading Asian economies (  As I've already posted, China and Japan have no reason to be friendly after the atrocities in Nanking during World War II.

The US has increased troop strength in South Korea by sending 40 M1 Abrahams tanks and 800 soldiers from the 1st US Cavalry Division.  The troops will do a nine-month rotation but the tanks will remain as other troops rotate into theater.  According to, this is part of Washington's "pivot" to Asia.

"This addition of forces to Korea is part of the rebalance to the Pacific. It's been long planned and is part of our enduring commitment to security on the Korean peninsula," said Army Colonel Steve Warner in an article from Reuters.  But the numbers given hardly represent a increase of any significance.  As several others have pointed out, the move is more show than substance.  The real pivot seems to be in spending with funding switching away from the Army and more towards the Air Force and Navy (hence the huge build-up at Andersen AFB).

China's reaction is to criticize the "pivot" and increased military presence saying that it is straining relations between US and China.

China's Defense Ministry Spokesman Yang Yujun said, "the US is destabilizing the region by sending more troops, ships, and planes and strengthening its military alliances with regional partners."  PressTV.  China has criticized US military build-ups in countries besides South Korea such as Vietnam and Philippines.

All of this seems to indicate that the Obama Administration is not interested in fighting terrorism and focus more on regaining some type of global legitimacy.  The challenge is for the US to re-establish itself in Asia without being perceived as an even bigger threat by China.  And let's one forgets, the US has de facto diplomatic relations with Taiwan (under the Taiwan Relations Act 1979).  While the Taiwan Relations Act does not require the US to defend Taiwan per se, the US is able to provide arms to the Taiwanese government.  Of course, this means that the US views Taiwan as independent from China (something Beijing flatly rejects).

A conflict between China and Japan could be just the impetus for North Korea to attack.  Kim Jong Un is a young leader with some very disturbing tendencies (such as having an uncle and former girlfriend executed).  Young men tend to want to prove themselves and Kim Jong Un appears to have no problems with doing that.  Such tendencies could mean conflicts could break out with little to no warning.

What can we make of this?  Events in Asia are shaped by prior events going back 50 or more years in many cases.  In comparison, the events going on in Iran and Syria are far more recent.   The Obama Administration has been unable handle the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran nor keep his word of outing Asad should he use chemical weapons in Syria.  It is unlikely in the final years of his administration that the President will find the ability to negotiate his pivot successfully.  If nothing else, China merely needs to wait him out.  More likely, his actions will cause China to become more aggressive towards the next administration.  Should Hilary Clinton become the next President, I don't see her relaxing this approach to the region.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

World War Three

The polar vortex that hit the last two days has closed the college and left me with more time to read and write.  A few days ago, Max Hastings posted an article about why he thought the deteriorating relationships between the US and China could lead to the next world war.

As was the case in World War I, neither the Chinese nor the US are looking to start a war.  However, China will not be denied its future role as a global economic and military superpower.  The US is no longer interested or able to go head to head with China (at least not publicly).  What might provide then the catalyst for war?

Interestingly the answer is Japan.  The Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the formal ending of the Japanese Empire and hostilities of WWII, also ended the Japanese military as anything other than a self-defense force.  Very similar in fact to what happened in Germany.

The United States has maintained a large military presence in Japan more out of its commitment to protect Japan against aggression from China than as an occupying power.  The US military, since at least the Reagan administration, has thought to re-evaluate this relationships but the Japanese government has historically tended to prefer to focus its GDP towards its economy rather than defense.

Recently this relationship has begun to change.  Washington is beginning to once again look to Japan to assume more responsibility for its own defense and Tokyo is now more receptive.  Herein lies the real root of the problem.

Japan has never admitted to the atrocities it committed against China and Korea during the war.  In comparison, Germany has openly acknowledged the Holocaust and criminalized Nazism.  The lack of admitting Japan's atrocities is what lies in China's fear that that US is looking to pull out of its role in Japan.

This lead to a whether alarming statement by the Chinese ambassador to London that "Japan risks ‘a serious threat to global peace’ by ‘rekindling’ the bellicose attitude that hastened the expansion of World War II into a global conflict."--The Nation

With this as a backdrop, is it no wonder that the Chinese have felt compelled to expand their air defense zone?  Similarly the United States has spent over $6 billion at Andersen AFB as part of a reinforcement program.

Let's not forget the continued struggle between Japan and Russia over the disputed Northern Territories (specifically the Kuril Islands, which has prevented a peace treaty being signed between Russia and Japan since WWII).

The Kuril Islands were annexed by the Soviet Union during World War II and remain under the control of Russia which is why in Feb 2011, then Russian President Medvedev ordered a significant increase in reinforcements of the islands when it look like Japan may lay claim.

The issues though actually date back to Czarist Russia when the quest for a warm water port lead Czar Nicholas II to attack Japan in 1904.  Partially out of bad advice from his own people but also partially the noting that the Japanese were somehow a backwards people. the Czar believed this was sure fire way to increase his political standing with little risk.  Unfortunately the Japanese were now a modern, early 20th Century military and defeated the Russian Navy (and also ended the era of the Czars, leading to the Russian Revolution and the start of the Soviet Union).

The victory by Japan emboldened their desires of the Empire to expand.  The loss by Russia was sought to be revenged in part by the Soviet take over of the Kuril Islands.  Is it any wonder that according to a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 72% of Japanese people view Russia unfavorably, compared with 22% who viewed it favorably, making Japan the most anti-Russian nation in the world?

The Chinese remember the Japanese invasion of 1937 resulting the Massacre of Nanking where, according to estimates by International Military Tribunal of the Far East, over 200,000 Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants were murdered by the Japanese Imperial Army.

So do the Souther Koreans.  Just last month, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she rejects flatly any idea of meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until Japan apologises for wrongdoings during its 35-year occupation of Korea.

South Korea wants a deeper apology and greater compensation for an estimated 200,000 South Korean “comfort women” who were forced to work as prostitutes in Japanese military brothels during the occupation. Everything to do with the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of Korea, brutal and authoritarian even compared with most other imperial occupations, still festers--The Independent

It has looked to me for some time that major hostilities could be started over Syria and Iran (and nothing today makes my think that still can't happen), I think we must also now consider how old hostilities in the Pacific may be creating an even more volatile situation than the Middle East.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Russian Warship off Scottish coast

I concluded my last post with the thought that by exposing our shortfalls in nuclear readiness, and subsequent increase spending to fix it, Russia may be emboldened but the perceived weakness.  I was about to write about how this may also be fueling the increased military build-up of China (along with increasing tensions between China and Japan) when this article caught my interest.

A fully armed Russian navy vessel sailed to within 30 miles of Scotland, of the coast of Moray Firth, about a week before Christmas.  There the Russian vessel sat, unchallenged by any Royal Navy vessels since budget cuts have eliminated any maritime patrols off the coast of Scotland.  The HMS Defender had to be launched from Portsmouth and sail 600 miles to Moray Firth.  A response time of over 24 hours.  Upon arrival, there was a "stand-off" according to the Daily Mail article but eventually the Russian warship left and returned to join-up with a Russian task force on maneuvers in the Baltic Sea.

It was obvious the Russian vessel waited until the British destroyer showed up, basically measuring response times.  The Russian vessel had armed cruise missiles on deck, obviously so that the RAF reconnaissance aircraft would determine the legitimacy of the threat.  It was widely known that the Royal Navy no longer was running patrols in the area.  According to Interfax, the Russian vessel was sheltering in the area to avoid severe weather.

The obvious conclusion is Russia is signaling a more aggressive posture to the rest and proving that the old Allied powers of Europe just can't respond as they once did.  This particular incident may also have something to do with Scotland nearly realizing its independence.  According to Jonathan Eyal from the Royal United Services Institute to conclude, "The Russians may also be inspecting nuclear installations in Scotland, with a view towards the independence referendum. Certainly the Russians would see the country as more vulnerable if it were no longer part of Britain."

The events off the coast of Moray Firth is eerily similar to a Dec 5th incident where a Chinese naval vessel tried to stop the guided missile destroyer, USS Cowpins.  Unlike the incident between Russia and Britain, this occurred in international waters.  Like the Moray Firth situation, the Dec 5th incident demonstrates a more aggressive stance by China related to its declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan relayed heavily on drones as a way of dealing with the threat, which is primarily ground based.  Drones are a high-tech, low-risk way of waging an insurgency type war.  Small, precision guided weapons launched from these platforms are devastating on small ground targets.  Drones are of course excellent surveillance/reconnaissance platforms that can remain on station for long periods of time.

However, the mistake is to use the last war as they way of fighting the next.  We may continue to engage insurgents for some time, however the next war is very unlikely to resemble those fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan for the last 10 years.

Those same tactics may not be nearly effective against a large, conventional military force such as China, Russia or North Korea.  The punch carried by drones is still diminutive compared to that of manned aircraft or surface vessels such as the ones involved in the events above.  A drone can't get close enough to launch a weapon against an armed surface vessel.  This means we would still have to rely on conventional naval or airpower, which also means risking US troops.

Naval power is still the key to power projection, something that has been overlooked since Desert Storm.  Protecting sea lines of communications is something the recent troubles with Somali pirates should haver reminded us.

US Naval forces have primarily been used for the carriers and unconventional forces (SEAL Teams).  Conventional surface and underwater forces have not played as much of a part as other forces.    This make it easier for Congress to reduce the number of surface ships and patrols available.

There is also a misunderstanding of increased lethality equalling the need for fewer assets.  Our missiles and guns have become more lethal, accurate and have greater range than ever before.  It means it takes fewer hits to take out a target which means you need fewer assets.  That is a lovely synergy for the budget-cutting planner or legislator.  What goes without being said is you still need to have a presence in order to deliver the strike.

Ah that's where long range strike comes in you say?  In the early days of the war in Afghanistan, a single B-2 set an endurance record of a 36 hour round trip from its home base in Missouri to Afghanistan and back.  Impressive except if you needed a target taken out sooner than 36 hours, you would be dead.  The US has quietly been increasing its presence in Guam and has now staged B-2s there as well.

More lethal may require fewer assets but some assets still need to be in present in order to strike.  The Russians and Chinese have not forgotten this.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The state of nuclear forces

Back in 2007, a B-52 bomber was mistakingly armed with six nuclear air launched cruise missiles (ALCM) and flown from Minot, ND to Barksdale, LA.  The missiles were being sent to be decommissioned but why they were armed with live warheads was the beginning of the real state of our nuclear forces in the USAF.

The events back in 2007 led to the standard stand-down of forces and firing of all of the usual suspects (munitions squadron commander was summarily fired, ground crews and aircrews were suspended).  This led over the next several years for articles to appear questioning the readiness of our nuclear forces.

For those unfamiliar, US nuclear forces consist of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), manned bombers and sea-launched ballistic missiles.  Two of the three triads then are assigned to the US Air Force.  Nuclear forces really came to forefront because of one man, Gen Curtis LeMay who believed a war could be won by delivering all nuclear weapons in an overwhelming, decisive blow.  This belief allowed him to turn the Strategic Air Command (SAC) into the premier command of the United States Air Force during the Cold War.

LeMay's focus made SAC the benchmark for operational readiness inspections (ORI).  SAC units were constantly testing their readiness to support LeMay's (and subsequent SAC commanders) vision of an ability to decisively strike the enemy with no-notice.  LeMay very much was an advocate for a pre-emptive strike and designed SAC around that vision.  One of the core competencies of the USAF is air-refueling which was created specifically to support the long range bomber fleet.  To put this in perspective, at the height of his tenure as commander of SAC there were 2,000 manned bombers, 800 refuelers and 224,000 airmen just in his command!

The Vietnam War, and the noticeable lack of nuclear weapons, did not take away from the power SAC held in the USAF because of the nuclear weapons and the tankers (which even C-141s and later C-5s of the Military Airlift Command depended on the tankers in order to accomplish their global mission.  The fighters of the Tactical Airlift Command absolutely could not move without SAC).  As the Cold War continued, SAC would continue to have dominance in the USAF and in the national defense strategy.

Then several things changed that made the events in 2007 almost inevitable.  First, the Soviet Union fell and with it the perceived need for a pre-emptive nuclear strike.  Second, the tankers were taken from SAC (something unthinkable in LeMay's day) and given to the new Air Mobility Command (formerly  the Military Airlift Command).  Strategic Air Command ended in 1992 with it other resources being sent to the other commands (including Air Combat Command which did not emphasize nuclear readiness over its other missions).  The HQ remained under the US Strategic Command.

Finally, Desert Storm brought back the "antiquated"notions of desert warfare with large tank units maneuvering in the desert and the intense use of pre-emptive "conventional" strikes.  Nuclear forces were thought of as a legacy from the Cold War days.  Many people don't understand that at the same time as Desert Storm was being fought, then President Bush had already started a huge drawdown of forces.  Those cost-cutting measures also translated into fewer and fewer dollars to be spent on readiness for nuclear forces.

Airmen assigned to missile units don't deploy as part of the expeditionary forces.  Same for nuclear ground crews, their skillets just aren't needed in theater.  Imagine then when you are competing against other airmen for assignments or promotions but keep falling short because your mission isn't valued anymore (i.e. you don't get campaign ribbons and medals for sitting at home station).

It was inevitable then that something like the B-52 flying with live warheads would happen.  In response, the USAF in 2009 resurrected SAC under the new banner "Air Force Global Strike Command".  The mission of Air Force Global Strike Command is to "Develop and provide combat-ready forces for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations --Safe --Secure --Effective to support the President of the United States and combatant commanders."

Then on Dec 20, 2013 the USAF Inspector General's Office found the former commander of 20th Ai Force (the Numbered Air Force under AFGSC), Maj Gen Michael Carey,  had violated Article 133-conduct unbecoming an officer-during a trip to Russia back in July 2013.

According to Air Force Magazine: While having drinks with his team in the executive lounge of the Marriott lobby on July 15, Carey boasted “of the importance of his position” and complained “that his group had the worst morale and that the leadership wasn’t supporting him,” according to a chronology of events included in the report. 

Carey and a civilian member of his team left the Marriott around midnight that night, heading to the Ritz Carlton where they “met two foreign national women.” Carey stayed out with the women all night, returning to his own hotel room as late as 5 a.m. Consequently, he was 45 minutes late to the initial briefing with the Russian Federation, states the report. 

During a lunch banquet on July 16, Carey made inappropriate comments about Syria and National Security Administration leaker Edward Snowden “that were not well received.” 

During a tour of a local monastery, also on July 16, Carey was so drunk he was slurring his words, interrupting the tour guide, and even attempted to give the guide a “fist bump” at one point. 

The rest of the article you can read here.

It is beyond comprehension how a general officer in charge of nuclear deterrence could behave like that, especially in the one country that was the genesis for his command!  Furthermore, I doubt that the general's behavior was anything new.  The ease with which he drank and hung around the ladies is not a one time event.

The general was rightly relieved of command but it is the aftermath that is most interesting.  Almost without fanfare, the Congressional Budget Office announced upgrades and expansions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal could cost as much as $355 billion over the next 10 years.  According to an article on the Motley Fool website, the nuclear upgrade spending will take place over a 10-year span, from 2014 to 2023 at a rate of around $35 billion per year.  The spending will go into maintaining nuclear warheads, maintaining the nuclear reactors that produce weapons grade material, Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs, and command, control and communications systems.  Read the rest here.

Perhaps this is why Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has warned that Russia will use nuclear weapons if it comes under an attack, adding that this possibility serves as the main deterrent to potential provocateurs and aggressors. “One can experiment as long as one wishes by deploying non-nuclear warheads on strategic missile carriers. But one should keep in mind that if there is an attack against us, we will certainly resort to using nuclear weapons in certain situations to defend our territory and state interests”  Source:  Russian Times

The refocusing on our nuclear deterrence may also be why North Korea has restarted it's nuclear reactor and why Iran continues to pursue its nuclear enrichment program.  It would also mean that President Obama's effort to reduce nuclear weapons isn't so sincere.