Friday, May 22, 2015

The interesting case of the sole superpower

First Syria showed that even when a US President issues a "red-line", nothing much happens even if you cross it with chemical weapons.  Then Russia discovered that you could really put the needs of a Russian minority in a sovereign nation (Ukraine) over the protests of a US President.  Then Iran weathered two different US Secretaries of State (Clinton and Kerry) to maintain their goal of developing a nuclear weapons program and now have no problem rejecting international inspection of the nuclear facilities or permitting access to Iranian nuclear scientists.  Oh and let's not forget Iran had no qualms about sending their warships up against ours in Yemen.  Now China has issued warnings (at least 8 according to CNN) to US surveillance aircraft to "Go away" from international waters around the new contested artificial islands.  Over these signs, no more like billboards, that our potential adversaries no longer fear US actions we have Mr. Obama assuring us that the loss of Ramadi is only a "setback" and assures us that we aren't losing to ISIS.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry (with able assists from Valerie Jarret and Mrs. Clinton) have largely contributed to why the US is no longer seen as a superpower but they are not completely to blame.  The actions leading to the downfall of the US actually has roots in one of the greatest victories of the former superpower.  William Astore wrote a piece titled, "A Military Without Limits" in which he offers a compelling argument that a US military that no longer has the Soviet Union to keep in check has become ineffective.  The Soviet military offered a check & balance to the US military industrial complex.  Just as the Soviet Union could not just go wherever it wasn't already, the US military could only go so far without incurring retaliation from the Soviets.

Then two things happened almost simultaneously.  The US handily stomped Iraq into the ground in less that 100 hours during Desert Storm (after a six month build-up it should be noted).  Later in that same year the Soviet Union fell.  The US had won two wars in a single year but with it came the realization that no one was left that could challenge the US.  Desert Storm had proven that precision bombing had finally become a reality and softened the Iraqi forces up to where US ground troops literally ran over the top of them.  The US military could truly now claim "anywhere, anytime".

With no real opponent in sight, and with the same Cold War structure and inventory of nuclear weapons, the US military would need to eventually find another opponent.  It find it in Al Qaeda and actually went back on itself to fight another counter-insurgency war (which the post-Vietnam military had vowed wouldn't happen again).

We now have a military that has been exhausting its personnel and equipment for 13 years against in an "asymmetric"war yet at the same time, senior military officers want to buy the next generation weapon systems (F-35 for example).  The US military had drawn down much of its overseas presence in Europe and the Pacific at the end of the Cold War but it ramped up the staging of news bases throughout the Middle East and former Soviet Republics.

But the problem in waging counter-insurgency wars is that often fighting one group (Al Qaeda) tends to lead to the creation of other groups (ISIS) before the first group is destroyed.  Unlike fighting established militaries, insurgency groups can disappear and reform at the blink of an eye leaving formal military organizations such as the US with nothing to show for the efforts.

Presidents  George H. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama have all played an part in using what is still largely a Cold War structured US military to fight insurgents.  Not only have the insurgents remained around but now other formal militaries are getting the bright idea that they just might win if they pick a fight with the US.  Strange times indeed.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Connecting the dots

Connecting some dots from last weeks headlines.  First, Secretary Kerry continues to fail any brokering any solutions to situation in Ukraine (Military Times).  I can't imagine Kerry making much of an impression on Putin so its no wonder that Russian Bear bombers continued to mix it up with the Royal Air Force (RAF) near the British nuclear facilities in Scotlan (Telegraph).  Russia may also be emboldened by two other factors.  First is a show-of-force by the US military by staging an exercise in Romania (Military Times).  Romania is still struggling to pull itself out of the post-Warsaw Pact and perhaps Washington feels they would be the next target for Moscow.  But the second factor is perhaps even more emboldening, namely an apparent return to the "pivot to Asia" strategy as the Pentagon announced plans last week to challenge China's claims to artificial islands built by the Chinese in contested waters (Wall Street Journal).  Obama's foreign policy has been an abysmal failure in Syria, Iran and Crimea so there is little reason to believe attempts to challenge China's claims will result in success.  It is especially unlikely given a lame-duck president with less than two years remaining in office.

The issue of foreign policy seem to be low on the talking points for those who would be the next President.  Clinton can hardly afford to touch issues of foreign policy for fear of resurrecting Benghazi. Republican candidates seem to be running on being the anti-Clinton candidate and anti-amnesty candidates but not much else.  Given this theater, Russia and China has little reason be concerned that their actions will unify Washington towards a coherent policy anytime soon.

Nine people, so far, are dead from a fight that broke amongst rival biker gangs in Texas and has resulted in at least 190 people facing charges.  Along with Baltimore riots, New York City riots, the Ferguson riots the US must look like it is an absolute mess to the outside world and that Washington hardly has the wherewithal to spend much time on foreign policy.  And they just might be right.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

For want of a nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost;
and for want of a horse the rider was lost;
being overtaken and slain by the enemy,
all for want of care about a horse-shoe nail.  
-Benjamin Franklin

For several weeks now, it seems my fellow Air Force and Air National Guard vets all have on their mind the F-35 or more specifically, how the USAF's pursuit of the F-35 is costing the service to lose everything else.

Picture credit: Wikipedia

In an attempt to build one fighter that meets the needs of the USAF (air interdiction, air-to-ground, and close air support), the US Navy (carrier operations, fleet defense), and the USMC (operations from unimproved runaways, close air support), Lockheed Martin has built the most expensive compromise ever.  The F-35, in its variants, can almost do all of the missions….sort of.  

For example, for the USAF air-to-ground role the F-35 needs to carry bombs but bombs on external weapons points aren't very stealth so the bombs have to be carried in the internal weapons bay.  And because of that, the F-35 can only carry a few bombs and until recently, it could even carry the small diameter bomb that the USAF uses extensively.  The idea of course of going to a small diameter bomb is so that an aircraft can carry more and thus be able to destroy more targets.  The F-35 can carry four.

Close air support is the purview of the legendary A-10.  It is a flying tank, built to fly low and slow over the battle field while carrying all of the bombs, rockets, missiles needed to destroy enemy armor.  Most famously though is its 30mm cannon, capable of punching hole clean through any tank on the battlefield.  It carries over 1,000 rounds as well insuring ample opportunity to eliminate enemy mech.

In contrast, the F-35 will carry a 25mm canon instead and only 180 rounds!  The F-35 is designed to stealth and fly at supersonic speed, hardly the requirements for dropping ordnance near friendly troops engaged with the enemy.  

But more egregious is the the USAF knows all of this and still is letting the A-10 go out of the inventory with NO replacement.  Fewer tails (copies) of the F-35 means fewer sorties and with a flight to maintenance ratio of 1:27 (one hour of flight time equals 27 hours of maintenance), one has to wonder if there will ever be enough F-35s available to conduct an air campaign.

The F-22 is not instilling any confidence in USAF pilots either.  After a projected history of causing hypoxia, the F-22 is perhaps one of the least liked aircraft in the inventory.  It won't be able to backfill shortfalls caused by F-35 downtime.  The Air National Guard, which flies the F-22, has gone so far as to ask the USAF to exchange the F-22s for F-15Es.  Yet despite this please for a more sensible the solution, the USAF continues to want that nail.

The F-35 is ridiculously expensive and it is hard to believe that the Pentagon would want to see these shot down in combat, meaning no-fly zones are going to become increasingly rare (unless other technology is utilized).

The F-15E is a dual-seat version of the F-15 and carries more fuel and weapons than its sleeker, air interdiction cousin.  The F-15E would make a much better replacement than the F-35 for the CAS role. Of course that would admit the F-35 is a high-priced mistake so it is unlikely that the USAF will do that.  Another option would be to use drones to replace A-10s and allow the Army to assume doctrinal control of the CAS mission.  That will not happen either.  So the USAF is going to have the F-35 no matter what and it will lose so much in the process.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Baltimore, Ferguson, Garland

Later this year will be the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita hitting the Gulf Coast of the United States.  The devastation was unlike anything the US had seen in recent history and the region was thrown into chaos and lawlessness with huge crowds robbing and pillage businesses.  The federal government, especially FEMA and President Bush, took the lions-share of the blame for a slow response that aggravated an already desperate situation.  Somehow or other, the then governor of Louisiana Mary Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin did not get blamed as much for their delay in requesting help form the federal government.

Ten years later, the riots in Baltimore and last year's riots in Ferguson had equally slow responses from local officials but like the Hurricane Katrina response, the blame has gone elsewhere.  Whites are blaming blacks and blacks are blaming the police yet no one seems to realize that everyone is losing.  The reason the riots happened was NOT because of the death of Freddie Gray, it was because Baltimore officials (especially Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts) did NOT direct the Baltimore Police Department to take an aggressive approach when the riot first started.  Their approaches left the Baltimore Police out-matched when demonstrators began to throw rocks causing the police to fall back and in essence, give up ground to the rioters.  Then all hell broke loose.

Social media is full of vitriol along political and racial lines about the Baltimore riots.  In the quest to find justice for Freddie Gray, the discussion about why Baltimore was allowed to burn is being overlooked (perhaps on purpose?).  Similarly, the poor response of the Ferguson City Hall and Police Department allowed a situation to go from peaceful protest into full-blown riot.  Conversely, while the calls for both the mayor and police chief of Ferguson to step down, nary a word has been mentioned about either Rawlings-Blake or Batts resignations.

The shooting of two armed Muslims in Garland, TX has also focused more on the event (Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest) and host (Pamela Geller) than on the terrorists perpetrators.  We are hearing more about Geller's anti-Muslim/pro-Israeli rants than the fact that both shooters are linked to ISIS.

Americans are missing the big picture.  Each of these events are keeping us focused on bickering with one another and failing to realize that our elected officials are grossly incompetent, are letting their citizens down (regardless of color) and are very likely in collusion with the federal government to allow more control of first responders by Washington (contrary to the Tenth Amendment).  The events in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore and now Garland are being portrayed as examples of how lawless and chaotic the US has really become.  It hasn't but the news and social media will convince you otherwise and that's all that is needed to allow the introduction of martial law.

We are being duped by our own prejudices and bigotry.  The police are falling right into the trap as well.  They don't work for Washington yet more and more local police are having to get FBI approval for their operations.  It makes a nice sound-byte to say local police are now under federal oversight but that cuts both ways.  Now local police are beholding to the feds in order to do their jobs.  The distinction between federal authorities and locals is getting thiner by the day.

While we are bickering along political and racial lines, we are completely unaware of the threat ISIS now poses.  They have watched and learned much in the past few months.  African-Americans have less trust in law enforcement today than they did during the Civil Rights era.  I can't imagine any immigrant having trust in federal agents right now.  ISIS  can thus move easily through either of these populations with little fear of being reported to the authorities.  White Americans are too quick to give up on African-Americans thinking the problems in Baltimore aren't theirs as well.  Our cities are failing in providing a safe and secure environment to ALL citizens.  And Washington is too eager to fill in that role.