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.