Saturday, January 31, 2015

Holding On--For Now

Assad has managed to hold his ground in his corner of Syria. But keeping it for long is in question, let alone expanding out of his core Syria to regain all of Syria.

For all the talk of Assad winning the war lately, I did not see him as winning so much as halting his defeat. Strategypage seems to see it the same way:

The Assad government’s worst problems are not in Syria. Pro-Iran businessmen in Syria and their counterparts in Iran agree (usually off the record) that the plunging oil price threatens the generous and critical Iranian financial support for the beleaguered Assad dictatorship in Syria. Russian support is also threatened by the lower oil prices. Even with continued Iranian military support, Assad really, really depends on the financial support to maintain the loyalty of the few (less than a quarter) Syrians that support him to one degree or another. Because of that, and the damage ISIL has done to the rebel alliance (which has been fighting a civil war with itself since early 2014) the war has been going a little better for the Assads lately. In southern and central Syria (south and north of Damascus), pro Assad forces have actually been regaining some ground, or at least losing less. Along the coast the army and pro-government militias have been able to expel rebels and form a continuous Assad controlled area reaching into central Syria and the capital (Damascus). Thanks to Iranian trainers, the pro-government militias are better trained and more effective as are the soldiers. All of these men are paid regularly and most see a better future than do many of the rebel fighters. The army is about half its pre-war strength of 300,000 but the remaining troops are loyal and most have combat experience. The army is trying to expand back to its pre-war strength, which may not be possible.

And Assad's problems inside Syria are pretty bad. Consider that a lot of people wondered if we were breaking our Army in Iraq with far lower casualties and 15-month tours (for a short time).

Now consider what Assad's far smaller ground forces are enduring with no rotation home.

I once said Assad needed a whole new war to win. He went part of the way by falling back to a core Syria. Despite our de facto air support (against ISIL, one of his enemies), it seems highly unlikely that Assad can push out of his core Syria.

Indeed, I still doubt he can hang on to his core if he has to fight this hard to retain it.

The New Math of Counter-Insurgency

During the Iraq War, the Bush administration received a lot of heat for failing to put enough troops into Iraq. Since we won on the battlefield by the time we left in 2011, we clearly had enough troops. We may actually have had enough troops even by liberal standards of criticism.

During the Iraq War counter-insurgency phase, many on the left argued that we failed to put several hundred thousand troops into Iraq as US Army General Shinseki once asserted we'd need to win, and as past counter-insurgency fights indicated could be necessary.

It was a dishonest critique by Democrats because they would never have supported an effort on that scale, but they made it nonetheless.

Yet except for specific periods when enemy initiatives threatened our war effort (I'm thinking of spring-summer 2004 and summer-fall 2006), I judged that we were winning the counter-insurgency war in Iraq despite the constant media cries of imminent defeat.

I wrote many blog posts calculating the troop-to-population ratio for our effort and continually judged we had enough to win.

The basis for my judgment was that the left was oddly only counting American troops when it was appropriate to consider all ground security forces and take into account the threat level in different areas.

At various times, I used contractor security figures when I heard them (I guess 16,000 or so was our peak for that category), tried to calculate the equivalent value of support contractors, included troops in Kuwait who supported the Iraq War but technically weren't inside Iraq and so weren't counted, considered how technology-based reach-back to personnel outside of the theater reduced the need for some personnel inside Iraq to do some jobs, and mostly counted allied and Iraqi forces--including self defense force militias--in counting how many troops their were to reach that somewhat magical level of having troops at 2% of the total population to control/protect in order to defeat insurgents and terrorists.

Since we did win the war, the Democratic critique was obviously wrong, no?

Funny enough, we actually had several hundred thousand American troops on the ground in Iraq:

The presence of so many civilian contractors in the combat zone was first noted by the mass media in Iraq. There were a lot of contractors there and by 2009 there was one civilian contractor for each member of the military in Iraq. Thus half the American force was civilians.

Since our troop presence in Iraq peaked at around 170,000 and since we relied on contractors to do jobs that during World War II would have been done by military personnel who were little more than civilians dressed in green, we actually had the equivalent of more than several hundred thousand troops in Iraq.

Remember, much of the past record of counter-insurgencies that led to the 2% figure (it's a guideline rather than a rule, of course) would have included lots of uniformed support personnel to calculate that ratio. If we simply hire those "troops" as contractors in this new era (and which is a return to older practices before mass conscription, really), the people doing the jobs are still there, no?

So even judged by the improperly narrow definition of whose troops count, as the embrace by Democrats of the Shinseki standard did, we had enough troops in Iraq to win the war.

Behold Real Training Failure

Right now, we have a crippled (because of corruption, mostly) Iraqi army that at least retains enough of what we taught them for us to rebuild it--after our absence allowed it to hollow out--to lead an offensive against ISIL. If you want a failed training effort, look at Somalia.

This is a failed effort to build an army:

The African nations contributing most of the peacekeepers in Somalia are getting impatient with the Somali Army. This force was supposed to be near its ultimate strength (50,000 troops) and ready to take over from the peacekeepers by now, but it’s not. With great effort and at enormous expense the army has been expanded from 8,000 in 2007 to about 22,000 today. The Somali troops who are available are still less reliable than the peacekeepers and in no shape to take over security responsibilities for the entire country. The big problem with the new Somali Army is corruption, which results in unreliable leadership, poor discipline and indifferent loyalty. Troops will desert whenever they feel like it and will try to take their weapons with them. Al Shabaab knows that a large enough bribe can get most soldiers, even senior officers, to do just about anything.

I will also take the opportunity to note that most of the "armies" in the world are really just national police forces that can only hope to fight civilians and perhaps--if they are reasonably good--insurgents. These so-called armies could never hope to fight a real army in combat.

I don't know why we insist on defending colonial era borders above all else. There is no "Somalia." Why not recognize as states anybody who manages to put some decent percentage of the territory into shape to allow those people to have security and opportunity to live decent lives? Perhaps the soldiers of these smaller states will feel more loyalty to their neighborhood than the fiction of "Somalia."

The same goes for the sprawling, violence-riddled, Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), that still has UN forces futilely trying to settle that mess.

But nobody ever complains that the UN fails at anything. Hope of the "sainted international community," and all that.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bitch (Payback): 1 Each

Some Russians understand that the real threat to Russia lies not in the West with a laughable NATO threat (half a year to defeat the revolution-crippled military power of Libya's Khadaffi? Really?) to Mother Russia, but in the Far East where a massive Chinese population looms over a sparsely populated and massive Russian territory (of which, large parts used to be Chinese territory).

There is a proposal floated in Russia to encourage Russians to move to the Far East with land grants:

With the population plunging to just around 7 million people across vast distances - stretching from Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean coast to Lake Baikal in the west - local politicians, as well as Moscow-based nationalists, sounded alarm that the area was ripe for the taking by stealthy Chinese immigration. The end result, it was feared, would be that the Russian Far East would become a de facto part of China.

Putting facts on the ground in Russia's Far East to defend their gains is necessary if Russia is to preempt a Chinese threat to undermine Russian control there with immigrants to Russia's Far East:

From Moscow's point of view, it would really suck if China used Russian arguments about protecting ethnic kin abroad to intervene inside Russia, huh?

Yeah, ignoring China while poking NATO may feel good in the short run, but in the long run it is folly.

At some point, even the Chinese might realize that making claims on the Arctic region makes no sense without owning land at least somewhat closer to the Arctic

Are Nuclear Weapons for Defense or Slaughter?

Instapundit notes that given the threats Israel is under, he'd build a doomsday device to give the world incentive to keep Iran from nuking Israel one day. Israel has a regional doomsday device, I'd say.

Citing Israel's loss of security pillars, Instapundit writes, "If I were the Israelis, I’d build a doomsday device, to give everyone a stake in my survival. Maybe several devices. But that’s just me. . . ."

If Israel has somewhere near 80 or so nuclear weapons, Israel has a doomsday device. If they use them that way.

And as I wrote almost nine years ago, if Iran hits Israel with a nuclear weapon (or multiple warheads), how does Israel respond? With a Samson Option?

Obviously, if Iran strikes Israel, deterrence has failed. At that point a nuclear strike on Iran is about revenge. Although you can argue that retaliation against Iran will strengthen deterrence against other less-nutso states who might want nukes.

If striking Iran is just about revenge, how does that really help the survivors in Israel? Isn't an Israel crippled by Iranian nuclear weapons vulnerable to conventional military defeat?

We have to consider whether Arab states might pounce on a wounded Israel. We have to consider whether Israel might think about that possibility even if no Arab state is thinking about striking at the time of Iran's attack.

Maybe Israel will think holding back some nuclear weapons from the Iran retaliation will protect them from conventional invasion. Will it?

Will they even be thinking rationally enough under those circumstances to weigh the risks of not expanding the nuclear war?

So if nuclear weapons are a means of national defense and not just a means of revenge killing, wouldn't Israel have to consider using some nuclear weapons to cripple potential Arab invaders (and their wealthy backers) in addition to hitting Iran?

Which might mean that if Iran gets nukes, regional states have more incentive to have their own nukes than just worrying about Iran with nukes. How do we stop proliferation under those circumstances?

Our president continues to seek a nuclear deal with Iran that will leave them with the capability of going nuclear. He got a Nobel Peace Prize for his potential for leading nuclear disarmament, recall.

You don't really think our president will strike a good deal, do you? (That's my comment in the update.)

Have a super sparkly day.

Wait. What?

I'm confused. I thought the Russians deny they are fighting in Ukraine?

A mother of seven has been accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements in the latest sign of Moscow attempting to cover up its intervention in its neighbouring state.

Svetlana Davydova, 36, was arrested last week by a group of men in black uniforms who burst into her apartment in the town of Vyazma, west of Moscow, her husband Anatoly Gorlov told AFP.

Is it possible to commit treason when there is no enemy?

Perhaps the Russians didn't think this through.

Still, you have to admit that if the Russians aren't fighting inside Ukraine's Donbas region, Ukraine is facing the most incredibly well-armed rebels ever:

Ukrainian troops are struggling to counter artillery fire and electronic jamming by pro-Russian militants, who are flying drones to target the Kiev government forces, a top US general said Thursday.

Perhaps the Russians just don't care. They'll wage war, deny they are waging war, punish opposition to their waging of war, and dare the sainted international community to do something about it while Russia has a veto.

Say, do we have any lawyers to argue that the Soviet Union had the UN Security Council veto and not Russia?

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I don't think we're considering all the options that Greece's new Syriza government has in coping with their debt crisis. What if Greece turns to Russia?

The new, left-wing Greek government doesn't like the deal with the EU that it has to emerge from fiscal crisis:

Leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threw down an open challenge to international creditors on Wednesday by halting privatisation plans agreed under the country's bailout deal, prompting a third day of heavy losses on financial markets.

The Greeks are very unhappy at the prospect of running surpluses to pay their massive debts to Europe (and others, but overwhelmingly Europe).

But the Greeks have a problem, since pushing for debt relief that matters could push Greece out of the EU, something Greeks want to remain in:

An open collision between the new government and its creditors could trigger a massive flight of deposits from Greek banks, in a context in which the ECB will feel justified in not propping them up with liquidity support. Then Mr Tsipras would come up against the hardest constraint of all: the will of the vast majority of Greek voters (80% according to a January poll) to keep their country in the eurozone.

This article says that Greece may negotiate a deal (perhaps putting most debt payments weighted to the future to allow stimulus today), they may default on the debt while using their budget surplus to limp along while negotiating a deal to pay some debt, or they may exit the eurozone and abandon the Euro currency.

But what about a fourth option? What if Greece leaves the West--by quitting the EU and NATO, too, and hopes for Russian (and by association, Chinese) money to start over?

It would be expensive for Russia. But so is the Ukraine adventure. And the chance to "stick it" to the West over many sins, real and (mostly) imagined, might be too powerful for Putin to resist.

Ah, the joy of a Russian base at former American facilities in Crete, eh?

On the foreign side, the new Greek government is making a statement, too:

A toughly worded statement on Russia issued Tuesday by European Union heads of governments didn't have the consent of Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, according to two Greek officials.

Which is odd, really. Perhaps somebody should explain to Tsipras that Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. It's like the Greek leftists believe any militaristic dictatorship opposed to America that was once communist is okay with them. Odd, no?

Of course, we have that problem, too. I've mentioned them before.

But I digress.

Sort of.

There is enough anti-Americanism in the Greek left to think that sticking it to America would lift public support enough to bridge a gap of difficulties in moving from the West to being a recipient of Russian aid to make up for the lack of Western money.

Perhaps Greece sees hope in Russia's efforts to build an alternative to the Western banking system?

As the EU wrings its hands over what to do about renewed fighting in Eastern Ukraine, Russian bankers are opening a new front against the West: by threatening to build a financial transfer system that Western sanctions can’t throttle.

This is in reference to the SWIFT system that we may deny Russia use of to punish them for aggression against Ukraine.

Russia's attempt to build an alternative is at least an improvement over the possibility that such an economic punishment would be so grave as to seem an act of war to Russia.

Perhaps the reality of Russia's limited military power made for cooler heads on that score.

And for Greece under a new far left-far right coalition government, embracing Putin may be a fourth option in their financial crisis. Even if this just buys time because Russia can't afford to prop up Greece for long, with few good short term options, that might be good enough for the Syriza-led Greek government.

As the SWIFT alternative post from The American Interest notes, "lots of ne’er-do-wells like Venezuela, Argentina, or perhaps a Syriza-led Greece would love to join an alternative system thinking that it offers them new chances to stiff a new set of creditors."

Indeed. The fourth option might be too tempting to pass up.

UPDATE: Russia said they would consider providing aid to Greece. The EU extended sanctions on Russia, although Greece had the language toned down and expressed disapproval of sanctions. The EU parliament's president said he expects Greece to ultimately work with Europe.

But Syriza has been fairly pro-Russian on the Ukraine issue.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Ukraine can defeat Russia as long as you don't stay so narrowly focused on Ukraine needing to win a large tank battle with Putin's legions and then march on Moscow to impose peace terms.

While a discussion of Russian objectives in Ukraine is welcome, I don't get this question:

Is it only a question of time before Russia will annex parts of Ukraine?

Excuse me for mentioning the obvious, but it a question of time since Russia annexed parts of Ukraine. Does anybody remember Crimea?

You know, the peninsula part of Ukraine that Russia stole from Ukraine almost a year ago? Ring a bell?

And while I'm in a "huh?" mood, what is this guy talking about?

Sorry, Ukraine, You Can't Beat Putin

That's the title.

No doubt, Ukraine has a bad hand. In part they dealt it to themselves while pro-Russian elements could hollow out the military.

But Russia doesn't have freedom to do anything it wants to. Russia's military power is still limited between the spectrum edges of special forces and nuclear war. Ukraine actually has the option--if they are willing to pay a steep price--to escalate the fight above the ability of Russia's military to cope with the war.

Russia can take and hold Crimea and Donbas. Russia cannot take and hold a resisting Ukraine. And somewhere in between is the dividing line between what Russia could do and what they can't do.

And then we get to the question of what Russia is willing to pay to do?

And not just the monetary cost and price in blood. Either or both might be too much for Russia to pay.

But Russia also has to worry about paying the price of winning by tarnishing the reputation of Russia's military.

I believe Russia's military is too small for a big and lengthy conflict. They got a good reputation from their near-bloodless conquest of Crimea. But a bigger fight risks that reputation because Putin will have to rely on troops much less professional than those Spetsnaz forces that carried out that mission.

Russia has some decent regular troops--and they've used them in Donbas in the Ukrainian east.

But Russia doesn't have that many decent troops unless they want to completely leave the defense of the rest of Russia to poor quality troops.

Nor would that small cadre of decent troops be enough to win in a large theater if the fight goes on and Russia needs to rotate troops. Russia will have to use even the second- and third-rate troops in Ukraine.

That will increase Russian casualties--which is being noticed by Russians even in the limited conflict in Donbas--and increase the rate of atrocities committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian forces and civilians. The latter will make it difficult for Westerners to justify going back to business as usual with the Russians.

The price Russia would pay for a lingering war that gets uglier over time will include countries in the "near abroad" that Russia would also like to control one day.

Belorus, which had long seemed to me to be the logical first target of Anschluss,  has shown signs of worrying about Russian intentions. And the fight in Ukraine is raising more questions:

Belarus has adopted legislation under which the appearance of armed foreign forces on the country's soil will be considered an act of aggression regardless of whether they are regular troops.

The amendments to the law on the state of war appear to be President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's latest warning to Russia not to have designs on Belarus.

Lukashenka may be a thug ruler running the last communist state in Europe, but that doesn't mean he is eager to be a provincial ruler taking orders from Putin.

Central Asian nations that escaped the Soviet Union could also take the opportunity to turn to China, taking advantage of China's New Silk Road project that seeks inroads in Central Asia as a trade route to Europe and the Middle East.

Heck, in extreme scenarios, could parts of Russia in the Far East decide they are tired of Putin's Viking funeral ride and try to pull away from Moscow, hoping for support from China to weaken central government control?

The idea that Ukraine can't defeat Russia is nonsense. It is simply not true that the larger country always defeats the smaller country.

You can argue that a larger country will defeat a smaller country if the larger country is willing to pay the price, but that's the real question isn't it? What is Russia willing to pay to win?

Ukraine can defeat Russia if Ukraine can increase the cost of Russia's victory beyond the level that Russia is willing to pay.

And I say "Russia" and not "Putin." It is surely possible that Putin's willingness to suffer to the last Russian conscript mother's anguish and the last imported ham will not be matched by others with power in Russia whose pain threshold is much lower.

The real question is what is Ukraine willing to pay to make Russia give up and go home?

That is Their Job Description, Obviously

North Korea asserted that the South Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex just across the border in North Korea could be kidnapped by North Korea:

North Korea has said it can detain South Korean workers at an joint industrial park in the event of a dispute with their companies, South Korea said on Tuesday, in the latest ruling that could hurt confidence in the factory complex.

Or .... in a dispute with South Korea.

I did wonder why North Korea would threaten to close the facility when it had such an obvious role for Pyongyang.

(The dead clip was of Willy Wonka saying, "Don't, stop, come back" in a manner that suggests he wants no such thing.)

What's Worse Than Socialists?

Incompetent socialists:

Venezuela’s experiment in establishing a socialist paradise has been undone by corruption, incompetence and the rapidly declining price of oil. GDP declined at least four percent in 2014 and inflation is now over 60 percent. This has led to high unemployment (or underemployment) and an unprecedented crime wave, with Venezuela now the murder capital of the world. A growing number of poor Venezuelans turned to crime. The murder rate in Venezuela is over 60 per 100,000 people a year; one of the highest on the planet and more than ten times the rate in the United States. Since 1999 the government has implemented at least twenty different plans to deal with the crime and none have had a lasting impact. The fundamental cause of the crime is a lack of economic opportunity, which the Venezuelan government made worse and worse with its enthusiasm for central planning and incompetent implementation of those efforts.

I know. It's inconceivable that a system could be so effed up when it was set up by this man:

Even the parrot had the sense to turn his back on the cameras rather than be associated with this idiot.

Amazingly, Hugo's successor, Maduro, has made the situation worse--even before the oil price collapse last year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Stretching a Constitution All the Way to the Middle East?

I have to wonder if Japan might want to do something small but dramatic about that hostage that ISIL holds.

Japan has a problem in the Middle East:

Japan has vowed to work with Jordan to secure the release of a Japanese journalist held by Islamic State militants after the killing last week of another Japanese captive, but it reiterated that it would not give in to terrorism.

The hostage crisis has become a test for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took power in 2012 pledging to bolster Japan's global security role.

If Japan is to bolster their global security role, rescuing a hostage from ISIL would surely be a way to cross a threshold in a small but decisive way--and one which the public would support, no?

But how to work with Jordan? Say:

The mission of a Self-Defense Forces base for anti-piracy operations in Djibouti is expected to be bolstered to include the dispatch of patrol aircraft and the rescue of Japanese civilians in Middle East emergencies, Defense Ministry sources said.

The ministry is considering increasing the duties assigned to the base in East Africa and making it the operational center for SDF troops in the region on the assumption that Japan will continue utilizing it on a long-term basis.

“Based on the government’s principle of ‘proactive pacifism,’ it is a natural matter of course to develop a strategy to utilize more of the SDF's lone foreign operational base,” said a senior Defense Ministry official. “From the perspectives of cooperation with the U.S. military and NATO forces and sharing terrorism-related information with these forces, it will be to Japan’s benefit to increase functions of the base.”

The plans include mobilizing light armored vehicles at the base to rescue Japanese citizens by land routes, expanding parking aprons to transport Japanese nationals by government aircraft and SDF transport planes, and sending surveillance aircraft in emergency situations, sources said.

I did not know Japan had a base in Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea in Africa.

Where we and the French station anti-terrorism forces.

So Japan has a forward staging area to send units to the region and then up the Red Sea to Jordan if they need to use them.

A successful Japanese military mission against ISIL would surely bolser japan's global security role and perhaps take the wind out of China's big anti-Japan military parade:

On its instant messaging WeChat account the People's Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, cited a Hong Kong report that a parade would be held this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

One reason for holding the parade was "to frighten Japan and declare to the world China's determination to maintain the post-war world order", said the article, written by Chinese financial and global affairs commentator Hu Zhanhao.

On the one hand we have a parade. On the other hand we have a Japanese military mission into the heart of ISIL. Who should be more afraid after those respective events?

You Can't Save Money Already Spent

I wouldn't kill the F-35 program if the plane works--I'd only do that if it doesn't work. Otherwise we've simply done the research and development work for China's new stealth plane while sticking with older generation planes to fight them.

This article on why we should cancel the F-35 mistakenly argues that a follow-on program would avoid the cost of the F-35 and build a better plane, too.

The author's examples for doing this ignore that the follow-on programs used the research and development from the earlier programs but since they were "new" designs, didn't have to count that research in their cost.

So canceling the F-35 just as we are starting production won't actually save money even if an accounting standard allows us to pretend it is true.

At this point, if the objective is to save money, I'd want to ignore development costs already paid for and compare production costs to the costs of a new plane.

And then calculate how much longer we'd have to wait to have a new plane put in production.

And consider that if the plane works and we cancel it, China will build a new plane in part with our research that they stole.

I'm not the biggest fan of the F-35. I have long expressed worries about the plane. But if these are just teething issues rather than bad design, we'll get the plane to work.

Further, what's the alternative? Are we really going to go with evolved platforms that are many decades old even as other countries build more advanced planes?

I've been patient with the LCS. But at this point, I don't think it will work and it is way too expensive. This program should be cancelled. So it isn't that I simply trust the procurement process. I'm willing to give new weapons time, since weapons like the M-1 and Stinger missile were also heavily criticized at one time.

Perhaps the F-35 sucks and so the cost is too high. But I haven't run out of patience on this program. Given the lack of alternatives I would not cancel the program lightly.

But it would be good if we saw confirmation of its quality soon just in case we do find the F-35 too little bang for too much buck.

Stupidity Defined

Maybe if our leaders weren't so interested in protecting the reputation of Islamist scum this woman wouldn't have been so ignorant:

A 19-year-old suburban Denver woman who tried to go to Syria to help Islamic State militants was sentenced to four years in prison Friday, even as she tearfully told a judge that she never wanted to hurt anyone and has disavowed jihad.

Shannon Conley told the judge she was misled while pursuing Islam and learned only after her arrest about atrocities committed by the extremists she was taught to respect.

Although if she is truly committed, she'd have no problem lying to an Infidel judge, eh?

Pity she was misled. Pity a lot of people are being misled.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Here We Go Again

Russia is on the move again in Ukraine. How far they'll move is the question.

Russia's hand puppets are attempting to seize the crossroads town of Debaltseve, between Donetsk and Luhansk:

Russian-backed rebels advanced to encircle a Ukrainian army garrison town on Monday in a new offensive that has again unleashed all-out war after a five-month ceasefire and brought threats of new Western sanctions against Moscow.

I assume that there'd be more Ukrainian loss of territory if Russian maneuver units were taking part. So far, Russian involvement may be limited to artillery, intelligence, command and control, logistics, and special forces.

Perhaps the slaughter of civilians--whether deliberate or inadvertent--by a secessionist rocket barrage at Mariupol was just a diversion before the main, limited-objective effort at Debaltseve.

Or maybe this assault is meant to strengthen the right flank of a subsequent drive on Mariupol and even points further west.

For those committed to predicting what Russia will do on a rational actor model, Putin is not being helpful:

In a new charge, he spoke of a "NATO foreign legion" fighting alongside government troops.

"There are official divisions of the armed forces but to a great extent there are so-called voluntary nationalist battalions. This is not even an army, it's a foreign legion. In this case it's a foreign NATO legion," Putin said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed the accusation as "nonsense". "There is no NATO legion," he told reporters. "The foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian."

Russia is their own worst enemy in this crisis, doing more harm to themselves than any fanciful NATO plot.

Remember what Germany's Merkel said of Putin early in the crisis (the link is in an update):

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.

If you weren't sure of the veracity of that little reportorial nugget, all doubt should've vanished after Putin's press conference today.

Slouching in a fancy chair in front of a dozen reporters, Putin squirmed and rambled. And rambled and rambled. He was a rainbow of emotion: Serious! angry! bemused! flustered! confused! So confused.

Combined with reports that Putin is shrinking his circle of advisers to a loyal few, what awful decisions might he make inside that paranoid bubble of yes-men?

Oh yeah. Pucker factor definitely rising again.

Two Birds With One Stone

A United Nations special envoy for UNHCR believes we need to do more to help refugees in Syria. She's right.

The UN has never made more sense (nor looked better):

The international community is failing in its duty to protect civilians affected by the conflict in Iraq and Syria, US actress Angelina Jolie said Sunday in northern Iraq.

In her capacity as special envoy for the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), the Hollywood star visited Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis near Dohuk, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

"I'm shocked by what I've seen today. This is my fifth visit to Iraq since 2007 and the suffering is worse than anything I've seen in that time," she told reporters at a camp in Khanke.

Since depriving people of food, shelter, and health care is part of Assad's strategy to deprive the rebellion of support, it would be in our interest to ramp up humanitarian aid and dare Assad to resist the effort.

And it is the right thing to do. So bonus, right?

We're bombing Assad's enemies (who are also our enemy, to be sure). Could Assad really resist our efforts to get significant support to Syrian civilians in motion?

When You Start to Kill the LCS, Kill the LCS

I've long been concerned about the Littoral Combat Ship. It has low survivability and low lethality. And it is expensive. Go figure. Renaming these ships "frigates" has done more to enhance survivability than any design measures will do.

If they are no longer considered littoral combat ships--having been renamed frigates--at least they won't face a multitude of threats close to the shore.

This wouldn't be fatal if we simply faced power projection missions against land powers without the ability to strike our fleet out at sea.

But we face a rising naval power with growing sea control capabilities, don't we? (tip to Defense Industry Daily)

Yes, we rightly count on our personnel and training superiority to counter China's increasingly capable and increasingly numerous, blue water fleet.

But the numerous flaws in the new LCS frigate make it more likely that we will lose a lot of those highly trained sailors as their lousy ships go down in large numbers in a real fight for control of the sea. (tip to Defense Industry Daily)

Which will also tie up other ships and make them vulnerable to attack as we rescue crew floating at sea.

Good God, people, the friggin' ship can't even anchor itself properly? Shouldn't we have gotten that down pat by now?

Our Navy knows the ship is crappy. They have decided to try to fix it and have even renamed it to disguise the taint of failure on this new class of ships. So the Navy knows the bad path they are on.

But as Napoleon might have said, when you start to take Vienna, take Vienna cancel a little crappy ship, cancel a little crappy ship.

I've hoped that teething problems were all we faced. At this point we need to cancel further production of the LCS/frigate and relegate it to duties in SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM where we don't face major sea control threats and where the simple nature of crisp newness and cool looks (for the trimaran variation, anyway) will impress locals who won't know how crappy they are.

They will at least save the real Navy warships for real combat zones.

Kill the Littoral Combat Ship program in fact as well as name. It is more lethal to our highly trained sailors than it will be to any enemy. We no longer have the luxury of a wide margin of error to afford these abominations.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Of Course He Does

Assad of Syria wants a formal agreement with America so we can coordinate our air strikes with his ground forces:

President Bashar al-Assad has said U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria should be subject to an agreement with Damascus and Syrian troops should be involved on the ground.

Of course he does.

And why shouldn't he want this? This is just the final stage of the revolution in our relations that the Kerry-Lavrov deal of 2013 started.

I don't even want to hear any of the president's fanboys speak of "smart" diplomacy.

The Big Push?

Russia's offensive appears to be on, although the scope doesn't seem to include Russian regulars in the spearheads since the toll so far is in dead and not ground taken or lost.

Putin's hand puppets may have simply telegraphed their offensive with the Mariupol bombardment. Fighting is renewed in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine:

Russian-backed rebels pushed forward on Monday with a new offensive that has brought all-out war back to eastern Ukraine after a five-month ceasefire, bringing U.S. and European threats of tighter Western financial sanctions against Moscow. ...

"Rebels are constantly attacking Ukrainian government positions across the conflict zone with artillery, mortars, grenade launchers, tanks," Kiev military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy said at a televised briefing.

Meanwhile, the Russians are angry with the West for economic sanctions and disapproval over Russia's military aggression against Ukraine!

Russia blamed Kiev on Monday for a surge in fighting in Ukraine and warned the West that any attempt to increase economic pressure on Moscow would be "absolutely destructive" blackmail.

Pro-Moscow separatists, backed by what NATO says are Russian troops, have launched an offensive in southeastern Ukraine and President Barack Obama said Washington was considering all options short of military action to isolate Russia.

Yet for all the fantasy of Russian pronouncements on NATO plots against Holy Mother Russia, the Russians are doing far more damage to themselves:

The renewed Russian offensive in Donbas has brought forth more (and stronger) Western protests and more sanctions. Russia pretends to ignore the impact of the mess it has gotten into over Donbas and Crimea. Most of the world disapproves of such aggression. The UN charter explicitly forbids that sort of thing. No one, including most UN members, believes the Russian fiction that they are not involved. The Russian leadership, especially president-for-life Vladimir Putin, is making a major gamble here as he has made nationalism and “rebuilding Russian glory (and the empire)” a core part of his justification for turning Russia back into a police state. While the majority of Russians go for the glory part they are not happy with the economic problems and worldwide condemnation. Unlike back in Soviet (pre-1991) days the government cannot keep out all the bad news from the rest of the world. In this case the bad news is that the rest of the world sees Russia as the bad guy here and this angers some Russians but dismays and demoralizes many more. Russians know their history and they know what a disaster power mad and power hungry leaders have been in the past. More Russians are doing the math and most are concluding that Donbas is not worth the price the country is being forced to pay. Putin risks a backlash that could cost him his power and reputation.

Russia will have to do more of the heavy lifting if it wishes to achieve victory:

In Ukraine the Russian backed rebels are actually disorganized, discouraged and not all that effective. Interrogations of captured rebels indicate that there are many different factions, some of them not even from Ukraine (like the “Cossack” units from southern Russia). The Cossacks are very nationalist and really keen on rebuilding the Russian empire (which is what Cossacks were invented for centuries ago). The Cossacks were welcome arrivals when they showed up in 2014, because the original local Donbas rebels quickly lost their enthusiasm when their uprising triggered a nationalistic fervor throughout Ukraine and inspired Ukrainian troops and armed volunteers to fight a lot harder than the rebels expected. Russia, which sponsored and encouraged the rebels from the start soon found that the only way they could take territory was to send in Russian troops and heavy weapons (tanks, artillery, rocket launchers, missiles). The special operations units (Spetsnaz) were the best for this because these guys knew how to pretend (that they were Ukrainian rebels) and were very effective fighters. But there not enough of them available and regular Russian troops (which are mainly conscripts) had to be sent in as well, especially for support (transport and supply) functions. As more and more of these non-elite troops were killed a growing number of parents were not accepting the cover stories created to cover up the fact that their conscript son died in combat, not because of some accident.

The fact that Putin really wants victory, the fact that stringing this out is causing Russia big economic and political headaches, and the fact that the locals just aren't up to the job makes me wonder if even I have over-estimated Russian army capabilities.

Seriously, why haven't the Russians rolled the armor through Donbas to settle the territorial question once and for all, and send out Lavrov to cut a deal to put relations back on a more normal path--after a decent interval for the West to pretend we tried to stop the Russians?

Bringing Down the Knights

As much as we produce excellent weapons, our real strength is the quality of the troops who use them. Is technology going to make our forces suffer the same fate as highly trained knights when they faced peasants with firearms?

Precision weapons are making the old expression, "if you can see it you can hit it" more intense by making it easier to see it and cheaper and easier to hit it. This is a dangerous trend for our forces.

We have the computerized rifle sight that creates marksman with little training:

An Austin-based company, TrackingPoint, has developed a high-powered, long-range computerized rifle that can turn anyone into an expert marksman. But some wonder whether putting that technology in the hands of everyday people is a wise idea.

The weapon calculates the ideal aim point and doesn't let you pull the trigger until you are pointing the rifle at the proper aim point.

Knights relied on years of training and constant practice to make themselves deadly against any peasant who picked up a blade and tried to defend himself.

But with a firearm and mere hours of practice, a peasant could strike down a knight. That's why Japan banned firearms way back when.

That's unlikely to happen now, so is our training advantage at risk?

Looking beyond that, how long before the weapon can aim itself?And be part of a persistent surveillance network (of drones and mast-mounted cameras and sensors) over a battlefield?

Mind you, shooting is just one skill that a well-trained soldier must have. A trigger puller whose only advantage is he can shoot with this weapon will still panic and run in adversity.

Or just sicken and die in the field from lack of sanitation discipline.

So this weapon isn't a silver bullet solution to mass producing skilled soldiers. But it is a potentially disruptive trend.

And there is more in this trend.

In the air, our stealth technology for the F-35 is vulnerable, too, for a plane that must last three decades or more in service, just as the F-117 eventually lost its stealth advantage to counter-measures.

We also have what was the last bastion of hiding--the depths of the ocean--seemingly collapsing:

Today's submarines are in danger of becoming increasingly vulnerable as “game changers” in undersea warfare make it easier to detect them, a new report says.

Does this mean we are getting closer to the point when every shooter can see (and kill) every target on the battlefield (which could be increasingly large?)

If so, we may face Lanchester's Square Law in the real world, where all things being equal, a larger force will prevail over a smaller force because the smaller force will die at a faster rate than the larger force every time.

So our focus on quality and training may succumb to a wave of cheaper forces who can kill as well as we can.

Our tech advantage was all fun and games as long as we had the near monopoly added to our training. But when our advantage is narrow or gone, what will we do?

Again, this trend won't eliminate the advantage of training since the full logic of Lanchester's Square requires each side to stand in place and shoot until all are dead.

In the real world, the less-well trained force will break first and their rate of fire will decline and plummet.

Yet our casualties will be higher if we face an enemy with such weapons while we do not have them. In the short run, the enemy will kill more of our troops until their shakier training  leads them to falter and break.

Although how this applies to an enemy of fanatics willing to die in place is another matter altogether. That type of enemy will fight until they are all dead or nearly so--at least at the tactical level. In the bigger picture, fanatics can break, too.

Our training advantage over poorer quality fighters will be reduced in the short run in a battle at least, even if we also have the self-aiming rifles. And if we face an army of equal quality, quantity will matter.

We don't like to spend manpower in this manner. So making those smart rifles--and other platforms--fire on their own (killer robots!) will be the only way for us to provide the quantity to be the side of the equation that doesn't fall to zero.

(I could have sworn I had a blog post on this concept. Quite old, I thought, but still around. But I can't find it. So I may be mistaken. I may just be thinking of an article I've had lying around for a while that I've worked on.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Destroying the Pilot Corps in Order to Save It

I don't understand why our Air Force insists that only pilots be allowed to fly drones when this duty is destroying the morale of officers who joined the Air Force to be up in the sky, and when NCOs are more than capable of controlling them and are eager to do so.

I don't understand the stubborn Air Force opposition to letting sergeants fly drones:

By 2013 UAV operators were nearly nine percent of all air force pilots, triple the percentage in 2008. The air force is unable to get enough manned aircraft pilots to “volunteer” to do a three year tour as a UAV operator and cannot train non-pilot officers fast enough to be career UAV operators. A lot of pilots are getting out of the air force in part because of the prospect of another three year tour with UAVs. At this point UAV operators leave the air force at three times the rate of pilots of manned aircraft. Worst of all, UAV operators are not shown the same respect as pilots who go into the air aboard their aircraft. All this would go away if the air force allowed NCOs (sergeants) to be operators of the larger UAVs but the air force leadership is very hostile to that idea. Despite the GAO study, the head of the air force continues to insist that all UAV operators be pilots.

The Air Force wants Congress to throw more money at officer pilots who are miserable to convince them to stay in the Air Force and keep flying drones.

Come on guys, you act like the Air Force is a finishing school for proper officers and gentlemen rather than an organization designed to fly and fight.

If one goal conflicts with the other, choose the latter! Fly and fight, damn it.

Three Out of Five isn't Bad

Normally, I don't have much confidence that Fareed Zakaria can find his own buttocks with both hands and a GPS signal. But he did at least grab a hand full with this article that at least starts with the premise that we have to fight Islamist jihadis.

Zakaria has a four-part solution:

Washington and its allies can support Muslim moderates, help their societies modernize and integrate those that do. But that’s for the long haul. Meanwhile, Washington and its allies must adopt a strategy that has four elements: intelligence, counterterrorism, integration and resilience (ICIR).

He at least recognizes that friendly autocrats fueled Islamist opposition. That's why in the long run I think the Arab Spring could bring success since it was founded on the idea that democracy should be the alternative to autocrats or mullahs.

His intelligence focus is good. As he says, we need it from on-the-ground sources to both defend ourselves and to focus our attacks.

Counterterrorism is the work of drones and special forces direct action in his thinking.

Integration is the long term hope that sees Moslems integrating better in Europe. We've done a much better job here, but we are a nation of ideas and not of blood and soil, so I don't know if that is a sound hope on its own.

More to the point, integration has to mean the victory of moderate Moslems in the Islamic Civil War that we are basically collateral damage as jihadis seek to define Islam their way and snuff out moderates who'd rather not have their religion be a death cult.

So far, so good.

His fourth point is just twisted. By resilience he means we should not get panicked and overly worked up over the terrorism as the other three factors are allowed to work.

This seems to be a general theme of the liberal spectrum. They believe conservatives are panicked over what a nuanced view of the world would see as mere noise.

But I've never been panicked about the jihadi threat and I don't see conservatives as being panicked. What those of us who wish to fight the jihadis do is take the threat seriously rather than blathering on about "why do they hate us?" and coming up with tons of reasons why it is really our fault, when you think about it.

There is a difference between panic and resolve to win. Why that seems so difficult to grasp is beyond me.

We have been resilient. We do go on with our lives. We do that so successfully that other people see fit to note that since 9/11 only our military has been at war while our people have been "at the mall."

Or have you been too busy to shop because you are pulling guard duty tonight at the road block at the front of your cul-de-sac with other members of your local defense militia on the look out for dark-skinned foreigners who've escaped the internment camps?

Oh, there aren't any of those things here and you have been shopping and spending all along? There hasn't been any sign of an anti-Moslem backlash here? Well good. Now stop whining about panic and lack of resilience.

Still, we do need resilience. Why Zakaria doesn't see that we've displayed it is beyond me.

There is another problem with the resilience theme. To assume that the function of terrorism is simply to terrorize us in incomplete. It isn't always about us.

Brutal terrorism against the West is also a recruiting tool. Videos of beheadings and bomb blasts and planes flying into buildings are part of the recruiting process for jihadis. That stuff inspires the proto-jihadis sitting around with pent up rage against the world around them that has left them molding away in a society that always seems to fall farther behind the rest of the world.

So even if we had the perfect resilience as Zakaria defines it and shrug off every terrorism death here as something that pales before auto accidents and perhaps even lightning strikes and shark attacks, the jihadis would seek to kill us.

What Zakaria fails to see what we need is military intervention. He explicitly states (and cites an earlier article he wrote) that more military intervention is not the answer to ending Islamic radicalism.

Given that the answer is ultimately an Islamic Reformation that wins the Islamic Civil War for the good guys, I can't argue against that point.

But the problem is getting to that ultimate point in the long run. Until then, military intervention absolutely is part of the solution--or at least part of the effort to contain the problem and keep it away from our shores until the solution is achieved.

If we are facing a threat with a government that has the power on the ground to provide ground power and intelligence, we can restrict our military intervention to air power and other support--perhaps relying on allies and military contractors for much of that.

If the host government is less capable, we may need to provide special forces and other assets to help provide intelligence, as well as to work with regular Army and Marine troops to train the local forces to be good enough.

If the host government is even weaker, we may need to supplement or even supersede their forces until we can build up host government ground forces to take over the role all or in part.

If the local government is not a host and in fact supports the jihadi enemy, we may need to use military intervention to overthrow the regime or just punish the regime with the goal of compelling them to end or reduce that support to "acceptable" levels.

Military power certainly can't solve this problem. But is absolutely necessary to bolster the local forces who fight on the battlefield and fight for the soul of Islam, as well as necessary to contain the problem away from our shores as much as possible.

Remember, the use of military intervention in Iraq where we killed lots of jihadis was ultimately the factor that led more Moslems to condemn jihadi terrorism.

Terrorism was never a fatal flaw in jihadi reputation in the Islamic world as long as Western Infidels died. But when fellow Moslems started being blown up so visibly in Iraq, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia? Well, that's not funny, any more.

So call it ICMIR and just be grateful that Zakaria got this close to the target. It's called the Long War for a reason, you know.

Let the "Why Do They Hate" Questions Begin

As I said, the "why do they hate us?" questioning in Belgium in the wake of the police raid on jihadis is proving to be difficult to answer.

It's only difficult because Belgians assumed that doing absolutely nothing to fight jihadis and being mostly known for not liking America (and expressing interest in hauling certain Americans before the International Criminal Court) would make them immune from jihadi anger.

But jihadi anger is a problem for Belgium despite the sterling record of opposing America and refusal to help us:

In a document released in October, a new Belgian government warned against the “danger of violent jihadism that threatens to spread in our society,” reporting that 350 Belgians had gone to Syria and that more than 70 of them had returned home.

How can this be?

It's almost like the jihadis hate the West--all of us--for who we are and not what we allegedly do to "make them" hate us.

The Belgians may have thought they'd at least be last on the list of targets. They were wrong on this judgment, too.