Saturday, October 03, 2015

Increase the Pain Factor

We're only short of options in Syria that the administration is willing to use.


The question on everyone’s mind is: will the United States and its European and regional Sunni allies intervene to stop President Vladimir Putin from reversing the gains made by mainstream Syrian rebels after more than four years of war?

Few are holding their breath. ...

After the Russian "surge" into Syria, he said, "America and its allies now look like the only group without a plan".

It isn't true that we don't have options, as the headline says. We just don't want to use them.

And it doesn't require us to go toe-to-toe with the Ruskies.

But it does require us to do more than simply warn the Russians that they are doomed to failure:

U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia on Friday that its bombing campaign against Syrian rebels will suck Moscow into a "quagmire," after a third straight day of air raids in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Obama is actually right that Putin intervened because Assad is in a world of hurt.

But just as saying Assad must go and hoping that will happen is no way to get Assad to go, just telling Putin he is doomed does not doom his effort.

Assad has problems and Putin's intervention is a sugar rush of a morale boost for Assad's troops that will wear off as the Syrian troops realize that they are in the same firefights with the same enemies in the same alleys despite Russia's intervention.

But we can make sure that Russia fails--and add to their costs--by arming Syrian rebels so they can hurt Assad and hurt the Russians.

We don't need to fight the Russians. But if we don't throw Putin and Assad a diplomatic lifeline (I'm looking at you, Kerry) and instead contribute to that Russian quagmire, we'll stop the Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria.

And make it more difficult for Putin to afford war in Ukraine, too, by increasing the cost of Russian intervention in Syria.

Not to be crude, but Russia has to start sending body bags back home to Moscow. Increase the pain factor and maybe Putin will stop his aggression before Estonia gets to the top of his list.

Are There Any Women Here?

Well, now we know where the East German women's Olympics team personnel went after the Soviet empire in eastern Europe collapsed:

Iranian soccer fans were left reeling earlier this week after eight members of the women’s national team were found to be men, the Al-Arabiya website reported on Monday.

Mojtabi Sharifi, described as an official connected to the Iranian soccer league, said that the footballers “have been playing with Iran’s female team without completing sex change operations.”

Sadly, the link is bad so I couldn't check out the actual news story.

But we do have film:

Silly primitives. If only they'd said they self-identified as men, they could have enjoyed the stoning without being repressed by the patriarchy.

But there's no way the Iranians would go to similar lengths on a far less important issue by dressing up their nukes as North Korean missiles to get around deal rules when it comes to the nuclear deal.

IAEA: Are there any nuclear weapons here?

Iran: No, no, no!

Yeah, I'm thinking Iran won't complete that responsible regional partner change operation.

Oh, Jehovah ...

The Empire Strikes Back--Where It Can

Far be it for me to speak for the "neo-Cold War" community that Fred Kaplan mocks, but I don't believe Putin is a chess-master who is rebuilding the Russian Empire (or Soviet one) with a grand plan of reconquest. But I do think we should oppose Putin, or he will gain territory and power despite not having a single integrated operational plan for rebuilding the empire.

Russia is weak and a regional power--with lots of nukes--that has the advantage of weak neighbors on their western borders:

As I've noted many times, Russia can carry out a small war--or use their military to backstop what was essentially a coup in Crimea. Russia has the advantage of having small powers along their western border like Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia, where Russia can quickly mass power before the target nation can respond or before NATO could react in time to stop a quick grab of territory.

Or they can nuke us. They can't do much in between without suffering heavy losses and significant embarrassment in extended conventional combat.

Their hand in Syria is actually weak--assuming we don't save the Russians by saving Assad in another bad deal.

Which makes it all the more frustrating. By dismissing Russia as objectively weak (and so we don't need to oppose them), there is a good chance that we will actually help Russia achieve a win in Syria when we should be working to ensure Putin loses in Syria (and in Ukraine for that matter).

When our foes are strong, we can't afford to oppose them, apparently. But when they are weak we can't be bothered to worry about opposing them. I sense a pattern.

This dismissal of Russian efforts by Kaplan annoys me in particular:

The notion, expressed by some of the candidates at the last Republican presidential debate, that Putin might use his strengthened position in Syria as leverage to pry the Saudis, Jordanians, and Egyptians into his fold—how to begin toting the absurdities? His position in Syria is hardly strong; if these Sunni Arab leaders were remotely inclined to go in with Moscow (which they aren’t), they would hardly find Putin’s ramped-up alliance with Assad as cause to reconsider.

The Egyptians did flip from Russia (when they were the Soviets), recall. While I agree that it is unlikely Egypt would flip back to Russia given that Egypt is still switching their arsenal to Western weapons after all this time, it isn't absurd to think that Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might hedge their bets if they think we are too unreliable of an ally to fully rely on.

Even if none of them want to flip to Russia, they might move closer to Russia--or perhaps China--to seek leverage. And that might make them cooperate less with us, no? Try leading from behind when there is nobody in front.

Jordan was once pretty tight with Saddam, recall, during the 1980s, because Saddam was strong and close--and standing in the way of Iran.

It isn't just that Putin is showing he will go the extra mile to support an ally. It's that we don't always indicate we care to put on our shoes for our friends.

Yes, Putin's ally Assad is in a very bad position. Yet there is Putin, sending in troops to make an effort. That speaks volumes about reliability, doesn't it?

So even if Russia isn't a future patron of these allies of ours, our ties with them can loosen whether or not Russia gains directly.

And maybe the Saudis look to nukes rather than an alternate patron to defend their interests.

You do realize that Iran has influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq--and that Iran and Russia are drawing closer, right?

Putin doesn't need to be a chess master if we don't even know the rules of the game.

We are right to worry about Russia. (And for fun, here's my view on that 2012 Romney comment about Russia being a geopolitical foe that President Obama mocked.) That doesn't require believing they are 10 feet tall and all-knowing. Or being a neo-Cold War warrior.

It just requires us to accept that Russia will push when they perceive weakness.

Friday, October 02, 2015

I'm Not Sure What We're Doing in Iraq, But It Isn't Waging War

Kunduz, Afghanistan, has been recaptured by Afghan forces backed by coalition support. There are pockets of resistance, but the Taliban basically held the city for three days. Now let's look at Ramadi, Iraq, where we are in a race with ISIL to see if they can plant more IEDs than we can make PowerPoint presentations.

What a shock:

The fight to retake Ramadi from Islamic State jihadists has been on an "operational pause" and Iraqi troops weren't trained to deal with the group's battlefield techniques, a US official said Thursday. ...

He said IS had built "defensive bands" around the city -- essentially fields littered with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

"They are using these IEDs almost as landmines to create these minefields, which they can then cover with (gun)fire," Warren said.

The official by way of explanation said that in the middle of the last decade, we trained Iraqis for counter-insurgency. Which is a non-sequitur.

We've been training Iraqis for a war of movement since last year and we didn't anticipate that an enemy given time will dig in and fortify their positions? Seriously?

This is yet another example of what happens when you give an enemy that most precious commodity of all, time--they use it.

Afghan forces did not face belts of IEDs when they recaptured Kunduz. Why? Because we didn't give the Taliban time the way we've invited ISIL to wire up Ramadi!

Reading the stories of German commanders on the eastern front in World War II, one can see that the Germans realized that a successful counter-attack had to take place quickly with whatever they had on hand because if the Germans paused to gather a bigger force, the Russians would dig in and be very difficult to pry out of their new bunkers at an acceptable cost.

We gave the enemy time in Ramadi. The enemy used that time. And the ISIL occupation of Ramadi drags on, with the once-prime objective of liberating Mosul pushed back even more.

And now the already painfully slow offensive is on "pause." How can we tell the difference between this and what we were doing is beyond me. But I'm nuance-deficient, as I've repeatedly admitted.

It's a wonder the Kurds participate at all:

Kurdish forces said they drove Islamic State militants out of villages near the oil city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on Wednesday, in an offensive backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. ...

The Kurds already control most of the territory they claim as their own, and have little incentive to push further into predominantly Arab towns and villages, except where they pose a direct threat to their region.

Don't expect the Kurds to save us given what we are doing further south.

Is it any wonder that Iraqis are flirting with the Russians?

Iraq's government would welcome Russian air strikes against Islamic State and was receiving information from both Syria and Russia on the militant group, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday.

The United States has led air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq for more than a year, but Baghdad has repeatedly bemoaned the lack of engagement and air support for Iraqi forces trying to regain territory against the group.

The Russians might give Ramadi the Grozny treatment, but it wouldn't be held by ISIL when they are done with the city.

Heck, are we hoping that Russia will intervene in Iraq?

And is it any wonder that conspiracy theories in the Arab street say that we created ISIL?

It is far easier to believe that we secretly support ISIL than to contemplate that we are suddenly so bad at war. They saw us smash Saddam's military. They saw us smash al Qaeda and Baathist resistance. They saw us smash Iran's Sadrist hand puppet death squads.

But now we can't seem to lay a glove on ISIL?

But no worries, I'm sure ISIL won't do something else that takes priority over liberating Ramadi while we perfect the perfect plan to smash ISIL in Ramadi.

Just one more PowerPoint presentation ought to do it, eh?

When History Kind of Rhymes

I've long said that we seem to be living in an era with a disturbing inter-war (that is, pre-World War II) vibe. But let's not be Euro-centric about this.

I haven't been shy about comparing Russian actions today to German actions before World War II (with World War I variations). Is Ukraine's Crimea the new Rhineland and their Donbas the new Sudetenland?

But despite the grief Russia is giving us lately in Europe and the Middle East, apart from their Spetsnaz and nukes, Russia isn't that strong. They simply have weak targets.

But if we are living in an inter-war world, we have to seriously consider whether Putin's Russia is playing the role of Germany.

What if Putin has the supporting role of Mussolini?

What if Putin's Russia is playing the role of Italy under Mussolini?

If so, who plays the role of Germany as the real threat to world peace?

With China's military leaders convinced they can win a short and sharp offensive war and with China's people pretty much assuming war with Japan is inevitable, is Japan the "Poland" in Asia that China would strike as China demands their own "Senkaku Corridor" to the western Pacific?

And does Russia also get to play the role of the USSR by agreeing to split Japanese territory with China--with China recognizing Russia's ownership of territory that Russia seized from Japan in world War II?

How I sleep well at night is beyond me.

If that is so, China gets the role of prime threat to world peace despite all the noise that junior partner Russia is making. Ukraine might be the new Ethiopia and Syria is the new Spain.

I think Taiwan gets the role of Poland. Not as a direct comparison of the original. But as the act of aggression that finally triggers the beginning of a bigger war after a series of localized aggression.

Taiwan certainly doesn't indicate that it wants to give up any kind of Danzig Corridor by accepting the premise that Taiwan must be part of China:

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Thursday the island was not ready to discuss unification with China, sending a firm message to an increasingly assertive Beijing eager to absorb what it considers a renegade province.

Which means that this type of diplomacy is a good thing:

On September 29, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the foreign ministers of Japan and India for the first ever trilateral ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The event was no doubt a significant development. While the United States, Japan, and India have been meeting at the assistant secretary level over the past few years, this meeting between their foreign ministers represents an official elevation of the trilateral dialogue.

If Russia is just the new Italy despite all the noise (sorry Putin, best wrestle another tiger to feel better) and China is the new Germany, then India gets to be the France while Japan is the new Britain newly committed to their continental friend with a common foe.

Although I confess I worried that Japan is the new Poland where China and Russia can formally grab territory of a common victim (East China Sea and Senkaku Islands, respectively).

But Japan is probably too powerful for that role. And Japan is stepping up:

On September 19, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government succeeded in passing legislation revising pacifist interpretations of his nation's post-WW 2 constitution. The U.S.-imposed document placed limitations on Japanese military forces. Imperial Japan was the aggressor who started World War 2 in Asia. In essence, the law restricted Japanese forces to defending Japanese territory from immediate attack.

No more. Japanese forces may now conduct operations abroad, when approved by parliament. They can more easily conduct military operations with allies to defend common interests. They can aid allied forces even if Japanese territory does not suffer armed attack.

These changes have immense strategic significance. That's intentional. Asia has changed. It's 2015, not 1945.

And this is the Pacific Century and not the era of European hegemony. So any analogies may need to pivot to Asia.

Remember, while it has been a mistake to discount Russia, I think there is a difference between being a geopolitical foe, a current enemy, and a potential enemy with great power.

Although Russia is moving from the first to the last, it seems--but at second banana level.

So South Korea gets to be the new Low Countries which Japan cannot allow to fall to enemy control.

Perhaps the South China Sea is Austria and offshore territories of the Philippines play the role of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.

We still get to be America. May we play our role well.

Oh ... So Close

Instapundit notes that there seems to be a Russian-Iranian Shia crescent forming.

Funny enough, back in 2004 I thought that victory in Iraq and over the thug-regime in Iran could lead to the same thing for us. Which could have been of use if Saudi Arabia didn't manage to help us confront jihadis and succumbed to a jihadi revolt.

So my predictive powers are (again) good but off in a vitally important detail.

Remember, Arab Shias aren't a default constituency of Iran unless we abandon them. Once it looked like they could be a supportive bloc in the wake of our victory in Iraq.

UPDATE: We are trying to build up Lebanon's national military:

Congress over the past year has approved more than $1 billion in proposed arms sales for the Lebanese armed forces, including attack aircraft and helicopters. And lawmakers on Sept. 29 cemented Beirut's status as a key ally with the release of a compromise annual defense bill that puts Lebanon on equal footing with longtime partner Jordan.

But Lebanon is fragile with a powerful Hezbollah state-within-a-state that challenges state authority. Our effort will fail miserably if a Russian/Iranian-led Shia crescent dominates the region.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Unclear On the Concept

I am appalled that presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said--as I heard him say on the news Wednesday evening--that Putin's effort to prop up Assad is based on the weakness of Assad and that the Russians will find they can't impose a military solution any more than we could in Iraq "a decade ago."

Yes, the spokesman of our president said this:

“Russia will not succeed in imposing a military solution on Syria any more than the United States was successful in imposing a military solution on Iraq a decade ago, and certainly no more than Russia was able to impose a military solution on Afghanistan three decades ago," Earnest said.

Earnest seems to be unaware that by spring 2008, we had defeated our enemies on the battlefield in Iraq. We smashed al Qaeda, convinced our enemies the Sunni Arabs to flip to our side, and beat down Iran's proxies in the Shia militias.

And we left a unified Iraq government with Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni Arab participation and gave them a competent security force geared to light infantry missions.

Iraq was, as Vice President Biden boasted, potentially one of the great achievements of President Obama's foreign policy.

We'll gloss over just what other great achievements in a Pantheon of Nuance he had in mind.

He even said this:

You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer.

That sounds like a parade. Troops don't get victory parades when they lose a war.

So we did impose a military solution that gave us a "stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government" as the vice president told America.

Mr. Earnest, please take note.

But rather than stay as everyone expected, we walked away in 2011 and paved the way for jihadis to regroup in Iraq, expand into Syria, and then explode in Iraq to take over huge sections of Iraq between January and June 2014.

We won. We were warned we could lose what we won. But we did nothing until ISIL rubbed our face in defeat by seizing Mosul and large swathes of northwestern Iraq to add to their Anbar holdings seized in January 2014.

And even after we re-intervened in Iraq, our guys lost Ramadi while we watch Iran move into Iraq now joined by Russians.

Assad is truly in a bad position. And Putin's intervention alone will have trouble reversing that downward spiral.

But God help us, I think Putin is counting on Kerry to agree to something that saves his intervention and saves Assad.

Building the Total Army We Will Have

With the question of whether our Army will drop to 24 brigade combat teams and 420,000 troops and the newly raised issue of how the National Guard and Army Reserve will complement the active forces, I suppose it is appropriate to link to some old publications that address the subject.

You may be interested in my old defense of a 32-brigade Army (Lord knows how long "The First Gulf War and the Army's Future" a 1997 Land Warfare Paper of the Institute of Land Warfare will last there); a synopsis of my 1999 article ("A Total Army for Total War: The Guard Divisions' Role," Army Magazine, January 1999 (Arlington, Va.: The Association of the United States Army), pp. 10-12.) on the role of the Army National Guard in providing forces to guard against a major theater war (MTW) that proves more difficult than we plan or for a MTW that expands beyond the scope of that force-planning assumption; and "The Path of the Future Army," Military Review, September-October 2000 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College), pp. 91-93, which you can see here as I intended it--in stripping out charts, some continuity was lost in the text as published.

In totality, it is a view of an Army that must not shrink to a size too small to win decisively and rapidly, backed by combat units of the Army National Guard that assist as both an operational and strategic reserve.

Already, we will go to 30 active brigade combat teams and 2 battalion-sized task forces as the Army declines to 450,000 troops.

I suppose if I had my way, if the Army goes to 420,000, rather than reduce the force to 24 3-maneuver battalion brigade combat teams (plus two battalions?), I'd rather keep 32 brigade combat teams with 74 battalions.

The active force would keep 10 brigades with 3 battalions while keeping 22 brigades with 2 battalions.

The Army National Guard, with 28 combat brigades, was organized to provide 4-5 combat brigades per year that could be mobilized as an operational reserve.

I'd keep that force generation process but add an additional year in providing 12-15 battalions from those brigades after their parent brigades' year-long availability that would round-out 12-15 of our active brigades if mobilized during wartime.

So in a notional 6-year period, 4-5 brigades would spend 3 years at lower readiness, a year getting ready for their role in providing combat-ready brigades, a year as a readily mobilized brigade, and then a year where the 12-15 component maneuver battalions of the brigades remain on call to round out active force brigade combat teams.

As long as I'm wishing, with our Army lightening up and having fewer heavy brigades, I'd be happy if the National Guard would provide separate tank companies and battalions for our active infantry and Stryker brigades to give them a shot at surviving in high intensity conventional warfare against heavy enemies.

My Head Hurts

Happy Fiscal New Year. Hopefully your head is pounding from imbibing too much and not from the spectacle of Russia moving in to Syria and beginning bombing attacks against rebels we support rather than against ISIL.

While Russians aren't eager to send their troops to Syria, that ship has literally sailed.

And the Russian church has declared that fighting in Syria is a holy endeavor:

Russia's powerful Orthodox Church on Wednesday voiced support for Moscow's decision to carry out air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State group, calling it a "holy battle".

"The fight with terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world fighting it," said the head of the Church's public affairs department, Vsevolod Chaplin, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Perhaps you thought the holy war we had wasn't enough fun.


Or maybe you are queasy from thinking about how our new partners in Iran see us:

The Iranian foreign minister's reported handshake with US President Barack Obama triggered chants of "Death to America" in Tehran's parliament Wednesday and a warning against "another kind of spying".

Now that's the kind of responsible regional power Secretary of State Kerry can work with!

This will all work out swell, eh?

UPDATE: Our new responsible regional partner is sending men to be the shock troops of a Russian-supported offensive:

Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.

Not that this will be a big offensive. But Russia's intervention will provide a short-term boost to Hezbollah and Assad forces morale.

That effect will wear off in time and as they take casualties until Russia escalates to direct troop involvement, or something.

And remember, President Obama thanked Putin for getting Iran to sign the nuclear deal that has paved the way for Russo-Iranian cooperation in Syria (and Iraq, too).


UPDATE: That's interesting:

The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has been promised 75 Soviet-era tanks by the Syrian government. ...

The T-72s and T-55s will not be much help in a major battle – Israel’s Merkava tanks clearly outclass them – and their combat record against Western tank designs has been spotty at best. Still, when facing the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the tanks will be fighting on better terms. It is believed that Hezbollah will be trained to use these tanks in western Syria against Syrian rebels.

It's interesting because Hezbollah had been the shock troops for Assad's offensives because Assad's own troops were too shell-shocked to do the job. I've read many reports that Hezbollah is getting shaky too because of their heavy casualties. Heavy armor means that Hezbollah troops won't be the shock troops.

Which explains Iran's commitment of troops. Iran's troops will spearhead the offensives now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


The Army has redesigned basic training:

Basic combat training gets tougher Oct. 1, when the Army rolls out a battery of tests mandatory for graduation. These aren't written tests, but trials in the field. Soldiers may be asked to load and unload an M249 machine gun, treat an open chest wound or use their rifle as a bludgeon.

One aspect is that the training won't be geared for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

One interesting thing is that "recycling" for failure seems like it will be done only through specific phases of training. My memory is that "recycling" was dreaded because you had to start all over in the next basic training class.

Which seems an appropriate opportunity to highlight my experience in 1988.

It's Almost Like We Aren't the Problem

I'm so old, I remember when our large-scale troop presence in Iraq caused jihadis to go to Iraq where they replenished hundreds of foreign jihadis who specialized in suicide bombings. If only we weren't in Iraq, the charge from the left held, recruiting would dry up. That was the theory.

Here's the reality:

Nearly 30,000 foreign recruits have now poured into Syria, many to join the Islamic State, a doubling of volunteers in just the past 12 months and stark evidence that an international effort to tighten borders, share intelligence and enforce antiterrorism laws is not diminishing the ranks of new militant fighters.

You don't have to be quite as old as I am to remember that we refused to intervene more in Syria in support of rebels to avoid "militarizing" the conflict.

And now we have a lot of jihadis--some with their own Islamic State--and a lot of dead civilians in Syria and the formerly secured Iraq.

Thank God we ditched cowboy foreign policy for Smart Diplomacy that created "a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

We Came. We Saw. We Faltered

Red lines are for Russians:

With its Syria policy in tatters and Europe alarmed at a tide of refugees, the Obama administration and its allies are contemplating a policy shift that once seemed unthinkable: A peace formula that would allow President Bashar Assad to remain in office, at least on an interim basis.

Yeah, "interim." Defined as Assad remaining president until he dies peacefully abed with a son groomed (in Moscow spy schools) to take over.

Of course, there is a real basis for US-Russian cooperation in this crisis.

Russia is so determined to keep Assad in power that Putin sent troops to Syria. While we are completely unwilling to do anything effective to defeat Assad, even though our president once famously said he had to leave office.

Obviously, we could have a lovely signing ceremony in Geneva that keeps Assad in power with some theoretical future free and fair election to give us a fig leaf to justify another Nobel Peace Prize (after his Iran nuclear triumph, of course!) for Kerry, who will continue his diplomacy to its logical conclusion.

UPDATE: The Russians launched air strikes in the Homs region:

Moscow gave Washington just an hour's notice of the strikes, which set in train Russia's biggest play in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a U.S. official said.

Targets in the Homs area appeared to have been struck, but not areas held by Islamic State, the U.S. official said.

We appear at a loss about how to respond to anything but the Dread Straw Man:

The official took Obama’s critics to task for failing to offer good alternatives.

“Is the solution to every Iraq and Syria to insert 150,000 U.S. troops? That is not something this president will do, nor is it something the American people want,” the official said.

Critics have been offering alternatives for three years. And they include options between watching Putin prop up his ally and sending 150,000 US troops.

I've mentioned this continuum, as a general notion.

And the Saudis still see the defeat of Assad as the objective, regardless of how much flexibility we want to grant Putin:

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Tuesday there is a military option in Syria that will end with the removal of President Bashar Assad if the preferred political option does not lead to his departure.

After we screwed them on the Iran nuclear deal, cutting a deal with the Russians to save Assad would make it virtually impossible for Saudi Arabia to do anything but pursue nuclear weapons as the ultimate source of protection.

UPDATE: Russia doesn't appear to want to engage in ground combat:

Ivanov, the Kremlin's Chief of Staff, said Russia's missions would be limited and not open-ended. He precluded the use of ground troops.

"As our president has already said, the use of ground troops has been ruled out," said Ivanov.

Which fits with my view. I think Russia wants to save Assad but hopes to get us to help rather than commit troops that Russia can't spare (or afford, unless Iran signs the checks).

With television reports that the Russians warned us to clear our planes out of northern Syria skies--and we refused--prior to their strikes, I'll say again that Russia will go F-22 hunting.

UPDATE: Was this hard to predict?

Already out-gunned and out-manned in Syria’s civil war, U.S.-backed rebels are facing a new and possibly even more serious threat to their survival: Russian air strikes that Washington appears reluctant to thwart.

Silly rebels! Being on the right side of history is their air defense. Have fun storming the castle!

Quantity Has a Quality All Its Own

We're a wealthy country. So of course we can afford to build a larger Navy. But if it was really so easy and painless to do so in the reality of budgeting rather than with simple math that shows what a tiny burden it would be to build that larger Navy, we'd have done it.

So allow me to link to an fairly recent post that addresses numbers in our fleet.

Let me highlight the major points that we need to pick a number of battle force vessels needed and figure out how to build closer to that number with likely resources.

And we can do this given that the Navy has gone from a high-low mix of ships to one that is mostly high.

Although the new LCS/frigate is no longer a low-cost hull even though it is certainly at the low end of capabilities, giving us the worst of both worlds.

Finally, we need a real carrier debate (with a caveat that the debate must not be about building the same number of smaller, less capable ships) given the high costs of these vessels, rather than judging China's apparent pursuit of carriers as proof of their usefulness and ability to survive in the age of network-centric warfare that features dispersed but coordinated precision missiles and persistent surveillance. (Have the Chinese broken the kill chain that leads to their carriers?)

The Army is looking at shrinking to 24 maneuver brigades and operates legacy armored vehicles. The Air Force is aging and looking at buying a number of very expensive replacement aircraft which means they don't want to keep low-cost A-10s flying. The Marines never get money. Yet the Navy can solve its ship building problem with a relative pittance of cash, considering our GDP and total defense budget?

We shouldn't count on significantly more money to solve the problem of a too-small Navy. Pick a number. Because not picking a number while it waits for the cash spigot to open means the Navy picks a number smaller than it would like. Or that we need.

UPDATE: Related. Yes, distributed lethality and survivability should be the basis for designing our fleet. Numbers fit in with both, of course.

UPDATE: One more thought. I'd rather have fewer carriers forward deployed--where they might just be targets in the opening hours of a war that an enemy prepares for and initiates--in order to have a wartime surge capacity.

Couldn't we replace carrier battle groups forward deployed with surface action groups, F-35B-equipped amphibious warfare ships, land-based air power (Navy and Air Force), and even our cruise missile submarines that pack a huge load of Tomahawk missiles?

For the latter, we could just say--or let people assume--that the boat is on station. It doesn't even have to be present to maintain equivalent deterrence.

We could even get the element of surprise elsewhere if people come to assume its presence when there is no carrier battle group.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Backs to the Sea

While Russia has intervened to save Assad, I doubt Russia can save Syria.

As I've long speculated, this article raises the possibility that Assad may need to abandon Damascus and retreat to the northwest corner of Syria:

Russia's plan is to help forces loyal to Assad hold and reinforce the Alawite enclave in the coastal and mountainous north-west, Syria-watchers say.

If Assad were pushed out of Damascus and the capital fell either to Islamic State or other Islamist rebels, Russia and the Syrian government's allies such as Iran and Hezbollah will have dug him a well-fortified fallback position in Latakia.

I think this might have worked years ago when I first suggested Assad needed to retreat to a Core Syria in an arc in western Syria from the Turkish border to Israel and Jordan.

Later, I doubted if he had the troops to hold even that, and wondered if he would transfer his capital to the coast and retreat to a Rump Syria in the northwest.

But after such heavy casualties in his security forces the last 3-plus years that have decimated his army (and air force) and left him reliant on militias, Hezbollah, and a Shia foreign legion organized by Iran, I don't think he can hold if pressed.

Who will fight for Assad to the bitter end? It just seems like it is too late to save Assad on the battlefield without large-scale intervention by someone.

And losing the capital will be traumatic. Will Russians on the ground and threats to use chemical weapons hold off his enemies who see him retreat so dramatically?

The Shia foreign legion isn't large enough. Hezbollah is already shaky after the casualties it has taken. Russia hardly wants to commit significant ground forces to combat duties. And the militias just aren't very good.

Of course, if we cooperate to save Assad for Russia rather than let Russia flail, Russia's actions will look brilliant rather than desperate.

But as all the lottery commercials say, you can't win if you don't play. Russia is willing to play.

Green is the Color of Camouflage

The Navy will add electrical generating capacity to 34 later-model destroyers. Is it really to have 60 more hours on station?

This is interesting:

The U.S. Navy is adding a hybrid-electric drive to its 34 newer Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, in essence turning them into floating Priuses. Hybrid drive cars, like the Prius, use batteries that are recharged by the conventional engine and that allows the use of more efficient (under certain conditions) electric motor. On the Burkes The added electric motor will help propel the ship at speed of up to 24.1 kilometers per hour, speeds at which the four LM-2500 gas turbines on the ship have much less efficiency. ...

When the Burke program began in 2008, the Navy was driven more by high oil prices (well over $150 per barrel). While the price has dropped (to $40), the Navy is continuing the program. In this case, the green technology will actually make a lot of sense operationally. In this case, the hybrid drive will buy 60 more hours of on-station time between at-sea refueling.

This will begin in the 2015-16 fiscal year. I love the Prius comparison. It's so environmentally responsible!

Sure, if oil is expensive, allowing the ships to operate on an electric drive rather than the gas turbine at lower speeds will help on the fuel budget. And add a whole 60 hours of sailing time.

But unless I'm way off, the reason for adding electrical generating power is to allow the hull to evolve for future systems that will gobble electricity far in excess of the ship's design.

My understanding of a drawback of our decision to simply build more Burke class ships rather than the new DD-1000 (aka Zumwalt, DDG-1000 ,or DD(X) way back) is that the latter generates electric power for systems under development while the Burke destroyers can't do that, limiting their growth potential.

So adding electric power allows the ship to be updated with new energy-hungry systems.

Electric armor, for one (quoting Strategypage here):

For several years, up until 2003, the U.S. Navy mentioned electromagnetic armor, or DAPS (Dynamic Armor Protection System) being developed for the planned CVN-21 class of carriers. The basic technology behind DAPS was not complex. Areas above the waterline would have two layers of thin armor, separated by a small air space. The two layers of armor would be electrified, and when the armor was hit by a shaped charge (favored for cruise missile warheads) the jet of superhot plasma, formed by the shaped charge warhead going off, would be broken up by the electromagnetic field formed when the two layers of armor were forced together. The big problem with DAPS was the huge amount of electricity required when the system was turned on. However, in the next decade or so, warship power plants are expected catch up with the needs of DAPS systems.

And electric rail guns, for another (quoting the Weekly Standard):

All of the technologies discussed so far have already been successfully tested, but the DD(X) is also designed to allow for the rapid deployment of technologies still in the pipeline. The Navy hopes to fit these ships with an electromagnetic rail gun by 2020. The rail gun would be capable of firing a guided projectile up to 267 nautical miles[.]

Or laser weapons: (Quoting AP):

The Navy's laser technology has evolved to the point that a prototype to be deployed aboard the USS Ponce this summer can be operated by a single sailor, he said.

Or weaponized AESA radars (quoting Strategypage):

AESA is able to focus a concentrated beam of radio energy that could scramble electronic components of a distant target. Sort of like the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) put out by nuclear weapons. The air force won’t, for obvious reasons, discuss the exact “kill range” of the of the various models of AESA radars on American warplanes (the F-35 and F-22 have them). However, it is known that “range” in this case is an elastic thing. Depending on how well the target electronics are hardened against EMP, more electrical power will be required to do damage. Moreover, the electrical power of the various AESA radars in service varies as well. The air force has said that the larger AESA radars it is developing would be able to zap cruise missile guidance systems up to 180 kilometers away.

That AP article is still live, and it notes the electricity problem:

Producing enough energy for a rail gun is another problem.

The Navy's new destroyer, the Zumwalt, under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, is the only ship with enough electric power to run a rail gun. The stealthy ship's gas turbine-powered generators can produce up to 78 megawatts of power. That's enough electricity for a medium-size city — and more than enough for a rail gun.

I'm just saying that marginal increases in on-station time or saving money on fuel seem like minor side benefits to this program that will power new systems that will make the Burke class viable for decades into the future.

The Fuck-Up Fairy Takes Up Residence in India

I see India has decided not to be a major power capable of resisting China--and risks their ability to defeat Pakistan. It has to be a decision by India's leaders because otherwise how do you explain the long-foreseen slow-motion erosion of Indian air power?

With precision weapons and persistent surveillance, air power is more important than ever to influence the control of land and sea. So what is happening in India in regard to their air force?

The IAF presently operates around 37 combat squadrons, expected to fall to 32 to 35 (estimates vary) by the end of the year. Its 'sanctioned strength' was supposed to be 42 combat squadrons by 2022. On present trends, this looks to me to be entirely unattainable. MiG-21s are retiring quicker than other aircraft are coming in. Even if the 90-aircraft 'Rafale gap' is filled, I struggle to see how India gets above the mid-30s in squadron numbers by 2020. And after that point, India will start losing its dedicated ground attack aircraft (5 MiG-27 and 7 Jaguar squadrons). The IAF has shown little interest in procuring dedicated replacements for the strike role, suggesting that multi-role aircraft like the Su-30MKI and Rafale will have to take up the slack – underscoring the problem of numbers.

In his 2011 report on the MMRCA deal, Dogfight, American analyst Ashley Tellis suggested that, 'in terms of raw numbers alone, the IAF must plan on confronting by 2020 as many as 1,500 fourth-generation Pakistani and Chinese fighters'. Even if we generously assume that India can stay at 37 squadrons around that date, that would still be around half of that number of aircraft.

I've already written about the importance of air power to India and that India's fighter decision was the most important defense decision of this decade. But India is effing it up massively.

That kind of record can't be anything but the result of high-level decisions can it?

We can at least say that the string of errors and foot-shooting incidents was made possible by decisions to roll out the welcome mat for the Fuck-Up Fairy and reward corruption that led to so many errors and missing toes in the Indian design and procurement process.

Which is essentially a decision to concede the region to China and their ally Pakistan. China may be able to claim the South China Sea because it has the word "China" is in it, but if India can't defend their region, China won't concede India's ownership of the Indian Ocean from similar logic.

UPDATE: Sometimes miracles happen:

India, after three years of deliberation by the procurement bureaucrats and politicians, approved the purchase of 22 American AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships and 15 CH-47F transport helicopters. Such delays are not unusual for India where decades of corrupt foreign arms purchases have been exposed in the last decade and the made those still involved in those decisions extremely cautious. It usually takes external events to move decisions forward. In the case of the American helicopters the primary motivators were Russian sales to Pakistan and a feud between the Indian Army and Air Force.

India needs more miracles.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This is a Battle to Watch

Without our air power, it is easier for the Taliban to mass and move. And it is more difficult for the Afghan forces to react and fight.

This Taliban move into Kunduz city in the north is a serious attack:

The insurgents launched a three-sided surprise offensive at around dawn, and by mid-afternoon they had hoisted their white flag over Kunduz's main square, about 200 meters from the governor's compound, according to a Reuters witness.

The witness also said battles were raging in two districts nearby.

This isn't just a district capital, which is essentially a county seat in our terms, and occasionally taken (briefly) for a TV operation. It is a provincial--like our states--capital.

Afghan forces should be able to eject the Taliban. Taliban support is sparse in the north, after all. But getting this far is a serious challenge.

In a perfect world, this is an opportunity to defeat and kill Taliban and roll up local supporters.

We should be providing persistent surveillance, troop transport, fire support, and medical evacuation support--and special forces for advice and direct action--to keep the advantage with the Afghan security forces.

I won't bother asking any more for a single US infantry brigade to act as a fire brigade for emergencies.

Afghan forces are doing well so far with minimal Western support, but Iraq shows us how bad things can get without us and how long it can take to even begin to restore the situation.

Let's defend what we won, eh?

UPDATE: Afghan forces are moving to counter-attack:

Afghan forces backed by U.S. air support battled Taliban fighters for control of the northern city of Kunduz on Tuesday, after the militants seized a provincial capital for the first time since their ouster 14 years ago.

And we provided some air support, which is good.

This is a defeat--for now--and potentially a big victory for our side if we can pound the Taliban who have massed to achieve their hopefully fleeting victory.

UPDATE: Western special forces and aircraft are assisting, along with support troops:

A senior Afghan security official said about 100 members of U.S. special forces fought off Taliban attackers threatening to breach the airport in the early hours of Wednesday.

The heavily armed troops, wearing night-vision goggles, left the airport and killed the assailants before returning, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An undisclosed number of coalition troops were dispatched to Kunduz this week to support the Afghan army and police who have failed so far to retake the city from the Taliban.

"They are in a non-combat role. That said, they also maintain the right to defend," Tribus said of the coalition forces.

The help is needed. The Taliban have attacked the airport, are digging in at Kunduz, and have blocked roads leading to the city to slow down reinforcements.

On the bright side, unlike at Ramadi, we seem to be moving to counter-attack before the Taliban can really settle in and without multiple PowerPoint presentations to inspire the troops.

UPDATE: Interesting detail on how the Taliban seized the city:

The Afghan security official said the militants had slowly infiltrated Kunduz during the recent Eid festival, launching a Trojan horse attack that enabled them to capture it within hours.

Shock and awe in action.

But as I wrote, now that the Taliban are massed and holding an objective, we do have an opportunity to bring down a world of JDAM hurt on their heads.

UPDATE: The American commander in Afghanistan, General Campbell, wants American troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2016 despite the current administration plan to pull out completely:

According to U.S. officials, Campbell's options would postpone any major cuts in troop levels this year and give him more leeway on the pace of any reductions next year. The options, officials said, include keeping as many as 8,000 troops there well into next year and maintaining several thousand troops as a counterterrorism force into 2017. The options would allow for a gradual decline in troop numbers over the coming year, depending on the security conditions in Afghanistan and the capabilities of the Afghan forces, who sustained heavy combat losses this year and last.

That would seem prudent given the mess in Iraq and Syria that flowed from our premature departure from Iraq at the end of 2011.

UPDATE: The counter-attack has basically succeeded:

Afghan troops had largely recaptured the northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban early Thursday, officials and residents said, even as fighting continued in parts of the provincial capital.

The Taliban confirm they pulled out.

And thus the battle I said we had to watch is ending within the same post. Unless we manage to pursue the retreating Taliban and put their heads on pikes (figuratively, of course).

Ponder that the reconquest of Ramadi, Iraq, is still pending with Iraqi forces edging half the distance to the goal line even as we speak. Just one more PowerPoint presentation ought to do it!

Waiting for Putin to Intervene?

So what is with our Iraq strategy for liberating Ramadi?

A Ramadi counteroffensive, announced in July, was supposed to mark a turning point for Iraqi troops, who have proved to be no match for the determined IS fighters. Instead it has sputtered, slowed by sectarian squabbles, debilitating summer heat and the extremists' use of improvised bombs to create what amounts to a minefield around Ramadi.

Over the past two months, the Iraqi government has added about 3,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi troops to the Ramadi operation, representing one-third of the total, U.S. officials say. U.S. officers in Iraq are working directly with Iraqi commanders to plan and executive the counteroffensive, but the Iraqis appear not to be in a hurry.

It is inexcusable that our war effort in Iraq is stalled.

Yes, I've had my doubts, too:

So now we truly have a siege.

So much for the war of movement I kept hoping for.

It took us 2-1/2 years to build from virtually scratch an army and air force strong enough to invade the heart of Nazi-held Germany on D-Day, and then drive into Germany to less than a year later.

Of course, we didn't need to waste two years of that preparation time making PowerPoint presentations about Operation Overlord.

Bad things happen when you give an enemy time.

Is it our fault for not working with what we have and making it better with our capabilities?

Or is it the fault of the Iraqis, as that article suggests?

"The Iraqi army remains weak despite American military aid," Lina Khatib, a Middle East expert and research associate at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said by email. "It is simply not realistic to expect an army that almost crumbled just over a year ago in the face of the spread of IS to bounce back in such a short period of time."

The Iraqi army could recover in such a short period of time. It did exactly that after the crushing defeat at Khorramshar inside Iran in mid-1982:

Iran's assault on the city began on May 22, 1982, and cracked the defense in only thirty-six hours of fighting. Twelve thousand Iraqis were not quite nimble enough in escape and headed for imprisonment. Yet as bad as this debacle was, at least most escaped to fight again because of the retreat. A month later, Iraq announced that all troops would be withdrawn from Iran within ten days. Iraq carried out this promise and Iraqi troops settled into border fortifications that had been under construction since the fall of 1981. They would be tested again. ...

As Iran massed troops northeast of Basra, the Iraqis were reeling after losing a third of their army during the retreat from Khuzestan. In addition, only a third of Iraq's air force was in flying condition. The impact of Iran's victory was also felt amongst Iraq's civilian population. Iraqi Shiites, who Hussein feared were vulnerable to Iranian propaganda, rioted in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

On July 13, 1982, the beginning of Operation Ramadan made it clear that Tehran had decided to go for total victory. This attempt to capture Basra failed as the Iraqis rediscovered the will to fight. On the 16th, a follow up Iranian attack further north scored an initial gain by driving Iraq's troops back. The Iraqis maintained their composure and hit both flanks of the Iranian penetration., mauling the Iranians and sending them back to their start lines. A third attack along the Khorramshahr-to-Baghdad road on the 23rd also stalled. Two more attacks before the end of the month by Iran left their troops no closer to capturing Basra.

Iraq's army recovered from their massive defeat in about a year despite facing large numbers of fanatical enemy troops with a good supply of weapons and heavy equipment.

Iraq's military will never be known as the Prussians of the Fertile Crescent. So it is no use whining about their inadequacies.

But the Iraqis are good enough in relation to their outnumbered and ill-equipped (if fanatical) enemies if we would just work with what Iraq has using what we can bring to the table to make them more effective.

But no, really, take our time. What could go wrong?

It's not like Russia would send an expeditionary force to take advantage of our unwillingness to effectively help, right?

The Corest of Core Interests

Do not become confused. China wants Taiwan.

Well, yeah (quoting The National Interest):

China’s military buildup is about Taiwan, not the South China Sea. According to reports from the Pentagon and Office of Naval Intelligence, conquering Taiwan is the core mission that drives the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Why? Because China’s authoritarian leadership is deeply insecure. Beijing views the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan), which exists as an independent and sovereign state, to be a grave threat to the communist party’s vice grip on power. Taiwan is dangerous because it serves as a beacon of freedom for Chinese speaking people everywhere.

The theme of China preparing to invade Taiwan has long been a recurring theme of this blog.

And building up forces in the South China Sea isn't just a distraction from the true objective. It covers China's southern flank for the invasion.

And really, even if China is just putting their forces into a kill sack down there, if we focus on that  while China invades Taiwan, isn't that a good trade for China to make?

Remember, this isn't a local question: the repercussions of China taking Taiwan are great.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Defending What We Won

Twenty-five years after Saddam's army conquered Kuwait to trigger our 1991 war to eject him, our combat troops remain in Kuwait:

The Department of the Army announced today that the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, will deploy to Kuwait with approximately 4,000 soldiers in late fall for a nine-month rotation, this deployment is a rotational replacement of troops. The "Dagger Brigade" will support multinational partners and build coalition capacity in support of continuing cooperation agreements in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

I'll never claim Kuwait is a democracy. But it isn't jihadi-run and it is our ally.

It's almost like staying after the war--like we have in Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea--is a good idea.

Softening His Image

As Putin prepares to go to the United Nations to speak--perhaps he'll reassure Europe that he has no more territorial ambitions, or something--he decided to take a step to improve his reputation. Has he?

After being imprisoned for more than a year, the Estonian security officer kidnapped by the Russians from Estonian soil is back home:

Estonian security officer Eston Kohver, imprisoned by Moscow on espionage charges, is back home after being exchanged for jailed Russian spy Aleksei Dressen. ...

Kohver’s defense lawyer, Mark Feigin, said that the swap was “organized on the political level” and was timed to improve Putin’s image before his appearance at the UN.

In what alternate world is someone's reputation improved by highlighting that you are in fact a hostage-taker? Is this what Putin really wants to advertise?

This doesn't reach the levels of idiocy that Saddam Hussein attempted in 1990 when he patted terrified children on their heads to show that despite his conquest of Kuwait he was a really nice guy.

But it does surpass Russia's claim that Poland shoulders a good chunk of responsibility for starting World War II in Europe:

In an interview aired by private broadcaster TVN24 on Friday evening, Russian ambassador to Poland Sergey Andreyev said Poland was partly responsible for Nazi Germany invading in 1939 because it had repeatedly blocked the formation of a coalition against Berlin in the run-up to the conflict.

Andreyev also said Polish-Russian relations were currently at their worst since 1945 because Poland had chosen to freeze political and cultural contacts.

"The Russian ambassador will be summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday so that this issue is clarified to him by a foreign ministry representative" Schetyna told reporters.


It is good that Kohver is freed. It doesn't erase the fact that the Russians kidnapped him and held him hostage.

UPDATE: I think Putin owes me a keyboard and video screen:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday branded U.S. support for rebel forces in Syria as illegal and ineffective, saying U.S.-trained rebels were leaving to join Islamic State with weapons supplied by Washington.

Because I spewed a lot of coffee all over those items when I read that.

That illegality part is rich given his adventures in Ukraine right now.

Although I'll grant him a point on the effectiveness issue.

Half the Key, At Best

Taiwan is focusing on small expendable anti-ship vessels to defend the Taiwan Strait. That's half the naval battle.

Taiwan is reacting appropriately to the new age when American carrier battle groups can no longer sail with impunity through the Taiwan Strait to deter China from invading Taiwan:

These new corvettes are the continuation of a trend in the Taiwanese Navy, which sees small ships carrying lots of anti-ship missiles as the key to success against the Chinese navy. Thus in 2010 the first of 31 KH-6 guided missile patrol boats entered service. These 34.2 meter (106 foot) long, seven meter (22 foot) wide, 170 ton ships have a crew of 19. They were armed with four Hsiung Feng-2 anti-ship missiles, a 20mm autocannon, two 7.62mm machine-guns, and two decoy (for incoming missiles) launchers. Top speed is 55 kilometers an hour. At cruising speed of 22 kilometers an hour, the ships can stay at sea for about two days at a time. All 31 KH-6s are now in service. The KH-6s replace thirty older and smaller (57 ton) Hai Ou class boats. These patrol boats guard the coast, and especially the 180 kilometers wide Taiwan Straits that separate China and Taiwan.

This is good. But it is only half the naval battle. Taiwan also needs larger ships and aircraft to hold open their sea lines of communication to the east, unless they want to endure a blockade of the island.