Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Drop!

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.

Reset!

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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Future Engineer?

I had a fun time taking Lamb to a University of Michigan engineering school family fun night on North Campus this last Friday.

There were sights to see (including the Michigan solar car), engineering things to play with, a fun construction project with spaghetti and tape (what she built was beautiful but structurally unsound), and a spin-paint art station.


We topped it off with a hot dog and headed home.

It was nice to have a father-daughter outing. She even thanked me for taking her!

Good grief, it's the stuff you live for as a parent. I'm just grateful that she's not yet at the point where being seen with your parent is a social faux pas.

All Your Holy Site Are Belong To Us

Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals--on either side of the Shia-Sunni divide--for dominance in the Persian Gulf region. The massive loss of life in this year's pilgrimage feeds the rivalry by giving Iran justification for their desire to control the holy sites of Islam that are in Saudi Arabia.

This is tragic and a foreign policy issue:

Saudi Arabia, under growing pressure to account for a crush that killed more than 700 people at the haj pilgrimage, on Friday suggested pilgrims failing to follow crowd control rules bore some blame for the worst disaster at the event for 25 years.

The kingdom's regional rival Iran expressed indignation at the deaths of 131 of its nationals at the world's largest annual gathering of people, and politicians in Tehran suggested Riyadh was incapable of managing the event.

If Iran hopes to lead more of the word's Moslems than the small minority of Moslems who are Shia would suggest is possible, Iran would need to control the holy sites for all Moslems that are in Saudi Arabia.

To do that would require the destruction of Saudi Arabia, of course, which won't go willingly.

Say! Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons with our blessings, now aren't they?

UPDATE: Proxy wars may be just business, but the holy sites and pilgrims make it personal:

Today, Iranian and Saudi participation would be crucial in stabilizing Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Lebanon, where the two sides back sectarian proxy forces that are either at daggers drawn or openly at war in conflicts killing thousands each month.

Riyadh also accuses Tehran of fomenting trouble in Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia itself. Tehran accuses Riyadh of plotting its destruction with Washington.

It's kind of funny. We gave away the store to Iran with the nuclear deal and they still think we are plotting their destruction.

UPDATE: At least Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons:

"Saudi officials are failing to do their duties," Khamenei said in a speech to graduating navy officers, following delays in the return of at least 239 Iranian bodies, accusing some of them of "slyness".

"They should know that the slightest disrespect towards tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Medina and not fulfilling their obligation to transfer holy bodies, will have Iran's tough and fierce reaction."

Well, Iran doesn't have nukes yet, anyway.

What Difference, At This Point, Would They Make?

Does it matter if Egypt gets power projection capabilities with two French Mistral class amphibious warfare ships paid for by Saudi Arabia?

This is interesting:

Egypt has agreed to buy two Mistral-class warships from France, the French government said Wednesday, announcing its second military sale to the economically-strapped country this year.

The assault ships, which can each carry 16 helicopter gunships, 700 troops and up to 50 armored vehicles, were originally intended for Russia.

They'd certainly be useful to project power along the coast of Libya; perhaps to Lebanon; around their own Sinai peninsula; down the Red Sea to Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, and Somalia; and even to the Persian Gulf to fight for islands in Hormuz and the Gulf.

But would Egypt use them? Even for Saudi Arabia for a fee? Or in payment for the aid Saudi Arabia has already given?

I called for Egyptian ground forces for Libya during the civil war. I called for Egyptian marines to deal with Somali pirate bases. I've even expected Egyptian ground forces for Yemen to help Saudi Arabia (for a price) battle Iran's efforts to create a client state there.

While I read rumors that Egypt sent four companies to Yemen, I've heard nothing about them. And I read that Egypt denied having sent 800 troops to Yemen, for what it's worth (sorry, forgot to save the article).

So the Egyptians haven't stepped up in any of these crises despite being a regional military power with a desire to be a leader in the Arab world.

So what difference would the ability to dispatch a couple battalions by sea make in Egypt's decisions to use military power? Even if paid to do so?

UPDATE: Actually, I suspect the ship deal is less about improving Egyptian power-projection capabilities that might be used to help Saudi Arabia than it is a Saudi effort to pull France away from Iran--which France's approval of the nuclear deal despite earlier resistance to caving in to Iran indicates happened.

With early reports that Egypt will get 50 Russian helicopters (no doubt financed by Saudi Arabia) to equip the two vessels fits with this thinking to give Russia a reason to not side fully with Iran.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lose the Battle. Win the Campaign

I can't see the article because it is firewalled, but Foreign Policy's article title says we have war gamed a Baltic states battle and we keep losing to Russia. Well of course we do. Which means we have to plan to win the campaign.

Is this a reason to give up?

The Pentagon Is Preparing New War Plans for a Baltic Battle Against Russia

But the really troubling thing is that in the war games being played, the United States keeps losing.

I can't see the article so I'm assuming this, but of course NATO can't stop Russia from conquering the Baltic states. These NATO states are small and weak; Russia is close and much stronger than them; and NATO's capabilities are divided, far away, and mostly unable to deploy away from home countries.

So of course we lose control of a determined Russian offensive to take the Baltic states. At best we could hold a corner of Lithuania.

But the key consideration isn't whether we can hold these NATO allies. It is whether we will fight to win the war and liberate them. West Berlin during the Cold War could never have been held if the Soviets had invaded. Large chunks of Norway, West Germany, and Denmark would have fallen, too. And perhaps the Netherlands and Belgium, depending on the success of Soviet armies in the northern part of a thrust into West Germany.

[In a pre-publication edit, I find that the link works. My assumption is correct, as that article states:

That is, the Pentagon does not envision a scenario in which Russia doesn’t manage to grab some Baltic territory first. The goal is to deter — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced this summer that the United States would be sending dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, and howitzers to the Baltics and Eastern Europe — and, if that fails, to painstakingly regain NATO territory.

Yes. That's the basic situation of forces, time, and distance.]

So the Baltic states would fall if Russia invades in force. That's a fact of life to deal with and not a reason to conclude we would lose the war.

After Russia conquered Crimea last year, I gave my initial impression of how we'd fight for the Baltic states:

The Baltic states are a problem. I've suggested moving the equipment set we have for a Marine brigade from Norway to one of the Baltic states--in Riga for example. The idea would be to hold a perimeter until we can counter attack north. I'd rather not have lots of troops up there since the Russians could make their main effort into Poland and potentially cut off any troops in the Baltic states.

I admit we'd have better air and naval power to cope with that situation. I'm counting on that to sustain a bridgehead in the Baltics wherever we move in the Marines.

But still, if we are to put a brigade into the Baltic states, I'd rather reconstitute a real Army armored cavalry regiment skilled in making a fighting withdrawal south while attriting the attacking Russians.

Our main effort should be to hold in Poland; conquer the Russian Kaliningrad pocket; smash any Russian effort to rescue Kaliningrad; and prepare to advance north to relieve the Marine pocket (and whatever Estonian and Latvian forces retreat to that refuge) and drive out the Russians.

Hopefully we stop retreating somewhere in Lithuania.

Those are the basics of a campaign to hold the Baltic states at the end of the war. Don't accept the loss as permanent and move quickly to counter-attack while local forces augmented by our special forces and air power are resisting the Russian occupation.

And don't forget REFORPOL to enable this.

Hopefully our special forces prepare to work with Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian militias and special forces to go insurgent against the Russian invaders while we prepare to drive north.

If we hold islands in the Baltic off of the Baltic states, we could reinforce the Riga bridgehead (this facility in Norway will be critical for this) while mechanized forces mass in Poland in order to drive north to liberate the Baltic states again.

As long as we take Kaliningrad from Russia, we don't even need to clean the Russians out of all of their conquered territory--let's not get danger close to St. Petersburg--since we could trade land for the status quo ante. We don't want this to escalate to nuclear weapons, after all. No need to make Russia think we want to carve them up.

It sucks to have to go back to Cold War era crisis thinking that elevates ending conflicts over winning them in order to back away from the specter of nuclear escalation.

Although I'd strongly consider an air-naval campaign to strike and/or blockade (with sea mines) Russia's Crimea bases for added pressure for Russia to go to status quo ante to prevent too much damage to their prized conquest of 2014.

But at least we're making plans now.

One part of the plan should be the diplomatic aspect to make sure that the most important territory in Europe today doesn't fall under Russian control.

Because Putin has his eyes on Belarus:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed the establishment of an airbase in neighboring Belarus, the latest move by Moscow to project its military power abroad.

Anschluss! Reset!

UPDATE: And let me remind people that during the Cold War, if it had gone hot in NATO, not only was West Berlin a loss, but huge chunks of the main front, West Germany, would have been captured by the Soviets until we could counter-attack.

If you want more recent actual history, we failed to prevent Saddam Hussein from conquering Kuwait in August 1990. Yet we counter-attacked in 1991 to eject his forces.

So don't think that success in the Baltic states can only be defined as stopping the invasion at the border. Thinking like that gives you the Maginot Line and an enemy strategy of going around your defenses.

The Best and Brightest

In the wake of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, our national security apparatus believed Russia had no more territorial ambitions.

I find this recounting of our national security analysis appalling:

The thinking around Washington was that Mikheil Saakashvili, then Georgia’s president, had provoked the Russians and that Moscow’s response was a one-off. “The sense was that while there were complications and Russia went into Georgia,” Smith says, “I don’t think anyone anticipated that anything like this would happen again.” Says one senior State Department official: “The assumption was that there was no threat in Europe.” Russia was rarely brought up to the secretary of defense, says the senior defense official.

I find this astounding.

Putin planned that war long in advance. Saakashvili surely fell into Russia's trap, but the 2008 Goons of August War was no Russian reaction to a Georgian provocation:

The ramshackle Russian military, rusting away for two decades now, miraculously put together an invasion of Georgia, flying in paratroopers even from distant bases, within hours of being attacked by Georgia? You seriously believe that version of events?

Russia got their South Ossetian goon allies to shoot at the Georgians and the Gerogians obliged by shooting back--which triggered the overt Russian invasion of Georgia. That is the reality of the situation.

Georgia fell for the provocation and gave Russia the excuse to invade. Although to be fair to Georgia, the Russians may have invaded anyway even if Georgia had held fire initially. Russia just would have needed to lie just a little more in that case to make up the Georgian provocation.

Russia prepared for this invasion with major exercises in July 2008.


Rather than being a one-off, to me the Russo-Georgian War was a signal that the Russian Empire was back in the game:

I am troubled because it may represent a change in how Russia's leaders sees the former Soviet republics. Russia before the invasion of Georgia may have been the low tide of post-Soviet Russia, angry at their loss of empire but unwilling to do anything about it. And with the invasion, we may be at the starting point of a new Russia built on picking up as much of their loss lands as possible.

This risk was evident before the war. With a bonus warning for Ukraine.

But our analysts thought the war was a "one-off" and that Russia was primed to fulfill our hopes for a "Reset!"

And this failure had repercussions last year when Russia went after Ukraine.

No matter how many times we pressed that "reset" button, it just didn't work. But we were overdosing on hope back then, apparently.

Who am I kidding? Plenty enough ask "why do they hate us?" about Russia and conclude it's our fault.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Russian Eastern Front

Russia has moved into Syria to fight on the western front against ISIL in defense of Assad. But what about the eastern front where we have our priority effort?

That's nice:

Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders have set up a coordination cell in Baghdad in recent days to try to begin working with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Islamic State, Fox News has learned.

Western intelligence sources say the coordination cell includes low-level Russian generals. U.S. officials say it is not clear whether the Iraqi government is involved at the moment.

Describing the arrival of Russian military personnel in Baghdad, one senior U.S. official said, "They are popping up everywhere."

It's not clear if the Russians were invited? Isn't that called an invasion otherwise?

Hey, we walked away from Iraq for 2-1/2 years at the end of 2011 and have spent the last year working on PowerPoint presentations about preparing Iraq to fight ISIL in the eastern side of their caliphate.

So why not give the Russians a shot, the Iraqis may think.

Between a ROK and a Hard Place

North Korea finds that South Korea is a hard target. And China is unhappy:

"China will strongly oppose (a test or launch) and will be sure to implement future United Nations resolutions even more resolutely," said Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert with the ruling Communist Party's main research and training institute in Beijing.

China may also take unilateral steps such as cutting back on cross-border trade, Chinese experts say. Such measures could target the industrial commodities and luxury goods Kim needs to keep the moribund North Korean economy ticking over and ensure the loyalty of regime supporters.

Iran might be North Korea's only reliable friend.

UPDATE: I'm sure the pucker factor of seeing so many North Korean subs put to sea at once back in August has something to do with this:

South Korea is seeking to buy about twenty retired American S-3 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft to augment South Korean ability to find and destroy North Korean submarines.

Yeah, that would be a good idea.

An Old Continuum and Not Something New

Just because a war on terror policy is new to the reporter doesn't mean it is new.

Sometimes I just weep with frustration over the state of defense reporting. This article rightly notes the impact of a few special forces in Niger, but then goes and ruins the ride:

The Diffa meeting was a modest success not just for its mutually suspicious tribes but for a small team of fewer than 20 U.S. Special Operations Forces conducting an experiment that is part of President Barack Obama's new counter-terrorism strategy.

The soldiers, who encouraged the meeting and helped provide a ring of security, do not go into combat, or even wear uniforms. They are quietly trying to help Niger build a wall against Boko Haram's incursions and its recruitment of Diffa's youth.

A Reuters reporter was the first to visit the detachment, which is among about 1,000 U.S. Special Operations Forces deployed across Africa.

In Chad, Nigeria, Niger and elsewhere, they are executing Obama's relatively low-risk strategy of countering Islamic extremists by finding local partners willing to fight rather than deploying combat troops by the thousands.

One, it is interesting to see that we have a thousand special fores deployed across Africa.

Two, it is good that we are doing this in Niger.

But three--and this is the part that makes me weep for the state of reporting on the war on terror (or any military matter, really)--is the idea that this small deployment is an alternative to sending thousands of combat troops.

Fighting jihadis is a continuum of force commitment that needs to be determined based on the threat and the capacity of the friendly government to defeat the threat.

At the low end are allies with the capacity to fight jihadis without our help. They may simply help us with information and advice based on their own efforts. Nice work if you can get it, as the saying goes.

But if we don't have such a fully capable ally, we may need to supply advice. Or intelligence.

We may need to provide weapons and equipment.

We may need to send trainers.

We may need to provide direct support like logistics and surveillance.

We may need to add direct close air support with manned or drone aircraft.

We may need to send our special forces directly after jihadis in combat.

We may need to send small conventional combat forces to supplement local forces in combat with jihadis.

Or--if the threat level is way beyond the level our ally can defeat--we may need to send a full force of 150,000 ground troops supported by air power and sustained by sea power if the outcome in that place is vital to our interests.

So our effort to support Niger is not an alternative to sending thousands of combat troops to fight jihadis. It is the level we think we need to support Niger's efforts to defeat the jihadis.

It is not new. It is not a smart alternative. It is simply a good thing among many options we have to fight and defeat jihadis.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

And Forgive Us Our Carbon Footprints

You doubt that global warming (paused for the last 18 years or so) has taken on the qualities of a religion?

Check out our president welcoming the Pope:

"Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet, God's magnificent gift to us," Obama said.

A "sacred obligation."

Yes, indeed, the science faith is settled.

Now go and emit no more.

UPDATE: This is kind of funny when you consider all the planet-killing jet travel that it takes to get to the mountains:

The Alps are the birthplace of downhill skiing and a crucible attracting mountain climbers from everywhere — and now the French government is trying to help towns at the heart of the lucrative tourism industry adapt to a warming world.

In a "we have to destroy the village in order to save it" logic, shouldn't France ban international skiing and mountain climbing travel to save the ice and snow?

Apparently, the progress of a glacier's retreat there has been marked for a century now. Mankind has been contributing to the greenhouse effect for about 65 years.

Which would explain why the models are so wrong. Which reflects my major reason for rejecting the "science." Why do we think man's contribution is the decisive influence?

No worries, the vast warm wing conspiracy is on the job to fix the problem.

Nemesis Unleashed

The Greeks are threatening Europe:

Greece has threatened the rest of Europe with a “wave of economic migrants” that could include Isis militants if the country is allowed to go bust by international lenders.

In a shock escalation of the rhetoric surrounding bailout talks in Brussels, the Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos vowed: “If they strike us, we will strike them.”

And you thought I was joking?

NATO ally Greece is still pondering the question [of allowing Russian military overflights to Syria]. What the heck? Let Russian planes fly to Syria to stoke the civil war and let refugees from said war flow west to Germany. Win-win from Athens' point of view.

Actually, I'll guess--as I mentioned here--that this wave of migration already underway is part of a Russian effort to punish Europe for Ukraine-related sanctions and to get Europe to help Putin save Assad at an acceptable price to Russia. Greece only has a supporting role. As does Turkey, I suspect.

Well, at least the Greeks halted invasions of Europe from the east at Marathon and at Salamis. I guess they've done enough.

Russia Gets the Signing Ceremony and Iran Gets the Body Bags?

How does Russia plan to save Assad? Because unless we save them, they have a tough job.

If Assad hopes to control Damascus as part of a Core Syria based on the Alawite homeland in the northwest, he has to control the line of communication between the homeland and the capital.

Assad still doesn't have that control:

Syrian government forces have been locked in a bitter struggle to control strategic ground outside the capital, Damascus, and a highway along the Lebanese border leading to the northern coastline. Attempts by government forces to chase rebels out of the corridor leading north appear to have stalled[.]

Russia says that they would commit troops to the fight if asked:

Russia would consider a request from Syria to send troops if Damascus asks for it, the Kremlin's spokesman said on Friday.

And really, given the growing unease among Assad's supporters about the power that Iran has gained over Syria, having someone to balance the Iranians is looking pretty good to Assad these days:

But while Russia appears to have coordinated its military expansion with Iran, Mr. Assad’s other key ally, the move could also serve as a counterbalance to Tehran’s powerful influence in Syria, a phenomenon that has generated ripples of unease in some circles of the Damascus regime.

It doesn't look like Russia wants to do more than provide air defenses and ground troops for local defense. So it will be up to Iran to provide the manpower to fill out Assad's depleted ranks. How will that division of labor sit with Iran and the people they recruit to die?

Let Russia flail in Syria rather than save them.

It would be nice to generate some friction between Russia and Iran (and Hezbollah). And perhaps force Assad to choose between surviving in his Alawite homeland and holding Damascus.

Once More, With Feeling?

This is interesting:

The Obama administration is preparing a major overhaul of its failed effort to train thousands of moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group, shifting from preparing rebels for frontline combat to a plan to embed them with established Kurdish and Arab forces in northeastern Syria, U.S. officials said.

But only northeast Syria where local forces are more involved in fighting ISIL than Assad. So the change is not to help the dwindling non-jihadis in the northwest and the Southern Front rebels in better shape. So we still haven't made the jump from wanting to pressure Assad into negotiations to defeating the Assad regime.

This is in reaction to the news that we have 4 or 5 trained rebels inside Syria fighting when we hoped to have thousands by the end of this year.

But don't get too excited about this "new" plan. We planned to do the exact same thing at the beginning of the year when we realized that the force we planned was too small to be an independent force:

Critics said (and still say, as that post indicates) this was too small a force to really go after Assad, and they were right.

But this new description [of how rebels would be employed] implies that the men we will train won't be an army so much as the heavy weapons component of an army. And the headquarters element, I assume.

That is, with a force that has the trained troops and communications gear for fire support and command and control, it could be the backbone that attracts other rebels who provide the basic foot soldiers of an army.

Indeed, I hoped that the rebels we trained could be shock troops for other rebels to leverage their small numbers:

Five thousand is the size of a brigade. Assuming these are all shooters unlike a regular brigade, 10 battalions of trained troops with good weapons including heavier weapons to bolster and lead the strategically immobile rebels on attacks could be sent singly or in groups to different parts of the war to grab land from Assad and ISIL, ending these two groups' monopoly on mobile shock troops.

This kind of impact will raise the prestige of the non-jihadi rebels and encourage recruitment to their ranks.

Sadly, we wanted to use rebels as a separate force to control a buffer zone along the Syria-Iraq border. Oddly, rebels want to fight to overthrow Assad rather than isolate our priority Iraq front in the fight against ISIL. Go figure.

We have a casualty back home as retired Marine General Allen resigns his position as coordinator of the anti-ISIL effort:

While acknowledging disagreements within Washington over U.S. policy toward the militant group, which has seized control of parts of Iraq and Syria, the U.S. official said Allen's plan to step down reflected personal, not professional, factors.

If I was Allen, I'd be personally and professionally embarrassed. Why choose?

How can we be so bad at arming enemies of a minority-based dictator who is hated by the majority and whose base of support is being crippled by the casualties needed to keep the dictator in power?

UPDATE: Maybe year two of the air war will be better than year one. Tip to Instapundit.

UPDATE: And I'll say it again. If we can't get worked up to defeat an enemy that is a virtual caricature of evil, who can we fight until we crush them?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Nine Inch Emails

Consider your mind blown with Victor Davis Hanson analyzing Hillary Clinton via "Hurt."



What have I become? The old familiar sting.

But I remember everything.

The Only Closet Left Closed

The Army has a new secretary:

President Obama is nominating Eric Fanning to be the next Army secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would be the first openly gay person to lead a branch of the armed services.

I honestly couldn't care less about his sexual orientation.

I'm just hoping to get an openly pro-Army person to lead the branch.

Who will come out of the closet on that issue in this era?

Is the Army Getting So Small It Will Break?

The Army is shrinking. Will it shrink enough to break it?

The U.S. Army could be cut down from 450,000 to 420,000 active duty soldiers should sequestration – automatic spending cuts across the board in order to reduce federal expenditure – continue with the result that the army would not be able to meet its current deployments.

“The Army’s near breaking point if you go that low, I think. Already we see the fact that people are demanding the Army do many missions — from West Africa and the Ebola crisis to now resurgent problems in Iraq, Syria. Russia of course posing a threat,” Carson said. “So the demand on the Army is not slackening at all, and at the same time, their numbers are falling.”

We've announced that at 450,000--which I think is 30,000 smaller than pre-9/11--we'll go to 30 active combat brigades plus 2 battalion task forces. That's a reduction from the pre-9/11 32 brigades.

Which puzzles me since my back-of-the-envelope calculations indicated to me that we could maintain 32 brigades at 450,000.

Remember, during the Iraq War we freed up 40,000 slots by eliminating Cold War-era units no longer needed and by moving some military jobs to civilian jobs in order to expand the number of brigades (and we made them smaller).

But even the pre-9/11 Army had a force structure that required 40,000 more troops to fully man, if memory serves me. Since 9/11 we've mobilized reservists in significant numbers that could fill out that shortage. Perhaps we can't count on that any more.

Now that I think about it, it's been a long time since I've gotten email updates on National Guard and Reservists on active duty. I wonder why?

I even thought we could handle 32 brigades at 420,000. Although I admitted that counted on the smaller brigades we had at the time based on two battalions. We're going back to three-battalion brigades as they were pre-9/11.

Going to 420,000 has to cut more brigades if they are larger, it seems, which would make it hard to wage wars--especially if it is a tough ground fight requiring troop rotations.

But I don't understand how that level would "break" the Army. We don't have 15-20 (?) brigades fighting overseas as we did at the height of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mind you, I think it is unwise to drop to perhaps 24 combat brigades, no matter how good they are.

Remember, we established our own 10-year rule 6 years ago. That holiday from history is ending all around us right now. Do we have 4 more years?

Good grief, we can bust out my defense of the 32-brigade Army that I penned in 2007.

Anyway, remember that one day we will go to war with the Army we have and not the Army we wished we had at the time. Because right now we are defining what we wish to have in that future.

UPDATE: While I'm skeptical that our Army will "break," there is no doubt it could be too small.

Dredging Up Ancient Claims

We flew over waters in the South China Sea that international law says are international waters but which China says is there territory because they considered it their own for many centuries when the Middle Kingdom was all that mattered on Earth.

China did not like our Freedom of Navigation flight by a P-8 naval recon plane:

"This is the Chinese navy ... This is the Chinese navy ... Please go away ... to avoid misunderstanding," a voice in English crackled through the radio of the aircraft in which CNN was present.

It will get really interesting when we sail warships close to China's islands through these waters. We could sail right up to the edge of their recently built artificial islands without violating territorial waters under international law.

But the Chinese don't see it that way. They reacted to our PACOM commander, Admiral Harris, who told Senators in a committee hearing that we should conduct freedom of navigation missions with ships and planes near China's islands:

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was "extremely concerned" about the comments and China opposed "any country challenging China's sovereignty and security in the name of protecting freedom of navigation".

"We demand that the relevant country speak and act cautiously, earnestly respect China's sovereignty and security interests, and not take any risky or provocative acts," Hong said at a daily news briefing.

Fortunately for China's expansive claims, the pivot to Asia is for show only, apparently (and to futilely pivot away from the Middle East, of course):

“The administration has continued to restrict our Navy ships from operating within 12 nautical miles of China’s reclaimed islands,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said in opening remarks criticizing the failure to guarantee safe passage for international commercial ships in Asia.

“This is a dangerous mistake that grants de facto recognition of China’s man-made sovereignty claims,” he said.

I wondered how close we were getting. Not close enough, it seems.

Because of military weakness, China hasn't been able to enforce their traditional view of territory (what I say is mine is mine and yours is negotiable) for a long time. Now they believe they can and we shall see how far they push these claims if we push back--as we must.

The Chinese are willing to be reckless.

But if we don't push back, Sansha becomes a reality.

China will probably invite our president to visit their "city of Sansha"--perhaps to receive the Confucius Peace Prize (the Khadaffi human rights prize is, of course, out of reach now)--and the president will accept.

UPDATE: And the Philippines is dredging up a not-so-ancient alliance:

In a flash of anticolonialist fervor nearly a quarter-century ago, lawmakers in the Philippines expelled the United States from an enormous naval base here, then the largest overseas outpost of the American military. Promising to break free from the “shackles of dictatorship,” they declared that foreign troops would never return.

But with China forcefully pressing its claim to a vast expanse of sea west of here, the Philippines is now debating whether to welcome the United States Navy back to the deepwater docks, airstrips and craggy shores of Subic Bay[.]

We left because we were told to leave. Experience teaches that China isn't as cooperative when they sink their teeth into a piece of territory (even if they have to build it to be big enough to get a good grip).

UPDATE: China is running interference in defense of their claims:

“The department is reviewing a report from U.S. [Pacific Command] regarding a Sept. 15 intercept of a U.S. RC-135 by two JH-7 aircraft from the People’s Republic of China,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told USNI News on Tuesday.
“One of the maneuvers conducted by a PRC aircraft during the intercept was perceived as unsafe by the RC-135 aircrew. At this point there is no indication that there was a ‘near collision’.”

USNI News understands one of the Xian JH-7 Flounder fighters crossed about 500 feet in front of the nose of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft.

And a reminder about the artificial islands that I've noted before--the islands don't create Chinese territorial waters, so we would not actually be entering Chinese territorial waters by going close to them.

Remember, we take no position on who owns islands--real or artificial. We insist that disputes be settled peacefully, however. Especially against our allies, of course.

We also insist that any sovereignty does not extend beyond 12 miles and that the South China Sea is international water. The existence of an exclusive economic zone does not allow China to assert territorial water claims within the EEZ and deny access to our military planes and aircraft.

So that's where we stand. China says the sea is basically their territory and we stand behind international law that says no it isn't.

UPDATE: China continues to build like they plan to stay:

Aerial and satellite photos indicate that Chinese military construction efforts on Woody Island (one of the disputed Paracel Islands) are largely complete. The garrison consists of a battalion of naval infantry (not quite marines but close) and a 2,300 meter long air strip. This is long enough to support warplanes and commercial transports as large as Boeing 737s (which China has a lot of). A school building was completed in 2013 for the 40 children of officials and their families stationed there. There is an artificial harbor that can handle ships of up to 5,000 ton displacement.

Stay. And more to the point, keep others out of what under international law are international waters.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Profile in Courage

Because leadership isn't something you can learn even after 6-1/2 years:

By any measure, President Obama’s effort to train a Syrian opposition army to fight the Islamic State on the ground has been an abysmal failure. The military acknowledged this week that just four or five American-trained fighters are actually fighting.

But the White House says it is not to blame. The finger, it says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place — a group that, in addition to congressional Republicans, happened to include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At briefings this week after the disclosure of the paltry results, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, repeatedly noted that Mr. Obama always had been a skeptic of training Syrian rebels. The military was correct in concluding that “this was a more difficult endeavor than we assumed and that we need to make some changes to that program,” Mr. Earnest said. “But I think it’s also time for our critics to ‘fess up in this regard as well. They were wrong.”

In effect, Mr. Obama is arguing that he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment. The I-told-you-so argument, of course, assumes that the idea of training rebels itself was flawed and not that it was started too late and executed ineffectively, as critics maintain. [emphasis added]

Just ... wow.



It's not the president's fault! The president's political foes made him do it--in a manner least likely to be effective--and so it's their fault that the effort he made is failing so miserably.

If the president can be led along so easily to using force, I'm starting to think that we really do have to stop President Obama before he kills again, as he claimed.

And doing anything effective will be far more difficult and take much more time with Russian combat forces on the ground in Syria.

Putin bought a temporary air defense shield for Assad with the chemical weapons deal (that hasn't stopped Assad from killing--even with non-covered chemical weapons). And now Putin figures it is necessary and safe to use his own troops to defend his ally Assad.

Defeating Assad--which I had figured could be a later-stage mission in a campaign to defeat ISIL across Iraq and Syria--has to go higher on the priority list. If Assad falls, Russia and Iran (and Hezbollah, too) are defeated and then we can truly focus on defeating ISIL in Syria without giving Russia and Iran (and Assad) a victory as a side effect.

I had hoped that we could support enough non-jihadi rebels so we would have a viable force to support in a battle against ISIL, and then help hem move against Assad. But that assumed Assad would just be out there on his own, allowing us to defeat him at our leisure.

Now we can't wait for that force to be built to defeat ISIL before defeating Assad.

Is this the Smart Diplomacy we were promised to restore our reputation abroad?

My Predictive Power is Slightly (But Tragically) Off

Back when the Iran nuclear deal was announced, I predicted Iran would release hostages to get the deal through Congress. I was almost right.

The nuclear deal is on, without even the need for a veto since Senate Democrats filibustered the effort to reject, contrary to the farcical legislation that deemed the deal not a treaty:

As time ran out for US lawmakers to halt the Iran nuclear deal Thursday, officials in Washington turned their attention to ensuring that Tehran lives up to its side of the bargain.

Senior administration officials said the "ball is in Iran's court" as it seeks to convince the international community its nuclear program has been halted, just short of the threshold of producing an atomic weapon.

Right off the bat, we see the administration is confused. This deal does not require Iran to convince the world of anything. Indeed, it requires us to prove Iran isn't abiding by the deal.

That's a massively big difference. In the former, any gray area is proof that Iran isn't living up to the deal and a trigger to punish Iran. In the latter, gray area is insufficient proof to wreck the glorious deal by punishing Iran.

But I digress.

In any case, my major prediction about passing the Iran deal is already wrong. I said I expected Iran to release 3 of the 4 American hostages they hold just before Congress votes in order to provide cover to Democrats to vote to sustain the deal:

Iran being Iran, they'll probably just release three and deny any knowledge of the fourth. Best to keep a hostage in reserve, eh?

So after a decent interval that Iran can use to deny there is any linkage, expect some hostages to come home, with a quick trip to the White House for a photo op.

I was totally off in thinking that Senate Democrats would need any help from Iran to get the deal passed without forcing the president to exercise his veto of legislation rejecting the deal (as the president and Congress committed to doing earlier in the year).

Also, while I was off on the timing, I was absolutely correct that Iran would release prisoners!

Iran has released five senior al Qaeda operatives from detention and will soon allow them to leave the country, prompting fears they will join other terrorists in Syria planning attacks on the West.

According to intelligence sources, three of the five are members of al Qaeda's ruling committee the Shura Council.

They were released in exchange for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen earlier this year.

It's so odd that Iran waited until after the president began to implement the deal.

I see Iran is well down the path of being a responsible regional power!

Well, That's One Way to Help Us

As a pure war on terror matter, we should probably welcome Europe's decision to roll out the welcome mat for lots of Moslem migrants who will allow ISIL to infiltrate terrorists into Europe and who will provide a recruiting and support pool from the sympathetic portion.

After all, we've long said that we fight the jihadis "over there" in CENTCOM so we don't have to fight them "over here" at home.

Europeans have been mostly unwilling to help us fight the jihadis over there. So now the Europeans will finally become fully belligerent partners in the war on terror by fighting a good chunk of the jihadis in their own "over here" location.

As a humorous aside, note in that linked article that Merkel issued her welcome to migrants convinced that few would react to that incentive. It was going to be all good publicity for no real sacrifice. She changed her mind when the flood became too big to ignore. But it's too late.

Welcome to the war on terror. Good luck on the European Front. Our people can't be on all of your trains, you know.

But perhaps we can send James Taylor again.