Saturday, February 17, 2018

System, Not Planes

While it is true that Chinese airplane technology is beginning to rival Americans--and that is worrisome--that fact does not mean Chinese air power rivals the American air power system.

America does need to respond to Chinese technological advances in air power:

The IISS [International Institute for Strategic Studies] declares that China has become an innovator in military technology and is “not merely ‘catching up’ with the West”.

They are getting close. But remember that the J-20 cited is actually a frontal only stealth plane--and has other deficiencies.

More to the point, air power is not simply the result of the plane technology.

The Air Force is a system of air power that includes planes, crews, logistics, and the entire system of working with all the various pieces of the Air Force to apply air power, and to work with other services to provide them with air power. The Air Force has decades of experience built on actual wars back to and including World War II around the globe in various conditions.

China can't match that experience or system.

Not that I'm dismissing the Chinese technology. But even our retired F-117 was a fully stealthed plane. China has not deployed that type of technology yet.

So react with a sense of urgency to China's new technology. But don't panic. The Air Force (and Navy) systems are still better.

Membership Has Its Privileges

Greece and Turkey continue to be friends without benefits.

This old problem continues to cause problems:

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday Greece would not tolerate any challenge to its territorial integrity, days after Turkish and Greek coastguard vessels collided close to disputed islets in the Aegean Sea.

"Our message, now, tomorrow and always, is clear... Greece will not allow, accept or tolerate any challenge to its territorial integrity and its sovereign rights."

Turkey and Greece have long been enemies with territorial disputes long barely suppressed by their membership in NATO.

Greece is often given credit for exceeding the NATO floor of defense spending (2% of GDP), but Greece spends money not from holding NATO's missions in such high regard but from fear of Turkey.

Actually, as long as Greece remains in NATO, Turkey may not want to pull out of NATO--even if it distances itself from NATO--lest a dispute with Greece become an issue about the common defense of a NATO member.

And again, I hope we are selling reduced capability F-35s to Turkey and reducing intelligence sharing with Turkey. And I think it would be wise to withdraw our nuclear bombs from Turkish territory, and just aim to endure the Erdogan era in hopes that after him Turkey will return to being a solid non-Islamist ally.

Distributing the Marine Corps

The Marine Corps is looking to disperse forward bases to cope with enemy long-range precision fire.

Large bases simplify the enemy's targeting problems:

A future Marine force will need to lower its signature to make detection by the enemy harder, and the Corps will have to distribute its force, [Dakota Wood, a former Marine and senior defense fellow at the Heritage Foundation] explained.

“If I have to worry about 50 or 100 potential targets, that distributes the enemy’s fire and attention span as well,” Wood said.

Any force in the region will also need to “be robust enough that it poses a dilemma to the enemy,” Wood said. “It can’t just be a defensive force or the enemy won’t pay much attention.”

The defensive aspect is the idea of having floating barges to distribute assets on a large number of small forward bases rather than a big one.

Of course, to pose an offensive threat you need more mobility than barges towed around coastal areas can provide. Yet the enemy precision fire is a problem for the traditional large amphibious warfare ships.

Which is why I advocated armed transports modeled on World War II-era APDs converted from older destroyers and destroyer escorts. They would be capable of providing limited fire support to their own landing forces, and able to call on F-35B support from distant big deck amphibious ships.

They would carry up to a Marine company-sized element for smaller objectives, and could swarm a target from different directions if a large landing force is necessary.

Hopefully this would distribute the enemy fire and attention span, lowering the signature of individual elements.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Long, Long Bullshit

While I agree with the idea that it is wrong to assume America and China will go to war--we have enough advantages in peaceful exchanges that should encourage peace--I find this attitude of China worship fully annoying:

While we craft a strategy for the next decade or so (see the Donald Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy), China is planning the 200-year future. They are playing a long, long game.

Just stop that long-range thinking nonsense. I've complained about this before:

I find the notion that the Chinese are deep, long-term planners who have great patience is simply ridiculous.

So what if their civilization is ancient? Chinese leaders are born and die just like Western leaders who, by contrast, supposedly are short-term thinkers hamstrung in dealing with the cunning Chinese. Unless you want to argue that somehow Chinese leaders pass along the wisdom of centuries of rulers, why their civilization's age should give them unique planning abilities is beyond me. Are Egyptians also noted as deep, long-term planners who have great patience, hmm?

I maintain that some Westerners see a veil of secrecy and caution in foreign policy, and interpret that as signs of long-range, deep planning.

Seriously, is the argument that China as a 3-millennia old civilization somehow infuses the DNA of Chinese leaders with the wisdom to plan long beyond the span of human lives?

Or is simply being part of the culture create a racial memory of seeing into the future?

What drugs do you have to do to see Maoism, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution as part of a deep long-range Chinese plan to achieve dominance?

And America which is not even 250 years old is incapable of such purported long-range thinking?

But don't Americans come from ancient civilizations all over the world, including China? Doesn't America have just as much of that "long-range thinking gene" and from a wide variety of ancient civilizations from Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Africa?

That idea of individuals carrying the wisdom of ancient civilizations in their DNA sounds kind of ridiculous when you say it out loud, doesn't it?

And let's do a reality check. China is several thousand years old while America is not even 250 years old, yet China's long-range "Go" planning has gotten them to number 2 on the planet in 3,000 years while America still holds the number 1 position after 250 years based on the inability to think past the next quarter or play a game more complex than checkers?

Explain to me again how the purported long-range thinking edge paid off for China.

Look, I'm certainly willing to entertain that China has a superior strategy. Maybe even a superior long-range strategic ability. But make the case without resorting to silly attributes like superior long-range thinking based on their ancient civilization.

Just stop it. Chinese leaders are humans like the rest of us.

A Marine Foreign Legion? Good Lord, No!

I don't like this idea of recruiting a foreign-recruited Marine unit for irregular warfare:

The U.S. Marine Corps wants to form an Irregular Warfare Regiment (IWR) that would be a cross between the French Foreign Legion and the U.S. Army Special Forces. The IWR would have 4,200 troops and about 3,000 would be foreign born and selected because they were physically and mentally able to enlist and had language and cultural awareness skills the marines needed in various parts of the world. All officers and NCOs above the rank of E-5 (sergeant) would be U.S. citizens. If the program is established eventually many IWR officers and senior NCOs would be naturalized citizens. In effect, a foreign legion composed mostly of foreign volunteers seeking a quicker path to citizenship and able to meet Marine Corps standards.

Fourteen years ago, pre-Blogger (Behold the primitiveness!), I suggested pretty much the same thing, an American Foreign Legion (AFL):

American officers and NCOs with bilingual skills would lead lower-ranking enlisted personnel recruited from foreign countries. Form them into national-based companies in plug and play light infantry battalions that could be attached to our brigades or used independently. Base them on US or allied territory overseas from basic training on. Teach them English to understand commands and citizenship to give them goals to work for. Teach them riot control and counter-insurgency techniques. Guarantee that they will face two tours overseas in combat in a 6-year term of enlistment. Provide them with citizenship upon completion of their terms (or upon wounding or death in combat) and allow them to transfer at the end of their service to the regular Army or Marines or become a civilian and move to America. There will be no retirement pay from the AFL. Think of them as temps. Do not let them re-enlist in the AFL to keep a mercenary force from developing in our military establishment. Indeed, max out their rank at sergeant E-5.

But I changed my mind, thinking it is a mistake to start down the path of mercenary units:

Mercenaries in the form of a foreign legion might work for a while on solving the narrow military problem, but if we relied on this for long, the effect would be bad for our country. If we started thinking of our entire military as a mercenary force, we will have broken the bond between our citizens and our military. Our public might think of all soldiers--citizen and foreign legionnaire alike--as extendible. Our military might grow to view our society as alien. If this erosion of military-civil relations goes on, one day we could find ourselves with our first military dictatorship. And when our military becomes political, it will lose the ability to defend us from foreign threats. Composed of mercenaries it will be the threat.

It would be better to actively recruit foreigners who see America as the only force seriously fighting to uphold the West when their own countries are effectively conscientious objectors. We already allow foreigners to enlist. Why not go abroad to actively recruit those with needed language and cultural awareness skills? I called it the Liberty Corps program back then.

So no, I don't like the idea of a Marine foreign legion. Not one bit.

NOTE: I added the first link that I forgot to include.

The Dots Form a Picture

Secretary of State Tillerson met with Hezbollah allies in the Lebanese government. Is this a consultation designed to put the last pieces in place to increase the chances that an Israeli attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon will achieve something positive?

That's interesting:

Tillerson was expected to discuss the heightened tensions in his talks with the country's top officials, including President Michel Aoun, Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — who all maintain close relations with the militant Hezbollah group. He is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The article notes a dispute over who controls some sea areas with oil and gas deposits. Could Lebanon be brought on board by an Israeli concession on this dispute?

I fully expect an Israeli attack on Iran's proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon that goes in big on the ground (with mechanized and airborne forces plus air and naval support, of course). It makes sense to harm Hezbollah which has bled heavily on behalf of Assad inside Syria before Hezbollah can regroup in Lebanon and prepare to use their massive rocket force in southern Lebanon to attack Israel.

For this to work, it would be a massive raid that lasts weeks or months to tear up Hezbollah's people, infrastructure, and stockpiles to make it too weak to flow back into southern Lebanon to rebuild their state-within-a-state once Israel withdraws back to their border fortifications.

The Israeli operation would also have to avoid attacking Lebanese forces or infrastructure to make it clear it is targeting Hezbollah and leaving Lebanon--with support from the until now worthless UNIFIL UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon--capable of filling the vacuum in the south to assert state control again.

If all goes well, Hezbollah is destroyed as a military force in Lebanon threatening Israel; Lebanon has a chance to be a whole country again; Iran loses a major proxy force; Hamas is more isolated, helping Egypt; Assad is weakened, helping Turkey and perhaps making them less difficult on the Kurdish issue; and Iran's planned Iran-to-Lebanon line of supply is mooted by that setback, making it easier for Iraq to resist Iranian pressure.

America and France have done a lot of work to strengthen the Lebanese army and government. An Israeli operation won't be worthless if it only sets back Hezbollah for many years. But to really make a military operation worthwhile, Lebanon has to be on board in practice even if they loudly complain about Israeli violations of their sovereignty (despite ignoring Iran's violation and the very existence of Hezbollah for so many years).

Could a gas and oil field buy that cooperation?

Mind you, this whole thing could be prevented if Lebanon could control all of Lebanon as a normal state can. But they don't. And that's a problem:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that Lebanon's security was threatened by the growing arsenal of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah and its involvement in regional conflicts.

Which is an interesting way to frame it. He didn't focus on Lebanese control of the area as the ideal. He focused on the reality of Hezbollah's use of Lebanese territory to build a massive rocket arsenal.

That arsenal does not threaten Lebanon in the sense that Hezbollah might turn them on Lebanon. No, the rockets are aimed at Israel. So the only way the rocket arsenal is a threat to Lebanon is because they can provoke an Israeli attack into Lebanese territory to get at Hezbollah.

I know, I know, I'm connecting a lot of dots. As I've done before on this issue as I did in my post I link and in other posts that post links to. Part of the problem is distinguishing between what makes sense to me and what is actually going on in the real world. I'm a history and poli sci major who has played strategy board games since I was 10. So it is hard not to look at the news without seeing them as defining pieces on a board.

UPDATE: Okay, that's gotta be a dot:

"So [because of the danger Iran's proxy forces pose] the time is now, we think, to act against Iran," [National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster] said.

If now is the time, who is getting ready to act?

UPDATE: Is a nod to the Palestinians an effort to help Arab governments mute public sympathy for Hezbollah?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Our Friends the Pakistanis

Afghanistan has experienced some high profile terror attacks recently. Thanks Pakistan.

So do the attacks that killed 150 show Taliban strength? This seems about right:

Rather, [unnamed analysts] say, it was a violent Pakistani response – using its Islamist insurgent clients – to President Trump’s recent pressure on Pakistan to rein in militant sanctuaries, or else.

That's what the attacks seemed like to me:

It's as if Pakistan is trying to show how bad they could be if they choose.

Mind you, an unidentified Western diplomat denies this is the case. But it sure is walking and quacking like a duck. You certainly can't argue that this runs counter to past Pakistani action and capabilities.

If Pakistan (more precisely their military and intelligence arms) is sending a message, Pakistan shouldn't believe America has no response to Pakistan's deadly warning.

In an effort to get Pakistan to destroy the jihadi sanctuaries inside Pakistan that help sustain Afghanistan's jihadis, America should do what I suggested in 2008--start bribing and organizing tribes in Pakistan's tribal border areas to go after the jihadis.

I mentioned this last August (quoting the 2008 post) and still think it has the potential to leverage Pakistani efforts to truly work against the jihadis rather than support them.

Oh, and India might have a say from the opposite direction:

India's defense minister said Monday that gunmen belonging to the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed were behind a weekend attack on an army camp in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and warned Islamabad that it "would pay for this misadventure."

So does Pakistan really want to play this kind of game if everyone else plays by Pakistan's rules?

Speak Softly and Supply a Big Stick ... Wait. What?

The head of Ukraine's intelligence service is pleased with American aid to resist Russia under Trump:

To understand why Ukraine's top spy is grateful for U.S. support, some context is needed. When Russian special operators infiltrated Crimea and later parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014, the administration of President Barack Obama was caught flat-footed. Senior officials told their Ukrainian counterparts not to fight back.

Obama rallied European allies to impose tough sanctions on senior Russians and some sectors of the Russian economy, but he refrained from sending defensive weapons to Ukraine's military and largely kept Ukraine's intelligence services at arms length.

After nearly a year in office, Trump reversed Obama's policy, approving not only a shipment of sniper rifles but also the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles. That's part of the reason Hrystak gives Trump high marks.

The other reason is on the intelligence side. U.S. and Ukrainian officials tell me that on a few high-level investigations, the Central Intelligence Agency and Hrystak's service have been cooperating more closely than in the Obama years, when the White House was reluctant to get directly involved in Russia's proxy war with the Ukrainians.

That's all good. Ukraine might be wavering in their determination to be a free democratic country but they have a right to be a free independent country with all their territory regardless of their status in pursuing rule of law.

Although even with more American help, without democracy and rule of law, Ukraine is probably doomed to defeat.

But Good Lord, when Russia invaded Crimea in February 2014 the Obama administration told the Ukrainians not to fight back?

Let me re-read that: "President Barack Obama was caught flat-footed. Senior officials told their Ukrainian counterparts not to fight back."

Yes, I read that right.

I'd been writing for years prior to the invasions that Russia might try to take Crimea and eastern Ukraine. There was no excuse for our government not to know what Russia might try to do even if the actual decision to invade was a surprise.

And I called the Russian invasion very early, yet media reports that my lying eyes were wrong and that Russia wasn't doing anything caused me to doubt that what clearly looked like Russian special forces without insignia were in the early stages of an invasion. Those media reports were probably based on sources in the Obama administration that was caught "flatfooted" and preferred to deny reality than correct their error rapidly.

I've been saying that the idea that Crimea is a model for so-called "hybrid" warfare is ridiculous in large part because Ukraine in the midst of a revolution was unable to send in the relatively small number of trained and equipped troops that could have slaughtered the "little green men" early before Russia could airlift troops into Sevastopol base and cross the Kerch Strait. Those Russian special forces aren't actually infantry equipped or intended to hold ground and endure casualties to do so.

But we told the Ukrainians not to defend their country? That doesn't necessarily mean that Ukraine could have issued the order to attack. But my judgment of their inability was based on the post-conquest search for a reason why on Earth didn't Ukraine order their troops to scatter the Russian special forces thin on the ground.

Still, even if Ukraine was unable to send in troops regardless of what our government said to Ukraine, that Obama communication might have influenced the failure of any of the mostly rear echelon Ukrainian troops in Crimea to simply defend their bases and make the Russians fight to take Crimea.

Well, thank God the Obama administration didn't collude with Putin to give Russia what it wanted. That's the good news.

Of course, the Obama team instinctively wanted to let Putin get what he wanted without getting anything in return. So there's that.

But that passivity is over. Which is good.

Losing Control of the Brown Skies

Years ago I wrote that the Air Force should aim high to be what I eventually called an Aerospace Force and let the Army rebuild the Army Air Corps the way the Marines have their own ground support. Drone technology in the hands of enemies makes that shift in responsibilities more important to achieve.

The Navy has distinguished between the blue waters far from shore which must be fought in to dominate the seas and the shallower green waters--and even brown waters where soil runoff darkens it--closer to shores where the Navy can influence events ashore.

Air power needs to distinguish between the high blue skies where air forces traditionally vied for supremacy and the "brown" skies just above the Army where drones roam.

On the issue of ground support, the combination of precision ground fire, helicopters, and drones seemed to offer the Army a better method of providing prompt ground support to troops in contact while freeing the Air Force to dominate the skies well above the battlefield and to deal with the deep battle beyond the battlefield.

The Air Force lost the battle to control all the drones over the battlefield because it made no sense. And in wartime what made sense mattered more than bureaucratic prowess.

But the limitations of the Air Force in supporting the Army may be worse than what I thought then:

While the U.S. military pioneered the large-scale use of drones, both for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions, other militaries are now catching up. In many ways, small and medium-size UAVs challenge the notion of air superiority.

Perhaps more significant, nonstate actors are rapidly adding UAVs to their arsenals and developing sophisticated tactics for their employment. ISIS pioneered the use of small, commercially available drones to bomb Iraqi forces. For the first time, nonstate adversaries will have air power. Equipped with cameras, drones provide terrorists and insurgents with critical, real-time ISR information. Loaded with just a few pounds of explosives, drones become precision-guided weapons.

If drones becomes a constant threat, the Air Force has lost the air supremacy battle right off the bat. Don't even try to tell me that high-flying F-35s and F-22s are going to shoot down the drones that will target Army troops.

Perhaps Army air-to-air drones with smaller ones carried by even platoons are the way to fill the gap between the high-flying fighter planes absolutely necessary to control the blue skies and the brown air just above the mud where the Army fights and from where it can be targeted even when the blue skies are friendly.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Russia's Japan Pretext

Russia has made additional efforts to beef up defenses in the Far East that center on territory taken from Japan in the closing months of World War II. Is Japan really the focus of Russia's effort?

Russia is moving air defense and offensive missiles to the Far East. This is interesting:

These steps seem to fit the program presented by the Russian top brass in the second half of December (expected to be implemented before the end of 2018) aimed at reinforcing parts of the Eastern Military District (EMD). Among other aspects, the emphasis will be made on the development of naval aviation and missile-defense divisions, which are to comprise a new single army-sized unit, with its headquarters on the Kamchatka Peninsula (, December 18, 2017).

The main task of the new formation—the establishment of effective military control over Kamchatka, Chukotka, the Kurile Islands, the Japanese Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk—is to be secured by boosting the counter-offensive capabilities of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

So Russia is forming a new headquarters to command forces facing Japan. This will annoy Japan which wants their northern territories back before signing a peace treaty with Russia.

And the article says Russia is worried about America's forces in Alaska (seriously, we have little there) and the potential to mass 6 carriers in the Pacific. Oh, please! We have the potential to mass 6 carriers off of Murmansk or Sevastopol, too.

But consider that by forming a new headquarters for the extreme Pacific wing of Russia's Far East forces that face America and Japan, Russia carves off that front to allow the rest of the Far East command to focus on China.

Of course, Russia doesn't want to admit that it is worried about the far more powerful and nearby China.

This motive could explain Russia's bizarre hostility toward NATO by giving Russia an excuse to build up their military in general while pretending a weak NATO is the worry rather than a growing China which has claim to large portions of Russia's Far East that Russia took in the 19th century.

And a 20-year treaty suspending China's claims on Russia expires in 2021. Time flies, eh?

Perhaps China renews that treaty. But maybe not. And what is China's price to renew it?

Sadly for Russia's clever ruse to disguise their appeasement of China, NATO is responding to Russian hostility by preparing to fight Russia after abandoning the capabilities built up during the Cold War:

The United States and Germany have offered to host two proposed new NATO commands aimed at deterring Russia, diplomats and officials said, in a show of support for the alliance's military build-up that has echoes of the Cold War.

Part of NATO's response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, allies are considering a North Atlantic planning and strategy command to keep shipping lanes safe from enemy submarines, as well as a logistics command focusing on moving troops more quickly across Europe in any possible conflict.

So Russia created a worried NATO where once a lump of weak but wealthy passivity existed on Russia's western border.

But Russia still faces a future where China has the power to seize Russian-occupied territory and deter Russian nuclear weapons.

So the focus on the Japan front is likely an excuse to build up forces in the Far East without admitting Russia is still worried about China.

And in addition to allowing the rest of the Russian Far East command to focus on China, building up the coastal area forces and infrastructure increases the depth of Russian forces facing southwest--to China.

So Russia can claim they are worried about Japan. Or America. Or Ukraine. Or Georgia. Or whatever isn't really a threat to them.

China is the biggest threat Russia faces. But Russia is so weak compared to China in the Far East that Russia can't even afford to admit it lest it provoke China to attack before Russia has a chance to restore sufficient military strength in the Far East to deter China.

You Don't Control the Ground from the Air

Air power is certainly key in modern land warfare. But it is irrelevant without adequate ground power to support.

 A lot is necessary to understand this statement:

Here in Afghanistan, we're focused on helping the government reach a goal of 80 percent of the population under its control. We believe increasing the Afghan air capability will be one of the most significant keys to expanding its control over the population in the next two years.

The air power won't control the ground. The air power will help ground forces control the ground.

I noted the vital importance of air power for this goal last summer:

Effective air power to provide recon and surveillance, logistics, transport, medical, strike, and close air support is needed to defeat the Taliban. ...

The Afghans have to spread out to control and protect territory and the people to deny their use to the Taliban.

But the Afghan security forces can hardly afford to put a full battalion into every outpost needed for this mission.

Effective air power is an important tool to allow company-sized elements to hold off attacks until reinforcements arrive; and ultimately to make it more difficult for the Taliban to mass enough forces to overrun company outposts; and beyond that to allow Afghan forces to seize the initiative and go after the enemy to further atomize them.

Not to argue too much over the word "key" but ground forces are the "key" to controlling territory. I say this with absolute confidence given that ground forces controlled territory for several millennia before aircraft were invented.

Air power is a key supporting force multiplier. But if the other factor--the ground element--is close to zero, the product of the two is pretty low no matter how good the air power is.

And on that ground factor, while it is all well and good to expand the Afghan special forces--what about the unspecial forces who will be tasked with holding the ground and protecting the 80% of the people that is the goal?

Potemkin Fleet

The Russian navy is not being rebuilt as the Russians claim. And if the Russians had any sense, they'd be happy with that.

Russia's navy will not be carrying Putin's banner into the blue waters of the world:

In keeping with Moscow’s claim to great power status, and consistent with the image of a successful foreign intervention created by its operations in Syria, the Navy has been at the forefront of these claims. This is not to deny genuine modernization across the forces structure, or specifically within the Navy, but the actual level of its success is certainly open to question.

A fleet is one of the three traditional sources of Russian weakness, soaking up men and money.

Russia is a land power and has enough problems protecting their long borders without wasting money on a blue water navy when ground and air power are far more important.

Of course, focusing on ground and air power can be screwed up, too, if the Russians try to build an army in western Russia capable of defeating NATO in Poland--another traditional source of Russian weakness.

Readiness Defined

How bad has the readiness of our military that our relatively small mission in Iraq sucked up so many resources that reinforcing Afghanistan required victory in Iraq?

Good Lord:

As many of you are aware, Afghanistan has become CENTCOM's main effort, thanks to the recent successes in Iraq and Syria. This has allowed CENTCOM to shift more assets our way, which will significantly improve our ability to assist the Afghans.

Here are three examples of air assets now available to our mission in Afghanistan. We have increased our close air support capabilities significantly by adding an A-10 squadron in Kandahar Air Force Base. We now have 50 percent more MQ-9 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. And we're adding an additional combat search and rescue squadron.

How is it possible that in our large military that we required the winding down of a conflict in Iraq, where we had a relatively small commitment of troops, to provide a single A-10 squadron, an increase of 50% in MQ-9 drones, and a single search and rescue squadron to Afghanistan?

How is it possible that we didn't have that small slice of assets uncommitted and ready to fight located in the United States?

I fear that a very tiny percentage of our assets are usable on any given day. I find it horrifying that things have gotten to this state.

But we started on this path years ago when we assumed we wouldn't need to fight a war and established our version of the old British ten-year rule.

I just hope I'm right that other countries who may be our enemy are worse off.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

High Delusion and Low Grandeur

What alternate world does Erdogan live in where it makes sense to ditch America and NATO for Russia when Iran looms larger in opposition to Turkey?

There is a long history of conflict going back to Ottoman-Persian days, so this is hardly a shock:

The Turkish military said on Feb. 6 that one soldier was killed and five more were wounded in a mortar attack while attempting to set up a military outpost in northwest Syria. The Turkish military statement did not include any details about who had attacked its soldiers, but Arab News – an English-language daily based in Saudi Arabia – claimed that the attack had been carried out by “Iranian militias.” A Saudi media outlet has an interest in playing this up, but various other reports simply noted that “pro-regime forces” had carried out an attack on Turkish forces. Either way, Turkey and Iran are on a collision course.

But what is a shock to me is that Turkey is pulling away from NATO in favor of a budding friendship with Russia--which also has a long history of conflict with the Ottoman Empire.

If Turkey is on a collision course with Iran, who is better prepared to assist Turkey?

Russia which lacks even a border with Iran in post-Soviet Russia?

Or America which has the military power and ground and sea access to fight Russia along with a lot of Arab allies eager to counter Iran?

And given that Turkey's incursion into Syria is primarily aimed at resisting the Russian and Iranian backed Assad offensive into the northwest, how does it make sense to threaten America and our Kurdish allies nearby?

Erdogan may have imperial ambitions. But Turkey lacks the power in their post-couppurge military to back that delusion of grandeur.

I know this is confusing. Turkey is fighting Assad and threatening to fight America. Russia is backing Assad but green-lighted Turkey's more ambitious incursion. Russia opposes Iranian influence in Syria but sides with Iran to back Assad.

But where in this clusterfuck does the solution of stiff-arming NATO and embracing Russia make sense for Turkey?

It has to make sense to Erdogan even if it makes little sense to me. His rational is clearly not my rational. But how do you have to look at this to make sense? 

UPDATE: Secretary of Defense Mattis is trying to find common ground on military issues with the Turks.

Africa Still Needs American Military Attention

America's renewed focus articulated this year on countering the military threats of states such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran means that Africa is even a lower priority for traditional military assets than it was before this new emphasis. The AFRICOM Queen can be a force multiplier for America's engagement in Africa.

The United States Army is engaged in a low-key long-term effort to work with African land forces to strengthen their ability to resist jihadis and other irregular threats, to support rule of law in governance (or at least not to be a threat to it), and enable cooperative action to fight threats to partner nations before those threats become threats to America.

The effort in Africa under the Africa Command (AFRICOM) banner is still important despite being a secondary theater as far as the urgency of threats is concerned:

U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) supports the U.S. government's defense institution strengthening through a long-term approach of engaging with leaders, theater security cooperation, and military exercises. In support of the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Africa Command, USARAF focuses on the long-term effort to build defense institutions across Africa capable of countering violent extremist organizations and increase regional security -- security conditions that support economic prosperity, expansion of human rights and rule of law.

A valuable force multiplier for extending the reach of USARAF in support of African allies for training missions, rapid reaction forces in crises, and power projection missions in counter-terror operations or the force that kicks down (or just secures) the door for follow-on forces to land in a permissive environment would be a modularized auxiliary cruiser based on a leased container ship and mission modules installed in standard shipping containers as the building blocks that I named The AFRICOM Queen.

Such a vessel manned by Army mariners, Coast Guard sailors, and/or Navy sailors could function as a power projection platform for small land and air units (as well as civilian assets) in the absence of scarce Navy amphibious warfare ships needed for higher priority theaters.

Watch the Northern Limit Line

For quite some time I've thought that the islands South Korea controls south of the Northern Limit Line off the west coast are the logical place for an escalation. If America leads a strike on North Korea's nuclear infrastructure that is not part of a regime change that would prompt China to side with North Korea, I'd look to the western islands as a battlefield.

North Korea is building up their ability to rapidly seize islands that South Korea garrisons in the west:

North Korea is developing bases for its fleet of assault hovercraft that will be able to deploy elite special forces troops on South Korean soil in half an hour.

The rogue state is building two new bases and upgrading two existing facilities for the vehicles on its west coast, increasing the threat to South Korean-held islands in the West Sea.

The additional bases are expected to be completed next year, with analysts pointing out that the new site at Yonbong-ni will house the furthest forward-deployed assault hovercraft in the North Korean fleet.

After North Korea sank a South Korean corvette with a mini-sub in early 2010, I began speculating that the West Sea is the most likely site of real escalation of fighting in a crisis. This applies to both sides.

And six years ago I speculated that North Korea could stage a smash and grab along the Northern Line Limit:

If North Korea is invested in hitting South Korea for whatever political purposes Pyongyang has in mind, how would they do it and put South Korea on a horns of a dilemma rather than North Korea?

How about landing troops on a small, nearby island along the western sea border, digging in, and daring South Korea to do something about it?

The sea front has been the most active.

South Korea doesn't want to do anything along the DMZ which might lead North Korea to escalate to bombardment of Seoul; while North Korea knows that the DMZ is the riskiest place to escalate because its military couldn't stop the South Koreans if a threat to Seoul pushes South Korea to carve out a no-launch zone north of the DMZ to protect Seoul.

So now we see that North Korea is bolstering their ability to have more options.

Speed of action is necessary to get North Korean troops on the ground before superior alliance air and naval forces can intervene or dispatch ground reinforcements.

Fifty or so hover craft will provide that speed to allow North Korea to dig in on a captured island and present South Korea with the prospect of launching a bloody amphibious assault to recapture the territory.

Watch the Northern Limit Line.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Turkey, Syria, Israel, Russia, and Iran

Strategypage looks at Turkey, including their Syria operations. I'd like to highlight four things that stood out to me.

One, the size of Iranian-controlled forces in Syria:

Iran appears to control most of the military forces available to the Assads. This force is better armed, trained and led than the Syrian military. The Iranian forces includes 3,000 Iranian personnel, 8,000 Hezbollah fighters (with more on call in Lebanon) and some 70,000 pro-Iran militias. About a fifth of these are foreign Shia mercenaries recruited, armed and led by Iranians. The rest are local pro-Assad militias that are equipped (and often paid) by Iran.

Note that Iran controls about 56,000 local Syrian militias in addition to their own troops. My guess is that the local militias are mostly static, meaning the mobile force Iran has is mostly the Shia foreign legion of 14,000, Hezbollah, and some portion of the Iranian contingent not advising and leading local defense militias.

And note that Syria controls something just under 80,000. But these are likely mostly static forces not reliable for anything more than local defense but must include some mobile force of technical branches like artillery and tanks, for example, rather than infantry.

Two, the scale of Iran's Middle East efforts which leads to a logical conclusion. The scale:

Iran responded to American criticism of Iranian aggression in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon by insisting that it had an obligation to aid these nations in their fight against American and Israeli threats. This justification is unpopular with most Iranians who want their government to pay more attention to real problems inside Iran rather than imaginary ones overseas.

Iran is spending more money than they really have in pursuit of wins in a number of countries. And the Iranian people are increasingly unhappy with the priority that the Iranian government places on those foreign victories.

Given that America is more focused on resisting Iran, it makes sense for America to increase the costs of Iran's foreign interventions by aiding the forces in those countries resisting Iran in order to increase the Iranian costs and give the Iranian people more reasons to be unhappy with their government.

The absolutely wrong approach would be to let Iran win their wars to enjoy the victory and then deal with their people with the freed up money and prestige of winning foreign adventures.

And given that Iran is trying to replicate their Hezbollah model of a pro-Iran state-within-a-state in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, there is strong incentive to tear down Hezbollah which is the model for this objective.

Three, the future of Turkey in NATO:

The Turkish actions towards U.S. backed Kurds in Syria is but one of several actions Turkey has taken to cut its ties with Western nations since World War II. Turkey is a member of NATO because of that but NATO is edging closer to expelling Turkey. Not so much for Turkish moves in Syria, but because Turkey is becoming an ally of Russia. More to the point Turkey has ordered two Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems and is in line to get over a hundred new F-35 fighters. The S-400 is not compatible with the NATO air defense system and the F-35s contain a lot of technical secrets the Russians would like to get a close look at.

So NATO is seriously thinking about kicking out Turkey? Huh. I guess my desire to pull our nukes out of Turkey is sound as is my worry about selling F-35s to Russia Turkey are well grounded. Although I will repeat my preference to keep Turkey in NATO to hold open lines of communication to portions of Turkey still pro-America and pro-NATO rather than abandoning them and giving them little option but to work with Russia and Erdogan's caliphate plans.

But I would certainly quietly pull out the nukes to prevent Erdogan from thinking he can seize them to get an instant nuclear deterrent (and yes, he probably couldn't use the weapons--but would we be sure?--but he'd at least have the material for making warheads. And I'd greatly reduce the capabilities of the F-35 we sell them. We should also introduce deliberate flaws in their stealth qualities during the production process that we know how to exploit.

And wouldn't it be nice to get a closer look at the S-400? Or do we already have that information?

And four, the new phase of the Syrian civil war:

The Syrian civil war is not over but it is entering its third phase. The first phase was in 2011-2 when the majority of Syrians turned against the Assad government. The Assads seemed doomed. But then the various rebel groups began spending more time fighting each other than the Assads. It got worse when ISIL showed up in 2013 and did not end until ISIL was crushed by the end of 2017. Now the factions are rearranging themselves for continued fighting.

With ISIL involved it was what I called a multi-war with actors focused on different objectives. Now with the defeat of the ISIL caliphate the fight is getting back to a basic question of whether Assad runs Syria.

This fits for my views that Assad did not win the war following the defeat of ISIL. I've read a lot of material that said Assad won--including some on Strategypage. But it seemed to me that Assad was very weak despite surviving the nadir of the war. How much more can Assad's supporters endure to prop Assad up? With ISIL no longer the monster in the closet inspiring his backers to hold the line, will they?

Read it all. More may stand out to you. These were just the pieces that I pulled out in particular.

A Mission Accomplished

Defeating ISIL is not the only mission America has in Iraq.

America is drawing down troops in Iraq after the defeat of ISIL, according to Iraq:

"The American forces have begun reducing their numbers as victory has been achieved over Daesh," the [Iraqi government] spokesman told Reuters. "Coordination continues, to maintain (U.S.) assistance to the Iraqi forces in accordance with their requirements."

I heard on television news that we confirm that we will leave 4,000 in Iraq.

We peaked at 5,500+ to support the Iraqi offensive in Iraq War 2.0.

Our NATO allies may do more:

The United States is renewing pressure on its European NATO allies to establish a long-term train-and-advise mission in Iraq, diplomats said, reviving a divisive issue for an alliance wary after a decade in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to NATO headquarters in January calling for a formal NATO mission to Iraq with a semi-permanent or permanent command to train Iraqi forces, according to five senior NATO diplomats.

We'll see. Let's hope the lesson of leaving after the Iraq War and seeing the situation nearly unravel will lead NATO to organize Europeans to defend the gains of Iraq War 2.0.

Our small Iraq War 2.0 force was clearly enough to train Iraqis and support the Iraqi offensive. Fewer are needed for those missions when ISIL doesn't hold territory.

I hope that we keep enough troops to support the Iraqis in hunting down the remnants of ISIL so they don't rebuild the way they did after 2011 when Iraq clearly needed our help to finish off al Qaeda. Had we been there from 2012-2014 we would have had the opportunity to stem the rot in the Iraqi army that led to its collapse in the north in 2014, too.

Before we left in 2011 I had argued for keeping 25,000 troops in order to have a core of three combat brigades to deter Iran and to have air power and other supporting forces both to sustain and support American combat units and to train and advise Iraqis.

I also believed this level of commitment would also restrain any Iraqi faction from believing it could used armed might to break any political deadlock; thus helping to entrench democratic processes. If civilian advisors could promote rule of law in Iraq, we might finally break the mullah or monarch (including non-royal strongmen) choice of governance that has wrecked development in the Middle East since World War II.

My number was based on the simplistic math of having half the 50,000 and 6 "training" brigades we had post-surge to the 2011 withdrawal.

Obviously no combat units will be deployed in Iraq post-caliphate. Even if our contingent will be enough to train and support the fight against a reduced ISIL, will our small contingent be enough to deter Iran now when a seemingly similar number offered by the Obama administration was judged too low by the Iraqis to deter in 2011?

We accomplished a mission in Iraq--not all missions.

Derailed Gun

The Chinese appear ready to test a rail gun on a vessel. America dropped the ball on this long-range weapon system that would have given guns a range to rival more expensive missiles:

For nearly a decade, the US Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) and various contractors worked to develop a railgun system for US ships. A prototype weapon was built by BAE Systems. Testing at the US Navy's Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia was deemed so successful that the Navy was planning to conduct more testing of the gun at sea aboard a Spearhead-class Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV). ...

But the program has been largely shelved because of the Department of Defense's ongoing budget problems and the loss of interest at DOD's Strategic Capabilities Office in funding further development.

I've always wondered what happened to rail gun plans since I wrote a post in 2005 noting the rise of guns that could have spread serious long-range firepower away from the platform-centric aircraft carrier into a network-centric surface Navy.

We could have been at the dawn of that era, but instead here we are today with not only the then-follow-up rail gun derailed but the initial long-range ammunition for the truncated Zumwalt-class cancelled.

How is it possible to lose interest in this kind of capability?

Tip to Instapundit.

UPDATE: This author says the Navy is still interested. Okay. But how interested? Is the budget level really an indicator of serious interest or just inertia? My first post on this was quite some time ago and we are still far from having this weapon.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Successful Nuclear Deal Experience

Wow, the Iranians are really committed to the nuclear deal!

"Now they ask Iran to enter discussions on other issues. Our answer is clear: Make the (deal) a successful experience and then we discuss other issues," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told a conference in Paris on Thursday, referring to the United States and its European allies.

Question: if the deal is about stopping Iran from going nuclear rather than being a cover for Iran to go nuclear, why did Iran require a deal to refrain from going nuclear?

I just get the nagging feeling that for the Iranians a "successful experience" is a smoldering crater where Tel Aviv now stands.

The Multi-War is Hardly Over

Assad survived the worst of the multi-war ("civil war" seems inadequate) by passing through what was the nadir of his fortunes as enemies proliferated. But with ISIL gone, Assad still does not control large portions of Syria and his enemies may no longer be weakened and distracted by ISIL which fought other rebels and attracted their recruits.

Does this look like Assad has won the multi-war in Syria?

Large portions of Syria remain outside of Assad's control. And much of the territory extending to the east is largely sparsely populated while good chunks of core Syria in the west are controlled by various rebels.

Assad could yet have another downward slide as Turkey literally enters Syria to deny territory to Assad even as Turkey targets Kurds in the west.

And if Iran is pressed by the coalition it has provoked and by internal unrest, and if Russia finds it can't afford the costs of intervention, Assad's fortunes could slide down again.

Nor is America abandoning our allies in Syria who provided the foot soldiers to defeat ISIL there, which is a threat to Assad one way or the other.

Indeed, America conducted an airstrike on pro-Assad forces which attacked a pro-American local force.

At some point, Assad's small base of support may become exhausted from the blood and treasure they've lost to keep Assad in power. Fear of an ISIL victory kept these backers in line despite the massive death toll and financial loss. How will these backers act without that fear?

Unfortunately, "former" al Qaeda rebels are still a major part of the rebellion in the west.

UPDATE: So the force we hit was a "Russian" force?

U.S. forces killed scores of Russian mercenaries in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to one U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.

Now that's enforcing a red line.

The new DMZ--what I later called the DCL (deconfliction line)--firms up.

Data and Its Interpretation

While I don't want the military to hide data on Afghanistan, which could simply hide problems that should be aired in order to adjust in order to win; I don't know if the organization cited in this article is really able to honestly judge the progress of the war.

Sure, it is fine to say that information about Afghanistan that wasn't published by the military should be published. The military says it was an error.

But this?

“Of course it’s a cover-up. What else can it be, when you hide figures? The thing is, it is not going well,” says Thomas Ruttig, a co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) with decades of experience in Afghanistan.

Isn't that going too far?

And isn't this is rather a dead giveaway on bias:

The increased opacity comes after Mr. Trump last summer ordered several thousand more US troops to Afghanistan, raising the total level to some 14,000, on a mission to secure “victory.” Airstrikes have been ramped up to the highest level since 2010.

Why is victory in quotation marks? I'm so old that I remember when Afghanistan was the "real" war against al Qaeda. The "good" war. The "necessary" war. All in contrast to the Iraq War (and Iraq War 2.0) where we inconveniently killed lots of jihadis who flocked there rather than to Afghanistan.

Now victory is just fiction.

And this is interpreted completely wrong to justify that skeptical view of defeating the Taliban:

All the five trends he monitors – from security incidents and territorial control to Afghan force casualties – have grown worse since 2015, and many are at record levels.

“It means the conflict has become more violent, more brutal, and more widespread,” adds Ruttig.

Not that I haven't raised warning bells about Afghan loss of territory. I have. I worried about the Afghans holding on in static positions as the enemy had the initiative and picked off the outposts. I worried about the demoralizing aspect of that going on too long.

And we have taken steps to create reserves in order to seize the initiative. This began in the Obama administration and it will take time on the Afghanistan end; and time for the added US and NATO troops to provide Afghans with the support they need to reverse real losses in government control.

I certainly won't say that our side is winning yet.

But the other factors Ruttig cites to claim we can't achieve victory--security incidents and Afghan force casualties--are metrics of combat intensity and not of victory or defeat. And part of the renewed American interest in victory involves more fighting. So of course security incidents and casualties will go up.

In World War II, American security incidents and casualties in Europe skyrocketed on and after June 6, 1944. And violence certainly spread in scope to the continent.

That statistical change did not mean we were then losing the war.

And in Iraq, American activity and casualties spiked up starting in mid-2007, but that surge offensive broke the back of Sunni Arab jihadi resistance in Iraq and was not a metric of defeat.

I never heard of the AAN, which is a mostly Scandinavian organization, apparently. Which may be my ignorance rather than a slam on AAN and Ruttig. Maybe it and Ruttig are respectable analysts (although Ruttig worked in the diplomatic services of Soviet satellite East Germany and served in Afghanistan before the Soviets withdrew and while a pro-Soviet government was in power there, which makes me suspicious that he hasn't evolved that much).

But the argument about metrics of combat intensity being metrics of losing were commonly made about the Iraq War which was also considered unwinnable before we won (and then partially lost and then reclaimed the victory with Iraq War 2.0), which gives me pause to consider the group and Ruttig as reliable.

Of course we can win in Afghanistan. Victory doesn't mean Afghanistan looks like mountainous Switzerland. It does mean that the Afghans can prevent jihadis from having a sanctuary to train murderers who will come after us as they did on September 11, 2001.

But of course we can lose in Afghanistan. And if we lose, our enemies will have the sanctuary to be that threat again.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Weekend Data Dump

We really do live on a really big and diverse world.

Canada elected a sensitive one-man-boy-band celebrity as their prime minister, and finds that even he can't be sensitive enough for everyone. That really annoyed me when I first heard it. But then I read Trudeau was joking. I laughed out loud. Kudos to a funny joke and I regret assuming he was serious. Although given the state of the debate can you blame me? I assume leftists will now be upset with him.

The Air Force understands it needs to practice in an environment where GPS is denied. Good. Other services should practice that, too. The Army taught me land navigation using a compass, a map, and knowing my pace count (I think 107 paces per 100 yards).

German intelligence says that North Korea is using their embassy in Berlin to ship material for their missile program. But seriously, who is surprised that North Korea abuses international protections of diplomatic missions to ship banned items back home? This is standard operating procedure.

Some (who pay) are more equal than others, comrade. Tip to Instapundit. Something has to be done to secure Detroit. I grew up there. It breaks my heart how far the city has fallen despite all the announced "rebirths" over the decades. But making businesses pay to get timely police help seems very wrong. Doesn't this just give criminals a clue of who they can attack and rob by avoiding the "green light" businesses? It won't be long before businesses not in the program install green lights to look like they are protected. And an even shorter amount of time before Detroit makes unauthorized green lights illegal.

Russia is deploying aircraft to hold islands it took from Japan in the closing months of World War II. Japan and Russia still don't have a piece treaty from that war. I'm just saying that a few aircraft won't stop China from taking bask huge swaths of territory that Russia took from China in the 19th century. And 2021 isn't far away. So kudos to Russia on alienating a potential ally like Japan (on top of their excellent work provoking NATO) against a common foe China by holding on to those tiny and relatively worthless islands. The Russians are worse than hostile. They're morons.

Libya might be getting closer to having a chance to settle down following the 2011 revolution and NATO intervention that got rid of Khadaffi. ISIL continues to find tenuous refuge in the interior of Libya.

Iran says they've imprisoned a spy for sending information on their nuclear program to the West.  If the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful, why would this be a big deal for Iran? The West already knows how to build nuclear power reactors. And if the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is so effective at making sure Iran doesn't have a weapons program, how could spies even find out anything on top of that wonderful verification process? My lack of nuance tells me that the answers to my questions are that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and that the nuclear deal is a farce designed to help Iran go nuclear in the odd belief that a future "reset" Iran eager to improve their economy and standing in the world will not want to even think of using nukes when they finally get them.

As a federalist I can hardly oppose the right of California to run off the cliff even if I can feel sorry for them. They'll enjoy the thrill of the progressive ride right until impact. And hey, if somehow they prosper because of those policies, that's good to know, too.

The amphibious warfare ship America is being equipped to operate a small F-35B complement. I noted the potential of the class in 2007.

Russia went postal after losing a plane in Syria. A Russian "hearts and minds" campaign consists of breaking hearts and driving minds insane with pain. Assad agrees.

Libya's stockpiles of chemical weapons raw materials have finally been destroyed in a disarmament success. Recall that Saddam's raw materials to make chemical weapons somehow didn't count as a chemical weapons capability according to anti-Iraq War people. Meanwhile, Syria continues to use chemical weapons (with this the latest alleged attack) despite their "disarmament" under a 2013 agreement that we helped put in place.

I continue to believe that the growing power of the federal government to regulate every facet of our lives no matter how local the issue interferes with our ability to get along with people in far corners of our country. Why should I care if California wants to do whatever bizarre thing they think is just grand? What I care about is Californians wanting to make Michigan do that bizarre thing over our wishes. Scale back the scope of federal power and the incentive to control Washington, D.C., which has grown in scale and bitterness as federal power has grown, will recede. We'll all be better off if the federal government restricts its roles to truly national issues, even considering the effects of "social" media that exaggerate the extent of the partisan extremists (on both sides). It's been downhill since the direct election of U.S. senators, in my opinion. Tip to Instapundit.

Note too that after the (truly horrible) nuclear deal of 2015, Iran was still procuring chemical weapons technology (in this case rocket tech from Germany) and providing it to Syria where Assad's forces used chemical weapons. Ah, such a responsible regional power Iran became so quickly, as the Obama administration promised! Tip to Instapundit.

Mattis denied the theoretical distinction between "strategic" and "tactical" nuclear weapons. I'm not quite at that absolute point but he is at least largely right. I noted that issue a couple months ago.

Yet she persists. I'm with her. Are America's feminists with Narges Hosseini? Or with Vida Movahed? Or are "feminists" with their bizarre Handmaid's Tale nightmare fantasy about America truly just the women's auxiliary of the Democratic party, as I think? That's real resistance against a real religious tyranny, people. Tip to Instapundit.

By 2022 the United States may be a net energy exporter--the first time that has happened since 1953. You didn't really believe the mocking claim that we couldn't drill our way to energy independence, did you?

I'm not pining for a military parade. But good Lord stop acting like the suggestion is a preparation for a declaration of martial law, or something. I once drove an Army truck in a parade and managed not to seize power. Try to have an effing normal debate about the suggestion, shall we? We might like it. Of course, it is true that dangerous types advocate for such a fascist display of raw intimidating power.

Russia was banned from the winter Olympics for their massive state-sponsored doping program. But Russia found a way around the "ban" and the world went along with it. We should have learned this from the 2013 agreement Russia co-authored that "banned" Syrian chemical weapons that sill seem to be used. And we'll learn it from the 2015 agreement that Russia is part of that "banned" Iranian nuclear weapons.

The Global Left likes to claim that Israel "blockades" Gaza. They never mention that Egypt controls part of the Gaza border.

Rule of law and peaceful transition of power: they're doing it wrong. This Trump Hysteria Condition is very bad for American rule of law and our soft power appeal abroad. Putin's return on investment on his small expenditures to disrupt our election continues to roll in because of Democrats and the media. Both remain useful idiots. Seriously, is the Left really defending this kind of government behavior as no big deal just as Trump has the power to do it himself? Tips to Instapundit.

No, you ignorant morons, women in America and Iran do not have something in common because in each country there is a "campaign by Muslim women demanding the freedom to wear the clothes of their choice." There is a not insignificant difference between Iran's law requiring the wearing of Islamic head covering on pain of prison time and a perceived social stigma for wearing it in America. External compulsion versus perceived stigma is massively different. Effing idiots pretending they are informing me. They probably try to peel an apple and de-core a banana. Let's see if scaling back the religious guidance in Saudi Arabia lessens the legal requirement or the social stigma. Baby steps. But a step in the right direction.

Border security. Racists. Or so I've been told repeatedly.

China Gets a Deadline

Since the autumn of 2017 I've felt that America gearing up for a strike campaign against North Korea's nuclear infrastructure (with an unknown supporting campaign against air defenses and artillery pointed at Seoul) sometime this year before North Korea gets the ability to strike the United States. We have a rough deadline.

Well okay, then:

“North Korean officials insist that they will not give up nuclear weapons, and North Korea may now be only months away from the capability to strike the United States with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles,” he said.

Part of my hunch has been that we have given China a deadline to take down North Korea's regime to erase the need for America to strike--with the offer of a better trade deal with China as a secondary reward.

How many months that North Korean capability is I don't know. But we've probably quietly told China what our view is. If my hunch is right.

Which makes harsher sanctions a bit perplexing to me:

Vice President Pence said the Trump administration plans to roll out its harshest sanctions yet against North Korea during a Wednesday news conference in Japan.

“I’m announcing that the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever — and we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all,” Pence said, speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence.

I can't imagine that even the harshest sanctions ever can work at this late date. Five years ago? Sure. Two? Quite possibly? But now? Would China (or their businesses) go along with maximum pressure? Would Russia?

Even if China and Russia go along with a full blockade, can it compel North Korea to seriously abandon their nukes in a timeframe that matters and with sufficient clarity to verify it?

North Korea just has to stall American or Chinese action a bit more to cross the nuclear finish line and have a real deterrent force. So even a North Korean capitulation before whatever deadline we have in mind to strike if we don't want to accept a nuclear North Korea can't be trusted.

Would China verify North Koren nuclear disarmament? That's the only way I can see a diplomatic solution. And the United States should make it clear that we will help our allies like Japan, South Korea, and (mumbled (Taiwan) go nuclear if it turns out that North Korea has kept a nuclear arsenal. China needs incentive to keep North Korea denuclearized.

The idea of a limited "bloody nose" strike as a signal to North Korea to back down and agree to get rid of nukes was raised in the first article:

“U.S. officials including the defense secretary and the CIA director repeatedly talked about DPRK nuclear and missile threat to justify their argument for a military option and a new concept of a so-called ‘bloody nose’, a limited pre-emptive strike on the DPRK is under consideration within the U.S. administration,” Ju said.

I just don't see Mattis as the "signal" kind of guy. I think he is being polite and professional, but preparing a plan to destroy every nuke and delivery system north of the DMZ we detect.

So talk of a "bloody nose" strike is probably meant to achieve surprise in the scale of the strike if it is ordered.

And the harsh economic sanctions might be intended not to compel North Korea to capitulate--which we can't trust is real absent Chinese guarantees with real penalties for failure--but to make the case to the world that America has truly tried every measure short of a major strike campaign to get North Korea to abandon nuclear missiles as the UN has long demanded.

America says China is on board maximum economic pressure:

"Both sides reaffirmed President Trump's and President Xi's commitment to keep up pressure on North Korea's illegal weapons and nuclear programs," State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing.

But is that because the Chinese think pressure will work, they think a false trip down this path will protect North Korea, or that they are going along with this to justify either backing an American-led attack or their own attack?

And I'm hoping that South Korea which is recently putting daylight between itself and America is playing the "good cop" role in the hope that North Korea won't see South Korea as plotting to take over after an American-led (or Chinese) attack.

UPDATE: If America has a deadline to act, China's deadline to act in order to prevent America from acting is even nearer:

The U.S. director of national intelligence warned on Tuesday that time was running out for the United States to act on the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

So is China willing to see America solve a problem so close to China?

We're Not Even in a Chicken or Egg First Debate

America needs a strong Navy, but the examples of Spain and the Soviet Union are way off as warnings.

Two historical examples help suggest the effect of the sustained cuts to American seapower that began with the Cold War’s end and have continued to today. First, the experience of Habsburg Spain, an empire that neglected consistently to fund its naval forces, and paid the price in its loss to a distinctly inferior power. Second, the experience of the Soviet Union, an empire that saw its naval power grow from 1945 until 1980, followed by an increase in its ability to shape international events.

The existence of Spanish and Soviet navies weren't the only factors and hanging your hat on those factors alone is wrong.

Spain didn't decline because their navy weakened. Spain's navy weakened because Spain declined as a power with the financial ability to support an empire and a navy.

And the USSR didn't gain global influence because of the growth of their navy. They gained influence because of their ability to attack and potentially crush NATO in Europe. Controlling western Europe was an objective with global implications.

Seriously, you wouldn't argue that Russia is weaker now because they lack a blue water navy. Russia's blue water navy withered away because Russia lost the ability to pay for it.

And you wouldn't argue that Spain gained an empire because of a having navy. They were able to buy a navy because they built an empire that they looted to pay for it.

Having a Navy that can control the seas and project and sustain American land and air power overseas is obviously the foundation of American power that needs to travel far from North America to confront potential enemies.

And note too that the decline of the American navy starting in the 1970s was a product of mass retirements of ships built for World War II. We had a hot war dividend that simply wasn't going to be replaced in even a dangeous cold war.

Yet the further decline of the American Navy--after the 1980s build up aiming for a 600-ship fleet--after winning the Cold War was more than matched in effects by the loss of any potential rival to dominate the seas. Even as our Navy declined, rather than signaling America's decline it was accompanied by the rise of absolute American naval superiority that led the Navy to think more about projecting power ashore from the green and brown waters close to shore rather than think about the blue waters whose control was taken as a given.

The rise of Chinese naval power means that a smaller Navy no longer provides more security at sea than the larger Navy did when the Soviet navy challenged NATO for control of the north Atlantic.

So of course, the Navy--as does the rest of the American military that needed less for more relative advantage in the absence of a peer global or regional rival--now needs to be stronger. And there is a consensus on the broad goal if not the details or scope.

But I don't think these historical examples are sound examples of anything other than states rising and building a navy and then declining and losing a navy. The navies ultimately were effects and not causes of national power.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Ready and Roaring to Go, Deep Inside Lebanon

For a long time, I've written that if Israel goes after Hezbollah, Israel will go in on the ground in force and drive deep into Hezbollah's state-within-a-state all the way to Baalbek.

So, huh:

Meanwhile, the IDF continues to prepare for the complex challenge posed by the northern front. On Feb. 3, the media got a glimpse into the Paratrooper Corps training, as they prepare to fight deep behind enemy lines without supplies or munitions, relying entirely on local infrastructures. It was a very obvious hint. In the next round of fighting, Israel will not make do with a convoluted and symbolic ground operation like it did in the second Lebanon war, where losses exceeded effectiveness. By showing its troops preparing for the next round, Israel was sending the message that next time, Hezbollah, the Bashar al-Assad regime and their Iranian backers will find the IDF ready and roaring to go, deep inside Lebanon. They have learned the lessons of the last encounter and are prepared to take advantage of the “depth command” (dealing with operations deep into enemy territory) and ranked commando capacities, which Israel has spent years developing.

That certainly fits my view. I think if you follow links that I've been saying this since at least as early as 2010. And I certainly noted during the 2006 war that the air focus was a huge mistake.

I just don't believe the Israelis think that a bigger and better air assault on Lebanon as they did in 2006 is an option.

And I've mentioned the airborne angle to aid a deep large raid.

Although I strongly believe it would be a mistake for Israel to strike Lebanese infrastructure in a misguided effort to compel the weak Lebanese government to control Hezbollah, as the article raises. If Israel goes in hard and fast, Israel doesn't need Lebanon to do the job because Israel is doing the job. So don't make Lebanon part of the enemy.

And while the author says neither side wants war, the fact is the timing for Israel to hit Hezbollah in Lebanon is when Hezbollah is no longer fighting in Syria--thus maximizing the damage to Hezbollah--but before Hezbollah can redeploy their expeditionary force back home and recover from the war. We might be there now.

I think this is the first time I've seen anyone write about the scale and scope of what Israel will do if there is a war in a way I have.

UPDATE: Apparently, Israel shot down an Iranian drone inside Israel, launched airstrikes on "at least" 12 Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria (including the location the drone was launched from), and lost--by fire?--a two-seater F-16 during "massive" Syrian air defense fire.

I'm just going to say knocking back Iran in Syria would be a logical prelude to a big operation to hammer Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Or it could just be an operation that stands alone. I might be connecting dots that have no relation.

UPDATE: Yes, Syria shot down the F-16. The first loss of an advanced warplane to enemy fire in 36 years. Although the F-16 is a good fighter, it is an old design, first flying in 1974.


Netanyahu says Saturday that he informed Putin of Israel's intention to continue defending itself against any aggression and to prevent Iran from establishing a presence "in Syria or anywhere else."

"Anywhere else?" Lebanon is basically what that refers to. Although it could include Gaza.

Israel and Russia have an interesting relationship. A lot of Israelis came from the Soviet Union so their is that link.

And while Russia backs Assad, Israel has never challenged Assad's rule and had an understanding that before the civil war long kept their border quiet. So Israel would likely not really object to Russia's limited military presence in Syria. Russia surely wants a quiet Syria hosting their bases.

And Israel and Russia have a common goal of blocking Iranian influence in Syria and the region.

Netanyahu also spoke to our secretary of state, the article says.

Is this just reassurance that the Israeli strike is a one-off? Or is it consultation prior to Israel starting an operation to hammer Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon?

UPDATE: Israel didn't let Syria have the last word by shooting down the F-16 and launched heavy attacks on Iranian and Syrian forces inside Syria.

So this might have been the reason for those discussions with America and Russia.

UPDATE: I don't think there was a second strike. The last article seemed to be saying that the Israelis struck after the F-16 was shot down--which I thought happened following the Israeli strike prompted by the drone incident. But I've seen nothing else so there must have been some confusion in the writing (or in my reading). So one air strike.

UPDATE: It sure sounds like Israel is leaning forward on the idea of a big land operation as the logical result of the situation.

But the article also has language that implies a reliance on air power (although it could mean air and land power). And it suggests covert action instead of fighting in order to destroy missile production facilities in Lebanon.

Just hard to say from where I sit. Hints at invasion could be to support lesser goals. Or expressing lesser goals could be to conceal real intentions. Or it could be that people are simply reacting with no real defined end point guiding actions.

UPDATE: Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but did Russia essentially green light an Israeli operation in Lebanon by emphasizing that Israel should leave Syria alone to avoid Russian troops?

Russia's foreign ministry appeared to criticise Israel's actions by calling for restraint and respecting Syria's sovereignty.

"It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government," it said.

That may not have been the entirety of the statement. And I may be parsing too much even if that is representative of the entirety.

UPDATE: And as long as I'm reading into things:

[Former US ambassador to Israel Ben] Shapiro called Tillerson not stopping in Israel a "mistake" and tweeted it's "yet another blow to Tillerson's credibility as an authoritative voice for US policy."

Is Tillerson avoiding Israel to avoid looking like America green-lighted an Israeli attack?

UPDATE: Why can big news be so unclear? My initial impression of two Israeli strikes is accurate despite a later correction that I was wrong:

First, the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) penetrated Israeli airspace and then it was detected and destroyed by Israel forces. Second, Israel attacked the caravan from which the UAV was piloted at the T-4 airbase deep in Syrian territory. Third, the Israeli F-16 was downed over Israeli territory by an outdated Syrian SA-5 missile. And finally, Israel launched an extensive strike that focused on Syrian air defenses and Iranian forces in Syria.

So there you go.