Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Right Kind of Friction is Our Friend

Don't assume Russia and China are a solid anti-American alliance.

Both China and Russia oppose America, but that doesn't mean they are full allies:

China and Russia may both be challenging the U.S.-led international order and the United States (though in different ways and perhaps to different levels), but they are not the same, and they are not likely to always act in unison. Within their partnership, there are most certainly differences in trajectory—a rising power and a declining power are likely to have different intentions and policies towards the international order.

While both countries may be revisionist, the degree to which they are coordinating in this revisionism is uncertain. While Beijing and Moscow may both want to change aspects of the international order, it is not clear whether they have a shared, formulated vision of an alternative order.

The author also essentially writes that China has to worry that a declining Russia linked to China might drag China into war with America before China has risen enough to challenge America with a good chance of success. Which is an excellent point.

But in practice could Russia drag China into a war with America? I can't imagine China joining a war with America that Russia starts. And I think it is unlikely China would side with Russia even if America started a war. China would prefer that Russia and China take each other down a peg and leave China out of it. China really just needs the image of alliance with Russia to bolster Peking's diplomatic weight, coupled with the hope of such a war between America and Russia.

In the short term the Russians are being paranoid, aggressive a-holes. But in the long term both America and Russia have an interest in opposing Chinese aggression. And Russians should realize that at some level rising China has an interest in using their declining friend Russia as a sacrificial pawn to weaken America--with a side benefit of weakening Russia which controls a lot of former Chinese territory in the Far East.

We really should be trying to pry Russia away from China's grip.

Anyway, the author thinks that thinking of rising China compared to America in terms of the dyad-based Thucydides Trap which says a rising power will provoke the declining power to wage war because it wants to hold its status is complicated by a declining Russia aligned loosely with China. The US-China/Russia relationship really isn't a dyad. That's a good point.

But I also think that the Thucydides Trap even in a pure America-China analysis is reduced by the distance between America and China. I really don't worry that America will start a war with China to stop China's rise.

Now, a war might begin for other reasons (with keeping Xi in power against internal opposition high on my list--and Russia should worry more than America in that case), but America has enough distance from China and geographic advantage to reduce a need to strike as past hostile dyads in close proximity have shown. Russia and China are the states close enough to have dangerous friction.

And then the big wild card is whether China can pass America in power, and if they can will they hold the top spot?

Messy Victory, Indeed

Is American power and influence in the Middle East waning? Nope.

Since the election of Trump it has been common to claim that American power and influence are declining. But that claim is nonsense:

America still has a far greater military capacity than anyone else, and it is not close. It has alliances and relationships of a sort that no other great power can match, even as the Russians take opportunistic advantage of the situation in Syria. America's economy remains the biggest in the world, and the business ties that have grown in the Middle East over recent decades are still active, even as the Chinese expand the reach of the Belt and Road Initiative to the region. American soft power still rules the airwaves, and the best students still seek out American universities.

Yes. Just look at Iraq and Afghanistan which once attacked our friends and hosted the 9/11 attackers, respectively, and are now allies helping us fight jihadis and/or resist Iran. And Israel is now on good terms with Gulf Arab states to confront Iran. Egypt remains an American friend as does Jordan.

Syria and Hezbollah are bled white and lesser threats these days, and Hamas has lost the patronage of Arab states. Iran is finally--after policies bizarrely designed to enable Iranian power were reversed--being confronted and made to pay a price for its widespread support for violence around the Middle East.

On the other hand, Turkey under Erdogan is shaky as a NATO ally but that trend pre-dates even the Iraq War.

And Russia has a foothold in Syria now. But I'm really not worried about Russian naval and air elements in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. They would lead a short but exciting life in case of war.

On balance our position in the Middle East is fine and better than it was in 2000. Indeed, part of the false charge is that people worried about "new" problems in the region forget the actual history of unrest in their imagined Golden Age of stability.

I recently took on the claim of reduced American power and influence, and wondered if it was based purely on the world getting used to large numbers of American troops in the region as the indicator of our commitment and influence and not being able to handle the reduction of our military footprint to pre-threat levels as the military threats that required more American troops have been reduced:

So it is possible for America to reduce our combat role and rely on local allies and on our proven ability to rapidly deploy forces if they are needed. The problem is that in the visuals the world has gotten used to seeing a lot of American forces in combat as a concrete demonstration of our commitment.

But a reduction in our military power doesn't mean our commitment is lower. It means the need for our military power in the region to back our commitment is going down after spiking from about 1973 to 2009 (although the surges in Afghanistan extended that to 2011 or so). Eventually locals will get used to our lower footprint and lower level of direct combat without thinking it means less commitment.

Indeed, it may be that our role will shift from policing the Middle East to reduce threats coming out of the area to shielding the region against threats from the outside. As it once was when we worried about the Soviet Union and President Carter established the forerunner of modern CENTCOM, the Rapid Deployment Force.

American power and influence in the Middle East has not collapsed. But our past exertions have reduced the need for a large ground footprint. That's a good thing.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Fight for Information

What is the best way to get battlefield information--force or stealth?

This author thinks that the current infantry brigade recon formation is the worst of both worlds:

A high intensity conflict fought against a near-peer enemy poses serious risks to the IBCT reconnaissance assets. The enemy counter-recon threat is typically a mechanized force. Lacking a serious anti-armor capability, the gun trucks that IBCT recon troops use would be a high-signature infiltration mechanism that isn’t armed or armored to compete with Chinese or Russian mechanized vehicles, as they sport higher caliber guns and thicker armor than a Humvee. American scout platoons are currently straddling a line between the ability to fight for information that mechanized fighting-vehicles possess, and the low signature of the dismounted scout. By utilizing loud, unwieldy vehicles that lack firepower, the mounted recon troop instead is choosing the worst of both worlds.

He has a point about the worst of both worlds. And he wants the infantry brigades to focus on dismounted recon that can operate in cities to choose a better path in one world.

But while it is fine to turn parachute and air mobile brigade recon units into dismounted scouts, any other infantry unit should have their recon element heavied up to fight for information--on offense and defense--against heavier enemy formations. I have zero confidence that "stealth and reduced signature" will more than make up for lack of firepower when faced with enemy scouts with firepower.

Stealth surely has a place for recon on a heavy battlefield, but I suspect that role gets taken by drones and deployed sensors that provide persistent and stealthy observation. And stealth won't help counter-recon missions at all. I've been droning on about giving the Army back its damned armored cavalry for a while. I hereby do it again.

Still, as one commenter noted, we should have separate Long Range Reconnaissance and Surveillance Detachments (LRRS-Ds) that have those dismounted skills. Although I thought they were called Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs). But my terminology is probably decades out of date. And I didn't know that we got rid of them!

Oh, and give the infantry brigades heavy tanks, too, while we're at it, as I argued in Army magazine.

Seventeen Years of Solo Blogging

Defying the social media trend that has killed blog traffic, I continue to write here at The Dignified Rant, which began as a sort-of-blog on the old GeoCities site on July 22, 2002, which became Yahoo!Geocities until that platform just died. I migrated to Blogger in late 2004.

So I've lost a bunch of stuff that was on the old platform that I did not migrate here before I got bored by the tedium of cutting and pasting. In theory I have the material in emails I sent to myself but that email system seems to have compressed the text and I have not tried to recover the data. Although it must be there for retrieval.

Anyway, thanks for reading. It's been a long time. Far longer than I thought I would write. But media ignorance of military and national security issues is a target-rich environment, and I apologize for doing too little to fix that.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weekend Data Dump

The Saudi coalition in Yemen continues to kill and capture international jihadi terrorists hiding in Yemen.

Actual brave Resistance to tyranny. American feminists, please take note of women removing their hijabs in mullah-run Iran, and tear down your wall that stops intersectionality from applying there and getting you to give a damn.

The United States and Europeans promised more help for the latest Ebola crisis in Congo. It's a scary world out there.

Even if Trump had tactical reasons for telling, via tweets, four far-left fanatical morons in Congress to go back to their home countries (all are American and only one was naturalized), it was still wrong. I don't think the comment in context was racist. It simply reflects that he is a nativist--which at some level isn't a problem if it doesn't include hatred of non-natives, because shouldn't we prioritize people already here legally, whether citizen or not? And Trump is kind of an equal opportunity jerk. I'd be willing to condemn the tweets if the reaction wasn't so overblown and if the media ever called the left on their outrages. Antifa? Hollywood and media sexual abuse? Nation of Islam? Epstein? Excuses for jihadi barbarism? And more people see the outrage theater as politically motivated charges. Remember that the far-left is so far gone that Pelosi is considered a fellow traveler of Trump on the "squad" issue. So in addition to the comment being wrong, it was stupid to interfere with the circular firing squad taking place in Democratic ranks. And you have to consider that part of this kerfuffle is the assumption that opposing anybody of a different race or ethnicity must be solely based on their race or ethnicity. You should consider the possibility that people oppose far-left fanatical morons because they are far-left fanatical morons. Remember too that it is absolutely normal to be repulsed by Omar's politics and incomprehensible ingratitude for the opportunities America gave her. She's free to stay here and speak up (as the live press conference broadcast shows, she and the rest are hardly "silenced") and I am free to think she (and the other members of the "squad"--although one is a late addition out of nowhere, and I'm not familiar with her) is an odious person proposing horrible policies.

Sure, our European allies support the Iran nuclear deal. They want trade with Iran and understand they are way down the list for who Iran might target with nukes. So their support is no reason to question our rejection of the awful deal that shields Iran's drive for nukes rather than stop it. Remember, our foes China and Russia also support the deal.

Gosh, I wonder why I stayed in Ann Arbor after I left Detroit to go to school here?  For about forty years I've heard about how this time for sure Detroit is "back" and recovering. One day that will be true, but for now I have little interest in visiting--let alone living in--the city of my childhood.

Stratfor discussion of Iran's nuclear path and related issues.

Options on the use of private military contractors (mercenaries) for American foreign policy objectives. Well, you could see my collection of posts on this subject for only 99 cents for some background discussion of the topic. It was supposed to be the first of a series but that didn't work out. Or you could  just buy a copy to support The Dignified Rant, I suppose.

I still don't know how it is constitutional for a state government to grant people of other states to decide their presidential votes. If that is legal, why couldn't a state grant their vote to whatever their governor wants? Or whoever Brad (or Susan) in some think tank wants? Or who the French want?

This makes me wonder if California tilts nearly as left as its voting record indicates.

And yeah, while Trump is kind of a jerk, if Democrats make me choose between socialism and Trump, there is no choice: four more years.

Brown people protesting corrupt and inept American executive tear gassed. Alert AOC.

We asked the Dutch to help escort shipping in the Persian Gulf.

I'm sorry, but if we give up the Diego Garcia base because of a "morally compelling resolution" by the UN General Assembly, neither America nor Britain deserve to pretend to be powers with global reach. Spare me the "if we don't abide by rules others won't" BS. Others violate rules all the time and nobody seems to care. India had best re-think its position under the circumstances. And seriously, how does a non-binding resolution include an "ultimatum" with a deadline? Somebody is seriously unclear about definitions. Honestly, I think all this is about Mauritius angling for a larger payment. Which is fine.

I have only a light familiarity with Jordan Peterson--who seems fine, by the way, notwithstanding the odd demonization of him by the left. But I knew enough to know that a prominent columnist completely misrepresented Peterson's position on gender pronouns. The columnist recently said that Peterson would not use a requested pronoun when referring to someone. That is not accurate. Peterson has said he would not allow the state to compel him to use a certain pronoun. That's way different.

Israel, the Palestinians, and Iran.

San Antonio-class amphibious warfare ships will get upgrades to operate in a higher threat environment.

The Army's M109A7 will get longer reach with a longer gun and rocket-assisted projectiles. Against smaller and less capable enemies, we could rely on air power to deliver the strikes. We can't assume that in a world of great power competition and so artillery is more important for providing timely fire support.

Democrats should ask for people's votes but shouldn't share with those people what the Democrats would do with the power those votes will give Democrats? Huh.

I hope Turkey really likes their S-400 missiles purchased from Russia; because the price Turkey will pay for buying those air defense missiles goes way beyond the purchase price. Good. We can't trust Erdogan one bit. I hope we have back-up sites for Incirlik air base already warmed up. Although as we drop the hammer on the F-35 sale and production role, Trump tries to play the "good cop" role.

Can we use "sails" to drag space debris down so it burns up in the atmosphere (tip to Instapundit)?  Given the high cost of putting mass in orbit, I'd rather figure out how to gather it and re-use it, somehow melting it down and reusing the raw materials. But clearing out orbital space is probably important enough to do it however we can.

Domestic terrorism. The hysterical incitement needs to stop. It is possible to argue against policies you don't like even if the policy actually isn't Nazi-like. Really. You can.

This is obviously in error. I've been assure that the Iraq War has caused Islamist hatred of the West.

Jesus effing Christ, our budget deficit will hit $1 trillion this fiscal year. We are so screwed at the next recession. This is the time we should be cutting the deficit. But no. Complete bi-partisan governmental failure. The only bipartisanship is in spending.

Oh, and despite claims that the big Trump tax cut is causing our deficits, federal revenue has continued to climb. Spending is the problem.

It is insane to treat e-cigarettes the same as cigarettes given that the latter is far worse than the former alternative to smoking. So people will be pushed away from e-cigarettes and to cigarettes? How does this make sense at all?

Ground-based American defenses against drone swarms. While that may work to defend bases, I think eventually we'll need air superiority drones to defeat attacking drone swarms over our forward troops, as I wrote about in Army magazine.

I wouldn't laugh at this development so much if those who did it (and do it) didn't cop an air of moral superiority over those who don't worship the curbside bins.

The Hope and Change makes everything okay! Do you think I'm kidding about that magical transformative power? Here's the evidence (tip to Instapundit).

If Algerian protesters can achieve democracy in a country that soured on jihadis from a bloody insurgency in the 1990s, the Arab Spring gets added life.

A last comment on "the tweets." Why didn't Speaker Pelosi introduce the condemning resolution as a general condemnation of bigotry without naming Trump--exactly the way Democrats amended a resolution condemning Omar for antisemitism into a bland condemnation of all forms of bigotry without naming Omar. Still, I do wish Trump would stop making it harder to support him. He doesn't lose my support given the state of the turn-it-to-11 opposition (they have a 40-year record of unfairly calling any Republican a racist or whatever) and given how Trump's opponents unfairly tag Trump supporters as deplorable people. But Lord, Trump does make my life more difficult. Although to be fair, he's just bouncing the rubble.

Racist xenophobes!

This writer doesn't think a no-deal Brexit would be Armageddon. And even if there are serious problems to overcome, rule of law requires a no-deal Brexit rather than allowing the EU and Remainers to gut democracy by delaying it until it fades away contrary to the referendum that was sold as settling the question for all time. Just look at how far Europe is willing to go to preserve trade with Iran. Do you really think the continent won't ultimately work harder to preserve trade with the far more important Britain?

Tim Horton's (pbuth) new shakes are revolting and unworthy of the name "shake." I think they are just iced cappuccinos without coffee. Shame on them. And my local Tim's doesn't have poutine!

Iran has seized a UAE tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, ending the question of whether the Iranians had rescued or taken the ship. Iran claims the ship was "smuggling" oil. If the ship was doing that, Iran would approve.

While there is a lot of speculation that I have no position on, I would like a final conclusion on what happened in the Imran Awan House of Representatives IT scandal. Tip to Instapundit.

Musical chairs in Thailand. I'm not thrilled with the generals there.

American sanctions and pressure are weakening Iran. Here's an indication. So questions of whether sanctions and the "maximum pressure" policy are "working" require you to discount that objective as a success in favor of assuming only bigger objectives are worth a policy that rejects making Iran stronger. That said, sure, we don't yet know if the Trump policy is a failure or success.

A Canadian senator accidentally revealed the locations of 150 American B61 nuclear bombs in Europe. That's unfortunate, but I doubt the Russians were unaware of their location. I think the important thing revealed is that America still has nuclear bombs at the Incirlik air base in Turkey!  Given Erdogan's growing hostility and especially since we just expelled Turkey from the F-35 program (or initiated expulsion, I guess), why would we leave nukes within reach of Erdogan who might seize them (even if he can't use them in the short run) in retaliation and go fully rogue? I know I have mentioned many times during the F-35/S-400 crisis that I hope we have pulled our nukes out of Turkey. Apparently that has not happened.

I'm rather shocked that an article exposing myths of the greatness of the Iran nuclear deal made it into The Atlantic.

Yes, I've mentioned more than a couple times that Russian theater nuclear weapons are really needed to face the Chinese threat--both nuclear and conventional.

Actual concentration camps for Moslems that separate parents from children. But I'm sure that Google's economic ties to China have nothing to do with the surveillance state built there. I'm sure the sainted international community will spring into action. Any moment now. Yep.

Huh. Apparently it's a British thing and not about us.

The House of Representatives continues to side with Iran by voting to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is battling Iran in Yemen. I eagerly await the collusion reporting.

Let's hope Americans list Colorado State University as a place to avoid. Tip to Instapundit.

We say that Boxer shot down an Iranian drone that got to close to the ship while Iran denies losing any drone. Somebody lost a drone.

So tyranny is acceptable if it provides the illusion of diversity? Of course, free America ultimately did far better without the tyranny part. Sometimes I think the diversity crowd just wants the tyranny part--as long as they are in charge.

Don't be silly dahling, it is better to look good than to feel good. I think California should be free to be a a laboratory of democracy and enjoy the results--good and hard.

North Korea is evolving and it doesn't look very good for North Korea's regime. But that has been true for three decades now, without threatening the regime (or state itself).

Precision 40mm grenades show how precision is going down the food chain to the grunts. This trend will have a revolutionary effect on infantry combat, as I wrote about on the USNI Blog.

China tested their anti-ship ballistic missiles. Which can threaten American warships in the western Pacific. As well as those of our allies. Less obvious, they are threats to India's navy and to Russia's Pacific warships (assuming they can go to sea, of course).  Reviewing my old post on breaking the DF-21 kill chain might be helpful.

I don't think much of Russia's blue water capabilities, but given our inability to escort merchant ships across the Atlantic in case of war in Europe, restoring Iceland's ability to shield the trans-Altantic sea lines of communication is important.

Why the Russian S-400 is a threat to the F-35 if Turkey has both. While in theory we might be able to solve that problem by isolating the plane from the missile, that narrow technical solution would ignore the fact that we have an Erdogan crisis and not an S-400 crisis.

The Taliban killed 25 Afghan commandos in a recent ambush. That does not speak well of the effort to double Afghan special forces without diluting the quality, as I worried about. Generally only poor quality troops or troops just under poor commanders get killed in large numbers like that without exacting a far higher toll on the enemy.

Huh.  Tip to Instapundit.

And Iran seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Boeing has some serious quality control problems that affect our military, too.

Perhaps a review of Israeli attack options to deal with Iran's nuclear infrastructure is in order. The Arab world is more aligned against Iran now, as is America.

A hostile militia has free rein in Portland. Imagine the problems Iraq has with Iranian-controlled militias.

Chinese and Vietnamese coast guard vessels are in a standoff in the South China Sea over Chinese oil exploration in disputed waters.

Well that's a fascinating way to pick statistics to prove global warming heat wave intensification, isn't it? Again, weather is climate when it is hot out today; but weather is still weather when it is cold out today. Tip to Instapundit.

The United States is reestablishing an air base in Saudi Arabia at Prince Sultan Air Base. There will be Patriot air defense missiles and a small number of fighter aircraft. It seems a small deployment--just 500 personnel--with more significance as a place for rapid reinforcement in a crisis.

I'd like to say there is no way he can get away with this. But it is Chicago, after all.

Prosperity, FUD, secrecy, corruption, and terror.

How corruption is harming Africans.

Ukrainians are sick of corruption. Their votes will reflect this. Will those they vote for act on it? This is critical if Ukraine is to defeat Russia.

If the hack is real, I'd expect to hear nothing but silence coming out of the Russian government. But the Russians would know that, right? So shouldn't there be loud denials to throw us off the truth? But one can hope. Tip to Instapundit.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Freedom of Navigation Recruiting Office

Iran's actions in the Persian Gulf are too weak to hurt the West but strong enough to scare the West into action. The Coalition of the Skittish could be the result.


Recent seizures and attacks aimed at oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz will raise insurance rates for shipping companies and, if unchecked, reduce tanker traffic in the vital waterway, according to energy experts.

Iran on Friday seized a British-flagged oil tanker and a second Liberian-flagged ship was briefly detained. The events occurred in a passageway that carries one-fifth of the world's crude exports.

"If this kind of problem continues, you might see people start to shy away from the (Persian) Gulf or try to reflag — not be a British tanker," said energy economist Michael Lynch.

So Iran could force insurance rates up. Ooh. Scary.

But Iran's actions that fall short of closing the Strait of Hormuz and actually hurting oil customers are making the case for protecting Gulf traffic just in case Iran escalates:

Some 100 envoys took part in the briefing by Brian Hook, who outlined the Trump administration's initiative for maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz.

Mr Hook said tensions had risen sharply and necessitated the need for a "coalition" of navies to protect their ships through the strait.

His words were underlined by the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Gulf.

And worse for Iran, it seems clear that while Iran is willing to start to take Vienna it is unwilling to take Vienna:

As tensions in the Persian Gulf continued to ramp up on Friday afternoon amid news that Iran had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, concluded that Iran does not want to start a war with the U.S. or its allies.

Iran is willing to inflict difficulties without inflicting real pain and risking war that could devastate Iran's economy.

How great is that for the envoys to know that Iran is unlikely to fight an international armada that will lower insurance rates and operating costs for their oil imports?

And that America is backing them in case Iran does get effectively aggressive?

Thanks Iran! You could have played pure victim or potential destroyer of the West. But instead Iran decided to inflict a small harm on the Coalition of the Skittish.

UPDATE: The British navy failed to prevent the latest Iranian seizure, and Europe remains stuck between action and fear:

The audio, released by maritime security risk firm Dryad Global, shows how the British navy was unable to prevent the ship's seizure by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces on Friday. The seizure has prompted condemnation from the U.K. and its European allies as they continue to call for a de-escalation of tensions in the critical waterway.

A choice must be made.

UPDATE: Britain can hold as many emergency security sessions as it wants, but the Royal Navy is too small to protect British shipping in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Short of nuking Iran, British military options are limited without joining a coalition led by America to protect shipping.

UPDATE: Assuming even a shrunken British military is capable much longer of fighting anything other than "racist toxic masculinity." Sigh, the Thin Woke Line.

UPDATE: The choosing is starting to happen.

France says it's working with its European partners on an observation mission to ensure maritime security in the Persian Gulf, where tensions have climbed with Iran's seizure last week of a U.K.-flagged oil tanker.


Escalating against Iran, Britain's foreign secretary on Monday announced that Britain will establish "a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage" of tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz.

Still, both are just as the "starting to take Vienna" point.

Is CENTCOM a Shield or Sword?

I'm certainly willing to entertain the notion of drawing down in CENTCOM or even leaving the region, as this author raises:

I propose America consider moving back to the Cold War-era model of one or two major facilities, with the likeliest candidates for retention being al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and West al-Mubarak Air Base in Kuwait, which is currently under construction and due to open in 2023. Though not as robust as a seaport, each base could facilitate the reintroduction of additional American forces, should the need arise.

I'd also like a port--like Duqm, Oman--since no airfields are sufficient for the logistics and our Navy would need a safe harbor.

We can't be strong everywhere and changing circumstances should allow for changes in deployments. Our military presence has gone up and down as threats have waxed and waned (see Iraq and Afghanistan).

And yes, we can return to places we leave (see Europe where we are rebuilding our military presence).

Still, my worry is that leaving could provoke problems that require an even bigger return (see Iraq from 2011 to 2014), or allow others who aren't friends to fill the vacuum.

That said, nothing should be written in stone. Although the one thing not discussed is whether the question should be whether our air-land focus on the Middle East itself to prevent threats from emerging from the Middle East should actually be changed to an air-sea focus on the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to face external threats to the region.

If we can support the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan who now work with us to kill jihadis rather than being run by people who support terrorism, the switch to the latter mission is a no-brainer, with only the timing the issue.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Stop Pretending We Don't Need Big, Heavy Vehicles

The Army continues to have problems turning the Stryker into a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The Army is upgunning (with an actual cannon and anti-tank missiles) and up-armoring the wheeled Stryker armored personnel carrier a bit. But it really needs an active protection system to face tanks in conventional combat and have hope of surviving. That isn't working out:

In mid-2019 the U.S. Army confirmed that it is officially “still looking” for a suitable APS (Active Protection System) for its Stryker wheeled armored vehicles. Tests of lightweight versions the Israeli Trophy and the similar German ADS (Active Defense System) revealed problems with both systems when used on Stryker. The Trophy and ADS developers are seeking to address the problems encountered with Stryker which is, compared to heavier tracked armored vehicles like the M2 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) and M1 tank, less able to carry the extra weight of an APS and supply the electrical power required.

I meant to bring this issue up a bit ago:

“Unfortunately for Stryker, we have not found a system that is suitable for the platform,” Col. Glenn Dean, Stryker project manager told Defense News, said in a June 7 interview.

The Army has found interim APS for both its Abrams tank and Bradley infantry fighting vehicle but has struggled to find one for the Stryker. The service moved quickly to field combat vehicle protection against rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank-guided missiles while it develops a future system.

Trying to make the light Stryker capable of surviving against heavy cannon-armed tanks is another example of the Army hearing the siren song of achieving strategic mobility with tactical survivability. Heavy passive armor is the traditional means of protecting armored vehicles but heavy armor rules out strategic mobility (read that as airlift).

As if the Air Force has the lift to carry significant light armor to an overseas theater even if the Army could successfully solve those contradictory objectives with APS that works (and there is more than one way to skin a cat even if APS works).

In my view, the Army is making a mistake trying to turn a Stryker into a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

We should reduce the number of Stryker brigades we have and turn a couple into actual armored cavalry regiments with actual heavy fighting vehicles and tanks (and artillery, air defense, engineers, helicopters, drones, and all the rest, of course).

The Mid-Empire Crisis Continues

Oh thank God! Putin really wants his little red sports car out of the shop:

[The] Kremlin seems to view aircraft carriers as an important contributor to national prestige. The Russian navy took great pains to get Kuznetsov into position to support operations in Syria, and despite the embarrassment associated with that, has now pushed the carrier into a major refit.

It really makes no sense for Russia to have aircraft carriers or even a blue water surface fleet.

But Putin seems to want the ship yet I fear that Russia will scrap the ship in the face of problems refitting it.

I say Russia should refit that glorious sailing tribute to Putin's manly bare chest and Holy Mother Russia! And then build a bigger one! Hell, build a bunch!

Just stop teasing us!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Berlin Airlift (East)

Could America take a page from our confrontation with the USSR to deny China a win against our ally the Philippines in the South China Sea?

President Duterte has abandoned his outreach to China to check China's territorial claims against the Philippines, and now wants American military help in the face of low-level Chinese aggression:

The sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese trawler on June 9 appears to be the spark that has escalated tensions over the disputed South China Sea territories, and spurred Duterte's sudden recall of the defense treaty. Beijing claimed the event to be an accident.

During an interview with Philippine television evangelist Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, Duterte said “I’m calling now (sic) America. I’m invoking the RP-US pact. I would like America to gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I’m asking them now. And I will join them.”

I missed the news of that sinking which is part of China's ongoing effort to squeeze the Philippines out of their island outposts, but the seagoing Chinese militia that carried out the hit is on my radar.

One response would be for the Philippines to be strong enough to fight a small war with China, which would compel China to escalate to win--but risk war with America. America would certainly be able to support the Philippines without getting directly involved.

But there is a risk of escalation to full great power war with such a reply to China's sinking of that Filipino fishing boat.

So what if instead of using force we support the Philippines with an airlift to the outposts that China is besieging in the South China Sea?

We could airlift Filipino troops, supplies, and building materials to fortify the outposts against Chinese threats via their naval militia that rams and harasses the ships of the Philippines operating in what international law says are Manila's territorial waters.

Would China try to shoot down our helicopters in this Berlin Airlift in the South China Sea and risk war with America?

UPDATE: China's naval militia doesn't have an anti-air capability, remember.

The Technology Rooster Crows Again

Once again air power advocates are trying to sell the notion that air power can win wars with ground forces mere forward observers.

So a revival of great power competition means that the old air power-centric Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) was right all along? And the 1995 Deliberate Force operation was an early test proving the concept?

The RMA gained additional standing from Operation Deliberate Force, the NATO air campaign in Bosnia, in 1995. The 11-day action consisted almost entirely of airpower and imposed a cease fire on the Serb aggressors in the Yugoslav civil war.

The 11-day action was almost entirely airpower? I don't think so, as I wrote in this post originally written (but not accepted for publication) during the 1999 Operation Allied Force over the same area:

The seventh lesson [of an Air University study] is the most important yet is ill remembered. In May 1995, Croatia captured western Slavonia from the Croatian Serbs. Operation Storm, in which the Croatians took the Serb Krajina region of Croatia, followed starting in late July and relieved the Moslem Bihac Pocket in western Bosnia. In conjunction with the Croatian offensive, Bosnia too scored victories over the Bosnian Serbs as Deliberate Force delivered its signal. By mid-September 1995, the Croatians had regained their land and the Bosnian Serbs had the 70% of Bosnia they controlled reduced to 51 percent. Accepting NATO's peace plan that coincidentally allocated them 51% of Bosnia simply required the Bosnian Serbs to concede reality. Air power advocates seem to imply that the Bosnian and Croatian attacks were successful because of the NATO airstrikes. ...

In 1995, air power was the only military means acceptable to NATO countries. Croatia's forgotten army was decisive in that war. [emphasis added]

The "seem" part of the claim is long gone, I guess. The non-American ground offensive is truly forgotten.

Claiming air power won the 1995 campaign is kind of like noticing that the sun rises when the rooster crows, and concluding the rooster caused the sun to rise.

I once celebrated the Air Force embrace of supporting Army combat operations. Ground forces need a good Air Force in order to win, and we have a good Air Force. Ground support is useful and air support is vital. But air power can't do it all.

Sadly, it may be that a separate Space Force, by denying the Air Force an outlet higher, will lead the Air Force to look down and resume its campaign to claim it can win wars virtually alone instead of supporting the ground forces.

So here we are in 2019 and the limited 1995 NATO air campaign led by America is remembered as an early indicator of how air power can deliver victory. That judgment requires ignoring the Croatian ground offensive (planned by retired American officers) and to a lesser extent ignoring the Bosnian land gains.

New technology is supposedly bringing the decades-long "victory through air power alone" claim to the real world. I don't think so.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Remnant of a Multi-War Drags On

Iran's Syria's [oops] multi-war--a civil war of multiple factions and multiple foreign actors fighting for conflicting, parallel, and overlapping objectives--lingers on in Idlib province.

Assad's offensive against the last rebel/terrorist stronghold in Idlib is kind of flailing:

Two months of intensive airstrikes by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, coupled with a fierce ground assault on rebel-controlled Idlib province, have killed hundreds of people and caused massive displacement while achieving little to no gain for President Bashar Assad.


Crucially, Iran-backed fighters, including members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group whose participation has been key in previous battles, have not joined fight for Idlib[.] ...

Spearheading the offensive on Idlib and northern parts of the central province of Hama is the government's elite Tiger Force led by Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan, a Russian-backed Syrian officer who took credit for some of the biggest government victories in the eight-year conflict.

But he has not succeeded in breaking Idlib's defenses and remains deadlocked. According to opposition activists, elite forces from the Republican Guards and the Fourth Division led by Assad's younger brother, Maher, have recently started taking part in the offensive.

Iran is not allowing its shock troops--Hezbollah and the Shia foreign legion--to participate. And without them, Assad has to rely on his few remaining mobile forces.

As I've noted, the central state in Syria has eroded under pressure of waging the war, and Assad's ground forces are mostly strategically immobile and only useful for defending their own areas. As I noted in this post:

This reflects my comments that the bulk of Syria's forces are strategically static local defense forces. That is why the Tiger Force (as well as other select conventional units--from the very beginning--of what is really a zombie army) and the relatively small force of Hezbollah and Shia foreign legion fighters brought in by Iran are key offensive forces.

So the defeat of rebels around the country does not free up that many troops to concentrate on the remaining rebels.

This is not to say that Assad has lost his war. Of course Assad won. Losing would have been him hanging dead from a lamp post. Or maybe sitting in exile in Russian-occupied Crimea. All these arguments are just about why the price paid for Assad's win was high and why Assad's problems aren't over. I said that. That's valid. But yeah, Assad won.

Isn't This What Being at War Means?

So if Russia or China attacks America or one of our allies in one theater, we are supposed to simply fight only in the theater of war that Russia or China has chosen? What's up with that?

Um, okay:

Rather than confronting China and Russia where the fighting would be toughest, the thinking goes, the U.S. would broaden the conflict into areas where it has the advantage, eventually inflicting enough pain that the enemy yields.

The theory of horizontal escalation thus holds that the U.S. can wage a war on its terms rather than the enemy’s — and that it can achieve victory without paying the price of a more direct approach. Unfortunately, this theory is too good to be true: Horizontal escalation ultimately stumbles on several key problems.

I just don't buy the three reasons this kind of "horizontal escalation" is automatically a bad idea.

We may have reasons of our own not to wage war outside of the immediate theater our enemy chooses, but the idea that we should of course go along with the scope and scale of war that our enemy chose for their own advantage is insane. Attacking an enemy's weakest point is kind of War 101.

But sure, being able to fight away from the enemy's chosen theater does not allow us to ignore dealing with and fighting the enemy at the point of their attack. If I may be so bold, duh.

Maybe the knowledge that we will wage war if attacked at any point will deter a potential enemy from thinking they can enjoy a short and glorious war in a theater they alone get to define.

If a country goes to war with America, they go to war with America. Everywhere.

UPDATE: The more I reflect on the article the more ridiculous it seems.

How is it possible to think that Russia could declare war on America's European Command (EUCOM) alone and every other American command just sits out the fight? Or that we should go along with that narrow fight that Russia chose?

Don't we in part try to deter attacks by gathering allies to defend eastern NATO? Yet not even all of America's military power is supposed to fight Russia if Russia attacks eastern NATO?