18 December 2014

Nothing Says "We're Serious About Missile Defense" Like A Bunch of Balloons

Army to deploy new BA-1100N's that detect cruise missiles.

The U.S. Army plans to launch two stationary "blimps" at 10,000-feet in the air next week to better protect the Washington D.C. area from cruise missiles and other possible air attacks.
It's part of a three-year test by the North American Aerospace Defense Command of the so-called JLENS System, which is designed to work with already existing air defense technology.
The tethered large balloons, called aerostats, carry technology that will almost double the reach of current ground radar detection, officials said. The JLENS manufacturer, Raytheon Corp., says the system can provide radar coverage to an area the size of Texas.
It will "increase decision time available to respond efficiently and accurately for the defense of the National Capitol Region," NORAD said.
The JLENS system -- which stands for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor -- has no firing capability. Any response to missile attacks would still come from ground missiles, ships and airplanes, according to NORAD.
The balloons will fly above the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and do not carry any cameras.
"It's not for surveillance," said NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek. "It's simply for the detection of cruise missiles."
The 242-foot-long aerostats will be tethered to the ground by 1⅛-thick "super-strong" cables, according to Raytheon. The tethering system is designed to withstand 100 mph winds and had no problems in 106 mph winds during testing, the company said.
The helium-filled aerostats can stay aloft for up to 30 days at a time, making it five to seven times cheaper to operate than using aircraft for the task, Raytheon says.
NORAD says the JLENS system will be crewed by 130 personnel at the Maryland base.

h/t Gus

It's only taken 20 years...

Units who participated in the early-90s campaigns in Somalia are now eligible for campaign awards.

More than 200 units ranging in size from detachments to groups and brigades have been officially credited for participation in Operations Restore Hope and United Shield, the 2½-year relief and evacuation campaign in Somalia.

Soldiers who were assigned to these units and who participated in the campaigns generally are
eligible for the award of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the United Nations Medal.

Full list of units here (PDF)

08 December 2014

A True Hero

SFC Cashe is the epitome of selfless sacrifice.

Nine years after the Iraq bomb attack, retired Sgt. Gary Mills has no doubt that Cashe deserves the Medal of Honor. Mills was inside the stricken Bradley fighting vehicle that day. He was on fire, his hands so badly burned that he couldn't open the rear troop door to free himself and other soldiers trapped inside the flaming vehicle.

Someone opened the door from outside, Mills recalls. A powerful hand grabbed him and yanked him to safety. He later learned that the man who had rescued him was Cashe, who seconds later crawled into the vehicle to haul out the platoon's critically burned medic while on fire himself.

"Sgt. Cashe saved my life," Mills said. "With all the ammo inside that vehicle, and all those flames, we'd have all been dead in another minute or two."

Four of the six soldiers rescued later died of their wounds at a hospital. An Afghan interpreter riding in the Bradley died during the bomb attack. Cashe refused to be loaded onto a medical evacuation helicopter until all the other wounded men had been flown.

A citation proposing the Medal of Honor for Cashe reads: "SFC Cashe's selfless and gallant actions allowed the loved ones of these brave soldiers to spend precious time by their sides before they succumbed."

Cashe's sister, Kasinal Cashe White, spent three weeks at her brother's bedside at a military hospital in Texas as doctors treated his extensive burns. She knew nothing of his actions during the bomb attack until a nurse asked her, "You know your brother's a hero, don't you?"

When Cashe was able to speak, White said, his first words were: "How are my boys?" — his soldiers, she said.

Then he began weeping, she said. He told her: "I couldn't get to them fast enough."

Cashe died Nov. 8, 2005.

"My little brother lived by the code that you never leave your soldiers behind," White said. "That wasn't just something from a movie. He lived it."

White says her family hopes Cashe is awarded the medal while his mother, who is 89, is still alive.

03 December 2014

Anniversary: Battle of Tora Bora

Today marks the start of the Battle of Tora Bora.

On December 3, a group of 20 U.S. commandos was inserted by helicopter to support the operation. On December 5, Afghan militia wrested control of the low ground below the mountain caves from al-Qaeda fighters and set up tank positions to blast enemy forces. The al-Qaeda fighters withdrew with mortars, rocket launchers, and assault rifles to higher fortified positions and dug in for the battle



What lessons should we have learned from this battle? How well are we applying them today? Sound off below!

By: Brant

24 November 2014

US Camping in NATO Baltics for a While

Seeking to keep the Russkies at bay, US troops will staying in the Baltics through 2015.

A top U.S. military commander in Europe says U.S. troops will remain in the three Baltic countries and Poland through next year or longer to "deter Russian aggression."

In an interview published Monday, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, told the Baltic News Service that Russia was trying to intimidate its neighbors with military exercises near their borders and air space.

The U.S. has temporarily deployed hundreds of troops in NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in the wake of the Russian intervention in Ukraine.

19 November 2014

Anniversary: The Gettysburg Address

Today marks the anniversary of the delivery of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Was this the true turning point of the American Civil War? Or have we overlooked a different battle that we shouldn't have? By: Brant

15 November 2014

Britain's Desert Rats Case Colors on Armoured Role

The 7th Armoured Brigade formally steps out of armoured role. The MoD reports:

The final parade of 7th Armoured Brigade The Desert Rats was held in the small town of Bergen, north Germany, as they move from their armoured role into an infantry brigade.
Brigadier James Woodham, Commander of 7th Armoured Brigade, led the parade of 640 soldiers. They represented all the current units of the Brigade and those units that currently wear or have worn The Desert Rat on recent operations. He said: “We stand on the brink of some significant changes for 7th Armoured Brigade. We are starting the process of transitioning to 7th Infantry Brigade which will stand up in the UK in early next year.
“Today is an opportunity to celebrate a fantastic history that has been based here in Germany since the end of the Second World War and to thank our German hosts who have been so fantastic at looking after us whilst we’ve been here.”



Brigadier James Woodham receives the flag of 7th Armoured Brigade from Len Burritt, the first Desert Rat of the 7th Armoured Division.

13 November 2014

Military Shakeup in Iraq - Will it Matter?

The newly-elected PM in Iraq is clearing out 36 commanders from the military.

The recently installed Iraqi prime minister removed 36 military commanders in a sweeping shake-up on Wednesday, in his first public attempt to put his mark on the Iraqi security forces battling to retake territory from Islamic State militants.

Despite receiving more than $25 billion in American training and equipment over the past 10 years, the Iraqi military buckled, and thousands of troops fled, in the face of the Islamic State’s rapid advance across Iraq this summer. Only half the remaining units are considered fit to fight, according to American officials.

But even as Iraqi and American officials are racing to expand the security forces and turn their losses around, they are having to struggle with a widespread perception of the Iraqi Army as a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent institution.

Think it'll make a difference?

12 November 2014

Hey Look! A New Shooting War in Central Asia!

I guess Armenia and Azerbaijan felt left out, with everyone else shooting at each other.

Armenia threatened 'grave consequences' Wednesday after Azerbaijani forces shot down a military helicopter, sparking fears of a major escalation in the conflict over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh.

The downing of the helicopter belonging to the army of the breakaway ethnic Armenian region is the most serious incident on the Karabakh border since the 1994 ceasefire that ended a bloody war that cost 30,000 lives.

Armenian media reported that the helicopter's three crew members were all killed.

"A MI-24 combat helicopter attempted to attack positions of the Azerbaijani army near (Karabakh's) Agdam district," Azerbaijan's defence ministry said in a statement.

"The helicopter has been shot down by the Azerbaijani army," it said, adding that the wreckage fell on territory held by ethnic Armenians.

Yerevan vowed that Baku will face "grave consequences", fuelling fears that the incident might seriously undermine a shaky peace.

"This is an unprecedented escalation and the consequences for Azerbaijan will be grave,” Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisyan, told AFP.

“Azerbaijan's claim that the Armenian helicopter attacked its positions is not true. Examination of the wreckage will prove that the helicopter carried no weapons,” he added.

The separatist defence ministry in Karabakh confirmed that its helicopter was downed by Azerbaijani forces "while conducting a training flight as part of military drills", adding that a firefight began after the incident and was continuing.

11 November 2014

Mike Royko on Veterans' Day

Mike Royko is a WWII Veteran who was a newspaper columnist for a lot of years. This column has been in circulation for over a decade, but it should be required reading every Veterans' Day.

I just phoned six friends and asked them what they will be doing on Monday.

They all said the same thing: working.

Me, too.

There is something else we share. We are all military veterans.

And there is a third thing we have in common. We are not employees of the federal government, state government, county government, municipal government, the Postal Service, the courts, banks, or S & Ls, and we don’t teach school.

If we did, we would be among the many millions of people who will spend Monday goofing off.

Which is why it is about time Congress revised the ridiculous terms of Veterans Day as a national holiday.

The purpose of Veterans Day is to honor all veterans.

So how does this country honor them?…

…By letting the veterans, the majority of whom work in the private sector, spend the day at their jobs so they can pay taxes that permit millions of non-veterans to get paid for doing nothing.

As my friend Harry put it:

“First I went through basic training. Then infantry school. Then I got on a crowded, stinking troop ship that took 23 days to get from San Francisco to Japan. We went through a storm that had 90 percent of the guys on the ship throwing up for a week.

“Then I rode a beat-up transport plane from Japan to Korea, and it almost went down in the drink. I think the pilot was drunk.

“When I got to Korea, I was lucky. The war ended seven months after I got there, and I didn’t kill anybody and nobody killed me.

“But it was still a miserable experience. Then when my tour was over, I got on another troop ship and it took 21 stinking days to cross the Pacific.

“When I got home on leave, one of the older guys at the neighborhood bar — he was a World War II vet — told me I was a —-head because we didn’t win, we only got a tie.

“So now on Veterans Day I get up in the morning and go down to the office and work.

“You know what my nephew does? He sleeps in. That’s because he works for the state.

“And do you know what he did during the Vietnam War? He ducked the draft by getting a job teaching at an inner-city school.

“Now, is that a raw deal or what?”

Of course that’s a raw deal. So I propose that the members of Congress revise Veterans Day to provide the following:

- All veterans — and only veterans — should have the day off from work. It doesn’t matter if they were combat heroes or stateside clerk-typists.

Anybody who went through basic training and was awakened before dawn by a red-neck drill sergeant who bellowed: “Drop your whatsis and grab your socks and fall out on the road,” is entitled.

- Those veterans who wish to march in parades, make speeches or listen to speeches can do so. But for those who don’t, all local gambling laws should be suspended for the day to permit vets to gather in taverns, pull a couple of tables together and spend the day playing poker, blackjack, craps, drinking and telling lewd lies about lewd experiences with lewd women. All bar prices should be rolled back to enlisted men’s club prices, Officers can pay the going rate, the stiffs.

- All anti-smoking laws will be suspended for Veterans Day. The same hold for all misdemeanor laws pertaining to disorderly conduct, non-felonious brawling, leering, gawking and any other gross and disgusting public behavior that does not harm another individual.

- It will be a treasonable offense for any spouse or live-in girlfriend (or boyfriend, if it applies) to utter the dreaded words: “What time will you be home tonight?”

- Anyone caught posing as a veteran will be required to eat a triple portion of chipped beef on toast, with Spam on the side, and spend the day watching a chaplain present a color-slide presentation on the horrors of VD.

- Regardless of how high his office, no politician who had the opportunity to serve in the military, but didn’t, will be allowed to make a patriotic speech, appear on TV, or poke his nose out of his office for the entire day.

Any politician who defies this ban will be required to spend 12 hours wearing headphones and listening to tapes of President Clinton explaining his deferments.

Now, deal the cards and pass the tequila.

- Mike Royko

By: Brant

06 November 2014

US Army finally goes British

With the pending inactivation of the "Iron Brigade" in Korea, the US Army is getting British with their rotational policy to fill the void.

The brigade’s inactivation is part of a broader Army plan to increase theater readiness and maneuver capabilities on the Korean peninsula and around the world, officials said.

The Army plans to start rotating a BCT into South Korea in late summer 2015.

The first brigade to go is 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, of Fort Hood, Texas. About 4,600 soldiers from the unit will deploy in June, the Defense Department announced Thursday.

The plan is to rotate one BCT at a time into South Korea “like we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 13 years,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said. “There’ll always be a brigade in Korea, but they’ll rotate from the United States.”

The Army tested its rotational model with battalion-sized units, beginning last fall when 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, was sent there for a nine-month tour.

In February, the Army deployed 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment to Korea. The combined-arms battalion from Fort Hood deployed with M1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. They were replaced in October by about 800 soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, also from the 1st Cavalry Division.

Officials have said rotating whole units — instead of deploying soldiers on individual tours — will result in formations that are more ready and trained to higher levels.

29 October 2014

How You Know ISIS Is Pissing Everyone Off

When the Turks are letting the Kurds use their territory to get to ISIS to carry on the fight, you've got someone out there that no one likes.

Iraqi peshmerga fighters arrived in southeastern Turkey early on Wednesday ahead of their planned deployment to the Syrian town of Kobani to help fellow Kurds repel an Islamic State advance which has defied U.S.-led air strikes.

A Turkish Airlines plane touched down in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa at around 1:15 a.m. (2315 GMT) amid tight security, a Reuters correspondent said. A convoy of white buses escorted by armored jeeps and police cars left the airport shortly afterwards.

Kobani, nestled on the border with Turkey, has been besieged by Islamic State militants for more than a month and its fate has become an important test of the U.S.-led coalition's ability to combat the Sunni insurgents.

"They will be in our town today," Adham Basho, a member of the Syrian Kurdish National Council from Kobani, said of the peshmerga, confirming that a group of between 90 and 100 fighters had arrived in Sanliurfa overnight.

Islamic State has caused international alarm by capturing large expanses of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" erasing borders between the two and slaughtering or driving away Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and other communities who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam.

Weeks of U.S.-led air strikes on the insurgents' positions around Kobani and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters have failed to break the siege on the town.

20 October 2014

Anniversary: Death of Muammar Gaddafi

Really, it's been 3 years since Muammar Gaddafi circled the drain (pipe) and finally went under?

What is it you think of when Gaddafi's name is brought up?

By: Brant

19 October 2014

No, this is not a repost: Norks Shooting Across the Border

Again

North and South Korea exchanged gunfire on Sunday when the North's soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots, the South Korean Defence Ministry said.

The North's soldiers fired back in an exchange of gunfire that lasted about 10 minutes but the situation did not escalate, a ministry official said.

"There were no casualties or property damage," the official said.

The incident was the latest in a series of confrontations in recent weeks between the rival Koreas, that remain technically at war, and follows an urgent meeting between senior military officials on Wednesday to discuss how to ease tensions.

The North's soldiers on Saturday approached the so-called Military Demarcation Line that separates the countries but retreated after the South fired warning shots, the official added.

10 October 2014

Koreas Lob Rounds At Each Other

South Korea started by launching balloons, the Norks retaliated with artillery, so the Southies did, too.

The incident came as South Korean activists launched balloons containing leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang had warned of "catastrophic" consequences if Seoul allowed the activists to go ahead.

The two sides exchange periodic fire across their disputed maritime border but incidents on land are rare.

Yonhap, citing military officials, said the North fired towards the balloons and South Korea responded after some shots landed south of the border.

There was no immediate information on whether there were any casualties.

The clash came as North Korea marked the 69th anniversary of its ruling party.

Mr Kim, who has not been seen in public for more than a month, did not attend, according to a list provided by state media.

29 September 2014

Kinect + Sand + Marines = WOW!

When military guys talk about "playing in the sandbox" they sometimes mean it literally...

Video game technology has aided researchers in creating realistic 3-D battlespace maps using a simple sand box.

Called the Augmented Reality Sand Table, the concept is under development by the Army Research Laboratory and on display at this year’s Modern Day Marine on Marine Corps Base Quantico. The set-up is simple: a small sand box is rigged with a Microsoft Kinect video game motion sensor and an off-the-shelf projector. Using existing software, the sensor can detect features in the sand and project a realistic topographical map that corresponds to the layout — one that can change at a moment’s notice when observers move the sand around in the box.

and the inevitable demo video...

12 September 2014

Anniversary: One of 9-11's Most Stunning Moments

One of the most stunning achievements of 9-11 was how fast the air traffic control system put everyone on the ground. The "before" picture is around 0930 or so, with about 10,000 planes in the air nationwide. 60 minutes later, there were about 150 (the "after" picture), and most of them were circling runways waiting for other planes to clear so they could land.





11 September 2014

Anniversary 9/11

This op-ed originally ran in The State newspaper in Columbia, SC on 9/17/03.

Watching and listening to the media coverage of September 11th is pretty painful for me, but probably not for the reason you're thinking. It's a reminder of a world-changing event that causes the nation to pause and reflect on our burdens and sacrifices. As for myself? I just get mad, and I'll tell you why.
A random sampling of what was on the morning TV shows on the 11th. NBC and ABC remembering their own broadcasts of the footage as events unfolded in New York, interspersed with shots of the children at Ground Zero. CNN covering the same Ground Zero, with less discussion of what they were doing that day. MSNBC had Imus talking about 9-11 with Tom Brokaw, and Fox News had their talking heads going over the sacrifices of New York and the heroism of Todd Beamer. Local news radio observed the moment of silence at 8:46, when the plane hit the first tower; they also observed a moment for the second plane.
What didn't you hear? What didn't you see? What was never mentioned?
That's right. The Pentagon. No discussion of the sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines who lost their lives at the Pentagon. None, zip, zero, zilch.
I should expect this, though. It's been going on since September 11. Every mention of terrorism in the media today starts with Oklahoma City, and might mention the USS Cole and the embassies in Africa, on their way to talking about "Ground Zero" and the "World Trade Center Attacks." Even the vocabulary with which we discuss 9-11 is colored by our genuflections toward New York. Todd Beamer's name is nationally known because he led the charge to the cockpit on the fourth plane. What do we call the attack on the Pentagon? Who were the heroes of Washington, DC?
America has turned a blind eye toward the victims of terrorism not associated with New York City and Oklahoma City. Is there an annual memorial for the marines who died in Beirut? What about the Achillie Lauro hijacking? The TWA flight where a Navy SEAL's body was unceremoniously dumped on the tarmac in the Middle East? The Rome and Vienna Christmas airport massacres? The Berlin nightclub bombing? The bombing of the military exchange in Frankfurt? Lockerbie, Scotland?
We don't discuss the tragic American victims of terror that didn't happen on our own soil.  It's almost as if they aren't worthy of recognition, or memorialization because their deaths happened over there. The worst ones are the military victims, especially the victims of the Pentagon on 9-11. The attitude seems to be "they are the military, that's their job." As if they signed up to walk around with targets on their backs.
When baseball resumed play in 2001, John Franco led the New York Mets onto the field with an "FDNY" cap on; the entire team wore either "FDNY" or "NYPD" caps. Who took the field wearing military headgear? Who made a public, televised statement of support for the families of the dead at the Pentagon?
September 11 is frustrating and tragic for everyone. But it is especially frustrating and tragic when 25% of the attack is dismissed by the coverage, the memorials, the general discourse, for reasons unknown, but seemingly related to the career choices of the victim.

05 September 2014

New World Record for Longest Sniper Kill

There's been a new world record set for the longest sniper kill, in Afghanistan

According to a report in the Telegraph newspaper there has been a new record set for the longest kill shot in Afghanistan.

GPS aids supposedly "measured the distance the bullet traveled at 2815 meters", beating the previous record of 2475 meters for a confirmed kill.

The shot was taken by a commando sniper team in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

“Through binoculars at a distance invisible to the naked eye they spotted a group of Taliban. The soldiers having means of identifying targets went through a process of obtaining verification and permission to engage. Two marksmen using Barrett M82A1 50 caliber rifles simultaneously fired. The bullets were six seconds in the air. One killed the Taliban commander. It is not known for certain which sniper fired the fatal shot. While there have been no triumphant press releases, in the tight global Special Forces sniper community the shot is much discussed, because it seems certain to be a world record”

Previous record was discussed here

03 September 2014

Ukraine 9/2: We've Seen This Movie Before

The Russians are following a familiar 'playbook'. And why not - it works!

Last weekend, for the first time, President Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of "statehood" for eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting against government forces.

While the Kremlin said Putin's comments were misinterpreted, "the choice of words were not by chance," said Fyodor Lukyanov, chief editor of Russia in Global Affairs.

Russia had previously only called for the region -- where Russian-speakers predominate -- to have more authority in a federal system.

Even that was a non-starter, but now that the rebels are pushing Ukrainian forces back, Moscow "is acting in a different manner," said Lukyanov.

Signs have multiplied in the past week that Russian forces are directly involved in the conflict, helping rebel forces stage a rapid counter-offensive that has thrown back government troops.

NATO says Russia has over a 1,000 soldiers deployed in Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies despite reports of secret funerals near military bases and wounded clogging up hospitals.

"Russia is saying to Kiev: 'We proposed a deal (on federalisation) and you didn't want it. Now, the offer has changed," said Lukyanov.

The offer is a familiar one.

In a bid to support Rusisan-speakers and maintain its influence in the region during the 1990s Moscow supported separatist movements in the Transdniestr region of Moldova and the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia even stationed peacekeepers or troops in those areas which had unilaterally declared independence, and briefly fought a war with Georgia in 2008 after Tbilisi sent its soldiers into South Ossetia.

30 August 2014

Ukraine 8/30: "Concern:?

So apparently the EU has raised their threat level.

European Union foreign ministers have expressed "deep concern" at Russia's "aggression against Ukraine", as the bloc's leaders prepare to consider new sanctions on the Russian government.

Speaking after the ministerial meeting in Milan, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Aston urged Russia to "withdraw its forces from Ukraine".

EU leaders are arriving in Brussels to consider their response to the crisis.

Russia denies that its forces are backing rebels in eastern Ukraine.

But Baroness Ashton said there was "deep concern" over "direct aggression by Russian forces". She called on Russia to stop the flow of arms, equipment and personnel into Ukraine.

It's not just concern, it's deep concern.

18 August 2014

Ukraine 8/18: Uh-Huh, Suuuuuure

An "aid" convoy, huh? Like the one containing BTRs? Like the one with fresh white paint and Red Cross symbols that the ICRC said they had absolutely no knowledge of? One wonders what sort of "deal" was reached on this "aid" convoy.

Russia's foreign minister says full agreement has been reached on the delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine after talks in Berlin.

But Sergei Lavrov said no deal had been reached on achieving a ceasefire.

He was speaking after talks with the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Germany and France on Sunday.

A huge Russian aid convoy is parked near the border, awaiting inspection. The Red Cross wants security guarantees before the lorries can enter Ukraine.

Almost 270 lorries are outside the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, near a border post held by pro-Russian rebels.

Western leaders have voiced concern that the convoy could be used as a cover for supplying military equipment to the separatists.

Dammit, People Aren't Paying Attention To Me Anymore - Say Something Stupid!

There is no way that ASSange is going to leave Ecuador embassy in London 'soon'. It's just that no one is paying attention to him now that Snowden is out there.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday he would "soon" leave Ecuador's embassy in London but his organisation played down the comment, saying he would not depart until there was an agreement with Britain's government.

Assange, who sought asylum in the embassy two years ago, told a press conference: "I can confirm I will be leaving the embassy soon."

He's not going anywhere, especially not now that everyone's been alerted to the possibility. But they are going to be looking over the walls of the embassy to see what he's doing, and back to breathlessly reporting on his every move.

17 August 2014

The Newer Model Army

The British Army is reinventing himself again.

Reservists can work well. Lieutenant Colonel Graham Johnson, commanding officer of a medical regiment in Afghanistan, said part-timers make up 10% of his unit. “The military offer a lot of leadership skills and development at the lower level,” he explains. “And we benefit from their clinical competence.” But with infantry the situation is trickier. There are too few reservists, and many are unable to drop their civilian jobs at short notice. Regular commanders calling on their reservists could receive fewer than they need.

The army has advertised heavily for reservists, and increased the bounties paid to regular soldiers leaving the army who join the part-timers. But Britain lacks the legal and cultural apparatus to sustain a large reserve. In America part-time soldiers who fail to show up face serious sanctions; employers keep reservists’ jobs open. By contrast the British Territorial Army, recently renamed the “Army Reserve”, has been a more amateur affair, regarded by some as a drinking club. One London-based reservist, who has completed an Afghanistan tour, wryly said his bosses regard him as comparable to a maternity risk.

A recent survey showed that only 42% of regular soldiers who had worked with reservists saw them as professional. Even fewer thought they were well integrated. “The army know they have to be seen to make the arrangement with the reserves work, although privately they doubt that it will”, says Professor Michael Clarke, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think-tank.

The reforms could also create fissures among full-time soldiers. Under the plans, the army will be split into “reactive” and “adaptive” forces. The reactive side’s job is conventional fighting, though it will have fewer tanks than formerly. The adaptive force will sit at lower readiness. It will train foreign troops, something “the British military has done ever since the early days of empire”, says General Sir Peter Wall, the current chief of the general staff.

Because the reactive force will be first to deploy to a major crisis, the new system risks creating a two-tier army. The problem is potentially acute in the Royal Armoured Corps, operators of Britain’s tanks. Regiments there will be permanently streamed to the reactive or adaptive forces, with fewer opportunities to cross-post soldiers than in larger infantry outfits with feet in both camps. Adding this fuel to the existing rivalries between regiments is a risk.

But the most obvious change to the armed forces is a straightforward one: Britain will probably not be engaged in a major foreign war in the near future. That may hamper recruiting. It will also divide those entitled to wear operational-services medals and those who are not. This is why officers are keen to get whatever residual action they can. “There were very competent guys who I went through training with who were just unfortunate, they didn’t go to the right place at the right time and they didn’t get an operational tour,” says Lieutenant Hill. Still, he knows his billet is more comfortable than his predecessors endured. He regrets the fact that, since he is based in Camp Bastion rather than an austere forward base, he can go to a shop and eat an ice cream.

11 August 2014

Darwin? Schadenfreude? Belly Laugh? You Decide

NOT the Duffel Blog: Suicide Bomb Trainer in Iraq Accidentally Blows Up His Class. The New York Times reports:

If there were such a thing, it would probably be rule No. 1 in the teaching manual for instructors of aspiring suicide bombers: Don’t give lessons with live explosives.

In what represented a cautionary tale for terrorist teachers, and a cause of dark humor for ordinary Iraqis, a commander at a secluded terrorist training camp north of Baghdad unwittingly used a belt packed with explosives while conducting a demonstration early Monday for a group of militants, killing himself and 21 other members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, army and police officials said.

Iraqi citizens have long been accustomed to daily attacks on public markets, mosques, funerals and even children’s soccer games, so they saw the story of the fumbling militants as a dark — and delicious — kind of poetic justice, especially coming amid a protracted surge of violence led by the terrorist group, including a rise in suicide bombings.

Just last week a suicide bomber struck a popular falafel shop near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here, killing several people. On Monday evening Raad Hashim, working the counter at a liquor store near the site of the attack, burst out laughing when he heard the news.

“This is so funny,” Mr. Hashim said. “It shows how stupid they are, those dogs and sons of dogs.”

More seriously, he said, “it also gives me pain, as I remember all the innocent people that were killed here.”

Maybe We Should Be Listening To More Outliers

We already sent MacGregor packing, and then reorganized the Army along 90% of his suggestions. We blew off Shinseki, who said we didn't have even half as many troops as were needed to secure Iraq. And then Flynn mouthed off saying that we were sorely lacking the needed intel in Afghanistan. And he was kicked to the curb. Well, Flynn also noted that ISIS was about to take over half of Iraq, and we ignored him again. Shame on the US military for reflexively closing ranks around the 'easy' ideas and leaving the tough ones from smart people to wither and die in the cold, before we realize (usually too late) that they were right.

Days before the takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State, U.S. intelligence analysts were sharply divided over whether the group would seize the city, according to people familiar with the debate.

U.S. officials saw initial indications the group might seek to take Mosul and urged Iraqi action, to no avail. But on the day of the June 10 takeover, U.S. officials played down its significance. "Obviously, this has got our attention in Mosul, but it doesn't change the calculus," said Rear. Adm. John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

Although U.S. spy agencies have monitored and warned about the Islamic State over the past year, they often have underestimated the group's ability to make rapid operational gains, U.S. officials said. That was the case a week ago when militants launched a dramatic and successful offensive in Iraq's Kurdish region.

The offensive prompted President Barack Obama to authorize an airstrike campaign. The president acknowledged Saturday that U.S. spies and policy makers had underestimated the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL. "There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates, and I think the expectations of policy makers both in and outside of Iraq," he said.

The inability of U.S. spy agencies to provide details about the timing of Islamic State offensives or their likelihood of success has touched off debate among U.S. national-security officials about whether intelligence on the group has been adequate.

The struggle to understand the capabilities of the group reflects the difficulty of collecting detailed intelligence on its internal planning. "Collection is tough," one senior U.S. official acknowledged.

That is the challenge facing intelligence officials and the U.S. military as American warplanes launch waves of airstrikes. The success of the strikes may depend in part on how well the U.S. is able to read the group.

A decline in U.S. spy resources after the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq in 2011 has limited American intelligence capability in the region. In some cases, intelligence officials have been frustrated by the Obama administration's reluctance to get more involved in Iraq and Syria, current and former U.S. officials said.

Intelligence officials say that while they can assess a situation, they can't predict outcomes. "The will to fight is inherently difficult to assess," said Jeff Anchukaitis, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "Analysts must make assessments based on perceptions of command and control, leadership abilities, quality of experience and discipline under fire—none of which can be understood with certainty until the first shots are fired."

There have been indications along the way that Islamic State militants would move to control swaths of Iraq. But intelligence officers and policy makers have been slow to conclude the group would realize those ambitions—and quickly.

In late 2013 or early 2014, militants from the group that came to call itself the Islamic State held meetings with other Sunni groups to plot a major Iraqi offensive, the current and former U.S. officials said. The plan was to use Syria as a launchpad.

But the militants acknowledged they couldn't mount the offensive alone. They enlisted the help of others to plan operations to control parts of western and central Iraq, including a Baathist group operating out of Syria called Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi.

That group, known by the acronym JRTN, is believed led by a former top aide to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is probably in Syria. JRTN and other groups such as the Islamic Army of Iraq have added to the manpower and capabilities of the Islamic State militants.

In their annual intelligence briefings to Congress early this year, officials focused primarily on a different part of the Syrian threat—that posed by foreign fighters traveling to Syria and the potential for Syria to become another al Qaeda safe haven.

Gen. Michael Flynn, Defense Intelligence Agency Director at the time, warned lawmakers that the group now calling itself the Islamic State "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014." Whether they would succeed, he said, depended on how much local support they could muster and how well the Iraqi forces fought them off.

The first signs that the Islamic State was executing an Iraq plan came when the militants, working with the allied Sunni groups in Iraq, launched offensives on Ramadi and Fallujah. Although the Iraqi government was able to take those cities back, the move was a warning.

"When there were the ISIS efforts in Ramadi and Fallujah, it started to look pretty serious," said Seth Jones of the Rand Corp. think tank, who recently wrote a report on the rise of Islamic extremist groups. "The U.S. underestimated the capabilities and didn't quite understand what was going on with ISIS and these groups, particularly the ability to leverage weapons, fighters, and areas they controlled in Syria."

In the days before the June 10 takeover of Mosul, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency and others were studying the capabilities of Islamic State militants and what their future moves might be. There was significant disagreement over whether the group would be capable of taking Mosul, according to a person familiar with the debate. One intelligence official noted, however, that even the Islamic State itself didn't know how successful it would be.

There were indications then that militants were moving forces from Syria into Iraq, staging them in western Mosul. Brett McGurk, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Iraq told Congress last month that these indications prompted U.S. officials on June 7 to warn the Iraqis and recommend they deploy Kurdish Peshmerga militia forces to stave off the militants.

Instead, the Iraqis sent other forces, despite U.S. warnings that they wouldn't arrive in time. The Islamic State militants moved into Tikrit, north of Baghdad, a day later.

The Islamic State's rapid takeover of Mosul prompted the U.S. to step up intelligence collection, the senior U.S. official said, ramping up surveillance coverage of the group and establishing a joint-operations center so U.S. and Iraqi forces could more quickly share intelligence.

U.S. efforts provided better warnings a week ago when the militants began advancing on Erbil, capital of the Kurdish semiautonomous region.

Nonetheless, the U.S. was once again caught off guard by the effectiveness of militants and their ability to defeat the Peshmerga, seen as the most capable of Iraqi forces.

Days before the latest push by the Sunni militants, a senior defense official said that U.S. intelligence agencies had failed to properly warn about the potency of the Islamic State militants.

"There have been tactical failures, like the rise of ISIS," said the official.

Other officials, including Gen. Flynn, now say that throughout the Islamic State's intensifying offensive, the U.S. has consistently failed to predict their next moves.

"We underestimated the strength, the cohesion and the leadership of ISIL," Gen. Flynn said in an interview shortly before he stepped down Friday as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The group has grown stronger, better armed, and wealthier over the course of the year, he said.

An intelligence official said that spy agencies have been tracking the Islamic State fighters and their predecessor groups for years and have chronicled their rise in detail, as well as the weakness of Iraqi forces.

"This wasn't a U.S. intelligence failure," the official said. "It was an Iraqi military failure. The job of the intelligence community is to warn. We did that. If there was a surprise, it was in just how quickly Iraqi forces initially disintegrated when the shooting started."

DoD Releases "Update on Humanitarian Assistance Operations Near Sinjar, Iraq"

Update on Humanitarian Assistance Operations Near Sinjar, Iraq

Tonight, the U.S. military conducted another successful airdrop of food and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Mount Sinjar, Iraq.
This airdrop was conducted from multiple airbases within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and as with last night, included one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft that together dropped a total of 72 bundles of supplies. The cargo aircraft were escorted by two F/A-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush.
The C-17 dropped some 40 container delivery system bundles of meals ready to eat and was complemented by a C-130 loaded with an additional 16 bundles totaling 28,224 meals. In addition, one C-130 dropped 16 bundles totaling 1,522 gallons of fresh drinking water.
To date, in coordination with the government of Iraq, U.S. military aircraft have delivered 36,224 meals and 6,822 gallons of fresh drinking water, providing much-needed aid to Iraqis who urgently require emergency assistance.
The United States military will continue to work with the Department of State as well as international partners including the Government of Iraq, the United Nations, and non-government organizations to assess the need for additional humanitarian operations in Iraq going forward.

25 July 2014

Crowdsourced OSINT

There's a very cool online map of the unrest in Ukraine that allows for crowdsourced updates to current events.

24 July 2014

Units for Upcoming Afghanistan Rotation

DoD releases the units for upcoming Afghanistan rotation

DOD Identifies Units for Upcoming Afghanistan Rotation

The Department of Defense today identified three units to deploy as part of the upcoming rotation of forces operating in Afghanistan.
The scheduled rotation involves elements of one infantry brigade combat team (IBCT) with roughly 1,000 personnel (1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division); elements of one infantry brigade combat team with roughly 900 personnel (3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division); and elements of one combat aviation brigade with roughly 1,725 personnel (82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division) to rotate in fall 2014 in support of the combatant commander’s mission requirements. The deploying units include:
Brigade Combat Teams/Combat Aviation Brigades:

1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

18 July 2014

Ukraine 7/18: Russians (or their proxies) Shoot Down Civilian Airliner

The Russians are going into their kabuki dance of obfuscation, but it's obvious that either they pulled the trigger, or their kid-brother lapdogs in Eastern Ukraine did.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Friday blasted the "terrorists" he blamed for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine a day earlier, with 298 people aboard.
He called on all governments to back the investigation and "to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime."
Since the Malaysia Airlines jet fell from the sky above eastern Ukraine on Thursday, Russia and Ukraine -- which routinely uses the word "terrorists" to describe pro-Russian separatists -- have traded blame and accusations.
"Terrorists have killed almost 300 persons with one shot," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday. "Among them are women, children, citizens of different countries of the world."Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed the finger back at Ukraine, blaming its recent tough military operations against separatists for the volatility in the region.
Yatsenyuk called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to be held and for all nations to do everything they could to stop what he said was not now just a war in Ukraine or Europe, but a "war against the world."
Meanwhile, international inspectors headed to the crash site Friday to undertake the grim search for the plane's flight data recorders amid the human remains and debris strewn across fields near the town of Torez.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a cease-fire to allow a swift, independent investigation into what happened, adding that "there are many indications that it was a shot or rocket fired at the plane."

Here's a good list of links of as-it-was-happening news releases, too.

17 July 2014

Ukraine 7/17: Russian Anti-Air Support?

Now it looks like the Russians are shooting at Ukrainian aircraft, too.

An Air Force fighter jet has been shot down by an air-to-air missile fired from a Russian plane, a spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council said Thursday.

Andrei Lysenko also said Ukrainian troops had been fired upon by missiles from a village just inside Russia.

Officials in Kiev have recently accused Russia's armed forces of being directly implicated in attacks on Ukrainian troops battling an insurgency near the border.

Lysenko said in a televised briefing that the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet that was hit on Wednesday evening was forced to bail out after his jet was shot down. He provided no further details.

Pro-Russia rebels, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for strikes Wednesday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets.

The Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely.

16 July 2014

Comments from MG H.R. McMaster

In a long-ish interview with the local newspaper in Columbus GA (home of Ft Benning), MG H.R. McMaster had these rather interesting quotes, among many other bits worth reading.

I think one of the reasons we had this lopsided outcome in the Battle of 73 Easting of Desert Storm had a lot to do with our confidence, but also had a lot to do with the enemy.

There are two ways to fight the U.S. Army -- asymmetrically, which means you try to avoid our strengths, or stupid. And the Iraqis in 1991 chose stupid. They tried to meet us on our own terms so we could bring to bear all of our tremendous advantages. Now, what we have seen in the very difficult fights and long fights in Afghanistan and Iraq is that we are continuously interacting with an adaptive, determined -- and in these cases, a brutal -- enemy that is going to try and do everything they can to evade our strengths and attack what they perceive is our weaknesses.

So, that means we have to adapt faster. We have to innovate faster. We really have to understand these complex situations and understand how we operate to get to that sustainable outcome consistent with our interest and consistent with the risk our soldiers take, and worthy of the sacrifices the soldiers make.

So, in many ways the Gulf War was certainly easy compared with what we have encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan for a number of reasons. First of all, as I mentioned, the enemy met us on our own terms, but also we had a very narrow circumscribed political objective -- give Kuwait back to the Kuwaitis, and then we went into a long-term of detainment of Saddam. Obviously, the demands of the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan were much different and much more difficult, and we had to face an enemy that had adapted to us over time -- multiple enemies, actually.

15 July 2014

USAF Reorganizing High Level Headquarters

Defense.gov News Release: Air Force Announces Changes to Headquarters Organization

Air Force Announces Changes to Headquarters Organization

Air Force leaders announced changes to headquarters staff manning and organization today.
The Air Force will create efficiencies by deactivating and realigning organizations at headquarters Air Force, major commands (MAJCOMs), numbered air forces and field operating agencies, resulting in savings of $1.6 billion across the Air Force in the next five years.
"I will work to ensure the world's best Air Force is the most capable at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. "Everyone knows our economy is still not where it should be; we have a responsibility to ensure that every dollar adds value to the taxpayers and our national defense."
The changes are a result of a comprehensive effort to reduce overhead costs, increase efficiencies, eliminate redundant activities and improve effectiveness and business processes (also known as Air Force Management Headquarters Review). The efficiencies created through the reorganization will also help meet the Department of Defense's directive to reduce costs and staff levels by at least 20 percent, eliminating 3,459 positions at headquarters across the Air Force, both in country and at overseas locations. As part of ongoing cost savings initiatives, the Air Force will also continue to reduce contract spending, operating budgets and travel expenditures.
To minimize the effect on civilian personnel, the Air Force will initiate Voluntary Early Retirement Authority programs and Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay to foster voluntary reductions before pursuing involuntary measures. As part of ongoing efforts to responsibly shape the force, military members were offered a variety of voluntary incentive programs.
"We are aggressively pursuing reductions within the first year, rather than spread them out over five years as allowed by DoD," said James. "It's better for airmen because it provides them predictability and allows us to re-stabilize our workforce sooner. It also allows us to harvest the savings earlier so that we can plow it back into readiness and some of our key modernization programs."
The Air Force's goal is to go beyond the 20 percent reduction mandated by the DoD so any additional savings can be achieved from staff functions above the wing level, and set to provide additional combat capability to the combatant commanders.
"The Air Force has been making incremental changes in our business practices for the last several years, but we must change the way we are doing business if we are to meet the Air Force's goal to reduce staffing functions by more than 20 percent," explained Bill Booth, Air Force acting deputy chief management officer. "Reducing higher headquarters' staffs means we can save money that can be re-invested in getting ready for combat missions at the wing level."
The largest initiative will include centralizing policy and oversight of installation and mission support activities within a newly created Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center (AFIMSC), which will report to Air Force Materiel Command. Execution will remain at the local level.
"The current and projected fiscal climate make it essential to centralize management and streamline support to the maximum extent possible in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness, as well as deliver more standardized levels of service across the Air Force," Booth said. Support functions currently spread across the MAJCOMs' staffs will be centralized at the AFIMSC.
The Air Force will also make changes to the headquarters Air Force staff organization by splitting Operations, Plans and Requirements (A3/5) and Strategic Plans and Programs (A8) and reorganizing them into the new Operations (A3) organization which will stand alone and merge the planning staffs into the new A5/8 organization.
Also, the current programming functions from A8 will be merged into the service's financial management organization (FM).
"We will now have an organization, A5/8, that is responsible for developing, managing and constantly assessing an Air Force strategy that is bounded by long-range resource projections and another organization, FM, that deals primarily with the day-to-day budget activities involved in running the Air Force," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III explained. "Keeping organizations aligned will ensure we keep moving towards our long-range strategic goals despite the short-term budget upheaval we face regularly."
The Air Force will also realign several functions that currently report to the headquarters in an effort to better support combatant commanders and realign some field operating agencies to operational MAJCOMs, merge FOAs with similar missions and deactivate others.
The Air Force Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency is also being realigned from headquarters Air Force as a FOA to become part of a new operational numbered air force under Air Combat Command.
Realigning the Air Force ISR Agency into the new 25th Air Force within ACC ensures warfighting commands will have the best possible intelligence from integrated national and tactical ISR capabilities, while appropriately realigning operational activities and "organize, train and equip" responsibilities of the AF ISR Agency from execution by Headquarters AF to a MAJCOM.

Ukraine 7/15: Russian Air Support?

Are the Russians providing air support of the rebels?

At least six Ukrainian soldiers were killed in renewed attacks on government military posts and checkpoints by pro-Moscow separatists near the border with Russia, the Ukrainian military said on Tuesday.

There were also reports of an air strike killing four civilians in the small town of Snizhne, for which Kiev denied responsibility and appeared to point a finger at Russia - two days after Moscow threatened retaliation for the death of man when a shell landed on the Russian side of the border.

"Today at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) an unknown plane carried out a bombing attack on Snizhne. The flight can be described only as a cynical provocation," Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Defence and Security Council, told reporters.

His remarks appeared to be an accusation against Russia, since the rebels have not used aircraft in the conflict.

11 July 2014

Ukraine 7/11: Rebels Firing Back, in a big way

One wonders exactly where the Ukrainian rebels got ahold of Grad rockets...

Pro-Russian separatists have fired a big barrage of Grad rockets at Ukrainian troops in the eastern region of Luhansk, killing as many as 30, Ukrainian officials say.

Russian Grad rockets are classed as heavy artillery weapons, fired in batches from trucks.

Unconfirmed reports put the Ukrainian death toll as high as 30, with dozens more wounded, near Zelenopillya.

Last night rebels also shelled Ukrainian troops at Donetsk airport.

The rebels have regrouped in Donetsk as the Ukrainian military has retaken territory in the country's east. The rebels have not yet broken through to the airport.

A report by the human rights group Amnesty International has accused separatists of abuses in the three-month conflict.

06 July 2014

Nigerian Soldiers Heroically Repel Certain Death From All Sides!

Yes, it's an article that's officially from the AP. But you get the feeling from reading it that there were a few "government sources" involved in stringing it together.

Nigerian soldiers say they have killed at least 50 insurgents who stormed a northeast Nigerian military base.

The Defense Ministry said six soldiers including the commanding officer died while repelling the attack on the military base Friday, which witnesses say involved hundreds of extremists. The insurgents also attacked police station in Damboa, a town in Borno state.

The daring move appeared to be a reprisal attack after a punishing air raid 24 hours earlier caused Boko Haram Islamic extremists to suffer heavy casualties, according to an officer who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to give information to reporters.

05 July 2014

Ukraine 7/5: Government Ejecting Rebels From Strongholds

The 'rebels' have abandoned their Sloviansk stronghold.

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine say they have evacuated their eastern stronghold of Sloviansk amid a large-scale offensive by the military.

Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said the Ukrainian flag was flying over the city council building.

Separatist leaders said fighters had relocated in the face of the army's "overwhelming numerical superiority".

Ukrainian forces launched an offensive against the separatists this week after a 10-day ceasefire broke down.

The BBC's David Stern in Kiev says the military's capture of Sloviansk - where the eastern insurgency began in April - is a major victory for the government.

04 July 2014

The Declaration of Independence

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton


By: Brant

20 June 2014

Saddam-Era Chemical Weapons in ISIS's hands - Wait, wha?!

So the popular talking point among opponents of the invasion of Iraq in the US is that "there were no WMDs". Someone might want to tell ISIS, which just recently too control of a Saddam-era chemical weapons complex in Iraq. Soooooo... kind of wondering how long this myth is going to continue to persist in the American public.

The jihadist group bringing terror to Iraq overran a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons complex on Thursday, gaining access to disused stores of hundreds of tonnes of potentially deadly poisons including mustard gas and sarin.
Isis invaded the al-Muthanna mega-facility 60 miles north of Baghdad in a rapid takeover that the US government said was a matter of concern.
The facility was notorious in the 1980s and 1990s as the locus of Saddam’s industrial scale efforts to develop a chemical weapons development programme.
Isis has shown ambitions to seize and use chemical weapons in Syria leading experts to warn last night that the group could turn to improvised weapons to carry out a deadly attack in Iraq.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain’s chemical weapons regiment, said that al-Muthanna has large stores of weaponized and bulk mustard gas and sarin, most of which has been put beyond ready use in concrete stores.

Saddam-Era Chemical Weapons in ISIS's hands - Wait, wha?!

So the popular talking point among opponents of the invasion of Iraq in the US is that "there were no WMDs". Someone might want to tell ISIS, which just recently too control of a Saddam-era chemical weapons complex in Iraq. Soooooo... kind of wondering how long this myth is going to continue to persist in the American public.

The jihadist group bringing terror to Iraq overran a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons complex on Thursday, gaining access to disused stores of hundreds of tonnes of potentially deadly poisons including mustard gas and sarin.
Isis invaded the al-Muthanna mega-facility 60 miles north of Baghdad in a rapid takeover that the US government said was a matter of concern.
The facility was notorious in the 1980s and 1990s as the locus of Saddam’s industrial scale efforts to develop a chemical weapons development programme.
Isis has shown ambitions to seize and use chemical weapons in Syria leading experts to warn last night that the group could turn to improvised weapons to carry out a deadly attack in Iraq.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain’s chemical weapons regiment, said that al-Muthanna has large stores of weaponized and bulk mustard gas and sarin, most of which has been put beyond ready use in concrete stores.

16 June 2014

Ukraine 6/16: No Gas For You!

Russia has cut off the flow of gas to Ukraine, and is threatening the flow to the EU.

Russia cut off gas to Ukraine on Monday in a dispute over unpaid bills that could disrupt supplies to the rest of Europe and set back hopes for peace in the former Soviet republic.

After weekend violence that included the loss of 49 troops in the downing of a Ukrainian plane, Russia said Kiev missed a deadline for a $1.95 billion debt payment and it would now only get gas paid for in advance. It insisted that Ukraine must also ensure that it lets Russian gas flow through its international pipelines to Moscow's clients in the European Union.

Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for the failure to agree overnight on the price of future gas deliveries and refused to abandon well established positions: Russia offering a discount and Ukraine rejecting that as a tool for political manipulation.

The talks are bound up with the worst crisis between Russia and Ukraine since the Soviet Union collapsed and rising tensions over Saturday's shooting down of the aircraft by pro-Russian separatists in the east, an attack on the Russian embassy in Kiev and Western charges that Russia is arming the rebels.

"Thanks to the unconstructive position of the Ukrainian government, today a prepayment system was introduced," Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Russian state exporter Gazprom, told Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a somber meeting at a government residence at Gorki, outside Moscow.

He said Ukraine had "adopted a position that can only be called blackmail", adding: "They wanted an ultra-low price."

14 June 2014

Happy Birthday to the US Army



On this day in 1775, the US Army was founded. Been kicking ass ever since.

The June 14 date is when Congress adopted "the American continental army" after reaching a consensus position in The Committee of the Whole. This procedure and the desire for secrecy account for the sparseness of the official journal entries for the day. The record indicates only that Congress undertook to raise ten companies of riflemen, approved an enlistment form for them, and appointed a committee (including Washington and Schuyler) to draft rules and regulations for the government of the army. The delegates' correspondence, diaries, and subsequent actions make it clear that they really did much more.

Looking back over 5 years of GrogNews, what's the US Army story that most sticks with you?

By: Brant

12 June 2014

Remembering "Tear down this wall!"

Today is the anniversary of the President Reagan's famous Tear down this wall! speech in West Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The complete text can be found here.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!



2-1/2 years later, the wall was down.


Even Pink Floyd got into the act.



By: Brant

10 June 2014

Another Chinese Army Hacker Unit ID'ed

Looks like the US has ID'ed a 2nd Chinese Army "Unit" that exists primarily for hacking.

The email attachment looked like a brochure for a yoga studio in Toulouse, France, the center of the European aerospace industry. But once it was opened, it allowed hackers to sidestep their victim’s network security and steal closely guarded satellite technology.

The fake yoga brochure was one of many clever come-ons used by a stealth Chinese military unit for hacking, said researchers at CrowdStrike, an Irvine, Calif., security company. Their targets were the networks of European, American and Japanese government entities, military contractors and research companies in the space and satellite industry, systematically broken into for seven years.

Just weeks after the Justice Department indicted five members of the Chinese army, accusing them of online attacks on United States corporations, a new report from CrowdStrike, released on Monday, offers more evidence of the breadth and ambition of China’s campaign to steal trade and military secrets from foreign victims.

The report, parts of which The New York Times was able to corroborate independently, ties attacks against dozens of public and private sector organizations back to a group of Shanghai-based hackers whom CrowdStrike called Putter Panda because they often targeted golf-playing conference attendees. The National Security Agency and its partners have identified the hackers as Unit 61486, according to interviews with a half-dozen current and former American officials.

Sad Day in Afghanistan - 5 US Troops Dead in Fratricide Incident

Thoughts and prayers are with the families of 5 US troops killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Five Americans troops were killed in an apparent friendly fire incident in southern Afghanistan, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday, in one of the worst such incidents involving United States or coalition troops since the start of the nearly 14 year war.

The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly to journalists.

The U.S.-led international coalition said the service members were killed in an apparent friendly fire incident, which an Afghan official said took place in southern Zabul province. A statement said all five soldiers died on Monday but did not give further details on the attack or the nationality of the soldiers.

If confirmed, it would be one of the most serious cases involving coalition-on-coalition friendly fire during the war.

"The casualties occurred during a security operation when their unit came into contact with enemy forces. Tragically, there is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved. The incident is under investigation. Our thoughts are with the families of those killed during this difficult time," the coalition said in an announcement.

06 June 2014

Anniversary: D-Day Heroes, 70 years later

The full story of Teesside D-Day hero Stan Hollis - Gazette Live


One of the first things Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis recalled seeing on D-Day as he dashed onto Gold Beach on the Normandy coast was three tiny birds sitting on a roll of barbed wire.

The soldier next to him, looking up at the smoky, propeller-filled sky above, made a joke. ‘No bloody wonder they are there Sergeant Major, there’s no room in the air for them!’.

A few minutes later that same man was torn apart by an exploding mine. He was gone – the birds remained.

It is difficult to know what makes a hero. But the stark violence inflicted on an innocent man must have lit Stan’s touch paper and moments after that sight, Stan Hollis became one.

His heroic actions that day made him the only man among D Day’s 150,000-strong invasion to be awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest military medal given for valour in the face of enemy fire.

Twice he charged at the enemy single-handed, dodging bullets to save his men in what looked liked certain death missions.

Anniversary: D-Day, 70 years



(it helps when we change the post from "draft" to "publish")

04 June 2014

Anniversary - Tiananmen Square, 25 Years Ago



(yes, we know this photo was actually from the next day, but it's the iconic one that everyone associates with Tiananmen Square, despite being the next day, and not actually in the square)

02 June 2014

Reactions to the Bowe Bergdahl Release

Predictably, internal US politics have taken over every action by the government.
Several Republicans have spoken out against the deal, warning that it set a worrying precedent and amounted to negotiating with terrorists.

Mr McCain said the Taliban released were "possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands" and may have "the ability to re-enter the fight", in comments to CBS TV.

Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, told CNN that Washington had "now set a price" for al-Qaeda ransom threats.

Chuck Hagel: "No shots were fired - it went as well as it could have"
Questions were raised over the legality of the deal, after the Obama administration did not give Congress sufficient notice about the transfer of the Taliban detainees.

But US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is currently in Afghanistan, dismissed the criticism saying the military had to act quickly "to essentially save his life".

"We didn't negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting your prisoners back," he told NBC TV.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sgt Bergdahl's failing health had created an "acute urgency", making it "necessary and appropriate" not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirement.
The thing is, if they didn't make the deal, and it got out, you just know - I mean really know - that the republicans would've come out swinging at the administration for "abandoning" a soldier to the enemy.


Meanwhile, Whiny McBitchypants, AKA Hamid Karzai, is whining up a storm that he was cut out the dealmaking over the prisoner exchange, which likely contributed to its success.

The Afghan president is angry at being kept in the dark over a deal to free five Taliban leaders in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, and accuses Washington of failing to back a peace plan for the war-torn country, a senior source said on Monday.

The five prisoners were flown to Qatar on Sunday as part of a secret agreement to release Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who left Afghanistan for Germany on the same day.

The only known U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Bergdahl had been held captive for five years.

"The president is now even more distrustful of U.S. intentions in the country," said the source at President Hamid Karzai's palace in Kabul, who declined to be identified.

"He is asking: How come the prisoner exchange worked out so well, when the Afghan peace process failed to make any significant progress?"

Maybe if he hadn't been an obstructionist asshole for 10 years, we'd be more willing to work with him.
Maybe if he hadn't torpedoed the peace process several times...
Maybe if he hadn't used NATO troops as his personal hit squad.
Maybe if he hadn't objected to the successful village defense forces program.
Perhaps if he hadn't stifled free political speech that was publicly encouraging him to do something he was going to do anyway.
Or if he hadn't bragged openly about how he "stuck it" to the US on a security deal.
Or was insulting us as we're trying to save his country.
It's not like he's got a great track record of not being a dick.


01 June 2014

Welcome Home Bowe Bergdahl

Statement from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

A few hours ago, the family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was informed by President Obama that their long wait for his return will soon be over. Sgt. Bergdahl is now under the care of the U.S. military after being handed over by his captors in Afghanistan. We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family.

Also today, I informed Congress of the decision to transfer five detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Qatar. The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised. I appreciate the efforts of the Emir of Qatar to put these measures in place, and I want to thank him for his instrumental role in facilitating the return of Sgt. Bergdahl.

Sgt. Bergdahl's return is a powerful reminder of the enduring, sacred commitment our nation makes to all those who serve in uniform. The United States government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, nor did we stop working to bring him back. I am grateful to all the military and civilian professionals ­ from DOD and our interagency partners ­ who helped make this moment possible, and to all those Americans who stood vigil with the Bergdahl family.

30 May 2014

Friday Thinking

WarCouncil.org has an intriguing article titled Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets - But Should. Here's the thing - cadets don't know enough to know what they don't know. You need to be asking these of the cadets, but more importantly, you need to be asking these questions at the Captain's Career Course, where the answers can actually be used by the answerers...

  1. What is the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent?
  2. How do unmanned systems impact modern battlefields?
  3. Where are the human cognitive, psychological, physical limits with respect to combat?
  4. How does information (Big Data and You Tube) affect the conduct of war?
  5. How should we measure tactical effectiveness in counterinsurgency operations?
  6. How does seapower and airpower contribute to landpower?
  7. In what ways does strategic culture influence military operations?
  8. How does logistics impact military operations in expeditionary campaigns?
  9. What is the proper role for civilians in military operations?
  10. What does "victory" look like in modern war?

28 May 2014

cough*bullshit*cough

Eddie Snowball is out there claiming he "was a high-tech spy for the CIA and NSA". That smell you're detecting...?

In excerpts of an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Mr Snowden said he had trained as a spy "in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas - pretending to work in a job that I'm not - and even being assigned a name that was not mine".

But he described himself as a technical expert who did not recruit agents.

"What I do is I put systems to work for the US," he said. "And I've done that at all levels from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, 'Oh well, you know, he's - he's a low-level analyst.'"

But he said he had worked for the CIA and NSA undercover, overseas, and lectured at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

When Mr Snowden fled the US, he had been working as a technician for Booz Allen, a giant government contractor for the National Security Agency.

27 May 2014

Ukraine 5/27: Counteroffensive in the East

Ukrainian forces are fighting back and retaking part of the separatist areas.

Ukrainian forces fought with separatists in the city of Donetsk for a second day on Tuesday after inflicting heavy losses on the rebels and the government vowed to press on with a military offensive "until not a single terrorist" was left.

Pro-Russian rebels said more than 50 of their fighters had been killed. The mayor of Donetsk, an industrial hub of one million in eastern Ukraine, said the death toll in the clashes which erupted on Monday stood at 40, including two civilians.

A Reuters correspondent counted 20 bodies in combat fatigues in one room of a hospital morgue, some of them missing limbs.

"From our side, there are more than 50 (dead)," the prime minister of the rebels' self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Borodai, told Reuters at the hospital, adding that Ukrainian troops were now in control of the airport.

Ukraine used air strikes and a paratroop assault on Monday to clear rebels from Donetsk's international terminal and had pushed the separatists out of the complex by the end of the day.

But shooting continued through the night and on Tuesday the road to the airport bore signs of fighting overnight and heavy machinegun fire could be heard in the distance in mid-morning.

"The airport is completely under control," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told journalists in the capital Kiev. "The adversary suffered heavy losses. We have no losses," he added.

The Road Map of Russian Military Modernization

The Economist has a fantastic and concise look at Putin's military reforms and the context in which Russia is modernizing with the intent of projecting those forces on the "near abroad".

A first step was the appointment as defence minister in early 2007 of Anatoly Serdyukov, a 45-year-old former furniture salesman who was once part of Mr Putin’s St Petersburg clique. Something of a bulldozer, Mr Serdyukov was not afraid to take on the military top brass. But the real catalyst for modernisation was the 2008 war in Georgia. The brief campaign confirmed Mr Putin’s belief that Russia could use hard power in its near-abroad without risking a military response from the West. But it also laid bare the army’s failings. Ian Brzezinski of the Atlantic Council says: “The sloppy performance was a ‘come to Jesus’ moment in the Kremlin.” Russia achieved its goals, but with difficulty against a tiny foe.

Mr Serdyukov smashed through the remaining resistance. The size of the armed forces would be cut from 1.2m to about 1m. The bloated officer corps was to be slimmed by almost 50%, while the creation of well-trained NCOs became a priority. Conscription would stay, but better pay and conditions would create a more professional army. The reforms replaced the old four-tier command system of military districts, armies, divisions, and regiments with a two-tier system of strategic commands and leaner, more mobile combat brigades. Nikolas Gvosdev of the US Naval War College says: “The intention was to be able to throw force around in the region and create ‘facts on the ground.’”

A fast-rising defence budget provided more money for maintenance and training, allowing large-scale exercises to become routine, while funding pensions and housing for retired officers. Mr Serdyukov also set out to instil better accountability and to attack corruption that, by some estimates, was siphoning off a third of the equipment budget. But the biggest reform was a ten-year weapons-modernisation programme launched in 2010, at a cost of $720 billion. The aim was to go from only 10% of kit classed as “modern” to 70% by 2020. According to IHS Jane’s, Russia’s defence spending has nearly doubled in nominal terms since 2007. This year alone it will rise by 18.4%.

Reform backed by money has transformed Russia’s military effectiveness. Progress has continued even though Mr Serdyukov was replaced 18 months ago (ironically, after a corruption scandal) by the more emollient Sergei Shoigu. Yet attempts to create a more professional force and better NCOs have been only partly successful. There is a big gap between special forces, such as the GRU Spetsnaz who took over Crimea, the elite airborne VDV troops, and the rest. Conscripts, who only do a year’s service, cannot handle sophisticated equipment.

There are also demographic problems caused by a low birth rate and poor health: Russia has too few fit young men. The defence ministry likes to talk of a million men under arms, but the true figure is more like 700,000. Nor is it easy recruiting 60,000 professional soldiers a year. Mr Gvosdev points to glossy ads offering good pay and “a great life” but the army will struggle to meet its target of a force that is 40% professional. As for the re-equipment plan, the defence ministry’s definition of “modern” is slippery, says Keir Giles of the Conflict Studies Research Centre. It often just means newer versions of old designs. Better planes, helicopters, tanks, missiles and ships are getting through, but only slowly.

One reason is that the defence industry remains quasi-Soviet, inefficient and riddled with corruption. Much of its output is updated late-Soviet-era stuff. Until the T-50 stealth fighter appears in small numbers towards the end of the decade, the mainstay of the air force will remain upgraded SU-27s and MiG-29s that first flew in the 1970s. The navy is getting new corvettes and frigates, but the industry cannot produce bigger vessels: hence the order of two Mistral ships from France. The army is to replace Soviet armour with the Armata family of tracked vehicles, but not yet.