28 February 2011

Changes Coming to US Security Clearance Process

Defense.gov News Release: DOD Announces Improvements To The Personnel Security Clearance Process

The Department of Defense (DoD) released information today about improvements made to the personnel security clearance process. Over the past four years, the DoD has worked with the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Personnel Management to streamline processes, make changes to policies, introduce extensive information technology improvements, and eliminate a backlog of approximately 100,000 pending cases. These improvements led to a 72 percent reduction in the time it takes to process an individual’s security clearance – from an average of 165 days in 2006 to 47 days today.

"The substantive changes that we have made to our personnel security clearance process significantly enhance our safeguarding of classified materials and the quality of life of our service members and civilian employees," said Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.

The improvements also led the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to recently remove the DoD personnel security clearance process from its "high risk list." Originally added to the high list risk in 2005, removal of the personnel security clearance process marks the first time the GAO has removed a DoD area from the list since its 1990 inception. The GAO also credited the DoD with improving the quality and oversight of its investigative and adjudicative processes.

"The Department of Defense was steadfast in its commitment to substantially improve performance in this area,” said Deputy Chief Management Officer Elizabeth McGrath. “Not only because of the personal inconvenience experienced by individuals when navigating the clearance process, but also because delays in processing security clearances can cause delays in placing highly-qualified individuals in the cleared positions that need them. Additionally, the improvements made in the quality of our clearance decisions will ensure that we better safe-guard our nation’s critical secrets."

By: Brant

Military Maps: FEB ISAF Placemat

Click to enlarge

By: Brant

UK In Action: Building Route Trident

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army conduct a patrol during the construction of the next phase of Route Trident in Helmand, Afghanistan. This particular phase of the major road building project has seen the engineers tackle a challenging piece of terrain known as the “Culvert of Doom” close to the Patrol base at Nahidullah. The road is being solidly constructed using carpet-like membranes, tough plastic neo cells and high quality aggregates and stone, which should hold together well despite heavy vehicles and harsh weather conditions. Local people themselves are being employed to carry out some of the work which brings welcome cash into the area's economy. The route itself will enable trade and commerce for many years to come. The engineers have heavily committed to an operation to build across the Loy Mandeh. In the clear phase, the combat engineers provided explosive breaching to enable 2 Scots to break into insurgent strongholds. Holding work included the reinforcing of compounds, and the construction of Sangers. Route Trident is now being extended across the Mandeh. The terrain is harsh and challenging; requiring plenty of airborne initiative.

img from UK MoD

By: Widow 6-7

War Heroes: Last US WWI Veteran Passes On

The final living US veteran of WWI passed on in WV over the weekend.

He was repeatedly rejected by military recruiters and got into uniform at 16 after lying about his age. But Frank Buckles would later become the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I.
Buckles, who also survived being a civilian POW in the Philippines in World War II, died of natural causes Sunday at his home in Charles Town, biographer and family spokesman David DeJonge said in a statement. He was 110.
Buckles had been advocating for a national memorial honoring veterans of the Great War in the nation's capital.
When asked in February 2008 how it felt to be the last of his kind, he said simply, "I realized that somebody had to be, and it was me." And he told The Associated Press he would have done it all over again, "without a doubt."
On Nov. 11, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, Buckles attended a ceremony at the grave of World War I Gen. John Pershing in Arlington National Cemetery.
He was back in Washington a year later to endorse a proposal to rededicate the existing World War I memorial on the National Mall as the official National World War I Memorial. He told a Senate panel it was "an excellent idea." The memorial was originally built to honor District of Columbia's war dead.
Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States entered the "war to end all wars" in April 1917. He was repeatedly rejected before convincing an Army captain he was 18. He was actually 16 1/2.
"A boy of (that age), he's not afraid of anything. He wants to get in there," Buckles said.

By: Brant

Roundup of Rolling Stone Fallout

Following up on Michael Hastings latest attempt at scalping a general, there's a ton of commentary floating around the web.
The best one we've seen yet is over at Ink Spots. But as the story fully develops, it seems more and more that a disgruntled officer ran to a media-whore writer who'd been out of the spotlight for a little too long, and the writer over-reached for a sensationalist headline that just isn't true, even by stretching it.

So here's a roundup of what's out there to read about the article. Warning: if you're one of those that thinks Hastings is on to something, you're not going to like these links, because they deconstruct Hastings article and translate it into the truth that Hastings either (a) willfully ignores, or (b) intentionally obscures, or (c) isn't smart enough to understand.

Here's Ink Spots, talking about the "probably-legal-but-still-wildly-inappropriate influence operations"

Tom Ricks weighs in from his blog "The Best Defense" over at FP.com

Abu Muquwama says "Stay classy, Michael Hastings!"

Assoluta Tranquillita has a nice reference with their entry "On the cover of the Rolling Stone"

War On Terror News rounds up a handful of links, including several of the ones here.

The Washington Times says Rolling Stone is waging war on our troops.

The New York Times is a rare voice of reason here, too, as they do some basic journalism - y'know, confirming facts with more than one source, and providing some organizational context for the alleged 'illegal' assignments.

By: Brant

26 February 2011

Guns 'n' Gear: Open Carry and Related Matters

[Author's Note: Brant pointed out this article to three GrogNews contributors and said "Hey, could one of you post on this?" It turns that my friend and colleague JDPort took it and so did I. You can see his take on the topic a few posts before my own.]

The Washingtonian has a feature article on the open carry movement, including brief profiles on 3 women in Virginia who openly carry hand-guns. There are generally two different philosophies on open carry.

The first philosophy says that concealed carry is superior to open carry because it gives the law-abiding citizen the advantage of surprise over a criminal expecting a defenseless, unarmed victim.

The second philosophy, which I subscribe to, is that an openly-carried handgun is aligned with the three essential principles of personal security: avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation. These are well-presented in this thread on the Defensive Carry forums, along with the brilliant "three stupids rule," although I'm unsure who originated them. Specifically, an openly-carry handgun is a clear deterrent to a potential attacker and, if you are forced to use it, a presentation from an openly-carried holster will always be a little faster than presentation from concealment.

As an aside, one concern about open carry is that there is some small subset of bad actors who would view an openly-carried handgun as a "challenge" that entices them to provoke a confrontation with the armed citizen and demonstrate to their thuggish peers how "brave" and "tough" they are. This is not legal advice, but practically, that kind of behavior brings to mind the words of science-fiction author Larry Niven in Oath of Fealty: "Think of it as evolution in action."

Another reason that I favor open carry is that it demonstrates to the public that normal, upstanding members of the community and law-abiding citizens can and do carry weapons. We rarely shoot people and almost all of the people that we shoot deserved it.

So, do I open carry? No.

The legal status of open carry in the State of North Carolina, where I live, is ambiguous. Open carry is not explicitly prohibited, but there are various local ordnances that restrict "going about armed to the terror of the public." The area where I live is a "bubble" of upper-middle class families. I know from discussions with at least some members of this loose-knit community that they refuse to acknowledge the dangerous nature of the real world that exists just across a couple of major roads that form a (porous) border between neighborhoods in this area. This is, unfortunately, especially true of the women, who are generally either "soccer moms" or "trophy wives" (my own wife is thankfully neither) and far too likely become "terrorized" if they saw me walk into the local grocery store to pick-up some milk and bread with a 9mm on my hip. Of course, I think they would be thrilled to discover that the same 9mm was inside my waistband if I happened upon them being robbed, mugged, car-jacked, raped, etc. in the grocery store's parking lot. This is one of the many paradoxes of 21st-century suburban American life. I don't want to be the subject of a panicked "man with a gun" call to 911, which would at best be a hassle and at worst be lethal if the responding officer was a trigger-happy rookie not well-informed on the 2nd Amendment, so I don't carry openly.

If I lived somewhere, like Virginia, where open carry was more legally clear, I probably would do it. I'd like to see my own state's laws change, but I have little taste for political activism and I think there are higher-priority Second Amendment/personal security issues to be dealt with in NC in any case. For one thing, I would like to see the list of prohibited locations ("victim disarmament zones," as I call them) dramatically curtailed. I can accept no CCW in courthouses, police stations, and the like that are filled with LEO's. I feel reasonably safe there, although I would like for places like that to have a "gun check" (like a "coat check") where they could securely store my weapon while I'm conducting my business there.

However, I really have a hard time with many of the other no-CCW locations:

  • Banks? I was talking with a friend not long ago and this topic came up. I jokingly said, "Yes, in fact, I was going to rob a bank the other day, but then I saw the little 'no guns' sticker on the door. My plan was thwarted, I gave up, and went back to work."

  • Movie theaters? These are "victim disarmament zones" under the "any place that charges admission" restriction of the NC CCW law. What are they worried about here? Perhaps the legislators thought that too many citizens would take Chris Rock's hilarious comment from his Bigger and Blacker tour to heart: "Wow, this is a good movie! It's so good, I'm gonna bust a cap in here!"

  • Schools? No joking with this. A legally-armed citizen could have saved innocent lives at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and other active-shooter incidents.

  • Restaurants that serve alcohol? CCW in an actual bar is not a good idea and I know full well that alcohol and guns don't mix. In fact, I rarely drink alcohol at all any more, in part because I'm usually armed if I'm out-and-about. But if I go out to lunch with a colleague from work to grab a burger at a local grill that happens to serve beer and I'm not drinking, is the mere presence of alcohol going to drive me into some kind of homicidal rage? It would be analogous to banning people from driving to places that serve alcohol, because some of them might drink and then drive.

Once these issues are addressed, then maybe open carry is worth tackling in this state.

As always, this posting is not legal advice. You are responsible for knowing and abiding by the laws in your jurisdiction.

Until next time, keep your powder dry...

By: Guardian

25 February 2011

Designing Out Loud - Inspiration in Traffic

OK, so we don't have traffic around here like, say, DC or Houston or San Jose, but it's still enough that I have time to mull over ideas within this project. Here's what I'm currently putting together for some of the overall concepts...
Click on images to enlarge

Game Setup
Each player will have a mission briefing (roughly 1/2 page) that will have stand-up tabs to allow each player to see their side with their instructions. It will also give the opponent an intel briefing with some facts about your forces - estimated disposition/composition/capabilities and some expected missions based on this information. This gives him the ability to replicate some higher intel knowledge without simply looking at your forces.
The mission briefings will be tagged with letters A-? so that you can pair up potential scenarios. A card might have more than one letter on it, indicating that it could be used in multiple scenario combos. So a "Hasty Attack" mission might have letters A, C, D on it, indicating that it could be paired up with an opponent's missions with an A, C, or D on it, which might be A-Hasty Defense, B-Flank Cover, or C-Movement to Contact.*
Now, if you're doing a Hasty Attack, you've got certain parameters that your opponent will know about. They'll know that you're not expected to be in a defensive posture, so they're not likely to have any breaching assets given to them. They will have have some intel missions to ID certain types of your units by a certain point in time.
There might also be other specified tasks in your briefing, such as "seize a bridge" or "eliminate enemy recon".

Intel and Recon
I've been struggling with this one for a while now. So here's what I think I've come up with. Each phase, you can establish certain recon objectives. You do this at a command point cost, and you mark it on the command mat with 3 things: location, unit, action.
You mark the location in which you expect to find the certain enemy assets with an NAI counter placed face-down in a phase box. That location is keyed to the recon/maneuver grid. So the counter being placed on the grid has "NAI"** on the background and the letter/number combo on the front. With this counter is also a counter indicating what you expect to find, so some sort of generic unit type/echelon counter. Finally, you add a counter with a specific order/action, which can be anything from an artillery mission to a command point bonus to an additional movement for a specific unit.
So in your phase II box on your command mat, you might have an NAI counter designating B3 as a location you might find a tank platoon, and a +2 movement to a tank platoon bonus. That means that during Ph2, if you can get eyes on a tank platoon in B3, you can give a tank platoon a +2 move bonus somewhere on the map (either to react to the guys you just found, or elsewhere, freed to act by having located a threat somewhere else).

The game will play out over 4 phases, with each phase lasting until both sides have exhausted their command points for that phase. During each phase the players will have a designated mission for their different formations from a deck of cards. These missions are set out at the start of the game, but can be altered later for a command-point cost. You can build some FRAGOs*** into the missions for later, allowing you to pay a small command point cost now to avoid a much larger one later if you need to radically shift the mission.
Each type of mission will give bonuses to certain stats based on the type of mission.
You plan out your missions for each phase by sub-unit, and multiple sub-units can share a mission (you spend fewer command points doing this) but then are all working off the same set of numbers, even if their stats are modified differently (see below).
So on your command mat, you need to place, for each phase, your units and their missions as you order them. These need to be planned out well in advance, for changing them in the middle of the battle can be expensive.
So when Phase I is over, and combat is resolved, and the command points are reset and broken units are recovered/removed, and we're ready to move to Phase II of the battle, you'll pick up your Phase II cards and assign the relevant missions to your units on the battlefield.

Each card has 4 colored blocks on it that modify one of 4 things:
Fire (red) - Shoot from a distance
Assault (blue) - Close and destroy
Defend (green) - Shoot from set pieces
Recon (yellow) - Constantly moving
Units are rated for 3 different things:
Combat - primarily modified by the colors on the mission cards. Note that just b/c a unit has a bonus to "defend" doesn't mean it's an automatic bonus to "protection". It means they get a combat bonus when defending.
Protection - How hard units are to kill, significantly modified by terrain and orders.
Movement - very simple combination of how far / type (mtd/dsmt)

* Note that we're not constraining ourselves strictly to US Army doctrine/terminology, although it'll be loosely based on it.
** Annnnnnd, as soon as we say that we include a US doctrinal term: Named Area of Interest, a specific recon objective.
*** FRAGO = FRAGmentary Order, or a partial order that changes some aspect of a previous order.

By: Brant

Open Carry - the Conundrum

[Ed note: let's all welcome a longtime friend and new contributor to the gang...]

Washingtonian article on women who openly carry their firearms

So here is the conundrum - Do Open Carry regulations irresponsibly open the door in current gun laws to allow the general public to carry a personal weapon?  In this article by the Washingtonian, they discuss a handful of women who go to the mall "strapped" - in a bad way.

The reality is that the Open Carry laws enable lawful gun owners to walk the streets with a personal weapon, so long as that weapon is in full view - not hidden by a coat, or in a purse.  This means that in many states, you can walk into certain establishments with your personal weapon.  Naturally, some places prohibit this either by law or expressly by the owner of the establishment - banks, schools, some retail establishments etc.

However, this raises two core issues for this experienced shooter -
1.  Because Open Carry circumvents Concealed Carry requirements, many Open Carry participants may have little or no training in the firearm.  This exposes the general public to risks.  Naturally anti-concealed carry advocates (and this author) would argue that CC training is also too limited and does not balance the gun owners right to own and carry a gun with a private, law abiding citizen's right not to get shot in the "Spray-and-Pray" mindset of the untrained shooter.

2.  Open Carry also applies to larger weapons as well.  For instance, during a recent political rally, a member of one side arrived at the protest with a loaded assault rifle.  There is no practical reason for an assault rifle to fall into the personal protection domain - especially not for a trained shooter.  In fact, this weapon, in this environment is simply intimidation, and its mere presence in this domain borders on an assault.

I won't even address the risks of irresponsible gun ownership around children, which some of these mothers clearly seem to have a passion for. . . .

We have to remember that common sense is anything but - and that lawful gun ownership is responsible gun ownership.  While I am not anti-2nd Amendment, the current laws on the books, enable us to own responsibly.  Abusing these rules, and antagonizing the public is simply a way for us to all lose these rights to a crazed minority.

By: JDPort

Random Friday Wargaming: Where There Is Discord

After a name change that was, uh... "inspired" by the BBC (or at least by their lawyers), I Counted Them All Out became Where There Is Discord, a solo game of the (first?) Falklands War in '82, at the operational level.

Where There Is Discord: War in the South Atlantic at BoardGameGeek

Discuss at ConsimWorld Forum - Where There Is Discord: War in the South Atlantic

It's sold out, but the company page is here at Fifth Column Games.

Master links/images from Boardgamegeek.com; message boards linked to Consimworld. Other links to the actual game pages...

By: Brant

Was It Really PsyOps? Or Standard Briefing Practices for VIPs? (UPDATED)

There's a lot of flap about Michael Hastings' new Rolling Stone article about supposed 'psyops' folks targeting US VIPs.

When Holmes and his four-man team arrived in Afghanistan in November 2009, their mission was to assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population. But the following month, Holmes began receiving orders from Caldwell’s staff to direct his expertise on a new target: visiting Americans. At first, the orders were administered verbally. According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their "hot-button issues." In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to "refine our messaging."

Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds." The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"

One thing that jumped out at me was the desire of the info on the congressional reps: voting records, campaign stances, etc.

If some S3 flunky had been tasked for that instead of the psyop team, would we still be wringing our hands over this?
If the psyop team got the tasker because there wasn't enough psyop work to do to keep them busy, and the general thought they were capable of handling it, does that make it an inherent psyop mission?

Now, there seem to be enough other concerns elsewhere in the article to be worth investigating more deeply, but some of the 'issues' that Hastings/RS raise are not (to me) worthy of the level of hype they're being given, in part b/c I think the authors/editors lack some context on how those taskers get assigned and how regularly those sorts of things happen in other places with other functional specialties.

Hell, it happened w/ us in '95 in California during the Apache Longbow trials. We were briefed on the incoming VIPs that were there to see what we were doing, including whether or not they were hostile to the program and its funding.

There's a lot of commentary all over the web on this one, but the best I've found yet is over at the blog Ink Spots.
More links to other coverage:
Danger Room at Wired.com
Tom Ricks at FP.com
Exum/Abu Muquwama at CNAS.org

By: Brant

Are Tactical Failings Really Technical Ones?

MG(R) Scales has some hard questions in a new article about small unit dominance (from Armed Forces Journal asking whether or not the gizmos at the soldier level are really the right ones.

We are better now. Today, we have the best-trained soldiers and Marines in the world. Since 9/11, the ground services have made enormous strides in pushing the latest gear to soldiers in the field using the Rapid Fielding Initiative. We know that investments made recently to better equip soldiers are saving lives. In World War II and Vietnam, an individual infantryman cost about $1,900 to equip. The “ratio” of killed to wounded in small-unit action in both those wars was about 1 to 3.4. Investments in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased to $17,000 per infantryman. The killed-to-wounded ratio is now about 1 to 9, and the casualty rate has decreased from 3 percent to less than a third of 1 percent within close-combat small units.

Investments have been sufficient to make small units better. But occasional incidents in places such as Fallujah and Sadr City in Iraq and Forward Operating Base Keating and Wanat in Afghanistan make it evident that the American military hasn’t come as far as it should in its ability to dominate in the tactical fight. Failure to dominate at the tactical level to the degree we are capable is all the more incongruous because success in today’s “hybrid” wars is achieved by the patient and often dangerous application of force by thousands of mostly Army and Marine squads, platoons and teams. These small units patrol and operate principally from isolated outposts and forward operating bases, along primitive roads and trails, and among the people within villages and towns.

This incongruity is amplified with the realization that our tactical failures are nothing new. In World War II, infantry was the third most deadly job behind submarine and bomber crews. In a half century of wars fought after World War II (a period often termed “the American Era of War”), submarine and bomber crew combat deaths have dropped to virtually nil. Yet as a proportion of total combat deaths, infantry has increased from 71 percent in World War II to 81 percent in wars fought since. Thus four out of five combat deaths have been suffered by a force that makes up less than 4 percent of uniformed manpower within the Defense Department. Half of those deaths occurred while simply trying to find the enemy and almost all occurred within less than a mile of contact. In Afghanistan, 89 percent of all deaths occur in small units and more than 90 percent occur within 400 meters of a road.

The final incongruity comes with the realization that soldiers and Marines — those most likely to die — are, when compared with their colleagues from other services, often the very ones still least well-equipped and trained for their very dangerous calling. Since World War II, our air and sea forces have dominated in their respective domains; ground forces have not. Put aside the humanitarian aspect for a moment and consider the national strategic consequences of this cosmic incongruity. Our enemies from Lin Piao to Ho Chi Minh to Osama bin Laden all recognize that our vulnerable strategic center of gravity is dead Americans. Thus it comes as no surprise that the common thread among all of our enemies over the past half-century has been the imperative to kill Americans not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. So why don’t we do better at lessening our strategic vulnerabilities by doing a better job of preserving the lives of those most likely to die? The answers are many and complex.

By: Brant

Boeing's Lobby Dollars Trump Mission Effectiveness (UPDATED)

Look, the USAF tried every way they could to dick up the tanker deal. Really.
They sent details of the rivals bids to each other.
They had a Ukranian company bid on the project.
They pissed off Northrup so much that they told the Air Force to suck their jet fuel and let EADS front the bid themselves.
And they had Lou Dobbs shouting a populist sermon that focused on job creation, regardless of the net effect on actual, y'know, combat missions.
So after Boeing has been running non-stop Washington radio and TV ads for a year about the EADS tanker (if anyone has a transcript or recording, please let me know) finally cashes in their hard-spent lobbying / bribery / public psy-ops campaign dollars with the award of the new tanker contract.

Here's the official DoD release of the KC-46A Tanker Contract Award.

The Department of the Air Force announced today the award of an engineering and manufacturing development contract valued at more than $3.5 billion for the KC-46A aerial refueler to Boeing Co. of Seattle, Washington.

The Air Force-led selection effort included experts from the larger Department of Defense community, including the office of the Defense Secretary's staff and independent review teams during each step of the process.

"Many factors were evaluated during the tanker selection process,” said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.

Selection "took into account mission effectiveness in wartime and life cycle costs as embodied in fuel efficiency and military construction costs," said Donley, emphasizing that both offerors met all the mandatory requirements.

“The thorough and transparent selection process was marked by continual dialogue with offerors to ensure the Air Force had a clear understanding of their proposals and the companies clearly understood the service's analysis of their offers,” said Donley.

"Gen. Schwartz and I are confident in the fact that when our young pilots, boom operators and maintainers receive this aircraft, they will have the tools they need to be successful at what we ask them to do," Donley said.

"To the men and women of our Air Force, today's announcement represents a long-overdue start to a much-needed program," Donley said. "Your Air Force leadership, supported by others throughout the Department of Defense, is determined to see this through, and we will stand behind this work."

The program will deliver the first 18 aircraft by 2017. Basing decisions for the aircraft will take place over the next couple of years.

Look, we called this a while ago. There was no way Congress was going to buy a European design over a US one during a recession, even if Boeing's was made with concrete and had 3 wings and square landing gear. So everyone remember this moment if/when we ever have planes unavailable for CAS b/c we couldn't keep enough tankers in the air near the combat zone. It was more important to put constituents to work in voting districts than it was to put steel on target in support of soldiers in harm's way.

If you doubted the headline...

The Center for Responsive Politics has this damning comparison of lobbying expenditures.
In 2010, Boeing spent more than $17.8 million on lobbying expenditures, placing it first among companies in the defense aerospace industry. In contrast, European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS) only spent $3.2 million on lobbying during the same period, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of lobbying data finds.

And based on the numbers being thrown around for the deal ($35B for 179 planes, $3.5B for the first 18), you're looking at aircraft that cost $194M each, +/- a few hundred thousand. That's a lot of lobbying dollars built in.

By: Brant

24 February 2011

Ah the Free Markets... Everywhere but the Defense Industry

Ironic that the largest 'free market' economy in the world spends trillions of dollars in an inherently closed market with a limited number of providers.

There are obvious reasons for that. One is the powerful vested interests who resist making consequential changes. The other is intellectual. It is impossible to think seriously about defense budgets and Pentagon resource allocations without a clear idea of what we expect our military to do -- and why. In other words, the place to begin is with interests, needs and means. We don't do that. The production of strategic statements has become an art form for obfuscating half-baked ideas and flawed logic. Its main reference points, beyond an extrapolation of the status quo, are domestic politics and intra-governmental turf battles. This holds for budgetary plans as well.

To be honest, we're navigating without a strategic gyroscope and only the most primitive of compasses. There is no strategic design -- certainly not an explicit one -- that is coherently articulated. Instead, there is an arithmetic tabulation of threats. There's the Islamic terrorists. There's China. There's defending Latvia from the Russians. Then there's oil from the Persian Gulf. Then there's the Western Hemisphere with Hugo Chavez and drug cartels. Then, then.... Implicit in this iterative approach is the assumption that our tolerance for any magnitude of threat is zero, that we must prepare for threats 'over the horizon,' and that we must be pro-active. There is a logic to this way of thinking, however rudimentary. But only if you can count on infinite resources -- and if you cannot imagine that any of our actions may be counter productive for national security. Alas, neither is correct. Any tacit recognition of the former is unaccompanied by any strategic assessment worthy of the name.

The 9/11 decade has been dominated by the 'war on terror.' Its huge appetite for resources, including time and energy, has been matched by the progression of perceived security needs it has spawned. The commitment to a dominant physical presence in Southwestern and Central Asia is the outstanding example. Let's look at each in turn. Our vast expenditures in Afghanistan and Iraq to little beneficial effect testify to the obsession with Islamic terrorism. They are explicable only in terms of the Twin Towers trauma and the newfound sense of vulnerability it created. Looked at objectively, the losses we suffered -- however dramatic -- do not figure high on a scale of possible attacks against to the United States. Certainly not compared to what a couple of thousand Soviet nuclear warheads could do to us.

By: Brant

UK In Action: HMS Northumberland Hard to Starboard

Royal Navy frigate HMS Northumberland makes a hard turn to starboard during an 'anti-swarm' exercise. HMS Northumberland had the opportunity to get some valuable training conducted whilst at sea during her Middle Eastern deployment. The ship, its Merlin and sea boats took part in an anti-swarm exercise, training her crew in how to deal with a terrorist attack from the sea. HMS Northumberland’s mission is part of a multi-national effort to disrupt terrorist and organised crime smuggling routes that provide both supplies and finances to terrorist organisations. This involves the ship operating for extended periods in the harsh and uncomfortable environment of the Middle East.

img from UK MoD

By: Widow 6-7

Help Out ConSimWorld

If you're a grognard, you're probably familiar with ConSimWorld. And if you're not - why the hell not?! Either way, this is the final week of their annual fundraiser, so hop over there and give them a hand and maybe win a few cool prizes, too.

This is the final week of the ConsimWorld Fundraiser. Thanks to everyone for their tremendous support…we are humbled by the graciousness of so many of you who have decided to show your support by participating in this program. If you haven’t contributed yet but you may still be swayed in doing so, we thank you for your final consideration.

By: Brant

Tanker Follies Wrapping Up Today?

Will today's pending announcement put the US Air Force tanker contract issue to bed? Or just another chapter in a political-economic fight?

The US Defense Department is set to announce the winner of a $35 billion Air Force aerial refueling tanker contract fought over by Boeing and European rival EADS for nearly a decade.
Congressional aides told AFP the award of one of the biggest procurement contracts in US history would come Thursday.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the matter.
The Defense Department is seeking to replace 179 tankers in an aging US Air Force fleet of Boeing KC-135s that date back to the 1950s.
In the high-stakes, politically charged battle, US aerospace giant Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, parent of France-based Airbus, delivered their final bids by last Friday's deadline.
EADS is looking like the favorite to land the contract, said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute think-tank based just outside the US capital.
"Judging from the frequency with which Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter has been talking up the notion of a 'globalized' defense market recently, European aerospace giant EADS is the winner," Thompson said in an online blog.
Thompson said the Air Force would announce the winner Thursday after the financial markets close.

By: Brant

Medal Of Honor Recipient Recalls Battle Of Iwo Jima

Aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, Hershel "Woody" Williams recalled the bloody Battle of Iwo Jima, in which he earned the Medal of Honor. Williams is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the battle.
Williams' mission that day in 1945 was to help clear a path for his comrades. He braved enemy machine guns, snipers and mines. He did it with a flamethrower.

Gripping a nozzle attached by a hose to a 70-pound tank strapped to his back, he shot the liquid flames into enemy positions for four hours while dodging bullets and repeatedly returning to safer areas to refill his tank.

At one point, he climbed atop a Japanese pillbox and stuck the nozzle of the flamethrower through the pillbox's air vent, killing the troops inside. When enemy riflemen tried to stop him with their bayonets, he charged them and destroyed them with a burst from the flamethrower.

Williams' only protection during the assault came from four Marine riflemen, two of whom were killed that day.

His actions allowed the Marines to push past a key Japanese stronghold. Before the month long fight was won, almost everyone in Williams' unit, the 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, had been killed or wounded. He suffered a shrapnel wound later in the battle.

In all, 6,821 Marines and corpsmen died or went missing on Iwo Jima, and an additional 25,851 were wounded.
By: Shelldrake

What is in Japan's New Plans for Defense?

So what does Japan's new defense reorganization look like?

The December 2010 adoption of Tokyo's new defense guidelines - the so-called National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) first adopted in 1976 and subsequently updated in 1995 and 2004 - transform Japan's security and defense policies from 'basic' to 'flexible and dynamic', in essence meaning that Japan now reserves the right to upgrade its military capabilities, increasing its defense expenditures beyond one percent of GDP - a self-imposed limit that has served as a guiding principle of Japanese defense policy for decades.
For an allegedly 'pacifist' country equipped with a constitution that does not allow for the maintenance of armed forces, it is remarkable that Japan should now contribute to regional stability by "increasing the activity" of its defense hardware and "clearly demonstrating its advanced capabilities", according to the guidelines.
Although Tokyo will not (at least not yet) equip itself with 'real' offensive military power projection capabilities, the defense guidelines are clearly aimed at equipping Japan's military capabilities to react to crisis scenarios that go beyond the defense of Japanese territory on the Japanese 'mainland.'
In reaction, mainland China's policymakers expressed little concern for the possible implications of the defense guidelines for actual Japanese defense and security policies, instead stressing that Japan's warnings about China's military rise were misguided. The assertion that "China's military development and the lack of transparency are matters of concern" was dismissed as "irresponsible" and "totally groundless" by the state-controlled China Daily. To be sure, China's recent public announcement that it would speed up the development of an aircraft carrier fleet (to be deployed in the East China Sea) confirmed that Japan's concerns might be anything but groundless and irresponsible, at least from the standpoint of Japan's defense planners.
The defense guidelines will be accompanied by a re-structuring of Japan's armed forces, including a very noteworthy upgrade of the country's naval and coast guard capabilities. Until 2012, 21 new patrol ships and seven new reconnaissance jets will be added to the Japan Coast Guard fleet to be dispatched to where the (potential) 'action' is: the East China Sea.
In addition, Japan's navy will increase the number of its AEGIS destroyers from four to six. AEGIS destroyers are equipped with antimissile systems and are at least in theory able to shoot down incoming North Korean Nodong missiles aimed at downtown Tokyo in less than 10 minutes. The number of Japanese submarines will also be increased from 16 to 22, while the number of tanks will be reduced from 600 to 400.

By: Brant

23 February 2011

Iranians in the Med

Wow... I'm sure this would make an interesting variant for CoA's Persian Incursion game, but Iranian warships are loose in the Med after transiting the Suez Canal.

Two Iranian warships have sailed through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea, canal officials say.

Iranian officials have said the warships are heading to Syria for training, a mission Israel has described as a "provocation".

The ships exited the canal at 1330 GMT, a canal authority source told Reuters.

It is believed to be the first time since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution that Iranian warships have passed through the waterway.

By: Brant

How About We Bill You For Policing Costs

Really? Really?! The Baghdad city government wants the US to apologize for the damage done to their city by blast walls? Hey look, fucktards, if you didn't have a completely corrupt and sectarian police force that let suicide bombers run free for 4 years, maybe we wouldn't have needed the blast walls to keep your fucking police stations intact.

The Baghdad city government is demanding the United States pay $1 billion and apologize for damage to the city caused by blast walls erected during the nearly eight-year long war.

City officials filed a lawsuit in an Iraqi court against the U.S. military, a media official said Thursday. He did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the situation.

In an official statement posted late Wednesday on its website, the local government said U.S. forces had marred the "beautiful city."

Blast walls "put up at the pretext of security" damaged the sewage system and sidewalks, caused traffic jams and paralyzed business, the statement read.

City officials want an official apology and $1 billion to pay for the damage.

However, Kamil al-Zaidi, the head of the Baghdad provincial council said Iraqi security forces should also share responsibility for the miles of concrete barriers that crisscross the capital.

"The Iraqi security bodies, not only the Americans, bear part of the responsibility for putting up these walls," he said.

Al-Zaidi added that the concrete barriers have helped saved lives and protect government buildings during the waves of deadly bombings that have struck Iraq over the years.

By: Brant

Australia In Action: F/A-18s Inbound

The latest tranche of Australia's F/A-18F Super Hornets are about to land at RAAF Base Amberley.

image from Australian MoD

By: Widow 6-7

Libya is Coming Apart

Gadhafi ain't leaving, and the protesters are claiming success in other cities across Libya...

Heavy gunfire broke out in Tripoli as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi tightened their grip on the Libyan capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere and top government officials and diplomats turn against the longtime leader.
While residents of cities in the eastern half of the country celebrated, raising the flags of the old monarchy, the mood in Tripoli was bleak. Residents were afraid to leave their houses, saying pro-Gadhafi forces were opening fire randomly in the streets.
International outrage mounted a day after Gadhafi vowed to defend his rule and called on supporters to crack down on anti-government protesters. Gadhafi's retaliation has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East.

Gadhafi is vowing to die as martyr and fight the revolt.

A defiant Muammar Gaddafi said on Tuesday he was ready to die "a martyr" in Libya, vowing to crush a growing revolt which has seen eastern regions break free of his 41-year rule and brought deadly unrest to the capital.
Swathed in brown robes, Gaddafi seethed with anger and banged the podium outside one of his residences that was damaged in a 1986 U.S. bombing raid that attempted to kill him. Next to him stood a monument of a fist crushing a U.S. fighter jet.
"I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr," Gaddafi said on state television, refusing to bow to calls from his own diplomats, soldiers and protesters who braved a fierce crackdown to clamour in streets for him to go.
Huge popular protests in Libya's neighbors Egypt and Tunisia have toppled entrenched leaders, but Gaddafi said he would not be forced out by the rebellion sweeping through his vast oil producing nation of just 7 million people, which stretches from the Mediterranean into the Sahara.
"I shall remain here defiant," said Gaddafi, who has ruled the mainly desert country with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969.

Odd the Gadhafi is refusing to leave as a coup boils up. I mean, who recognizes the legitimacy of coups, anyway? Oh, wait...

By: Brant

Anniversary: Most Famous US Military Photo

Today is the anniversary of the photo of Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
image from Wikimedia

By: Brant

22 February 2011

Sound Off! Common Core Training vs Narrow Specialities

Which would you rather have your troops be?

Experts in narrow fields?

Common core training with limited specialization?

Sound off in the comments with your thoughts!

By: Brant

Economics And Pentagon Budgeting

Forbes has an interesting economic article on defense budgets, claiming that Adam Smith isn’t welcome in the defense industry.

General Electric and partner Rolls-Royce Group suffered a major setback last Wednesday when the House of Representatives voted not to fund a high-performance jet engine the two companies are developing for use on the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. GE’s engine is designed to compete with a propulsion system that the Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies has already developed to equip 2,400 single-engine F-35s being bought by three U.S. military services and thousands more being bought by overseas allies. The company contends that competition would reduce the price and improve the performance of both engines over the life of the program. But 123 House Democrats joined with 110 Republicans to remove funding for fiscal 2011, meaning that the GE-Rolls engine is in jeopardy if the Senate fails to provide funding and then prevail in a conference between the two chambers to reconcile spending measures.

The setback hardly comes as a shock. Pentagon policymakers have argued every year since 2007 that GE’s “alternate engine” is a waste of money that would duplicate efforts already made to develop the Pratt & Whitney propulsion system without providing corresponding benefits. No other item on the F-35 is being competed, and no other military aircraft developed in the last 30 years has utilized engines from multiple sources. Still, it is somewhat surprising that the Pentagon’s opposition to the purchase of competing engines won the support of so many Republicans. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be big believers in competition and the discipline that market forces can impose on buyers and sellers alike? Why would they pass up the opportunity to have competing engine sources for the military’s biggest aircraft program — and instead choose to rely on a single company to build and support F-35 engines over the next 40 years?

When you get beyond the immediate concerns with deficits and jobs, the real reason the GE engine was rejected is that many members just don’t believe competition works in the defense business the way it does in normal markets. And why should it? There’s only one buyer in the market — the government — and that monopsonistic customer is often motivated mainly by non-economic considerations. Modern weapons are often so complex that there are only two or three competent suppliers for any given system, and once a major award is won, the company that prevails becomes a monopoly supplier of the system in question. Barriers to entry are very high, with a handful of participants dominating the market. This is not the sort of setting in which Adam Smith’s invisible hand is likely to play much of a role. In fact, it’s the closest thing America’s economy has produced to socialism.

By: Brant

21 February 2011

NEWS: More Libyan-nities

At least 2 Libyan air force planes have fled the country and landed in Malta.

Two Libyan air force jets landed in Malta on Monday and their pilots asked for political asylum amid a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters in Libya, a military source said.
The two Mirage jets landed at Malta International Airport shortly after two civilian helicopters landed carrying seven people who said they were French. A military source familiar with the situation said the passengers had left in such a hurry that only one had a passport.

Were they trying to not take part in a reported air force attack on protestors in Tripoli?

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is employing fighter jets to bomb civilians protesters of his regime around the capital Tripoli.

Military planes and helicopters have wrought havoc around the Libyan capital as the 40-year-old dictatorship of Gaddafi is struggling for survival against the massive pro-democracy wave rapidly taking over the country in a follow-up of the revolutions in its other Arab neighbors Tunisia and Egypt in the recent weeks.

Al Jazeera has cited witnesses as saying that the military planes and helicopters continue to bomb the protesters targeting anything that moves, be it a person or a car, in the vicinity of the Libyan capital.

Meanwhile, two Libyan fighter jets with a total of four crew members have landed in Malta as the crews fled a Libyan military base in Benghazi, 1 000 km east of Tripoli, allegedly because they refused orders to bomb protesters. Two civilian helicopters with seven French citizens, who worked on an oil platform, also arrived in Malta seeking asylum.

By: Brant

Bye Bye Gaddafi?

According to British sources Libyan dictator and local bully Muammar Gaddafi is fleeing to Venezula. Good riddance!
Leaving talks in Brussels after agreeing an EU statement demanding restraint and an end to violence by the Libyan regime, Mr Hague said he had no firm knowledge but went on: "I have seen some information that suggests he is on his way there at the moment."

British officials indicated the Foreign Secretary was not referring to any media speculation but other sources.

The Foreign Secretary spoke to reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers focused on the revolts sweeping across Libya and other countries in North African and the Middle East.

During a day of talks on an EU response to the Libyan crisis, all EU foreign ministers were being kept updated, but only Mr Hague seemed confident enough to volunteer a likely bolthole for the Libyan leader.

Several media had also reported rumors that Gaddafi was headed to Venezuela. Chavez and Gaddafi have visited each other and enjoy warm political relations.
By: Shelldrake

UK In Action: Guarding Route Trident

A member of 2 Scots mans a machine gun as members of 9 Parachute Squadron 23 Engineer Regiment construct the next phase of Route Trident. This phase has seen them tackle a challenging piece of terrain known as the “Culvert of Doom” close to the Patrol base Nahidullah. The road is being solidly constructed using carpet-like membranes, tough plastic neo cells and high quality aggregates and stone, which should hold together well despite heavy vehicles and harsh weather conditions. Local people themselves are being employed to carry out some of the work which brings welcome cash into the area's economy. The engineers have heavily committed to an operation to build across the Loy Mandeh. In the clear phase, the combat engineers provided explosive breaching to enable 2 Scots to break into insurgent strongholds. Holding work included the reinforcing of compounds, and the construction of Sangers. Route Trident is now being extended across the Mandeh. The terrain is harsh and challenging; plenty of airborne initiative has been required.

img from UK MoD

By: Widow 6-7

BUB: Life in the Arghandab

The Arghandab Valley in Afghanistan is currently the closest thing to a front line out there. The stories are varied, and compelling, and at times make you really wonder how informed some of the strategic decisions are.

The story of demolishing villages to "save them" sounds remarkably Vietnam-esque...

On October 6, 2010, Lieutenant Colonel David Flynn, charged with clearing a tiny village in the Arghandab district of southeast Afghanistan, called in 49,200 pounds of rockets and aerial bombs, leveling it completely. According to Paula Broadwell, a former adviser to General David Petraeus, Flynn believed that the village of Tarok Kolache was empty of civilians and full of explosive traps. The Taliban, Broadwell recounted for ForeignPolicy.com, had "conducted an intimidation campaign" to chase away the villagers and promptly set up shop inside the village. In earlier attempts to clear it, Flynn's unit had taken heavy losses, including multiple amputations from homemade explosives and several dead. He decided the only reasonable way to "clear" the mine-riddled village was to bomb it to the ground. When Tarok Kolache's residents tried to return to the homes their families had maintained for generations, they found nothing but dust. Flynn offered them money for reconstruction and reimbursement, but getting it required jumping a long series of bureaucratic hoops, some of them controlled by notoriously corrupt local politicians. Flynn, and later Broadwell, who is also writing a biography of Petraeus, declared it a success.

As soldiers arrive on the battlefields of Afghanistan, they face enormous expectations to show "progress." It is an impossible situation: the military's counterinsurgency strategy requires, by all accounts, years to implement and even longer to succeed. Yet officers are pressured, both by political considerations in Washington and command expectations in Kabul, to accomplish big objectives on very short time frames. Because it's rare for a tour of duty to last more than 12 months, commanders are severely constrained in what choices they can make. It's difficult to be slow and deliberate when one must show progress, right now, in time for a Congressional hearing or a strategic review. Those pressures constraint incentives and shape day-to-day decision-making. Officers, perhaps understandably, look for ways to demonstrate short-term gain, sometimes at the cost of long-term success. Today, Tarok Kolache is "cleared." Three years from now, when the Obama administration says it will begin reducing troop numbers, how stable, safe, and anti-Taliban will its remaining villagers really be?

Tarok Kolache is the kind of horror story that always accompanies war. "This is not the first time this has happened," a platoon leader who served in Kandahar recounted to me. There, the destruction of mined villages is common. Last November, the New York Times reported that demolishing unoccupied homes and towns had become routine in several districts in Kandahar. Because the war has displaced an estimated 297,000 Afghans, many of whom will flee during extended violence and later return, homes are often empty. In October, the Daily Mail quoted this same Lt. Col. Flynn as threatening villagers with their town's destruction if they did not report Taliban activity to his soldiers (the village in that story, Khosrow Sofia, was later burned to the ground much like Tarok Kolache). In neighboring Helmand province--even more violent than Kandahar--Marines have explicitly threatened villages with destruction if local civilians didn't volunteer the locations of near IEDs.

But as explained in several outlets, the tactical reasons were absolutely sound, even if the strategic ones were a little fuzzier.

To clarify something from Broadwell’s post, Flynn sent his men into the villages to attempt to clear them out — but there were just too many bombs. A July raid on Khosrow Sofla was repulsed by the density of the explosive charges. A Special Forces sergeant told Flynn it was the “most sophisticated IED network he had ever seen.”

A different clearing operation had to be turned back after his men discovered there were more bombs than they had material with which to safely detonate them.

That led Flynn to seek out alternatives. “It was comforting to know” that the civilians had fled, because “we [could] employ the full suite of our weapons systems” — everything from grenades to .50-cal machine guns to attack helicopters and close air support — “without worrying about killing civilians.”

The alternatives before him were stark: He could take out the buildings. Or he could keep moving in on foot, with more of his men getting maimed or killed. And if he cleared the villages without taking out the buildings, he couldn’t know that Afghans would be safe moving back into them, since the Taliban had rigged them to detonate.

So by late September, Flynn called together Tarok Kolache’s malek and the other area residents to let them know that he was planning, essentially, large-scale demolitions. “We didn’t show them a plan and say, ‘We’re going to destroy everything in the village, is everyone OK with that?’” he says.

“But they were made aware there would be significant collateral damage in the village. People didn’t say, ‘Yeah, blow up the village,’ but they kind of understood — they’d been at war for 30 years. This was the biggest fight that had gone on in the district.”

What's life like for those foot patrols out there? The Atlantic has one of the most engaging and tense stories about a platoon on the ground that you will find.

Knollinger called for a medevac, and soldiers lifted Moon onto a stretcher and carried him into a plowed field, away from the crater and any secondary bombs. Back at the combat outpost, a dozen soldiers piled into four armored trucks and sped down Route Red Dog to provide added firepower against follow-on attacks. Moon lay in the sun. The bleeding had stopped. A half-dozen soldiers stood or knelt around him. “Where are the medevac birds?” Moon asked. He faded toward unconsciousness. “Wake up, Moon!” a soldier yelled. “Stay with me!” Gerhart, blood smeared across his uniform, stepped away from Moon and toward me, his voice low and quivering. “He’s gonna fucking die, man.” The trucks arrived, and soon after, the helicopter could be heard on the horizon, beating toward us. “Water,” Moon said, his voice a low moan. “Water, please.”

Shooting at medevac helicopters had become standard procedure for insurgents, so as the bird approached, low over the fields, soldiers in the gun trucks and on the ground opened up. In a rising racket of machine-gun and rifle fire, bullets shredded trees and kicked up dust in the grape furrows. The helicopter settled into the field and soldiers shielded Moon as dirt swirled over them from the rotor wash. They loaded Moon onto the bird, and his partner, Rush, climbed in beside him. The helicopter lifted and the gunfire ebbed. Knollinger crossed himself. For the next two hours, soldiers scoured the pomegranate orchard, the canal, and a marijuana field for pieces of Moon’s equipment, weapon, and legs, all of which had been scattered across a 100-foot radius. They found some of each, and walked home.

This had become a near-daily occurrence for Charlie Company. “The enemy knows if he punches you in the nose, and you sit down, he’s won,” Charlie’s commander, Captain Ryan Christmas, had told me two days earlier, on the Fourth of July. “But if you come back with a strangle move, you’ve won.” As I stood with Christmas in Charlie’s command post, more grim news crackled from the radio. A bomb had ripped through a foot patrol, wounding two soldiers and killing one, Specialist Clayton McGarrah, who had been in Afghanistan eight days. He had set down his backpack on a hidden mine’s pressure plate. “Another tough day,” Christmas said, and pressed his fingers to his temples. “I can’t even see his face. That sounds terrible, but he just wasn’t here that long.” Christmas had done three other Afghanistan deployments and one to Iraq, but this had been the most trying. Every day since he had taken command of Charlie a month earlier, his men had been sniped at, ambushed, or blown up. “All our family and friends are home right now eating hamburgers and shooting fireworks,” he told me. “And that’s good. I’m happy for them. But they need to understand the price of that freedom.”

And as the war progresses, the enemy is getting younger and younger, and is going to force the US into some interesting quandaries about whether or not to return fire.

U.S. Staff Sergeant Aaron Best made no apologies as his soldiers escorted 14-year-old Ahmad, blindfolded and handcuffed, onto their outpost in southern Afghanistan for questioning.

"Don't be fooled," said Best, "I have detained so many teenagers. These fighters are getting younger and younger."

Ahmad, whose real name has been concealed to protect his identity, was picked up by a U.S. patrol along with a 15-year-old boy in Arghandab, in southern Kandahar province, one of Afghanistan's most volatile regions, because they were behaving suspiciously.

Ahmad and his friend were hiding in vegetation, observing the soldiers, when they were spotted. The boys scurried away and when Best's men finally caught up to them they tried to resist arrest, making the soldiers even more suspicious.

Both boys, along with several older detainees picked up on the patrol, tested positive for traces of ammonium nitrate on their hands, a chemical found in gunpowder and explosives. Ammonium nitrate is also found in certain fertilizers and, although they are banned in Afghanistan because they can be used to make homemade bombs, they are still used by some farmers. The detainees could simply have been farm laborers.

Ahmad and the others were kept overnight for questioning by Afghan police and released the next day to village elders who said they would vouch for them.

Whether or not Ahmad and his 15-year-old friend had been laying homemade bombs or had even fired weapons at U.S. troops before, Best's men will probably never find out, but the arrests illustrate a worrying trend reported from soldiers on the ground: that they are encountering an increasingly younger fighter.

"Over the last eight to nine years there has been a dynamic change in the age of fighters. Most fighters now are between 14 and 18 years-old," said Lieutenant Colonel Guy Jones, commander of 2-508th Parachute Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, based in Arghandab.

"In 2002, fighters were 22 to 30-years-old and commanders were between 32 and 40," said Jones who is on his fourth tour in Afghanistan.

By: Brant:

19 February 2011

Massive Indian Naval Exercises

The Indian navy is holding large western front (read: Pakistani-side) wargames.

India has amassed its western and eastern naval fleets on the western seaboard for intensive combat manoeuvres in the entire Arabian Sea, in what will be one of the largest maritime exercises in recent times.

The warships, including aircraft carrier INS Viraat, Delhi-class destroyers, Kilo-class submarines and Talwar-class frigates, among others, are backed by Sea-Harrier jump-jets, IL-38 and Dornier-228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Kamov-28 and Seaking anti-submarine warfare helicopters.

Many "assets" from IAF, Army and Coast Guard, including Jagaur maritime strike jets and Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, amphibious combat units and smaller warships are also being deployed for 'Tropex' or the theatre-level readiness and operational exercise. The largescale exercise's "actual tactical phase" will kick off on February 14. "Over 50 types of warships and scores of aircraft are taking part in it to sharpen combat skills as well as validate doctrines and concepts," said a source.

Read more: Navy to flex muscles in western front wargames - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Navy-to-flex-muscles-in-western-front-wargames/articleshow/7428462.cms#ixzz1EJIeteng

By: Brant

Dazzler Delay Dooms Defenseless Drivers

Did over-lawyered Pentagon weenies sit on gear that could've saved lives in Iraq? Danger Room thinks so.
Military bureaucrats needlessly blocked U.S. troops in Iraq from getting laser weapons — tools that could’ve kept civilians from getting killed. That, in a nutshell, is what the Pentagon’s Inspector General concluded after an investigation of the Marine Corps’ botched attempts to send the nonlethal lasers to the war zone.

It’s a major mea culpa, but it comes with an important caveat: Sure, the Marines’ pencil-pushers mishandled the urgent request for lasers, first issued five years ago. But that doesn’t give today’s front-line commanders an excuse for circumventing the bureaucrats.

The background to the IG’s investigation is a tragic one. During the bloodiest phase of the Iraq war, native civilians, long accustomed to barreling through traffic in their compact cars, would unwittingly speed toward U.S. military checkpoints.

They looked a lot like suicide bombers. Startled Americans would yell, flash their Humvees’ headlights and even fire warning shots — often to no effect.

Iraqi roads are too chaotic, and many warnings simply too ambiguous. Faced with a last-second decision to open fire or risk a suicide blast, the Americans often opted to shoot the driver.

There’s no telling how many Iraqis died this way. Compounding the tragedy is the possibility that it was all preventable.

As early as the spring of 2006, the Pentagon admits, an inexpensive bit of off-the-shelf technology could have given U.S. Marines at their checkpoints in western Iraq a better way of warning off approaching drivers. But the tech — a nonlethal laser gun that “dazzles” drivers and forces them off the road — ran afoul of the Marines’ weapon-developing bureaucracy.

The laser dazzlers were nine months late when they finally arrived in Iraq in late 2006. In the interim, as many as 50 innocent Iraqis were killed in checkpoint shootings, according to one Marine study.

“The lack of a nonlethal laser dazzler capability increased the risk of unwarranted escalation-of-force incidents and the difficulty of safeguarding civilians,” the Inspector General’s report (.pdf) notes.

“The decision to delay,” the report adds, “was unnecessary.”

By: Brant

18 February 2011

Chinese Cyber Spies Attack Canadian Government Departments

A recent cyber attack on Canadian government departments might have given Chinese hackers access to classified defence data, among other sensitive material.
Foreign cyber hackers who attacked federal government departments could have been looking for information on weapon technology and natural resource policy, an expert in China's cyber spying program says.

The attacks, revealed by CBC News, targeted the Finance Department, the Treasury Board and Defence Research and Development Canada.

It's unclear what information the hackers, believed to based in China, were after.

Charles Burton, who teaches Chinese politics at Brock University and has written extensively on Chinese cyber spying programs, said that in the case of DRDC, the hackers were looking for information on new weapons.

"Canada has access to secrets that are shared with other Western industrial countries, such as the United States, with regard to sophisticated weaponry. And the Chinese government would have strong interest in getting hold of technologies," Burton said.

In the case of the Finance Department and the Treasury Board, Burton said, the hackers may have been looking for evidence of new international plans to pressure China to revalue its currency.

"With regard to the Treasury Board, the hackers would be able to get information about the passwords of key government officials that would then give them access to a wide range of classified data," Burton said.

But the hackers are interested in more than defence and economic information, he said.

China also has great interest in Canada's resource sector — oil and gas in particular, where it's a big investor. Companies in those fields have been targets for hackers in the past, although the source has never been pinned down.

Information on evolving federal government resource policy would give China useful information as it continues to expand its investments in Canada.

"Natural resources and the oil sector are very important to them, and there have been allegations of Chinese sources also hacking into computers of companies involved in those particular areas as well," Burton said.

China has denied any responsibility for the attacks.
By: Shelldrake

Random Friday Wargaming: Boots on the Ground

Here's our new highlight on wargaming, focusing on modern warfare.

The first game we're showing off? Boots On The Ground from Worthington Games.

Boots on the Ground at BoardGameGeek

Go check out the full game info here over at Worthington Games: Boots on the Ground.
Boots on the Ground is the new Worthington Games series that puts you in the middle of the action. Start your mission as the Team leader of an elite group of shooters. Your team consist of a Demo expert, Heavy Weapons Expert, Medic, Scout, Sniper and you, the leader. During your briefing you are told your objectives and known intel on the area. As always, intel always changes once the Boots are on the ground. Move your force through the urban area facing an unknown number of insurgents coming from you at all angles. As the team leader you decide if you stay as a group or send out your specialist to eliminate the enemy with their special skills. Also come on the field with another team, you and another player can fight the insurgents together as Alpha and Bravo team, while the insurgents move and engage both teams with equal resolve race to see which team can complete the objectives first.

Master links/images from Boardgamegeek.com; message boards linked to Consimworld. Other links to the actual game pages...

By: Brant

Second-Order Effects

In attempting to wire-up Afghanistan, have we unwittingly given them the motivation to resist our efforts at democratization? The NY Times "At War" blog shares...

What worries me most as a veteran of Afghanistan is how those village elders with whom I drank chai daily will react to the wave of protests and coups in their brother Arab countries. I’m not talking about the more developed areas around Kabul or Kandahar, but the isolated villages where the Taliban roam and intimidate freely. The leaders of these villages were raised in deep-seated and conservative manifestations of Islam. We in the West may have looked upon the governments of Tunisia and Egypt as dictatorships. But let us empathize with these Afghan tribal elders as they listen to their radios today, hearing of coups toppling leaders, using things like Twitter and Facebook for coordination.

If I were a senior tribal elder in Zhari, I’d look upon these countries and see Egyptian and Tunisian women walking freely outside without escort and without burqas. I’d look at these nations’ youthful resistance as a severe sign of disrespect toward elders, and thus a violation of the patriarchal value system our faith honors. If I were an Afghan tribal leader, it would be easy to designate former Presidents Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt as victims of their own leadership philosophies — their failure to instill Islamic discipline in the countries they command. I would view their investments in education and communication as the kindling of their downfall.

It’s hard to tell a tribal elder to liberalize his village and let women go to school when he hears of such threats to power happening in other Muslim countries. If I were a tribal elder wanting to retain an Islamic community, it might even be in my best interest to further isolate my village from the toxins of the Internet and equal gender rights to keep away future threats to what is the true Islamic way of life. But the free flow of information, be it through modern or primitive means, is the key to a successful democracy. If grass-roots Afghan leaders view this information flow as a threat to their authority, what are the implications for our goal to democratize this country and leave it more stable than we found it.

By: Brant

17 February 2011

UK In Action: Amphibious Spartan

A Spartan Armoured Personnel Carrier hits the beach during an amphibious demonstration in Hampshire. Members from the 1st Mechanized Brigade were involved in the Maritime Component Power Demo held at Browndown Beach, Gosport on the 28th October 2010. The event took place in October 2010 for the ISCC (Immediate Staff Command Course) which involves Royal Marines coming a shore along with members from the Royal Welsh Regiment.

img from UK MoD

By: Widow 6-7

16 February 2011

BLOG: Sketchpad Warrior

Go check out Sketchpad Warrior for some great art by a USMC combat artist.

click image to enlarge, or go to the site to see it

By: Brant

Unrest in MidEast to Affect US More Directly?

One place to pay attention during the current uprisings, Bahrain - home to 5th Fleet and CENTCOM Forward.

Unrest surging through the Arab world has so far taken no toll on the American military. But that could change if revolt washes over the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain — longtime home to the U.S. Navy's mighty 5th Fleet and arguably the Middle East anchor of U.S. defense strategy.
The discontent that has spilled into the streets of Bahrain's capital, Manama, this week features no anti-American sentiment, but the U.S. has a lot at stake in preserving its dominant naval presence in the Gulf.
In announcing that it is "very concerned" about violence linked to the protests, the State Department on Tuesday underscored Bahrain's strategic importance as a U.S. partner.
"The United States welcomes the government of Bahrain's statements that it will investigate these deaths, and that it will take legal action against any unjustified use of force by Bahraini security forces," said department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We urge that it follow through on these statements as quickly as possible."
The 5th Fleet operates at least one aircraft carrier in the Gulf at all times, along with an "amphibious ready group" of ships with Marines aboard. Their presence is central to a longstanding U.S. commitment to ensuring the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping an eye on a hostile Iran and seeking to deter piracy in the region.
Anthony Cordesman, a Mideast defense specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Bahrain has security services capable of handling protesters and potentially backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of banner-waving protesters took over a main square in Manama Tuesday in a bold attempt to copy Egypt's uprising. The demonstrations capped two days of clashes that left at least two people dead, and the king made a rare address on national television to offer condolences for the bloodshed.
"It is a serious problem, but whether it's going to flare up any more seriously this time than all the other times is hard to say," Cordesman said. "The question is whether they can shake the security structure of the state."
The implications for U.S. foreign policy and national security from the pro-democracy movements that have arisen in the Arab world — highlighted by Egypt's stunning revolution — is likely to be a topic Wednesday when Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies before the House Armed Services Committee.
Bahrain became a more prominent partner for the Pentagon after the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq; since then it has granted U.S. forces increased access, plus permission to store wartime supplies for future crises.

By: Brant

Australia In Action: Training In Afghanistan

Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Hopwood mentors Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers from the 3rd Kandak Heavy Weapons Company on the M2 HB Browning .50-cal machine gun, at the ANA base in Tarin Kot, southern Afghanistan.

image from Australian MoD

By: Widow 6-7

15 February 2011

Sound Off! Airpower v Soft Power

In order to bring about a change in another country's behavior, which is more effective?


Soft Power?

Sound off in the comments with your thoughts!

By: Brant

DoD 2012 Budget Announcement

The DoD has released a press release, with linked documents, for much of the 2012 Defense Budget. Anyone feel like digging into it for some comments?

President Barack Obama today sent to Congress a proposed defense budget of $671 billion for fiscal 2012. The request for the Department of Defense (DoD) includes $553 billion in discretionary budget authority to fund base defense programs and $118 billion to support overseas contingency operations (OCO), primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The fiscal 2012 budget continues the DoD reform agenda, seeking additional efficiencies across the entire defense enterprise, while also strengthening our national security capability.

“This budget represents a reasonable, responsible and sustainable level of funding, the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary, given the security challenges we are facing around the globe,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The $553 billion for the base budget provides funding to take care of our people, which is our highest priority, and also provides substantial funding to build capability for possible future conflicts. The OCO portion totals $117.8 billion, $41.5 billion below the fiscal 2011 request of $159.3 billion. The proposal reflects the planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2012 and a modest decline in funding for Afghanistan operations.

While this budget request seeks continued efficiencies in 2012 and beyond, the absence of an appropriation for fiscal 2011 threatens to cause serious inefficiencies and problems this year. The current continuing resolution, if it remains in effect for the rest of the year, will lead to delays and inefficient, start-and-stop management. It will rob the DoD of the flexibility needed to manage effectively, especially in time of war, and it will not provide the Department with enough resources to maintain training and support while also paying bills for military pay, benefits, and inflation. In short the continuing resolution represents a crisis at our doorstep, and the DoD strongly urges the Congress to pass a defense appropriation bill as part of the overall legislation to fund government activities in fiscal 2011.

Highlights of the proposed DoD budget are outlined in the attached summary and charts. For more information and to view the entire fiscal 2012 budget proposal, please visit http://www.budget.mil and download the “FY 2012 Budget Request Overview Book.” Budget-related transcripts can also be viewed at http://www.defense.gov/transcripts.

By: Brant

Oy Vey! Always Wit' Da Tankers, Again!

Yep, the Pentagon set a new deadline for the aerial refueling tanker contract. Again.

The U.S. Defense Department said on Monday it hopes in the next month or so to award a contract, worth roughly $35 billion, for 179 Air Force tanker aircraft, capping a saga that began almost a decade ago.
Chicago-based Boeing Co is vying for the deal against Europe's EADS, parent of Toulouse, France-based Airbus.
Last February, a senior U.S. military officer, outlining a rematch between the bidders at a Pentagon background briefing, cited a range of $25 billion to $50 billion for the deal's potential value.
"The contract is valued at approximately $35 billion," said a summary of the Defense Department's proposed 2012 budget as President Barack Obama sent his spending plan to Congress.
The department is seeking $900 million for new tankers in fiscal 2012, which starts October 1, and hopes "to make an award within a month or so," Robert Hale, the Pentagon's chief financial officer, told a briefing.

Boy, can't wait for more Boeing ads between traffic reports on WTOP in DC! If only they'd occasionally tell the truth in those ads, eh?

By: Brant