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Military Affairs

Short-sighted Partisan Politics Makes For Bad Decisions

And nothing could make that point better than this:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he’s asked for in next year’s budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.

Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.

Candidate Obama was pretty darn sure that these interceptors just weren’t needed because, you know, they just weren’t! Russia isn’t our enemy anymore and we get along fine with China – where’s the threat?!

Well during the entire lead up to the 2008 presidential campaign, North Korea and Iran were flinging missiles around right and left each, seemingly, with longer ranges and larger carrying capacity.

Ignored. In fact, as I recall, Obama dismissed Iran as not much of a threat at all. Something about Iran being a ‘tiny’ country that ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Certainly not one that required a missile defense.

Politics. All politics. Nothing based in reality, but instead dismissive rhetorical hand-waves designed to please the base. And those who controlled Congress picked up on the tune and danced to it.

Now, suddenly, by doing almost exactly the same thing they’ve done for some years, North Korea has managed to resurrect the need for a missile defense?

Why now?

Well that’s easy. Now they’re governing, suddenly not having an armed missile land on friendly territory during their watch is a priority.

Politics. The only real reason they opposed it previously is because the other side wanted it.

Of course, if questioned about why this is different than when NoKo and Iran did this sort of thing the last few times, I’m sure they’d find a way to spin it that they think wouldn’t make them seem so short-sighted, petty and partisan (read the article, there’s plenty of spin included).

That won’t change the fact one bit that they were indeed short-sighted, petty and partisan.

~McQ

The Soldier of the Future?

So what will an infantryman look like in 2030? Well, here’s the vision (and I might add, this has been the vision in one version or another, for decades):

Future Soldier?

Future Soldier?

Some interesting comments in the NY Post article about this concept:

Aided by “smart drugs,” enhanced with prosthetics, and protected by a lightweight suit of armor, this soldier of the future possesses near super-human capabilities and weapons that would make even Iron Man jealous. He’s suited up in an “exoskeleton” – essentially a Storm Trooper-esque external shell – that allows him to carry heavy loads. Electronics integrated in his outfit allow for simultaneous language translation, automatic identification of potential foes, and video-game-like targeting. If the soldier is tired, overworked, or injured, neural and physiological sensors automatically send an alert to headquarters.

A networked battlefield has been a military dream ever since computers and networks was first understood by the institution. The upside is pretty obvious – the ability to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence. Fewer people necessary to cover more ground. Command, control and communication are enhanced in ways that aren’t possible right now. Joint ops would be a snap. And some excellent force protection technology too boot.

The other side of that is our tendency to display an bit of an over reliance on technology. Technology is not a tactic or a strategy – it’s a tool. The fact that you field a networked battle force doesn’t mean an automatic win. Of course that’s been evident in the low tech battlefields on which we’re engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Used as a tool, and given the amount of enhanced training that will be necessary for the lowest of privates to use it effectively, it could be something that gives us an edge in the type of warfare in which we’re engaged now, and certainly an edge on a conventional battlefield. What we have to remember, however, is technology isn’t a substitute for tactics or strategy.

~McQ

About That Nuclear Non-Proliferation Goal …

North Korea says “no”:

North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a ruling party official as saying.

YTN Television quoted the South Korean weather agency as saying it detected a tremor indicating a test at 0054 GMT (8:54 p.m. EDT).

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had called an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers over the test, Yonhap said.

Well that ought to keep ‘em buzzing around in DC for a day or two.  I wonder if we’ll finally figure out that anything that NoKo agrees too in the future isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?

~McQ

A Day With The Hurricane Hunters (update)

I had a unique experience this week.  That was the opportunity to fly with a very unique military unit. Unique in the sense that they’re the only one like it in the US military. I’m speaking of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the “Hurricane Hunters”, based at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS.

The opportunity was one I just couldn’t pass up, so on Tuesday, I and a few other bloggers from as far away as Chicago, hooked up with the 53rd for a 3 hour flight in one of their 10 WC-130J “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft.

crewOf course we were first initially briefed on the history and capabilities of the squadron. The squadron is comprised entirely of Airforce reservists. Yet they carry a full mission load. So in addition to their monthly training and their 2 week annual training, these folks average 120 more days of active duty time a year.

That’s a lot of time away from home for a part-time job. But they obviously love it. The pilot of our flight had been doing it for 17 years and the AWRO (Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer) said she’d been bashing her way into hurricanes for 23 years.

The normal crew for a hurricane mission is 5 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, AWRO and loadmaster).  Depending on the length of the mission, which can last up to 12-14 hours, they may take a second crew with them.
at-work
Do they actually penetrate the hurricane?  Yes.  In fact they fly right through it, from side to side, through the eye.  Last year during the hurricane season, they made 162 flights through the eye of hurricanes.

Their work normally begins with a low-level investigation.  Naturally forecasters are intersted in what effect the storm is having at sea level.  So, if its a tropical storm, they may begin looking at it at 500 feet.  As it becomes a hurricane, they step their approaches up.  A Cat 1 may see them go in at 1,500 feet and so on.

They never go higher than 10,000 feet, even though these storms may be as high as 50,000 feet.  That’s because of icing primarily and lightning strikes secondarily.  Icing begins at about 14,000 feet.  So while they’re equipped to do deicing, it puts the aircraft at further risk that is just not necessary to do the mission.

When Katrina was building, these folks were flying through her at 10,000 feet and sending invaluable information back to forecasters.  Obviously their work has helped both forecasters and meteorologists learn a lot about the behavior of these storms.   But more importantly, the Hurricane Hunters have helped sharpen landfall forecasting by 30%.  What that means is when you see a storm track which shows where the hurricane might make landfall, it’s a 30% smaller footprint than it would be without the information the squadron provides forecasters.

It is estimated that it costs $1 million to evacuate a single mile of coastline.  That reduction of 30%, depending on where the storm is forecasted to go, can mean eliminating the need to evacuate 50 to 100 miles of coastline.  Or more simply said, because of that, the cost of all the missions they’ll fly in a year are normally paid for by the savings produced by one mission.

Their area of operations is from the international date line west of Hawaii to the Atlantic ocean.   That is a huge AO.  Additionally they fly winter storm missions as well.   In all a most impressive group.  If you’re interested, you can read more about them here.

Having taken the 3 hour flight (a simulated mission and a low-level pass over New Orleans), I’m now on a list to fly into an actual hurricane with them.  That’s just too cool.  So, with hurricane season starting on June 1st, I’m standing by and hoping for an opportunity (they said it could take up to 3 years) to snag one this year.

Update: I forgot to mention that there was TV media on the flight as well, and this was headlined as the “first blogger flight in the history of the Airforce”.  So we were as much the story to them as the flight was to us.  Here’s a local TV station’s treatment of the story.  I don’t know who the “Bruce McSwain” guy is, but what is he says is true.

~McQ

[Photos by Cindy Morgan]

Welcome To Bizarro World

Sy Hersh, not yet ready to leave the evil cabal of Bush/Cheney alone, has concocted a real beaut this time and is peddling it on Arab TV (what other media outlet would be open to this stuff?), just in time to inflame the unwashed masses in the Middle East:

Former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on the orders of the special death squad formed by former US vice-president Dick Cheney, which had already killed the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafique Al Hariri and the army chief of that country.

The squad was headed by General Stanley McChrystal, the newly-appointed commander of US army in Afghanistan. It was disclosed by reputed US journalist Seymour Hersh while talking to an Arab TV in an interview.

Hersh said former US vice-president Cheney was the chief of the Joint Special Operation Command and he clear the way for the US by exterminating opponents through the unit and the CIA. General Stanley was the in-charge of the unit.
Seymour also said that Rafiq Al Hariri and the Lebanese army chief were murdered for not safeguarding the US interests and refusing US setting up military bases in Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, the then prime minister of Israel, was also a key man in the plot.

A number of websites around the world are suspecting the same unit for killing of Benazir Bhutto because in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV on November 2, 2007, she had mentioned the assassination of Usama Bin Laden, Seymour said. According to BB, Umar Saeed Sheikh murdered Usama, but her words were washed out from the David Frosts report, he said.

Got that? Bhutto was killed at Cheney’s behest (he apparently was the secret chief of the JSOC) by Gen. McChrystal and the boys (McChrystal soon to be the commander in Afghanistan headed the “squad”) because Bhutto blurted out that bin Laden was dead and that, unfortunately for her, undermined the given reason for the US being in A’stan.

Wow. How this guy gets even the coverage he does (The Nation and Arab TV) amazes me. At least The Nation jabbed Hersh with the “reputed journalist” tag. Arab TV, though, will eat it up with a spoon.

~McQ

Warrior Legacy Foundation

Matt Burden of Blackfive has announced the formation of something near and dear to my heart. A foundation to, well, let him explain:

So, a few of us decided to start our own foundation – non-partisan – to work with both sides of the aisle to solve veterans issues. We decided that we need to include every generation, every branch of service, in order to stand firm, back to back, and defend our family.

The Warrior Legacy Foundation is born.

The family he’s speaking about is the military family. And that family includes everyone, from service members and veterans, to those who have someone in the service to those who simply want to support the military and the veteran community.

Everyone.

This foundation’s membership is open to all – veteran or non-veteran – who are interested in supporting a group dedicated to ensuring the problems veterans face today have a powerful advocate willing to spend both the time and money necessary to see those problems solved.

The WLF becomes official on Memorial Day. But you can join now. Please do and support this new and worthy effort. This is the chance to make your unofficial support official.

~McQ

Is McCrystal the “Petraeus” Of Afghanistan?

There was no “nicety” to this very public change of commanders in Afghanistan. In command for only 11 months, Gen. David McKiernan has been fired. In his place will be LTG Stanley A. McChrystal. Secretary Gates made it clear:

“Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at a news conference this afternoon announcing General McKiernan’s dismissal.

Gates tried to smooth it over a bit (generals and admirals don’t like to be handled like this):

Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered few reasons for General McKiernan’s ouster beyond generalities that “fresh eyes” were needed. “Nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific,” Mr. Gates said. It was simply his conviction, he added, “that a new approach was probably in our best interest.”

The media will give you the boilerplate on McChrystal’s career including his recent stint as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command who ran all special operations in Iraq (and his part in the Pat Tillman investigation which wasn’t quite as sterling).

But there’s more to it than just the fact that he commanded JSOC in Iraq. As abu muqawama points out, there was a big improvement in JSOC after McChrystal took command and how that impressed a certain other commander:

I do know that many policy-makers and journalists think that McChrystal’s work as the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command was the untold success story of the Surge and the greater war on terror campaigns. I also know that McChrystal and David Petraeus forged a close working relationship in Iraq in 2007 and have much respect for one another. (Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.)

So my guess is that Gen. Petraeus had a hand in McKiernan’s new status as “former commander”. Apparently he wasn’t seeing in McKiernan the type of thinking Petraeus feels is necessary to win in Afganistan.  He may see in McChrystal the type of outside-the-box thinking he feels is necessary to turn the effort around there.

Abu again:

I do not know if the war in Afghanistan is winnable. But I do know that Stan McChrystal is an automatic starter in anyone’s line-up.

Game on.

Frankly, I’m pleased with the move. Time will tell if it pans out, but it shows me a seriousness about the war in Afghanistan that I wasn’t sure existed within this administration. This isn’t a half-hearted move.   Tip of the cap to the Obama administration for doing what I believe is necessary to move the war forward in a positive manner. Credit where credit is due and all of that.

~McQ

Military Commissions Again In Saturday News

Last Saturday, May 2nd, we were reading about the possibility that the Obama administration might revive the military commissions that candidate Obama had so reviled.

Today, Saturday May 9th, we again see more on the subject. Could the administration be any more obvious in their attempts to “hide” this story?

The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said.

The rules would block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

So apparently it really wasn’t the commissions themselves, but how they were run. Of course they were run by rules that Congress had put in place. Yeah, you can figure out the rest.

And the only change I can see is the elimination of some evidence, tightning of the rules on other evidence and the ability to choose their attorney (to a point).

Yet, in the big scheme of things, it ensures that secret testimony, exposure of which so concerned the previous administration, will remain secret. Yes, that’s a good thing.guantanamo-bay-5a

But, as the Obama administration begins to reinvent the wheel (even though it will claim that these military commissions aren’t the same as the previous military commissions – a bit like saying a Ford isn’t a Chevy. They’re still both cars) I keep remembering a very sure candidate proclaiming:

“By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.”

The Obama administration is seeking a 90 day extension on the 120 day extension previously imposed on military commissions. They would be moved to American soil (given the ruling by SCOTUS that doesn’t mean as much as it would have previously). But by all appearances, they will be pretty much the very same thing that candidate Obama said was unacceptable and an “enormous failure”. In the end, it appears, it has just been justice delayed (another reason he was against them).

Of course the real critics of such commissions (those whose opposition wasn’t strictly political in nature) are not happy:

“This is an extraordinary development, and it’s going to tarnish the image of American justice again,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International.

Yeah, well he won you know Tom, and with that, he reserves the right to throw issues under the bus if necssary, especially when it becomes clear that he had no idea about the subject he was condemning. And as an aside – I suspect that the slight differences in the commissions listed above will be enough for the fevered left to roll over and accept these military commissions as “OK”.

~McQ

Military Commissions Back On The Table For Gitmo

Sometimes, watching this circus of the Obama administration, you just have to shake your head and laugh a bit, even if the laughter is rueful:

The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system.

The more this crew gets into the weeds concerning Gitmo, the more they seem to validate all the moves Bush made.

I’m sure it’s a bit maddening for them.

Officials who work on the Guantánamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

That was the Bush administration argument for some time. Congress passed legislation to enable it, the SCOTUS shot it down and told them how to fix it and Congress did, only to see SCOTUS change its mind and shoot it down again.

And, of course, that made it very easy to denounce from the campaign trail. But now the reality of governing intrudes:

Obama administration officials — and Mr. Obama himself — have said in the past that they were not ruling out prosecutions in the military commission system. But senior officials have emphasized that they prefer to prosecute terrorism suspects in existing American courts. When President Obama suspended Guantánamo cases after his inauguration on Jan. 20, many participants said the military commission system appeared dead.

But in recent days a variety of officials involved in the deliberations say that after administration lawyers examined many of the cases, the mood shifted toward using military commissions to prosecute some detainees, perhaps including those charged with coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The more they look at it,” said one official, “the more commissions don’t look as bad as they did on Jan. 20.”

Heh … what a surprise.

And this:

Administration officials said Friday that some detainees would be prosecuted in federal courts and noted that Mr. Obama had always left open the possibility of using military commissions.

… is pure and unadulterated BS.

Still, during the presidential campaign Mr. Obama criticized the commissions, saying that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” and declaring that as president he would “reject the Military Commissions Act.”

But according to both Sec. Gates and AG Holder, military commissions are still very much on the table, because, as Holder said:

“It may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.”

Gee — I wonder who else’s administration said that?

~McQ

Let’s Close All The Service Academies

And while we’re at it, let’s close the War Colleges as well.

That’s the prescription the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks puts out today as a great way to save federal funds.  Why is it the ideas these guy’s come up with to trim the federal budget are always aimed at the military and never at entitlements and the like.

Anyway, here’s what Ricks proposes:

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.

After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

Now, I’ll admit it’s been a while but I’m sure the dynamic is pretty much the same now as it was when I was in.

I was an ROTC grad. Anyone who believes I was as well prepared as a West Point grad to function at the same level as them doesn’t know what they’re talking about. In today’s parlance, the West Pointers were “shovel ready” while most of us ROTC grads hadn’t even begun the bid process yet.

Of course I’m talking about my initial entry into the Army as a 2LT (of course our NCOs thought none of us were worth a crap). I had a good idea of what to expect, what was expected of me and what I’d experience, but I was far behind my West Point peers in real actual experience.

In fact, as I observed it, at company grade (the ranks 2LT, 1LT and CPT are considered “company grade” ranks), the West Point grad and the OCS grad were usually the best officers (and with obvious exceptions, I felt most of the OCS grads were a touch better than the WP guys) while the ROTC guys were playing catch-up. Around the 5 year mark, at the rank of CPT, everyone was pretty much even.
west-point
Again, these are my observations, but as we moved into the field grade ranks (the ranks MAJ, LTC and COL are “field grade” ranks), the ROTC and West Pointers began to pull away from the OCS grads. However, at both levels, West Pointers were right there among the best because they’d been taught and taught pretty well to function at both levels.

So I don’t buy this fellow’s two-year informal study at all.

I mean think about it – I went to one drill a week, not a number off them daily. And, in advanced ROTC, I went to ROTC classes three times a week. If you believe that schedule can compete with 4 years of being steeped in the military culture, visiting various military posts and schools, lectures from leaders in your field and having real, actual leadership and command responsibility during that time, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn in which you’d be interested. Not even close.

Ricks’ tries the usual academic elitist argument as well:

They remind me of the best of the Ivy League, but too often they’re getting community-college educations. Although West Point’s history and social science departments provided much intellectual firepower in rethinking the U.S. approach to Iraq, most of West Point’s faculty lacks doctorates.

Of course, as regulars here have had the opportunity to discover, PhD’s aren’t all they’re cracked up to be as the one who roams the comment section here demonstrates almost daily. Obviously the “intellectual firepower” Ricks notes would seem to be a fairly important to a school of that type. I don’t remember any of the schools with ROTC adding to that process of rethinking our strategy in Iraq.

That’s because you’ll find some of our finest military minds teaching at West Point. They’re also immersed in a culture that inspires and promotes that sort of thinking. What they bring to those schools can’t be bestowed by any sheepskin. Many of them are serving officers who come from a stint in the field to the classroom where they bring a freshness to their teaching which is utterly unlike the stale academic atmosphere found in most traditional institutions of higher learning.

Lastly, the comparison to a community college education is pretty ignorant because it ignores the purpose of the service academies. They do what they are there to do and do it well. And I have never heard an academy grad complain about his or her education. Their ability to earn advanced degrees at elite civilian universities seems to argue that it is much more than the level of a community college (unless we now have community college grands routinely headed to Harvard, Yale and Princeton as WP grads do).

I’d apply the same arguments to the War colleges. They’re there to serve a part of a very important process – to provide the transition from field command to higher command and staff positions involving policy, strategy and international relations for the brightest and best. They’re very selective. They also provide the next generation of the nation’s senior leaders the opportunity to begin networking among those with whom they’ll most likely be serving as general officers.

So, as you might imagine, I find Ricks conclusions based in some fairly poor assumptions based in conversations instead of any real experience. Not that such conclusions are surprising anymore – we’re no longer strangers to journalists who think a couple of years and a couple of conversations somehow bestow a depth of knowledge about a subject which is simply irrefutable.

Personally, I’d much rather Ricks take a look at the massive waste to be found in most of the rest federal government’s spending and tell us why it’s involved in programs that build museums for Liberace, bailing out failing car companies, or paying to research the mating habit of wombats, or sea slugs, or whatever.

Who knows, he might actually know something about those subjects.  If we’ve got to get rid of something, I personally think this is a good idea.

~McQ