23 April 2011

Weekly Update

Back from another long hiatus from the blogosphere. There’s so much going on in the world, yet every time I think I have something to say, I come across someone who’s already said it. Besides that, with my wife’s quickly approaching PCS and the end of my terminal leave/start of a new career, I have been a little keener on fly fishing, kayaking and carting around the 4-year-old blonde “princess terrorist” to her many sporting events and princess outings. Soon enough I’ll be back after it full time; until then I’ll continue to add to the site somewhat sporadically and hope we still have a couple interested readers by then.

Greg Mortenson and the Three Cups of Tea mess. Andrew Exum and Gulliver from Ink Spots covered most of what I would’ve said, and far more eloquently. Whether Mortenson tells tall tales or not, at this point, through the prism of his military relationship, is irrelevant. As Exum and Gulliver already covered, by the time Three Cups of Tea became a “must read” in military circles, most young Army and Marine leaders were already well on their way to diabetes from the gallons of chai (tea) we’d all poured down our throats over the course of multiple deployments. The media’s incessant linking to the Pentagon, and Counterinsurgency practice in general, really is lazy on their part.

Honestly, I am a huge Jon Krakauer fan; he is a genuinely fascinating individual. An old family friend, I always made sure I never missed a get-together when I knew he would also be in attendance. "Into the Wild" and "Eiger Dreams" still have a place front-and-center in my bookcase. Needless to say, big fan. What I’m not completely sure of at this point is Jon’s motive for exposing Mortenson in the way he did. Hopefully it’s pure investigative journalism for journalism’s sake and not something more wide-eyed and nefarious.

P.S. I came across this article from the Guardian on my phone tonight and had to link to it here. I’m sure Greg Mortenson is praying for a shiny ball to divert everyone’s attention anywhere else at this point.

Topic 2: Libya, naturally.

First off, what in the hell is John McCain doing parading around Benghazi? I love the guy, and it doesn’t take a PhD to figure out what he’s trying to effect with this act, but I’m not a fan of this move.

Tribes loyal to Qadhafi are telling the uniformed Libyan army to retreat from Misrata so they can fix the problem. My favorite quote from the linked article: “the tactic of the army is to have a surgical solution.” Right… nothing about artillery barrages, or really anything happening on the ground in Libya right now, can be equated with the term “surgical” in a war fighting context.

The Washington Post with Foreign Policy pretty much dropped the ball on more than half of this article. So hopefully Greg Jaffe, Edward Cody and William Branigin are reading this and will email me after so I can become their ISR contact.

1) 24/7 coverage over Libya by at least two Predators means that several units in Iraq and Afghanistan are not getting the support they need. Just by using the hokey math in the article, that’s at least four platforms that could be used in an operational theater where we have uniformed boots on the ground and therefore (hopefully) ground intelligence to tell the sensor operators where to look. I don’t know of a single unit that has ever said they received enough full motion video support; on the contrary it’s usually a big AAR comment for most units that they didn’t receive enough. ISR, especially long-duration FMV, is a low-density high-demand asset in both theaters. And shouldn’t priority of a ground support intelligence gathering asset like this be prioritized to US and NATO forces who are actually on the ground trying to win the first two wars we were involved in? If not to the uniformed warfighter on the ground, surely then we could be using these somewhere else where we’re chasing around elements of al Qaeda in Africa, Yemen, Pakistan, etc? The bottom line is that these platforms could (and should) easily be utilized elsewhere.

2) The unmanned aircraft can stay over an area for upwards of 12 hours at a stretch, making them much better at distinguishing rebel troops from loyalist forces than faster-moving fighter jets, which also must stay at higher altitudes. This was a decent attempt. Do the authors think our fighter pilots are trying to look out the cockpit glass from 14,000 feet up and trying to discern friend from foe? Maybe to get a general feel for what’s happening on the ground, but definitely not for PID purposes on the ground there with the grab bag of vehicles on both sides. Loiter time surely helps in allowing those watching “Kill TV” to take their time and make that solid PID. But this has everything to do with loiter time and nothing to do with flight speed of either aircraft or their respective preferred flight altitudes.

3) “Predators carry relatively small Hellfire missiles that are much more effective than precision guided bombs at striking enemy troops in heavily populated urban areas. This sentence receives an F for many, many reasons.

4) Discussing strikes in the context of Qadhafi forces hiding out in high collateral, urban areas: “The drones could open up targets there were previously off-limits to NATO aircraft. Possibly. I’m not there and I haven’t seen any of the target specs that these guys are working. There are a ton of “what if’s” here, so I’ll give them this one but very skeptically as one just need to consider the standard trajectory of a bomb versus a missile in an urban environment.

5) “Some European officials have lamented the absence of U.S. A-10 Warthog ground-attack jets — specifically designed for close air support — and AC-130 gunships. While the low- and slow-flying planes were deployed in small numbers during the first two weeks of the campaign, they were rarely used because of fears they would be shot down by the Libyan army. Piss off, get your own awesome CAS platforms! While you’re at it, buy even more of our awesome UAVs and fly them over Libya yourself. Maybe we can export our way out of this huge financial hole we’re in after all.

Lots more soon enough… until then many more fish to catch.

13 April 2011

No Frontline Fronts in Front of the Rear

Since the end of the Cold War there has been a trend, often addressed here and in other blogs/forums, of seeing "future war" as fundamentally different in a key aspect: symmetry. What symmetry means, of course, is up for debate. Is it a physical symmetry of forces? Well, Sun Tzu said the best battle is won before it is fought. So, attack with a great advantage of the best technology, the best troops, and best logistics. This seems to imply that the best way to fight a battle (i.e. a war) is against a weaker opponent...not much to do with symmetry. Then there is the metaphysical symmetry of engagement; the notion that we used to fight on a "front" that had a "rear". That the breakdown of this symmetry creates the a-symmetrical battlefield where the "front" is the "rear" and the "rear" is the "front". The idea, of course, that this is the new paradigm. Well then, what are we to do with Lybia then? In Lybia we have fronts, rears, cities cut off and under siege, forces retreating and advancing, all in an oddly familiar way. So too we have in Cote D'Ivoire as a faction advanced from its stronghold in the north on the capital and besieged its opponents. Again, the invasion of Iraq progressed along a front that moved rapidly from Kuwait to Mosul. Weird. Why do these exceptions to a paradigm exist? After all, if the point of a paradigm is to set the framework to understanding, then XXI century conflicts should fall under this new asymmetrical paradigm. Why do these other "things" exist? Perhaps the answer is best found in the one place where everything that has ever been tried can be found: history. These exceptions to the asymmetrical rule show us a couple of things. First, frontlines exist when opposing forces meet. As Fallujah was being cleared north to south, there was a front and a rear for both the coalition and the rebels. The continental fronts of WWI and WWII are historical oddities of the industrialized, multi-million man armies. The scale of the front is the important part. Second, and most important, is that the scale of the front is determined by the size of the weakest participant. For instance, when an infantry platoon engages a rebel squad, their front is 400 m wide and their rear extends 800m deep and the action lasts a few minutes to a few hours, thereafter closing the front. When a Division engages a Brigade, then the front could be 30 km wide and the rear extending 60 km deep. When an Army Group engages an Army then their AO (front + rear) can be 250km wide and 500 km deep and the action can last a few years, thereafter closing the front. A single war may have multiple fronts. TheUSSR was fond of naming their fronts in WWII, while the US likes to capture them with the term Campaigns (Italy campaign, Island Hopping, Normandie, North Africa etc). The front then is a point of engagement on a map. COIN, which is what Lybia is in the midst of (noting that their insurgents have serendipitously acquired an air force and a navy) has fronts too. Sometimes they are many and sometime few. Our intervention in Lybia has balanced the power of the insurgency with the government, allowing a front to stabilize. When the rebellion was weak it had multiple (nay, asymmetric) fronts, just as we have in OIF and OEF. As the rebellion grew in strength it was able to consolidate, allowing better territorial control and a more unified front. The concept of a front then, in the XXI century, is still valid. The problem with fighting a COIN fight is that the balance of power and distribution of forces of the participants create the possibility of something other than a continental front (remeber, it itself is an industrialized oddity, not the historic norm). So has a new paradigm in warfighting evolved since WWII that should force us to reimagine warfare? We shouldn't have to look much further than 500 yrs in the past to an astute observer of human nature for guidance. In The Prince, Machiavelli devoted some time to an interesting subject, the difficulty of conquering France vs. the ease of Alexander's conquest of Persia. I won't bore you with the details, but the conclusion was elegantly simple. A divided and poorly organized state is easier to conquer and harder to occupy. A united and well organized state is the opposite. I leave you with the thought that Afghanistan was always the former and until May 2003 (when we dissolved the organs of that organization) Iraq was the latter. In both there are fronts, and at those fronts scale is the determining factor, not an earth-shattering shift in the human condition necessitating a new paradigm.