30 April 2010

This is what's known as a slow news week

MPRI, the contractor hired by the US Army to monitor trends in the milblogosphere, must be baffled this week. There was little serious military-related news to report on this week. Tom Ricks was on hiatus, there's still no winner in Iraq's recent elections, relatively few deaths in Afghanistan, and Col. Gian Gentile and I hadn't argued about the "COIN vs. Conventional" debate in a few weeks. Sure, there was an excellent conference on Natural Security (courtesy of CNAS), and an excellent seminar on strategy at Zenpundit. But other than that, it was a quiet week.

Thus, MPRI might be puzzled as to this week's web trends. Therefore, I've volunteered to help them out with that little "lines of effort" chart they have. (By the way, those aren't really "lines of effort", just so you know)

This week's top trends in the milblogosphere are:

PowerPoint. Yes, the big collection of anti-PowerPoint rants is up at Small Wars Journal, and Jon Stewart took it on during Thursday night's Daily Show. Even al Qaeda tweeted "our friends in [Microsoft] are attacking the crusader armies from within http://nyti.ms/9TIvGd"

Foreign Policy (and by that, I mean Iran's "Boob Quake"). Yup, covered at Jules Crittenden, the Middle East Institute, and at Great Satan's Girlfriend. In other Iran news, the Official Iranian Salute Guy just got his own Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog.

Mocking US CYBERCOM's new "wings". Yup, both Wired.com's Danger Room and SWJ have jumped in on the action. You can, too.

US Troops dancing like Lady Gaga. These guys even made the Washington Post. The Smoking Gun has the Soldiers' true identity--they're from the US Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division. (Uh, no coincidence) There is one notable error in the report from The Smoking Gun, though, as it reports that one Soldier is wearing yellow police tape, just as Gaga does in the "Telephone" video. Wrong. That's no police tape. That's a reflector belt!

Seriously, these guys got more press than Generals Petraeus and McChrystal combined this week. The paratroopers feature prominently in an article from Slate which chronicles the history of military-related Internet memes.

An article called "Kandahar Cluster**** Watch". Check it out at Democracy Arsenal. I wonder which of the categories this one will wind up in: supportive, balanced, or somewhat critical?

MPRI's Milblog Study. Finally, MPRI, we spent a lot of time discussing you and your metrics. We had a lot of fun with it, too. Love ya. Mean it.

And to think we milbloggers have been called a credible news source. Though, truth be told, the Washington Post and New York Times are getting these memes from us, so I really don't know what else to say.

29 April 2010

Still the King of Battle

Michael Yon snapped some amazing pictures of a cannon crew from Ft. Lewis' 3-17 Field Artillery. In Afghanistan, cannon artillery is still a vital player on the battlefield, as the Taliban tends to operate in more rural areas, far from major population centers, and is known to gather in large numbers.

The "redlegs"--field artillerymen--fire illumination rounds throughout the night to aid ISAF forces.


We interrupt your regular military analysis to bring you...

Lady Gaga. She took over Small Wars Journal.

Lady Gaga. She took over Foreign Policy Online.

Anything I was going to post today has been pre-empted by this video. There are many great servicemember-made music videos (the US Navy's Sun Kings reigning supreme), but this one is probably one of the best. Does anyone know what unit these guys belong to?

For comparison, here's
Commander Herb Carmen's Sun Kings performing Outkast's "Hey Ya":

And the US Air Force Academy doing Ke$ha's "TiK ToK":

I'm almost afraid to ask what the Marines have in store...

Wait a minute...

I just noticed something. Take a look at Iran's Asymetric Special Force Team White:

And now take a look at this picture of Lady Gaga from her "Bad Romance" video:

I just hope these guys don't dress up in a bubble bikini, for our sake...

28 April 2010

It begins...

Wired.com ran an article today discussing the US Army's monitoring of the blogosphere. This is interesting; the Army hires MPRI, a private contractor, to monitor the top military-related blogs and report on the "slant" of each article: balanced, critical, or supportive. Although I'm not too surprised that the Army rolls up and analyzes military blogs, I am surprised that PowerPoint metrics made their way into the rollup.

First of all, I'd like to say that Effects-Based Operations are dead.

Yes, just when you think that the military killed off EBO and its terminology, "Lines of Effort" once again made their way back into the common lexicon. Like much of EBO doctrine, LoE is one of those buzz-words we haphazardly apply with no real appreciation for its real definition (see the commentary on EBO buzzwords from the 2006 Lebanon war). Lines of Effort move towards some sort of defined end-state. Is there an end-state for media operations? Not to mention, the LoE the study group chose are baffling. Let's take a look at them:

We might need to look at our metrics again if "other" dominates 2/3 of the chart. (Are they really "strategic lines of effort") Then again, the report is in its infancy, and they're probably still learning what exactly we want to know about the blogosphere. In that case, it's forgivable.

I do find the "hot topics" graph amusing, though:

If they really knew milbloggers, the chart might look more like this:

However, they do (surprisingly) provide some thoughtful analysis of the current state of the milblogosphere. Many of the metrics they use should be refined over time. As they get to know the milblogosphere, they'll also start finding articles from the smaller milblogs as well--Kings of War, Ink Spots, you name it.

Yet, I still think that Karaka Pend and Dave Dilegge, after reflecting upon the study, came up with the best observation ever:

Karaka Pend: I wonder if the analysis of their analysis on [Danger Room] and [Small Wars Journal] and so forth will show up in next week's "Other LoE"? That would be meta to the max.

Dave Dilegge: Hmm, interesting thought, if enough blogs pick up on it - or at least the ones they follow - how could they not?


A roundup of comical dictators that (surprisingly) doesn't include Qadaffi

Now that al Qaeda's been reduced to little more than blundering imbeciles who pack explosives in their underwear and, erm, unsavory body cavities, it's time to move on to two-bit dictators. First, Jules Crittenden and the Middle East Institute report on a situation developing in Iran. Last week, a Shia cleric, Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi, claimed that:
Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes.
This is one of those moments the Internet was made for. Thousands of men have tried to cause earthquakes by enticing women to bare their breasts for them. How juvenile. YET, HOW AWESOME! Of course, reading the blogosphere might give credence to this claim. After all, boobs do play heavily on a website titled "Great Satan's Girlfriend".

I probably shouldn't provoke Iran, especially with naval exercises still going on in the straits of Hormuz. Eh, what the hell...

Iran also brings us some amusing images from a recent military parade in Tehran, which featured, among other things, ninjas clad in both black and white (the
Asymetric Special Force Teams White and Black). Courtesy of Kings of War:

Damn, I haven't seen a white-clad ninja

Of course, the most memorable attendee was the now-infamous Iranian Saluting Guy (H/T Themistocles' Shade), who now has his very own Facebook page (don't tell Ahmedinejad).

But while Iran shuns the power of Web 2.0, other dictators are embracing it. Recently, Hugo Chavez signed up for Twitter, for the sole purpose of bashing his detractors. (Seriously, Hugo, don't take to arguing on the Internet. Internet trolls have a lot more free time than you do. Seriously.)

Tweets Chavez:
Hey how's it going? I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm off to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!
Yawn. Even Kim Jong-il had a Twitter account long before Mr. Chavez. One tweet from the North Korean dictator reads:
Speaking of which:Who's got two thumbs and a lot of groovy toys the IAEA doesn't even know about? This guy. To say otherwise is insolence!
A little insecure, I think. I know how you really feel, Kim:

27 April 2010

The Difference

Some of you may have noticed a story that broke last week, in which two Soldiers who were present during the infamous Apache engagement in New Baghdad wrote a letter apologizing for the incident which killed two Reuters employees and wounded two children. (Wired.com has an exclusive interview)

Former Specialists Josh Stieber and Ethan McCord penned a touching missive to the people of Iraq, which, to some, seemed politically motivated and apologetic for the War in Iraq. Yet, these men's feeling are understandable. No Soldier wishes for war; especially those who have had to witness the screaming of children wounded in the crossfire. An apology is understandable. Certainly, there is no doubt that children were wounded and journalists were killed. Either this was an intentional case of murderous bloodlust (doubtful), or it was a regrettable, tragic accident brought about by the fog of war (likely).

If it was an accident--which most of us truly believe it was--an apology is in order. In fact, that's what separates us from vicious, barbaric organizations like al Qaeda in Iraq. Do you think they would apologize for beheadings and suicide bombings?

Read their statement and feel free to discuss. Do you think it's appropriate?

I got pwnt

This will shock everyone, I'm sure, but I had a recent conversation (read: self-aggrandizing debate) with an Apache pilot, where I compared the capabilities of each of our aircraft.

I noted, taking into consideration all of the different variants of the basic H-60 design (Black Hawk, Sea Hawk, Pave Hawk, etc) that "A Black Hawk can do any mission an Apache can do; except the Black Hawk can also rescue an Apache pilot".

The Apache pilot responded, "Uh, we can do that, too, you know".

Yeah, he's actually right. Watch this video, which features British WAH-64Ds rescuing a British soldier in Afghanistan. (The US has used this trick at least once before in Afghanistan, as well)


WOI has new a few new additions to the blogroll.

26 April 2010

How many SWJ writers can you spot in this article?

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times tackles an issue of vital military importance: the pervasive use of PowerPoint. The article includes sound bytes from Gen. H.R. McMaster, Col. T.X. Hammes, and that helicopter guy that posts pictures of Megan Fox on his website.

Thanks to all the tweets that alerted me to the story just now.

By the way...

If you haven't checked out this essay on the Tribal Engagement Workshop (hosted by the Small Wars Foundation), you should. As a bonus, it features noted milbloggers Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama) and Jason Fritz (Gunslinger from Ink Spots).

What's in a Name?

I suspect one of the reasons many Americans don't follow the Iraq War is its sheer complexity. The Second World War felt a little more simple. There were the good guys (The US, the British, and, I hate to admit it, the Soviets) and then there were the bad guys (obviously, Germany, Japan and Italy). The Iraq War, however, baffles many observers. Our allies in the Iraqi government can be, well, unscrupulous to say the least. Furthermore, the insurgent groups (if they can even be called that--few have any interest in governing) often change names, merge with one another, and splinter off into different factions. There's really no clear villain in the war.
The most vicious of the insurgent organizations the US has faced off with in Iraq is al Qaeda in Iraq, often abbreviated "AQI". Don't let the name fool you though, as they're not quite Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. Often referred to as a "franchise" of al Qaeda, it shares some ideological connections with Osama bin Laden, the occasional communique, but two organizations do disagree on some points. In fact, AQI--the murderous group which relished in beheadings and bombed hotels in Jordan--was actually a little too violent for even al Qaeda's senior leadership. In a 2005 letter, Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the top commanders of al Qaeda, advised Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of AQI, that videos of AQI operatives beheading American contractors might be a little over the edge. (No kidding, look at bullet point #5 in that letter)

Some AQI members left to join "concerned local citizens" groups, which are local militia and police forces dedicated to fighting terrorists. Some insurgent groups actually split, with half supporting the insurgency, and half supporting the US and Iraqi government. One such group was the 1920 Revolution Brigade, which featured a spinoff group, "Hamas in Iraq" (no relation whatsoever Hamas in Gaza, though). Depending on whom you ask, either the 1920 Brigade served alongside US troops in operations against AQI in Diyala Province, or Hamas in Iraq did. I'd say most American troops really can't keep them straight. I can't imagine what the American public thinks about them.

Actually, it reminds me a little bit of...

Confused yet?

25 April 2010


That last post gave me the urge to watch Gallipoli, an amazing 1981 film starring a young Mel Gibson. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it at Best Buy, nor at Target. Fortunately, the SWJ gang has a list of great war movies, available for purchase at Amazon.com. As an added bonus, a portion of the sale of each video goes towards paying for the website's upkeep, and helping Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle put together excellent COIN-themed seminars. Come on, you know you want to...


(Soldiers from the New Zealand Defence Force stand Guard in Afghanistan, courtesy NZDF website)

After the experience in Flanders Fields, the British Commonwealth chose the poppy to symbolize the sacrifice of Commonwealth troops. Fittingly, a poem written for ANZAC Day rings just as true now as it did then.

Why are they selling poppies, Mummy?
Selling poppies in town today.
The poppies, child, are flowers of love.
For the men who marched away.

But why have they chosen a poppy, Mummy?
Why not a beautiful rose?
Because my child, men fought and died
In the fields where the poppies grow.
Lastly, I tried to find a good clip from the film "Gallipoli", but the best one I could find is a version dubbed in Italian. The basics are simple enough to grasp, although some of the more subtle points ("What are your legs, son?") might get lost in translation.

24 April 2010

How bad is America's obesity epidemic?

Slate Magazine claims overweight Soldiers aren't a problem. Personal experience, on the other hand, might indicate otherwise. How many Soldiers are actually being chaptered out for being obese?

Discuss. This is probably going to get ugly.

Edit: The Atlantic tackles the issue of societal change, evolution, and obesity. Of course, their journalistic standards are pretty low. After all, The Atlantic Wire did link to this site...

23 April 2010

Am I obliged to weigh in on the Michael Yon issue?

I really don't know enough to weigh in on the controversy surrounding military blogger Michael Yon. I will, however, propose that the upcoming saga be henceforth referred to as "The Yon and the Restless". It's about at that level...

Do Aviators Get COIN--A Resounding "Yes"

April in Upstate New York is usually a depressing affair. Large mountains of snow usually lay piled in parking lots, long since streaked black with soot, oil, and dirt. If it's not snowing--which it occasionally does as late as Mother's Day--then there's the misery of persistent cold rain. As the snow melts, it creates lakes and rivers of mud. The sky is usually overcast and grey.

But the last few weeks have been different. Today, as I traveled to a seminar on counterinsurgency, held in a quaint lodge near a lake at Fort Drum, I opened the top on my Jeep, taking in the sunlight and enjoying a sky crystal-clear, and radiant blue. The grass was a deep, vibrant green, occasionally dotted with dandelions. The small lake--normally still frozen over this time of the year--had thawed, leaving behind a pool of water so clear and tranquil, it looked as if it were a mirror, dropped from the heavens.

But the real miracle lay not in the weather, but rather, during the counterinsurgency seminar itself. There, in the lodge beside the lake, lay a pony keg of beer, vulnerable in the presence of over forty aviators. Yet, the pony keg of beer went largely ignored, for the pilots were so interested in discussing counterinsurgency that they neglected the poor keg of that life-giving nectar of the gods that is...probably Miller Lite or something.

Yes, you read that correctly. The aviators completely forgot about the beer and talked about counterinsurgency.

Much to my surprise, aviators do get counterinsurgency, and we get it quite well. A PowerPoint presentation I composed with the help of Commander Herb Carmen, as well as a few other captains, guided a group discussion on the impact of Army aviation in the counterinsurgency environment.

What surprised me the most about the discussion was that, contrary to popular perception, it was the colonels and majors that had the most to add to the discussion, as opposed to the captains. Those who have been studying the US military's recent counterinsurgency odyssey over the last few years might find this a little counter-intuitive. Yet, I think it's a dynamic that's peculiar to the aviation realm. Some potential explanations, as well as some miscellaneous musings:

  • First, and most obvious, is that maybe the majors and colonels spoke more because, well, it's the military and we tend to defer to rank.
  • Secondly, many of the field grade officers have some unique experiences compared to those of their junior counterparts. After several years in an aviation battalion, an aviation captain usually gets slotted in a billet doing something other than flying. Some get embedded within infantry brigades, others within military transition teams. These jobs give aviators a greater understanding and appreciation for the ground tactical plan.
  • As Cmdr. Carmen notes, an aviator's first priority--in conventional conflict or counterinsurgency--is to become proficient in his or her airframe. All the cultural awareness in the world isn't worth a damn if a pilot can't fly the aircraft. For this reason, a new aviator generally spends his or her first few years out of flight school learning the ins-and-outs of aircraft systems, weapons limitations, mission planning, unit standard operating procedures, aircraft maintenance, and airspace. If they're a platoon leader or company commander, they face the additional challenges of knowing their people, administrative procedures, and property accountability. It's a Herculean task simply to learn these skills in those first critical years. Small wonder junior officers in the aviation world lag behind their infantry brethren when it comes to understanding counterinsurgency.
  • The AH-64 and OH-58 pilots, as a general rule, seemed to understand COIN better than the UH-60 and CH-47 pilots ("skirts", as we're known). This is likely because these aviators are employing weapons on the battlefield and have to think about the effects of their weapons systems.
  • One of the most profound statements came from an Apache pilot, who spent a few weeks in a targeting class. The first few days of the class focused on the principles of Islam and Muslim culture. At first, he found the emphasis a little bizarre; however, upon his deployment to Iraq, he quickly learned the importance of culture. As he looked at the ramshackle buildings and farms below him, he could see a man's livelihood--his only means of supporting his family. Damaging a farm or killing goats might cause an entire family to go hungry--something we must always consider when employing weapons systems on the battlefield. This shouldn't be an excuse to never fire--just another factor to take into consideration before firing. Wiping out a farmer's livelihood might drive him to seek an alternate form of employment: insurgency.
In all, it was a great class. Thanks to the gang at CNAS for all the help. If you want to view the presentation, or help me write a short primer (maybe 10-15 pages of notes) on COIN for aviators, hit me up. I do the crowdsourcing thing :)

22 April 2010

Joe vs. the Volcano

I really feel sorry for those whose travel plans have been affected by the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. If anything, it's proven to be a humbling experience, even for the most powerful heads of state. Nevertheless, at least some can find humor in it:

"The last time this many Americans were stuck in England because of the weather was June 4th, 1944"--Lt. Col. Paul Yingling

Sorry, Sir, I had to share it :)

On Combined Arms

It seems that the controversy stirred by Col. Gian Gentile's latest article has really taken off. Truth be told, I don't have too many issues with the premise of his article, but rather, some of the semantics. Certainly, we all feel that armored fighting capabilities have declined and that it poses a danger to a balanced force.

The 2006 Lebanon War provides today's military with a wealth of case studies. Perhaps one of the most notable is not the performance of the IDF's Merkava tanks, but rather, the intellectual currents within the IDF's leadership. Prior to the war, the IDF, much like the US, was beginning to incorporate Effects-Based Operations (EBO) doctrine. Unfortunately, the doctrine was poorly understood, unevenly taught, and badly implemented. IDF officers were often found parroting buzz-words from EBO (was their knowledge only PowerPoint deep?), with little understanding of the doctrine. Some officers would use the same word to refer to different concepts, sometimes multiple words were used to describe the same concept.

The new terminology really did little more than muddle the minds of the IDF's leadership. So much so, in fact, that IDF division commanders found themselves receiving orders in July 2006 which directed them to "achieve standoff domination of the theater", and other nebulous and ill-conceived demands.

A similar situation, I fear, is creeping into the recent armor discussion. Specifically, with terms like "combined arms" and "armor mindset". MikeF, in particular, makes a good point that a number of armor officers in the thread agree that the US military is losing the armor mindset, yet can't quite agree what the armor mindset quite is, exactly.

Recently, Col. Gentile claimed that that years of counterinsurgency in Palestine had degraded the IDF's ability to conduct combined arms operations:
Every study that I have read on the Israeli Army in summer 2006 acknowledges that one of the significant problems that led to their drubbing on the ground was the atrophied state of their combined arms competencies.
Yet, Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum claimed in a recent study of the 2006 conflict:
U.S. military planners, however, should take heart from the fact that when the IDF was able to mass combat power and make effective use of combined arms, it roundly defeated Hizballah’s formations—even in their makeshift village fortresses.
I'm curious:

1.) What are "combined arms"?
2.) Are we losing our "combined arms" capabilities?
3.) Are we losing certain aspects of combined arms capabilities?
4.) Are we losing combined arms capabilities at different levels?
5.) What contributed to the IDF's defeat in Lebanon?
6.) Did the IDF fail in Lebanon?

Combined arms are "an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different arms of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects". For example, it might be integrating artillery and infantry, armor, and aviation forces together in a single engagement.

Are we losing that capability? Initially, I might say no. Certainly, the larger battles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--such as Wanat, COP Keating, Anaconda, as well as conflicts in urban areas of Iraq would have us believe that such forces can work in close conjunction with one another. The seige at Wanat, in particular, was held off by infantry forces, and driven back by artillery, as well as fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. Certainly, one can look on this as "combined arms"--just combined arms without tanks and armored personnel carriers. Of course, armored vehicles bring exceptional capabilities to the fight in irregular conflict, and should not lay by the wayside. Nevertheless, is the claim that we're losing our "combined arms" capabilities alarmist? Are we just losing some combined arms and not others?

We're also executing combined arms operations at lower and lower levels, as well. A company or platoon-level mission might have a gunship escort for cover, for example. Troops can call on this gunship for direct support if necessary, bypassing the need for higher-level coordination. Does pushing assets to the lowest level degrade our fighting capabilities at the corps level? (Can higher level planners answer this one?)

I'm also wary of attributing the IDF's performance in Lebanon to one factor, e.g., the over-emphasis on counter-insurgency operations. Hezbollah prepared for the war for nearly six years after the IDF's withdrawal, building hardened fighting positions which were nearly undetectable. The terrain in Lebanon tended to channelize the IDF's movements along a few roads. As IDF Merkavas advanced, Hezbollah fired sophisticated anti-tank missiles from villages--essentially using the villagers as human shields. It also didn't help the IDF that their axis of advance became blatantly obvious to Hezbollah once it began, allowing Hezbollah ample time to set up an ambush.

While the lack of training in the IDF's Merkava crews certainly played some role in the action which claimed the lives of eight IDF troops and resulted in damage to eleven tanks, certainly, there were greater forces at work.

Thoughts? Anyone from the IDF care to weigh in? Hit the comment button.

Hot women from the IDF? You can contact me on Facebook...

21 April 2010

More bad influences, courtesy of Top Gun

To say that Top Gun imparts horrible ideas upon a young aviator is an understatement.

Years ago, we received word of a young aviator who attempted to re-enact one of the most iconic scenes of the movie. Specifically, the scene where Tom Cruise flies by a control tower at approximately 400 knots, rattling the tower so hard that the air boss spills coffee all over himself.

In retrospect, I'm not certain why it surprised anyone that some flight school student might actually try to pay homage to this scene.

On his first solo flight--a flight conducted without the aid of an instructor pilot--one enterprising young lieutenant prepared to take a ride into the danger zone. Okay, maybe just the traffic pattern. Taking off, and circling the airfield in the pattern, he turned from downwind to crosswind, preparing to line up for his final approach into the stage field.

The lieutenant, presumably hearing Harold Faltermeyer's Top Gun Anthem in his head, clicked the microphone switch on the aircraft's cyclic and called the air traffic control tower.

"Tower, this is 54E-Solo [the aircraft's "buzz" number, plus the "Solo" suffix], requesting a flyby"

There was a brief silence on the radio, with a suspicious voice answering back, "54E-Solo, say again?"

"Yes, this is 54E-Solo, request permission to buzz the tower"

I'm not even certain why he even felt the need to reply back after the tower's suspicious response, especially with his aircraft tail number. Maybe he thought he'd call back a third time, this time hovering in front of the tower for dramatic effect, while asking for permission again.

"Uh, 54E-Solo, I think you need to land and taxi to parking. Like now."

Suffice to say this was the last--and only time--a flight school student requested permission to buzz the tower. Who would have thought Top Gun was fake?

Focus: Has Hollywood lied to you? Did you try something in the military that you'd previously seen in movies or games? If so, please share.

Arr, Good News, Matey

According to an article in the New York Times, piracy off the coast of Somalia has dropped by nearly one-third in the first quarter of 2010. The London-based International Maritime Bureau attributes this decline to the international task force operating in the Gulf of Aden.

Of course, one could also attribute this decline to the amazing ability of Somali pirates to eliminate themselves from the gene pool, after directly attacking US Navy warships (with predictable results). Seriously, start drafting the Darwin Awards...

20 April 2010

The debate rages on

Those of you who truly care about the debate between COINdinistas and armored warfare proponents might want to check out these two links from the world's greatest foreign policy expert:

The Great Satan's Girlfriend

Edit: The GSGF is at it again this morning on this very issue. Quote:

Is Great Satan's Armored war fighting doctrine out of sync with her skills? Specifically - are the skill sets needed to do another Thunder Run - the fundamentals of fire and maneuver - on hand and ready to rock?While das unausprechlichen COIN külten has seduced tons of cats gearing up for the small, long wars (all magically located in the CENTCOM Gap), one of Great Satan's premier panzer experts has resisted the sirens call in a sustained effort to reinvigorate the panzer franchise:

19 April 2010

On Callsigns

Hollywood lied to me.

As I was growing up, I would watch the movie Top Gun, believing it was an accurate depiction of the everyday lives of military aviators. Upon arrival at Fort Rucker, I fully expected to buzz the tower in my TH-67 (don't even ask to do this over the radio) and sport a really cool one-piece flight suit (all Army aviators wear two-piece uniforms, much like the infantry). But most important of all, I looked forward to getting an awesome callsign.

Then I realized that the Army really doesn't participate in the same traditions as our Navy, Marine, and Air Force brethren. Army aviators don't get "callsigns", aside from the ones assigned from the Air Tasking Order. Such callsigns typically include a code word denoting the aircraft unit, followed by a number, such as "Reach 364". Which, no offense to my favorite blogger, but that's just not as cool as "Wolfman", "Hollywood", "Cougar", and the like.

Since the Army doesn't give its pilots cool nicknames, a budding young aviator might be tempted to pick a callsign for one's self. Most of the time, Army aviators stop short of actually doing so. I mean, picking your own awesome callsign would be the height of douchebaggery.

Yet, that never stopped some people from actually trying.

When I first arrived at flight school, I was assigned to a class of some fifteen young lieutenants. We took turns standing up and introducing ourselves. One aspiring aviator stood apart from the rest.

Standing some 5-foot-3-inches tall, one lieutenant took in the faces of all around him. Drawing on his Top Gun inspiration, he knew, deep inside his soul, that he was the best. The alpha male--the alpha male of Daleville, Alabama (quite a feat). Rising to his full Napoleon-sized height, he introduced himself, with a Spanish accent thicker than engine oil.

"My name is Lieutenant [Redacted], from [unit]".

He paused, taking a deep breath, and surveying the room. He whispered, "But you can call me..."

Suddenly, he spread his arms dramatically, proclaiming:


Several lieutenants looked on--not in awe, but in shock.


"Everyone who knows me at home calls me 'the Phantom'", said the Phantom. Drawing closer to us, he whispered, "My friends, you can do the same".


After a little research, we discovered that his unit really did call him "The Phantom". Seems every time work needed to be done, he had a nasty habit of just disappearing. Thus, he was a virtual "phantom". Wonders never cease.

Navy, Marines, Air Force: how exactly does this tradition work? I'm kind of intrigued...

Wow, looking back on the movie, it really was kind of...uh...you know....

18 April 2010

TRADOC's been one-upped

Last year, the US Army Combined Arms Center announced that it would experiment with "crowdsourcing" to allow Soldiers to make continuous changes to Army field manuals. Indeed, after talking with a representative from the US Army's Training and Doctrine Commmand (TRADOC) at last weekend's Milblog Conference, I discovered that TRADOC was pleased with the experiment, and is fascinated with the possibilities of crowdsourcing. It's something I've been trying to experiment with in my "COIN for Aviators" project.

Nevertheless, I think TRADOC's been one-upped. Crowdsourcing US Army doctrine? That's one thing. Crowdsourcing a remake of the greatest movie ever? Now you're talking...

Star Wars: Uncut Trailer from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

COINtras off their game

Yesterday, Small Wars Journal hosted two articles concerning the future of armored warfare. The first is a link roundup posted in World Politics Review, while the second is an article penned by noted COINtra Colonel Gian Gentile.

Col. Gentile's article--lamenting the death of the once-proud US armor corps--will doubtlessly become the more infamous of the two, so I'll concentrate on that one. Suffice to say, I expected better from the world's leading COINtra. Why are we just now seeing articles decrying the gutting of the armor branch? In case you've been living in a cave for the last few years, here's a list of some recent developments.

(Ed. note: You can tell I've spent too much time this last week making PowerPoint slides, as I'm compelled to use the bullet-point format for sentence fragments.)

  • The systematic re-configuring of heavy brigade combat teams into Stryker brigades or light brigades.
  • The tendency of heavy brigades in Iraq to leave their M1 tanks at home and fight as motorized infantry in MRAPs and HMMWVs.
  • The total absence of tanks from Afghanistan, now apparent due to the fact that Afghanistan is now in the media spotlight.
  • The apparent lackluster performance of Israel's Merkava tanks in the 2006 Lebanon War, largely attributed to an armored force which had hardly performed any individual or collective training in the Merkava since 2001. This situation, of course, has some striking parallels with the current state of armored forces in the United States. (Of course, it should also be noted that a recent CNAS paper by Andrew Exum noted that the terrain in Southern Lebanon was "infantry country" and poorly conducive to armored advances. It didn't help that the IDF also used the most obvious approach, either)
Yes, only now do the COINtras begin to raise concerns about the state of the US Army's armored forces. Truth be told, there is reason for alarm in the deterioration of the tank force. Although I would say that "small wars"--insurgencies, peace enforcement, peacekeeping, stability/support, humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism, border conflicts, etc--will probably dominate the US military's future, "Black Swans" tend to make their way into the mix.
As a wise man once said, in the wake of his inability to see into the future, "always in motion, the future is".

Despite harboring legitimate concerns, Col. Gentile fails to address them properly. Let's dissect the one-page essay.
The Army has become decidedly infantry centric. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was a fighting kind of infantry centered army. But instead it is an infantry centric Army grounded in the principles of population centric counterinsurgency and Rupert Smith's view of war in the future as "wars amongst the people."

Listen up, everyone: we are no longer a fighting Army. To all you veterans of COP Keating and Wanat--you must have been doing nothing else but touchy-feely tea parties and absolutely no combat whatsoever.

To be sure the American Army will be told to do lots of things from winning hearts and minds in the Hindu Kush, to passing out humanitarian relief in the troubled spots around the world, to nation building in Iraq. But first and foremost it must be an Army grounded in combined arms competencies. This must come first, and not second or third after fuzzy concepts as “whole of government approach” and building emotional relationships with local populations. The latter may of course be important, depending on the mission, but those kinds of competencies must be premised on combined arms and not the other way around.

I recently heard an American Army General speak to a group of young men and women soon to become second lieutenants. The General's main point to these young men and women--what they needed to be good at when they went out into the field army--was establishing "trusting relationships" with local populations. One would have liked soon-to-be-lieutenants told that they must be proficient in their basic branch skills: infantry and armor, basic fire and maneuver with their platoon as part of a maneuver company/team; artillery, fire support; logistics, logistical support; and so on.

Certainly, counterinsurgency contains a considerable emphasis on population security, protection of civilian infrastructure, and diplomatic action. Nevertheless, it's important to place counterinsurgency doctrine in its proper context--FM 3-24 was written in a time when US forces were adept at killing insurgents and terrorists at the tactical level, but poor at understanding the operational impacts of COIN.

We place so much emphasis on understanding the "soft" aspects of counterinsurgency--as opposed to the more "kinetic" aspects--because virtually every single leader understands that they need to be tactically proficient. I don't need a general to tell me that I need to be able to employ forces in combat--that's a given. Maybe we're just amazed that we no longer talk down to our junior leaders like we used to.

Moreover, to state the obvious, the reason tanks and tracked vehicles are missing from contemporary "combined arms" doctrine might have more to do with the fact that we simply haven't used tanks in Afghanistan at all. The mountainous terrain is just not conducive to tanks. (Although this hasn't stopped the Canadians from sending 20 Leopard IIs)

Finally, one of the commenters, "Steve2", addresses the reality of the COINtra v. COINdinista debate.
Manpower and rotation times. Are there really enough to do both (COIN, Armor) at this time? It cannot be COIN or Armor for the foreseeable future, it must be both, but with the tight rotations of the past years, it had to be COIN. Maybe the drawdown in Iraq will provide enough of a breather.
True, true, true. In a perfect world, the US military would be prepared for every single threat. However, with the operational tempo being what it is--a year in combat followed by an incredibly hectic year of reset, re-equipping, re-training, re-integrating new troops, and, of course, resting--it's no surprise that we addressed counterinsurgency, as it's the highest priority right now.

Join the discussion at SWJ--WOI fan MikeF and commenters from around the world have joined in already.