31 March 2009

The Military, the Corporate World and Academia Agree...

Powerpoint is useless...

From Collegehumor.com:

Pimp My Black Hawk: Australian Edition

And here I thought I was in bad shape because the Black Hawks I've flown don't have windshield washers and still have "analog computers" in the nose. Apparently, Australia's $22-billion-a-year Defense Force can't field Black Hawk helicopters, fighter jets or warships. The big question is: will the Australians claim they need F-22s and F-35s or settle for simply upgrading their aircraft with the latest defense equipment?

From the Australian press:

As such, the ADF, which receives $22 billion in taxpayer funds each year, cannot conduct any high-level operations without substantial support from coalition forces such as the US.

Former Defence official Allan Behm said: "I think the public would be absolutely astonished and gobsmacked to think we spend so much on defence every year and yet we can't send much of it into harm's way because it won't work or it will not survive in a contest."

Defence experts say none of the RAAF's soon-to-be-retired F-111 strike bombers nor the majority of the 71 F/A-18 Hornet fighters can be used against modern air defences because they lack sufficient electronic protection.

[Note: The F-111 sucked even in the days of John Boyd and was retired from the US Air Force nearly 20 years ago. These guys get my respect for flying the F-111 for so long]

Similarly, they say the navy's eight Anzac frigates cannot be sent into a hotly contested war zone because of a lack of defensive weaponry, while the four other frigates, the FFGs, are still unavailable after a bungled and delayed $1.5 billion upgrade.

The army cannot deploy any of its 33 Blackhawk helicopters into warzones, including Afghanistan, because they remain vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles.

An army insider says that despite having 27,000 members, 15,000 of which are in the combat force, the army would struggle to deploy more than 1000 extra troops overseas on a sustained basis on top of its deployments in Afghanistan, the Middle East, East Timor and Solomon Islands.

"Despite official denials, the army remains stretched," one insider says. Another defence insider says there are other problems with army deployment capabilities.

"The army also has a shortage of blue force tracking transponders, which allow friendly forces to know where our troops are and help avoid friendly-fire incidents. This would limit the number of elements we could deploy into a coalition environment."

In the field, Australian troops cannot be supported by the army's Black Hawks because they do not have infrared shields over their exhausts, making them vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles. The entire fleet of 33 choppers - a core part of the army's capability - cannot be safely deployed to Afghanistan, much less to a more intense war.

This means Australian troops deployed in Oruzgan province are still relying on NATO helicopters rather than their own Black Hawks to evacuate wounded soldiers.

Afghanistan Update

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, apparently.

Two sites have commented on the latest Afghanistan plan. The first is Fabius Maximus' blog, which lays out the US' Afghanistan/Pakistan policy and places it alongside the pre-surge Iraq policy from late 2005. Let's see if you can name the conflict:

(1) Victory in XXXX is a Vital U.S. Interest

  • XXXX is the central front in the global war on terror. Failure in XXXX will embolden terrorists and expand their reach; success in XXXX will deal them a decisive and crippling blow.
  • The fate of the greater Middle East - which will have a profound and lasting impact on American security - hangs in the balance.
Ha! Obviously this is a speech from Bush on Iraq. You want to know how I can tell? Because it uses the phrase "global war on terror", which officially as outdated as the word "gnarly".

The next link comes from Defense and the National Interest and concerns the latest Afghanistan study group. An article from the Washington post points out that there were two camps in the Afghanistan study group--one camp led by Vice President Joe Biden, who advocated a more limited Afghanistan campaign, and another led by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and General David Petraeus, who advocated a massive nation-building campaign.

The massive nation-building campaign is cute, to be sure, but I don't see it as anywhere near realistic. Afghanistan will always remain a poor, rural nation. Its institutions--schools, infrastructure, transportation--are comparable to those of Sub-Saharan Africa. A democracy requires an educated citizenry, and with rampant illiteracy, it won't happen for generations. NATO could spend thirty years and trillions of dollars and still not have an effective nation-state, particularly with levels of corruption being as high as they are.

The Taliban will most likely always be active in the area--they're far more effective in catering to the needs of the population than the local government. While containing or limiting the Taliban insurgency--which is increasingly divorcing itself from Al Qaeda--is certainly a reasonably attainable goal, the real crux of our national security issue lies with disrupting Al Qaeda's network. Therein lies a considerable misconception of the Afghan War--the blurring of the line between the Arab fighters of Al Qaeda and the local insurgency of the Taliban.

While I respect General Petreaus' policy guidance, and indeed, it would be the exemplary way to go about the war if we lived in a perfect world and America had unlimited resources and time, he falls into the trap that John Nagl has also been accused of falling into. That is to say that General Petraeus, much like Nagl, in the words of a poster on Armchair Generalist:

[Nagl] takes a military bias toward the idea: he is looking at how to achieve whatever objective is given to the military, not whether the objective is in itself a good idea.

Which is probably the correct position for the military to take: "how do we achieve what we have been asked to do?"

Counter-terrorism against Al Qaeda and counter-insurgency against the Taliban, blended with heavy doses of counter-narcotic warfare, leads to "hybrid war". There, just by using that term, I should get about a hundred or so hits--it's worth at least one Megan Fox picture.

30 March 2009

Trouble in Tijuana

Whenever I hear replies that say "this should be required reading for all policy makers", I become a little skeptical, but in the case of ZenPundit, it actually is the case.

ZenPundit has published a great post which satirizes the administration's "everything's okay" approach to Mexico's deteriorating security condition. Indeed, my contact South of the Border, Goyo, speaks of incredible chaos. While he does take a little laissez faire approach to the violence, it's no doubt that the instability and political corruption are real, and could potentially have disastrous results for US security. We've talked about the oligarchy in Mexico before, as well as the perceived legitimacy of the drug cartels in Mexican society, and indeed, it's one that can pose considerable risk to the United States.

Should Mexico collapse, we need to take a look at how these failed states become terrorist havens--takfiri movements take advantage of the political instability and fill the power vacuum in the local communities. While I think it's unlikely that takfiri movements like Al Qaeda would find a home in Mexico, it's certainly plausible that other Latin American movements (Cartels, MS-13, etc) could follow the Al Qaeda model and set up shop just South of the Border. And with the US-Mexico border being as porous as the ones which divide Iran and Iraq, and Afghanistan and Pakistan, border security and stability of the Mexican nation-state is going to be one of the biggest issues in the next decade.

PS--Can I deploy to Cancun next?

29 March 2009

Down with Orwellian Public Service Announcements

One of the things you really tend to miss when you are in an overseas location are actual commercials. The Armed Forces Network fills its "commercial" time with nothing but military-related public service announcements. You'll see everything from "wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle", to "be sure to have a power of attorney", and whatnot. Sometimes you get an interesting fact on what the meaning is behind some phrase or custom.

But when you sit back and watch it, you probably can't help but think of a 1984-like scenario in which you hear nothing but public service announcements which tell you that Big Brother is good for you. In fact, a number of the PSAs are downright laughable, like when you're told "don't spread rumors, it's bad for morale". Yeah, I'm certain that will put a dent in the rumor mill.

Today, I encountered a laughable PSA from the Armed Forces Network, in which Scruff McGruff discussed what to do when you have an "Internet bully". I personally like to taunt them incessantly, log their IP and publish a map to their house on Google Earth, psychoanalyze them (they're always compensating for something), photoshop them into compromising situations--the list is endless. I even went so far as to write a story about a whole bunch of Internet trolls in which they were a bunch of pirates who were attacked by a giant squid (who was actually a fat internet troll), by a massive carrier (manned by more internet trolls), and were finally killed by Navy SEALS (those of us who hate Internet trolls). Classic.

Well, Scruff McGruff recommended an approach pioneered by Maddox, of The Best Page in the Universe. McGruff, much like Maddox, suggests that one just delete traffic from an Internet troll. However, Maddox recommends doing it to the vitriolic hate mail that he receives, since there's nothing more satisfying than looking at a long, emotional response--one that a troll poured out his soul into--and not even reading it, just simply hitting delete. That's how you deal with Internet trolls.

(Oh by the way, if you get upset at an Internet troll and find out that he's in the military, don't go telling the chain of command. Seriously, it's the Internet and everyone has a right to act like a jackass. I'll never forget one of my most memorable phone calls, in which some offended lady from an Internet forum wanted to know if someone in my company was "IllSteve69". )


Okay, I'll admit it.

I know of a Chinook helicopter which ferried around the legendary Super Bowl Beer this past February. When loading the palates of that magical ambrosia--that elixir of awesomeness that is beer--a case was dropped, causing copious amounts of that nectar of the gods to spill upon the floor of the Chinook helicopter.

Sometimes, when no one is looking, I sneak into the cargo hold of the helicopter, and as the aircraft bakes in the sun, I smell the last remnants of the aroma of that day in February when there was beer upon the Chinook.

I even sing a little song...

28 March 2009

The Search for 928

One of the neat things I encountered as moderator on my college's message board was a link to a site which delved into the realm of aviation archeology.

In 1967, a rare A-12 aircraft--the CIA's version of the SR-71 that was a bit shorter, faster and produced two years earlier than that aircraft--crashed on its way back to Groom Lake (Area 51). The crash site was isolated, and so much secrecy surrounded the event that the site remained untouched for decades until someone did two years' worth of detective work and uncovered the crash site. When a plane travels at well over Mach 3, you'll find that that pinpointing an exact crash site based on rough time/distance/heading leaves you with an incredible margin of error. An aircraft like that could travel through an entire state in just a few minutes.

His narrative is incredible, and what's neat is that he doesn't tell you exactly where the aircraft crashed. I'm thinking that I need to take a trip out to see if I can do some archeology work for myself.

On Force Protection and Risk Aversion

David Axe at War is Boring has linked to an excellent story in Reuters which, once again, talks about the long-term dangers of "force protection". We've discussed the dangers of this mentality again and again, and it even serves as one of Dr. John Nagl's undeniable truths of counter-insurgency, ("The more you protect your forces, the less secure you may be"), but it's worth examining again with hard statistics from Afghanistan.

Josh Faust, a contractor returning from Afghanistan says:

It is a cliché that, in counterinsurgency, one must be among “the people”. In Iraq, the U.S. Army did this to great effect under the leadership of General David Petraeus, moving large numbers of soldiers off the enormous bases and into smaller, community-oriented security outposts. As a result, in densely populated urban areas like Baghdad, an active presence of troops played a significant role in calming the worst of the violence. The Western Coalition forces in Afghanistan, however, face an altogether different problem. Kabul is not Baghdad - far less of Afghanistan’s population lives there than in Iraq, and the insurgency is concentrated outside the country’s largest urban areas. In many urban areas-Herat in the west, Jalalabad in the east, Mazar-i Sharif in the north-a westerner is far safer in the city itself than out in the countryside

The many smaller bases strung in between are surrounded by enormous Hesco barriers, concertina wire, and guard towers. No one is allowed on the base without being badged and interviewed by base security, and in many places delivery trucks are forced to wait in the open for 24 hours before completing their trips to the dining halls, clinics, or technology offices.

There are other ways in which Coalition Forces are separated from the people of Afghanistan beyond their heavily fortified bases. Most transit - on patrol, on delivery runs, or on humanitarian missions - is performed through Mine Resistance Ambush Protection, or MRAP vehicles. These enormous trucks, thickly plated with metal blast shields on the bottom with tiny blue-tinted ballistic glass, make it near-impossible to even see the surrounding countryside from another other than the front seat.

On the narrow mountain roads that sometimes collapse under the mutli-ton trucks, soldiers drive, too, in up-armored Humvees, which are similarly coated in thick plates of armor and heavy glass windows they aren’t allowed to open.

When soldiers emerge from their imposing vehicles, they are covered from head to groin in various forms of shielding: thick ceramic plates on the torso, the ubiquitous Kevlar helmets, tinted ballistic eye glasses, neck and nape guards, heavy shrapnel-resistant flaps of fabric about the shoulders and groin, and fire-resistant uniforms. A common sentiment among Afghans who see these men and women wandering in their midst is that they look like aliens, or, if they know of them, robots...

...These are the sorts of questions that cannot be answered while holed up on a large base. Military bases are societies in miniature: they have their own politics, their own players, a separate culture, and even their own language. When focused on themselves, they develop into a so-called “garrison mentality” - a focus on rules, administration, and process, rather than accomplishing any larger strategic objectives [ed. note, isn't that the truth?].

...The end result is stark: in a war that is desperately short of the troops needed to provide security to increasingly less remote communities, 93% of the soldiers stationed at the Coalition’s primary base never walk outside the gates. Instead of a focus on separating the insurgents from the population - another clichéd pillar of counterinsurgency - the focus seems instead to be simply killing as many of the enemy as can be identified.

The article brings up a recent discussion which was also held on Small Wars Journal's discussion board, which talked about the curse of Force Protection, and blames the risk-averse culture in the military for the mentality. A number of commanders had chimed in, stating that whenever a Soldier is killed in action, an investigation is launched to determine any fault in his death. If the Soldier wasn't wearing the side plates in his body armour because it made him more cumbersome, well, that's the commander's fault. If a Soldier was patrolling in an area where someone knew there were hostiles, well, it's the commander's fault for putting him in harm's way.

Now, we all recognize that, ultimately, commanders are responsible for everything that goes on in the unit, and we all recognize that no commander wants to write home to families that a Soldier died, but, unfortunately, that's war. But I think that the pressure to not operate under such close scrutiny and micromanagement, and to have all decisions second-guessed by the threat of an investigation if a Soldier loses his or her life, has been detrimental to operations. As one battalion commander states, no one gets investigated for losing a villiage in Afghanistan, but you will if you lose a Soldier attempting to re-take that villiage in Afghanistan.

27 March 2009

Col./Dr. Mansoor, please take the Megan Fox challenge

So about a month or two ago, I had a little contest on this site to see if we could create a new Army unit designed specifically for counter-insurgency. Army transformation--the re-organization of the Army to fight in smaller, more rapidly-deployable units--still seemed intent on countering conventional forces, not unconventional.

With the enticement of a Megan Fox photo, I solicited responses to design said new Army unit. Unfortunately, I got no replies. Seriously, I've seen chicks post stupid blog posts which say "I just ate a baked potato. Yummy!", and get 50 replies from horny loser Internet geeks. But I digress.

Fortunately, Col./Dr. Peter Mansoor, a former brigade commander in Iraq, addresses the question for us in a statement given before the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

Although bulky divisions have given way to smaller, modular, more easily deployable
brigade combat teams, these units remain largely configured for conventional combat –
and imperfectly at that. Brigades that are tailored for counterinsurgency operations
would include more infantry; a full engineer battalion; a large intelligence section built
mainly around human and signals intelligence, with significant analytical capability;
military police, engineer, civil affairs, information operations, and psychological
operations cells; a contracting section; adviser and liaison sections, with requisite
language capabilities; human terrain teams, with the capability to map tribal and social
networks; explosive ordnance demolition teams; and intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance assets—particularly armed reconnaissance units that can engage the
people and fight for information, along with armed unmanned aerial vehicles and ground
sensors. The need for more infantry and engineers is especially critical, so much so that
the Army should forgo the creation of additional brigade combat teams until existing
units are reconfigured with the addition of a third maneuver battalion. The paucity of the
current brigade combat team structure has forced brigade commanders to attach armor
and infantry companies to the reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition
squadron, which is otherwise too lightly armed to act as a combat force. A triangular
organization would be more effective not just in counterinsurgency warfare, but would
give our maneuver commanders the resources they need to fight more effectively in
conventional conflicts as well.

Excellent advice. Only without the Megan Fox picture, it's worthless, but that's okay.

Question to the readers (again) is how you would design such a force. Would there be a number of human terrain teams and cultural advisors who can be plugged-and-played into any brigade combat team to prepare them for any global contingency (Latin America, Central Asia, etc)? Would we have a much more robust special troops battalion filled with construction engineers, public affairs, and information operations? Are we even using the "strike" (artillery) battalion any more as artillery? Should we axe it all together?

Focus: Draw a chart explaining what you think this would look like. Or post Megan Fox pictures, your choice.

Arms smugglers destroyed in Sudan?

A few news sources have been picking up a news story which seems to indicate that unidentified aircraft carried out an airstrike on arms smugglers traveling from Sudan to Egypt, with some officials pointing to aircraft from either the US or Israel as carrying out the attacks.

Then again, many of the reports--also picked up by Reuters--have been published by Arab and Egyptian media sources, some of whom also blame the US and Israel for carrying out air attacks with cruise missiles on the World Trade Center on September 11th, so take that with a grain of salt.

The details are so vague that anything could be true--it could have been a fighter-jet with precision bombs, an unmanned vehicle, or a helicopter gunship.

Who knows, maybe the US actually pulled the F-22 out of the showroom to participate in combat. Okay, maybe not...

26 March 2009

So I too will also comment on the Army's suicide spike

A number of articles recently have been talking about an alarming rise in suicides in the US military in recent years, particularly among the Army and Marines.

Statistics obtained by CNN show that the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and an additional 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

Statistics obtained by CNN show that the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and an additional 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

Suicides for Marines were also up in 2008. Marines had 41 suicides in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006, according to a Marines report

The numbers did not surprise Kevin Lucey, whose 23-year-old son, Jeffrey M. Lucey -- a former Marine -- hanged himself on June 22, 2004 -- 11 months after returning from Iraq.

The night before, "Jeffrey asked if he could sit in my lap and if we could rock," Lucey said. "It was about 11:30 at night. And I rocked him for about 45 minutes. Now here you have a 23-year-old, 150-pound Marine that I'm just rocking and his therapist said it was his last gasp. It was his last place for refuge, and then the next time I held him in my lap was when I was taking him down from the rafters. He had put the hose around his neck double-looped and he was dead."

After sitting through the mandatory suicide prevention classes, I now felt it necessary to weigh in on the subject. I'm always one to believe that correlation does not automatically imply causality, but in this case, I have to believe that there is definitely a relation between combat rotations--particularly multiple combat rotations--and suicides. Even Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a recent town hall meeting in Fort Campbell that he felt that multiple deployments were contributing to suicide.

But along comes a $50 million dollar Army-sponsored study to reassure us that absolutely nothing's wrong--multiple combat deployments with minimal time at home apparently have no affect on suicide rates. Just like how the tobacco companies have studies which state that smoking is good for you. Quotes the article:

The Army released frightening new suicide statistics Thursday, but suggested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have little to do with this alarming trend.

In fact, the vice chief of staff of the Army said that after reviewing suicide statistics for 2008, multiple combat deployments actually make soldiers less likely to commit suicide.

"The rational person might think the more deployments, the more likely you are to commit suicide, but we saw exactly the opposite," said Gen. Peter Chiarelli. "A certain resiliency seems to grow in an individual who has multiple deployments."

Chiarelli and other Army officials released the February statistics on a conference call with online journalists Thursday. Last month, the number of Army suicides nearly equaled that of soldiers killed in combat. Among active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve soldiers, there were 18 unconfirmed suicides and 20 combat-related deaths in February.

Again, not one to automatically jump to the "correlation/causality" bias, but something doesn't seem right. Any psychiatrists care to comment? Is there a point of diminishing returns where one deployment makes one want to commit suicide, whereas four tends to build some sort of resistance?

"I wish we could show you Beyond the Front [the interactive suicide prevention video], because what you described, the Beyond the Front video, the interactive video, that is serving as the centerpiece for our current stand-down, gets at those issues," he said.

The video was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't the greatest thing since sliced bread, as the Army seems to have been touting it.

Oh, and by the way, when you get to the option where you have to tell the potential suicide victim to see mental help and are given the option to take the guy to the shrink by force (in the middle of a Burger King), definitely take him by force. It's funny, and mistakes are the best ays to learn...

Focus: Okay, who voted to take the guy by force to the psychiatrist? Come on, raise your hands...

25 March 2009

What's in a name? Quite a bit, actually

A few weeks ago, I ridiculed whoever in the Army was responsible for naming wars, particularly poking fun at the term "The Global War on Terror". Turns out that top minds in the military and civil government were already doing the same. David Kilcullen, for example, always puts the term in "quotation marks", much like one would do for terms like "laser" and "Death Star".

I can't say that I was a fan of the term "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism", notable only for the acronym "GSAVE". Additionally, I always despised the term "The Long War", which not only sounded a little too much like George Orwell's "Perpetual War", but also because "The Long War" was always given the movie-like tagline of "the generation-long struggle against [something or other]". That's great if you're a policymaker above military age and aren't giving up your youth. However, the rest of us don't like looking forward to twenty years of deploying for a year, returning for eighteen months, and repeating as necessary. So yeah, down with that "Long War".

The Washington Post article linked above announces that current overseas conflicts are now referred to as overseas contingency operations. Which isn't catchy, and it's vague. Still, I like it better than "The Long War".

There's a drawback to witty t-shirts?

So it's no secret that everyone's favorite Army captain (me...by the way, check my narcissism post) is a fan of wearing witty t-shirts. I have a witty t-shirt for nearly all occasions, and they've played a huge role in my debaucherous episodes since back in Honduras when all the aviators drinking at the world-famous Lizard Lounge would compete to see who had the most obnoxious or witty t-shirts. When you have a t-shirt with "Leeroy Jenkins" on it, you tend to win, hands down. Some actually even provide a form of self-parody, to included the pictured t-shirt produced by the fine artists at xkcd.com, which states "Maybe if this t-shirt is witty enough, someone will finally love me".

While wearing a particularly infamous t-shirt based on a Dinosaur Comic, I met Sarah from Syracuse in Sackets Harbor, NY. Knowing my penchant for my attire of awesomeness, she sent me a link to a website which talks about some t-shirts being worn by the Israeli Defense Force. I got this link from her one day before it was posted on The Arabist and two days before it hit Abu Muqawama. Damn, I've really hit upon a good source for news articles.

Anyway, these t-shirts aren't officially being manufactured by the IDF, nor are they being sanctioned by the IDF, but it's still made the headlines due to the fact, yes, IDF soldiers have been seen wearing them and because they actually are quite graphic. For example, one of the t-shirts shows a set of cross-hairs lined up on a pregnant Palestinian woman, with the caption, "One shot, two kills".

In a globalized society, there's something to be said for the politically correct approach. I'm no prude when it comes to sick, twisted humor, to be certain. In fact, I used to laugh at the concept of political correctness. However, when we consider how quickly information is transferred in the modern world, and the critical importance of swaying the opinion of the 80% of people who, in any insurgency, remain neutral, it's critical that our "strategic fire"--information operations--accurately reflect what we want the world to see.

24 March 2009

Picture of the Day

Courtesy of the Tucker Max Message Board, I give you...3rd World Spiderman:

"Leeroy Jenkins, this is tower speaking"

Okay, a feature that kind of annoyed me in the Black Hawk (this should be a weekly series, as there are many things to annoy one) is the fact that the helmet microphones are not voice operated. Rather, in order to talk to the crew, you have to click a microphone switch, and the selector knob on the transmitter has to be set to "intercom". If it's not, you wind up transmitting out of the cockpit.

Which has led more than one aviator into a trouble spot. See, there's this guy I know (awesome dude) that likes to say, upon taking off, "All right, chaps, let's do this... LEEEEEROOOOY JEEEENNKKINSS!!!"

Only this one time, this really awesome dude had his selector switch on the air traffic control frequency at the time. Good thing I, erm, the guy just shut up when the tower asked who it was.

So please, Sikorsky, install a voice-activated intercom system (ICS). Please....

According to pop-psychology quizzes, I have serious issues

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Well, if you could call always living in a state of awesomeness "suffering".

USA Today just ran one of those stupid personality quizzes for those of you who think that your life can be summed up in a number of simple not-mutually-exclusive-yet-we'll-pretend-they-are a and b choices.

It was said that the average person scored a 15 out of 40 points on the narcissism scale. The average celebrity apparently scored 17 points out of 40 on the narcissism scale.

I scored 34 points on the narcissism scale. And I am in no way ashamed. In fact, I'm actually boasting about it.

I guess when you boast about how narcissistic you are, you have serious issues.

Anyone have the number for Truck Masters? These guys might need that...

In the last two posts, we talked about how important it was for a counter-insurgency strategy to allow young males to have legitimate means of income. Unfortunately, The New York Times reports that a large number of young Iraqi males, the Sons of Iraq--who played a key role in the security improvements made in 2007--are about to get pink slips.

It would be misleading to give US forces all of the credit for the improvement in Iraq's security situation. Although many factors came into play, the Sunni Awakening movement, which began to kick off just before the Surge, provided many able-bodied young Sunni males who organized into a community watch program, policing the streets and assisting US forces in rooting out Al Qaeda.

The organization consisted, in many cases, of former insurgents. These "accidental guerillas" were offered reconciliation and a steady paycheck in exchange for assisting Coalition forces in policing the streets. The program was a resounding success.

Unfortunately, this meant providing a steady stream of money to former insurgents. The question always remained: what would happen if the money ceased to flow? It looks as if we're about to find out. With worldwide recession and oil prices at an all-time low, there's very little these young males can do for jobs. Quotes the New York Times:

Coinciding with the American military’s “surge” over the last two years, the Awakening movement is given broad credit for helping quell most of the violence in Sunni communities.

The program was never meant to be permanent, however; the idea always was to find them jobs and bring Sunnis into the security services and government.

General Ferriter said he was not concerned about the low number integrated so far, predicting that all 94,000 members would have government jobs by the end of this year. He said that so far, 3,000 jobs had been promised by the Health Ministry, 10,000 by the Education Ministry and 500 by the Oil Ministry.

But other American officials are not so sure, given the far weaker financial condition of the Iraqi government because of falling oil prices. “Do we really think the Iraqi government is going to bring 100,000 new employees in at a time when their revenue stream is taking a nosedive?” asked an American military official knowledgeable about the program, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

“You have to realize the Iraqi government may have an S.O.I. transition program, but Al Qaeda and all those groups have their own S.O.I. transition program,” the officer said, using the abbreviation for the Sons of Iraq.

No one has ever doubted that many of the recipients of the American money were once insurgents, some aligned with Al Qaeda at one time. Essentially, they were paid to change sides. They have paid a price: More than 500 were killed in the fighting that ousted Al Qaeda from their neighborhoods and villages in 2007 and 2008.

Maybe they can learn to be truck drivers. Anyone have the number for that truck driving school they have on TV--Truck Masters, I think it is? They might need that...

23 March 2009

Decline of the State: Mexico Edition

Defense and the National Interest, one of the central repositories for the writings of John Boyd's acolytes, has run a recent article which examines the decline of the state in Mexico, and the conditions which led to it--conditions all too familiar to any counter-insurgency theorist.

One of the preconditions for mass insurgency, revolt, or decline into anarchy is, of course, economic disparity between the elites and non-elites. Says Timothy Gawne:

So how does the state kill itself? By the tried and true method of crushing the people into hopeless poverty so as to enrich the lords and princes at the top. When the average person can, without superhuman effort, live a reasonably decent life and raise a family with some degree of security, then the state has basically won. The people have a stake in the system, they have something important to lose should it fail, and they will, for the most part, play by the rules. But when people are crushed into the dirt, when they have no prospect for any kind of life at all, then the state has for them no legitimacy, and they will turn to gangs or ethnic militias in a quite understandable attempt to survive. Additionally, low-wage societies tend to be capital-starved and poor overall. This means that the security forces are underpaid, poorly equipped, and corrupt. An increasingly desperate and rebellious population coupled with increasingly ineffective and dishonest state forces is the typical death of states.

If you've ever been to Latin America, you'll probably understand where the author is coming from here. My trips around various communities never uncovered anything that one would consider "middle class" by American standards--which is pretty much defined as anything poorer than Paris Hilton to anything richer than the family in the trailer park. On one end, you would have splendor that, in America, would cost millions of dollars. Mansions staffed by dozens of maids, cooks and other servants. On the low end, you would have people in tin roof houses, who would go so far as to steal the guard rails off of the sides of the road on precarious mountain passes, as they were so desperate for metal for their homes.

The author goes on to state that there is a correlation between failing states and population growth. Population growth is essential to provide cheap labor, but there comes a moment when population growth exceeds a society's ability to handle the number of people, and then, there's a collapse.

Consider Mexico. Its recent population explosion was engineered by the Mexican oligarchs who waged a massive propaganda campaign to convince Mexicans to have enormous numbers of children at an early age (see “The Mexicans: a personal portrait of a people”, by Patrick Oster). They actually gave medals to women with large families! Ostensibly to make Mexico “bigger and better”, the only reason I can think of for this policy is to ensure that wages stay low.

It’s working. It’s working so well that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state.

Consider Iran, where the ayatollahs encouraged large families so that they could use human wave attacks against Iraq rather than hire competent generals. As usual, after population growth rates picked up the Iranian standard of living began falling, and dealing with the unrest caused by all those unemployed young men became a major problem for the state.

Look for a failing state, and you are more likely than not going to find a rapidly growing population. Look for a rapidly growing population, and if you dig enough, you are likely to find government policies dating a generation or two prior.

This has important implications for evaluating current events. For example, looking at the demographics of Pakistan, we can readily see the reason for the current unrest, and further, it is a virtual certainty that Pakistan will remain chronically unstable. Tactical innovations for the security forces, democracy, or changing the marginal tax rate on capital gains, are simply irrelevant wastes of time.

I'd posit that the problem is a little more specific than too many people. Rather, I'm going to use the old adage that the amount of violence in any given society is proportional to the number of young males in that population demographic as a springboard into something new. The simple fact of the matter is that with that large a number of males in any demographic, they will be competing that much harder to achieve alpha male status, and knowing us dudes, that leads to violence.

Consider that evolutionary psychology teaches us that our primary concern is to ensure our own genetic survival. For men, that means that they must prove to women that they have the ability to allow a female's progyny to survive to breeding age. A number of other factors come into play, but they must above all demonstrate that they offer superior resources and protection than other males. In short, you need money, you need status, and you need to be able to drive off the beta males.

(Oh yeah, on a side note, here's my advice to you guys--women are kind of simple to deceive in this respect, and, strangely enough, equate things like obnoxious t-shirts with confidence and, therefore, alpha male status. Seriously, get something from BustedTees.com, work on your routine and then report back.)

Anyway, in societies where large numbers of males are not able to earn money or demonstrate status through the job market, they will typically turn to violence to demonstrate alpha-male status. It could be for the glory and status of being a powerful criminal lord, or it could be for the fact that insurgent and criminal organizations sometimes offer more money than the economy. I would posit that the drive to prove ones' self is particularly powerful in cultures where there's a strong cult of machismo, such as in Latin America or even in the Middle East.

And that's my theory: that it's all based on sex. Or lack thereof.

22 March 2009

Counterinsurgency, Leadership and Sideburns

Not much is happening in the news, apparently. I think the event that's drawing the biggest headlines is Chris Brown and Rihanna. If you haven't been paying attention to that, you can catch up on the highlights on Sock Puppet Theatre.

One article from Small Wars Journal did catch my eye. It's written by Major Michael Few, an armour officer who has served in Iraq, and it discusses the art of conflict resolution in counter-insurgency warfare, taking a bit of psychology and applying it to counter-insurgency.

Many of us have heard the horror stories coming out of third world countries of shooting wars which start over arguments which seem, to us, as backwards as those from the days of the Hatfields and the McCoys. In areas in the former Yugoslavia, ethnic strife arose from stories of battles ranging back over a thousand years. Peter Bergen reports that, in the mid 1990s, two Afghan warlords engaged in a tank battle which arose over which warlord was going to have the exclusive rights to a pre-teenage boy. Yeah, I'm alluding to the fact that these guys were both members of MEMBLA.

Major Few writes a great article, but I need to focus on one line in particular, as it's not only useful for counter-insurgency warfare, but it's also useful for leadership, since leadership with aviators can sometimes require the same tactics as counter-insurgency.

Major Few notes that the more a power attempts to control the population, the more they will find themselves losing control. Which, of course, to anyone studying a classic rebellion against an empire scenario, this is incredibly obvious. There was a famous quote from a successful insurgent by the name of Princess Leia Organa, spoken to a deceased and unsuccessful counter-insurgent Grand Moff Tarkin: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

Attempts to exert excessive control often lead to greater rebellion, not only in counter-insurgency, but also in military leadership. Take the case of the rebellion of one of my former chief warrant officer pilots, Donny, and his sideburns.

Donny had served some 18 years in the Army prior to the late 90s. But the Army, cutting its personnel, decided that they could afford to lose Donny, as he was one of the few chief warrant officers without a college degree. So, two years away from retirement and a pension, he basically got a pink slip. Sorry, find another job.

Then, shortly after September 11th, 2001, the Army realized it probably shouldn't have laid him off, so they recalled him to active service. The Army didn't call this a "draft", per se, but pretty much everyone did think of it as one. In fact, Gene Rodenberry envisioned this exact scenario some thirty years ago when he made Star Trek: The Motion Picture. To save you the pain from watching this so-bad-it's-good movie, I'll describe a scene in which we first see Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy on the USS Enterprise. Apparently, Bones had retired a few years back, and was part of the StarFleet equivelant of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Sometime in the movie, it's deemed necessary that he join the crew because, well, we need everyone back together again. He's beamed aboard the ship from his retirement home. He now has a beard and he's wearing disco pants, a massive belt buckle, and a shirt unbuttoned to his navel with a massive gold chain. (Much like Donny, as we will soon see). He also informs Captain Kirk that a little-known "Reserve Activation Clause" was put into effect, and noting "in simpler language, they drafted me!" Yes, he's a model for all that were either stop-lossed or recalled from the IRR.

Much like the recently-recalled and bearded Dr. McCoy, an obviously-disgruntled Donny began to grow his sideburns down to the bottom of the opening of his ears, much to the dismay of his company, battalion and brigade commanders. Even though the regulation stated that his sideburns were, indeed, within regulation, his commanders had the standard that he should exceed the standard, sort of like the 15 pieces of flair logic from Office Space.

Despite numerous chastizings, Donny maintained his sideburns at their current length. He even consulted with JAG about the legality of having his sideburns shaved shorter. Donny received a counseling statement, where his company commander actually drew a picture of a human ear and sideburns in relation to it. Still, Donny's sideburns remained where they were. What could they do to him, kick him out of the Army again and then bring him back in?

Donny--and his sideburns--finally made it to retirement. So ready was he to leave the Army that he actually filled out his final evaluation support form in crayon. He went on his retirement leave and dropped by to fill out some paperwork one day during it. Donny had a handlebar mustache and mutton chop sideburns by this point.

The day after Donny retired, I ran into him in the parking lot somewhere at Fort Bragg. I couldn't believe it--he had shaved his mustache and sideburns, and now had a neat, clean haircut.

"Donny--what the fuck?" I asked.

"Oh, well, sir, I couldn't do the whole sideburn thing because I kind of needed to look presentable to get a job".

Indeed, Donny hit upon one of the great rules in counterinsurgency theory. Higher powers aren't as likely as one would think to force and impose submissive behavior on a populace through threat of force--it's been proven too many times to fail. Instead, sometimes you have to offer insurgents an economically viable alternative to insurgency. In the case of Donny, he gave up the great sideburn insurgency when he realized that he needed to ditch the sideburns to look presentable for a job interview. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that means creating jobs that pay more than the $20 or so that insurgents might offer to plant a roadside bomb. Which is much simpler in a country like Iraq than it is in Afghanistan.

21 March 2009

Military Sports Analogies

I've written a bit for Small Wars Journal in the past few months, but nothing has generated as much debate (or, in some cases, agreement) as an article I wrote regarding the Army's concept of the "pentathlete" leader--leaders who are scholars and warriors, skilled in peace, war, civil administration, and adaptive to new forms of conflict.

I have to admit, I garnered myself a certain bit of notoriety. One captain actually approached me and asked me "Are you Small Wars Journal Captain [Starbuck]?" I have to admit that this is actually quite a high honor to be associated with SWJ. It also reminds me of the days when I was a moderator on my college's message board and people would look at me and say that they recognized me from that particular (notoroious) website. Yeah, I was social networking before it was cool.

I wound up with a lot of great responses (and with one quote in Foreign Policy magazine). Some respondants agreed, while some disagreed on certain points. Most, if not all, seemed to agree that we needed to find a new way to cultivate the leaders we need to succeed in the current operating environment. The model that we had been using for training, schooling and progressing our officers was one which was designed in the 1950s, when the US was preparing to win set-piece battles in the Fulda Gap in Europe, rather than the complex hybrid wars that the US is currently facing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the things that surprised me about the responses was the fact that there was more debate over the "pentathlete" analogy that I used than the content of the article at times. Honestly, I can't claim credit for the "pentathlete" concept, as it had been put forward by, I believe, General Schoomaker, a former Army Chief of Staff. Nevertheless, I spawned a few articles which suggested alternatives to the term "pentathlete". One captain said that he felt that officers were Triathletes, Not Pentathletes Yet. Foreign Policy magazine quipped that, after seeing the complexities of hybrid wars, military leaders would need to be decathletes.

But the best criticism came from Boss Mongo, who made some great points on the sports analogy, and actually came up with some suggestions for alternate professional education and development for military officers. Mongo compared military leaders to Boxers and those who practice Ju-Jitsu, with Boxers being the single-tracked conventional warriors, and those who practice Ju-Jitsu representing those who are skilled at conventional, unconventional and nation-building skills. Boss Mongo brings up the John Boyd-style point that the goal of ju-jitsu, much like that of any organism in life, is to increase (or retain) your own ability to act independently, while depriving your adversary of the same ability.

The strictures of boxing are immutable. The defeat of your opponent will only ever be achieved through the delivery system of your fists.

JiuJitsu opens a myriad of options. The ultimate goal is, unlike boxing, not to render your opponent insensate (although that will happen, if he's inexperienced or stubborn or some combination thereof) but to convince him to submit to your will. The analogy between the grappling arts and warfare is comprehensive and enduring enough that Clausewitz (military readers, pause to genuflect) opens up On War with it.

But the greatest advantage of the officer/judoka analogy is the employment of means and ends in both endeavors. Jiu-Jitsu is playing chess with your body. The jiujitsuka has to evaluate his opponent's strengths and weaknesses, formulate a plan to neutralize his strengths and exploit his weaknesses, and then lure him into following your plan, fighting your fight (hello, OODA loop, anyone?), until he submits--all while under physical and mental duress. The opponent's submission can be contrived by a choke, a joint-lock, a strike (Atemi-waza, for you "it's all about grappling and throws" fanatics), or by simply just exhausting him.

The similarity with an officer invested in the COIN fight is that the judoka has to choose the appropriate tactics and techniques, the appropriate amounts of force (blunt trauma), and the condition of the opponent at the endstate (dead, maimed, injured, or merely chastened).

Mongo goes on to address a number of issues facing the development and education of officers. I had initially (and still do to a certain extent) backed the higher education of officers. Many of the members of the "council of colonels" that provided much of the guidance for the Surge of 2007 were combat veterans with advanced degrees. Advanced degrees can certainly be helpful, and, by the way, offer a well-deserved break in a career after a deployment or two. However, Mongo also proposes that officers spend time working with either a governmental agency (US State) or Non-Governmental Agency (Red Cross). The organizational skills learned by military officers can prove useful to the management in these agencies, and the skills learned there prepare officers for work in areas where they may have to deal with a plethora of different actors.

Humanitarian assistance missions in other countries--or possibly even within our own country--will require that military officers be effective civil-military administrators and be able to work with non-governmental or governmental agencies to restore security. They must be able to synchronize the efforts of all actors within a theater, even when actors may range from organizations such as Doctors Without Borders to Blackwater. These are skills that typically aren't learned if our leaders move from one check-the-block job to another, where they are apt to spend more time discussing Line Item Numbers on a property book than they are discussing population security.

Whether you call it a triathlete, pentathlete, decathlete or judoka, it's obvious our promotion system, career management, and educational and development systems need a serious re-boot.

20 March 2009

WTF? Common Sense?!

Finally, after the urging of five former secretaries of state (from Kissenger to Colin Powell), an American president sends an open message to Iran, along with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

I figure that if we could talk to the Soviet Union and China during the height of the Cold War, we could certainly sit down at the table with a regional power like Iran. Not to mention, most Middle Eastern experts have known for a long time that there is, indeed, a massive divide between the rhetoric of Iran's government and the attitudes of most Iranians.

The New York Times has the highlights of President Obama's speech, during which President Obama reached out to Iran in an invitation to allow it into the International community.

Initial responses seem to indicate that the response among the Iranian people was quite positive, and even though state television didn't pick up Obama's message, many satellite stations did.

Some Iranians, according to NYT, were claiming that the US needed to make amends for previous wrongs, and you know what, I have to give it to them, we might have to admit some wrong-doing. American-Persian relations have been rocky for the past thirty years and then some. Whereas we, as Americans, remember Iran for their seizure of an embassy after the 1979 Revolution, the shooting of a missile into the USS Stark, and support for organizations such as Hezbollah and various Iraqi insurgent groups, Iranians remember the US for some incidents like the downing of a jet-liner in the 80s, support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and (most notably) for the overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian government in the 1950s and the reinstitution of the Shah. The latter of these, undoubtedly, gives rise to great cynicism when Iranians see the US attempting to build democracies in bordering Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iranians probably aren't too keen on having nearly 200,000 US and NATO troops in those countries, either. No wonder they act out so much.

Iran has its issues, to be certain. Support for Hezbollah and remarks about wiping Israel off the face of the earth aren't to be ignored. However, we can't take a hard-line stance against every country in the world--we need bend a little on our rhetoric.

What do we have to lose? American-Iranian relations couldn't get that much worse, could they?

Would it help if I got out and pushed?

Starting up a Black Hawk helicopter can sometimes be an adventure. The hydraulic system actually starts up an auxiliary power unit, which can then be used to run a generator to power the avionics, as well as an air source to start the engines. During preflight, you need to ensure that the pressure on the auxiliary power unit's accumulator is at 2800 PSI or else you won't have enough pressure to start it, meaning you have to manually pump it up all the way from zero.

And, the other day, we had a little electrical issue that wouldn't allow the hydraulic system to provide enough pressure to the accumulator, and, in effect, it dumped pressure all the way to zero. Right before we were supposed to take off, too.

At least I got some exercise that day. Well, in between rounds of me laughing and videotaping everyone else when it was their turn to pump the pressure back up.

Definition, please

Kings of War recently posted an interesting article regarding North Korea's research into Hybrid War. Yes, the last bastion of the supposedly linear battlefield may indeed be going away, as the article discusses North Korea's attempts to build a guerilla force to resist ROK/US invasion after watching the activities of Taliban/Iraqi insurgents and Hezbollah.

Kings of War describes North Korea's attempts to build a force designed for simultaneous guerilla and conventional conflict as a "hybrid" war. But some have described the simultaneous use of conventional and guerilla force as "compound war" (much as Lawrence and Allenby worked together to defeat the Turks in the First World War). This type of "hybrid war" differs from the hybrid war scenario put forth by David Kilcullen when discussing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, he refers to hybrid war in those regions as a simultaneous counter-narcotic/counter-insurgency/counter-terror/counter-sectartian conflict war.

Which leads me to believe that "hybrid war" really isn't a form of war. It's a way of looking at conflict. These forces--insurgency, terrorism, civil war, have always been a source of violence in any society. Our current vision of state-on-state war on an open battlefield is a relatively recent invention, dating back to the creation of nations around the time of Napoleon (First Generation Warfare). With nation-states gradually declining in their monopoly on the application of violence, it is only natural that state-on-state conflict will decline, giving rise to multiple forms of conflict in any given area.

That is the value of the concept of hybrid war--acknowledging the decline of state-on-state violence and the resurgence of these sources of small wars which have plagued great powers for thousands of years.

The Art of Milblogging AND Break-dancing Stormtroopers

Small Wars Journal has alerted us to the fact that one of its editors, Dave Dilegge, and Abu Muqawana's Andrew Exum are taking part in a panel on milblogging, discussing how military bloggers have made in impact in national defense policy, tactical and strategic development, and military professional education. After being part of the Small Wars Journal community for a while, I can honestly say that, yes, a few people with ideas and laptops can make a difference.

Which is interesting, because the art of milblogging has come almost full circle. Since blogs became popular in the early 2000s (sites like Livejournal, Xanga, etc), the military has now embraced the art. Which is kind of funny, because in 2003, when I first signed up with Livejournal, I always lived with this nagging fear that someone would tap me on the shoulder and say, "Captain [Starbuck], we read what you wrote on your blog about how much you want to strangle the people that made the Star Wars Christmas Special, and we are very concerned." Or, "We read all about your debauchery at [insert: college, rival college, Slip and Slide Party, Lizard Lounge, various 3rd-World Tropical locales, Sackets Harbor NY, etc.], and we're here to bust you because, well, what you did is probably illegal in most states/countries".

And the military's attitude didn't get any better for a while. By mid-2007, many milbloggers feared that the art of military blogging was going to get crushed by new Army policies which sought to all but snuff out any unofficial military-related writing. I can remember many instructors in military courses decrying that our youth's propensity for posting pictures and stories on "The Myspace" was going to lose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not troop levels, not population security, not a massive over-reliance on airstrikes for combat power, not economic development. According to our instructors, "The Myspace" was an evil as great as I bet many adults might have felt that The Beatles were in the 1960s.

But fortunately, some have caught on to Web 2.0's ability to give the pundits a forum to debate tactics and defense policy and even share some lessons on conflict in the world today. Some, such as General William Caldwell (a former 82nd Airborne commander), have even mandated that students in advanced military schools maintain a blog, something that had previously been relegated to the arena of a few rebellious junior officers who talked about break-dancing stormtroopers almost as much as they talked about OODA Loops. The 2008 Milblogging conference was even attended by Secretary of the Army Peter Geren.

Now, thanks to the new media, I can network with those who might be critical of defense policy, or miltiary professional education, or any one of a host of other topics. And you know what, every now and then, someone pays attention. Lt. Col. Paul Yingling caused ripples across Fort Hood when he posted "A Failure of Generalship", but the article was a huge wake-up call for military leadership, and Lt. Col. Yingling was in charge of reforming the detainee system in Iraq, which made a drastic recovery from their low in 2004, where they served mainly as propaganda and recruiting for the enemy, not only by those outside, but by the prisoners inside who networked and shared tactics.

Indeed, milbloggers have become such successful insurgents in the military community that now we're starting to become mainstream.

So please, if you like to read milblogs, start one up for yourself. Post about anything that tickles your fancy--purchasing F-22s, foreign relations, or something more mundane. Yes, you could even post break-dancing stormtrooper videos.

A Rave...without glow sticks/chem lights/lightsabers

You all remember this song (Skip the first 45 seconds worth of credits)

At least the dance moves are authentic in this classic from 1989 or so...(fast forward 30-45 seconds)

You know you want to sing along. One minute in, they even have the lyrics on screen so there's no excuse to not sing.


19 March 2009

Micromanagement to a new level?

The information revolution has transformed how we conduct the business of warfare. While the Fog of War will always be a reality, we can help cut through that with amazing information technologies, such as the FBCB2 system--a system which tracks the location and identity of thousands of Coalition vehicles, and can be used to help them navigate with sophisticated mapping and GPS systems, as well as communicate through text-messaging, and even plan out mission briefings with a touch-screen display transmitted to other vehicles. Friendly forces can view the locations of units and communicate with them thousands of miles away.

But this information revolution has a dark side. The same technology which allows our Tactical Operations Centers to track the location of dozens of patrols and combat missions can also give rise to some darker human nature. Much as Powerpoint, originally a simple communications program, gave rise to the wasteland that is now the military briefing, so can these systems give way to extreme micromanagement, as an article in Defense News (and a thread on Small Wars Jounal) seems to indicate.

The ripple effects of robotics on leadership even affects the strategic level. Many have discussed the idea of "strategic corporals," younger and younger troops who are being given greater and greater power and responsibility. But the rise of robots has created an opposite phenomenon - a dirty little secret that people in the service are somewhat afraid to talk about for risk of their own careers. I call it the rise of the "tactical generals."

Our technologies are making it very easy, perhaps too easy, for leaders at the highest level of command not only to peer into, but even to take control of, the lowest level operations. One four-star general, for example, talked about how he once spent a full two hours watching drone footage of an enemy target and then personally decided what size bomb to drop on it.

Similarly, a Special Operations Forces captain talked about a one-star, watching a raid on a terrorist hideout via a Predator, radioing in to tell him where to move not merely his unit in the midst of battle, but where to position an individual soldier.

Indeed, back in 2003, I remember a senior chief warrant officer bemoan these new systems, claiming that the ability of a general to view a rifle squad was going to take micromanagement to new extremes. Verily, a blog post from 2003 talked about generals sitting in a tactical operations center and being absolutely mesmerized by the feed from a Predator UAV, surmising that the ability of a Predator UAV to show generals the battle gave them the feeling as if they were actually fighting the battle. Today, we refer to the Predator feeds as "Predator Crack", alluding to their addictive nature.

On a more somber note, the extreme micromanagement of tactical units by high-ranking defense officials has many disheartening echos of Robert MacNamera deciding which bombs to drop on which bridges in the middle of air raids during the early stages of the Vietnam War.

Maneuver warfare is based on the ability to successfully execute OODA Loops, and indeed, these systems greatly enhance that ability. But it's also based on trust of subordinates and not holding back these units. We've all been impacted positively by these communication and navigational systems, but how can we use them more responsibly to ensure they don't wind up corrupted like Powerpoint?

Kindle...Kindle 2

All right, so I've been getting fan mail regarding...okay, I need to stop laughing, it wasn't fan mail. But please just humor me.

Anyway, I got an e-mail or two from Boss Mongo, asking me my opinion on the Kindle and whether or not it would be great for a combat environment.

I was actually interviewed on the Kindle Chronicles (view the transcript and podcast here) on my opinions of the Kindle while deployed, and I have to say that, overall, I've been pleased. So much so in fact that I bought the Kindle 2 as soon as it hit the market. Hey, flight pay more than covers it.

It's tough to improve on a classic, but it can be done. The HMMWV replaced the Jeep. The Black Hawk replaced the Huey. And now, the Kindle2 replaced the Kindle. I have to say, Amazon took a lot of the criticisms of the product seriously, and have not only made the product less bulky, but they've also been able to add a number of neat new features.

Anyway, I get frequent questions about the Kindle, and I'll try to address them in turn.

1.) First of all, it really is easy to read for extended periods of time. Most people think that it's like looking at a computer screen, where it would strain your eyes after reading for hours. Actually, it's a lot like looking at an etch-a-sketch. You can read the thing in the sun on a beach, and you won't have to worry about glare. On the flip side, however, you won't be able to read it in the dark without a light.

2.) I just tested it out, too. If you're wearing a flight uniform, it will fit in the cargo pocket, and it will also fit in the pocket of the Army Combat Uniform. It is fairly durable, but I found that it's also best to carry it in its hard binder, lest you have issues damaging the screen.

3.) If you're the type of person who usually has a lot of books open at any one time, this is the device for you. You can bring it anywhere with you, and whenever you find yourself delayed for an extended period of time, you can whip it out. Hypothetically speaking, if you find yourself broken down at a large Air Force base in Iraq for days at a time, you could either try to visit one of the two swimming pools to be found at said US Air Force base, or you could read your Kindle. I picked reading my Kindle, largely because I didn't bring a swimming suit with me. But I digress (and now I have my bathing suit with me in the go-bag. Hey, it's survival equipment when you go to Air Force bases).

4.) If you're stateside, your books are downloaded wirelessly to the Kindle, using Verizon's EV-DO network. If you're anywhere outside the US or outside EV-DO coverage, you need to go to Amazon and select "download to computer" and the books will transfer to the computer. In my case, if you have a lot of books already and you need a new Kindle, you can just have someone stateside turn on the Kindle for you, leave it for a few hours, and then mail it to you.

Also, big thing: I can't tell if Kindles will ship to APO addresses (I believe not). Maybe someone from Amazon can elaborate on this for me.

5.) The big issue I have is the book selection. Most new releases are being released in Kindle format for abour $10, but there are some exceptions. For example, I tried to check out The Moneypenny Diaries on Kindle, and it's not available yet. Some books are inexplicably expensive--about a year ago, John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife was about $80 on the Kindle, but has since come down to $10.

Many big classics, such as the complete works of Homer, Ovid, Dickens, etc. are also available in Kindle format, and you can sometimes obtain complete works of great authors for $5. On the flip side, many older books or rare books aren't available, and sometimes you get what you pay for. I tried to download T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom on Kindle in August of 2008, and found out that it's only the first few chapters of the book. Well, there went 99 cents down the drain. Fortunately, it looks as if the problem has been rectified with the latest release.

6.) Pictures and maps are the biggies. We're all used to books with pictures and maps on the facing page, so you can trace where the action is taking place, or see a picture as the text talks about it. Not so with the Kindle or Kindle 2. You will have to find a way to bookmark a map so that you can flip back to it as it's being discussed in the book, then flip back to the electronic page you were on. I'll take reading the massive edition of Thucydides as opposed to the Kindle, thanks.

7.) Back in the states, newspapers and magazines will download to the Kindle almost instantaneously. Sadly, the pictures won't turn out well. That means no juggie magazines (sorry, Boss Mongo).

18 March 2009

The Ethics of Contracting, Made Simple

For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, you may be surprised that many of the jobs originally done by specially-trained Soldiers, such as laundry, refrigerator repair and other miscellaneous nonsensical jobs have since been outsourced to contractors. Unfortunately, this has extended to aircraft maintenance, communications repair, postal service, and a whole host of other activities previously taken upon by Soldiers, which raises a number of issues (Great article from Military Review on Contractor Culture).

Seven years into America’s War on Terrorism, private contractors now outnumber American troops serving in harm’s way. Pentagon officials recently informed Congress that as of September 2007, there were 196,000 contractors, along with approximately 160,000 American service members, supporting U.S. military operations in southwest Asia.1 In fiscal year 2006, the Pentagon spent more than $300 billion on contracted goods and services, making it “the largest purchasing agent in the world.”2

There are many good reasons to privatize military functions. According to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report, most contracts supporting American operations in Iraq involve local companies and employees.3 Their employment creates jobs and supports economic development, a key tenet in counterinsurgency doctrine.4 Furthermore, many of the contracted services require unskilled labor. Without contractors, commanders would have to divert Soldiers from other, more important tasks. At the same time, modern military operations now depend heavily on high-tech weapons systems that may be too sophisticated for junior Soldiers to maintain and repair. Contractors provide expert technical support for these systems. Finally, the private sector has proven more flexible and responsive than the government’s civilian workforce in providing skilled workers willing to serve in dangerous locations. The U.S. Army is particularly dependent on contractors for a vast array of services from civil engineering, foreign military training, and computer network support to laundry, showers, and mail. The vast majority of this support has been extremely effective...

This article addresses a separate but equally important challenge: military professionalism. The Army’s heavy reliance on contracting erodes its professional jurisdiction over land warfare, drains its professional expertise, and undermines its institutional legitimacy within our democracy.

Many in the Small Wars community have debated the ethics of military contracting: are contractors legitimate military targets, what are the ethics of hiring a company, what jobs should be outsourced, how much do we pay contractors, etc. Indeed, many of these questions have been answered before. Not by the strategists in the Small Wars community, but by two clerks in the Kwik Stop somewhere in New Jersey...

Bonus: Did you know that George Lucas made sure that, in Attack of the Clones, that the evil corporate entities such as the Trade Federation, the Corporate Alliance, the Banking Clan, etc., were responsible for the design of the plans of the Death Star in an homage to this scene? Did you also realize that the same George Lucas that speaks out on how evil corporations are is also the same man that made millions of dollars selling C-3POs the Cereal?

17 March 2009

You know it's a no-fly day

With the arrival of the hot season marks the beginning of sandstorm season. With some days having visibility of roughly 100 meters, that means no flying. Even the birds declare maintenance days.

I noted that you can instantly tell when a sandstorm is in the area by the conversation in the tactical operations center. For example, when there's a sandstorm in the area, and flying ceases, you will get conversations like the one I had the other day on Joseph Campbell and Mithratic cults.

Me: "You ever think that Mithratic Cults are to Christianity what The Hidden Fortress was to Star Wars?"

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I had to do something special on St. Patrick's Day, so a little patch on the back of the helmet had to do. I realize I probably broke a number of regulations putting a shamrock patch on the back of my helmet, but really, you also break a lot of regulations when you don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Scylla and Charybdis FTW.

16 March 2009

Never Say Never

So after a long day (and a cancelled flight for the day), I decided to grab dinner at our local dining facility. Our dining facility isn't exactly the best--the closest thing nearby is a little shack where you open up a food container (mermite) and scoop the food onto a paper plate. Which, of course, gets old day after day after day. So those stories you hear of massive dining facilities where Kellogg, Brown and Root charge $32 a plate for a meal don't apply here.

With that said, I look at today's menu and notice that it's spaghetti day. I love spaghetti. And when it's made with actual meat sauce, that makes it that much better. Now, it would be entirely like the Army to find a way to mess up this simple, functionally elegant meal, but given the fact that it is spaghetti, you'd actually have to actively try to mess up a meal like this.

I open the first mermite container and there, just like you'd expect, are the noodles. I heap a massive portion of noodles onto my plate.

Next, of course, is the sauce. I get to the next mermite container.

They're out of spaghetti sauce.


So yes, amazingly, the Army found a way to mess up even spaghetti. Off to enjoy my dry noodles...

And thanks to you, my fans

According to Google Reader, this blog now has some 35 regular subscribers.

My goal is to get up to 300, as that was the number of people that regularly subscribed to the news feed for Stars and Stripes. I still think it's doable.

I mean, let's have a "Yes We Can" moment for the triumph of the New Media.

I promise more and more Megan Fox pictures (stolen from other websites, of course)

15 March 2009

Another leadership vignette for the counter-insurgent

One of my fellow bloggers in Iraq, Boss Mongo, has commented on a number of personalities well-known in the counterinsurgency field. many of whom have proven to be quite eccentric characters.

Last month, Mongo commented on an article from Small Wars Journal which discussed the various character attributes of T.E. Lawrence, whom I've commented on a number of times before. (By the way, the author of that article is awesome) My fascination with his character goes back a number of years. I knew of Lawrence largely from his role as a recurring character in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (circa 1990), where he assumes the role of an archaeologist specializing in the Middle East. Years later, as a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division, I attended the 3 1/2 hour long movie Lawrence of Arabia at, believe it or not, an art-house theater in Fayetteville, NC. Yeah, there actually is one of those theaters in downtown Fayetteville, believe it or not. Anyway, what struck me about the character is that he, like I was at the time, was a bored lieutenant on someone's staff--over-educated and under-employed; he had a far greater sense of Middle Eastern politics and military strategy than his peers, and he was stuck with a mundane job. In his case, his job was to re-draw maps for briefings (which, in today's terms, would probably be akin to making PowerPoint slides).

Well, Mongo has introduced us to a new personality for all of us in the counter-insurgency/hybrid/4GW/pentathlete camp: a British intelligence officer named Orde Wingate. Mongo links to a book on Amazon about him (which, unfortunately, is not in Kindle format, so there's yet another book to lug around Iraq). Wingate had fought against the Arabs in Palestine, and had fought the Italians in Ethiopia alongside a brilliant strategist named Halie Selassie, a man who would gain future fame under the name "Ras Tafari". (Halie Sshould be no stranger to those who read The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War). He designed unconventional campaigns to prevent the Japanese from taking India and guerilla campaigns in Burma.

Now with brilliance comes a certain level of eccentricity. Lawrence had his peculiarities, but Wingate has him beat hands down. One tale described Wingate lying on his cot naked, combing his body hair with a toothbrush. Which, of course, is strange to us in the year 2009 because we've all discovered the art of manscaping. (Yes, admit it)

So thanks to Mongo, I have yet another book in my reading cache. I swear, I haven't been able to catch up on all the reading I want to do here. Looks like I'm going to have to finish off a few books when I take my mid-tour leave in a month or two.

Focus: We've discussed Lawrence and now Orde Wingate as leadership vignettes for counter-insurgents and "pentathlete warriors". Who else would you suggest as a pentathlete soldier?