29 October 2010

Most Awesome Week Ever

From Mother Jones' "We're Still at War" series, 28 October 2010
Once again, Ackerman and Weinstein seem to be busy with their full-time jobs as real journalists, so it's up to me to put together the weekly roundup.  And was it not the most awesome week ever or what?

'Tis the season for defense-oriented conventions.  On my side of the Atlantic, Cyrille, the administrator of TDL-News, has been in Paris attending Euronaval, an excellent European naval convention.  If the Army's leadership is reading this, plese, let me attend this conference next year.  I know I'm far removed from anything naval related, but I...I can make something work.  Just a week in Paris on the Uncle Sam's dime is all I ask.

It's convention season on the other side of the Atlantic as well.  Ackerman's been busy at the Association of the US Army convention in Washington this week, reporting on all sorts of gadgets, such as the new LUH-72A Lakota, robotic exoskeletons, a new combat vehicle, and robotic limbs.  Yet, despite the high-tech wares peddled at the AUSA convention, we also discovered that the best bomb-sniffing tool in the business is a dog, and that Special Forces prefer Google Phone to all the high-priced junk from defense industry.  Not to mention, the most important stories didn't concern MRAPs or high-tech rifles, but rather, the ever-mounting human cost of war.  Ackerman reports that Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, grimly told an audience that the US military hasn't "even come close to solving" the military's alarming suicide rates.

Ackerman wasn't the only blogger at the AUSA conference.  Diana Wueger of the Brookings Institution snapped some awesome pictures and provided the milblog community with some hilarious insights.  As you might remember from last week's "Most Awesome Week Ever", the defense community is, for some strange reason, endlessly intrigued by panda hats.  As one of the infamous Panda Hat Twins (along with Lauren Jenkins), Diana volunteered for the most dangerous of missions:  getting a man in an exoskeleton to pose with a panda hat.

Her assignment, however, was fraught with peril.  Just as she was about to snap a picture of Mr. Exoskeleton-cum-panda-hat, some Navy guy ruined her opportunity.  Seriously, who did he think he was?

Oh yeah, that guy.  I guess we can make an exception for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  
In other news, the latest Wikileaks report reveals little we didn't already know.  When all is said and done,  Bob Woodward's latest book reveals more shocking war news than Wikileaks, such as the CIA's 3,000-man Army in Pakistan.  In fact, I'd argue that the most surprising news this week wasn't Wikileaks, but rather, this.

What's amusing, however, is the response I've gotten throughout the blogosphere.  I drew the ire of bradleymanning.com for my expose on Julian Assange, and a link from Fark.com for another Assange article.  It's too bad I could never charge money for blogging, otherwise I'd have made millions in ad revenue.              

And just in time for Halloween, Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes' official Rumor Doctor, investigates strange and mysterious happenings aboard the USS Constitution, the US Navy's oldest vessel afloat.  The Rumor Doctor ain't afraid of no ghost, but he has to admit, the USS Constitution can be kind of creepy.

Add in the Army Times' speculation over the next Army Chief of Staff, and you've got quite a busy week.  Personally, I'm torn between General Dempsey and General Odierno.  I slightly prefer General Dempsey, though General Odierno would be a fine choice as well.  Unfortunately, General Odierno has a certain reputation in Washington.  Months ago, Andrew Exum feared that he might become the next Army Chief of Staff, based on the fact that General Odierno is:

"I just hope they don't make Ray Odierno Chief of Staff of the Army. We can't afford to get rid of the Army."
-- LTG (Ret.) David Barno, to [Andrew Exum], outside the [Center for a New American Security's] kitchen...in reference to Ray Odierno's habit of being the last man to hold a given position
Lastly, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the US military beats out Disney for job satisfaction, despite, well, this

Most awesome week ever?  You decide.

28 October 2010

Life Imitates Art: Julian Assange and Gaius Baltar

Picture, if you will, a brilliant computer scientist with long, flowing hair, expensive suits, and a penchant for leaking sensitive military secrets.  Now imagine him dallying with tall, blonde women, and enjoying a harem of monotheistic cult followers.  Add in a dash of vain megalomania, and ensure that he's always on the run, and what do you have?

If you've been paying attention to the media, you might answer Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange.  However, if you're truly cultured, you'd understand that I'm referring to Gaius Baltar, one of the central figures in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Switched at birth?
Disclaimer:  Some have claimed that it's unfair to drag Mr. Assange's personal life into the Wikileaks debate.  I disagree.  Assange's near-dictatorial control over the organization means that, for all practical purposes, Wikileaks is Assange.  Furthermore, no discussion of Wikileaks' status--be it a whistleblower website, a form of journalism, or a source of espionage--would be complete without an examination of the man behind the website.

Battlestar Galactica has often contained allegories to the War on Terror.  Enslaved on New Caprica at the end of Season Two, humanity is forced to fight an insurgency not unlike that in Iraq.  Some humans collaborate with the Cylons, joining a Cylon police force, whereupon a suicide bomber infiltrates the graduation ceremony and detonates a suicide vest.  Throughout the series, the fleet is constantly embroiled in battles between the democratically-elected government and the Colonial Navy, with civil liberties often hanging precariously in the balance. 

Now, it seems, Battlestar Galactica has unintentionally offered a surprising paralell with the current Wikileaks saga.  Read on.

When we first encounter Gaius Baltar on Caprica, he's a brilliant computer scientist, entrusted with writing the programming for the Twelve Colonies' main defense frame.  Similarly, Assange is also a brilliant computer scientist; under the user name "Mendax", Assange spent some time in a hacking organization known as, "International Subversives" in the early 1990s.  His activities led to an arrest and conviction on twenty four counts of hacking.  However, he was released on bond for good conduct, and was forced to pay a relatively small fine.  Assange then spent most of the 1990s writing cryptographic software.

Both Assange and Baltar, of course, leak sensitive military secrets.  Over the past year, Assange has leaked classified documents information provided to him (presumably) by Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning.  Baltar, however, is the unwitting source of a massive leak of classified information.  The Cylons gain access to vital military secrets after Baltar is seduced by a humanoid Cylon known as Caprica Six, who poses as a computer programmer.  Which is laughable, of course, because no computer programmer would ever look like Caprica Six.  But I digress.  At any rate, I suppose, in this analogy, Assange might be closer to Caprica Six than Baltar.

Wait, bad mental image.  Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts.  I need a picture of Caprica Six.

Ahh, much better.

While we're on the topic of Caprica Six, let's also not forget the obvious:  both Assange and Baltar have obsessions with tall, blonde women.  Baltar's obsession with Caprica Six is obvious.  Following the destruction of the Colonies, and presumably the death of the original Caprica Six, Baltar still carries on conversations with an imaginary Six throughout the entire series.

(Note:  no one really explains what this Six actually is.  Is she a vision, a supernatural being?  Eh, fuck it, she's hot.)

I only read it for the Simon Cowell interview.  Honest.
Anyway, Julian Assange has also been known to dally with Swedish women.  I know it's a stereotype that all Swedish women are tall and blonde, but please, leave me with my fantasies intact.  In fact, if Gawker is to be believed, Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange is quite the sailor; one of the victims in the alleged rape case accused Assange of refusing to wear a condom during intercourse.

Julian Assange has ninety-nine problems, and, in this case, a bitch actually is one.  Or two.  Personally, I'm glad there wasn't a blue dress involved in this one, otherwise we'd have to put up with bad puns on the word "Winky-leaks" for months on end.  In other news, I totally made up that word myself, though with inspiration from Gawker.

Of course, no alpha male can limit himself to just one woman.  Such is the case with both Baltar and Assange; both are megalomaniacal self-proclaimed sex gods who prey on monotheistic cult followers.

Think I'm making this one up?  In Battlestar Galactica, Baltar inadvertently finds himself a cult leader, presiding over several young women who believe in a monotheistic god.  At one point, he convinces his harem that he, indeed, has miraculous powers.  Baltar, now sporting Christ-like long hair and a beard, pretends to pray over a dying child, restoring him to health.  This continues throughout Season Four, with Baltar doing what he does best:  he pontificating and he boning.  And man, does he ever bone. 

Of course, the same can't be true for Assange, right?  Au contraire.  Assange truly believes himself to be a sexual demigod, capable of giving a woman a deeply religious experience.  That's coming from his online diary, since taken down.

(Update:  They actually are available, thanks to the Web Archive)

After my state sponsored stay at ANU, I ended up at a backpackers filled with some of the 900 Christians from the Australian University Christian Convergence. Most were young women and I turned, somewhat disgracefully, into a sort of Chesterton's Hardy, the village atheist, brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot, while they, for their part, tried to convert me with the rise and fall their bosoms.
One of the devout was the lovely daughter of a New Castle minister. At some point in my unintended wooing of her, she looked up, fluttered her eyelids and said 'Oh, you know so much! I hardly know anything!'. 'That is why you believe in God," I explained. This conversational brutality took her breath away and she swooned. I was exactly what she secretly longed for; a man willing to openly disagree with her father. All along she had needed a man to devote herself to. All along she had failed to find a man worthy of being called a man, failed to find a man who would not bow to gods, so she had chosen a god unworthy of being called a god, but who would not bow to a man.
Seriously.  It gets better.
I've always found women caught in a thunderstorm appealing. Perhaps it is a male universal, for without advertising this proclivity a lovely girl I knew, but not well, on discovering within herself lascivious thoughts about me and noticing raindrops outside her windows, stood for a moment fully clothed in her shower before letting the wind and rain buffet her body as she made her tremulous approach to my door and of course I could not turn her away.
Though we might chalk up a computer nerd's alleged sexual exploits to typical "I put on my robe and wizard hat" boasting, I suspect there might be a bit of truth in this matter.  In his expose of the seduction community, Rolling Stone reporter Neil Strauss noted that "pick-up artists", in many cases, took up their trade as a means to finally control the power that women seemingly had over them.  Jilted by girls and and overlooked their entire life, PUAs, as they refer to themselves, turned seduction into a mechanistic, almost exact science.  As Neil Strauss noted, if one gives men a system in which they can legitimately compete for a high score--be it in sports, politics, World of Warcraft, or dating--by God, they will compete.

So there you have it.  Julian Assange is little more than a petulant, egomaniacal nihilist; a product of a broken childhood whose frequent moves from country to country mirror his own turbulent youth in which he lived in over a dozen homes.  His latest tantrum, in which he claimed that he could finally enjoy journalistic freedom in Havana or Moscow, is laughable.  Assange might enjoy protection in Havana only because he hasn't sought to expose the Castro regime's obvious abuses.  A Wikileaks exclusive on brutality in Cuba would hardly garner him the attention he seeks, and wouldn't play into his vendetta against the "haves" of the world order.

In light of Assange's behavior, several of his greatest supporters have openly called for him to resign.  Among them is Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, who recently called for Assange to step down as the head of Wikileaks.  Moreover, a key Wikileaks volunteer, Daniel Schmidt, quit over clashes with Assange, though Assange maintains that Schmidt was merely suspended.  Suffice to say that disillusionment with Assange, particularly with his dictatorial control of the organization, plus his hypocritical evasion of any questioning of his personal life (secrets are a bitch, aren't they?), has caused massive defection from the organization.

The Pentagon doesn't need to destroy Wikileaks.  Julian Assange is doing that on his own.

Focus:  When all is said and done, is Gaius Baltar a super-empowered individual, or is the term better applied to Caprica Six?

27 October 2010

No matter what Israel does in Gaza, Palestine or Lebanon...

...all is forgiven, now that the Israeli Defense Force has its own Flickr account, complete with a section entitled "Women of the IDF".

Thanks to Lisa from NDU.

Links of the Morning

Being in Europe, I've become accustomed to waking up in the morning to drunk tweets from my friends on the East Coast of the United States.  Typically, I don't get drunk tweets on a Wednesday morning, but the ongoing Association of the US Army (AUSA) convention seems to be cause for such revelry.

Spencer Ackerman has been covering the event, giving us a sneak peek at robotic exoskeletons, combat-ready iPad apps, and the Army's new LUH-72A Lakota.  Spencer, if you're reading this, you need to link up with Diana Wueger, because I think that an exoskeleton wearing a panda hat might make for an awesome story.  So say we all.

In other news, reflector belt madness has even hit prostitutes in Spain, and Russia stands by to lend a hand in Afghanistan.  Again.  What is this world coming to?  Meanwhile, Lauren Jenkins alerts us to the Lord's Resistance Army, while her commenters alert everyone to the fact that Taylor Swift is quite the hussy.

All in all, an exciting morning.

25 October 2010

Julian Assange: Hardly Super-Empowered

Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange is on the run.  

The self-proclaimed journalist sleeps in a different room each night, often paying cash, and swaps out encrypted satellite phones every few days.   He enjoyed a brief period of asylum in Sweden before being accused of rape and molestation--charges which are still in judicial limbo.  Fleeing Stockholm for Berlin by plane, Assange found that a checked bag mysteriously disappeared.  In it were three encrypted laptops.

Few countries will harbor him, and his list of allies grows smaller by the day.  Wikileaks has experienced massive defections over the past few months, with disgruntled volunteers citing Assange's despotic control over the organization, as well as his increasingly vain and irrational behavior.  In response, Assange, in an encrypted internet discussion leaked to the New York Times, is reported to have referred to his collegues as "a confederacy of fools".

Wikileaks cannot function for long with such disillusionment festering among its unpaid, all-volunteer force.

Given recent events, it's difficult to determine why some refer to Assange as a "super-empowered individual".  He hardly seems it.

Though there is no one set definition of super-empowered individual (SEI), Adam Elkus and I proposed, in a recent Small Wars Journal article, that SEIs are "an individual or small group possessing the knowledge and/or access to critical nodes in complex social systems, and the power and willingness to leverage such to either change the system’s rule set or at least a strong challenge to it."  Assange and his organization have yet to live up to this definition.  Although the Wikileaks documents have generated massive media coverage, they've hardly achieved their desired results.

Julian Assange's tirade against the West, and the US in particular, is little removed from classic have-and-have-not rhetoric endemic to revolutionaries from Karl Marx to Saul Alinsky.  Yet, it differs from have/have-not theory in one important respect.  In classic have/have-not theory, "have-nots" must assume power before adopting the negative traits of the "haves", restructuring the rules of the system in order to retain power.  In Julian Assange's Wikileaks world, both the "haves" and the "have-nots" survive by maintaining their secrets.  The West, specifically the American Department of Defense, retains power via a monopoly on secrets.  Hypocritically, Julian Assange's Wikileaks can not maintain total transparency, either.  In fact, one might argue, that the Department of Defense has acted with even greater transparency than Wikileaks has.

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking the classified files to Wikileaks on a CD he burned while lip-synching to Lady Gaga, claimed that the files represented "things...awful things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC".  

Though the gun camera footage released in Wikileaks' infamous "Collateral Murder" video is disturbing, it was hardly a watershed event.  Since the era of Herodotus, men have known that war is chaotic, confusing, and ultimately, tragic.  Sometimes, the wrong people are caught in the crossfire and their lives are, tragically, snuffed out in an instant.

Civilians die, drones veer off uncontrollably, and war inevitably brings out the best--and worst--in mankind.  Little of this should come as news.  For all of Wikileaks' talk of secrets, there's scant information contained in the Wikileaks documents that hasn't been reported in some form of media already.  If anything, the Wikileaks reports serve as a sort of therapy for service members and war correspondents looking for closure after traumatic combat events in Iraq and Afghanitstan.  For most, the Wikileaks documents do little but play to a person's confirmation bias, as Jamie McIntyre points out.  

Strangely enough, the information contained in the classified documents weighs more favorably on the United States than anything.  While large stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction were not found in Iraq, the Wikileaks reports reveal that insurgent groups--sometimes backed by Iran--attempted to use crude chemical weapons against US forces.  Moreover, the Wikileaks documents confirm accusations from many defense analysts that the Pakistani ISI and Iraninan militaryhave been overtly supporting the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively.  Iran, in particular, has sent unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters across the border, presumably to support insurgents.  

Indeed, the leaked documents, according to the Pentagon, are no risk to intelligence sources or methods, though some note that the Taliban may still retaliate against nearly 1,800 "collaborators" identified in the leaked documents.  

Not only has Wikileaks failed to produce the desired effects among the governments of the West, it's failed in its duty towards its membership as well.  

Wikileaks' most notorious source, Private First Class Bradley Manning, is in a dire a predicament.  Facing up to 52 years of federal imprisonment, his fate has scarcely perturbed Julian Assange, who dismissed Manning as if he were unavoidable collateral damage.

Manning is not the first instance of "collateral damage" resulting from Wikileaks' exploits.  Though Wikileaks boasted earlier this year that that none of its sources had ever been knowingly compromised, this is not entirely true.  In August 2007, Wikileaks released a report from the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, linking the Kenyan police to the torture or death of nearly 500 men.  Shortly thereafter, the Kenyan police assassinated two human rights activists.  Assange has disavowed any responsibility by Wikileaks, instead claiming that the two murdered activists were not "acting in an anonymous way".

Mr. Assange has had his fifteen minutes of fame.  Though he has destroyed the lives of countless compatriots, he's done little to undermine, influence, or disrupt US policy.  If anything, he's merely confirmed the worst accusations about America's supposed ally, Pakistan, and indicted Iran in supporting violence within Iraq.  In that regard, Assange is hardly super-empowered.  

25 October: This day in history

Boston Maggie and Greyhawk remind us that the 25th of October is a significant day in military history:  from Henry V's longbowmen at Agincourt, to the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, to the largest naval battle in history at Leyte Gulf, Adlai Stevenson's dramatic showdown with the Soviets in the halls of the United Nations, and the US invasion of Grenada.  These events have been immortalized in theater, poetry, and cinema

Not a bad way to spend an overcast autumn day...

24 October 2010

Wikileaks: Iraq. Yawn...

There's little that's earth-shattering in Wikileaks' latest release.  

Even reports that the US shot down and captured a wayward Iranian drone, flying over Shia territory in Iraq, are old news to anyone who reads "tabloid" news magazines like Wired.com.   Oddly enough, specific details of Iran's overt involvement in Iraq might be one of the more startling revelations in the Iraq War Logs.  If anything, the Wikileaks report might reflect more poorly on Iran than on the US.  

(Admit it, this guy was right on that issue)

Meanwhile, though Julian Assange boasts that he can make governments crumble, it appears that his mental state might be crumbling instead, according the New York Times

Update:  It seems Iran's cross-border hijinks might be even worse than I thought.  The NYT reports that, according to the US Army's initial Sit-rep, the three American hikers captured by Iran in 2009 were actually in Iraqi territory.  (Though keep in mind that initial reports are very often wrong)

Royal Navy Facepalm

It's been a bad week for the Royal Navy.  First, the British are reeling from the news of drastic budget cuts, which might force them to share aircraft carriers with the US and France.  Then, Britain's most advanced attack submarine, the HMS Astuteran aground near the Isle of Skye on the morning of the 22nd.

Coincidentally, this occurred the morning after Trafalgar Day, which commemorates Britain's finest naval achievement:  Horatio Nelson's victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar.

That, alone, deserves a facepalm.

22 October 2010

The Iraq War Logs--Wikileaks Strikes Again

Contrary to baffling posturing earlier this week from Julian Assange, who dismissed reports from Wired.com, the Iraq War Logs--some 400,000 classified documents from the Iraq War--are now in the public domain.  As with the Afghan War Diary, the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel have exclusive coverage.  Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle at Small Wars Journal are also amassing an ever-growing collection of links.

I would say that, upon initial glance, the public may find border incidents with Iran the most shocking.  More to follow tonight.

Most Awesome Week Ever (Again)

Well, since neither Weinstein nor Ackerman and Shachtman are willing to compose their usual weekly roundups, it looks as if I'm left to pick up the slack.  (Wait a second, are all of my favorite bloggers Jewish?  Seriously, between those three as well as Andrew Kravetz, Adam Elkus and Jon Stewart, I'm beginning to wonder if Jews really do control the media.  Will you people stop being so damned awesome!  Here are some IDF girls to placate you.)

Anyway, what made this week so awesome?  Well, how about Julian Assange reneging on his promise to release over 400,000 classified documents from the Iraq War?  According to Assange, it has nothing to do with a lack of funding for Wikileaks, or a power struggle among Wikileaks' leadership.  No, according to Assange, the truth is far worse:  it's because Wired.com is filled with nothing but tabloid journalists.  (That's right, Ackerman and Shachtman.)

Update:  A few minutes after I posted this, Captain Hyphen of Kings of War alerted me to the fact that The Guardian, the New York Times and Der Speigel have just posted exclusive coverage of the Iraq War Logs.

We also saw a number of incredible developments in defense technology.  Should a biological hazard occur, ladies are advised to remove their bras.  (Need help?  Call me.)  We also saw the blogosphere's reaction to Boyd-fest 2010.  Though, to be fair, the American strategist John Boyd is to strategy what Vanilla Ice is to rap music.

In other news, both Tom Brokaw (at the New York Times) and Mother Jones remind us that we're still at war; military medics save lives (though the FaST Surgeon could tell you that); and Britain is giving up on its naval aspirations, going so far as to field a carrier with no aircraft (which means the carrier gap is getting even wider...in America's favor).

I should also mention that General Petraeus is doing something in Afghanistan; I'm not sure what, but by God, he's doing something.

Lastly, Twitter pals Diana Wueger and Lauren Jenkins have been sharing a panda hat.  Trust me when I say that this is the biggest news in the defense/foreign policy community.

Another, more important birthday

Since I'm in the middle of an exercise, I haven't the time for really well-thought-out analysis of current events. (Not that I actually did that anyway).  Thus, I'd like to inform the public of Carrier Fisher's--aka Princess Leia--birthday with the following video.  Everyone with a Y chromosome will rejoice.  And probably some without a Y chromosome as well.

21 October 2010

Happy 50th, E-2 Hawkeye

In other news, the US Navy's E-2 Hawkeye, a dedicated AWACS plane, turns 50 today.

I'd embed the legendary "Sun Kings Hey Ya" dance video, featuring Commander Herb Carmen's old squadron, VAW-116, but Big Brother Deutschland seems to have forbidden it.

20 October 2010

1st. Lt. Dan Choi, US Army, re-enlists.

1st. Lt. Daniel Choi, discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, re-enlisted in Times Square yesterday. In an interview, Choi explained that he would enter the Army as a specialist, instead of his previous rank of lieutenant.

I think it speaks volumes for Choi that he is willing to accept the demotion just to serve in the US Army.

18 October 2010


Patrick PorterAaron Ellis, Gunslinger at Ink SpotsTom Ricks and Aitor from Ireland have all weighed in on a proposal for drastic cuts to Britain's Royal Navy which could potentially cap the entire fleet at just 25 ships.  That's smaller than the entire British task force which intervened during the Falklands Islands crisis in 1982.

Keep in mind that while the Royal Navy of thirty years ago triumphed over the Argentine Navy, despite a hurried deployment far from their logistical supply lines, was designed to be little more than support for the US Navy's efforts in NATO.  The Royal Navy of late 1970s and early 1980s was centered around anti-submarine warfare, designed to augment efforts to contain Soviet submarines should they pass through the "GIUK" Gap (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom).

Most importantly, the Royal Navy will be reduced to two aircraft carriers.  Although, if one considers an impending defense pact with France, the Royal Navy and French Navy may "share" carriers, putting at least two of their three combined carriers to sea at any one time.

The carrier became the capital ship of naval warfare on the 7th of December, 1941, when aircraft from six Japanese carriers sunk the American battleship fleet lying in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"A bow on view of the U.S.S. Arizona as she plows into a huge swell.  It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs."
--Flyer from the Army-Navy Game, 29 November 1941
For the record, six Italian battleships were sunk by British Swordfish bombers at the Battle of Taranto, nearly a year prior.  

Though carriers were first built during the 1920s, few nations operate these nautical behemoths, even today.  Currently, only the US (11 super-carriers, plus a number of amphibious assault ships with contingents of helicopters and Harriers), Britain (two carriers), Thailand, Spain, Russia, Italy, India, Brazil and France (one each) operate these ships, which vary greatly in their capabilities.

If the carrier is the symbol of naval strength, why have so few nations adopted carriers?

Aircraft carriers are expensive in terms of both financial intensity and organizational capital.  Even in the 1920s, the aircraft carrier cost more than the battleship.  For instance, the HMS Nelson, a traditional battleship commissioned in 1927, cost $36.4 million.  By comparison, the USS Lexington and Saratoga, America's second and third carriers, respectively, cost $45 million each--just for the ships themselves.  Today, aircraft carriers run in the billions of dollars.  

Carriers are also expensive in terms of organizational capital, as carrier warfare takes years to fully master.  While the US Navy may have had more carriers than the Japanese Navy at the onset of WW2--in 1939, the US Navy possessed seven carriers as opposed to Japan's five--they were far less adept at combat operations.  

The Japanese Navy had years of experience during action in China to hone their skills.  By comparison, the US Navy had to learn carrier warfare through painful lessons during the Battle of the Coral Sea, before achieving victory at Midway in June of 1942.  Carrier warfare also requires a new set of skills and new promotion policies, both of which are difficult to fully implement.  They require a great degree of sustainment at sea--for food, for fuel, and for ammunition.

Despite being the most powerful warships at sea, carriers are still quite vulnerable.  The Soviet Union, lagging in carrier technology, decided to invest in a relatively cheap counter-technology:  anti-ship missiles which could quickly and efficiently eliminate carriers.

Fortunately, the US Navy spent considerable resources developing the robust Carrier Battle Group (CVBG)--in theory, capable of defeating a wide range of threats.  CVBGs generally include submarines, anti-submarine frigates, destroyers and cruisers with the Aegis air defense system, and logistical ships in addition to the carriers themselves.

Thus, Dr. Patrick Porter immediately recognized one of the more disturbing aspects of Britain's defense cutbacks--the reduction in the number of support ships available to carrier battle groups.  Against a competent naval power, a carrier is useless without ships to defend it.

Carriers and their support ships can be quite vulnerable against asymmetrical threats.  In congested shipping lanes--like the Straits of Hormuz or the Gulf of Aden--a competent opponent might use "swarming tactics" .  This is where a mixed force of smaller ships, armed with smaller-caliber short-range weapons might work best.

Carriers by themselves are useless--especially when they're considerably less than a super-carrier.   Not to mention the obvious: island-based land power, without the power to project it, is essentially a self-licking ice cream cone.

So please, for God's sake, don't cut the Royal Navy by half.  Rule Brittania!  (Though I mean that as no offense to my Irish friends)

17 October 2010


Tom Ricks hosted an excellent post about the inanity of US Army garrison life last week.  Yet, no words of his (or his guest poster, "Recon Runner") can fully describe the garrison mentality as well as this do-it-yourself Internet video:

16 October 2010

Host Nation Legitimacy

According to the US Army's counterinsurgency textbook, FM 3-24, one of the primary goals of a counterinsurgency campaign is to establish a legitimate, competent, and effective host-nation government.

Fundamental to all counterinsurgencies is the need to assist local authorities to secure the populace and thereby separate the people from the insurgents while enhancing the legitimacy of the government.
Of course, as we've seen in Afghanistan, this is far easier said than done.

That's why I'm quite interested in what Lt. Cmdr. James Sisco, the former military liaison to Hamid Karzai, has to say on the topic in Small Wars Journal.  I definitely need to read this article in its entirety.  It certainly begins with a bang:

The abstract seems to lay out a plan for a "bottom-up" campaign, not unlike the "Somaliland" project highlighted by David Kilcullen in his latest book, "Counterinsurgency".  I'm adding this one to the ever-growing reading pile.
The failure of ISAF's COIN strategy to achieve its political objectives is the result of a conceptual error in its COIN implementation framework. Though ISAF places meeting the needs of the population at the center of its strategy, attempting to do so through a kleptocratic, illegitimate, and unaccountable Afghan national government (GIRoA) will not succeed. This conceptual error is due to a reading of COIN theory that defines “the counterinsurgent” doctrinally as the national government. Thus, while ISAF strategy now claims to adopt a population centric, district-focused COIN strategy, it still tries with predictable results to reach the population top down through the very kleptocratic government that has precipitated the current political crisis.

A short-lived break

I'll be taking a break over the weekend to pen a few words on civil-military relations, specifically, the issue of conscription as it's practiced by democracies all over the world.

In the process, I've been zooming through Lt. Col. Jason K. Dempsey's "Our Army", the best book on civil-military relations written in the past decade.  Lt. Col. Dempsey sheds light on some recent trends in politicization of the officer corps, and shatters some misconceptions about the non-partisan army.

I was going to spend a few days on the book and my upcoming writing--after all, it's not like anything exciting ever happens in the defense policy world, right?

Then I discovered that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is poised to release an even larger collection of documents from the Iraq War--some 400,000 of them--as early as Monday.  Looks like it's going to be a busy week.

(H/T Twitter pal Camilla Fuhr for the link)

Update:  How could I forget?  Spencer Ackerman has an inside look at what the new WikiLeaks release might contain.

13 October 2010

On Lift

Every year, aviators undergo an annual evaluation, consisting of an actual flight (known as a "check ride"), plus a thorough examination in all sorts of aviation-related topics:  airspace, aeromedical factors, aircraft systems, and, of course, aerodynamics.

And every year, I wind up hating myself.  So much so that I might add to the Army's rising suicide rates.


Invariably, I find that I'm always asked to diagram the forces which act upon an airfoil.

According to the Army, the "correct" answer should sound familiar to anyone who paid attention in middle school:  based on Bernoulli's Principle and the Venturi Effect, there are pressure differentials between the upper and lower halves of an airfoil which cause it to raise into the air.

Unfortunately, this explanation is bogus.

NASA says so.

You see, the mystery of lift lies not with Bernoulli, but with Newton--specifically, with his Third Law of Motion.  Unfortunately, bad science has made its way into textbooks, encyclopedias, and even Army field manuals.  Bad theories of lift are as pervasive and widely-believed as the myth that a bathtub drains in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere.

Thus, every year, I drive myself nuts trying to explain lift to the examiner by invoking Newton's Third Law of Motion.

This year, I think I'll do my blood pressure a favor.  I'll just nod, smile, and draw a cartoon about an airfoil "splitting a molecule of air" and having both parts of it meet each other on the other side of the airfoil at exactly the same time.

I seriously need to pick my battles in life.

Note:  On page 2-8 and 2-9 of the Army's Field Manual 1-203, Fundamentals of Flight, variations on the "Equal-Transit" theory are offered as the predominant theory, occupying much of the section.  Four lines are dedicated to a theory invoking Newton's Second Law, stating that "the production of lift requires that a mass of air be accelerated to a final downward direction and velocity".  (Not the Third Law, as NASA claims)

FM 1-203 alludes to a downward turning of air in Chapter 6, but links it, inexplicably, with induced flow.

Suffice to say that NASA's version of lift is largely unknown in the Army Aviation community.  Classroom instruction invariably mentions only the "Equal Transit" theory.

Focus:  Are there any other instances of bad science that drive you up the wall?

11 October 2010

Enough complaining, what do we actually do about suicides?

Update:  Fabius Maximus has more.

Seems my last post evoked quite a response.

There's no easy way to quell the Army-wide rise in suicides; the problem is simply larger than the Army's senior leadership.  Dar too much has been asked of too few for too long.  Yet, I do see two ways the Army's senior leadership can help commanders prevent suicides.  And they're not that difficult.

1.) A Permanent Counseling Packet.  With manning shortfalls, commanders are often forced to deal with a "shell game", swapping soldiers around from position to position, and transferring soldiers from overmanned units to undermanned ones.  This is only exacerbated by the fact that the Army has the dubious habit of transferring problem soldiers as opposed to nipping them in the bud (e.g.,  Major Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter).  Not to mention, first-term soldiers--one of the most at-risk groups--sometimes arrive at their first units with documented issues from Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training, none of which are passed on to their commanders.

When a soldier moves from one job to another, his or her problems transfer with them.  However, those problems are not always apparent to commanders.  As much as the Army preaches "engagement" with peers and subordinates, it takes time to truly know a soldier.  Moreover, a crafty soldier can easily conceal problems with drugs, alcohol, sexual misconduct, or criminal behavior.    

One of the most important tools in curbing dangerous behavior--and eliminating problem soldiers--is counseling paperwork (the Army's DA Form 4856).  However, the fine print on the counseling form stipulates that it should be destroyed upon reassignment.

Wouldn't it be useful to be aware of high-risk behavior, which often goes unnoticed as soldiers move about? In a digital Army, it should be easy enough for commanders to access previous counseling records, letters of reprimand, and evaluations.  

This isn't a revolutionary idea, either:  it was mentioned during the DoD's review of the Fort Hood shooting.

2.) Reduce the Separation Authority.  I think it's time to admit that we face a mounting discipline problem which will require years to fix.  The instances of misdemeanor activity among soldiers has nearly doubled over the past five years.  In almost a third of those cases, no disciplinary action was taken whatsoever.

Certainly, company commanders need to take action to either rehabilitate or get rid of problem troops.  But this is easier said than done.  For example, the Army has seen a precipitous decline in the number of soldiers chaptered out for obesity in recent years.

Don't think for a moment it's because we have fewer obese soldiers, either.

Part of the problem, in my humble opinion, lies with the fact that separation authority has been taken from battalion commanders and raised to the "special court-martial convening authority" (in many cases, a two-star general)--a full two levels of command. Why?  Because commanders were doing exactly what they should have been doing--kicking sub-par first-term soldiers out of the Army.  According to ALARACT message 110/2005:

With the clear link between substance abuse and suicide, why have we taken away the right of battalion commanders to chapter soldiers under the provisions of Chapter 9, ""Alcohol or Other Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Failure"?

If we acknowledge that the brigade combat team is the US Army's unit of action, why not at least give brigade commanders the authority to seperate problem soldiers from the service?  Or return the authority to battalion commanders?  Not having to go all the way to the two-star level would help company and battalion commanders quickly eliminate troublemakers.

If anything, policies such as this send a mixed signal throughout the ranks.  On one hand, commanders are told they're not doing enough to curb risky behavior; on the other hand, the authority to actually do something about it has been taken away from them.

09 October 2010

How quickly we forget when we were in the trenches...

While the disturbing spike in Army suicides cannot be attributed to any one factor, I'd like to highlight one disturbing contradiction in the Army's official policy:
The study [on suicides, headed by General Chiarelli] revealed a clear link between suicide and other behavioral problems, such as illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions, misdemeanors and felony crimes.
[T]he Army, to meet recruiting requirements, began issuing more waivers for recruits with drug and alcohol offenses and criminal misconduct - troops who in the past would not have been deemed eligible. In 2007, the Army began cutting back such waivers, and Chiarelli said he doesn't believe it's a significant factor in the suicide rate...
So there's a "clear link" between drug abuse and criminal misconduct, yet granting waivers for such behavior is not a significant factor in the increase in suicides?  Interesting.

So, who's to blame, according to the Army's report?
To fix what the report called the "lost art of leadership in garrison," the Army intends to improve training and education to instill in leaders the importance of order and discipline away from the battlefield. The report noted the value of "un- announced health and welfare checks in the barracks accompanied by military police working dog sweeps, unannounced 100 percent urinalysis tests," and inspections of privately owned vehicles. It takes commanders to task for not filing the proper paperwork after a soldier has been in trouble with law enforcement, which makes it difficult to track problems. Compliance rates for filing what's known as a DD Form 4833, which documents misconduct, have fallen from 99 percent to 65 percent, masking the true level of misconduct across the force, which is likely much higher, researchers found.

Commanders either aren't aware of the importance of nipping problem behavior early, "or they are ignoring risk factors to retain soldiers to maintain deployment strength," the report said.

So the problem rests solely on the shoulders of company commanders?


The rapid pace of deployment-redeployment-training-deployment leads to a spike in soldier misconduct, only exacerbated by the fact that far too many of the soldiers recruited into today's Army are granted criminal waivers.  Commanders are thus faced with the choice of chaptering out problem soldiers--all the more difficult now that the separation authority has, in many cases, been raised to the two-star general level--or going into combat empty-handed.

That means that even if company commanders do manage to chapter out problem soldiers--no small feat, given the rapid op-tempo of home station training between deployments--they're faced with the chances of either a.) receiving another problem soldier, b.) receiving an untrained soldier just before deployment, or c.) not receiving a replacement at all.

Faced with such a dilemma, I think it's an affront for the Army's leadership to place the blame squarely on company commanders and subordinate leadership.

Major General Robert Scales, former Commandant of the US Army War College, seems to agree:
"This report literally whistles past the graveyard," says retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, who served as commandant of the Army War College in 2000 and authored a number of books on military strategy and leadership. Suggesting that officers and NCOs or garrison staffs are responsible for a rising suicide rate because of lax leadership, as Scales reads the Army's report, is "irresponsible," he says. "This report basically allows people off the hook for the inability to resource these two wars with the people necessary to do it. It's got nothing to do with politics. It's got to do with the lack of perception of what land warfare does to a ground force," he says. "Rarely have I ever read anything that so badly misses the mark. It's trying to find little nooks and crannies in the Army's management of these two wars and it absolutely misses the point of what's been going on."
Scales says too few troops have been carrying too heavy a burden for too long. "I don't care if you've got an army of Robert E. Lees, the anecdotal evidence clearly shows the ground forces are going through an unprecedented realm of emotional stress," he says. "I think it's irresponsible to blame leadership."

08 October 2010

In which I take part in rigorous training

Don't get me wrong:  I applaud the US Army's efforts in combating human trafficking, a racket which rakes in $32 billion annually.  Yet, developing a choose-your-own adventure which features prostitutes, child laborers, and strippers probably isn't the best way to encourage troops to combat trafficking.  If there's one thing I've learned about video game culture, it's that incorporating these elements into video games only encourages otherwise law-abiding citizens to unleash their Jungian dark side in a virtual, consequence-free environment.

(Click the picture to enlarge it)

07 October 2010

In case you missed it...

Check out my post at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense regarding General Douglas MacArthur, America's most controversial general.  Though tragically flawed, to say the least, he did show bouts of brilliance.

Attention: Foreign Policy Online

You need to get the Great Satan's Girlfriend to write these pieces for you.  Seriously:

(H/T Adam Elkus)

The code adopted [for meetings at the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers] this week calls on men working at the Cabinet of Ministers to wear mostly gray and dark blue suits and not wear the same suit to work two days in a row. Women are asked to stick to business suits and low-heeled shoes, and refrain from excessive makeup and jewelry.
Tymoshenko's stylish outfits and traditional Ukrainian braid have earned her a reputation as a glamour and fashion icon, but also angered some Ukrainians as too luxurious at a time when the country is battered by a severe economic crisis.
Some observers noted that a new dress code was overdue for government offices and other institutions in Ukraine, where women often wear tight, low-cut dresses to work while men are often seen in the same outfit for days in a row.

06 October 2010

Support injured vets with pinup girls? Where do I sign up?

Those of you who attended the this year's Milblogger's Conference probably remember Gina Elise and Leigh Alexander of "Pinups for Vets", a Los Angeles-based charity which raises money for veterans' hospitals with vintage-style pinup calendars.

Pinups for Vets' founder, Gina, is currently in the running for a grant from Pepsi Cola for $50,000, which she need for airfare to personally give care packages to  injured veterans in all fifty states.

However, she needs your vote.  Head over to Pepsi's "Refresh Everything" page and vote for Gina's project.

You might also want to check out her store.

And by the way, since it is the season for the Combined Federal Campaign, federal employees might want to consider donating to the United Service Organization on behalf of my favorite USO Girls.

05 October 2010


Certainly, it is the duty of military leaders to prepare our armed forces for the next war.   Yet, we can never know what the future can bring; such are the bizarre twists and turns throughout history.

As one wise philosopher noted, always in motion, the future is.

Many wars seemed inevitable at the time.  Surely, the system of alliances prior to the First World War created a powder keg in Europe, whose detonation was all-but-certain.  Similarly, few could have doubted the likelihood of an even more destructive Second World War.  Such predictions permeate even fiction, including works such as James Hilton's fantasy novel, Lost Horizon, the book which introduced us to the mystical land of Shangri-La.

Nevertheless, despite all of our planning, many wars come as a complete shock.  Few could have anticipated Saddam Hussein's inexplicable annexation and subsequent invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  Similarly, who could have anticipated the strange chain of events which led the British Royal Navy into the Falkland Islands War of 1982?

Explorers first sighted the islands in 1690, with Britain and France both laying claim to the Falklands' icy shores during the 18th Century.  At the time, the islands seemed nothing worth fighting over, with one British lieutenant claiming that the Falklands were "the most detestable place I was ever at in all my life"

Thus, the British thus vacated the Falklands, in no small part due to the economic stress caused by the rebellious American colonies.  Meanwhile, the French ceded their claim to the islands to their ally, Spain.

While the British government certainly didn't have any real desire for the Falkland Islands, they nevertheless felt the need to lay claim to them out of a sense of national pride.  In 1769, the tension between Britain and Spain over the seemingly-insignificant Falklands was such that historian Julius Goebel was to later claim that "the ministry, which had clearly been disposed to an accommodation at the outset of the trouble and might even have gone so far as to acquiesce at the outset of the trouble an arrangement suggested by Spain...now found itself in a situation where only extreme measures would silence popular clamour [for British rule of the Falklands]".  Such would be the case two centuries later.

In light of the tension over the Falklands, Lord North proposed a secret agreement with Spain that the British would eventually leave the Falkland Islands in exchange for the temporary political victory.

Thus, all would be peaceful if it weren't for the intervention of a rising global superpower.  Then, much like now, this particular global superpower had a penchant for clubbing baby seals.

You guessed it, we're talking about:

America.  (Fuck, yeah!)

Spain later ceded authority over the Falklands to the emerging state of Argentina.  The islands soon became a hotbed of sealing activity.

Jesus Christ, it's coming right for us!

In 1829, the Argentine governor in the Falklands restricted seal hunting, as the native population of the blubbery mammals was dwindling.  Of course, banning seal clubbing out of any sense of humane treatment of animals is really quite ludicrious.  Killer whales--the beloved creature children remember from movies such as "Free Willy"--have been known to not only feast on baby seals, but also play racquetball with them.

I am not making this up.

The Argentine governor put the captain of an American sealing vessel, the Harriet, on trial for violating the ban on clubbing baby seals.  In response, the American ambassador to Argentina asked that the USS Lexington, under the command of Silas Duncan, undertake a punitive raid against the Falklands.  Captain Duncan, ever the over-achiever, thoroughly ravaged the Falkland Islands, razing its defenses, and imprisoning most of its inhabitants.  This allowed the British a window of opportunity to take the islands, where they have remained distinctly British ever since.

Fast-forward nearly a century and a half later.  Britain, then allied with NATO against the Soviet Union, feared a Soviet naval attack through the "G-I-UK" Gap, the Northern Atlantic passageway for the Soviet Battlefleet which passed through the waters among Britain, Iceland, and Greenland.  Thus, the Royal Navy predicted, understandably, that in a coming war, aircraft carriers would be useless; ground-based aircraft could provide sufficient air cover.  The Royal Navy needed to, instead, focus on anti-submarine capabilities, leaving carrier operations to the United States Navy.

British naval officers protested. Yet, despite their best efforts, the carriers HMS Invincible was sold to Australia, and the HMS Hermes was scheduled to be scrapped.  Britain's Labour Defence Secretary Denis Healey argued that aircraft carriers would only be useful during an amphibious operation far beyond the reach of Britain's land-based airstrips.  Certainly, this would not be the case in a classic "G-I-UK" scenario.

But it was exactly the case in the unexpected Falklands Islands War of 1982.

Military professionals, think-tanks, and the defense industry will always claim, with a sense of positivism, that the next war "will" entail tanks/insurgents/hybrid war/F-22s/giant robots...you name it.  Yet, no one can predict the future.  We often base our foreign policy models on theories of rational actors, national interests, and a well-designed national security strategy.  But nations--indeed, people--do not always act rationally.  The future could entail more counterinsurgency and peacekeeping, or a major conventional war.

Remember that wise sage:  always in motion, the future is.