Archive for the 'Air Power' Category



Powerline Blog Calls It Quits On Afghanistan

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

Normally I enjoy reading the posts by John Hinderaker at Powerline, but his recent post is an exception.  With a strange bit of melancholy or resignation, John argues that it is time to pack up and quit Afghanistan.   I will detail this in a bit, but suffice it to say that I found most of his arguments shallow and unpersuasive.

Even so, I would not bother making John’s post the subject of my own, but for two things that alarm:  (1) Powerline has one of the highest levels of readership in the blogosphere, so its opinions reach a lot of people, aggravating the damage;  (2) this recent post seems to be indicative of a growing opinion among conservatives (as shown by the large, positive response it has received so far).

So here goes.

Here are the reasons supplied by John Hinderaker for calling it quits.   After stating that he supports the initial attack to chase Al Qaeda out of its bases in Afghanistan, he sees the ensuing efforts differently:

Since then, for going on nine years, we have pursued a somewhat half-hearted peacekeeping/democracy policy in Afghanistan. The Bush administration was right, I think, not to devote excessive resources to Afghanistan, which is virtually without strategic significance compared with countries like Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Moreover, the country’s human natural and human raw material could hardly be less promising.

Afghans are not just living in an earlier century; they are living in an earlier millenium. Their poverty, cultural backwardness and geographic isolation–roads verge on the nonexistent–are hard for us to fathom. They are a tribal society run by pederasts whose main industry is growing poppies. If our security hinges on turning this place into a reasonably modern, functioning country, we are in deep trouble. But I don’t think it does; and, in any event, I don’t think we can do it.

In large part, our effort in Afghanistan has been devoted to protecting normal Afghans against extremists like the Taliban. But, as the current rioting in Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif and elsewhere reminds us, there there may not be a lot of daylight between the Taliban and more moderate Afghan factions.

For Hinderaker, Afghanistan and its people are pretty worthless, to put it bluntly.  No “strategic significance compared with…Iran, Iraq and Egypt.”  The country is devoid of raw materials or human potential.  In his view, it is such a backward, black hole of inhumanity that any change is hopeless.   Even Obama, presumably, wouldn’t try to sell his snake oil there.  The rioting there over the Koran burning is proof of sorts, he says, that the country is hopeless.

I hate to say it, but this is just lazy, generalized thinking.

It is very tempting thinking, however.   There is certainly alot of things about Afghanistan that repulse our cultural sensitivities and it is indeed easy to see the depths to which the country has sank and believe it has always been this way, but this is not a reason for leaving, in and of itself.   It is just letting our prejudice show.  It is hard to remember as far back as the 1960′s, but Afghanistan had a functioning monarchy with a tolerable standard of living in Kabul and prospects for reform and political rights up until the communist takeover in 1978.   What Afghanistan has become, after 30 years of war, brutal totalitarian rule and the importation of strict, Islamic codes, is not what is has always been nor its eternal fate.

As for the claim that Afghanistan has no strategic value, that is at least a debatable point.  If we had a coherent and consistent foreign policy that looked at the broader interest of the U.S. in the region, Afghanistan has significance.   If, for example, we had a foreign policy that recognized the dire threat that the Iranian regime poses to the entire Middle East (and beyond), the ability to stage forces on both sides of Iran— in Iraq and Afghanistan– would enable the U.S. to effectively aid insurgents and opposition groups in Iran.

Having a presence in Afghanistan also gives the U.S. a key leverage point and access to Pakistan.  Like it or not, nuclear Pakistan is a major threat to the U.S. so long as it teeters on the edge of political instability and the possibility of the Islamofascists getting their nukes.   The U.S. has a natural affinity with India that could be cultivated into a strategic partnership in the region as a counterbalance to China and the growing Islamofascist threat in Pakistan.   Afghanistan is valuable to that partnership as well and we could be doing much more to involve India.

Hinderaker believes Afghanistan is worthless, a view not shared, however, by Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Muslims, the  Tsarist Russians, the British Empire and the Soviet Union.

I think that the heart of the problem for Hinderaker and other conservatives when it comes to Afghanistan is the notion of “turning this place into a reasonably modern, functioning country…”   In many circles, you can add in “democracy” to that list.   This has been the great mistake of our involvement in Afghanistan.

Our first and primary goal in Afghanistan should always have been to establish security, period.   Without security first, every, other goal is like piling up sand on the beach.   Security against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is a limited, achievable goal.   It is measurable victory.  And, once established, it creates the necessary space and stability for the kind of investments and social reforms that, over the long term, can make a real difference in the development of the country.  The problem for the U.S. has been that we have been way too ambitious, trying to establish security and establish a democratic government and re-build their infrastructure and make it into a “modern, functioning” country.

This is analogous to a man, near starvation, who is rescued and then force-fed a king’s banquet: it will kill him.   His shriveled stomach is not ready for that.   After such deprivation, he needs a little bit at a time, slowly and carefully. Afghanistan is the same way.   After over twenty years of ruin and oppression, we cannot descend upon the country and begin force-feeding it with hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for every conceivable project, no matter how well-intentioned.   We have almost literally been killing Afghanistan with kindness.   Funny how they don’t appreciate it.

The mistake that Hinderaker makes is looking at the process and concluding that the entire enterprise is worthless or hopeless.  They seem to have gotten discouraged because all of our ‘force-feeding’ has not brought a miracle cure.   Their answer, to throw the hapless man back in the desert to starve again, is absurd.  Rather, they should see our actions to this point in Afghanistan as the excessive blunder it has been.

If the U.S. had been single-mindedly pursuing security and the elimination of the Taliban since 2001, we might well have drawn down our troop levels there to some border outposts to interdict insurgents from Pakistan while leaving the interior to ANA forces that would have had almost a decade of solid training by now.   Even if you view the ANA as a hopeless project, at the very least we would have had time to establish local militias that would keep the peace in their locale and govern themselves.   We would not have diverted billions of dollars to a corrupt, central figurehead like Karzai.  All of these things feed the disenchantment that Hinderaker and others feel.

But just because mistakes have been made– even terrible mistakes– should not give way to careless analysis and spotty observations.   It should, instead, be a call for better policy.

When Hinderaker turns to the consequences of quitting Afghanistan his view is rather limited:

Is there a danger that if we leave, the Taliban will re-take control and, perhaps, invite al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to join them? Yes. However, it it not obvious that, after what happened in 2001, the Taliban will be quick to make its territory, once again, into a launching pad. If they do, one would hope that drones, bombs and perhaps the kind of small-scale insertion of troops that we mounted in 2001 will be an adequate response. In any event, when it comes to harboring terrorists, I am a lot more concerned about Pakistan than Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq is over, and has been for some time. Our mission there has been a success; how important a success depends not on us but on the Iraqis. For a predominantly Arab country, Iraq is doing well. At this point, we have done about all we can do. Our troops are no longer in a combat role, and we should bring them home, and honor their victory, on schedule.

There are several problems in these paragraphs.

First, as John admits, it quite possible (I would say likely) that the Taliban will allow Al Qaeda and its affiliates to set up shop again in Afghanistan.  For him to say, however, that we should “hope that drones, bombs and perhaps the kind of small-scale insertion of troops… will be an adequate response” is fanciful.

Those “drones” and “bombs” have to come from somewhere.  If we pull out, there will no longer be any bases from which to fly the drones and the “secret” bases in Pakistan will likely be closed down as well once it is clear to the Pakistanis that we are done.   As for the “small-scale insertion of troops,” I assume he is referring to the SOF and CIA teams that partnered with the Northern Alliance forces and rained down smart munitions on the Taliban positions.   Trouble is that there will be no Northern Alliance forces for these teams to partner with if we pull out.

Second, if the U.S. pulls its forces out as John suggests, there is very little likelihood that those forces will ever return again.  Even if the U.S. was capable of flying in sorties of long-range bombers and sending in cruise missiles, Al Qaeda has learned a thing or two since 2001 about nullifying the effects of long-range munitions.   Al Qaeda can expand into the remote areas of Afghanistan where the U.S. will be increasingly helpless to affect.  With the bombing option of little use, what chance is there that the American people will want want to re-commit troops after having gone through the national trauma of pulling forces out in disgrace? (And I dare anyone to say that doing so at this juncture would be anything other than a U.S. humiliation).  It is not going to happen.

Third, are we willing to face the unbelievable humanitarian crisis that will result when the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan?  Are we willing to accept into the U.S. as refugees the hundreds of thousands of Afghans that Hinderaker denigrates as “pederasts” and “tribal” and hopelessly backward?  We still have an ugly spot on our national honor from abandoning South Vietnam to the communist killers.    Anyone remember the Boat People?  The world well remembers how we abandoned the shia in Iraq to Saddam’s mass executions and tortures in 1991.   Are we willing to endure yet another flag of shame in Afghanistan?

Finally, the view espoused by Hinderaker and others is incredibly short-sighted.  Our best hope of eliminating Al Qaeda or keeping them disrupted is by having troops and bases in Afghanistan that allow us at least the option of ground action against their sanctuaries in Pakistan.   The only reason that we can even contemplate leaving Afghanistan is because we have not suffered any large-scale attacks since 2001.  That is remarkable in itself and should be kept in mind when contemplating withdrawal.

Our continuous presence in Afghanistan, while extremely problematic, deeply flawed and poorly run, gets at least some credit for keeping Al Qaeda on the defensive and ill-prepared to mount another large-scale attack against the U.S.    If, God forbid, Al Qaeda should pull off another 9/11-type attack and we can trace its origins to the Pakistani FATA camps, do you think we will want U.S. combat forces right next door in Afghanistan to go in and wipe out every, last camp and terrorist hideout?   You bet we will.   But if those forces are gone, our ability to make Al Qaeda pay (and to force our will upon Pakistan if they resist us crossing the border) is neutered.

(I cannot in good conscience leave off here without at least commenting on John’s statements above about Iraq.  As Herschel Smith has said on more than a few occasions, the U.S. achieved an incredible feat of arms in 2006-2007 by taking it to Al Qaeda and Sadr’s illegal militias only to risk most of those gains by hastily agreeing to a status of forces treaty with Iraq that severely restricted our forces there.   Since Obama’s election, the U.S. has been withdrawing troops at a pace that further jeopardizes our hard-won gains in security there.   Too much American blood and treasure has been invested in Iraq for us to simply throw up our hands and say, “Well, it’s up to the Iraqis now.  Good luck, we’re outta here!”  Iraq can and should be a major ally of ours in the most crucial spot in the Middle East.   We should be doing everything we can to ensure that we have a continuing military presence there as well as increasing diplomatic and economic ties.   We still have troops in Germany and Japan, for crying out loud.   How much more important is it to have troops or at least air bases in easy reach of Iran and the Persian Gulf — not to mention Syria and Israel?)

If the post by John Hinderaker is a real indication of the trends of conservative thinking (or the thinking of the public in general) then the U.S. is in big trouble in the world.

Can we save a few bucks from the budget by calling it quits in Afghanistan?  Sure, but even Hinderaker admits that the cost is comparatively small change.

Let me emphasize here that I do not advocate an unlimited and unconditional engagement in Afghanistan.   I have said before that if the U.S. is not serious about winning there, if we are simply using the precious lives of our combat forces as a political game or in some half-hearted program to get re-elected, then those forces should come home.   But the rational response to bad policy and poor management is not to shut everything down and hide under the bed at home, it is to recognize the problems and do something about it:  throw out the policy-makers and bad managers and implement a better approach.

It saddens me to think that John Hinderaker has gotten so discouraged with our Afghan policy that he would rather hide under the bed than use his considerable intellect to advocate for a better way.

Air Superiority and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

The U.S. Marines brass is happy about the recent performance of the F-35.

Well, no one can say the Lockheed JSF team hasn’t had a good week. First came the hover and short takeoff and short landing. Today, they capped it with the plane’s first true vertical landing.

The Marines were officially happy. “Having the F-35B perform its first vertical landing underscores the reality of the Marine Corps achieving its goal of an all STOVL force,” said Lt. Gen. George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation. “Being able to operate and land virtually anywhere, the STOVL JSF is a unique fixed wing aircraft that can deploy, co-locate, train and fight with Marine ground forces while operating from a wider range of bases ashore and afloat than any other TacAir platform.”

In the end, the Marines’ relentless pursuit of forcible entry and expeditionary warfare capabilities, along with their penchant for operating alone, is driving them to be disconnected from the U.S. Navy.

The future of Marines on aircraft carriers may hinge on the F-35 program.

The Marine Corps, which is the only U.S. service that has not announced a significant delay for the Joint Strike Fighter, remains fully committed to the F-35B Lightning II short take-off, vertical landing variant. Marine officials already have purchased 29 planes in the fiscal 2008-2010 budgets and officials insist they are on track to see a squadron operational by December 2012.

The test plane, BF-1, conducted its first vertical landing March 18, checking off a major milestone in the F-35B program. But that event was delayed by almost a year. Still, officials with Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s lead manufacturer, and the Corps said they are confident the timeline will be met, adding that the first two training aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2010.

“We are going to be able to operate our planes from the sea, on our amphibious force fleets initially, and we’ll move ashore to the same kinds of forward operating bases that we operate the AV-8B,” Lt. Gen. George Trautman, the deputy commandant for aviation, said in a conference call with reporters.

Trautman said nothing about the Corps’ jets operating from carriers — as the Marines F/A-18 Hornets do today — but he did say the first F-35 squadron is expected to deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit in 2014.

Some observers say the Corps’ commitment to the F-35B is driven by a long-term desire to break away from Navy carriers. A powerful and versatile fighter jet that could operate from smaller-deck amphibs would grant the Marines more autonomy than ever before.

Commandant Conway is also still bullish on the redesigned EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle), but take particular note of this comment concerning the order of battle concerning the most expensive forcible entry vehicle ever conceived.

Interesting that our Marines would be expected to fight their way ashore, and then dismount to add armor so they can actually drive around? Would one vehicle protect the others while some put on additional armor? Would the armor be pre-positioned where the Marines were gonna storm ashore???

All programs can have high hopes – until tin is bent and problems show up.

Since the EFV has a flat hull in order to speed along the top of the water, it must be armored-up to survive IEDs on land.  So how does it get that way?  Why, the U.S. Marines put the armor on it.  They shoot their way on to shore and then stop, get out, wait on Navy supplies, and then fix up the EFVs.

Doesn’t sound like a good plan to you?  Well, this confused thinking permeates the expeditionary concept at the moment.  Consider also this comment.

So we’ve got 60% of the world living in cities near the ocean. We think those cities will be the areas where Marines are called upon to restore stability, work with local security forces, etc.

How do you protect the ships from missiles with stand-off distance, yet get the Marines some sort of armor protected vehicle? EFV was the answer.

Or, we just wait until all the bad guys go to bed, then we row ashore with M1′s on LCACs!

So this commenter poses the following scenario: we are conducting forcible entry to a shoreline where the Navy must be protected from missiles by being over the horizon (i.e., 25 miles out to sea), but these missiles are coming from a nation-state that is in such bad need of stabilization that the Marines must conduct forcible entry to work with security forces.

So you say that it sounds like someone is working with an infeasible or implausible scenario?  The QDR doesn’t help, giving no hint that the DoD even pretended to study the future situation and appropriately plan budgetary expenditures to match the needs.  One searches in vain for any forward thinking or strategic vision beyond adequate funding for fourth generation warfare and transnational insurgencies.

Crush at Blackfive links two studies performed out of Australia:

Why the F-22 and the PAK-FA have the “Right Stuff” and why the F/A-18 and the F-35 do not

Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA

Crush questions whether we may be surrendering our air superiority if we relinquish the F-22 in favor of the troubled F-35 program.  I have also clearly sided with the F-22 as being a far superior fighter.  W. Thomas Smith also smartly points out that the aircraft do completely different things.

Russia and China will continue to be almost bankrupt into the near future (just like we are).  But it’s also important not to allow our current air superiority to lull us into a false sense of security.

In conclusion, I would offer up the following points from these links and previous ones at The Captain’s Journal:

  1. Existing air frames will need continued and even increased refurbishment in order to keep them functional.
  2. The U.S. is in need of an air superiority fighter.  The F-35 is not it.  The F-22 is it.
  3. The QDR doesn’t even begin to give us a starting point to determine how to properly utilize the F-35 or why it is needed.
  4. The Marines are off on their own with their expeditionary warfare doctrines, and want to be even more off on their own than they are.  Who they intend to attack with the EFV is anyone’s guess.
  5. I have previously recommended that the Marines invest in an entirely new generation of helicopters in addition to continued investment in the V-22 Osprey.
  6. It isn’t obvious why the Marines need aircraft beyond rotary wing.  The Navy should be able to handle support, and if they aren’t. they should become capable.
  7. Whatever the disposition of the F-35, there is no obvious reason for it to replace the awesome A-10.

One final thought is in order.  I am convinced that fighter drones (ones to which we can truly entrust the security of America) are many years off, if they are even feasible.  Beyond this, true leadership is needed for such expensive weapons systems – the kind of leadership that has vision rather than the kind that conducted the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Prior:

Marine Corps Commandant on DADT and Expeditionary Warfare

Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over EFV and V-22

F-35 Over Budget and Behind Schedule

Scraping the F-22?

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff criticizes air strikes:

The United States cannot succeed in Afghanistan if the American military keeps killing Afghan civilians, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday.

In remarks to scholars, national security experts and the media at the Brookings Institution, Admiral Mullen said that the American air strikes that killed an undetermined number of civilians in Afghanistan’s Farah Province two weeks ago had put the U.S. strategy in the country in jeopardy.

“We cannot succeed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan, by killing Afghan civilians,” Admiral Mullen said, adding that “we can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.”

At the same time, Admiral Mullen said, “we can’t tie our troops’ hands behind their backs.”

Admiral Mullen’s comments on the civilian casualties from the Farah air strikes, which have caused an uproar in Afghanistan, reflect deep concern within the Pentagon about the intensifying criticism from Kabul against the American military. Admiral Mullen, who noted that commanders in the region had in recent months imposed more restrictive rules on air strikes to avoid civilian casualties, offered no new solutions in his remarks. He only said that “we’ve got to be very, very focused on making sure that we proceed deliberately, that we know who the enemy is.”

By midafternoon on May 4, after a battle between Afghan police and army forces and Taliban fighters had raged for hours, Marines Special Operations forces called in air strikes.

Three F-18 fighter-bombers, flying in succession over several hours, dropped a total of five laser-guided and satellite guided bombs against Taliban fighters who were firing at the American and Afghan forces, said the official, Col. Gregory Julian, in an email message late Sunday.

Villagers, however, have reported that an even heavier bombardment came after 8 p.m. when they said the fighting appeared to be over and the Taliban had left the village.

The military has disputed this version of events, saying the Taliban fighters continued to fire at American and Afghan troops, requiring additional air strikes. These came from a B-1 bomber, which dropped three 500-pound satellite-guided bombs on a tree grove, four 500-pound and 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs on one building, and one 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb on a second building, Colonel Julian said. Villagers have said they sought safety from the initial air strikes in a compound of buildings, but it was not clear whether these were the same buildings the American aircraft later bombed. Villagers said the bombings were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies.

In all, Colonel Julian said, eight targets were attacked over a seven-hour period, but he denied reports from villagers that a mosque had been damaged in the strikes. Colonel Julian and other American military officials have said that the Taliban deliberately fired at American and Afghan forces from the rooftops of buildings where civilians, including women and children, had sought shelter, to provoke a heavy American military response.

Colonel Julian said at the peak of the fighting that day, some 150 Afghan soldiers and 60 Afghan police, along with their 30 American trainers, as well as two Marine Special Operations teams that made up a quick-reaction force, were battling about 300 militants, including a large number of foreign fighters.

Afghan government officials have accepted handwritten lists compiled by the villagers of 147 dead civilians. An independent Afghan human rights group said it had accounts from interviews of 117 dead. American officials say that even 100 is an exaggeration but have yet to issue their own count.

Analysis & Commentary

There remains an uproar over this incident because of noncombatant casualties, and some of it even over military analysis web sites.  The focus of much of the discussion is on how counterinsurgency cannot succeed with noncombatant casualties, and that successful counterinsurgency must be population centric.  True enough within context, this point misses the mark by a wide margin and succeeds only in parroting doctrinal talking points without a true understanding of what this incident can tell us about the campaign.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal can do better.  Be circumspect, smart and deliberate, and consider the question of what we might learn from this incident?  Considering the recent few months of the campaign, what information may we cobble together to place this incident within its proper context?  How can we avoid the traps into which most apparatchiks fall, of advocating either bombing them into submission or implementing procedures to avoid noncombatant casualties altogether because it isn’t “population centric?”

First of all, there is no doubt that fathers and mothers of children who have perished, or children of fathers or mothers or siblings who have perished at the hands of U.S. military action, intentional or not, will forever be our enemies.  It is understandable, and would be the same with most readers.  Noncombatant casualties makes enemies.

Of course, many things make enemies, including promises to stop the Taliban and failing to meet those promises.  But in this case there is something deeper going on, something that requires a bit of thought and trending.

In the Battle of Wanat where nine U.S. Soldiers perished and twenty seven were wounded, the Taliban massed some 300 or more fighters at one time in the area.  Were it not for Close Combat Aviation (CCA) and Close Air Support (CAS), the casualty rate would have been even higher.  Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat and Observation Post Top Side were what one might consider “far flung.”  It was an area of operation that had heretofore not seen U.S. troops, but in which the Taliban were numerous and Taliban control unquestioned.

When the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was deployed to the Garmser region of the Helmand Province in 2008, they killed approximately 400 Taliban who had massed in Garmser, at times calling their fire fights “full bore reloading.”

In Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, we covered the exploits of one Force Recon platoon who documented the fact that in their engagements with the Taliban the enemy fighters swelled to over 400 during ambushes and even during Taliban attacks on Forward Operating Bases.  This is remarkable.  This is basically half a Battalion of Taliban forces conducting what Force Recon called very good infantry tactics, including enfilade and interlocking fires, combined arms, and all of the other infantry tactics on which most good infantry is trained.

Finally, in Trouble in the Afghan Army: The Battle of Bari Alai we discussed the probable treachery of the Afghan Army during a Taliban attack on Observation Post Bari Alai in which three U.S. Soldiers perished along with two Latvian Soldiers.  More than 100 Taliban fighters massed for the attack on the Observation Post.

Now go back and study the report above that has Admiral Mullen so concerned.  The Taliban massed approximately 300 fighters for the fire fight with what turns out to be a fairly small U.S. force.  They had Afghan troops alongside, but as we learned at Wanat, no Afghan troops perished that fateful night.  The Afghan Army is shot through with drug abuse, and during the fight for Observation Post Bari Ala, it is believed that the Afghan troops laid down their weapons in a pre-arranged agreement with the Taliban.

Actually, a bit of study yields the conclusion that the Taliban have always wanted to mass troops (2005 report):

As the Taliban start shooting, O’Neal’s platoon scurries for cover. But there’s no panic. “They think, without a doubt, they have us outnumbered,” recalls O’Neal, a native of Jeannette, Pa., and leader of 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company. “We’ve got only 23 people on the ground, and I would say the Taliban had over 150 before the day was over” …

Taliban fighters, meanwhile, appear to gain courage from numbers, the ability to swarm a smaller enemy unit. A sense of safety in numbers, however, is often the Taliban’s undoing if a US platoon can fix an enemy’s position long enough for aircraft or other infantry units to arrive. This is the backbone of US military strategy in Zabul, and one reason why the Taliban have lost so many fighters this year.

It is fairly well known now that the additional troops deployed to Afghanistan are going to the population centers around Kabul and Kandahar – of course, in a tip of the hat to population centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  So the balance of Afghanistan is left to the Taliban to raise revenue, recruit fighters, train, interdict our logistics lines, implement their governance and basically control as they see fit.

Then, since the U.S. is massing troops in and around the population centers, far fewer are left for the rural terrain.  The most that can usually be accomplished is squad, platoon and company-sized engagements, or even smaller units to embed with the Afghan forces.  This is very close to what is considered distributed operations.  Few patrols in Taliban-controlled areas, no ensuring that the Taliban feel the strong presence of forces, just bare minimum to “train” the Afghan forces.

Yet when the Taliban are able to mass forces of as much as half a Battalion, the expectation is that much smaller units of U.S. forces will engage them without causing noncombatant casualties, while at the same time, the Taliban are clearly using human shields.

Clearly, we are asking the impossible of U.S. troops.  The Obama administration doesn’t want to deploy more than about 68,000 U.S. troops to the theater, and as long as this small footprint obtains, heavy use of air power will be necessary to keep smaller units from being completely overrun when the Taliban mass troops.

There is a solution to this dilemma, but it requires more troops to disengage the Taliban from the population.  The number of troops we have at the moment is not enough to do this mission.  Hence, while noncombatant casualties are a sad thing and certainly counterproductive, the answer is not to inform the smaller units of U.S. forces that they cannot use air support.  As much as The Captain’s Journal hates to see noncombatant casualties, more Marines and Soldiers in coffins would be much worse.

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

Following are some related but disaggregated thoughts on the upcoming U.S. Department of Defense budgetary cuts, along with some very good required reading on this subject.

Gates Readies Big Cuts in Weapons

As the Bush administration was drawing to a close, Robert M. Gates, whose two years as defense secretary had been devoted to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, felt compelled to warn his successor of a crisis closer to home.

The United States “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything,” Gates said. The next defense secretary, he warned, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents.

What Gates didn’t know was that he would be that successor.

Now, as the only Bush Cabinet member to remain under President Obama, Gates is preparing the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War, according to aides.

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the offi cials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said …

Gates is not the first secretary to try to change military priorities. His predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, sought to retool the military but succeeded in cancelling only one major project, an Army artillery system.

Former vice president Dick Cheney’s efforts as defense chief under the first President Bush, meanwhile, are cited as a case study in the resistance of the military, defense industry, and Capitol Hill. Cheney canceled the Marine Corps’ troubled V-22 Osprey aircraft not once, but four times, only to see Congress reverse the decision.

And we’re glad that the V-22 Osprey program was completed.  It is already making an impact in the Marine Corps expeditionary concept.  The Captain’s Journal is still a supporter of Secretary Gates, but these defense cuts are both unnecessary and ill-advised (although not of Gates’ choosing in a perfect world).  Beginning in 2011, Russian armed forces will undergo a comprehensive rearmament to refurbish and replaces weapons systems.  While the U.S. is disarming, one of the only two near peers in the world is increasing and rearming its military.  No, wait.  Make that both near peer states.

Beijing Considers Upgrades to Navy

China’s top military spokesman said it is seriously considering adding a first aircraft carrier to its navy fleet, a fresh indication of the country’s growing military profile as it prepares for its first major naval deployment abroad.

At a rare news conference Tuesday, Chinese defense-ministry officials played down the importance of Beijing’s decision to send warships to the Gulf of Aden to curb piracy — China’s first such deployment in modern history — saying it doesn’t represent a shift in defense policy. The two destroyers and supply ship are to depart Friday for the Middle East.

But officials also made clear that China’s navy, which has been investing heavily in ships and aircraft, now has the capability to conduct complex operations far from its coastal waters — and that Beijing is continuing to expand its reach and capability, perhaps with a carrier.

It’s unclear what parts of an aircraft carrier China would build itself and what parts it might need to acquire from abroad. China has bought carriers before, but none ended up in the country’s fleet.

In some of the most direct public statements on current thinking behind Beijing’s naval policy, defense military spokesman Col. Huang Xueping said Tuesday that “China has vast oceans and it is the sovereign responsibility of China’s armed forces to ensure the country’s maritime security and uphold the sovereignty of its costal waters as well as its maritime rights and interests.”

At Information Dissemination, Galrahn makes a good observation on the importance of the expeditionary concept.

As we have noted many times on the blog, the amphibious ship is the hardest working type of ship in the US Navy in the 21st century. The data says all that needs to be said regarding the requirement.

They are flexible platforms that bring together a wide variety of capabilities that can effectively perform the range of mission profiles from soft power to forward afloat staging bases to even assault roles when necessary. They are the rapid responders when crisis breaks out on land, and best fit the most often called upon requirements of the US Navy when problems occur, whether it is Hezbollah/Israel or a natural disaster, the amphibious ship, not the aircraft carrier, is the type of platform sent into to help out people … The biggest problem with the sea basing concept isn’t the idea regarding how to get troops to land, but how to sustain troops from sea once we get them on land. The single largest factor that limits support is fuel.

The Captain’s Journal agrees with Galrahn and the importance of force projection – whether hard or soft power – with the Marines Expeditionary Units (including the “combined arms” concept of multiple naval vessels with various defensive and offensive capabilities.  But with us it isn’t a matter of either-or.  It’s both-and.  We need both the carrier battle groups and the MEUs.

We will learn the lesson, again, the easy way or the hard way.  But we must be prepared to fight both near peers and counterinsurgency campaigns.  As for China, when they want to expand their global influence, the first big ship they go after is the carrier.  Concerning Galrahn’s warning on the need for fuel, this highlights all the more the need for ports and air superiority for refueling tankers.  Concerning overall air superiority, if the sole focus of our national defense dollars is in counterinsurgency, littoral combat and small wars, the MEUs will be left to the slaughter once the ordnance begins raining down from the sky.

Concerning this issue of being able to fight two wars at one time, the current administration is toying with this age-old doctrine.

The protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.

For more than six years now, the United States has in fact been fighting two wars, with more than 170,000 troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The military has openly acknowledged that the wars have left troops and equipment severely strained, and has said that it would be difficult to carry out any kind of significant operation elsewhere.

To some extent, fears have faded that the United States may actually have to fight, say, Russia and North Korea, or China and Iran, at the same time. But if Iraq and Afghanistan were never formidable foes in conventional terms, they have already tied up the American military for a period longer than World War II.

A senior Defense Department official involved in a strategy review now under way said the Pentagon was absorbing the lesson that the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns likely to be part of some future wars would require more staying power than in past conflicts, like the first Iraq war in 1991 or the invasions of Grenada and Panama.

In an interview with National Public Radio last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made it clear that the Pentagon was beginning to reconsider whether the old two-wars assumption “makes any sense in the 21st century” as a guide to planning, budgeting and weapons-buying.

Be careful here.  This seems like a prelude to deep cuts in the men and materiel necessary for air superiority, Naval superiority and force projection.  Wait, we’ve already discussed this above, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Finally, you will note that the cuts also target both nuclear refurbishment and development and the F-22 program.  The Captain’s Journal has already weighed in on these issues.

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

Sounding the Nuclear Alarm

An Aging Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

The three links above are required reading, as are the two links below (for those readers who aren’t convinced of the need to refurbish our existing nuclear weapons stockpile or continue further development).

Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DoD Nuclear Weapons Management

National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century

Finally, read this:

Remember Near Peer Threats?

Fighter Montage

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

“Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight!”

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Dutch troops deploying to Afghanistan last fall had a surprise awaiting them.

TARIN KOT, Afghanistan — Lt. Col. Wilfred Rietdijk, a 6-foot-7 blond Dutchman, took command of his military’s reconstruction team in the southern Afghan district of Deh Rawood in September. Tranquil and welcoming, it seemed like the perfect place for the Netherlands’ mission to help rebuild this country.

Intelligence reports indicated that the district was free of the Taliban, allowing the soldiers greater freedom of movement than elsewhere in Uruzgan province.

“We could go out on foot,” Rietdijk said.

Reconstruction teams, escorted by a platoon of soldiers, fanned across the fertile countryside, building bridges over streams and canals, repairing irrigation systems, and distributing books and pens to local schools.

But the day after Rietdijk arrived in Afghanistan, his field officers reported hundreds of villagers suddenly fleeing parts of Deh Rawood. “Within a few weeks, everybody was gone,” Rietdijk said. “We didn’t understand why.”

Now the Dutch say they realize what happened. Even as the soldiers believed they had won the support of the local population, the Taliban had secretly returned to reclaim Deh Rawood, home district of the group’s revered leader, Mohammad Omar. It took only a few months for the Taliban to undermine nearly six years of intelligence work by U.S. forces and almost two years of goodwill efforts by Dutch soldiers

As Hogeveen was settling into his armor-plated metal bunker at the main Dutch base, Camp Holland, near the provincial capital of Tarin Kot, Taliban fighters were evicting local police from three of Deh Rawood’s most strategic checkpoints. They bribed officers to abandon one post, kidnapped the son of a policeman at a second checkpoint and attacked the third, sending officers fleeing. They turned a local school into their headquarters and stocked it with weapons and ammunition, Hogeveen said he learned later.

Then they lay in wait and ambushed the first unsuspecting Dutch convoy they spotted.

“They were better prepared than anyone led us to believe,” Hogeveen said.

Hogeveen’s troops and the Taliban skirmished almost daily.

In mid-December, fighters yanked a 60-year-old woman and her 7-year-old grandson off a bus in Deh Rawood. They interrogated the pair and, after finding a U.S. dollar bill in the boy’s pocket, accused the two of spying and executed them in front of the other passengers and bystanders, according to accounts by Afghan human rights groups, news services and Dutch officers.

Meanwhile, on the advice of U.S. and Dutch intelligence officers, Hogeveen prepared a battle plan for routing the Taliban: “The intelligence guys said, ‘If you go in with large forces, they will leave,’ ” Hogeveen recalled in an interview.

He sent larger contingents of heavily armored troops into the heart of the Taliban stronghold in northern Deh Rawood, a jumble of mud houses connected by mazes of narrow lanes.

“Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight,” Hogeveen said. “The intelligence was wrong.”

Today, after 2 1/2 months of often intense combat, Dutch troops have reclaimed some of the villages of Deh Rawood and are helping villagers repair the damage caused by weeks of fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban. They have also started many new projects and are working more closely with tribal leaders, the Afghan army and local police to provide better security for the residents.

Even so, the Dutch say, the Taliban forces have merely relocated to the fringes of the district, and thousands of villagers remain too frightened to return to their homes.

The resilience of the Taliban, a shortage of NATO forces and the Dutch philosophy that the Afghan people need to take charge of their own lives have prompted the Dutch to adopt a precarious strategy for Uruzgan: evict the Taliban from small enclaves while ceding the surrounding territory to them in hopes that neighboring communities will oust them on their own.

David Galula’s ideas - a man who is a virtual unknown in his country of origin, and who is the doctrinal father of the counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24 - are being implemented in Afghanistan.  Galula advocated targeted action in select areas, with resources moved as needed.  I have long advocated seeing Galula’s ideas as useful and helpful, but within their proper context.  But his campaign in Algeria was far different than the war on terror we fight today, on a least (but not limited to) the following fronts.

  1. The global insurgency characteristic of the campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Africa and Chechnya and other places, thrives on a transnational ideological movement.  Whether response to globalization or for religious motivation (I advocate the later), borders mean nothing to international jihadists.  David Galula fought a campaign in Algeria; today the U.S. fights a campaign around the world with immediate flow and communication of personnel, ideas, intelligence and weapons.
  2. Modern technology has introduced standoff weapons to the battle space such as IEDs.  This becomes a force multiplier for the insurgency.
  3. Religious ideology has brought terror and suicide (or martyrdom) missions into the battle space.  Hence, rather than vying for good governance and protection of the population, the insurgency uses brutality and torture as weapons of intimidation, preventing the need to take the subsequent steps of a typical 1960′s style insurgency of providing state-like functions and services.
  4. Popular sentiment at home among the public will prevent the U.S. military from ever again having ten to twelve years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign.  For a COIN campaign to last this long would require the support of three consecutive presidential administrations, obviously an exigency which stands almost no chance of coming to pass.
  5. In addition to an insurgency being a function of counter-forces within a nation state, they can be (and have been in the case of Iran) funded, supported and trained by nation states to undermine the stability of the host country.

There are many more reasons that I have detailed in past articles, but these five will suffice.  Again, Galula’s ideas are worth studying (and implementing in certain circumstances), but inadequate to form the basis for a comprehensive COIN doctrine.

The “whack-a-mole” brand of counterinsurgency didn’t work in Iraq, and will not work in Afghanistan.  For COIN operations to succeed, two elements must be present as we have learned in Iraq.  First, the force size must be right.  If there aren’t enough troops to take, hold and rebuild, the campaign will fail in the brave new world of the global religious insurgency.  Second, having the right force size in itself does nothing to ensure the proper use of those troops.  The corollary or companion axiom for force size is force projection.  The circumstances on the ground, with the population being too afraid to return to their homes due to terror, and the loss of years of effort at becoming trusted for good governance, proves the contrary of the Dutch strategy.  Pushing the insurgency into surrounding areas doesn’t work, either short term or long term.

The Dutch contingency represents the wrong strategy, while U.S. forces have recently been documented doing the right thing with too few troops in a stunning New York Times Magazine article.

OVER THE LAST two years, the Americans have steadily increased their presence in Kunar province, fanning out to the small platoon-size outposts that have become the signature of the new counterinsurgency doctrine in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Korengal Outpost, nicknamed the KOP, was built in April 2006 on the site of a former timber mill and motel. The soldiers of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team live there in dusty tents and little wooden huts. They now have hot food and a small chow tent with an Internet linkup and a few phones for calling home. But the place was protected by not much more than concertina wire and sentries. Nearly every time I arrived at the KOP our helicopter was greeted by sniper fire or the dushka — a Russian-made antiaircraft gun.

Dan Kearney was essentially lord of the Korengal Valley. A self-described Georgia army brat, he grew up idolizing his warrior dad, Frank Kearney, and wanted to move in his father’s world of covert and overt operations. (His father is now a lieutenant general in Special Operations command.)

But as hard as Iraq was, he said, nothing was as tough as the Korengal. Unlike in Iraq, where the captains and lieutenants could let down their guard in a relatively safe, fortified operating base, swapping stories and ideas, here they had no one to talk to and were almost as vulnerable to enemy fire inside the wire as out. Last summer, insurgents stormed one of the bases in a nearby valley and wounded 16.

This admission from Kearney – who is undoubtedly a good officer – is telling.  The Anbar province saw combat outposts, distributed operations, countersnipers, and higher casualties well before the balance of Iraq.  It is fair to say that the surge and security plan was in part modeled after the Anbar campaign.  But while Marines (and some Army and National Guard) in Anbar were taking casualties, some forces in Iraq were well protected in safe FOBs.  The reason, in other words, that Kearney saw Afghanistan as far different from Iraq is because he was not deployed in the Anbar province.  It isn’t too long ago that Marines were dying by the score from sniper rounds and room clearing in Anbar.  But Kearney is certainly seeing his share of kinetic operations now.

ON OCT. 19, Kearney and Battle Company were air assaulted into the insurgents’ backyard for a mission that many thought insane. It was called Rock Avalanche and would last about six days. One of its main targets was the village of Yaka China.

Kearney, being the good soldier, tried to pump up his boys with the promise that they would be going after insurgents who had killed their friends and whose grizzled faces were plastered on their bad-guy family-tree wall at the KOP. They would upset the guerrillas’ safe haven and their transit routes from Pakistan. They would persuade the villagers to stop harboring the bad guys by offering an $11 million road project that had just been approved by NATO and Kabul and would be built by the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team. And they’d complete the “human terrain mapping” that is part of the new counterinsurgency doctrine — what families dominate, who’s married, who’s feuding, are there divisions to be exploited?

It was a lot to ask of young soldiers: play killer, cultural anthropologist, hearts-and-minds winner and then killer again. Which is why, just hours before the mission was to begin, some soldiers were smearing black-and-green war paint on their faces when their sergeant shouted: “Take it off. Now!” Why? They’d frighten the villagers.

It seemed a moot point as Rock Avalanche got under way. Apache gunships were scanning the ridges for insurgents. Other helicopters were dropping off more soldiers. An unmanned drone was whining overhead as it sent infrared video feeds to a large screen back at the battalion’s headquarters, Camp Blessing, six miles north of the KOP.

Almost immediately, high on a mountainside looking down on Yaka China, Kearney had to play God. In a ditch to his left, Jesse Yarnell, a young intelligence officer, along with John, an Afghan interpreter, were intercepting insurgents on their two-way radios saying, “We see them, we’re going to wait.”

“They’re right down there!” said Kevin Caroon as he gazed out of his night vision. Caroon, from Connecticut and a father of two, was an Air Force JTAC — the joint terminal attack controller who talks the combat pilots onto their targets. “See that? Two people moving south 400 meters away from us,” Caroon said, pointing down the mountain face. More insurgents were located nearby.

“Sir, what do you want to do?” Caroon asked Kearney.

“I want them dead,” Kearney said.

“Engage them?”

“Yes. Take ’em out.”

Caroon radioed the pilot his instructions, “On-scene commander’s intent is to engage.” And that was it.

A sudden wail pierced the night sky. It was Slasher, an AC-130 gunship, firing bullets the size of Coke bottles. Flaming shapes ricocheted all around the village. Kearney was in overdrive. The soldiers back at the KOP were radioing in that the drone was tracking 10 men near the tree line. Yarnell was picking up insurgent radio traffic. “They’re talking about getting ready to hit us,” someone said. The pilot could see five men, one entering a house, then, no, some were in the trees, some inside, and then, multiple houses. He wanted confirmation — were all these targets hostile? Did Kearney have any collateral-damage concerns? Cursing, Kearney told them to engage the men outside but not to hit the house. The pilots radioed back that men had just run inside. No doubt there would be a family. Caroon reminded Kearney that Slasher had only enough fuel to stay in position for 10 more minutes.

“What do you want to do, sir?” Caroon asked him.

Kearney radioed his soldiers back at the KOP to contact his boss, Lt. Col. Bill Ostlund. Ostlund, a Nebraska social scientist who could switch effortlessly from aggressive bomber to political negotiator talking family values with Afghan tribal elders, was in the crowded tactical-operations room at Camp Blessing watching the drone’s video feed and getting the same intelligence. He signed off on collateral damage, and Kearney turned to Caroon: “Take out the compound. And anyone that comes out.”

Flaming rockets flashed through the sky. Thunder rumbled and echoed through the valley. Then there was a pause. Slasher asked Caroon whether the insurgents were still talking. Kearney shouted over to Yarnell in his ditch, “You picking anything up?” Nothing. More spitting rockets.

The night seemed incomprehensible and interminable. Slasher departed and Gunmetal — an Apache helicopter — swept in. Radio communication kept breaking down. At one point the crew of Gunmetal, sensing no hostile intent, refused Kearney’s orders to fire. Then suddenly Gunmetal was rocketing at figures scattering for cover. Then Slasher was back in the sky doing more “work.” In the predawn light Bone — the nickname for the B-1 bomber that seemed to be the soldiers’ favorite — winged in and dropped two 2,000-pound bombs above the village. Finally, around dawn, a weary Kearney, succumbing to gallows humor, adrenaline and exhaustion, said: “O.K., I’ve done my killing for the week. I’m ready to go home.”

Kearney estimated that they killed about 20 people, adding: “I’m not gonna lie. Some are probably civilians.”

In the logic of war, the best antidote for the menacing ghostliness of the ambushing enemy is killing and knowing you’ve killed them. The soldiers in the Korengal almost never had that kind of satisfaction. Any insurgents, if they were killed, would be buried fast, and all that was left in their wake were wounded civilians. That morning, after a long night of fighting, was no different. Within an hour or so, Lt. Matt Piosa, an earnest, 24-year-old West Point grad, and his patrol were in Yaka China. They radioed that the village elders were asking to bury their dead. They’d also collected wounded civilians. The tally was bad — 5 killed and 11 wounded, all of them women, girls and boys.

Human terrain mapping, anthropologists, provincial reconstruction teams, and all of the things that make classical COIN advocates happy.  The next installment should be theme parks for the kiddies.  But this dissipates in the face of kinetic operations that need more troops.  The pretext to successful reconstruction, I have discussed before, is force projection and security.

To be clear about the civilian casualties, it occurs to me that the journalist with the NYT Magazine doesn’t understand the nature of war.  Her clinical perceptions hopefully didn’t survive several weeks in Afghanistan.  I have clearly advocated ROE that holds first in importance the protection of U.S. forces rather than the implementation of international law.  All other things take secondary or even tertiary importance.  I am not concerned about neither ROE problems nor the potential loss of noncombatant support for the campaign in this specific instance.

However, the concern appropriate to this incident is the use of air power and what role it plays.  I have also advocated air power in COIN, but for the purpose of protecting U.S. forces and providing acceleration to the campaign.  I do not advocate air power as a replacement for ground forces.  Air power should be used as a force multiplier, not force replacement.

Captain Kearney knows how to conduct kinetic operations and work the population.  Captain Kearney doesn’t have enough troops.  With the narcotic influence of classical COIN doctrine which claims that we have ten to twelve years, and in which it is acceptable to push the insurgency to different locations rather than kill or capture them, the strategic malaise in the Afghanistan campaign continues unabated.

The campaign needs more forces, more force projection, and strong leadership.  This kind of campaign belongs to regular, active duty Army and Marine infantry, not air power (which is simply a force multiplier) or state-side COIN specialists – and certainly not NATO intransigence.  Captain Kearney and his men need reinforcements, and NATO command is holed in FOBs wondering what their public back home thinks.

Upgraded A-10s Prove Worth in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

A-10 at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq

Senior Airman Daniel Young marshals in an A-10 Thunderbolt II for munitions disarming after an Oct. 28 mission at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.

The only problem with the title for the Air Force article is that of assuming that the A-10 is in need of proof of its worth.  For those of use who know about the A-10, it has proven its worth since its creation and continues to do so.  From Al Asad Air Base, Iraq:

A new version of the A-10 Thunderbolt II has been flying over Iraq providing close-air support for the ground troops from Al Asad Air Base for nearly two months.

As part of the Precision Engagement Upgrade Program, the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing has been converting it’s A-10s from A to C models.

“We are the first A-10C model squadron to deploy to combat,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Smith, the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. “We just transitioned to the aircraft six months prior to coming here, and the C-model was officially declared combat ready just two weeks before we deployed. I am very proud of our unit. We’ve put in a monumental effort, as individuals and as a group to get to this point.”

The A-10C might look the same on the outside, but the recent upgrades have turned the aircraft, which was originally designed to battle Russian tanks during the Cold War, into an even more lethal and precise close-air-support weapons system.

A few of the key upgrades are a “first ever” for the aircraft, said Capt. Rich Hunt, a 104th EFS A-10C pilot. One of them is the situational awareness data link.

“Previously, for me to keep track of all the other airplanes that are around me or to help us perform the mission, I would literally have to write those down with a grease pencil inside my canopy or write them down on a white piece of paper on my knee board in order to keep track of all that,” Captain Hunt said.

“Now I have a color display that has all of the other airplanes that are up supporting the same mission across all of Iraq right now,” he said. And they are all digitally displayed through that data link on my map. So now, especially at night when awareness is a little bit lower, I can look at that beautiful map display and know exactly what other airplanes are around me.”

The new system also provides the pilot with other critical information, such as what the other airplanes might be targeting, what munitions they have on board and fuel levels.

“That awareness provides us with a ton of valuable information in a very user-friendly manner,” the captain said. “(It allows us) to do our mission with a lot clearer understanding of exactly what is going on around us in the battle space and what our wingmen may be targeting” …

Something else the new C-model provides to the pilots is the integration of advanced targeting pods, which have also been upgraded. The new pods include long-range TV and infrared cameras with zoom capabilities and a laser target designator.

“Primarily, we still use the pods for weapons strikes,” Captain Hunt said. “However, in Iraq we find ourselves supporting the troops on the ground by doing a lot of counter improvised explosive devices missions.”

The pods infrared capability can be used to detect buried IEDs by picking up on their heat signature.

The new targeting pods have also been outfitted with the ROVER downlink capability, allowing the aircraft to transmit the live video feed to a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. This allows for more precise strikes with less chance of a chance for collateral damage.

“In Iraq that is especially important because it’s a very difficult situation when we provide close-air support in such a densely urban environment,” the captain said. “By the controller being able to look through my targeting pod real time, we can compare exactly what we are looking at and make sure we have an absolutely 100 percent positive identification of the target.”

Another upgrade that increases the A-10′s precision is that it can now employ the Global Positioning System-guided joint direct attack munitions.

“Sometimes we find ourselves where we have to destroy a terrorist stronghold location. But in the house across the street are friendly Iraqi civilians,” Captain Hunt said. “We know we have to destroy the stronghold, but we don’t want to cause any collateral damage whatsoever. So the JDAM has been outstanding for us. We’ve had unbelievable success where we’ve been able to strike the stronghold without causing any damage to the houses around it.

“Between the situational awareness data link, the targeting pod with the ROVER down link to the controller on the ground and the JDAM, the A-10C on this deployment has been an amazing success for us,” the captain said.

The A-10 has been around the Air Force since the 1970s and with these new upgrades will remain well into the future.

“As technology moved further ahead, we stayed pretty far behind,” Colonel Smith said. “And now, all over sudden, we have leapfrogged all the way pretty much to the front edge of all the technology for everybody.”

But the colonel also said while they are the first unit to fly the C-model in combat, their main focus is not on the upgrades.

“In our minds we are just flying like we normally do,” Colonel Smith said. “We don’t see ourselves as the first A-10C model in combat, we see ourselves as A-10 pilots out helping the guy on the ground. I have great respect for the men and women on the ground. They are the ones who are really putting their lives on the line when they are out there. Our job is to ride shotgun for them — to sit there in position, and ready for them when they need us. And now we have more tools available to do it faster and more precisely.”

Prior at The Captain’s Journal:

Faster Kill Chain
A-10 Update and Pictures
A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency
Air Power in Small Wars

Just for fun, A-10 Flyover.

Planning for war with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

In testimony before congress, General Petraeus was clear in his warning over Iranian intent to have a Hezbollah-like force deployed within Iraq.  He also made the point very clearly that the war in Iraq could not be won solely in Iraq.  Since then it has been reported that Iranian arms have made their way into Afghanistan, with senior NATO leadership both confirming and then demurring on this shipment interdiction.

General Dan McNeill, head of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), confirmed a report in Sunday’s Washington Post which said the shipment had been discovered last week.

“The geographic origin of that convoy was clearly Iran but take note that I did not say it’s the Iranian government,” the US general told AFP in an interview.

“In that convoy there were explosive materials that could be made into more advanced improvised explosive devices,” he said, refusing to make any further comment on the shipment, as it was still being analysed.

“It is not the first convoy that we have intercepted that had geographical origins from Iran, but it is one that has my attention.”

Turning back to Iraq, it didn’t take Secretary of Defense Gates long to downplay the Iranian threat.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that the United States can contain the Iranian threat to Iraq without going to war with the Islamic republic.

Iranian attempts to influence events in Iraq can be dealt with “inside the borders of Iraq” and there is no need for U.S. forces to take action inside Iran, Gates said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The administration believes that continuing to try to deal with the Iranian threat through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph has a major news story concerning hawks in the military and administration who are carefully crafting an escalatory campaign with Iran to justify full blown military action, drawing up a list of 2000 strategic and military bombing targets inside Iran.  Concerning those hardened bunkers containing the centrifuges being used to create high enriched Uranium, plans were made and enacted long ago to develop weapons that could penetrate and destroy those installations.

The U.S. has a 14-ton super bomb more destructive than the vacuum bomb just tested by Russia, a U.S. general said Wednesday.

The statement was made by retired Lt. General McInerney, chairman of the Iran Policy Committee, and former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

McInerney said the U.S. has “a new massive ordnance penetrator that’s 30,000 pounds, that really penetrates … Ahmadinejad has nothing in Iran that we can’t penetrate.”

He also said the new Russian bomb was not a “penetrator.”

On Tuesday, the Fox News television channel said: “A recent decision by German officials to withhold support for any new sanctions against Iran has pushed a broad spectrum of officials in Washington to develop potential scenarios for a military attack on the Islamic regime.”.

Commenting on the report, McInerney said: “Since Germany has backed out of helping economically, we do not have any other choice. … They’ve forced us into the military option.”

McInerney described some possible military campaign scenarios and said: “The one I favor the most, of course, is an air campaign,” he continued.

He said that bombing would be launched by 65-70 stealth bombers and 400 bombers of other types.

“Forty-eight hours duration, hitting 2500 aimed points to take out their [Iranian] nuclear facilities, their air defense facilities, their air force, their navy, their Shahab-3 retaliatory missiles, and finally their command and control. And then let the Iranian people take their country back,” the general said describing the campaign, adding it would be “easy.”

Exactly how bombing Iran will help the “Iranian people take their country back” is not made clear by McInerney.  At TCJ we are in favor of letting the fly-boys do what needs to be done if it comes to that.  However, regarding this claim of being “easy,” perhaps it would be good to rehearse the consequences of such an air war before we start it.

  1. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Forces would carry out attacks against U.S. interests, including embassies, throughout the world.
  2. The same forces would carry out attacks against U.S. troops within Iraq.
  3. Oil prices would skyrocket.
  4. Due to oil prices, the American and possibly world economy would likely go into a phase of hyperinflation, followed by recession.
  5. Some U.S. pilots will be shot out of the sky, captured, tortured and run in front of TV cameras to “recant their attrocities.”

Again, if this is all necessary, then air power is the solution.  But no one yet is talking about Michael Ledeen’s solution, which is to avoid both the negotiations (in which we have engaged for two decades to no avail) and war (which would certainly be costly), by fomenting revolution and regime change from within.  Such a moderate and sensible approach, yet not courted or advocated by either side at the moment.

But make no mistake about it.  The Iranian problem will not go away, and it must be faced sooner rather than later.  A recent speech before the U.S. congress has received far too little attention.

In a video message to a meeting at the U.S. Congress on September 11, 2007, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance said, “The undeniable reality is that the policy of appeasing the Iranian regime with the aim of bringing about gradual or behavior change or containing it has failed. For the mullahs the only way to deal with the tide of democracy in Iran and global developments is repression, nuclear weapons, domination of Iraq and spread of Islamic fundamentalism.? The full text of here message follows:

Allow me at the beginning to hail the Iranian people for rising up against an oppressive dictatorship. By resorting to hanging young people in public, the mullahs are trying to intimidate the Iranian nation. But the mass executions have failed to break the resistance of the people. The mullahs have reached the end of the line in Iran.

Today, Iraq has become the central front in the fight against Islamo-fascism and the terrorism resulting from it. This is the biggest problem before the United States and the international community. Whatever the results, it would chart the direction of the twenty-first century.

The Iranian regime is the main problem in Iraq; other factors are marginal. The mullahs will not allow a successful political process in Iraq to take shape, because a democratic Iraq would be a nightmare for them. 

For this reason, they have done everything to prevent the creation of a democratic Iraq. Since 27 years ago, Iraq, owing to its unique geopolitical status – having a majority Shiite population, being home to the shrines of six Shiite Imams, and having a 1,200km border with Iran as well as many different religions and ethnic groupings – has been the main target of the mullahs’ so-called “export of Islamic revolution.?

Unfortunately, the West’s disregard for this reality allowed the mullahs to spread influence in Iraq after the fall of the previous government in that country. If the Iranian regime did not intervene in Iraq, there would be no need for stationing a large force and the casualties would not be so heavy.

The Iranian problem must and will be addressed; it is only a matter of how and how soon.  The clock is ticking down, since this administration will be leaving office within sixteen months, and the subsequent one may not be willing to meet the challenge before Iran builds a nuclear weapon.

Death from Above

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

In Air Power in Small Wars and A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency we discussed the controversial topic of air power in so-called “small wars.”  In reality, the issue of collateral damage is a straw man, as has been demonstrated by recent history in Iraq.  Several recent examples involve combat action near Karmah in the Anbar Province, in which both air power and artillery were used:

Marines from Regimental Combat Team 6 observed and engaged an armed group of al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists killing 12 and destroying two vehicles near the town of Karmah Aug. 29.

A group of three men was seen loading objects into a bongo truck from a nearby growth of weeds 11 kilometers northeast of Fallujah, in an area known to be a historical weapons cache site. A second group of four men arrived in another bongo truck, followed by a third group of six men on foot through the reeds.

A team of Marines was dispatched to better observe the scene and a third cargo truck carrying three men waving weapons and wearing ski masks approached the group a few moments later.

The Marines called for air support and a section of AV-8B Harrier jets dropped two precision-guided bombs, destroying the initial two cargo trucks. Marines called for artillery fire on the dismounted enemy personnel immediately following the air attack.

Twelve members of al Qaeda were found dead upon investigation of the scene… Numerous weapons and roadside bomb making materials were also found.

The example below is in an urban setting, and collateral damage was completely avoided.

Task Force Marne attack helicopter crews destroyed an al-Qaeda safe house in Arab Jabour Sept. 2.

Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were told by local concerned citizens that al –Qaeda was killing civilians behind the Qhurfar Mosque. The family of a man killed by al-Qaeda reported the insurgents went to a nearby house.

An air weapons team was called and engaged the house in two separate runs. A total of two hellfire missiles, seven rockets and one burst of .50 cal fire were expended on the house.

The mosque incurred no damage.

There is no question that the final stages of counterinsurgency involve a heavy emphasis on nonkinetic operations.  However, combat against rogue elements remains an essential part of small wars, and these operations can rely heavily on air power.


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