Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category

Littoral Combat and Other Navy Adventures

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

Sometimes the web is a wonderful thing.  Other times not so much.  We love the ability to communicate electronically, but we hate know-it-alls.  We hate know-it-alls, but we love the ability to expose them for what they are.

Every now and again a good example surfaces and it’s good to send it to our readers.  The most recent example of stupidity arises from a comment at the Small Wars Journal blog.  The wise and highly knowledgeable Frank Hoffman has written an analysis on American Maritime Power in the 21st Century.  It was linked by our friends Dave and Bill at the Small Wars Journal blog.  Now comes the stupidity with comments that add nothing to our knowledge.

This is drivel.
There has to be a better justification for spending money on big ships and expensive weapons systems than ‘to preserve our navel power’ (Fighting WW2 again).

Reaching back to the “American Century” for justification is backward looking and not a way for forward planing.

Go show us you can take care of a few boat loads of prates firing RPG’s. If you can’t do that with what you have now, we are not going to spend billions more getting more of it for you.

Ships are extremely vulnerable to air power (WWII), even the simplest missiles (Falklands), and a man in a row boat with a bit of explosive (USS Cole).

In the high speed world of today ships are slow, incredibly un-stealthy, and make wonderfully good targets when ever they get anywhere near hostile land.

The disadvantage with ships is they are not very large and easy to hit, and when hit the damage is compounded by the tendency for water to flow in through the holes.

They are really nice platforms for launching long range stand off weapons, like cruise missiles or aircraft, so long as the craft is far enough off shore to keep out of harms way.

As an off shore support system for operations in and against small backward nations like Vietnam and Iraq they are very useful.

In the age of satlights and cloud penetrating radar I am not sure that ships will continue to be a available fighting platform for use against a large modern state, like Russia or china, who have such technology.

They have one fatal flaw. You only have to get one or two good hits and the whole thing sinks. Resiliency and defensive systems are big problems for a modern navy.

No other military encampment takes down so much gear and men when when taking incoming fire. Maybe the future is not a navy as we know it now, but a fleet of much smaller fast boats that work together as a swarm.

Maybe the future of aircraft carries is a very high speed 150 foot long craft that can launch and recover automated predictor or raptor type aircraft.

To which The Captain’s Journal responded:


Yesterday Mr. Hoffman forgot some infinitesimally small amount of the information he knew on the subject about which he writes. This forgotten information from yesterday is more than you will ever know about this subject in one hundred lifetimes.

Also, your bravado concerning fluid mechanics is unimpressive. Some ships with holes sink, like aircraft with missing wings crash and tanks hit by EFPs break. And it took you some 70 – 80 words to state this fact and then repeat it for us. Wow.

As for the balance of your comment, I see nothing thoughtful about it. I, too, have concerns. Mr. Hoffman knows, like we all do, that money will be tight and that programs will have to husband their resources. I am concerned about the whole littoral combat program, whether maybe the USMC should re-evaluate their EFV program, etc. But I’ll attempt to address these issues without calling studied men out to have uttered drivel. I’ll follow this up on my own web site.

As for Naval power, the reason that China is pursuing an aircraft carrier is for force projection. We have 11, 5 or 6 or more active at any one time, and this takes cash. Maybe you should call up the Premier of the PRC and tell him your conerns about China pursuing Naval power. I’m sure he’ll listen. Let me know how it goes. Send me a note.

The only real “drivel” here is your comment. Now. I’m angry because I feel like I have wasted my time in responding to this comment. Finally, Dave and Bill are more gracious than am I. Your stupid URL http://drivel to which I am sent upon clicking on your name is enough to ban you forever from my own web site. I don’t suffer fools very well.

And we don’t suffer fools.  Smaller, faster naval craft phooey!  Small ships can be shot out of the water just like larger craft can.  But just as we don’t suffer people like JamesM, we wonder very deeply about the USMC EFV program.  We like the Osprey V-22 (although it needs more proving time), but we wonder about the notion of a floating tank, ready to swim and fight at the same time (or right after swimming).  Where are we going to perform a major amphibious assault of another sovereign country?  For what reason would we do something like this?  Really.  We understand the notion of ready reserve, and the idea of countries that go bad and embassies that have to be evacuated, and so forth.  We get it.  But the EFV?  Really?

As for high power force projection, China is pursuing an aircraft carrier because it is the very definition of power.  Guided missile destroyers can send ordnance even further into countries than aircraft can from aircraft carriers.  Yet the notion of using the 26th MEU for CENTCOM ready reserve is pushing the envelope when colleagues are suffering and dying in Afghanistan.  Ready reserve for what?  What’s going to happen that a single Marine Landing Battalion can handle?  Pirates?  The lawyers have prevented that.

Now.  Maintenance of force projection across the globe is one thing, but extravagance is another.  Should we really pursue the idea of the EFV?  Really?

In summary, we have concerns, but jamesM is an idiot and we aren’t.  We understand fluid mechanics.  So there you have it.


Danger Room on Littoral Combat Ships

Strategy Page on Shipbuilding

The Captain’s Journal, 26th MEU Stuck at Baharain

The Captain’s Journal, The USS San Antonio

The Captain’s Journal, Can the Afford the New Destroyers?

Pirates? Call the Marines … Er, the Lawyers

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

Pirates?  Call the U.S. Marines … er, the lawyers.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast has plagued shipping companies for years, but the number and boldness of attacks has increased in recent months. While that has given fits to shipowners, cruise operators and navies, it also has kept a relatively obscure set of lawyers busy.

London’s Holman Fenwick has received more work as pirate attacks have increased off Somalia, where a French Navy frigate patrolled Saturday.

Among the most prominent is London maritime firm Holman Fenwick Willan. Partner Toby Stephens says lawyers at the firm have been awakened “at all hours” by ship owners calling the firm’s 24-hour hot line. “They’re often quite panicked, and understandably so,” he says.

Over the past three months, the rise in piracy has kept about a half-dozen lawyers at Holman Fenwick working nearly full-time for clients with potentially dozens of lives and tens of millions of dollars at stake in hijackings. To some degree, the work has helped Holman Fenwick offset other maritime practices hurt by the global economic slowdown.

Through the end of last month, the waters off Somalia had been the site of 96 pirate attacks this year, 40 of which had led to pirates boarding a ship, taking control and demanding a ransom, according to the International Maritime Bureau in London. World-wide there were 83 reported pirate attacks in the third quarter, up from 53 and 63 in the first and second quarters, respectively, the bureau says. In recent months, pirates have broadened their targets to include bigger vessels, including oil tankers and, so far unsuccessfully, cruise ships. In most cases ransom demands have been in the $1 million-$2 million range. But lawyers say hijackers have demanded as much as $25 million for the release of the Sirius Star, a Saudi oil tanker captured 450 miles off the Somali coast carrying cargo valued at more than $100 million.

On Tuesday several cruise-ship operators said they would shift or cancel tours or reroute passengers by plane to avoid the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. Also, the European Union said it would station armed guards on cargo ships in the area.

Mr. Stephens says his firm is working on “over a dozen” of the roughly 20 Somalia-area attacks in which the ships haven’t been freed.

“This year we’ve seen a definite uptick in piracy work,” says James Huckle, who is in charge of business development for the firm.

Business in Holman Fenwick’s casualty practice, usually dealing with shipping collisions, and its ship-financing practice have slipped as the world economy has slowed. Mr. Huckle says piracy cases have helped “counterbalance” that downturn but he is unable to provide specific figures.

Stephen Askins, a maritime lawyer at London’s Ince & Co. says he is handling “a few” piracy cases, but that Holman Fenwick “is really leading the way” in representing shipowners in piracy matters.

Piracy expertise at Holman Fenwick, which was founded in 1883, grew out of the firm’s history representing clients following shipwrecks and collisions. The firm represented the salvage companies that cleaned up after the oil tanker Prestige broke up off the coast of Spain in 2002. The firm also represents the owners and insurers of the MSC Napoli, a container ship severely damaged in an English Channel storm last year. In addition to about 290 lawyers, the firm employs about 30 nonlawyer experts, such as former ship captains, marine engineers and naval architects.

A firm’s initial role after a hijacking often is to ease a client’s fears. “No one’s been hurt, and the ransoms have so far been small enough for shipowners to pay,” says Duncan McDonald, a lawyer at London-based Stephenson Harwood. His firm represents owners of two ships hijacked and released earlier this year.

Then, a firm moves to determining where a ship is registered and the location of the hijacking. These factors affect the laws that will govern the case and the haggling over liability that often follows. A U.N. resolution passed in June allows a navy to enter Somalia’s territorial waters to repress an attack.

Shipowners and insurance underwriters are reluctant to speak publicly about their hijacking situations. But the managing director of a large insurance syndicate in London says that when a ship partly underwritten by his firm was hijacked several weeks ago, his first question to lawyers at Holman Fenwick was whether the payment of ransom was even legal. It was under U.K. law, Mr. Stephens says, which typically applies because that’s where insurance underwriters are usually based. If a ransom payment is illegal, the firm might have to negotiate with the country exercising jurisdiction.

The insurance-syndicate executive says the negotiations, which are continuing, have been stressful. “I know we’re in good hands…but there are still times when you feel like you have no control at all,” he says.

“The lawyer’s pen and the swashbluckling pirate’s sword met with a mighty crash as all the children heard and watched the brave battle ensue” … actually, scratch that.  We’re only on good hands if the Marines are killing pirates.  The Captain’s Journal has made it known what needs to be done.

TCJ has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort). Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court. The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

So who has the trust?  The lawyers or U.S. Marines?  Should we pay ransom or kill the pirates?  We have a poll where the reader can weigh in on this question.

Kill Ratio = Fifty : Zero

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

The U.S. Marines recently made some Taliban pay heavily for their actions in Afghanistan.

In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.

Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.

The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages …

“The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,” said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. “Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our ‘humvees’ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.”

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

“The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity to fight,” the sniper said. “A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.”

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies’ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

“I didn’t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies’ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,” the corporal said. “It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.”

Making Afghanistan a Marine Corps operation should be looking better and better to command right about now. But of course, a kill ratio of 50 to 0 (zero), while a wonderful thing, is mathematically undefined.

The upshot of this problem is that it is much easier to explain why the kill ratio is undefined and the results can’t be entered into a spreadsheet than it is to explain to a grieving parent or spouse that their loved one perished on the field of battle. This is a nice problem to have, one that will hopefully be repeated many times over as long as the Taliban are stupid enough to engage the U.S. Marines in conventional operations.

26th MEU Stuck at Bahrain

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

In The 26th MEU, the USS San Antonio, and Military Equipment, we detailed our objections to the job that Northrup Grumman had done in constructing the amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio, with its snarled electrical cables, unreliable steering, and general poor craftsmanship throughout the physical plant. It is wasteful of time and resources, and certainly hampers the ability of the U.S. Marines to perform during their duties.

In a time when pirates are endangering shipping lanes in the extremely busy Gulf of Aden, the U.S. Marines should be engaging and killing pirates. Ralph Peters, OpFor and The Captain’s Journal have weighed in describing the solution to the problem of pirates. But the Marines are wasting time in Bahrain rather than contributing to the global war on terror or protecting shipping lanes.

The USS San Antonio has yet another major mechanical problem. It has sprung an oil leak, and is in port in Bahrain to repair and weld piping.

Their ship is stuck at a Bahraini port, but that doesn’t mean extra liberty for some leathernecks with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Marines and sailors with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based MEU who are aboard the amphibious transport dock San Antonio “continue to train aboard and from that vessel,” according to a MEU spokesman.

The ship’s maiden deployment with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group out of Norfolk, Va., was interrupted Oct. 31 when it entered a yard in Bahrain to fix major oil leaks. Navy officials projected the maintenance would be finished within two weeks. This marks the latest problem for the ship, which has been plagued with performance problems, and was delivered late and $1 billion over budget.

But problems with the ship — criticized Monday by Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who said he “continues to be unsatisfied” with its performance — have not stopped its Marine inhabitants from participating in training exercises and classes.

“This training includes leadership, martial arts, physical training, infantry and other job-skills training they would normally conduct underway,” MEU spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper said in an e-mail. “Accessibility to land actually expands these Marines’ opportunities to conduct physical and small-unit training outside the confines of the ship, and unit leaders exploit these opportunities whenever possible.”

Elements of the MEU’s battalion landing team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Combat Logistic Battalion 26, are on the ship, but they were not scheduled to participate in current training exercises, Piper said.

The 26th MEU set sail for a six-month deployment aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, the San Antonio and dock landing ship Carter Hall Aug. 29. Those ships are currently in the 5th Fleet area of operation.

As expected, the Marines and Navy put a good face on this, but many Marines are surely grumbling under their breath, while their brothers suffer in Afghanistan, pirates plague the Gulf of Aden, and Islamists continue their takeover of Somalia. The long war is proving to be too difficult to encounter these kinds of problems during deployment. With radiograph, dye penetrant testing, and visual inspection, there is absolutely no excuse – none – for welding problems to become manifest while at sea on a new ship. This demonstrates that there is a QA problem somewhere that badly needs to be fixed.

But this also raises the important question of whether the existing MEU structure is the best way to implement the strategic vision of the Marine Corps Commandant for an expeditionary force. It might be wise to train to perform naval-based and amphibious operations, and perhaps this should be among the regular qualifications of Marines of all billets. But first of all, the use of an MEU with all of its expense, to work out the problems associated with a new ship is a questionable value judgment. Second, the use of a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) to spend seven months aboard a ship performing humanitarian missions, shows of force and practice maneuvers while their brother suffer in Afghanistan and pirates maraud the Gulf of Aden forces the question of whether command deployed this MEU in the most efficient manner to perform the most important mission.

60 Minutes and the Special Forces Hunt for bin Laden

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

Like many of you, I watched the 60 Minutes exposé on the special forces hunt for Osama bin Laden. My reaction was probably unlike most, but typical of the articles that frequent The Captain’s Journal. But more on my reactions in a moment. While we don’t normally interface with posts at other sites on a regular basis, this one is an exception that warrants special attention because of the salient points to be made on the campaign in Afghanistan. Christian at Defense Tech has an important post up on the whole sordid affair (you’ll see why it’s sordid momentarily).

So, after I posted the last thread, I went over to a forum that’s populated with no-joke special operations forces troops and looked at the discussion on the KBL/ Dalton Fury imbroglio. Man is it hot in there.

Apparently, Dalton Fury’s real name is Maj. Thomas Greer. I was wrong in thinking he was Pete Blaber, though it does turn out from the discussion that Blaber has a book of his own coming out called “The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander” that’s supposed to be available in December.

These operators at the forum are none too kind to a guy who’s attempting to “profit” from revealing covert operations covered under top secret non disclosure agreements. They skewer him and smoke his body over a pit of coals. But none of them disputes who he is, what he’s done or how the mission went down. There’s little comment about the actual 60 Minutes broadcast, though it would have been helpful if the reporters had mentioned the controversy Fury has caused and held fast on calling him by his real name (I did a search and his name comes up as a faculty member of American Military University). Once it’s out in the open, it looks a little ridiculous for a reputable news organization to stick to a pseudonym.

As a reporter who’s covered the military for a decade, I get a little annoyed at the knuckle-dragger attitude that someone who says anything about their covert activity should be banished. Give me a break. That attitude perpetuates an elitist, Samurai mentality that says “you don’t need to know. Just trust us, we know what we’re doing…”

Sorry, but I — and millions of other Americans — pay your salary and we damned right want to know what you’re doing. You work for us. So I’m glad, as long as it doesn’t deliberately put lives in danger of death (like the politically-motivated CIA tell-alls did back in the ’70s), that these stories come out. There’s been seven years between then and now, surely Delta and CIA have new ways of doing things that aren’t compromised by this book.

There is also a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal in which it is concluded that this individual is the “real deal,” and it spends some time on the efforts at redaction that occurred between Greer and SOCOM. Good grief. Let’s go straight out of the gate and make our position clear. The Captain’s Journal doesn’t care who Greer is or if he is the “real deal” (any more than we care about the commenters at Defense Tech) except insofar as it goes to accuracy of his account and hence the ability to critique our strategy.

Further, the comment thread at Defense Tech is as brutal to Christian as the original one to which he points. I won’t waste time rehearsing it, but one particularly obnoxious example is this by someone with the pseudonym Krag (these people never use their real names):

Pathetic. You want to know…TS. Join an elite unit and then you’ll know. Otherwise, quit whining. The military doesn’t “work for” you or any other whining civvie. We work for the preservation of the Constitution. You pay taxes of which a small portion goes to pay for your collective defense…that entitles you to squat as to TTPs and classified information.

Get over yourself.

Congratulations Krag! Drop your dumbass pseudonym, tell The Captain’s Journal your real name and address, and we’ll send your B.A. degree in navel-gazing. But as for this elitist mentality and cloak-and-dagger secrecy, how do you say it in contemporary slang? The Captain’s Journal isn’t down with that.

If something is OPSEC, then it can’t be released. If it isn’t then it’s free game. Period. It shouldn’t be any more complex than that. TTPs can be OPSEC too, and the decision simply must be made as to whether the information is or isn’t OPSEC. Then we can move forward with the information, commentary and analysis.

Our position on special forces has been made clear before. We are a Marine blog. In the Marines, no one is special – or everyone is special, depending upon your perspective. Infantry is king, and every billet supports infantry. We are opposed to Recon being separated from the infantry unit they support. The Captain’s Journal supports the notion that special forces should be seen as specialized billets, not supermen who maintain a cloak-and-dagger secrecy, separated from the units they support.

On a related note, I could only chuckle when I recently watched the Navy SEALS (Military Channel) as they did their 6 mile run with a 50 lb. backpack, after which they qualified at 100 yards with a rifle (Marines qualify at 500 yards). In the Marines, a day that causes you to say “my life sucks” might include a 20 mile hump on a 100 degree F day with full body armor, backpack, SAW and three drums of ammunition, and hydration system (for a total of 120 pounds) followed by squad rushes for 1000 meters in the mud with live ammunition, followed by the Gunny telling you that the Lt. Col. has decided that we have two weeks to get everyone to the next belt in the MCMAP, so we get to “stay in the field, commune with nature and beat the hell out of each other for the next two weeks.” But I digress into the very thing with which I charge the “special” people.

Since we have now dispatched the juvenile navel-gazing and the “we’re so special, can’t you all see how we’re so special, tell us we’re special” mentality and can consider the things we learned on 60 Minutes (we didn’t learn much beyond what we already knew), our reaction was as our regular readers might imagine it to be. “There you have it in all its glory – the stupid Rumsfeld legacy.”

Air Force special operators with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives making shady deals with halfway reliable (or all the way unreliable) allies, Delta Force operators in the background, gizmos, gadgets and thingamajigs, tribal elements in the foreground, minute-by-minute radio communications on the whereabouts of UBL, and cloak-and-dagger secrecy after the fact … it all makes for interesting television, civilian amazement, and even more honest books about the abject failure of the Rumsfeld strategy in Afghanistan.

Marines are always in ready reserve, and if their forces needed supplementing, the 82nd or 101st Airborne should have been able to respond to the need of the moment. There is absolutely no replacement for infantry, and in this case, terrain control, interdiction and authority over transit was the solution to the problem. Infantry could have provided this, special forces could not. We let UBL escape, and it was not the fault of special forces. It was Rumsfeld’s fault. It was a strategic blunder.

It isn’t a reflection on their specialized billets, their capabilities or their commitment. It’s a function of force projection. Special forces cannot supply the force projection necessary to win counterinsurgencies. Only infantry can do this. This is what we learn when we put aside the sophomoric posturing over who’s special and who isn’t.

On Patrol with Marines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

Corporal William Ash, a squad leader from 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), along with a stray dog lead a patrol through a city in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. When the platoon moved into the area, they found two stray dogs, and each time the Marines head out on patrol the dogs are right at the Marines’ side.

Marine from the 24th MEU in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Marine with dog.

MRAPs Being Re-Evaluated for Afghanistan Due to Rollover

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

With the road infrastructure and the relatively stable terrain in Iraq, MRAPS have been a huge success in protection against IEDs. They do have their difficulties with low hanging power lines and therefore some limitations in highly urban settings, but this is area in which dismounted patrols must be used anyway to contact the population. But with the undulations in the terrain in Afghanistan, as reported in June, the MRAPs are having some problems due to their high center of gravity.

Three Green Berets drowned Saturday when their Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle rolled into a river in Afghanistan. The deaths come amid growing concerns about the threat of catastrophic rollovers in the military’s silver bullet solution to improvised explosive devices.

Two military reports issued in June indicate growing problems associated with the MRAPs’ potential for rollover — as well as electrocution, when the vehicle snags low-hanging power lines — and an emerging threat from the vehicle’s glass dissolving into a cancer-causing powder when struck with explosively formed projectiles.

Saturday’s accident occurred in volatile Kandahar province and killed three members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to a Defense Department statement.

Anticipating a more active role on Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is busy investigating alternative solutions.

With plans to redeploy more Marines to Afghanistan later this fall, companies like General Dynamics Corp. and Force Protection Inc. are being asked to re-engineer mine-resistant vehicles that can traverse the war-ravaged country’s mountainous terrain while offering even greater protection.

High altitudes, dispersed battalions and restricted travel zones are among the serious challenges facing the service as it weighs the resources needed to perform its missions in Afghanistan where violence has escalated, senior Marine Corps officials told defense industry executives at the service’s annual expo Thursday.

Senior Marine Corps officials are concerned the current MRAPS are ill-equipped to handle the rocky terrain in Afghanistan, and are too heavy to easily transport to areas where they are needed.

“It’s OK in Iraq, but it’s not OK in Afghanistan,” said Dillon. “It’s got to have off-road capability and all the survivability.”

Blasts from roadside bombs are the leading cause of combat deaths and injuries in Iraq and have become a growing threat in Afghanistan, but it’s unclear whether the Marine Corps will buy more of the same vehicles, said Dillon. Currently, there are more than 900 MRAPs in Afghanistan, and close to 8,000 in Iraq. To date, the Pentagon has spent $22.4 billion on the program.

Instead, the service hopes to approve a hybrid armored vehicle that would provide the same type of protection as an MRAP, but would be more agile and provide improved maneuverability, Marine Corps officials said.

It’s more than just rollover concerns that are driving this innovation.  It is maneuverability, off road terrain capabilities and transportability.  The Marines may not be pursuing the hottest next-gen warrior trappings such as the exoskeleton, but when it comes to realistic battle space needs and possibilities, they have always been on top of their game.  Let’s hope that this program is off to a good and quick start.  Perhaps some representative of General Dynamics can contact The Captain’s Journal to give an update on the progress and goals.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

Somali pirates in small boats can be seen alongside the hijacked MV Faina. The captain of the hijacked ship off the coast of Somalia said one crew member had died (U.S. Navy/AP Photo).

The U.S. Navy and Marines have surrounded some very important cargo in the Gulf of Aden near the Somalian coast.

U.S. warships have surrounded the MV Faina, a Belize-registered ship that was hijacked by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia last week.

While there’s no gold or precious jewels onboard, this buccaneer’s booty has the international community racing to intercept the boat before its cargo can be offloaded.

The Ukrainian-owned ship is carrying 33 Russian-made T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, multiple-launch rocket systems and thousands of rounds of tank ammunition. Initial reports indicated the Ukrainian arms were destined for Kenya. But U.S. officials now say it appears they were to be shipped to Sudan, although it is unclear if they are headed to the central government in Khartoum or the government of Southern Sudan, which has purchased such tanks in the past.

The U.S. Navy has dispatched several destroyers and cruisers, as well as an amphibious ship with a complement of helicopters and Marines aboard, to ensure the hijacked arms don’t fall into the hands of terrorists in the power vacuum of the Horn of Africa region, particularly in Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked groups operate.

“We are not going to allow the offload of the ship’s cargo,” warned Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which has sent ships to the scene.

The U.S. ships are stationed in a 10-mile radius around the hijacked vessel to prevent it from escaping.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of the crew as well as the cargo onboard MV Faina,” Christensen said, adding that the U.S. presence “represents the U.S. resolve to ensure safety and security in the region. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore and requires an international solution to this international problem.”

A senior U.S. defense official says the American ships’ main mission is to prevent the pirates aboard the freighter from being resupplied from shore. The MV Faina is anchored off the Somali port of Hoybyo, along with two other freighters that had been hijacked by pirates previously.

Also of immediate concern is the well-being of the ship’s crew of Ukrainians, Latvians and Russians, totaling 21. A Russian crewman is reported to have died from hypertension. A Russian naval ship is also on its way to the scene from the Baltic and is estimated to arrive off Somalia in a week, at the earliest.

The U.S. Navy says it has had no coordination with the Russians on the matter.

“The Russians, I believe, are trying to lend their support,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters today, declining to comment further.

The modern-day swashbucklers were armed with automatic weapons when they boarded the ship Thursday. They are demanding a $20 million ransom for return of the cargo, down from an initial demand of $35 million.

The region off the coast of Somalia is well-known for pirate activity where cargo ships are regularly hijacked for ransom. Indeed, the number of vessels hijacked this year, and the ransoms demanded for their safe return, have risen dramatically.

Robert Kaplan gives us a little more on the pirates and their methods.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

Off-hand cruelty is the pirates’ signature behavior. In one instance, they had beaten, bullied, and semi-starved an Indian merchant crew for a week, and thrown overboard a live monkey that the crew was transporting to Dubai. “Forget the Johnny Depp charm,” one Navy officer told me. “Theirs is a savage brutality not born of malice or evil, like a lion killing an antelope. There is almost a natural innocence about what they do.”

The Captain’s Journal has no idea what this Navy officer is talking about. He needs to go back and re-evaluate his own morality and ethics, if he has any. Piracy, theft and cruelty are most certainly born out of evil, and the pirates themselves are reprehensible along with their actions. Right and wrong, good and bad, righteousness and evil, are not merely conventions.  They are universal and invariant.  There is nothing romantic about this.

This isn’t about learning a language to communicate with a population, or identifying an indigenous insurgency, or befriending a tribal sheikh, or employing gated communities, or any of the complicated counterinsurgency tactics we’ve had to employ in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort).

Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Marine Operations in Now Zad, Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

Marines of 3rd platoon 1st squad, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, conduct a local security patrol in the city of Now Zad, Afghanistan to ensure the safety of the forward operating base on June 08, 2008.

Friend of The Captain’s Journal Major Cliff Gilmore (USMC) is in Afghanistan and sends an anecdotal update on Marines in Now Zad that makes him proud to be a Marine.

I did make a short trip “up north” to a fun little place called Now Zad where a company of Marines have been slogging it out. I don’t like to bring politics into these e-mails, but in general I can comfortably say that those who beat the “support our troops, bring them home now” drum clearly haven’t talked to the warriors I mixed with out there. Several have died. More have lost limbs to improvised explosive devices (IED). All of their corpsmen (medics) have received one or more Purple Heart Medals for injuries sustained in combat and not a one of them talked about wanting to go home. When I arrived at Now Zad I came in with approximately 30 combat replacements. New Marines in to take the place of those already killed or injured. They were all volunteers and left their various units to re-enforce the Marines at Now Zad because, according to one Marine, “…we heard this was where the bad guys are.”

I talked with numerous Marines and hovered in the pre-dawn shadows of the moonscape listening to their chatter for hours and heard only about what they had learned, how they were getting better at this kind of fighting, and how they couldn’t wait to get back outside the wire and “…hunt the scrappy little @&%!ers down.” Point here being, I’m not at all confident the boys in the middle of the fight are thinking in terms of how the folks back Stateside might be able to support them by bringing them home. Mostly they just want more bullets.

I ran into one young Marine who has already been shot twice and blown up by an IED once and came away essentially unscathed both times. The IED resulted in a sprained ankle which he taped up and strapped back into his boot. The two shots came while he was on the radio calling for medevac for a fellow Marine. As the story goes — told the same way by numerous Marines out at Now Zad — he was kneeling beside the wounded Marine, radio in one hand, assisting the corpsmen in treating the wounded Marine with the other. Calm as could be his conversation on the radio went something like “…sir, we have a Marine down and need a medevac immediately. We are located at grid 123456. He looks stable but his injuries are serious. We need you to come and get him now. Oh, and I just got shot too so you’ll have to come get me as well.”

He took two 7.62 AK-47 rounds to the left side under his arm. His armor stopped the bullets, but he didn’t realize that at first. As he described it, the force of the rounds hitting him felt “…pretty much real enough at the time…” As others described it, he didn’t even flinch when the shots came, did not skip a beat on his evac call, and once he had a chance to inspect his bruised ribs simply asked the doc to tape him up and then went back into the fight.

He didn’t ask to go home.

Proud indeed. Thanks to Major Gilmore for this update, and watch your six, friend.

New Body Armor for the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has the best coverage on the web of Marine Corps body armor. Naturally, after Body Armor Wars in the Marines Corps, we were a bit surprised to see a new design for the MTV (Modular Tactical Vest), but weren’t surprised at all that the major component of the weight – the Small Arms Protective Inserts, or SAPIs (or ESAPIs for enhanced 7.62 mm stopping power) – remain the same.

In Body Armor Wars, we made the point that there was essentially no difference between the weight carried by the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) and MTV tactical vests. They both carry SAPI plates (for 7.62 mm) and soft panels for shrapnel and very small arms protection (9 mm). But the complaints rolled in, and Marine Corps Commandant Conway was determined to reduce weight. Enter the revised version of the MTV.

The new plate carriers are essentially a slimmed-down version of the MTV, with larger arm holes, thinner shoulder straps and a shorter chest profile. The reduction in weight and lower silhouette of the plate carriers “would allow greater mobility with reduced thermal stress in high elevations, thick vegetation and tropical environments,” SysCom said.

The SAPI plates remain the same, but the soft panel coverage is reduced. Upon initial review, we asked, where is the coverage for the shoulders, groin and neck? It isn’t there, and while the weight is reduced, the protection is as well.

Having worn both the IBA and MTV, it is difficult to put on and take off. Neither the front nor the back opens, and so taking 32+ pounds and slipping it over your head with tight clearances leads to scarred noses, bruises on the forehead, and just plain frustration (the 32+ pounds doesn’t include hydration system, ammunition drums, etc.).

But the MTV is still a vast improvement over the IBA carrier. The Captain’s Journal has made the solution clear months ago. Reducing soft panel coverage is low hanging fruit and doesn’t help with protection while providing only marginal weight benefit. The real challenge is to reduce the weight of SAPI plates. Money should be directed at new technologies to reduce weight while also maintaining the current level of protection. As for the MTV, it will be a while before the revised version is issued, and perhaps it will never enter the training regimen for the Marines.

There should be a doctoral candidate in materials engineering somewhere who needs funding and would enjoy studying the fracture mechanics of SAPI plates, and it seems that the Air Force should be willing to relinquish one of its shiny new F-22s for the research, design and testing of lighter body armor for our men in uniform. To save the backs and maybe the lives of our Marines? Is this not a worthy cause? Is some member in charge of defense appropriations in the House of Representatives not willing to take this upon himself for the sake of our Marines? Then we don’t have to strip and bastardize the armor so that the Marines can carry it on their bodies.

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