Friday, June 9, 2017

De-confliction Zone?

 USAF F-15E shoots down Shahed-129 drone in Syria.   It had reportedly dropped ordnance in close proximity to CJTF-OIR Special Ops troops near al-Tanf in what has been called a Russian/American de-confliction zone.   Although obviously Russia's allies in Syria do not recognize that zone.  Shahed-129 is Iranian built, but unclear whether this UAV was remotely flown by the IRGC, or the SAAF, or by Hezbollah, or by Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi.  Also unclear whether the Special Ops personnel were American or British - both are reportedly at al-Tanf training and advising anti-Daesh guerrilla forces.

The -E version of the F-15 is reportedly dual-role, both air-to-air and air-to-ground.  But has only been used as a ground attack aircraft except for one other air-to-air incident in Iraq in 1991 when it took out an Iraqi MI-24 helicopter, but that was done with air to ground ordnance, GBU-10.  Unclear so far as to whether the Shahed-129 was taken out by 20mm gun, AIM-9 or AIM-120.  The F-15 design is over 30 years old now.  There have been upgrades, but the average age is 26 years and the average airframe had 6000 hours flying time five years ago, probably closer to 7000 hours now.

https://theaviationist.com/2017/06/09/u-s-f-15e-downs-iranian-built-syrian-drone-after-airstrike-on-u-s-led-forces/


http://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104499/f-15e-strike-eagle/

https://theaviationist.com/2016/02/14/f-15e-shot-down-iraqi-mi-24/


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Under Fire

Didn't post anything yesterday on observed Memorial Day.  But the 31st is the true day, isn't it?   Spent most of the day on a couch reading Henri Barbusse's horrific novel of a French squad of soldiers in the trenches of WW1.   Titled "Under Fire" in the English version, in the original French it was titled "Le Feu: jounal d'une escouade".   Written in December 1916 based on the authors trench diaries.  Hard-boiled anecdotes of the trenches at the squad level.  Only speaks of privates and the corporal squad leader, hardly never of sergeants and officers.  Author was 41 in 1914 when the war started yet still served.

But despite my negligence in posting, both FDChief and Ranger Jim had good Memorial Day posts.  Worth reading, both of them, if you haven't seen them already.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Byzantine Longevity



From the founding in AD 330 by Constantine I the Great up to the death in battle of Constantine XI Palaiologos in 1453 on the day Constantinople fell to the Turk.  Well over 12 centuries! 

It wasn't a stable millennium.  Their borders swelled and ebbed.  There were sixteen different dynasties and several periods of internal instability.  Their capital city was sacked and occupied for 50 years by Western crusaders supported by and urged on by Venice during the Fourth Crusade.  The invaders were aided by internal dissension.  But even then Byzantines survived in three successor states east and west of Constantinople and eventually liberated it. 

How did they survive so long?

Edward Luttwak’s book “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire”  touches on some of the reasons why.  Interesting read if you are fascinated by the duration of empires, dynasties, republics, institutions and such.  Luttwak elaborates on seven major facets pf Byzantine strategy that may answer some of the reasons why they survived so long:

I.                 Avoid war by every possible means in all possible circumstances, but always act as if it might start at any time.

II.               Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his movements continuously.

III.            Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but attack mostly with small units; emphasize patrolling, raiding, and skirmishing rather than all-out attacks.

IV.             Replace the battle of attrition with the “nonbattle” of maneuver.

V.               Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the overall balance of power.

VI.            Subversion is the best path to victory.

VII.          When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and there must be fighting, it should be done with “relational” operational methods and tactics that circumvent the most pronounced enemy strengths and exploit weaknesses.

Don't know much about Luttwak and have no idea if he knows what he is talking about.  His companion book on the grand strategy of Rome was criticized by many historians.  And he was seen by some as a neocon, although he was reportedly against the invasion of Iraq and against bombing Iran. 

In any case numbers one, five, and six are critical IMHO, two and four are also key.  Three and seven sound like a good game, but I am not 100% on board.  The emphasis on small unit tactics in the offense outlined in number three sounds much like our current use of SOF.  In number seven Luttwak seems to channel Sun Tzu which is good some of the time - but what would CVC say?

Several other reasons that the Byzantines lasted so long.  Most included in Luttwak's book, some in detail, some briefly.  Others are speculation on my part (or perhaps I remembered them vaguely from FDChief's excellent blogpost on the fall Constantinople two years ago?).
  • geography - They sat astride the trade routes, both the East/West routes and the North/South routes.  This made them a commercial powerhouse.  A treasury full with gold buys a lot of friends and allies, buys off a lot of potential adversaries, and pays a lot of soldiers and sailors (and provides for their equipment).
  • navy  - They dominated the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean for more than five hundred years, and even the Western Mediterranean early on.  Their fleets managed to hold off the Arab fleets in the Seventh and Eighth centuries.  Eventually they lost naval dominance to Venice and Genoa and later to the Turks resulting in disaster.
  • legacy - They had a military legacy from ancient Greece and the earlier western roman empire.  Not strategy, but they took a lot from their forebears on military organization, training, tactics, operational methods, and in the means of evaluation of different strategies
  • engineering - This was another inheritance passed down from Rome.  They carried on with the advice of Domitius Corbulo: that the dolabra (a combination pickaxe tool) “was the weapon with which to beat the enemy".  The walls of Constantine and of Theodosius are testimony to that, and the hundreds of cisterns they built for when the aqueducts failed during a siege.
  • tax revenues – Tax collection was rigidly organized and sophisticated.   It was a very effective system.  No other contemporary powers could compete.  It filled their treasuries and gave them a huge advantage.
  • bureaucracy - They had a capable and enduring bureaucratic class.  It was they who administered the empire, guided diplomacy, counted beans in the treasury, organized and oversaw military logistics and training.  They provided the continuity and institutional memory needed through those sixteen different dynasties and 96 emperors/empresses. Without them - chaos with each change of crown.
  •  land for service in the army - This put tens of thousands of veterans on the frontiers of the empire.  Their family's safety gave them incentive to band together into ad hoc militia units.  They retained their weapons.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Your daily "hmmm..." (Middle East edition)

Fred Kaplan over at Slate has a take on the endgame playing out in Mosul, and how a lot of it revolves around not military strategy but political strategy:
"This is the biggest thing that Trump doesn’t understand and that few Western leaders grasp until they look at this conflict up close. “To everybody but us,” one senior military officer told me, “the defeat of ISIS is the least important goal.”

This is why, as the defeat of ISIS draws near, the lack of a coherent U.S. strategy — or, more precisely, Trump’s hesitation or refusal to accept, adapt, or do something with Mattis’ plan — is such a source of anxiety."
I wish I thought that this was another Tangerine-Toddler-specific problem. But IMO the entire history of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, going practically all the way back to the hasty recognition of Israel in '48, is a litany of "what the fuck are we doing and why..?"

Back when he used to post and comment here Seydlitz used to insist that the U.S. political establishment doesn't really "do" geopolitical strategy, that there's no actual strategy or strategic thinking involved. This seems to be just a piece with everything else we've seen, all the way back to 2002 and beyond.

Mind you...given the unique incompetence of the Trump Griftministration I wouldn't be surprised to see things get MORE effed up!

But I see this not so much as a Trump Bug but as a U.S. Middle East Policy Feature.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Afghanistan gets worse

Spring is begun in Afghanistan.
Another fighting season has started and the news is grim.

I'm not talking about the MOAB; that non-story that somehow grabbed headlines for days.

Less was said by the serious defeat suffered by the Afghan Army in the north a few days ago.  Similarly, no one wants to talk about the resignation of the highest Afghan military officials as a result.
Very little has been said, as well, about the record casualties that the Afghan Army suffered last year, not to mention the civilian casualties.

Add to this shit sandwich, the hundreds of thousands of refugees that Pakistan and pushing back into Afghanistan, and you have what looks like a very grim stretch of months for the Afghan government.

The Marines are returning to Helmand.  ISIS is spreading in the eastern provinces and approaching the war with a bloodlust that has become typical for the outfit.  The Afghan government remains a completely dysfunctional mess.

The questions that will be faced is how bad will it get and how much can and will the US commit in order to keep our allies from breaking like the Iraqis did in 2014?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

25 April

25 April is ANZAC Day.  Wear a sprig of rosemary in honor of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps: 
https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/customs/rosemary/    

TheANZACs suffered and endured the stupidity of Winston Churchill and Lord Kitchener at Gallipoli in the worst planned amphibious operation ever.

They fought in France at the Somme, at Passchendaele, at the 2nd Marne.




Their Camel Corps fought and outflanked the Turk in the Sinai, in Palestine, and in Jordan during Allenby's anabasis to Damascus and beyond.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07JGpardvLU&feature=youtu.be

In WW2, they again suffered and endured Churchill's overreaching in Crete and mainland Greece.

That same year they fought off Rommel's (at that time undefeated) Africa Corps for eight months at Tobruk until finally relieved by the Eighth Army.  Later they fought with distinction at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein.

But the Australian mainland had suffered the first of 97 separate air attacks by the IJN and IJAAF (that first attack was by 242 aircraft, most of them from the same aircraft carriers that had hit Pearl Harbor).  And at Singapore, Churchill's so-called Gibraltar of the East, Britain's disastrous defense lost the Australians 15,000 troops to Japanese POW camps.   Many of them died during the Sandakan Death March which matched (or was worse than) our experience at Bataan.  Or they died on the Burma Railway.  So the Aussie Prime Minister turned down further requests by Churchill and brought his troops home to the Pacific Theater.

Section C of the Allied Intelligence Bureau, also known as the Coastwatchers and mostly Australians, played a critical role in the Solomon Islands campaign.  https://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Vigil-Coastwatchers-Walter-Lord/dp/0670437654/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0670437654&pd_rd_r=3AYRCBXGDPC4GSXZK3RC&pd_rd_w=UCzTU&pd_rd_wg=d5HqE&psc=1&refRID=3AYRCBXGDPC4GSXZK3RC

http://kokoda.commemoration.gov.au/
Then in New Guinea, the ANZACs saved MacArthur's entire SW Pacific strategy by taking and holding the Kokoda Track; and doing outstanding work at Buna-Gona and Salamaua-Lae.   After that, Mac then gave them the dirty jobs of mopping up Bougainville, New Britain, etc.  And relegated them to the flank in Borneo while the US Sixth Army got the glory in the Philippines.  There was some strong resentment in Canberra for that treatment.  And rightly so IMHO.



No space to list all their contributions - I missed many other battles.  But on the 25th, my bride is promising to cook up some ANZAC biscuits (guaranteed not to crumble no matter how long they spend being bounced, banged and beaten in the bottom of a military mail sack): http://allrecipes.com/recipe/9816/anzac-biscuits-i    Might even need to wash them down with a tinny of Australia's favorite bevvie.





Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Goguryeo

So, are the North Koreans pursuing  a rational policy?  Or are they 'whackaloons?

I cannot imagine the common people of North Korea being any different from the people of South Korea.  Aren't they both 98-99% homogeneous, and have the same DNA?    Yes, the NorKo regime itself is a family dynasty of vampires feasting on the blood and spirit of its people.   But in a weird way they do seem to have a crafty deterrence strategy.  But is that strategy based on reality?  Or is based on irrational fear?  Or is it based on the internal politics of staying in power?

I'm definitely not an expert on East Asia.  I've spent a total of two months in Korea (the South) back in the mid 70s.  Even though it was below zero winter weather, I loved my time there.   The ladies all had apple cheeks reminding me of upstate New York girls.  Vendors were roasting chestnuts on street corners of the villages on the outskirts of Uijongbu.  The baked chicken with body cavities stuffed full with garlic (entire bulbs, not a few cloves) was even better than my dear Aunt Rosa's  (sorry Rose, may you rest in peace).  The people were friendly and hard working.  Same same for Little Seoul in LA and the various Koreatowns throughout the west coast.  I believe the North Korean people to have the same intrinsic characteristics.

Whatever happened to the re-unification dream?   China wanted it, as did the Russians, the US, the UN, and both the North and South Koreans at least gave it lip service.   Grampa Kim proposed a 'Confederation of Koryo' in which North and South Korean respective political systems would remain.

We should be sending fertilizer and tractors to Pyongyang and not aircraft carriers.  Ivanka and Jared should have done some ski diplomacy in Masikryong instead of carving S-curves on the slopes of Aspen.

hat tip on the photo to bjornfree.com/kim/