Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012


This month at GFT, an utterly insignificant and trivial piece of military history; the Cannonade of Clatsop Plains, 21 JUN 1942.

Devious Orientals, stalwart Yanks, gunfire in the night, and the Doolittle Raid results in the tragic death of a backstop.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Meaning of Imminent

This is my first time doing something like this, so if I am doing something wrong with regards to formatting, style, or substance, please let me know. I'll try to improve as I go a long.  I appreciate the opportunity to present issues amongst a brotherhood of veterans and will try not to squander it.

Two areas that have recently been in the news a lot are drone warfare and cyber warfare. These tools have been the subject of in depth exposes that has included discussion of 'classified' material and is now the subject of a FBI investigation. One wonders what will turn up. I think there are some interesting things to discuss with regards to cyber warfare but for now lets consider how we are using drones in the GWOT.

By in large, the debate on drone warfare has centered on a very specific piece of a very complex problem. The media has focused almost entirely on the issue of whether or not these programs 'work' and are legal. The 'does it work?' piece has been quite constrained, though, to a realm where government and media folks feel comfortable in the debate. They raise the question with the answer already provided to them.

"Yes, despite the queasiness that indicates that we are still moral people, it works" is the sober estimate provided by our sober and serious minded journalists. Their rationale, though, seems to be based on very shallow logic.

To show how shallow it is, I think its necessary to detour to Afghanistan where the commander of NATO recently agreed to tighten the already strict Rules of Engagement in light of civilian casualties caused by Close Air Support. Civilian structures have been close to off limits as targets since McChrystal took over in 2009, but the current commander has made it so that in almost no circumstances can artillery or air strikes be called on civilian structures. The rules were that only when NATO forces were unable to withdraw from a combat situation would they be allowed to initiate an air strike on a house that was filled with the enemy (and potentially civilians). One presumes that this is still the case in spite of the new pronouncements but perhaps not.

Now compare that scenario to one that produced an almost reverent tone from the journalist covering the scenario. A young American pilot is tasked with finding and watching a 'terrorist' in Pakistan for hours, watching him chat with his wife and play with his children. Then when the enemy was all alone, the pilot let loose with a bomb and killed him. Why so reverent? He avoided killing those innocent kids and women and still took out this evildoer in relative isolation and without fear of killing anyone other than the intended target. How great is that? There is just one crucial piece missing, though, from this happy American victory.

What's completely lacking from this story is any sort of threat to any Americans whatsoever. A Pakistani man playing with his kids does not constitute an immediate or imminent threat unless he is simultaneously playing with his children and handling a doomsday device detonator. Presumably, he doesn't have that.

In Afghanistan, a fire mission is liable to be rejected because a civilian structure is within .5km of the intended target even when under an actual attack. In Pakistan, the US government kills people that pose no immediate threat to any US citizens as soon as the kids are out of sight. When it comes to 'signature' strikes, the activity is even more bizarre and troubling. The CIA/military drops missiles on groups of Pakistanis for behaving a certain way in a certain part of the world. This is acceptable because we are at war and these guys pose imminent threats to US forces. But in what way do they do that? There are no Americans for miles, and presumably the Pakistanis do not have drones of their own that they are piloting. So what makes these targets 'imminently' dangerous?

My assumption is that imminent really means expedient. Having personally been on the planning and execution end of an Afghanistan 'imminent threat' I can tell you that there is a high level of scrutiny that goes along with what might be your approaching doom. These attacks in Pakistan lack that approaching-ness. There is nothing sinister about a guy who plays with his kids (unless its in an area where you get attacked from every other day). Perhaps he is a leader or a financier for bad guys, but in what way is that an imminent threat? At most, this represents a strategic target like a factory in World War II. But a man is not a factory or an oil field. A group of guys acting 'suspiciously' is not a artillery park or a rail yard. These attacks are way out of proportion to the degree of threat that they could possibly pose (not even that they actually pose) to any American citizen.

While I am sure that there are legitimate targets nestled amongst the mess of poor decisions, its the basest form of smarmy political legalism which would allow any bureaucrat to push themselves as being a tough guy for this sort of action or that these are all or even mostly acceptable targets. And its only the worst forms of sycophantic journalism that would tolerate this thinly veiled thuggery.

I expect bad decisions from the military and political elites of our nation. I expect journalists, though, to report it and actually point out when the government is doing bad things. These articles report the facts like these sort of actions are ok and they are not. Not for the liberal reason that these actions are wrong and makes more terrorists and not for the conservative reason that they are ineffective and wasteful. Take your pick, I don't really care. There is really no imperative to keep these strikes going besides political expedience. That is the absolute worst reason to be killing people. If it is easier to default to killing someone than not killing them when they pose no immediate threat to anyone in our country, then our democracy will not survive.

This understanding, though, leads down many dark holes of strategic madness which I'll write about later if there is any interest. For now I end with this question, why are we squandering this limited resource on 'strategic individual' strikes instead of giving the drones to more immediate concerns in Afghanistan? I can tell you from personal experience that there are not enough drones to go around in Afghanistan. Soldiers would be alive today if these platforms were being used more for actual combat missions instead of these stupid and morally questionable 'signature' strikes.

My guesses on this matter are all deeply disturbing and while this is a pub of sorts, I'm not sure I'm drunk enough to share them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


OK, I admit it; I picked the title for this post mostly because I've always wanted to use the word "zerk" in a blog post title.

But bear with me, because I do have a cunning plan here.

The origin of this post came from something Ed posted over at Gin & Tacos about a USAF Class A mishap. Seems that the zoomies lost a V-22 "Osprey" tilt-rotor transport down in Florida the other day and Ed was harkening back to the halcyon days of his blog-youth when he called down fire and rain on the V-22 for being a massive boondoggle.

It got me thinking to the military kit I've encountered that smelled suspiciously like the someones involved in getting a hold of it had more in mind than getting there fustest with the mostest.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the M782 GAMA Goat ambulance.

I've never really figured out who thought these big bastards were a good idea. They were ginormous, slow, and clumsy. The motor was decent - a three-cylinder Detroit diesel - but the rest of the contraption was a mechanic's nightmare.

They were supposed to be amphibious, so the entire bottom was sealed outside of a couple of screw-in drain plugs. Which made any maintenance that required access to the bottom of the vehicle a frigging huge pain in the ass. The main wiring harness ran underneath the engine block, so if you ever developed a problem with an electrical line you had to pull the entire fuckin' power pack! To make matters worse it didn't float, really; the rubber seal on the tailgate split or tore within hours of leaving the factory, so the thing was always a danger of going to Davy Jones' Locker, while it "swam" by spinning it's tires as paddlewheels which worked about as well as you'd think.

The thing had no spare (the tires and wheels were too freaking huge to carry one) and if you flatted the idea was that you dragged out this "bridge kit" which locked the back part to the front - though it looked like a truck-and-trailer the Goat was actually one vehicle that had a universal joint in the middle - took off one of the back tires from the tractor to replace the flat, put the tractor in 6WD and drove away.

But damn GAMA Goat's the worst feature was the carrier bearing.

The bottom is sealed, remember? So the driveshaft to the rear wheels ran in a channel in the bottom of the trailer from the universal joint to the rear differential. It had a single bearing between the U-joint and the diff, mounted in a metal housing that stuck down below the trailer floor.

The bearing was just a regular old bearing of no particular distinction, and being underneath a tactical truck it tended to get filthy dirty. It was hard to reach - you had to crawl under the trailer to get to it. So drivers doing PMCS tended to skip lubing the carrier bearing. Even if you took the time to get under the damn trailer the grease fitting - the proper name for those little nipple things are "zerks" - tended to be caked with glaur, or had been banged on something and wouldn't take the grease gun nozzle. So the bearing tended to get dry and crusty. And then...

That was brought home to me in a particularly painfully embarrassing way when the carrier bearing of HQ-52 burned up like a vampire under a sunlamp and locked the entire rear driveshaft up tight just as I was crossing the swing bridge at Pedro Miguel Locks one lovely winter afternoon in 1986.

Well, THAT sucked.

The truck was stuck, and so was the bridge, and the entire crew of the Polish freighter waiting for the locks to open ambled over to laugh at the imperialist Yankee scum and his broken-down Goat. The lock-keeper went berserk in Panamanian, and the convoy commander detailed me to wait with the vehicle until the battalion's five-ton wrecker could drive all the way over from the Westside to tow me home.

Because, you see, military equipment tends to live a hard life; it's called upon to go places and do things no sensible civilian equipment would think of. So it makes sense to try and keep that equipment as simple and robust as possible. The M782's carrier bearing violated that rule. And I payed for it that day. Imagine if I'd been racing to pick up wounded men in combat. It doesn't pay to think about. Men would have died because of that damn carrier bearing, the operators who didn't maintain it, and the people who designed and fielded that vehicle.

Now the MV-22 is a just a VSTOL transport; in effect, a sort of quasi-helicopter. The way I see it the only real advantage it has over the current fleet of USMC rotary-wing aircraft is the in-flight speed.

But in my opinion the in-flight speed requirement is the weakest argument for the aircraft. I don't see that it has ever really been proven to be critical to the design – i.e., the USMC has never really explained why the 100-knot increase in maximum speed over the helos is that important.

Supposedly it's because it allows the V-22 to keep pace with fast movers, but since when in the past sixty-some years have our transport aircraft required fighter escorts?

Seems to me that this is really a macguffin. The guys want this thing because it's just flat-out, stomp-down fuckin' COOL.

And that's when I start thinking about carrier bearings.

Because I think the other issue - the bigger, eventually murderous issue - about the MV-22 that's going to bite the USMC and the aircraft's other users in the ass is that the tilt-rotors are going to prove to be a maintenance nightmare that will become a monster as these airframes age. Mission capable rate is already low – below 60% between FY09 and FY12 for the USMC, and combat equipment gets used hard, and fiddly bits like the tilt-rotors tend to age poorly. The maintenance estimates for the V-22 fleet has just been bumped up over 60%, and IMO this is waaaayyyyy too optimistic.

And that's just now, when everything is all shiny and new and all the grease fittings are clean. The dark days are to come, as these airframes age and the tilty bits in the rotors get worn and need more and more fixing. And we go years and years without a combat mission that required fighter escort for these transports to make everyone wonder why they seemed so important. And the cost of each aircraft goes up and the numbers of the mission-capable units go down and...

In the end it isn't that the USMC and the USAF and their contractors are jonesing for these things. I was a GI, and GIs, even and sometimes especially commissioned GIs, even admirals and generals, get a hard-on for cool shit, and what's cooler than an aircraft that's like a real-life Transformer?

Nope. The thing that rings my bell is that nobody in Congress seemed or seems willing to question the entire NEED for them, or the supposed missions that can't be performed without them.

After all, it's the Congress that's supposed to be the gatekeeper for all things warlike in our country. They're supposed to debate the weighty issues of going to war and making peace, of supplying the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen with the equipment, training, and geopolitical cunning they need to fight and win.

And it should have been the Congress to ask the hard questions; why is this aircraft necessary? What missions can it do that others cannot? Why is THIS aircraft necessary? What makes the need for speed so critical? What does this aircraft provide that another machine, or a combination of others, cannot - as, say, a helicopter can not - that will require the troopers riding in them to hope that everything works as designed and that the designs are good, that the tilt-rotors work just so all the time, every time, and that every single zerk is perfectly clean and shiny and new and smooth and full of grease.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Befehl ist Befehl

--Why don't you go to the police?
--I'm my own police

Gun for Hire (1942)

His hope was to remind the world

that fairness, justice, and freedom

are more than words,

they are perspectives

--V is for Vendetta

It's just murder. All God's creatures do it.

You look in the forests and you see

species killing other species,

our species killing all species including the forest,
and we just call it industry, not murder
--Natural Born Killers

Commissar Order (Hitler):

"As a matter of principle, they will be shot at once, whether captured during operations or otherwise showing resistance."

Partisan Order (Field Marshal Keitel):

"This fight has nothing to do with the soldierly gallantry or principles of the Geneva Conventions."

"If the fight against the partisans in the East as well as the Balkans, is not waged with the most brutal means ..."

Using the "N" word may not be politically-correct, but the President's kill orders are Nazi in origin, concept and execution. Like the Nazi Commissar and Partisan orders, both create a class of persons deemed unfit to live.

In our post-Nuremberg world, war lords like Slobodan Milosevic and
Charles Taylor face imprisonment for their crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, President Obama plays dice with people's lives by conducting extrajudicial killings. It is Ranger's contention that killing one man unjustly is the same as killing six million -- it is simply a matter of magnitude rather than morality.

Murder can only be justified by State action if it has a legitimate end that gains more than than it loses. Slate
magazine today succinctly gives that justification for drone warfare the lie: "The politics of drone war drains the proverbial sea of America’s ideological supporters and undermines the only basis for waging effective war: popular support of the people who feel threatened" (Hatred: What Drones Sow).

The question is a simple one: By what authority, be it legal or moral, may the U.S. President oversee targeted kills? Obviously, as Commander in Chief, he must provide oversight for military killing (= "warfare")
, but Predator marauding is not warfare.

The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency without a legitimate mandate to kill anyone.
The authority vested in the office of President as C-in-C does not extend to non-military applications of violence.

Further, what is the reason for launching missiles in places like Yemen? Do we believe that the people being vaporized are threats to the national interests of the United States? Have we lost the ability to prioritize threats, and the brain power to realize that near and far threats are not the same thing?

Al Qaeda in Yemen is a a Yemeni and Saudi problem. When did the U.S. become their hired gun? The U.S. is not at war there, and the might and power of the U.S. war-making machine cannot legally be applied to individuals or non-State players. The definition of war precludes the use of State death-dealing.

Hitler's and Keitel's orders were issued during a declared and clearly-defined war. Commissars and partisans were not soldiers, but they were enemy personnel openly carrying arms. These orders were illegal but the intent was based upon military logic, even if a perverted logic. Where does the U.S. logic lie?

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. reported that President Truman was physically sickened by his decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, by making the decision Truman was acting within his authority during a general war scenario. Truman was also a World War I artilleryman and familiar with death in an up-close and personal way; his decisions were presumably not made blithely.

In a democracy we need civilian leaders with humanity at their core, rather than the coolness of a mafia don. We fete Obama's detached coolness when he nods his head sanctioning another official murder, but do not question how Obama's actions are different from those of Hitler. How different from war lords Milosevic, or Taylor?

How did men like Cheney, George W. Bush, Obama and Romney gain their lust for killing? What is my role in this deadly drama, as my tax dollars help pay for the missiles that rein death from the skies?

When Hellfire missiles become the symbol of America, and when our Democratic party leaders embrace assassination, then where are we as a nation? Why are we o.k. with our leaders acting like the Partisan Order is the standard operating procedure for our nation?

When neither political party will demand Enlightenment values, then we are walled up in a town called Nuremberg.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Terms of Endearment

By all that you hold dear on this good earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!

Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

Where you've fallen, you will stay.

In the whole universe this one
and only place is the sole place
which you have made your very own

--On the Wall of a KZ Lager,

Janos Pilinszky

Everything a lie. Everything you hear,

everything you see. So much to spew out.

They just keep coming, one after another.

You're in a box. A moving box

They want you dead, or in their lie
--A Thin Red Line (1998)

When considering terrorism or the militarization of a society, the American Revolution is a good place to start.

Let us address terms so simple nobody knows what they mean, though they use them like common coin.

In the spectrum of conflict, what is terrorism – a term which should have been defined before basing a worldwide war upon it. What is a “conflict”? Is peacekeeping (PKO) an “act of war”? Is the latter a military or a political action? Both?

Is a revolution the same thing as a rebellion? Are rebels considered soldiers? Are revolutions wars? Are Civil Wars revolutions? Are revolutions guerrilla wars or unconventional wars? Can they be all three, and be so at the same time? Can a revolution be a conventional war?

Can Counterinsurgency be a conventional war? Does winning hearts and minds have any relevance to the battlefield? Do won hearts translate to positive action? Are hearts as fickle as minds?

If COIN is not a viable mode of warfare, then what is? Is COIN terrorism counteraction? Does a nation invade another in a presumptive strike to avoid a possibility of terrorism emanating from that source? Do such invasions affect hearts and minds negatively? Do invaders ever bring peace? Are invasion and peacekeeping polar opposites, or are they the same?

If COIN is not a valid theory, then what is? Are invasions sound preemptive policy? If COIN is not the prescription for terrorism, then what is? Are military options even viable? Are there any examples of successful military operations against terrorists on a national level? Are all armies based upon terror?

Is all military power terrorism? Is institutional (governmental) violence more legitimate than non-state use of terror?

Further, are police actions wars? Are they conflicts? Can both sides be right in a war? Are wars ever justified? If so, when? Is there “good” versus “bad” killing? Is assassination an act of war?

Do warriors conduct a legitimate form of violence? Are soldiers warriors? Are warriors covered by the Geneva Conventions? Are terrorists soldiers? Are partisans soldiers? Do partisans use terror as a tactic? Are Hellfire missiles a form of terror?

Are these questions answerable? Do we define these terms currently in a meaningful manner? Do our Army manuals address and reflect these questions? Do our leaders think in these terms?

If the American Revolution was legitimate, then why are not other revolutions? Why does the U.S. support some revolutions, start others via covert operations, and oppose others (sometimes doing all three concurrently)?

Why is a Civil War not right for Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was right for America? Why do we use sneak attacks after fighting a war, especially since we were “sneak-attacked” at Pearl Harbor? Is sneakiness o.k. for our Special Operations?

Are Black Operations legal? Why are they classified?

A few idle thoughts for your consideration.