Thursday, January 7, 2016

And why not recognize the contributions of Finance Clerks?

The "need" to find "appropriate" award recognition for drone operators continues.

How sad that drone operators cannot receive the Distinguished Flying Cross or Air Medal, as both require participation in areal flight, nor the Bronze Star, which became so abused by the USAF that in 2001 Congress had to legislate physical presence in the combat zone as a requirement.  Seems that during the Kosovo operation, the USAF awarded the BSM to some 246 individuals. All but 60 were awarded to officers, and only 16 of those awarded were actually in the combat zone. At least five were awarded to officers that never left Whiteman AFB in Missouri.

So now the idea of a special "combat award" for drone operators is again on the table, as well as for "cyberwafare operators".  I guess the MSM and AF Commendation Medal are not considered enough for a job well done.

In no way am I suggesting that exceptional performance by a drone operator go unrecognized.  What makes me cringe is that the military and much of the population are so seduced by the sexy technology operated by these "remote warriors", that there is a movement to create a new award for them.  There is no question that drone operators provide a valuable skillset to the battlefield.  But there is a huge difference between the personal risks involved in direct combat operations and remote combat operations.

Way back in 1966, as a Warrant Officer Candidate, we had CW-4 O'Brian as our senior instructor in "Warrant Officer Development".  Trust me, back then, CW-4s were almost as rare as 4 Star Generals, and a hell of a lot more revered.  He served in WWII in the Pacific with the Navy, and became a Master Hard Hat Diver after the War.  Got bored and enlisted in the USMC when Korea broke out, receiving the Navy Cross there.  Then he found out that the Army was training enlisted troopies to be Aviation WOs and signed up for that.  Served in RVN, receiving a couple of DFCs.  Also wore at least one Purple Heart from each of those wars.  In short, he wasn't an Office Pogue by any stretch.  One of the classes he taught was "Awards and Decorations", as the typical unit A&D Officer in Aviation units was a junior WO.  CW-4 O'Brian was quick to point out that for every "heroic Aviator" in the typical Aviation unit, there were 6 to 8 support troops feeding us, equipping us, getting us paid, keeping our aircraft flyable and so forth.  They may not be called upon to be "brave" or face the enemy to do an exceptional job, but if they didn't at least do a satisfactory job, we Aviators would be in a bind.  Therefore, he admonished us, never overlook exceptional performance by the guys back at base camp.  When they excel, pin a medal on them.

Are today's "Warriors" and "Remote Warriors" oblivious to the fact that they are part of a team?  What if the Finance Clerks failed to perform?  What would be the impact on deployed troopies to learn that Mama and Kiddos back home aren't receiving the paycheck?  What about the electronics and signal folks maintaining and operating the computers, comms and satellites that make the drones possible.  Or the supply folks that keep the parts pipeline going so the drones and their support gear is up and running?

There are already awards for meritorious service not involving personal presence on the battlefield.  Would it be so terrible to award a drone operator an MSM just as one would the aforementioned Finance, Maint or Supply Troopie?  The existing regs of all the services provide for this.

Or, if it means so much, create an RSCO (Remote Support of Combat Operations) device, much like the "V" for valor, to afix to existing awards for achievement or meritorious service that directly impacts on the battlefield.  I'm sure some talented graphic artist could come up with something "cool".  Just because remote operations reduce the opportunity for valor, should we create faux valor awards as a sop to those called upon to contribute to the team  from the rear?

Or, is this simply an attempt to add more glory to the drone pilots' image to fight the USAF's serious problems retaining them?

Prof Andrew Bacevich is so right.  War has become a spectator sport, and now DOD wants to make pseudo combatants of some of the spectators.


  1. My thought is that while I understand the desire to hang ribbons on the guys at the drone desks, I also get a giggy from our overdecoration. Especially compared to other European services we look like show ponies.

    1. A campaign participation medal (also for direct superiors making decisions on the missions) coupled with a 1,000 drone flying hours medal should be enough and fine for them.

    2. While intellectually I agree, Sven, a big factor involved here is the link between individual decorations and promotion in most U.S. services. Not sure how it is in the USAF 2016 but in the US Army as recently as ten years ago awards and decorations could make up 15% of your promotion point scores. That DFC or Air Medal could make a difference...

      If this was a new thing I'd agree that the solution would be to reduce the lavish distribution of decorations in the US services. But we've been this way since Vietnam, and it'd take a seismic shift to change now...

    3. Chief-
      Yup, the logic was often that one way to make the best out of the "personal inconvenience" of RVN was to shower copious awards on folks. I served in non-divisional aviation, but friends that did serve in div Avn were constantly being called upon to carry O-5 and higher on observation flights strictly for the purpose of having the basis for a DFC. As one flight school classmate described it, "We were to ensure that they were subjected to heavy and accurate enemy observation and be ready to swear that they handled it bravely."

      Part of the process of interviewing new students when I was a flight instructor was asking "why did you apply for flight training" and putting it on an interview form in their file. In 1970, the Army selected 80 Colonels for flight training to ofset the low promotion rate for Aviators who were too busy flying in Viet Nam to get the required "Branch Time" to be competitive. My first O-6 student was a WWII Army Air Corps veteran. A flying Sergeant Navigator-Bombardier on A-26s who had received the Distinguished Flying Cross and a couple of Air Medals for his WWII combat service. He used the GI Bill to go to college and through ROTC was commissioned in the Army as an Infantry Officer. So, as we made our intros, I told him that I had to ask some questions so that there would be no empty spaces in his records. He chuckled and said something like, "Yup, the Army runs on paperwork. Fire away."

      When I got to "Why did you apply for flight training", he again chuckled and said, "I am an Infantry Officer with a DFC and some Air Medals. Since that is the standard package for current day Inf Bn Commanders who don't fuck up, I decided I'd earn my wings so that folks might think I actually earned the awards, which I think I really did."

      The guy turned out to be an excellent student and was quite a fine officer. Later went on to serve with 1st Avn Bde in RVN, and I heard from several friends that they considered him top notch.

  2. Re: the difference in service cultures. In the mid-Eighties my outfit from the 82nd Airborne got to work with guys from our British equivalent the Parachute Regiment.

    Most of us had half a dozen decorations, at least, including "combat" awards from Grenada that we at least had the embarrassment to admit were ridiculous...while most of them - many of whom had fought in the Falklands - had a single medal from that campaign and nothing more...

  3. While I think that the American military gives way too many ribbons / decorations, in fairness, I should point out that drone operators do make life and death decisions. Some of those lives may even be American.

    Does the current group of meritorious service awards rise to the level of "saved a patrol of special forces types by taking an extra look see at a wadi using an unexpected video filter and spotted a bunch of bad guys in ambush."

    If so, there is no need for a new one.

  4. Hey Al, Chief, Sven, Ranger and hopefully the other regulars who I haven't seen comment lately - happy 2016!

    This is all about career progression. In addition to the line officer distinction, the Air Force also has "rated" and "nonrated" line officers. Rated officers are those associated with flying positions to include RPA pilots. The "problem" the Air Force is trying to solve is how to keep RPA pilots competitive in the rated community with their peers for both practical and morale reasons - practical because the USAF wants to keep the opportunities for rated officer equal - morale because being in the RPA world sucks (I know, I was there for 3 years) and it sucks even harder if your promotion, command and assignment opportunities are less than your peers.

    Al is also correct that awards count toward promotion though it's more indirect for officers that what he described.

    Anyway, that's the inside baseball. I really do like Al's suggestion of a specific device in lieu of a new award. There are way too many awards already. As a 23 year SNCO whose been in two services I like to joke that I almost have as many ribbons as a North Korean General. And my highest award is a Commendation and I have not combat awards.

    It's pretty similar in the other services except for the Marines who, based on what I've seen, are a lot more stingy with awards - as they should be.

    This kind of gets back to a topic much discussed here over the years. We are supposedly a nation at war, but our military bureaucracies haven't shed all the bullshit that defines a garrison force - if anything it's gotten worse.

    1. "We are supposedly a nation at war..." I know that the various organizations and individuals who believe this keep trying to sell this duck but the public ain't buying, Andy. "We" aren't at war, hell, even the services as services aren't "at war" in the sense that our armed services have traditionally made war.

      To get a sense of how this sort of imperial cabinet war works you really have to go back to the British or French armies of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. And note that those organizations were not "at war" even though they had small expeditionary forces (and even fairly large ones...) in the field for much of that time. All the normal peacetime bumpf remained in place, weapons procurement went slowly and at its usual graft-ridden time and places, all the normal peacetime follies persisted even as the grunts were getting stuck with Zulu spears or shot down by Waziri bullets.

      The personnel promotion and awards comparisons are difficult to make just because the regimental systems of those nations make it almost impossible to contrast the way we do and they did business, but I get the sense that that, too, was largely "garrison" for everyone not actually disputing possession of the Sudan or Algeria with a fractious native...

  5. Ael makes a point I forgot to mention. While it's true that RPA operators do not share physical danger on the battlefield, they are distinguished from clerks, maintainers and other support elements by the fact that they are combat assets, not support assets. To use Army language they are on the combat arms side of the fence due to the fact that they have kinetic ordnance that can be employed for good or ill while support elements do not.

    1. The difference is really the responsibility for combat actions, and that's somewhat comparable to officers who are responsible for target selection, deconfliction etc.

      You get more opportunities to fuck up and kill innocents as a Reaper pilot controlling a plane over Syria than as a Strike Eagle pilot in a simulator.

    2. Sven- an incompetent mechanic or logistician can also kill innocents and friendlies - both directly and indirectly. I've investigated enough fatal mishaps and combat support failures over the years to know that.

      Consider this. In Viet Nam, I was mission commander of two Chinooks conducting almost eight hours of emergency night resupply of a 1st Inf Div forward reinforced Inf Bn site involved in extremely heavy contact with the bad guys. Within 2 hours, all the prepacked ammo loads were exhausted, not just for the Artillery, but the Inf and Cav Troop. Thus, loads had to be assembled on the fly and rigging materials jury-rigged. All of this was being managed by an NCO from the Arty Bn S-4 shop, SFC Murray. The guy was amazing, as he calmly coordinated the composition of the loads and use of the two Chinooks to meet operational requirements of all the units engaged in the battle. He even recommended our refuel stops so that they coincided with any delays on the resupply pad. Thus, neither of our aircraft were ever waiting for a load to be ready.

      The morning after the action, I had the opportunity to discuss the operation with the Brigade Commander. I wanted to recommend SFC Murray for a Bronze Star for exceptionally meritorious actions. The guy didn't just do his job (Bn S-4 NCO) but that of two other units. Any higher service award had caveats requiring service in a position of "key" or "exceptional" responsibility, and I knew that it would be difficult to build a case for a Bn S-4 NCO being in such a position.

      The Bde Cdr agreed that SFC Murray's amazing performance was a singularly important contribution to the favorable outcome of the battle and told me to write up the recommendation. I did, sent it off to the 1st Div and it was immediately approved.

      I was there when the Div Cdr presided at the awards presentation and pointed out that SFC Murray exemplified that often valor was not the only ingredient in saving Soldier's lives and battlefield success. I was also gratified at the number of troops from not just the Arty, but also Inf and Cav that showed up and thanked SFC Murray for a job well done.

      Drone operators are not the only troops who influence the battlefield in relative safety and from afar. If the USAF has a promotion and retention problem, then address the systemic issues involved. If a drone operator's promotion potential is limited, then fix the promotion process. Creating a medal to improve retention and promotions in selected MOSes only demeans other "unsung heroes".

  6. Replies
    1. Proof positive that senior DOD officials read MilPub?

      Creating a medal to improve retention just doesn't tickle my winkie. Modifying the existing regs with a R device to elevate an existing achievement award to reflect remote contribution to the battlefield is more like it.

      You can't ascribe valor to a remote operator. Technical efficiency or accuracy, yes. Valor, no. And anything that tried to conflate the two is an insult to those on the battlefield, be they valorous or not.

      Now what do we award to the FDC Chief who brings precise fires on targets from a relatively safe position position in the rear area?

    2. Seeing as I resemble that personal preference would be a round of good brew from the grunts I was firing in DS of when we were all safe home again afterwards. But if we're talking official recognition a "meritorious service" type decoration would be appropriate. ARCOM for your bog-standard FFE, maybe an MSM for a big, sustained engagement, Bronze Star for a real boss stud kind of fire mission (something required real trick coordination, unusual and creative fire direction...)

      And that's a good comparison. That battery is no less important to the mission as the battalion it's supporting. But the danger and the sort of courage needed to accomplish that mission are very different.

    3. Question, mike; could the USAF authorize their own "drone pilot medal"? ISTM that these guys do a very unique job and one that is nearly impossible for the other services to need (at least not until the USN ships drones on its LHAs...). So a USAF-only medal would kinda make sense...

    4. If I am not mistaken, the vast majority of USAF drone operators are already rated pilots, who would prefer to be flying actual aircraft. Not sure drone operator medal would be a boost, as drone assignments are seen as lesser status. The Air Force officer Corps is already somewhat of a caste system, with non-pilots suffering lower promotion rates than pilots. Apparently, drone operating hinders a pilot's competitiveness as well. Last summer, the USAF announced $15,000/yr bonuses for drone operators who extended their service.

      As I previously said, IMHO, it's a problem when the services are fishing for medals to improve retention. If drone operations are a unique occupational category, then perhaps the USAF needs to change their personnel manage system to treat it as such, rather than bastardizing the existing system to try and compensate. For example, Army Medical Service Corps officers are a unique occupational field, and they are considered by totally separate promotion boards from other branches.

    5. Official guidance released:


  7. Funny. Al's example of an FA battery made me stop and think of how long it's been since the U.S. Army and USMC faced a real peer enemy. I'll bet there's nobody left serving in the FA branch who has encountered real counterbattery fire. The NVA was the last enemy we had who could shoot worth a shit. And the USAF? If you count just the CAS missions? You'd probably have to go back to 1945 to find an enemy maneuver unit that had a AAA element worth a lick.

    Our WW2 counterparts would shake their heads wondering why we were making such a fuss.

    Infantry? Whole 'nother nutroll. But then infantry gets the dirty end of the stick and always has...

    1. Chief,

      Closest I ever saw was 'coordinated' rocket and mortar fire trying to kill mortar men and their Chief as they responded to Troops In Contact. And that, as far as I ever heard from anyone else, was considered highly unusual behavior for the enemy. The expectation was, you know, that they'd lay down and die.

      Seriously, chief, I cannot imagine how much worse it was and how bad it'll be next time.

      PF Khans

    2. That sucks, no doubt, but on an absolute scale. Getting starched in some shitty third world skirmish is just as miserable as dying in the Battle of Waterloo...just gets you less press.

      But us US redlegs have been spoiled rotten for generations in relative terms. Saddam's gunners were useless, our current targets don't have the hardware, and even the NVA were fairly artillery-poor outside of Khe Sanh. You have to go back to the German Army of Normandy and Italy to find an opponent who could hit back w counterbattery fire and mean it.

      But...I know Sven will disagree, but...nukes change everything. The only future peer foes are nuclear-armed, meaning any "next time" that involved an enemy w CAS or FA capabilities equal to ours would mean the insane risk that they'd sling a nuke. Meaning the only way there'd be a "next time" would a) be by some insane mistake and b) last two days until the mistake was rectified or the nuclear holocaust made counterbattery fire the least of our worries...

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  9. @FDChief: 'Question, mike; could the USAF authorize their own "drone pilot medal"? ' Not my lane Chief. Maybe Andy could answer that.

    @FDChief January 8, 2016 at 11:37 AM: "And the USAF? If you count just the CAS missions? You'd probably have to go back to 1945 to find an enemy maneuver unit that had a AAA element worth a lick."
    I beg to differ Chief. I do not have hard figures but I believe that hundreds of CAS fixed wing were shot down by AAA in Vietnam. Just take a quick peak at Wiki True it does not break it out by which aircraft were shot down by AAA while doing CAS. But I would bet that a high percentage, perhaps even a majority of the 150 A1 Skyraiders and 22 A37 Dragonfly lost in combat were on CAS missions and got taken down by AAA. That is just the Air Force. I know for sure the Marines lost aircraft while on CAS missions. I believe the Navy did too.

    1. In III and IV Corps, where I flew, the most fire directed at aircraft was small arms (7.62), with the occasional 50 cal or equivalent. Near the Cambodian border, 37mm and larger AAA was encountered, with some radar guided. The F-100 Squadrons at Bien Hoa lost several CAS aircraft to ground fire while I was there.

      As far as small arms, we either flew on the deck to minimize exposure time, or at 1,500 ft to be out of effective vertical range. I don't remember how high you had to fly to be out of effective range of a 50 cal, as it was totally impractical for helos to get to that altitude in the conduct of our missions. If 50's were known to be operating in a given location, we would be so advised by our enroute arty advisory folks so we could avoid the area, if possible. Similarly, when working near the Cambodian and Laotian borders, USAF radar controllers would advise of heavy stuff known to be on the other side of the line. I remember a 1st Inf Div field site about 5 km in from the border where the Bad Guys slowly established significant AAA, to include radar guided on the Cambodian side to hinder helo resupply operations. According to an Inf Co Cdr that I knew at the site, however, there was a plus to the AAA threat, as his operations were not subject to all kinds of higher echelon C&C helos circling overhead, interfering with squad and platoon leaders on the ground. Did an overnight there as an LNO for a major lift operation scheduled for daybreak.

      Speaking of 50 cals as AAA, Charlie was no fool. When he had them available to support a significant attack on US forces, he positioned his AAA 50s well enough behind his ground forces to be able to engage CAS as well as make gunship overflight of his troops a dicey situation. That was the case in the operation mentioned above concerning SFC Murray. Big red basketballs (or at least they looked like that) rising up from a couple of positions behind the attacking force. Really cramped the supporting Cobras, as they were either so low that small arms could engage them or so high that the 50s could.

      And, speaking of SFC Murray, the situation required we land with a slight tailwind to avoid overflying Charlie, reducing our safe maximum gross weight. He had anticipated this (God bless Arty Metro) and rigged the loads accordingly. He also increased load weights as we burned off fuel, so that the max ammo possible was delivered with each sortie. I'd put his performance in shaping the outcome of that protracted battle up against any drone operator, any day.

    2. No question that the NVA were good, mike. But typically they just didn't have the equipment to really knock down enough USAF aircraft to make CAS impossible the way the Heer did. I mean, look at your numbers; 172 aircraft over the 12-year period of the Vietnam War. Compare that to more than 18,000 aircraft lost over NW Europe. Obviously a lot of those were lost in strategic bombing missions, but let's say that one out of 20 was a fighter-bomber and you're still left with 900 aircraft over about three years.

      Like I said to PFK; when you're the one taking 12.7mm rounds it doesn't matter if it's on a thousand-bomber raid or just you dinking napalm into the jungle. It sucks. But what I mean is that the German air defenses forced the USAF and US Army to adjust their tactics and techniques to deal with the potential of heavy AAA - 20 and 40mm cannon - and enemy fighters (tho, obviously, by 1944 the Luftwaffe wasn't much of a threat...). The NVA's small arms and heavy machinegun fire was nasty (and worse, in places like along the border or in the North where they could field actual SAMs and heavy AAA) but not different in type to what USAF pilots have had to face against Iraqis or Afghans. The Germans, tho? Different not just in scale but in tactical setup.

    3. Chief- It would be interesting to know the actual number of CAS sorties flown in support of ground operations in RVN. In III and IV Corps, there were a hell of a lot of helo gunships providing CAS, albeit with nothing more deadly than 2.75 in rockets. AND, it was a rare operation that was out from under the Arty fan. I saw far fewer CAS sorties being flown during our missions in support of contact than gunships and Arty.

      You could have RedLeg steel on target long before the Boys in Blue could get there, and long after they had to rearm/refuel, particularly at night. A Grunt BN in the field had, as a minimum, a Bty 105s in DS. We Chinook drivers conspired regularly with the 105mm people to put tubes where they could support the grunts quite readily, and the prima donnas in the Cranes were sometimes willing to displace 155s. And there were the 175mm and 8 in guns for long reach from base camps. Also, keep in mind that the arty units had been in their AOs so long that they had just about every grid square registered.

    4. Al: Good point. If a lot of the CAS missions were up north in I Corps, near the DMZ, the NVA units there might have had a lot more and a lot heavier AAA than the mix of NVA/VC further south.

      Thing is that outside of the Russians and Chinese the USAF is so far ahead of pretty much every other Second and Third World army that it's like sending the Kansas City Chiefs to play the Podunk High Cousinscrewers. The SEAD capability of the USAF and the air superiority contrast so great that it's unlikely that any future USAF CAS missions will even see any sort of AAA as good as the NVA could put together.

    5. CAS is of greater utility than tube Arty in mountainous terrain, such as what was much more common in I and II Corps. Learned that as a USMC enlisted person. In fact, we learned about strengths and weaknesses of Arty, Naval Gunfire and CAS. As a Redleg, I'm sure, Chief, you are well versed in this. For example, the difficulties in targeting something on a "reverse slope" for the Arty is a non issue to CAS.

      Point is, we are a variety of tools in the battlefield team's tool box. Tube Arty is an extremely flexible and powerful tool. Drones are much more of a surgical tool. As I learned from my 7th Grade Shop Teacher, Mr. J.J. Ryan, no matter how impressive the precision and accuracy of a micrometer may be, it ain't worth a shit for most carpentry measurements. That "crude", wooden yard stick that the fabric shop gave away was much more valuable for many carpentry tasks. Little did I know at that tender age that his sage counsel also applied in great measure to my subsequent career in the military.

      It's funny that the services are constantly accused of the failing of trying to fight the last war on today's battlefield. I would offer that the worship of technology can and has created a similar weakness in thinking that the more "advanced" a weapon system, the more valuable it is in all situations. I accept fully that the drone is a technologically improved weapon system for certain targets that other weapons cannot effectively engage. Now, if someone can guarantee me that such targets are the only type targets we will ever have to engage, then I will accept the drone as totally superior to tube artillery and the like.

    6. I think part of the problem is that having drones - or aircraft - giving you "eyes on" gives a false sense of security that you won't have issues with putting rounds "out of the safety fan". That and the logistical problems moving all those projos and propellants around; FA's logistical tail is pretty heavy given the ranges you can reach out to.

      And you're very right on the issue with getting first round effects in mountainous terrain. It's more than just reverse slope effects, there's a computation you have to do if the elevation of the target and the elevation of the gun are very different. It's called "site" in fire direction terms, and the "angle of site" is the correction the must be applied to the gun elevation to hit. For example; a target that is much higher than the gun is effectively "further away" than it would be compared to a target level with the gun. So to hit the target you typically decrease the elevation, which makes the parabola of the round gentler and the base wider, thus placing the target within the arc of the "descending branch" of the round.

      The problem is that you need to know the exact elevation of the target, and the more error you have in really steep terrain the more likely that you will be either short or long by enough distance to make the effects minimal.

      But I think the whole issue of perceived round dispersion vs. the perceived "surgical" accuracy of a/c delivered munitions is the real driver of the recent tendency for U.S. maneuver units to rely on CAS over FA support, despite the repeated examples of aerial fires targeting neutrals or friendlies because of poor target identification...

    7. Chief: "But I think the whole issue of perceived round dispersion vs the perceived "surgical" accuracy of a/c delivered munitions is the real driver of the recent tendency for U.S. maneuver units to rely on CAS over FA support, despite the repeated examples of aerial fires targeting neutrals or friendlies because of poor target identification..."

      There is probably a "PR" element involved as well. You have the "necessity of killing the bad guys" and and then the attempt to downplay collateral casualties by hyping how surgical the strike was, with the very clear implication that it could have been much worse if we weren't so elegant in our choice of weapons. And, add to that the "we've been working on actionable intelligence on this bastard for a long time and had no choice but to take him out when he was at his sister's house next to that hospital". Sounds better than "We had to kill those neighbors to save them"?

      I wrestle with this as a young officer, since I had to deal with "no fire zones" or "restricted fire zones" in RVN. A good example was the south perimeter of our base camp, which was a "restricted fire zone". The perimeter was manned by troops from the various tenant units, with each unit having a specific sector to man and supervise. Our BN OOD was, among his duties, OIC of the Bn's sector of the South perimeter guard force. There was a small village about a km south of the wire. Perimeter defense fires were restricted to 7.62 or smaller without the overall Perimeter Defense Cdr's OK, lest larger caliber weapons take a toll on the villagers. Thus, the 50s on that section of the perimeter were on hold until it was determined that more firepower was justified. Therefore, when Charlie would attack that sector, we couldn't "give him all we've got" until "all we've got" was really necessary. Since a fair number of our local labor lived in that village, most troopies in those bunkers were a bit frustrated by, but understood the issue. But then, the "innocents" involved had names and faces with which the perimeter guards could identify.

    8. The above reply had me thinking further about the "psychology" of this surgical drone strike thing, Chief.

      1. Typically, as I noted above, there rationale for exposing possible innocents is that there was "actionable intel" pertaining to an identifiable bad guy or group thereof. In short, names and/or faces that needed killing. The victims of collateral damage generally are nameless and faceless, and thus more easily made abstract.

      2. By being at "war", albeit "in" another country versus "with" another country, the great unwashed at home views collateral damage in a manner similar to that inflicted upon, for example, WWII Germany or Japan, which was much more acceptable than any collateral damage we might have inflicted upon nations they were occupying. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we are not liberating the population from a foreign aggressor, but determining what domestic political situation we accept. Yet, the Great Unwashed probably sees the general population are our opponent, and thus readily and justifiably subject to attack simply based upon location. Thus, 25 Afghan innocents who could die because they happen to be in proximity to a Taliban leader are not going to be as great an outrage as would 25 French innocents in a Paris apartment where a key ISIS suspect might be discovered. Consequently, what is accepted as "surgical" for the former could very well be blunt force overkill for the latter.

    9. "heavy AAA - 20 and 40mm cannon - and enemy fighters (tho, obviously, by 1944 the Luftwaffe wasn't much of a threat...)."

      Germany used almost exclusively 20, 30, 37, 88 and 105 mm AAA, with few 40, 75, 76, 85, 90 mm captured guns and few usually fixed 128 mm guns. German AAA was almost all "Luftwaffe", hardly any AAA guns were owned by the army or Waffen SS.

      The Luftwaffe fighters were a huge threat till about September 1944, when they ran out of fuel due to the bombing of the fuel industry since May 1944 (they never ran out of fighters, and the training program was shortened only as late as fall of 1944).

      Occasional efforts of fighters and night fighters kept killing two-digit counts of bombers on a day or night well into 1945.

    10. My bad; I meant to type "20 and 40mm cannon and larger" - the point being heavier than infantry-type machineguns.

      And no question that deep-penetration or even deep-roaming tactical Allied missions risked getting into trouble with German fighters. But from all accounts the fighter-bombers pulling CAS in Europe didn't seem to get into much trouble from Luftwaffe aircraft. Ground-based AAA seemed to be their worst enemy.

  10. Chiel said: Seeing as I resemble that personal preference would be a round of good brew from the grunts I was firing in DS of when we were all safe home again afterwards.

    Whenever one of our aircrews did a better than expected job, it was very common for the supported unit to throw a case of frozen steaks or pork chops on the bird, a case of beer or a C Rations "Sundries Pack" which contained several cartons of cigarettes. Also, when weather caused us to RON Remain Over Night) at a supported unit base camp, drinks were always on the house. Most gracious of such hospitality was received at Quan Loi, where LTC Charles Rogers (later to receive the MOH for amazingly valorous action in battle). commander of the Arty Bn there, would join us at the dinner table and share his exquisite French cognac with us as an after dinner drink.

    Yes, there was indeed recognition far more precious than medals.

  11. As I recall many of the NVA maneuver units in South Vietnam had Soviet made 14.5mm machine guns and even some 37mm in addition to the 'lighter' 12.7mm DShK. It (the 14.5) had an additional 1,000 meters of range and it was designed for anti-aircraft use as opposed to the ‘Dushka’ which was primarily an infantry weapon. I think I have seen a recent video of the Peshmerga still using an old 14.5mm against VBIEDs in a dual mount on the back of a Toyota (or maybe it was the PYD instead of the Pesh?).

    During the NVA 1975 Spring Offensive, NVA AAA totally neutralized RVNAF Close Air Support. NVA AAA units moved with the leading elements on their march down from I Corps to Saigon. American history tends to focus on the fall of Saigon itself as that is where the foreign correspondents were. Or they focus on the collapse of ARVN units in the north and in the central highlands. Much of that collapse was due to the lack of air support and also an extreme shortage in artillery ammunition.

    ARVN and American helos had a huge AAA problem during Operation Lam Son 719 in early 1971. NVA AAA was in direct support of and some organic to regimental level and was fierce: ”The 101st Airborne Division alone, for example, had 84 of its aircraft destroyed and another 430 damaged. Combined U.S./ARVN helicopter losses totaled 168 destroyed and 618 damaged.” At least seven USAF/USN tactical fixed wing were shot down there in addition to RVNAF losses. Being in Laos, the NVA surely had heavier AAA there than just the 14.5 and 37mm, probably 57mm or higher.

    Of the almost 10,000 American aircraft lost there, the great majority of them were brought down by AAA. Many NVA AAA and SAM officers were taught their trade in a Soviet air defense academy. The Soviets also set up an air defense academy and AAA schools/training centers in North Vietnam. The SA-2 sites (aka the flying telephone poles) had on-site Soviet instructors. The Chinese had several AAA Divisions in North Vietnam. Both the Soviets and Chinese competed against each other to see who could provide the NVA with the most air defense weapons. Xiaobing Li, a veteran of the Chinese People’s Army and a historical author, writes that by the end of the war in addition to organic assets at NVA division and regimental level: The NVA had a total of six air defense divisions, each with four AAA regiments. And they had four air defense schools and an air defense officer academy.

    1. My flight school buddy, Tom, was on his second tour during Lam Son 719, as an Air Cav Squadron Asst S-3 in the 101st, and he regaled me with what damage was sustained by their helos. It was a whole new ball game, not just in the weapons systems they faced, but the intensity of AAA fires. We was present at the Div level briefing, and said that after all was said and done intel on AAA underestimated the threat and overestimated our ability to nullify it. And the weather further hindered the latter. Faced with a never before experienced AAA threat, the Avn units had to learn on the fly as to how to deal with it, and that took time.

      I would note that the average post flight school flying experience of Army Aviators in most Cav and lift units was about 7 months, and while they were gathering depth in experience, breadth was limited. Couple that with the fact that all our training, including flight school, was based on avoidance of small arms only. Tom readily admitted that this contributed to the high loss rate. At least the other serviced had doctrine and training to deal with what they experienced, whether or not they anticipated it.

      As to the array of AAA weapons we faced within RVN, the terrain and tactics of the VC/NVA units in III and IV Corps did not lend itself as well to the larger, more sophisticated weapons found in I and II Corps.

    2. No question that when the NVA was on top of its game it was as good of better than any conventional enemy the US has faced since 1945. My point is only that in many parts of the RVN it wasn't on top of its game because of logistical problems. A huge percentage of the US aircraft shot down were shot down over the North or in one-off border situations such as Al's example of Lam Son 719; the average NVA battalion working in the southern parts of II Corps, or most of the rest of the country (III and IV Corps AOs) had a real bastard of a logistical situation, and medium and heavy AAA are real bastards to supply.

    3. OK, time for a little war story levity about AAA in RVN...

      The USAF provided a radar tracking and advisory service, Call Sign "Paris Airlift" in our AO. The primary thing we Army guys used Paris for was AAA advisories near the Cambodian border. They pretty much had most known AAA fans plotted, and could keep us clear of same. The term for the AAA fans was "Stormy Weather", and while this info was plotted on our situation map in Company Ops, it was nowhere as up to date as Paris advisories.

      We had a captain fresh out of Flight School in the unit that was a total disaster and who the CO had already decided needed to be moved upward and onward ASAP to a REMF job where he couldn't hurt anyone. His surname began with the letter U and he was quickly dubbed "CPT Useless" by our enlisted flight crews. Until an MTOE job outside our unit opened up, he was scheduled with patient and more experienced Aircraft Commanders as a copilot. We were just careful to limit him to mission profiles that were generally routine in nature, and only let him handle the controls during the more mundane and easy parts of the flight regime.

      Thus, one day it was my turn to babysit CPT Useless for a day of what should have been generally routine, single ship resupply missions. First up on the schedule was three sorties of food, water and ammo to a firebase near the Cambodian border. I was at the controls on the first sortie, and he was handling the radios and ostensibly navigating. The sling load was somewhat unstable, so I was not monitoring radios to be able to hear my Flight Engineer as he continuously appraised me of the status of the sling load.

      In my peripheral vision, I notice that CPT Useless appeared to be having a heated conversation on the radio. The Door Gunner comes up on intercom saying, "CPT U, CPT U, Sir!" CPT Useless barks at the Door Gunner to shut up so he can work the radio. Then, Useless ceremoniously switches his UHF control to OFF and proclaims to all, in a very indignant voice, "F-ing Air Force with their air conditioned comfort and no idea of what's going on in the field. Asshole at Paris keeps insisting we are flying into stormy weather, and I keep telling him there's not a cloud in the sky."

      I just immediately him to shut up, came up on UHF, quickly apologized for the confusion and got vectors out of peril (reported radar guided 37s) and to the firebase. We drop off the load, and on the way to pick up the next load, I ask, “Bill, do you even remember your briefings on what Stormy Weather means?” He poutily retorted, “Of course. I got good grades in Meteorology in both Arty OBC and Flight School.” I gave him a short course on what “Stormy Weather” meant in terms of a Paris advisory. “Oh yeah, I was so busy I forgot. Just like those dumb ass AF people to use a term that could be ambiguous.”

      Well, to make a long story go on forever, I made it through the day without suffering a stroke or AAA. Just tired from basically having to perform both AC and copilot chores for 7 flying hours. During post flight, which CPT Useless had to skip to go to the latrine, the crew implored me to convince the CO to keep CPT Useless out of the cockpit. I had a visit with the CO, and we then grabbed the BN XO, a fellow Hook Driver and previously our XO, at dinner and pled our case. Took a bit of shucking and jiving, but the XO worked out some shuffling and in two weeks or so, CPT Useless proudly told us he was “promoted” to Asst Bn S-4, and would only be seeing us if he needed to log time for flight pay. We all wished him well, secure in the knowledge that the Bn XO had already assured us that CPT Useless would be getting his flight pay as copilot on the Bn Huey making O-Club liquor resupply runs to Saigon. The rest of the time he would be verifying head count sheets from the various mess halls and similar stuff. And the “assignment Gods” smiled on us, providing a very talented officer to fill the vacated slot.

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  13. !@#$^&* darn html!!! Search for the Xiaobing Li page on Alibris or Amazon

  14. Actually...since we seem to have transitioned over to this subject...if we had to "rank" the enemies that the U.S. Army has faced over the past 60 years, an NVA infantry battalion would have to be considered among the best trained, led, and dangerous if not THE most dangerous enemy over that period.

    Leaving aside the German ground forces, which remained excellent all the way into 1945, the only other real challenger would have to be the best of the Chinese infantry in Korea, and even then they had serious problems with fire support and supply.

    When you look at it that way, it's pretty sad. Sometimes I feel that we're kinda like Sonny Liston, fattening our record beating up tomato cans, bums, has-beens and never-weres. The NVA was our Ali, though, at least often enough to take the "best challenger" title...

    1. Chief- Spot on, and I offer that humbly from first hand experience. I have always tried to refrain from comparing the troops' battlefield experiences and foes from one conflict to the next, simply because whoever the troops are facing, they don't get to choose their foe, for many, it's the only foe they have faced, and combat is not easy by any means. All the troops can do is rise up to the foe presented.

      However, since you mention it, I would agree that the typical Grunt in RVN faced a more formidable foe than is faced today, and on a larger scale and of more serious and constant contact per month in theater. Similarly, many support folks suffered regular rocket and mortar fire as part of their routine than today's base camp personnel. Yes, IEDs indeed threaten anyone on the road, be they combat arms or support personnel, but you didn't have to go outside the wire to come under fire regularly in RVN. Charlie and the NVA were more than happy to make house calls.

    2. Don't get me wrong. For the guy pinned down in a ditch with his Humvee (deuce-and-a-half, Willys jeep...) on fire those guys lighting him up might as well be Das Reich. It doesn't matter a lick to the individual grunt how "good" his enemy is provided that enemy got the drop on him that particular day. an army, as a nation, it matters. Armies tend to learn from their experiences, and the value of the lessons often depends on the quality of the "teacher", as it were. The NVA (and the most hardcore VC) were "good teachers"; the US forces fighting them had to be damn good to beat them.

      From what I can tell most of these Middle Eastern muj (and Saddam's supposed army, the only organized enemy we've fought there) are a pretty sad act. Yes, they can kill people and did (and do). But I can't find a single instance where they were able to even come close to destroying or even disrupting an American unit as, for example, the NVA did in the battles around LZ X-Ray and Albany in '65 or forcing the US to hammer through them in a stand-up fight as at Hue in '68. The bottom line is that the US forces in Vietnam had to be plan well, be lead well, and fight well to win. Sloppy, half-assed planning, leadership, or combat actions meant, at the very least, that a lot of Americans got killed or wounded who shouldn't have.

      The only counterexample I can come up with is Second Fallujah in November, 2004, and that is an extreme outlier.

      The reason I bring this up is PFK's comment about "the next time". I still have huge doubts as to whether there will BE a next time. But if, by some bizarre chance there is I think the these lame-ass jihadis are teaching us a lot of really bad lessons. The historical comparison I am reminded of is the British Army of 1914. For almost a century the British spent most of their time fighting the African and Asian equivalents of jihadis; poorly supplied, poorly organized, often poorly led tribal fighters that could kill you, sure, but usually only either in ambush or by dying themselves in job lots. Fighting them gave a British leader little experience in the sort of warfare that they were thrust into in 1914, and it showed...

  15. Not that I WANT us to go around picking heavyweight fights with dangerous enemies. Smart empires, as Sun Tzu would have said, only fight after they know they've won...

  16. SO - The 88 was probably the most famous. A multiple use weapon it was also used in an antitank role.

    “Well, it’s like this. I was on a hill as a battery commander with six 88mm anti-tank guns, and the Americans kept sending tanks down this road…Every time they sent a tank we knocked it out. Finally we ran out of ammunition and the Americans didn’t run out of tanks.” – German officer captured at Salerno

    Were the 88mm FlaK units with the Wehrmacht manned by Luftwaffe personnel?

    1. My understanding is that almost all AAA units in the German inventory were owned and operated by the Luftwaffe. Here's a link to a 1943 US manual that goes into the breakdown of the German AAA organization and notes that most of the AAA was run through the airforce, but that the Army had AAA as well (Heersflak).

      My guess - and Sven should be able to confirm or correct this - is that most of the towed AAA (such as the 8.8cm Flak 18/36/37/41) would have been overwhelmingly Luftwaffe organizations, but that SP AAA such as the 3.7cm SdKfz 161/3 (the so-called Möbelwagen), the 2.0cm Flakpanzer Wirbelwind and the 3.7cm Ostwind would very likely have been in Heersflak units.

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    3. Dammit. HERE's the link:

  17. FDChief: Thanks! Good gauge.