Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rumsfeld Rules! Part I

Mr. Rumsfeld's memoir "Known and Unknown" is a fascinating book stretching from his childhood during the dark days of World War Two through his time as Secretary of Defense during the Global War on Terror.  Many people may know him through his time as something of a media darling during the early months of Operation Enduring Freedom when he gave entertaining performances at Pentagon press conferences.  Of course what the media gives it takes away and with the incidents surrounding the Iraqi prison at Abu Graib he became the embodiment of everything that was supposedly wrong with the Bush administration in general and the prosecution of the war in particular.

Mr. Rumsfeld had made enemies at the Pentagon however, long before he made enemies in the press.  His straight forward, probing manner could be abrasive to some, but the real problem many in the senior military had with him is that he tried to end business as usual.  The relative calm of the 1990's had resulted in a peace time, increasingly politically correct military content to ride the post Cold War wave into the 21st century without seriously reconsidering its own state of affairs.  When President Bush directed Secretary Rumsfeld to conduct reviews in anticipation of his policy of transformation the brass began to resist.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Six Kinds of Camouflage: Why the Pentagon Needs to be Fixed/Synopsis

The Pentagon has been at the epicenter of the war against militant Islamism since the morning of September 11, 2001.  It also finds itself in the middle of an ongoing and evolving “transformation.”  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld opened the Office of Force Transformation at the Pentagon in October 2001.  However, as the first term of the Bush administration began to take shape in early 2001 the Pentagon thought it would have years of relative peace and quiet to implement its long-term plans for transforming the U.S. military.  Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and smaller operations around the world have both interrupted and instigated various aspects of the ongoing program. 
The program can be broken down into three major divisions: bureaucratic reform, technological improvements and evolutions in doctrine, strategy and tactics.  The biggest obstacle that stands in the way of a truly transformed military is not the war on terror or funding shortfalls but the mindset of many of the Pentagon’s leaders.  We can call this bureaucratic, institutionalized and sometimes narrow way of thinking “Pentagonism.”  Just one small example of this is the infighting between the Army and Air Force over allocation and operational control of the limited number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs.)  The competition for these platforms underscores another problem within the Pentagon culture that has trickled down to some extent at least into the officer corps and enlisted ranks. 
Technology is widely seen as a, if not the indispensable factor that separates us from our enemies and ensures victory over their less sophisticated ways.  You see this mentality in the constant requests for more UAVs, more close air support of ground units, more stand off munitions and more networked computer systems.  The UAVs are a wonderful piece of technology that have saved many American lives and ended many enemy lives, but the constant clamor for more and better ones could serve to undermine the overall tactical savvy of combat units on the ground.  An over reliance on them could evoke a mindset and then a doctrine that says we need UAV support to conduct our mission.  This position would be self-limiting and ultimately self-defeating.  American soldiers in World War Two were well aware that their Sherman tanks were grossly inferior to the German Panzers, but superior numbers of Sherman’s and old-fashioned perseverance carried the day.  The U.S. military should not put itself in the position of relying on superior technology in inferior numbers as the Nazi’s did.
In the end technology or more generally raw military power is ultimately not the way the U.S. military will defeat militant Islamism.  It will have to be done by brave, tough and well-trained warriors.  Americans have not successfully confronted this issue since it was the overwhelming underdog in the Revolutionary War more than 230 years ago.  Since its war with British Empire it has tended to rely on overwhelming firepower to win, but as the Vietnam War demonstrated, this was not always a successful doctrine.  It is one of the founding principles of the Army Special Forces that people are more valuable than technology. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Small Arms: Big Pain

The U.S. military has been engaged in Afghanistan for ten years and for eight years in Iraq. It seems to be a little late in the game for the Army and Marine Corps to still be working through issues with their rifles and other small arms.  I do not want to hear any excuses about lack of money - both services field multi-million dollar weapons systems from UAVs to tanks, helicopters and planes.  But Somehow the infantry's small arms, in this case grenade launchers, continue to get short shrift.

The Army is field testing the XM25, a dedicated grenade launcher the fires a programmable 25mm airburst round.  The Marines say it is too expensive for them to replace their 40mm rifle-slung grenade launchers with.  Why isn't the XM25 a joint program with Army and Marines?  Why is the XM25 using 25mm rounds when Marines and others believe the 40mm round would be better?  An infantry weapons officer with the Marines said,"if you have an air-burst capability on a multi-shot grenade launcher, you would be wrecking people."  Shouldn't every infantry platoon, Army and Marines, have at least one such weapon by now?

  Perhaps if the Corps finally admitted its traditionally amphibious assault role is behind them, they could free up their budget for things like a multi-shot grenade launcher with airburst rounds. Amphibious assault vehicles, hovercrafts and assault ships that carry them are expensive to build and field.  The Marines of the 21st century  launch assaults via troop transport helicopter and tilt rotors.  These could be launched from modified carriers instead of separate ships.  Storming the beaches died with the proliferation of cruise missiles and tactical rocket batteries. It is time Marine Corps doctrine, organization, training and procurement should reflect this.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Obama's Vietnam

President Obama did not initiate Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion that toppled the Baathist regime and led to Saddam Hussein's capture.  However, when Obama became commander in chief he inherited OEF and the serious national security issues that go along with that.  Iraq has made considerable progress from the days when it was ruled as a brutal police state.  Like Japan, Germany and South Korea, where the United States has maintained large numbers of troops for decades to promote regional stability, Iraq is in need of a continued U.S. presence to help prevent Shiite and Sunni factions from dragging the country into civil war and discourage Iran from spreading its influence even further.

To put it bluntly, U.S. national security interests are more important than Obama's campaign promises or his desire for a second term.  More than 4,400 American lives were lost, many thousands more seriously wounded and about a trillion dollars was spent to ensure victory.  Too much has been sacrificed in the Global War on Terror (overseas contingency operations) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for the sake of one man's political fortunes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Giving Away the Store

Has America's involvement in Iraq been called on account of the 2012 presidential election?  With the status of force agreement with Iraq expiring, the Obama administration failed to negotiate a deal to allow at least several thousand combat troops in the country beyond the end of this year.  A cynical person might argue the administration allowed the negotiations to fail because it wanted out so it could report a full pull-out to its base.  Reelection politics cannot drive national security policy in general and strategic decisions regarding the War on Terror in particular.

The left has consistently complained that Operation Iraqi Freedom was another Vietnam, but ironically it is a leftist president who risks turning a hard fought, bloody victory into a defeat.  if a weak Iraq is torn apart or manipulated and exploited by an ascendent Iran for its own purposes than President Obama will have abandoned the thousands of troops killed and wounded to secure victory and  delivered another Vietnam.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The New Project

"Six Kinds of Camouflage: Why the Pentagon Needs to be Fixed." This is the working title of the book I am working on.  It had its beginnings in the "Transformation" chapter of my book, "A Short History of the Long War."  Two key themes will be consolidation and generalization in the face of too much separateness and specialization among and between the services.  With the expected budget cuts and reductions in force levels over the next decade more will truly have to be done with less.

Chapters will cover topics like:

teeth to tail ratio
plan 1945
growing gap between trigger pullers and point and clickers
people versus technology
unit reorganization
privatizing the VA

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You're in the Army Now...For Now

A recent news report revealed that the U.S. Army plans to cut its force levels by 50,000 over the next five years. Does anyone at the pentagon believe the Army is currently overstaffed after hearing for years that it was stretched to the breaking point? No this is not about too may troops it is about too few dollars chasing too many new technologies.  In the coming era of financial austerity something will have to give and our military leaders have decided to invest in big ticket weapon platforms like the next generation long range bomber at the expense of infantry battalions.  Why bother developing and fielding a new and improved rifle if you are going to whittle down the number of soldiers and Marines anyway?

I grew up during the Cold War when the military was always looking for "a few good men" and trying to get you to "be all you can be." Within the next twenty years there will come a time when the prevailing line could be "don't call us, we'll call you" as interested young men and women compete for limited slots akin to joining the FBI or getting into a prestigious school.  Think about how small the Army will be when a single armored and heavily armed soldier can replace an infantry platoon or company. Most of the slots available will be for technicians to repair the "Starship Trooper" suits and drone operators and still more technicians - assuming the technicians are not mostly private contractors from the firms that developed the weapons.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What Are We Fighting For?

Nearly ten years into the War on Terror, now referred to as an overseas contingency operation by the Obama administration, and the gray, generic platitudes about the enemy persist. Who is the enemy? many would answer al-Qaeda and the recently deceased Osama Bin laden.  according to the mainstream script he was a fanatic who hijacked and used true Islam, "the religion of peace," for his own ends. What are those ends? To punish America for its haughty imperialism and support for Israel.  Unfortunately you do not have to talk to Michael Moore to hear this version of reality, you can read the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit Michael Scheuer.

The biggest problems with this whole line of reasoning is that it narrowly defines the enemy, reducing it to a small band of international criminals that can eventually be wiped out with drone attacks. Drone attacks are good, but regular enemy attacks continue to occur in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.  Can drones solve this? maybe if the enemy really were just al-Qaeda, but we face a large Islamic terrorist movement I refer to as militant Islamism.  Its adherents rally around the believe Allah commands faithful Muslims, through his revelations to Muhammad, to wage jihad against non-Muslims and apostate Muslims until there is only Islam.

You might respond with incredulity at their ambition, but we discount their sincerity at our own peril. Al-Qaeda is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the imperative to fight jihad for Allah is more than fourteen centuries old. Our military and political leaders are not doing us any favors when they fail to understand the true nature of the enemy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Decapitation Kill the Beast?

The good news is Atiyah abd al-Rahman, al-Qaeda's number two, was killed recently by a U.S. drone attack in northwest Pakistan.  The Obama administration has been making the argument that since Osama Bin laden was killed in May, the terrorist group may be in its last throws. A few more successes like Bin Laden and al-Rahman and it is game over.

This seems to be more wishful thinking and political rhetoric than sound strategic analysis.  Although I do not fully discount the possibility of intentional misinformation directed at the enemy, it is not likely given liberal's past opposition to potential disinformation tactics discussed during the Bush administration.

The administrations optimism might reflect a misunderstanding of militant Islamism and its adherents. al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups are not really analogous to the mafia crime families Americans are so familiar with because of "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos." Strip away its mythos, rituals and posturing and the Mafia is a business.  Make the cost of doing business too high through wire taps, arrests and prosecutions and you can cripple it.

Al-Qaeda is not a business concerned with risk versus profit. It is a group attached to a movement - a religious-ideological imperative animated by a sincere belief in the justness of their cause. Militant Islamism exists in a world defined by Allah, the Koran, Mohammed's life and fourteen centuries of history that teaches the waging Jihad until there is nothing but Islam.  There were long stretches of time when this imperative was suppressed by strong infidels, but it always simmered below the surface. Unfortunately we are living in a period where militant Islamism has boiled to the surface with a vengeance.

Conditions are favorable for an ascendent militant Islam that cows Muslims and is misunderstood and even coddled by the largely liberal, multicultural West. Terrorist groups on a mission from God can be destroyed, but is highly doubtful targeted killings and other limited counterterrorism tactics alone will bring strategic victory.  I am a little suspicious that the Obama administration's tactics and rhetoric are designed to allow it to make the case, in time for the 2012 election, that it has effectively neutralized al-Qaeda and won the "Overseas Contingency Operation" formally known as the War on Terror.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Disband the CIA

Congratulations to the dedicated and hard working Central Intelligence Agency and military personnel who worked for years to find Osama Bin Laden and make the mission that killed him possible.  There is a lot of credit to go around going back six or seven years as bits of intelligence were culled from informants, ease dropping, interrogations and captured documents. This is all good news - the bad news is that twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union the CIA has lived out its usefulness as a Cold War institution that looked out on relatively static, bipolar world defined by the United States vs. the Soviet Union.

Static is not a word used much to describe the world after 9/11, but words like upheavals, fluid and fragmented fit pretty well. Since the 1940's the agency has become bureaucratic tangle of regulations, interests and turf battles - a stereotypical Washington concern that employs some spies. Friction and inefficiency define civilian government and although the military is far from perfect, putting intelligence back in the hands of the military is the best solution.

Military intelligence is as old as militaries and worked pretty well much of the time because the military was producing intelligence for use by the military. The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence etc. only add layers and often barrier between the gathering, analyzing, dissemination and eventual use.  "Streamlining" needs to be a watch word just as "jointness" and "net-centric" are.  The fewer the agencies, organizations and people between the collector and user of the intelligence the better.

National security would benefit from a lean intelligence apparatus composed of Army Intelligence and Naval Intelligence.  This reset leaves room for entities like the National Security Agency which is already run by the pentagon. Existing laws would have to be modified by congress to accommodate these changes that would make U.S. intelligence more nimble and more accountable.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Limits of Counterterrorism Operations

The spectacularly successful raid into pakistan by SEAL Team Six that killed Osama Bin Laden highlighted what is best about targeted counterterrorism raids in the War on Terror - a high risk operation that reaped a big reward.  Unfortunately the recent operation in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of more than thirty special operations troops, including more than twenty SEALs underscores the high risk nature of aggressive operations that usually find commando units out numbered and out gunned by enemy forces at the point of attack.  According to accounts Army Rangers needed assistance so the big CH-47 twin rotor helicopter carrying the SEALs was diverted to help them and at some point was shot out of the sky by a Taliban RPG.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

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Friday, July 29, 2011

An Army of One

The Army replaced its slogan, "An Army of One" with "Army Strong," but it may someday need to go back to it with development continuing on the XOS Exoskeleton. The weapon system is being created at Sarcos-Raytheon, a U.S. military facility in Utah and could just change the face of warfare forever.

It can walk, climb stairs and run with hydraulic components duplicating and augmenting the soldier's movements. While the XOS has a long way to go, it is not hard to imagine where the Army would like to take this: the Mobile Infantry power suits of "Starship Trooper" fame. Perhaps in a decade or so these suits could be tank, gunship, cannon and infantry platoon all rolled into one. If this technology was made to work than the Army would theoretically only need about 1,200 grunts instead of the 49,000 it currently fields.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

There is no doubt that the U.S. military has a lot on its plate including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, transformation and looming budget cuts.  With all of this to deal with you have to wonder why the services have no been able to get their act together when it comes to camouflage.

 The particular digital patterns used by the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force seems like a minor issue at best. Maybe so, but why then is everyone still on a different page? The Army decided on a digital greenish-tan pattern, the Marines went with a more brown variation, but both continue to perform studies and are considering making changes. The Navy rolled out an eye-catching, but inexplicable sci-fi, bluish-green pattern that seems designed to blend in with the ocean.  The Air Force also went digital, but in a salute to nostalgia, opted for a tiger stripe pattern.

The military services have preached jointness and inter-service cooperation for the last two decades and they made some progress, but cooperating on a workable and economical camouflage uniform is a bridge too far. If they cannot solve this  then how are the really tough decisions regarding future weapon systems, force structure and strategic planning going to get done?

Friday, July 1, 2011

U.S. Army Marine Corps?

The last time the Marine Corps conducted an opposed amphibious landing was at Inchon, South Korea in September of 1950.  A lot has changed in sixty-one years, but the Marine Corps remains. What is to come of the Corps as the 21st century unfolds? Lt. General Dennis Hejlik wants to retain COIN skills as the Corps is steered back to its traditional role and away from its post 9/11 role as a conventional infantry outfit.  The problem is that the Marines' traditional role is amphibious assaults of defended beaches and its apogee came on Iwo Jima in 1945.

Today's missile technology makes an Inchon or an Iwo Jima type lading almost inconceivable today. This means hover crafts amphibious troop carriers are obsolete and amphibious assault ships are inefficient as currently configured. They need to be redesigned as helicopter/osprey assault ships or perhaps their function could be transfered to some existing and future aircraft carriers.

The Marine Corps must embrace a COIN role and its well positioned to do so as it is a lighter, more nimble force than the Army. More accurately, the Corps resembles the lighter Army units such as the 101st Air Assault and 82nd Airborne so it might make sense to blend the Corps into the Army. (Before Marines start sending me threats they might consider why it would be worse to be part of the Army than to be part of the Navy.) While the glory days of the past cannot be recaptured, with some reorganization, the Corps can remain a vital part of America's military in the 21st century.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Time is it in Afghanistan? Part V

President Obama recently announced the first 10,000 of the 30,000 surge troops he sent to Afghanistan in 2010 will be pulled out this summer. The remaining 20,000 will be pulled out in the summer of 2012. This decision is both tactically and strategically dangerous. Summer is the height of the fighting season in Afghanistan so to reduce the number of troops during the fighting after hard fought gains have been made risks reversing that success.

Obama's follow through on his previously announced pull out reinforces our enemies' and some of our allies' view that we would give up short of victory. Ending a war is not the same as winning a war as much as Obama and his aids would wish it so. Deliberately hamstringing ourselves could have serious strategic consequences for years to come as Obama's desire to "lead from behind" takes root.

 Giving up on he and other liberals used to call the good and necessary war can not be papered over with a surge in drone strikes because they can only have limited results and they tend to reinforce the view that the U.S. is reluctant to put boots on the ground where they are most needed, but where the fighting would be tough. In the fall of 2012 Obama will try to argue the war in Afghanistan is over, but eventually we will all be reminded that the enemy is looking at a different watch.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fade to Black

The Secretary of the Army decided to drop the black berets from active duty except for some ceremonial occasions.  This is a small, but important correction after ten years of a misguided policy and complaints from soldiers. The only thing it accomplished was to force the Rangers to drop their black berets and adopt a sand colored replacement (SF will still wear green and airborne has maroon.)

The Rangers should be allowed to reclaim the traditional black berets and the Army should refocus its attention on something more important - like what camouflage pattern is the best for the Middle East theaters!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

Former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was criticized for commenting that you go to war with what you have instead of what you wish you had.  He was not disparaging the military he was pointing out that there are always trade offs and imperfections in any system or institution.  Protection versus mobility has been a trade off armies have always had to deal with and there is not perfect solution. We have seen this with armored Humvees that role over easier than the lighter version, body armor that restricts soldiers' movements and MRAPs that are too heavy to transport efficiently.

The latest issue is the debate over whether to add additional padding to the inside of combat helmets. Studies indicate it could reduce head traumas, but the extra weight would increase neck and shoulder injuries.  The Army has decided to hold off for now on any modifications to the helmets.  Although it is not a perfect situation, it is probably the right decision until new technology makes helmets stronger without making them heavier.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Teaching to the Test

The U.S. Army is in the process of revamping its physical fitness tests. Sit ups are to be replaced by "rowers" and the 2 mile run with 1.5 mile run.  Also, the push up test is to be shortened from 2 minutes to 1 minute and an obstacle course with hurdles, an ammunition can carry and wounded soldier drag will be added. Army officials explained that the aim is to focus on "readiness" over simple fitness.

Regardless of the specific training program a more fit soldier, as defined by cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance and strength, is more ready to deploy than a less fit soldier. However, the duties of soldiers are too broad and diverse to use the specificity principle to train all soldiers with the same program.

Perhaps all soldiers should be treated as infantry from the moment they begin boot camp: this job entails specific demands including long foot patrols with heavy packs and then being ready to sprint behind a boulder ready to return fire. This is where the value of the wounded soldier drag would prove its worth and is the best change made to the tests. Even so, do they need to be tested on this or simply be strong enough to do it when called upon?

It would not be easy, but I suppose I am arguing that it would be more effective to make boot camp and all subsequent training more like infantry school to help prepare soldiers physically for how they will be truly tested during deployments. Two questions to consider here: Is the Army saying infantry units are not fit enough? Is this more of an issue among the more sedentary combat units?

Another change is that the scoring scales will be the same for men and women. This raises an alarm because if a lot of young women can score well on the tests it means they are too easy for the young men and are not useful. I do not think our politically correct military would design a fitness test that would have  women post poor scores. Would it design tests that demonstrate women are capable of performing in combat units?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reports of the Osprey's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The original tiltrotor vertical takeoff aircraft was canceled during President George H.W. Bush's presidency by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.  It was a problem child that ran up against the technological limitations of the day. Now, almost twenty years later the MV-22, "has had the lowest class A mishap rate of any rotorcraft in the Marine Corps during the past decade", according to the Naval Safety Center.

The Osprey was written just a few years ago as too expensive, too dangerous and just unworkable, but now is the cutting edge in tactical airlift capabilities.  After several years of deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq you would probably be hard pressed to find a military unit that would not want more of them. They will have to wait because as of April 2010 there were only about a dozen deployed with plans for fifty by 2016. This seems like a ridiculously small number given the Pentagon's own admission in the last Quadrennial Defense Review that the military was in serious need of more rotor craft.

More ground combat units supported by more helicopters and tiltrotors seems to be the way to go, but the trend toward smaller and smaller ground forces is moving forward. This means more and more reliance in missiles and air power which makes sense against a conventional power like China, but for at least the near future we will continue to fight tribal gangs with AK-47s and RPGs.  The Osprey can add to ground units' tactical superiority against all enemies, current and future.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Soul of the Army

No less an authority than George Washington believed, "discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all." More than all the new uniforms, UAV's or F-22s the Pentagon could buy, it depends on discipline for success. It is the glue that holds units together during tough training and deadly combat. This is why it is so disheartening to see signs of shakey discipline in the ranks.

After Michael Hastings's controversial article in Rolling Stone Magazine showing General Stanley McChrystal and his staff in an unflattering light led to the general's dismissal he has apparently become the reporter of refuge for disgruntled officers. His latest work alleges that Lt. Colonel Shawn Stroud illegally ordered Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes to use psychological operations techniques against selected politicians in an effort to "brain wash" them into supporting funding and troop increases.

A little bit of research seems to indicate that the incident boils down to a dispute over bureaucratic labels, organizational charts and an Army officer who should know better than to talk to anyone from Rolling Stone. Upon further questioning from the New York Times Holmes conceded that what he was asked to do was, "pretty innocuous."

Is this how warriors in war time behave? Is it too much to ask that military professionals handle disagreements like adults behind closed doors instead of slinking off to all too willing to give the Army another black eye? Discipline in the ranks is at least as important for Lt. Colonels as it is for Privates so before acting maybe Holmes should have asked himself, "What would George Washington do?"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Time is it in Afghanistan?: Part IV

Have 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden receded so far from the public consciousness that even good news about the fight in Afghanistan is not an important story? I suppose if our forces were being pushed out of Kandahar and Helmand province and suffering high casualties the media would be compelled to cover it. It seems the media has put itself in a box after years of decrying Operation Enduring Freedom as doomed to failure while George W. Bush was President they. Now with President Obama in the White House the far left has cooled the rhetoric but instead of trying to cover what is actually happening they have mostly ignored Afghanistan except to remind us that the Karzai government is corrupt and unreliable.

The truth seems to be that the surge of troops into Kandahar and Helmand has been quietly clearing the Taliban out of their strongholds in southern Afghanistan. As always it remains to be seen if these tactical victories can be translated into a strategic victory. Aside from the questions about the Afghan government, the biggest stumbling blocks are the sanctuaries in Pakistan and the half-hearted cooperation of the Pakistan government. Time still is not on our side, but perhaps our troops recent victories have bought them the time they need.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Owning the Night

For a twenty years the United States military has prided itself on owning the night. The Pentagon has invested considerable resources to field various kinds of night vision equipment for ground troops, pilots and surveillance. However, aside from the specialized sniper rifles the Army and Marine Corps has not paid a lot of attention to muzzle flash suppression. The muzzle designs of infantry weapons offer some level of performance, but given the amount of night fighting the Army and Marines have engaged in over the last ten years, dedicated muzzle suppression technology seems like an obvious area to address.

A recent article quoted an Army weapons procurement officer pointing out that the enemy's ability to shoot back suffers when they cannot see where shots are coming from.  You don't say?  One would assume our troops have been providing feedback on ways to improve night fighting capabilities for years so why has it taken so long to see action on this?

This blog is not intended as a complaint department, but I want the best for our troops and it seems that too many changes and improvements get swamped by bureaucratic inertia.  One can look at the continuing drama regarding the new camouflage patterns. (see some of my previous posts for more on camo issue.)  A common thread running through these issues seems to be to focus on big ticket technology at the expense of lower technology items needed by infantry squads.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ten Years in the Abyss

The ongoing violence in Egypt's major city reminds us that authoritarian leaders and regimes are better at putting down rebellions.  Although it remains to be seen how the situation will shake out in Egypt, the Muslim World is replete with examples of dictators crushing uprisings including Saddam's Iraq, the Taliban's Afghanistan Iran, and Syria.

The United States and its few allies have been combating a much more organized and dangerous form of violence for ten years: Militant Islamism.  This is a coordinated effort by many thousands of Muslims who believe Islam commands them to rid the world of all infidels or everyone who does not believe as they do.  This is not a political position that can be assuaged, bartered or compromised away as Western rulers want to believe.

What does this say about our long-term chances for success? As the film "Apocalypse Now" noted "Good does not always triumph over evil." The implication is that the forces of evil are willing and able to go to any lengths to prevail in the end and reasonable democratic leaders will eventually turn away from the abyss out of fear of becoming like the enemy. But was Rambo right? To win a war does one have to become war?  Current events in Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran do not bode well for Western hopes of a peace or even coexistence.  We seem to be fighting to not lose while our enemy is fighting for total victory whether that comes in the next year or in the next century.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: "Decision Points" by George W. Bush

 President Bush's book is not a traditional political memoir. It does not exhaustively chronicle his entire eight years in office, but instead discusses and explains the key decisions of his presidency. Supreme Court appointments, 9/11 and the War on Terror make up the central topics. "Decision Points" tackles these topics in Bush fashion: straight forward and unadorned. His simple prose may annoy the literary set, but the more practical minded will appreciate the refreshingly unaffected style.

The best chapter is the one that describes the surge of troops and change of strategy in Iraq near the end of 2006.  President Bush recounts the pressure he was under by the public and Democrat and Republican congressmen to withdraw troops and essentially admit defeat.  Bush makes it clear that he never gave up on the dedication of the troops or the aspirations of millions of Iraqis who who were struggling to build a better country.  His courageous decision and the Iraqi's ability to follow-through on their promises to help is an aspiring story of good triumphing over evil.

Those hoping for juicy White House gossip or the revelation of secret information will be disappointed. The war is ongoing so President Bush is restrained from releasing much new information, but the ultimate insider's account of a president at war is still compelling reading,