Saturday, November 24, 2012

Camouflaging Common Sense

When I was in elementary school in the 1980's and decided i wanted to be a Green Beret the four services were preparing to fight the massive Soviet military machine known as the Red Army.  Somehow however, the four services were able to function using one primary camouflage pattern for their uniforms.  it was a woodland pattern suited for Europe, parts of Asia and the Americas.  When Desert Storm hit the pentagon pulled the now somewhat infamous "chocolate chip" desert pattern fatigues.

While new patterns were tested and a new desert pattern emerged around the time of OEF, the explosion of new camouflage patterns would soon begin.  The Marine Corps kicked it off with a nod to the Canadians who had developed a digital camouflage pattern.  After OIF the Marines began issuing two digital patterns: a green and brown woodland pattern and a brownish desert pattern.  Soon after the Army jumped in with its Universal Camouflage Pattern that was designed to be suitable for many different environments, but remained unpopular.  The Army began issuing a different pattern called Multicam in 2010 that has proven to be popular.

This near fetish continued continued in the midst of the GWOT as the Navy introduced 3 new digital patterns: a strange sci-fi blue/green pattern as well as 2 patterns similar to the Marine Corps patterns.  The Air Force got into the game with a retro tiger stripe pattern updated with the digital format.

A September 2012 Government Accountability Office report described this debacle as a fragmented approach as putting troops at risk and wasting millions of dollars on what are essentially fashion decisions.  No matter how much more effective research and testing can make camouflage patterns, they are still limited in how much any camouflage clothing can conceal the troops on the battlefield.  Going forward, all the services should be compelled to accept the Multicam pattern so everyone can get on the same page and then get back to focusing on more important issues like trying to make do with serious budget cuts.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What Would Ethan Allen Do?

The proud history of the Army Rangers goes back to before the Revolutionary War with Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys of Vermont.  Reaching legendary status with its exploits during World War II the Rangers continue to be one of the Army's most elite combat units.  The Obama administration's drive to transform the military by pushing females closer to combat jobs may be a boon to their careers, but is it a boon for combat effectiveness?  (What does this change say about the effectiveness/rigor of Ranger school?)

General Odierno believes failing to allow women to enroll in Ranger school and earn their tabs would hinder their infantry careers. Was there a time when this kind of politically correct drivel would have gotten you retired?  What infantry careers?Just because they are being assigned to units below Brigade level does not mean they are infantrymen, excuse me infantrypeople. Women will be allowed to serve in support capacities such as personnel, logistics chaplaincy and intelligence.

The Pentagon needs to check itself before it lets itself get carried away by an administration that seems to have more invested in gender politics than it does in the long-term effectiveness of the military and American national security.  If women are just as qualified to go to Ranger School, serve as Marine Corps infantry officers are become Navy SEALs than they can be put in all female units just as there have always been all male units.  Where would this fall in the politically correct triangulation the administration is so busy calculating?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Much has been made of the Obama administration's stepped up drone strikes in the wild regions of Pakistan.  There is no doubt that killing al-Qaeda, Taliban and other enemy forces where ever they are found is a good thing.  Similarly the spectacular death of Osama Bin Laden was, well - spectacular, but his death nor the small scale bombing program carried out by drones represent strategic moves.  Over the long term they are effective on the tactical level only.  A strategic breakthrough will not come through commando raids or at discussions in Kabul and Islamabad.  Ground zero has always been the wild tribal regions where the enemy is allowed to hide, train and rearm before crossing the border back into Afghanistan.  Everyone tends to focus on COINs idea about protecting the population while forgetting another one - eliminate the enemy's safe havens.

The case of Iraq is more disturbing because President Obama may have made a tactical calculation that it was better for his reelection chances to not negotiate a new SOFA with Iragi leaders when the original one expired at the end of 2011.  The administration cannot argue it was a smart strategic move to pull U.S. forces out of an unstable country that we hope to have as a stable ally, but is coveted by our greatest enemy, Iran. The hard, expensive and bloody work was accomplished under the Bush administration and all that was required of the Obama administration was to maintain the successes - in other words to not let the nearly trillion dollars and more than 4,000 American lives be in vain.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

No Massacre at Gun Ri?

I have written a number of articles on military history and military affairs for, but none of them caused the kind of reaction my last one did.  I wrote about 5 massacres perpetrated by American troops stretching from the Spanish American War/Filipino Insurrection to the Vietnam War.  "Massacre" is a very loaded word and I resisted the use of the word for some of the incidents in conversations with my editor, but he gets the final word.

Many people have hear of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War or the Massacre at wounded Knee at the end of the Indian Wars.  While the My Lai case is a pretty clear-cut case of atrocities, the others are a lot less clear.  A little research shows there are several versions of events with different sets of facts and motives.  The No Gun Ri incident during the Korean War is one example: A number of South Korean civilians were killed in the midst of some heavy fighting in July 1950, but it gets complicated after that.

One reader contacted me to say I was basically white-washing the cold=blooded murder of innocent civilians by U.S. troops.  He did not provide any good evidence, but he was passionate that Americans were at fault.  He seemed to completely discount the idea that the troops accidently killed civilians in the chaos and confusion of war and as the Communists were infiltrating the ranks of the civilian refugees to advance the American lines.  The deaths of civilians in war is always a tragedy, but a massacre?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Time is it in Washington?

After writing several installments of "What Time is it in Kandahar and Afghanistan?" recent events in Afghanistan seem to be bringing matters to a real crisis point. Unfortunately in D.C. it is time for another Presidential election.  But this has been a problem several years in the making.  Ever since President Obama ordered more troops to Afghanistan in the same speech that he set a timetable for withdrawal Operation Enduring Freedom began to unravel.

 I am under no illusions that Afghanistan was not a near impossible proposition on a good day, but that is the point.  The mission was tough enough before Obama, despite arguing during the 2008 campaign that OEF was the good war and would get his full attention. His change of course, no matter how it was sold by the administration, was the beginning of a withdrawal and it was recognized as such by U.S. allies and enemies alike.

The Obama administration like to tout the fact that it killed Bin Laden and has made generous use of drone strikes in Pakistan and I give it credit for these.  However, the administration very likely has sacrificed strategic victory in Iraq and Afghanistan for a string of tactical successes.  Leaving is not winning, but the Obama administration has not wanted to confront the true nature of the Global War on Terror.  In an election year, it will be too tempting to declare victory and try to wash their hands of it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"That's a Hell of a price to Pay for Being Stylish"

Clint Eastwood's hardened cop Dirty Harry pointed out a universal truth when he expressed grave doubts about promoting less than qualified female police officers because of political correctness.  The Pentagon's recent decision is along these lines because some women in the military as well as activist groups have been pressuring it to get on board with the politically correct notion of promoting women even though they lack a common requirement: combat experience.  Now two things seem to be happening; one is a broadening of the definition of combat experience and allowing women to serve below the battalion level so they will be closer to "the front."

Women have been combat pilots since the Clinton administration, but for now common sense among the service chiefs continues to keep women from serving in combat units such as infantry, armor and Special Forces.  There may be a change coming to artillery branch, but more research is needed.  Millions of women have served with distinction in a number of critical roles, including roles that brought them directly into harm's way, but this is not really a reason to up end what remains of our most effective units.  I understand that women feel they have been short-changed sometimes with promotions, but like every other person in the military, they have to understand that the good of the service comes before personal considerations.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can You Hear the Thunder?

Another round of budget cuts is being pushed forward by the Obama administration and there is a new push to drop the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt.  The Air Force has being trying to get rid of the ugly, slow ground attack plane.  However, up to now it has survived the fire partly because it is beloved by the Army and Marines who are the actual beneficiaries of the A-10s' effectiveness.  it is not glamorous and sleek like the F-22 or B-2, but does anyone want to argue that those planes have played a more important role over the last ten years or are likely to in the next ten years?

It should not be a matter of choosing one over the other; the truth is we need F-22s, A-10s, B-2s, C-17s and C-130s as well as a host of helicopters and UAVs.  The Air Force's historical and institutional prejudice toward strategic bombers and strike aircraft is both understandable and unacceptable giving the evidence of the last 50 years that the Air Force has been needed much more as a surveillance, cargo and ground attack component of the military than as either as a bomber force or in air to air combat.

All of the talk of jointness notwithstanding, too much separation been allowed between the Army and Air Force which probably started even before the two were formally separated in 1947.  Politicians can pretend the GWOT is going away and that the horrific budget deficit can be balanced on the back of the Pentagon, but even a glance at the Federal budget should be enough to convince one that wiping out the Pentagon would not put much of a bite in the leviathan of debt medicare and the other unsustainable entitlements represent.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rumsfeld Rules! Part II

When Mr. Rumsfeld took over at the Pentagon in 2001  he had a mandate from President Bush to begin to transform the military from the Cold War force it had remained even as it had shrunk by about half during the 1990's.  Officials in the Obama administration have tried to characterize the recent plans for massive budget cuts to military spending as somehow a continuation of the Bush/Rumsfeld transformation.  However, this clearly wrong since one of the first things Mr. Rumsfeld did was request a sizable increase in funding.  In the spring and summer of 2001 most congressmen were not eager to act on this, but of course that changed after 9/11.

Significant increases were approved by congress; there was enough money to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and offer assistance in the Philippines and the Horn of Africa, but there was no big defense buildup as was seen under President Reagan in the 1980s.  Equipment and personnel were replaced but there was not significant beefing up of forces.  For example, Rumsfeld's successor Secretary Gates cut back production on the F-22 and Secretary Panetta has recently slowed production of the the F-35.  Everyone complained about not having enough troops to fight the GWOT, but the Bush administration never made a big push to increase the ranks and the Obama administration wants to actually reduce the Army and Marine Corps.

The Obama policy might be cynically summarized as an attempt to weaken the military to the point that it is no longer a question of should we engage an enemy like Iran?, but can we? A  smaller military with aging equipment will be seen as less and less capable of mounting effective offensive operations.  The administration insists the force will not be hollowed out but what will we have in five or ten years when we have not begun to make serious spending commitments for new weapons like next generation tanks, attack helicopters and long range bombers?  What about a replacement for the M4/M16 that offers more firepower?  Is all of this going to be left in limbo until drones are deployed to replace most of the manned systems?  Rumsfeld's Pentagon unveiled an ambitious program of next generation upgrades and weapons procurements, but these were mostly canceled by the Obama administration.  The legacy of Defense Secretary Panetta remains to be seen but it does but it does not appear to be one of a resurgent and reinvigorated military, it feels like it will be more like the apathy of the 1970s.