GITMO 2008

There’s a lot of controversy over what to do with the detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that detainees from the war on terror held there have the right of habeous corpus and may challenge their detention in federal (civilian) court.

This was a terrible decision, incorrectly injecting the civilian courts into what is and has always been a matter for the military. Given, however, that the Court wants to interject itself into this matter, Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert of Texas has, in a spirit of cooperation, proposed legislation to help the court carry out its desires. How? Ship the detainees and put them on the grounds of the Supreme Court.

As  a personal aside, I never made it to Guantanamo. I came pretty close though. Back in the 90s, by battalion from Ft. Carson was ordered to Gitmo for six months to help run the refugee camps there for Hatian and Cuban boat people. I was away at an Army school for about three of those months, and spent the rest of the time on the “rear detachment” running the home office, as it were. Most of the guys kinda liked Gitmo itself (except for being away from their friends and families). They liked the Cubans. The Cubans were mostly families and pretty much ran their own camps, setting up work rosters and running classes and staging entertainment for themselves. The Hatians were another matter. They came from a society so dysfunctional that they couldn’t even help run their own camp. Just a quick glance at a photo would tell you which camp was wich. One was spotless, with walkways lined by rocks and a sense of ownership apparent in each tent. The dirty, trashy ones? Hatian.

And, no, they weren’t torturing anyone. People in either camp were free to leave anytime. They just couldn’t come to the US.

Gunfight!

A couple of weeks ago, one of the guest posters over at Ace’s place asked for advice on what type of pistol to buy. He got about 175 comments. I thought to myself, “That’s a lot of responses to a question with only one right answer.”

Behold, the M1911A1 .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol. From 1911 to the mid 1980s, the .45 was the standard pistol for the US armed forces. When the last production run from WWII was wearing out in the early 80s, the Army, under pressure from Congress to adopt the NATO standard 9mm cartridge, selected the Berretta Model 92 as the replacement. This pistol, now known as the M9, is still the standard sidearm of the US forces.

Now, the M9 isn’t a bad pistol, per se. It is reliable, easy to shoot, and carries 15 rounds. The problem is that it isn’t a .45. You hear a lot of stories about people with small hands having trouble with the .45. Women were said to be intimidated by it. Frankly, I think that’s a lot of crap. I used to take a lot of women shooting, and none ever had any problems with the .45.

Truth be told, though, not a lot of people in the service will shoot a pistol. Most folks will carry either an M16 or an M4, or something heavier. I only qualified with a pistol a couple of times during my service. I fired a rifle for qulification at least every six months. I used to do an awful lot of pistol shooting on my own time though. I used to be a driver for  a Lieutenant Colonel in Germany. When the time came for him to qualify with his weapon ( a .45) I challenged him to a match. Side by side, we fired the standard qualification. He was a little peeved that I beat him. He was really peeved that I spent the whole time chatting with the Range NCOIC.

When I was a kid, the only thing we had to play with was dirt, and we were lucky to get it…

Dirt is a natural part of an infantryman’s life. He is coated with it, spends a lot of time rolling around in it, gets it in his hair, all over his skin, in his nostrils and every other orifice. It is the bane of his existence. It is also his best friend.

Dirt does an amazing job of stopping bullets. I spent a fair percentage of my time in the field digging holes with just that property in mind. What your Grandpa called a foxhole, we now call a “fighting position”.

And if you can’t dig a hole, because, say, you are in a city, you can fill sandbags with it.

Sandbags are surprisingly good at stopping bullets. A single properly filled sandbag will stop a 7.62mm round from point-blank range. It takes an enormous number of sandbags to defend a position, however. If you have a fairly large area that needs protection, you can use a Hesco barrier. This is a modern take on sandbagging. Basically, it is a series of open bins that you can fill. It works pretty well, and you can use a front end loader to fill them, making it very quick to set up.

Trust me, it beats filling it by hand...
Trust me, it beats filling it by hand...

In addition to stopping bullets, sandbags and hescos stop RPG rounds, and shell fragments. They also will stop a carbomb by acting as a vehicle barrier, and deflecting most of the blast.

The Stryker

For 60 years, the Army has had a balance between light and heavy units. Heavy units had tanks and armored personnel carriers. Light units had no tanks and depended on foot infantry.

Heavy units had great firepower and could move rapidly over short distances. They were capable of taking on Soviet tank and motor rifle divisions in the Fulda Gap of Germany. They had the protection and mobility to survive in a high intensity battle. But the had shortcomings as well. They were handicapped by difficult terrain like mountains and dense forests. They needed a huge supply and logistical tail to keep them running. They had a large percentage of their troops devoted more to maintanence than to fighting. They were expensive to equip and to operate. But worst of all, it was hard to move them from the US to wherever the fight was. As a practical matter, they could only be moved by large cargo ships.

Light units, on the other hand, moved on foot mostly, and could operate in terrain that would stop tanks cold. They could be moved by air (in fact, every thing and every one in the 82nd Airborne division could be parachuted into the fight). They required less logistical support and fewer troops were dedicated to maintanence. The biggest part of the light divisions were the 9 infantry battalions and their supporting artillery. But this came at a price. Once you got them into the theatre where the fight was, they were hard to move around. They moved at a walking pace. They didn’t have a lot of firepower compared to a heavy division.

The dilema faced by the Army was how to field a force that could be moved to a foreign country quickly, and still have the mobility and firepower inherent in a mounted force. The answer the Army  came up with was the Stryker Family of vehicles.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

The Strykers are an attempt to find a middle ground between heavy and light- a happy medium as it were. The basic vehicle was adapted from a the latest version of a Canadian design from the late 1970s.  This is the Stryker ICV or Infantry Carrier Vehicle. As you can see, it is an 8 wheeled armored truck. Wheeled armored vehicles are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as armor has. But in addition carrying a squad of infantry, the ICV has a remote controlled .50 caliber machine gun and a thermal weapon sight, giving it the ability to provide limited fire support. It is also equipped with the latest battlefield network system to give the crew and passengers a clear picture of where they and their companions are on the battlefield. While the passengers can fight while mounted, through hatches above the rear compartment, the ICVs main job is to deliver the squad to the fight, where they will dismount to close with the enemy. The Stryker just doesn’t have the armor to withstand hits from antitank weapons. Its main defense against them is to use its speed and mobility to avoid them.

But a fighting unit is more than just infantrymen (as much as it pains me to admit). When the Army bought the Stryker, they bought several versions designed to give supporting units a vehicle that could keep up with the ICVs with the same level of protection and, since they were based on the same vehicle, minimizing the logistics and maintanence needed to support them.  There are mortar carriers, headquarters vehicles, a version for combat engineers and an ambulance to evacuate casualties.

Since the infantry troops don’t have a lot of heavy weapons to fight tanks, or take out bunkers, the Army developed a special version of the Stryker to provide just a little more punch- The Stryker MGS or Mobile Gun System. This is a Stryker with a special turret mounting a 105mm cannon. The turret is unmanned. The crew of the MGS is in the hull, and controls the turret and the weapons from there.  This is NOT a tank. Again, it just doesn’t have the armor to act like a tank. But it does give the infantry a lot of punch when and where they need it.

The Stryker has taken a lot of critisism from folks because it has fairly light armor. When compared to a Bradley or an M-1 tank, they complain that it is too light. But the fact of the matter is, the army used to have several divisions of troops that had no armor at all. Compared to riding around in a Humvee, the Stryker is far safer.

Check out this Stryker I found at Murdoc’s old place:

Sure, the ICV is a total loss, but there was only one wounded as a result of a roadside bomb.

Here’s a chart showing the organization of a Stryker infantry company:

click to enlarge

And here’s a couple of youtubes:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC0PiFRuBWI]

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=41CpIA1Jytk]

If you want to SOAR with the eagles…

One of the results of the disatrous “Desert One” hostage rescue attempt in Iran was a recognition by the Army that its special operations would require special aviation. The result was first known as Task Force 160, and later it was expanded to become the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment or 160th SOAR. This unit is equipped with modified H-60 Blackhawks, H-47 Chinooks, and MH-6 and AH-6 “Little Birds”. Since virtually all their operational flying takes place at night, the unit named themselves “The Nightstalkers”.

Those of you who watched the movie “Blackhawk Down” have seen the Nightstalkers in action. They played themselves, as it were. For a little more eye-candy on the Nightstalkers, check this out.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucf_OI8XH1M]

Gunship Lite

We talked about the evolution of the gunship earlier. Now comes news of the next step in the evolutionary chain.

The AC-130U is pretty much what the Air Force wants in a gunship. The only drawback really, is the cost. They run about $190 million each. That means the Air Force cannot buy a whole lot of them. The folks at Special Operations Command (SOCOM) see a need for more gunships, but admit that they don’t always need the whole AC-130 package. The proposed compromise is to convert a smaller transport into a less capable, but less costly gunship. The idea is to use the “new” C-27J as the base of this gunship.

I put the “new” in quotations because it is a new airplane… sorta. The C-27J Spartan is based on the Italian G.222 transport from the 1960s. But much like the C-130 was “rebooted” as the C-130J with new engines and avionics, the Spartan has been updated to the point where it is pretty much a new type. New engines, propellers and avionics make the Spartan far more capable than previous versions.

The US never operated the G.222, but recently has been searching for a robust small transport to move priority cargo and personnel. The C-27J fits the bill. It can get into and out of very small airstrips while still carrying a useful load. It can’t carry nearly as much as a C-130, but it costs much less and will be cheaper to operate. It won’t replace the Herk, but will fill a niche role in support of outposts and some special operation forces. In fact, both the Army and the Air Force will purchase and operate Spartans.  While the Gunship Lite idea is just getting started, the Spartan has been on the market for a while now, and is enjoying considerable sales success with our allies.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31TwWT5QTvo]

Correction: The Air Force bought 10 G.222s and renamed them C-27A, using them to support operations in Panama and South/Central America.

Tank Gunnery

We’ve talked a bit about the M-1 Abrams tank before, and in some of our posts, we’ve discussed gunnery qualifications for Bradley crews.

Tank gunnery qualification is almost identical in structure to Bradley qualification. This video shows some crews firing the day qualification in Germany. After they finish this, they’ll go back and do it again at night.

During the actaul qualification, each run is videotaped, and the radio and intercom are recorded to assist in grading the crews. Crews are scored on accuracy, speed, and technique-such as issuing the proper fire commands and proper driving technique.

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=U9Za-aDVgMc]

The targets are mostly plywood, designed to fall after being hit. Since the rounds only leave a small hole, they can be used again and again. Many times, when it looks like a  round has hit behind the target, it really has gone through the target, and is scored as a hit. Just look for the target falling.