Going Home!

US Forces – Iraq is posting dozens of photos on its (soon to be inactive) Flickr photostream, documenting in photos the withdrawal of US troops from the country.  Here’s some from COB Adder.

Bend and Reach

Caption: Bend and Reach – Soldiers with the 20th Engineer Brigade, Headquarters Company, unload duffel bags to be palletized on Contingency Operating Base Adder Oct. 26. Service members palletized their equipment and personal gear for their flight out of Iraq.

Bag Drag

Caption: Bag Drag – Spc. Jon Diaz (left) and Spc. William Currier, with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 8th Cavalry Regiment, carry equipment to get palletized on Contingency Operating Base Adder Oct. 27. Soldiers palletized their gear to prepare for their flight out of Iraq.

Palletized And Ready To Go

Caption: Palletized And Ready To Go – Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 8th Cavalry Regiment, load their equipment onto pallets on Contingency Operating Base Adder Oct. 26. The C-130 aircraft carries soldiers and their palletized equipment out of Iraq.

Loading Up

Caption: Loading Up – Service members with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group load cargo containers onto a C-130 aircraft on Contingency Operating Base Adder Oct. 26. These aircraft have ferried the bulk of U.S. service members redeploying. The aircraft and crew are kept busy during the drawdown of forces in Iraq.

At the Terminal

Caption: At the Terminal – Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 8th Cavalry Regiment, pass the time before their flight at a terminal on Contingency Operating Base Adder Oct. 26. Waiting service members have access to wireless Internet and a supply of cold water. The 3rd BCT, who deployed to Iraq to support Operation New Dawn in February, oversaw the closing of Garry Owen before coming to COB Adder to redeploy.

That wait at the Terminal is always the worst.   Agonizingly slow, even with internet access to kill time.

There’s another story line emerging on the withdrawal.  Army Times offered a good report today discussing dispositions of equipment in Iraq.

Having a plan

Roamy here. I ran across this emergency preparedness plan today (it’s an Acrobat pdf file). Thursday was the six-month anniversary of the tornadoes that decimated Tuscaloosa, Hackleburg, and other cities across the South. The main transmission lines from the local power plant were destroyed by the tornadoes, leaving most of north Alabama without power. The longest power interruption I’d had before April was 36 hours. This time it was a week.

First, I will admit that we bailed and left town to spend a few days with my dad and stepmom, more from boredom and school being closed than any real need to get out of Dodge. Another spring break, if you will, but one where we had to plan our route out of town for the least number of dead traffic light intersections. There were morons who didn’t understand that becomes a four-way stop.

Second, this really showed me where I went right and wrong being prepared. We have a small generator, and the house is hard-wired to run fridge, freezer, and lights, but not HVAC off of it. We had enough gasoline to run it frugally, where we might run it for one hour out of 6 – 8 hours, enough to keep the food cold. We have a gas stove, so cooking was no problem; in fact, we loaned our gas grill to a neighbor who couldn’t get charcoal for his regular grill. We were glad we didn’t have to deal with the long lines at the grocery stores and driving an hour or more to find gas. We had plenty of food, clothes, blankets, cash (ATMs were dead, too, and few were taking credit cards), flashlights, batteries for the flashlights and a radio. We had a regular non-cordless phone on a land line, so family and friends knew we were okay.

Where I went wrong – water. The utilities were knocked out, too, and were running on generators. I scurried around, filling all my large pots with water, but what if there had been no warning? As it was, they were able to keep the water processing plants on line, but no one was sure of that in the early days.

Also where I went wrong – not being ready to bug out faster. This is probably more important in CA because of earthquakes or the coast because of hurricanes, but this has made me take a harder look at being ready.

While we had enough batteries for a while, once things settled down, I bought a couple of crank-type flashlights and am looking for a crank radio.

And this is silly, but I had only two chem-lights. Without any lights at all and a new moon, it was DARK. I woke up one night, opened my eyes, closed them, and couldn’t tell the difference. Rather than worrying about a burning candle, we used a chem-light as a nightlight for the kids (okay, and me, too).

Your thoughts on being prepared? What item were you grateful you had or were sorely missing?

What do you call a Stryker Brigade with no Stryker’s?

The Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) was the Army’s interim unit design to implement highly networked, highly mobile, lightly armored units. The Stryker itself was seen as an interim vehicle until the (now cancelled) Future Combat System family of vehicles were produced.

The SBCT organization was a carefully developed blend of infantry and supporting arms, and supporting services. A properly organized unit is more than the sum of its parts.

But we came across this blurb at Murdoc Online that the next SBCT to deploy to Afghanistan will actually leave its Styrkers behind.

3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is readying for a deployment to Afghanistan in December, and it will leave its fleet of roughly 300 eight-wheeled Strykers at home.

Instead, about 3,000 soldiers from the brigade will drive a mix of armored vehicles that are already in Afghanistan, such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) and its all-terrain variety, the M-ATV.

Hmm… Interesting.

I can think of two reasons to leave the Strykers behind, and fall in on a fleet of MRAPs and M-ATVs already in theater.

First, the original flat-bottomed Stryker is quite vulnerable to mines and IEDs. New production double-vee hulled Strykers are addressing this problem, but there aren’t a lot in service yet.  So perhaps 3rd BDE/2ID is looking to minimize its casualties from IEDs. Depending on where the brigade deploys in Afghanistan, IEDs may well be the greatest threat, and using the MRAP fleet would make sense.

The other possibility that occurs to me is less charitable to the motives of the Army. There’s a good deal of pressure to maximize resources, and minimize expenditures. Is it possible the Army is just trying to save the costs of shipping a brigade’s worth of Strykers half way around the world? Dunno…

At the rifle squad level, the impact of changing the vehicles shouldn’t be too bad. Drivers will be challenged to learn just how to drive the new (to them) vehicles. And there will be some reorganization on the fly, since MRAPs have different capacities than Strykers. Squad integrity may be slightly compromised.

When the Strykers were introduced, they were just about the only vehicles in the Army fleet using the Army’s networked battle management system. For the most part, the combat vehicle fleet has been equipped with the systems. Hopefully, that includes the MRAP/M-ATV fleet the 3rd BDE will use.

But at levels above the rifle squad, some issues could arise. At the company level, Stryker units are supposed to have organic fire support via Stryker MGS 105mm guns, and Stryker mounted mortar systems. At a minimum, these companies are going to have to do without the 105mm direct fires they’ve trained with. The mortar systems will probably be towed systems behind MRAPs.

The worst part of this is that the brigade went through its predeployment training on its Strkers, and not on MRAPs. They lost any chance to shake out any problems before hand. The chances of them having to relearn the hard way MRAP equipped units have already learned are pretty high.

NPP launch

Roamy here. Leave it to NASA to put an acronym in an acronym. The NPP spacecraft is scheduled to liftoff from Vandenberg AFB early Friday morning. NPP stands for NPOESS Preparatory Project; NPOESS stands for National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. NPOESS was to be the next generation of polar-orbiting, sun-synchronous weather satellites. Somehow I missed when the Obama administration cancelled it and ordered NOAA and DoD to develop separate systems. Both NOAA and DoD kept the original contractor, Northrup Grumman involved in the new satellites rather than pay the $84 million in contract termination fees. The new satellite system for NOAA is called Joint Polar Satellite System, where joint refers to NASA and NOAA, and seems to be more engineered to study climate change and monitor ozone, cloud formation, and temperature profiles. The new satellite system for DoD is the Defense Weather Satellite System.

NPP is a testbed for some of the new technology and builds on what we’ve learned from the DMSP, NOAA, and GOES weather satellites.

The launch vehicle is a Delta II, and this may be the last launch for the venerable system. Five Delta II rockets have been built but have not been publicly assigned a mission or launch date. Delta II has been the launcher for many NASA satellites – Dawn, Gravity Probe B, GRAIL, MESSENGER, Deep Space 1, Genesis, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (a.k.a. GLAST) and at least half a dozen Mars missions.

I’ll update with the launch video when it’s available. Launch time is 5:48 AM Eastern time.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg9Z0-WEQIQ&w=560&h=315]

USS Enterprise: The Beginning of End “Big E”

There was a time when USS Enterprise was the most famous ship in the world. It still is, but these days, most people think of the fictional starship rather than the world’s first nuclear-powered carrier. The real USS Enterprise was commissioned in 1961, which means that its long career of service must soon draw to a close. In April 2008, a $453.3 million contract covered the ship’s Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability for maintenance and upgrades – but reached over $660 million before all was said and done, and took 2 years.

That will keep “the Big E” going for a few more years. By 2014, however, USS Enterprise is scheduled to fade into history, to be replaced by the first ship [CVN 78] of the Gerald R. Ford Class. This time, there will be no reruns or syndication deals. When the end comes, plans and facilities for permanently decommissioning the ship and dealing with its 8 nuclear reactors will need to be ready…

via USS Enterprise: The Beginning of End “Big E”.

USS Enterprise sails with Long Beach and Bainbridge circa 1961

I’m gonna miss the old girl. My dad was sailing aboard her the very day I was born.

War News Updates: Coping With Rocket Attacks On The Afghan-Pakistan Border

Traveling at Mach 1.1, a 107-millimeter rocket gives little time for those along its path to react. Even if a counterbattery radar picks up an incoming rocket in flight, the warning might sound only a moment before the arrival of the rocket itself, barely allowing time to flinch. By then the rocket has either passed by or it has struck, delivering its warhead’s explosive blast.

via War News Updates: Coping With Rocket Attacks On The Afghan-Pakistan Border.

I keep meaning to do a post on the 107mm rockets (and older US 4.5″ rockets) and the US’s C-RAM system, but just haven’t gotten around to it.

Space pic of the day

Roamy here. On October 24th, a coronal mass ejection from the Sun led to some spectacular auroras visible in the United States. A Defense Meteorological Satellite (DMSP) provided this image of the geomagnetic storm.

A gallery of ground images is here.

Reader Avidus just mentioned the impact of weather on the battle of Agincourt; the DMSP program has been providing weather data for military planning since the 1960’s. While the GOES weather satellites are, by their very name, in geosynchronous orbit, the DMSP satellites and also the NOAA-17 and -18 satellites are in sun-synchronous, polar orbits, which are much lower in altitude and can show greater detail.

Spooky Shooting

We’ve written about gunships a few times, most prominently here.

We’ve also written about the Bofors 40mm gun. The only Bofors 40mm/60 guns currently in US service are aboard AC-130s. They’re old, hard to maintain, and ammo for them is becoming hard to sustain.

So the Air Force looked to replace the 40mm with a 25mm gun similar to the gun used on Marine AV-8B Harriers. While that worked, it was very maintenance intensive. So the Air Force next tried to use the Mk44 30mm Bushmaster cannon that was supposed to be the main armament of the Marines Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. But as it turned out, that gun had poor accuracy when mounted on the AC-130. So the 30mm’s were pulled and replaced with earlier guns, either 40mm or 25mm.

Defense Industry Daily has a bit of a timeline on some of the contracts that have been placed. 

Mostly, this post is an excuse to link some AC-130 video.



The Battle of Agincourt and the AirLand Battle Doctrine

Vastly outnumbered, trapped and in close terrain, facing hunger and disease, your flight to safe harbor cut off, what do you do? Attack. And win.

Henry V’s stunning defeat of the French on October 25, 1415 is famous to most folks as the setting of the oft quoted Saint Crispin’s Day speech by Shakespeare. But military historians also have long studied the battle as an example of how to fight outnumbered and win.

Henry V, already King of England, also claimed the title of King of France. As with so much else in the Hundred Years War, that claim was disputed. English kings had long claimed dominion over swaths of the French coastline. And truth be told, Henry V’s claim to the French crown was more an opening bargaining position, leverage to gain concessions from Charles VI. Charles VI, while willing to make concessions, wasn’t willing to grant the entirety of the lands Henry sought. France had been chipping away at English held lands in France for decades. Conceding any more than necessary seemed foolish.

Negotiations having failed, Henry V  launched a campaign to regain control of the port town of Harfleur. From August to early October, Henry’s forces besieged and later occupied the town. With the end of summer, the traditional campaigning season, Henry decided to retire his back to England. Disease had weakened his ranks, and the poor weather approaching would only worsen that situation. But rather than redeploying directly from Harfleur, Henry decided to “show the flag” throughout Normandy, reminding the locals that he had an army that could travel the region at will, and depart from Calais. 

The French had moved to raise an army to challenge Henry. While this force was not ready in time to relieve the siege of Harfleur, the French saw an opportunity to run Henry to ground and destroy his force.

After about two weeks of maneuvering, the French finally succeeded in blocking Henry’s route of escape to Calais. Near the village of Agincourt, the French held the northern end of a small gap in the woods. To get home, Henry would have to fight.


Henry had a force of roughly 1500 “men at arms”- that is, armored knights fighting as heavy dismounted infantry. In addition, he had approximately 7000 longbowmen.

The French were far more numerous. Historians were a bit less fastidious back then so estimates vary widely, but it is generally accepted the French had around 10,000 men at arms, and several thousand  archers and crossbowmen.

English doctrine at the time would normally have dictated that Henry stand of the defensive and allow the French to attack him. That had been the tactic at Crecy. And given that Henry’s force had been forced marched some 250 miles in two weeks, and was already weakened by disease, Henry probably would have preferred to defend.  But the French, having blocked Henry’s route, were in no great hurry to attack. If they could keep him contained just a day or so longer, additional overwhelming forces could arrive and strike his forces in the rear. In military terms, this is a “double envelopment.” The destruction of Henry’s forces would be almost guaranteed.

Henry, realizing French offers of negotiations were a delaying tactic, seized the initiative. He attacked. But no headlong charge, this.  Henry moved his line forward to a natural choke point between the woods, where the field was only about 750 yards across. He halted here with his flanks secured by the woods and arrayed his men-at-arms in line. Meanwhile, his longbowmen, arrayed on either flank, advanced to within range (about 300 yards) of the French. The French planned to scatter the English archers with a cavalry attack, but were caught off guard by the English advance. As soon as the English archers reached their positions, they dug in long pointed spears, or palings,  at a low angle to ward of any cavalry charge (similar to what you may have seen in Braveheart). In range, the archers began their volleys.

The French were thus baited into joining the battle. The French cavalry charge was disorganized and lacked weight. The cavalry was unable to turn the archers flanks because of the thick woods, and unable to penetrate the line due to the archers palings.

With the failure of the cavalry charge, the French main body advanced to join the battle.  They faced two main challenges. First, the open field had recently been ploughed, making any movement slow and arduous. Having volleys of arrows falling upon them didn’t help any. Second, the first echelon of French men-at-arms was so large on such a narrow front that men were crowded together so tightly there wasn’t room to swing a dead cat, let alone a broadsword.  When the French cavalry retreated from its rebuff against the archers, it fell back through the first of the French main body, causing further confusion.

When the first French echelon finally reached Henry’s forces, is was more a mob than a military formation. And it paid a price. While it had some success in pushing Henry’s line back, it failed to penetrate the line. The second echelon of French forces arrived and simply ended up stacked up behind the first. On such a narrow front, they simply couldn’t get through the crowd to reach the English. Soon they too lost their formation and were a milling mob.  Having marched hundreds of yards over muddy terrain wearing heavy armor, French forces were badly fatigued. Still, the sheer weight of the assault would have eventually worn down the English. But Henry’s forces had one counterstroke left.

The English archers, having exhausted their supply of arrows, surged forward from their positions. Abandoning their longbows for swords, they slammed into the French flanks and a melee ensued. Unencumbered by armor, and swifter of foot without armor, they were able to quickly kill, wound or simply topple over thousands of the French men-at-arms. Knocked into the mud wearing 60 pounds of armor meant just getting back on your feet was an almost impossible task. They had little choice but to surrender and beg quarter.

Henry’s forces had decisively defeated the first two waves of the French attack. Thousands of prisoners had been taken. But there was still a third echelon of French forces, and even it outnumbered the English. Normally, captured men-at-arms were held for ransom. A knight who captured two or three French knights could look forward to receiving enough ransom to offset his costs of serving his king, and still probably have enough for a tidy profit. But Henry still faced that third wave of Frenchmen, who appeared to be gathering for their own assault. Accordingly, he ordered all prisoners put to the sword. This was an unpopular decision, but within the accepted laws of war at the time. A relative handful of the most noble blooded prisoners were spared, mostly as droits of the crown.

Seeing the utter defeat of the first two waves, the remaining French forces quit the field and fled to safety. The battle was over.

It was a decisive victory. But Henry’s immediate objective remained unchanged, to return to England. In less than a month, Henry would be in London, hailed a conquering hero. The military victory solidified his political force at home. Further, it reinforced in Continental  minds the English superiority at arms. The defeat also caused great dissention amongst the various factions in France. This dissention would mean future expeditions to  France would face an enemy that lacked unity and were easier to defeat or discourage.

Fast forward almost 600 years, and you’ll find that NATO faced some of the same challenges as Henry.

The NATO powers were greatly outnumbered by the forces of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Similarly, the for the NATO forces, retreat wasn’t really an option, though for different reasons. Normally, an outnumbered force would look to trade space for time, attriting the enemy in a series of small battles, but never being pinned to one battlefield, always retreating before they could be destroyed. But politically, NATO forces had to hold the line as far forward as possible. Besides, as big as Western Europe is, there is only so much room to retreat before Soviet forces would have reached the Atlantic.

In the post-Vietnam era, GEN William DePuy and other thinkers were striving to develop a doctrine that would allow the outnumbered Western powers to fight outnumbered and win. They started with a careful consideration of history. I don’t know for a fact that they studied Agincourt, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t come across it at some point. One of the things they did learn, however, was that outnumbered forces, even overwhelmingly outnumbered forces, seemed to win just about as often as they lost. What did the winners have in common? Quite often, they had what the authors of AirLand Battle Doctrine came to call “agility.”

Agility is far more than the physical quickness we might think of, such as an outstanding running back. That was an imp0rtant component, to be sure. But the other part was an ability to see and evaluate risks and opportunities faster than the opposing force. Henry was quickly able to grasp that the terrain at Agincourt offered him an opportunity to nullify the French advantage in numbers. The French, on the other hand, wasted any opportunity their delaying tactics provided to shape the coming battle. Henry’s force was far more agile, both in the mental sense, and in the physical sense of his longbowmen not being overly burdened.

AirLand Battle doctrine saw a scenario where a US division might have to defeat as many as nine Soviet divisions. By carefully choosing where to meet the Soviets, they could force them to become congested along narrow fronts, providing a rich array of targets for US tanks, while also striking deep with artillery to prevent follow on echelons from lending their own weight to the battle. Artillery, attack helicopters, and air strikes, much like the archers of old, would sow confusion among following Soviet forces. It’s not an accident that the AH-64D Apache is nicknamed “Longbow” as they were intended to slip along the flanks and attack the second echelon of Soviet forces before they joined the battle.

And while artillerymen and Apaches couldn’t fall upon the flanks and fight hand to hand, every US division and corps commander would constantly be looking for the opportunity to slip a brigade into position to slam into an unguarded Soviet flank, especially when he could bloody their noses by making them attack positions strong enough to cause congestion and confusion.

There’s a hoary old saying that amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics. And at the strategic level, that’s true to some extent. But that doesn’t mean the professional ignores tactics. At the operational and tactical level, where the fighting is actually done, the professional soldier, to some extent, just has to take it on faith that his logistics train will keep up. Accordingly, he must be more tactically proficient than his foe, and equipped with a doctrine that emphasizes his strengths and exploits his enemy’s weaknesses. A careful study of history shows there is rarely something new under the sun.

As to Shakespeare’s most excellent speech in Henry V, and its powerful message on morale, moral strength and the Band of Brothers, perhaps we’ll cover that in our birthday message next year.