Hagel on Force Structure

I think it was fair to say I wasn’t a fan of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel being nominated as Secretary of Defense.

Having said that, he’s not totally managed to infuriate me so far. Indeed, by quashing the fatuous Distinguished Warfare Medal (ie, the Drone Medal) he’s earned a tiny bit of goodwill from me.

And now comes news that in a speech at National Defense University, Sec. Hagel said another bit of common sense:

“Today the operational forces of the military — measured in battalions, ships, and aircraft wings — have shrunk dramatically since the Cold War era. Yet the three- and four-star command and support structures sitting atop these smaller fighting forces have stayed intact, with minor exceptions, and in some cases they are actually increasing in size and rank,” Hagel said.

The last major revision of the DoD establishment was the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.  Perhaps in the almost 30 years since then, the strategic picture has changed a bit.

I do think massive cuts to the overhead of the services could be instituted with little real diminishment on our true combat power. Mind you, the institutional side of the services are important. Much of the immense combat power of the US resides in our ability to “systemize systems.”  But a hard look at the accretion of staffs and positions, I suspect, would show a great many that are more self-licking ice cream cones than eventual precursors to combat power.

I strongly suspect that devolving some power from the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) back down to the services, particularly in the area of acquisition, might streamline processes.

We shall see.

Morning Links and Stuff

If someone is shooting at you, should you fight back, or simply wait passively for the bullet with your name on it? The NYT seems a little surprised Option One is even on the table.

Research on mass shootings over the last decade has bolstered the idea that people at the scene of an attack have a better chance of survival if they take an active stance rather than waiting to be rescued by the police, who in many cases cannot get there fast enough to prevent the loss of life.

In an analysis of 84 such shooting cases in the United States from 2000 to 2010, for example, researchers at Texas State University found that the average time it took for the police to respond was three minutes.

The next to last line of the article is a bit annoying.

What she worries about most, she said, is that spree shootings are becoming so common that she suspects people have begun to accept them as a normal part of life.

There’s not really an upsurge in spree shootings, but instead, the perception that there is an upsurge.


Is there an increase in misconduct by senior leaders, or an increase in holding senior leaders accountable for misconduct?

Three general officers have been censured for misconduct recently.

The cases have exacerbated concerns about the ethics and personal behavior of senior military officers, a problem that has bedeviled the Pentagon in recent months despite repeated pledges to address it.

That paragraph implies that recent disciplinary measures are in spite of Pentagon efforts to address ethical shortcomings.  But it seems to me that the WaPo misses the equally likely scenario where these three general officers were disciplined because of renewed efforts to focus on ethics. Bit of a chicken/egg scenario.


Is DoD too big to manage?  Robert Kozloski has a great post over at USNIblog.

Since it’s creating in 1947, DoD has ever increased the centralization of power. Arguably, the service secretaries and their staffs are little more than just another bureaucratic layer, vestigial accretions. But centralized planning tends to also reduce initiative and decrease intellectual agility. The last major reform of DoD was Goldwater/Nichols of 1986. It was specifically designed to improve the DoD in a Cold War scenario. We’ve been post-Cold War for an entire generation now. Is it time to break out the re-org boots? What should a revised DoD/service staff structure look like?


Oracle Team USA is a stunning technological achievement. A sailboat hydrofoil moving along at 40 knots is just… insane.


Still, there’s a part of me that really wishes the America’s Cup would return to the old 12-meter boat rules.


Sad, but true.

“Frankly, I don’t know what it is about California , but we seem to have a strange urge to elect really obnoxious women to high office. I’m not bragging, you understand, but no other state, including Maine, even comes close. When it comes to sending left-wing dingbats to Washington, we’re number one. There’s no getting around the fact that the last time anyone saw the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, they were stirring a cauldron when the curtain went up on ‘Macbeth’. The three of them are like jackasses who happen to possess the gift of blab. You don’t know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words.”


End of an Era

Since September 1943, with the amphibious landings at Salerno, Italy, the US Army has maintained armored formations in Europe. Until now.

The U.S. Army’s 69-year history of basing main battle tanks on German soil quietly ended last month when 22 Abrams tanks, a main feature of armored combat units throughout the Cold War, embarked for the U.S.

The departure of the last M-1 Abrams tanks coincides with the inactivation of two of the Army’s Germany-based heavy brigades. Last year, the 170th Infantry out of Baumholder disbanded. And the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade at Grafenwöhr is in the process of doing the same.

On March 18, the remaining tanks were loaded up at the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s railhead in Kaiserslautern where they then made the journey to the shipping port in Bremerhaven, Germany. There they boarded a ship bound for South Carolina.

When  I arrived in Germany in 1989, the principal US ground force was the US 7th Army.  It consisted of two corps, the V Corps, and VII Corps.  Each corps consisted of an armored division, a mechanized infantry division, a seperate heavy brigade, and an armored cavalry regiment.* Very roughly, that’s a little over 1500 tanks. That didn’t count the tanks of the German Bundeswehr, the British Army Of the Rhine (BAOR) or any of the other NATO nations. Then there were the POMCUS sites. Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets- basically, if the US needed to reinforce Germany, the entire III Corps (headquartered at Ft. Hood, TX,  but with units also at Ft. Stewart, GA) would fly to Germany. Since getting all their equipment there would take time and shipping that likely wouldn’t be available, complete sets of the needed equipment were stored in Germany, just waiting for troops to draw them.  Call it roughly another 1000 tanks.

In addition, war replacement stocks were on hand, though I honestly don’t know how many there were. At any event, there were a couple thousand M1 tanks in Germany when I arrived.

With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, obviously much of the need for a strong forward US presence in Germany went away.

And so we find ourselves, for the first time in decades, without a forward deployed armor unit in Europe. If you’d told me in 1989 that we’d come to this, I’d have thought you crazy.

H/T to Jason for the Stripes article.

*These were merely the principal ground maneuver units. Each corps also had an array of combat support and combat service support brigades such as artillery, aviation, intelligence, engineer, military police and logistics.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

I’ve been on vacation for a week with no internet connection *shudder*, so pardon me while I catch up. You get to see some of my vacation pictures (which always reminds me of the Night Gallery episode “Hell’s Bells).

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is one of the newest in the park service. There’s actually three separate sites – the launch control center, one of the missile silos, and a temporary museum, all just east of Wall, South Dakota along Interstate 90. We did the right thing by calling ahead, because we found out that a retired missilier volunteers his time one day a week and gives tours of the launch control center. The park ranger was extremely nice, but there’s nothing like hearing the story from one who lived it in the 1970’s at the height of the Cold War.

Minuteman Missile on display at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, Ellsworth AFB.

Continue reading “Minuteman Missile National Historic Site”

Any old stretch of highway will do…

Craig here.  Ran across this while looking for some good ‘splodie videos today:


Not just for Warthogs either.  Here’s a clip of an F-4 on what looks like the same pattern.


The old F-104 could turn that trick too.


Check out the close tandem landing pattern for these C-160s:


Here’s a compilation of several jets taking off.


Use of sections of the Autobahn as airstrips date back to World War II.  During the Cold War NATO practiced this frequently.  I know certain sections of highway in Korea were likewise set aside for contingencies.   But I’ve seen very few references to American plans to use parts of our interstate system for emergency airfields.  Then again, the United States has the highest number of airfields per capita in the world… and likewise the highest number of potholes per mile of any developed nation.



The Past, Present and Future of Tactical Radios – Part 3

Continuing from Part 2 – Like much in the U.S. Army, tactical communications evolved little in the years following World War II.   Many of the same radios continued service into the Korean War.  New developments, including long-range multi-channel and radio-teletype, supported division and higher level communications networks, and thus fall outside the scope of this discussion.

AN/PRC-6 U.S. military handi-talkie radio from...
AN/PRC-6 - Wikipedia

In the closing stages of the Korean War, the AN/PRC-6 replaced the SCR-536 hand held radio in infantry platoons.  The PRC-6 introduced FM signal format to the squads and operated between 47 and 55.4 Mhz, with range remained limited to about a mile in good conditions.   Also introduced during the Korea War, three new backpack radios differed only with regard to frequency range.  The AN/PRC-8 covered 20 to 27.9 Mhz, the AN/PRC-9 worked on 27 to 38.9 Mhz, and the AN/PRC-10 operated from 38 to 54.9Mhz.    The AN/PRC-10, of course, being the preferred company radio to allow compatibility with the hand held radios.  One advantage over the World War II sets, the new backpack radios tipped the scales at around 22 pounds (verses 38 for the old SCR-300).   The PRC-8/9/10 ranged just under five miles.

Parallel to these portable radios, the Army deployed a series of vehicle (armor and soft skinned) radios using the RT-66 receiver-transmitter as a building block.  Like the infantry backpack series, the series offered different radios operating on different bands.  The AN/VRC-8, -13, and -16 used the 20 to 27.9 Mhz band.  The AN/VRC-9, -14, and -17 used the 27 to 38.9 Mhz band.  And the AN/VRC-10, -15, and -18 operated on 38 to 54.9 Mhz.  These different designations indicated variations with power supplies or other options.   These vehicle mounted radios had a maximum planning range of 10 miles.  All of these types, both vehicle and portable, continued the use of crystals and vacuum tubes, with all corresponding disadvantages.  Tuner technology limited the frequency range each radio could operate over (and forcing the use of three different frequency bands).  But recall, this was the height of technology at the time.

While the divided frequency bands sounds odd to a modern reader, this fit within the Army’s communication doctrine of the time.  By the “book” infantry regiments operated with a command net and an operational net.  Organic support formations, such as the mortars and anti-tank platoons had their own designated radio nets.  Line battalions maintained an internal command net.  Likewise companies operated on their designated command nets.   By doctrine, the commander could direct the signal officer to create optional networks to support additional reconnaissance or security attachments, medical support traffic, or for liaison with adjacent units. (FM 7-24, Communication in the Infantry Division, dated 1944 describes these radio nets in more detail)   Add to the spectrum of course the fire control networks transmitting back to the fire direction centers.

The number of radio nets, while manageable, required some mechanism to segregate traffic.  The three frequency bands, noted in the radio particulars, happened to allow specific equipment to operate on specific frequency ranges for specific roles.  I am told, but cannot find it referenced in the manuals, that planners allocated the 38 to 54.9 Mhz band for networks company and below.

That worked well in the “square” or “triangular” army formations used through the Korean War.  But in the mid-1950s the Army began reorganizing around a monstrosity known as the Pentomic Division.  Under that concept, each of the five “battlegroups” within the division contained five maneuver companies along with a number of combat support and service support elements.  To manage this multi-headed formation, a battlegroup CP used a command net, an admin net, and a dedicated liaison net.  Add to this nets for the engineer platoon, medical platoon, and supply platoon.  The combat support company had nets allocated for the radar platoon, recon platoon, assault weapon platoon, and heavy mortar platoon.  In short, a proliferation of radio networks, each requiring radio sets and dedicated radio operators.  Communications personnel represented 9% of the battlegroup’s personnel strength!

The technology did not support such a cumbersome command structure.  Command net became crowded, often at the commander’s discretion.  Recall this was the time when the Army fielded the Davy Crockett tactical nuke.  Odds are, the battlegroup commander would prefer to have that section on a tight leash, and not using some radio set on an incompatible frequency.

Doctrine reflected the complexity of the maneuver organization.  The “new” divisional signal manual (again numbered FM 7-24) issued in 1961 exceeded it’s World War II predecessor by over 100 pages.  Setting aside the inadequacies of the battlegroup from a command and control perspective, the communication requirements called for a simplified hardware solution – a single radio set series that used the whole military VHF frequency band.

On the positive side, the Signal Corps continued to refine its Signal Operating Instructions.  While still complicated, standardization reduced some of the training issues.   Printed SOIs included army-wide standard challenge-authentication and encryption tables.  Still verbal encryption of sensitive traffic slowed delivery of the message.

As the U.S. entered the space race, the tactical warfighter faced many of the same problems noted in 1945:

  • Radio range limited to 5 miles (portable) to 10 miles (vehicle mounted)
  • Reliance on easily damaged vacuum tubes.
  • Dependence on heavy batteries for hand and pack radios.
  • Difficulty bringing the radios into operation – again selecting crystals, tuning, and calibrating.
  • Vulnerability to jamming, either from enemy action or natural causes.
  • Vulnerability to intercept, only partly mitigated by the SOI.
  • Poor voice quality.
  • Crowded command networks.

But as a plus, the backpack radio dropped in weight and, in spite of the use of three separate bands, the infantry-armor team spoke on compatible FM radios.   More improvements were in the queue.   I will look next at the “solid-state” VRC-12 family and the Vietnam-era radio experience.

Why are we here?

More than one US Army soldier in the Cold War looked at his map of Western Europe and wondered why the US Army, the anchor of the Nato Alliance, was stationed at one of the least likely invasion routes. The geography in the north of Germany is generally flat or low rolling hills, quite suitable to armored forces attacking from Poland and East Germany, where the bulk of the Soviet army was stationed.

In the south, the terrain was far more mountainous, with numerous chokepoints where attacking forces could be blocked, trapped, and destroyed. The primary Warsaw Pact Forces there were the Czech Army.

Given the importance of this terrain, why was the vast majority of the US Army in Europe stationed in the south, rather than in the north where the heaviest attack could be expected? The answer is a historical accident from 1940, and shows the tyranny of logistics over tactics.

In the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany was triumpant. They had conquered all of Western Europe from the Baltic to the Mediterrenian Sea. The only countries not under the Nazi thumb were a compliant Spain and tiny Portugal, both neutral countries, and that defiant lion, The United Kingdom. Following the fall of France in June 1940, the British Army was forced to retreat at Dunkirk and return to England. The British evacuation there will long live in the annals of history as a magnificent feat, but it was still a defeat.

The remains of the British Army were in bad shape. Most of their equipment had been abandoned in France. Just twenty miles away lay the victorious Wehrmacht. Already the German Army was laying plans for an autumn invasion of England. The British Army quickly moved to the southeast of England to defend against this planned invasion.

The Battle of Britain, where the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force fought a desparate struggle for command of the skies, took place over that summer and fall of 1940. The Germans knew that air superiortiy was needed for a successful invasion. They failed to achieve it. Still, the British were obliged to maintain a defense in southeast England lest the Germans try. While here, they began the process of re-equipping and rebuilding.

After the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, Churchill and Franklin (and more importantly, their military staffs) both agreed that eventually, there would have to be an invasion of France across the English Channel. The US began moving forces into England. Since the southeast of England was full of British troops, most US forces were based in the west.

When the time for the invasion came, the decision was made to land in Normandy. Here is where the tyranny of logistics raised its ugly head.  Looking at the map below, we see that the US forces, stationed in the west, would be forced to land on the western side of the Cotentin Peninsula. The size of the invasion fleet was just too large to swap positions while at sea. The British would land in the east and the US to the west. When they broke out of the beachhead and wheeled to head east, that would place the British to the north and the US to the south.

After the invasion of Normandy, further US and French forces would invade southern France near Marseille, reinforcing the US position in the south.

While military planners would have preferred the heavier, larger, and more mobile US forces to attack across the north of Europe, while the smaller, less mobile British Armies made a supporting attack in the south, the delay, cost and confusion of trying to switch their positions made this impossible. Moving the forces might have been just barely possible, but there was no way to even attempt to move their huge logistical tails. The die was cast and the stage was set in stone. The disposition of forces would remain all the way across Europe to the defeat of Nazi Germany in May of 1945.

With the defeat of the Nazis, the vast majority of the Allied armies were demobilized and went home. Because so much of the German society had collapsed, however, significant occupation forces had to remain. Germany was divided into zones of occupation, with zones for the Russians, British, Americans, and French. Mostly these zones were where the forces had halted at the end of the war.

When the Iron Curtain fell across Europe in 1947, the Western Allies began to reinforce their positions in Europe, eventually forming NATO in 1949 (the Warsaw Pact wasn’t formed until 1955). By this time, it was too late to shift major forces to better suit the terrain, again primarily because of logistics. There was a political factor here though. If the US had tried to reposition major forces outside the US zone, the Soviets would have been able to protest that we were not abiding by the terms of the agreement. In fact, they could have argued that they should be able to move outside their zone as well, perhaps into the British or US zones. We certainly didn’t want that. Even after West Germany regained its sovereignity in 1955, it was logistically impossible to switch the positions of the major forces.

It is a fair guess that more than one US general, looking at the defense of Western Europe during the Cold War, cursed the fates that places the Allies in the positions they held. In fact, a large part of the development of AirLand Battle Doctrine was about flipping this geographical disadvantage on its head, and finding a way to use manuever to hide behind the terrain of southern Germany and strike into the flank of any Soviet attack to the north.