Sliders…

Sliders is shipboard slang for the greasy burgers served aboard. One little roll of the ship, and the slick burger slides away.*

The steel flight decks of carriers are coated with a non-skid material to give the extremely high pressure tires of carrier aircraft just a hint of traction. Unfortunately, hard use wears non-skid away fairly quickly, leaving bare metal exposed. Add in the grease and oil that accumulates, and maybe a touch of salt water, and a strong wind across the deck, and moving planes can quickly get downright sporty.

This video shows just how dangerous it can get, in a heartbeat.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLZnZedkXs8]

Taken during USS Saratoga’s Desert Storm cruise, the VA-125 E-2C loses traction, and slides across the deck. The port prop actually strikes a tractor on the deck, and then jams its port wing fold into a VA-35 KA-6D’s port elevator.

Incredibly, no one was killed, and apparently no serious injuries were incurred. Word is that the E-2C and the KA-6D both had to be craned off the ship at the next port call for significant repairs before being returned to service.

H/T to Joe Kaposi on Facebook, who has a veritable treasure trove of flight deck mishap footage.

 

*Hot dogs, of course, are therefore known as “rollers.” Don’t get me started on how “autodog” got its nickname.

Desert Storm- Day One

I’m reminded that this is the 24th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Desert St0rm.

Your humble scribe was then attached to A Company, 7th Battalion, 6th Infantry, a part of the 1st Armored Division. The company command group, the dismounts, and most of the company was deployed in an assembly area somewhere to the south of Kuwait. What wasn’t there were the Bradley crews, nor the Bradleys themselves. They were still on a ship en route from Germany. They wouldn’t arrive in the assembly area until February 1, 1991.

Our position was a triangular encampment with two man fighting positions chipped out of the hardpan of the desert floor. Our armament was individual rifles with about 40 rounds per soldier. The heaviest weapons were a pair of M2 .50cal machine guns, with 100 rounds each. Had the Iraqis launched a spoiling attack against us, it might have gotten a tad exciting.

I distinctly recall the night of 16-17 January. We’d been watching jets fly over our position for many days and nights. But this night, there were a whole lot more than usual. Pretty soon, listening to the AM radio broadcast of the BBC, we learned that the air war had begun. Several hours later, the Army got around to telling us the same thing through official channels.

Grumman EF-111 Raven

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EF-111s from 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron in Upper Heyford, England format off the tanker.

The Grumman EF-111 Raven was the USAF’s counterpart to the Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. In USAF service the “Spark ‘vark”  as it’s perhaps more commonly known, replaced the EB-66 Destroyer and the EB-57 Canberra.

9-1
The Grumman EF-111 Raven first flew on 10 March 1977.

 

The first fully equipped EF-111 first flew on 10 March 1977 using a modified F-111. A grand total of 42 old F-111 airframes were produced at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 Billion.

In terms of flight control the EF-111 (by modern standards) is pretty straight forward. As with the standard F-111,  there are no ailerons, as roll is controlled differentially by the horizontal stabilators and at low speeds spoilers on the upper surface of the variable geometry wings. Pitch is controlled by both horizontal stabilators and the rudder acts to correct adverse yaw. There are also tangential ventral fins that add to high-speed longitudinal stability.

Even though the Raven can be seen as a counterpart to the Navy’s Prowler there are some key differences.

Metric Prowler Raven
Maximum Speed (mph) 651 1460
Range (miles) 2400 (with drop tanks; usually carried) 2,000
Ceiling (ft) 37,600 45,000
Rate of climb (ft/min) 12,900 11,000
Thrust/weight ratio (lbs/ft) 0.34 0.598

These performance differences enabled the Raven to do some things operationally that the Prowler could not. The Raven could keep up with supersonic strike aircraft like the F-111 and later the F-15E in the escort strike role. However the Raven doesn’t have the endurance that the Prowler had because of a few factors. The Raven has a crew of 2, limiting the crew tasking loading for a given mission. The Prowler has a crew of 4 enabling more tasks to be spread to more crew members. The Raven uses “flying boom” method for aerial refueling which limits the tanker aircraft to refuel the aircraft to USAF-only tanking assets. The Prowler had the ability for fire the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) while the Raven did not.

800px-AGM-88E_HARM_p1230047Both aircraft did use the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS). The Raven specifically used the AN/ALQ-99E variant which had more automation for the 2 crew members and about 70% commonality with the Prowlers TJS (at least the earlier versions of the TJS).

The EF-111 houses components of the AN/ALQ-99E within the aircraft. The most visible changes to the EF-111 are the “canoe” in the ventral fuselage (that replaced the PAVE TACK pod in the F-111 variants, the “football” atop the vertical stabalitor, and an antenna on each wing glove for the ALQ-137 low/mid/high band reciever (port) and the ALR-62 forward RWR (starboard).

66-056 Tail
Components of the AN/ALQ-99E are seen on the “football” atop the vertical tail.
EF111s
This EF-111 show the ventral “canoe” fairing stowing the components of the AN/ALQ-99E TJS. The bullet fairing top is the AN/ALQ-137 multi-band receiver.

 

ef111ravencutaway
EF-111 cutaway. Click to embiggenify.

 

Operationally, the first EF-111s were deployed in November 1981 to the 388th Tactical Electronic Squadron, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. From 1984 to 1992 the –111 saw service with the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron (part of the 20 Tactical Fighter Wing) at RAF Upper Heyford, UK. The –111 also saw service with the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon AFB in the 429th (1992-1998) and the 430th (1992-1993) Electronic Combat Squadrons. Also at Mountain Home AFB with the 388th (1981-1982) and the 390th (1982-1992) Electronic Combat Squadrons.

The EF-111 first saw combat with the 20th TFW as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon against Libya in 1986. Then during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.

The largest EF-111 deployment for the EF-111 was Operation Desert Storm. The 18 EF-111s in the AOR flew over 900 sorties with a mission capable rate of 87.5 % mission capable rate. EF-1111 frequently operated with the F-4G and because the Iraqis feared the F-4G and its HARM missile, they made brief, limited and ineffective use of their radars. When they did choose to operate these radars, the effective jamming of the EF-111 negated their ability to track, acquire, and target attacking aircraft. Every day the Weasels and Ravens supported shooters as they attacked their targets in Iraq and the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations (KTO). One sign of their success was that after day four, all allied aircraft operated with impunity in the mid to high altitude environment across the AOR. By decreasing the threat of SAMs to our strike aircraft, EF-111s and F-4Gs permitted aircraft to deliver their weapons from an environment where they can be very lethal.

A notable event was a “maneuver” kill by an EF-111 of an Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ on the opening night of Desert Storm:

On the first night of the war, Captain Brent Brandon was flying his EF-111 “Spark Vark” on an electronic warfare mission ahead of a group of jets on a bombing run. Several IRAF Dassault Mirage F1s came in and engaged the flight. One of them went after the unarmed EF-111. Captain Brandon executed a tight turn and launched chaff to avoid the missiles being fired by the Mirage. A F-15 on the same flight, piloted by Robert Graeter, went after the Mirage trying to protect the EF-111. The Mirage launched a missile which the Raven avoided by launching chaff. Captain Brandon decided to head for the deck to try to evade his pursuer. As he went down he pulled up to avoid the ground, the Mirage followed him through, though the Mirage went straight into the ground. An unarmed EF-111 thus scored an air-air victory against a Dassault Mirage F1, although Graeter was credited with a kill. The EF-111A pilots won the Distinguished Flying Cross

An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ.
An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ.

The aircraft was EF-111 66-0016 and is on display at the Cannon AFB Museum:

EF-111 66-0016 on outside display at Cannon AFB New Mexico.
EF-111 66-0016 on outside display at Cannon AFB New Mexico.

There was one combat loss of the EF-111 during Desert Storm:

On 13 February 1991, EF-111A, AF Ser. No. 66-0023, callsign Ratchet 75, crashed[11] into terrain while maneuvering to evade a perceived enemy aircraft threat killing the pilot, Capt Douglas L. Bradt, and the EWO, Capt Paul R. Eichenlaub

After Desert Storm the F-111 also flew missions in Operation Provide Comfort,Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch.

The victory from Desert Storm was shoret lived. The last deployment of the Spark ‘vark was 1998 to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arablia. Due to the aircraft’s age the USAF decided to retire the aircraft and the last EF-111s were retired on 2 May 1998, at Cannon AFB, New Mexico.

Aside from the EC-130, and the later “acquisition” (if you will) of the Prowler, the USAF pretty much ignored tactical electronic warfare. You can pick up that part of the story here.

 

EF-111 retied at AMARG.
EF-111 retired at AMARG.

MLRS in Desert Storm

In the days immediately prior to the ground assault of Desert Storm, artillery was tasked to execute artillery raids on Iraqi positions in Kuwait and southern Iraq, both for the benefit of pounding Iraqi positions, and as a carefully crafted scheme to deceive the Iraqis as to where the main allied effort would come.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UTGqkraX3Q]

1. 9 launcher, 12 rockets each, 644 bomblets in each rocket: 69,552 warheads on foreheads.

2. It’s amazing to look back and see just how much personal equipment has changed since then. Every single piece of the uniform has been changed or updated since then.

Douhet, Mitchell, Lambeth. All Airpower advocates, all wrong.

It must be budget battle time, as airpower advocates are coming out of the woodwork to tell us that the Air Force will win the wars, and the rest of us can just stay home.

Since the Cold War’s end, the classic roles of airpower and land power have changed places in major combat against modern mechanized opponents. In this role reversal, ground forces have come to do most of the shaping and fixing of enemy forces, while airpower now does most of the actual killing.

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 showcased, for the first time, this departure from past practice between air- and ground-delivered firepower. During the Battle of Khafji in January of that year, coalition air assets singlehandedly shredded two advancing Iraqi armored columns through precision night standoff attacks.

This role shift repeated itself with even greater effectiveness in 2003 during the three-week major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom that ended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Modern airpower’s achievements in these two high-intensity wars demonstrated that precision air attacks now offer the promise of being the swing factor for victory in an ever-widening variety of theater war scenarios. The primary role of US land power may now be increasingly to secure a win against organized enemy forces rather than to achieve it.

In organizing their response to Hussein’s forceful seizure of Kuwait in 1990, the leaders of US Central Command aimed to destroy as many of Iraq’s armored forces from the air as possible before launching any land invasion to drive out the occupying enemy troops. It remained unclear, however, how effective allied airpower would be under this approach until they actually executed the air campaign.

Three factors came together to enable allied airpower to draw down Iraqi forces to a point where allied ground troops could advance in confidence that they would be engaging a badly degraded opponent once the ground offensive began. First, allied aircraft were able to operate at will in the medium-altitude environment, unmolested by Iraqi radar guided surface-to-air missiles or fighters, thanks to an earlier US air defense suppression campaign.

Second, the introduction of the E-8C JSTARS aircraft permitted allied air planners to see and identify fixed and moving objects on the battlefield clearly enough to make informed force commitment decisions and to execute lethal attacks day or night. Third, allied planners discovered during the campaign’s initial preparation phase that aircraft equipped with infrared sensors and armed with laser guided bombs could find and destroy dug-in enemy tanks one by one in large numbers at night.

It’s a long article, but it doesn’t get any smarter. Let’s just fisk a little of what we have here.

First and foremost, let me state again that I’m not opposed to airpower. Air superiority, or at a bare minimum air parity,  is a necessary precondition for success in high intensity combat.

1. Uncontested medium altitude operations- There’s certainly no guarantee that future campaigns will allow our tactical airpower to operate freely over the battlefield, whether at medium altitudes or any other. While the Iraqi forces had a reasonably sophisticated air defense system for fixed installations, they lacked modern mobile air defenses for maneuver units. Future enemies learned a lesson about that. And Lambeth ignores the long time the Air Force had to devote to the suppression mission (SEAD-Suppression of Enemy Air Defense).  Time spent on SEAD was time and sorties not spent attriting Iraqi armor. Had the Iraqis made a large scale offense while the Air Force was still trying to achieve suppression, rather than the modest attack at Khafji, we groundpounders would have faced a much more difficult problem.*

2. JSTARS tracking and targeting- Well, that’s what it’s for, to give the commander an ability to look deep throughout the depth of the battlefield and identify and track enemy formations. But two things about that. First, few places on earth are as conducive to JSTARS tracking formations as the Iraqi desert. Second, having learned that the capability exists, any enemy can quickly devise countermeasures, which can be as simple as just having a bunch of people driving private autos around, either randomly or as spoof formations.

3. PGMs as anti-armor weapons- Tank-plinking was indeed a successful campaign. Why, a gazillion dollar F-111 could go out and in the space of a 2 hour sortie, drop its four GBU-12 500 pound LGBs, and probably kill 2 or even three tanks.  But for all the success of the campaign, vast amounts of Iraqi armor still survived, and was still capable of maneuver and engaging our forces.  As a counterpoint, I had a front row seat when my brigade engaged a Republican Guard brigade. In the space of about half an hour, we eviscerated the entire formation, destroying somewhere around 100 armored vehicles, and probably another couple hundred vehicles.

Further, the Air Force is still limited in its ability to attack armor or other moving formations in bad weather. Cloud layers will degrade laser designators quickly, leaving the attack aircraft either unable to deliver ordnance, or forcing them into the low altitude air defense environment, where they are terribly vulnerable.  Ground forces ability to engage can be degraded by foul weather, but not to nearly the extent of air power. Artillery doesn’t care if it is cloudy.

The bottom line is this- in spite of almost a century of airpower visionaries proclaiming that the days of muddy boots are over, airpower still cannot stop the enemy on the ground. It can impede it, it can attrit it, it can make movement costly. But airpower still remains a supporting fire, much as the artillery. No sane commander would attempt to fight a campaign solely with artillery.  One of the historical strengths of our armed forces since World War II has been our incredible ability to harness the synergy of combined arms, whether from the Infantry/Artillery team, or the unified application of land, sea, air and space power. Puerile arguments about the supremacy of  airpower do little credit to the Air Force Association’s flagship publication.

*Especially units like mine. We had people on the ground, but our vehicles hadn’t even reached port in Saudi Arabia yet.

ODS

Twenty two years ago, at about 2am, I was out in the desert of northern Saudi Arabia. We’d seen Coalition fighters and tankers cycling north to patrol stations for weeks. But this night, we saw multitudes of aircraft head north.

After months of fruitless negotiations and pleadings to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the US led Coalition forces began a massive aerial onslaught against Iraqi air defense, command and control, infrastructure, and deployed forces. The goal was to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Before ground forces would engage the Iraqi Army, Coalition airpower,  primarily US and British, but with help from others, to be sure, would set conditions for victory.

If airpower didn’t do all it claimed it could do, it was far more effective than in past wars, and learned a great deal about what could be done, and how.

Even as the air war began, ground forces were not yet ready to strike. The reason I was standing outside was my battalion’s Bradley’s had not yet arrived. Our vehicle crews waited at the port to unload and ready them, but us dismounts were already in our assembly area. It would be the 1st of February before our vehicles arrived. And even then, it would be almost another month before we struck.

I’ve said it before, you could not have built a scenario better suited for the heavy divisions of the Army in 1991 to demonstrate AirLand Battle Doctrine. Open spaces, an enemy largely equipped with Warsaw Pact weapons. Little to no involvement of civilian population areas.

More than 20 years after Desert Storm, no near peer is eager to face off with US forces in a fair fight.

Past, Present and Future of Tactical Radios – Part 8

Before the Christmas break, I left off the discussion of tactical radios discussing different issues and requirements from the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The main reason I didn’t jump from the Vietnam era radios straight into the first digital radios was to give those issues and requirements their proper air, as they lead directly to the advantages and limitations of that radio system.

The Army started development of the replacement for VRC-12 and PRC-77 radios, now called Combat Net Radios (CNR), in 1974.   The technical requirements, as mentioned in the previous post, included enhanced communications security, support for digital traffic, and improved reliability.  The Army needed highly reliable communications to synchronize lean force structure in combined arms operations.   After a decade and a half of work, around 1988, the Army fielded the SINgle Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, or SINCGARS for short, to front line units.

U.S. Army photo.
AN/PRC-119 Backpack SINCGARS

SINCGARS consisted of a modular set of radios equipping ground units, paired with compatible aircraft radios.  These were not just “Army” sets, but also used by the Marines, Air Force, and Navy.  The aircraft sets are outside the scope of this study, but the chart below breaks down the major components of the SINCGARS ground variants.

The radio itself evolved through several generations, but the supporting components remained the same generally speaking.  The AS-3900 antenna sensed the radio transmit frequency and automatically adjusted resistance to match, eliminating the “clacking” matching units of the old VRC-12 series.  For command posts, the OE-254 antenna (three up and three down) did not require reconfiguration with frequency changes, as with the older RC-292.  The power amplifier boosted transmit power to allow a planning range of 40 km.  (Many units would report 50 km out in the desert.)  Without the amplifier, SINCGARS ranged about 10 km.

OE-254 Antenna

SINCGARS transmitted on the frequency range of 30 to 88 Mhz.  By reducing the channel separation to 25 Khz, SINCGARS doubled the number of available channels.   Radio operators keyed in the frequency from a numeric pad on the front of the radio.  Gone was the old dial; replaced by an LED digital display.  SINCGARS had space for six pre-set frequencies (and two additional spaces reserved for special functions described below).  The radio operated in single channel (SC) mode or frequency hop (FH) mode.

The backpack versions (PRC-119 or dismounted VRCs) weighed about 20 pounds when dressed out (comparable to a PRC-77 with KY-57).  The BA-5590 (same used on the KY-57 VINSON), gave about six to eight hours of life (if you were lucky).  Field experience lead me to plan for a 6 km range, instead of the 10 km range noted in the technical manuals.

At the heart of SINCGARS was a frequency hopping technology which addressed the long-standing jamming and intercept threat.  Simply put, in frequency hop mode the radio skip 100 times a second through the frequency range.  To work properly, the radio needed five keys, or variables.  First a crypto key for encryption.  Second a TranSec (TSK) that provided the hopping pattern.  Third a HopSet specifying the set of frequencies to use.  Fourth the NetID, a number between 000 and 999, identified the radio network.  And lastly a synchronization time.

The first four variables required the operator to perform a set of about two dozen steps, in sequence.  This was difficult to train, but once an operator got the hang of it, no more complex than setting head-space and timing on a M2 .50 cal.  But the synch time proved a troublesome in practice.  By default the radio reset to 00 seconds of 0 hour of 0 day.  Even when set, radios would drift off time.  New CNR practice revived the concept of a single net control station (NCS) or “master” set to the FH/M mode.  When that station broadcast, all radios on the hopset would re-synch time.

But this failed at several levels.  First, since 1940, the Army had brow-beat operators to reduce transmissions.   SINCGARS had a “time capture” mode that would pick up synchronization, plus or minus five seconds.  But this didn’t help where the day or hour was incorrectly set.  Lastly, doctrine called for the use of queue (CUE) and manual (MAN) frequencies allowing operators to “page” the net master.  But typically the NCS was the command radio which rarely had the time to drop out to respond.  In the field, users often resorted to the old practice of synchronizing wrist watches, then setting the radio’s time.

The first generation SINCGARS, using the RT-1439 radio commonly called non-ICOM (Internal Comsec), lacked the internal crypto circuits.  The only place I encountered these was Korea.  We used a special Y-cable to connect to external KY-57 crypto devices.

RT-1439

The second generation, or ICOM, used the RT-1523 radio and put the crypto circuits in the radio. Note the difference width difference between the ICOM (top) and the non-ICOM the photo below.

ICOM and Non-ICOM

The early generation were great radios from the hardware perspective.  SINCGARS saw its combat debut in Desert Storm with 1st Cavalry Division, some Patriot batteries, and some USMC users – all told about 700 sets.  According to often cited statistics, SINCGARS achieved a mean time between failures rate of 7000 hours, compared to 200 to 300 for VRC-12 radios.  My personal experience strengthens this statistic.  In 18 months as a platoon leader in Korea, I never had a radio down for repair.  As a mechanized infantry SIGO, I had maybe ten SINGCARS turned in for repair in about 20 months – total.  (Yet on rotations to Kuwait, we’d have fifteen or more VRC-12 radios in the shop at any one give time.)

For digital data transmissions, SINGCARS supported up to 16,000 bps (bits per second). Sounds pale compared to our high-speed internet today, but in 1989, this was impressive.  But data transmission required clean, strong signals.  On good days, a practical transfer speed was 4800 bps over 20 km.  That would support TACFIRE and other early battlefield digital systems.  But demand would grow significantly by 1995.

The main complaint with these radios was, as alluded to above, the timing variable.  As a SIGO, I often rushed out to a “problem” only to resolve the issue by a time hack.   The problem, I feel, was not the hardware but the complexity of operation, training, and perception.  In 2nd Infantry Division, which received non-ICOM in 1989, from the division down the standard was “frequency hop, green” meaning fully secure.  With training, command emphasis, and real-world operations on the DMZ, the radios worked.  In CONUS, we were lazy, citing the need for compatibility with VRC-12 radios, and radio performance suffered.  However in two contingency deployments to Kuwait, we preferred to carry our own PRC-119s instead of using the PRC-77s issued in theater.

Bottom line – SINCGARS were too complex in operation, certainly not “grunt proof.”  Indeed, even the soldiers in the divisional signal battalion had problems learning the system!

Even in advance of the first generation fielding, the program managers pursued better versions of the SINCGARS.  In addition to addressing the time synch and complexity issues, the Army wanted more data throughput.  Those radios, which began to arrive around 1996, were the System Improvement Program (SIP) SINCGARS.  I will discuss those, and the Advanced SIP (ASIP) radios, in the next post in this series.

From the top…

We’ve previously looked at the organization of certain units. And we recently talked about the difficulty in communication caused by the jargon the services use. For this foray into management, we’re going to look at the organization of the military from the top down.

At the top of the Chain of Command is the President. His role as the Commander-in-Chief (CinC) is set by the Constitution. Beneath the President is the Secretary of Defense, as head of the Department of Defense. From there it starts to get complicated.

The Secretary of Defense (SecDef) is supported by the Secretaries of the Army, Air Force, and Navy (which also covers the Marines). He is also supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Chairman thereof. And while the SecDef is in the chain of command, he’s only able to execute approved policies, that is, those things the President has directed. For instance, if the President said, “Invade Iraq,” the SecDef could do that, but he couldn’t invade Iraq by way of Iran.

The Secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy, and The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs (JCS) themselves are not in the operational chain of command. They can’t pick up the phone and give orders for ships to sail, or divisions to move or squadrons to fly. That isn’t their job. Their job is to provide ready and trained forces to the combatant commanders (we’ll get to them in a moment). A big part of what they do is run the procurement programs that buy all the ships, tanks, planes, boots, flashlights, copy machines and stuff that it takes to run the services.

At the level under the Joint Chiefs is where we pick up the chain of command again. No service in today’s military fights alone. The battlespace is just too complex. Instead, the military has divided the world into geographic areas of responsibility, known as the Regional Commands, and specific areas of expertise, known as the Functional Commands.

The Regional Commands are:

  • Africa Command (AFRICOM), which, pretty obviously, covers Africa
  • European Command (EUCOM), covering Europe and parts of Western Asia
  • Pacific Command (PACOM), which covers the Pacific and parts of the Indian Ocean
  • Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which covers the US and the rest of North America
  • Central Command (CENTCOM), covering the Middle East, to include Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), covering South America

Each of the regional commanders is responsible for all US military operation in their areas, regardless of which service the forces are from. Some of the regional commanders “own” units assigned there. For instance, there are large numbers of units permantly assigned to PACOM and EUCOM. But CENTCOM and SOUTHCOM are just headquarters and are given control of units sent to their regions as needed.

NORTHCOM is a little different. While NORTHCOM is responsible for the defense of the homeland, US forces stationed at home don’t normally fall under it. They generally belong to their component service. NORTHCOM has responsibility for the air defense of the US (and Canada, with the cooperation of the Canadians) and for providing support to civilian agencies for disaster relief and response to attacks on the homeland.

Certain folks on the left of the political spectrum are up in arms about an active duty Army brigade being assigned to NORTHCOM for the first time. Lighten up, Frances.  The brigade is not planning the detention camps that are sure to come, just as soon as Bushilter calls off the election and rounds up all the oposition. In fact, I’d be surprised if the troopers in the brigade are doing much in the way of specific training for the job. The real work is being done by the staff on the brigade, identifiying the people and organizations they need to be able to contact and work with in case of a disaster, locating staging areas for likely events, and coordinating with the NORTHCOM staff to make sure they know what is expected of them. If the troops are called out to assist civilian agencies, Posse Commitatus is still in effect, which prevents the services from taking a direct role in law enforcement.

The Functional Commands are:

  • Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which provides command and control to nuclear forces
  • Joint Forces Command (JFCOM),who provides the training and organization of forces stationed in the US
  • Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which acts almost like a 5th armed service as it trains and organizes all the Special Operations Forces for all the services
  • Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), which coordinates all the air and sea shipping needs for logistics for all the services (the Navy’s underway replenishment is a separate issue).

Each of the Functional Commands has worldwide responsibility (except JFCOM, who instead provides trained and ready forces to the Regional Commanders). The commanders of both the Regional and Functional Commands are typically 4-star generals or admirals. Some, like PACOM are historically held by one service (has PACOM ever had a commander that wasn’t Navy?) while others rotate between the services fairly regularly. Each is nominated by the President to serve for two years, and typically renominated for a second two year term. All nominations need  to be approved by the Senate.

So how does this work in the real world? Let’s use Desert Storm as an example. Back then, many of the commands had slightly different names and missions, but it is close enough for our example.

When the US made the decision to defend Saudi Arabia, the CENTCOM commander, Gen. Schwarzkopf went with his staff and saw the situation and what needed to be done. CENTCOM doesn’t own any forces. He told the JCS and SECDEF what he needed to accomplish his mission and they in turn tapped the predecessor to JFCOM to  provide forces to him. TRANSCOM shipped the equipment by sea, and flew the troops in (mostly by commercial charter from the airlines).

CENTCOM in Saudi Arabia was a joint command, meaning it had forces from all the services. Even though Schwarzkopf was an Army general, he was in charge of forces from the Navy, Marines and Air Force as well as Army troops. To assist him, each service supplied a Joint Forces Component Commander or JFCC. For instance, the Army JFCC, LTG John Yeosock, was the guy under Schwarzkopf who ran all the Army units. He was also the Central Command Army commander or ARCENT, which also had the title of 3rd Army. That’s a lot of hats for one guy to wear, but they were basically all the same job. Each of the other services contributed a component commander and Scharzkopf’s staff worked to make sure all the services were pulling in the same direction.

After the decision was made to kick Saddam out of Kuwait by force, Schwarzkopf realized he needed a stronger force to do that. EUCOM was directed by the SECDEF to provide him with the additional forces. SOCOM also provided forces that he would need to perform reconnisance and other special missions.

After Desert Storm was over, CENTCOM released the forces back to their parent commands, where they began the cycle of training again to be ready the next time a Regional Commander needed them.