Know your enemy- The Islamic State

Marine Corps University’s* Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning put together an excellent presentation describing how ISIS came to be, what it is, and how it operates. It is your required reading for the day.

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Thanks to the reader who tipped us off.

Via

A Scathing Indictment of the Wounded Warrior Project

Over on the porch.  Well worth the read.

I haven’t liked that organization for quite some time, mostly because of the way they portray wounded Veterans as being objects of pity.  Salamander puts it better than I have been able to.

an organization that uses the same visuals, tone and background music for those who fight our wars, that are are also used for starving African children … and at the same time squash local organizations using a huge legal budget.

Touché.

Here is some perspective, without minimizing the sacrifice.  The total US combat wounded in 13 years in Iraq and Afghanistan numbers around 52,000, with the vast majority being minor wounds with RTD (return to duty), such as mine were.  (Of the approximately 1,400 wounded suffered by 1st Marine Division in Anbar from February-September 2004, about 1,200 were RTD.  If those percentages hold for the larger number of 52,000, the total number with wounds serious enough to prevent a return to duty numbers around 7,500.)  We know that the number of traumatic amputations is fewer than 1,600.  This means, with just the last three years of donations, WWP has received enough money for almost $100,000 for each of the 7,500 seriously wounded Vets, or $457,000 for each traumatic amputee.  This is on top of the medical care and equipment provided by the VA for these Veterans.

With a CEO salary of almost half a million a year, the selling of donor lists, and this sort of reprehensible behavior:

According to a number of smaller groups, the Wounded Warrior Project…  has been spending a good deal of time and money suing other veteran-serving nonprofits on the basis that their names or logos constitute infringement on their brand.

I agree with Salamander, not a dime to WWP from me.  I will give to a smaller charity in a heartbeat.  One that does not make helping our wounded Veterans a “common business practice”, and one that does not intentionally harm others trying to give back to those who gave so much.

UPDATE:  XBradTC here. C0ncur all and endorse original message. There are many fine organizations to donate to, and it’s your money. But I would like to mention one that does have a sterling reputation, Fisher House.

General Mattis Speaks to Veterans

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From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”

More on the squandering of airpower

As a followup to the earlier post, here’s an email making the rounds from an A-10 driver.

Subject: A-10 driver perspective
Date: March 6, 2015 at 4:16:21 PM EST

FYSA
The squadron is doing fine. Everybody is happy to be here and we are doing some good work. The A-10s are holding up well and the technology we have have on the jets now (targeting pods, GPS guided bombs, Laser Guided bombs, Laser guided missiles, tactical data link, satellite comms), and of course the gun, make the A-10 ideal for this conflict. We are killing off as many ISIS as we can, mostly in ones and twos, working with the hand we are dealt. I’ve never been more convicted in my career that we facing an enemy that needs to be eradicated.
With that being said…I’ve never been more frustrated in my career. After 13 years of the mind-numbing low intensity conflict in Afghanistan, I’ve never seen the knife more dull. All the hard lessons learned in Vietnam, and fixed during the first Gulf War, have been unlearned again. The level of centralized execution, bureaucracy, and politics is staggering. I basically do not have any decision making authority in my cockpit. It sucks. In most cases, unless a general officer can look at a video picture from a UAV, over a satellite link, I cannot get authority to engage. I’ve spent many hours, staring through a targeting pod screen in my own cockpit, watching ISIS perpetrate their acts until my eyes bleed, without being able to do anything about it. The institutional fear of making a mistake, that has crept into the central mindset of the military leadership, is endemic. We have not taken the fight to these guys. We haven’t targeted their centers of gravity in Raqqa. All the roads between Syria and Iraq are still intact with trucks flowing freely. The other night I watched a couple hundred small tanker trucks lined up at an oilfield in ISIS-held northeast Syria, presumably filling up with with oil traded on the black market, go unfettered. It’s not uncommon to wait several hours overhead a suspected target for someone to make a decision to engage or not. It feels like we are simply using the constructs build up in Afghanistan, which was a very limited fight, in the same way here against ISIS, which is a much more sophisticated and numerically greater foe. It’s embarrassing.
Be assured that the Hawg drivers are doing their best.

One of the prime arguments the Army Air Force used to have air component commanders co-equal to ground component commanders as far back as the campaigns in North Africa in World War II was that airpower benefited from centralized planning, but decentralized execution.

That is, where land component commanders tended to want an umbrella of fighter cover over deployed units all day long, air component commanders, taking a broader view of the air battle, would be able to see which target sets would take priority and be the highest payoff targets. That is, one day, airpower might best be devoted to knocking back enemy airfields, and the next interdicting bridges and trains. The inherent flexibility of airpower could, in the hands of a capable commander, be better used by shifting the priorities, something ground component commanders were not always cognizant of.

Of course, the flip side of that coin was that the execution had to be decentralized. If a raid on an airfield found it empty of enemy planes, the raid leader would call an audible and find other targets worthy of attack.

But today, the increasing trend of the four star squad leader is surely at play here. No one wants to be responsible for a massacre of civilians. But in the example given in the letter, the tanker trucks, laden with oil, are no doubt going to be used to smuggle illegal oil and fund the ISIS state. That makes them a legitimate target, whether they’re manned by civilians or not. Which, let’s face it, our enemies here aren’t exactly adhering to every nicety of the laws of warfare. Why should we unilaterally and arbitrarily handicap ourselves with an overabundance of caution, particularly when the laws of warfare were set up to encourage reciprocity, not reward one side for violations.

The BBC's 1964 Masterpiece "The Great War"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXhiagFG8KE&list=PLZ9uFPWla3XAfs2PmZkwiWe7DEm9PwhEs

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

AGM-130 in Action

Via Funkers 350

Operation Northern Watch-1999.

A Beagle crew spots an SA-2 Surface to Air Missile system, and takes a shot with an AGM-130.

What’s an AGM-130?

Take a 2000lb bomb. Fit it with a television camera and remote controls. Give it big fins for good glide range.  Then, to give it a bit more range, strap a goodly sized rocket motor underneath. Add on a datalink so the launching aircraft can send directions from long distance.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6gaXZXATvo]

ISIS Missiles, and the case for retiring the A-10

The New York Times has a short but informative piece on ISIS gaining and using Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) in Syria. The MANPADS has been around since the 1960s, with the first generation US Redeye and Soviet SA-7 Grail setting the basic template for those that follow.  For the most part, non-state actors have often had access to the SA-7 and similar missiles. But with the exception of the US supplying the far more capable FIM-92 Stinger to the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, few such non-state groups have had access to modern, more capable missiles. For a time, the Stinger was head and shoulders above any other MANPAD system in capability. Judicious use of tactics, and profligate use of countermeasures such as flares minimized the risks MANPADS posed to modern combat aircraft and helicopters. But the times, they are a-changin’. Several late model Russian and Chinese MANPAD systems are quite capable and increasingly in the hands of groups such as ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. With US airstrikes taking place in both Iraq and Syria against ISIS positions, the chances of our airmen facing these advanced MANPADS cannot be dismissed.

Many have expressed outrage at the Air Force saying that budget constraints are forcing it to put the A-10 Warthog on the retirement chopping block. Advocates insist it is the best possible platform for close air support of ground troops in contact. It’s capability to operate at low altitude and low speed give it a better ability to spot targets and precisely engage with its awesome 30mm GAU-8 gun, supporters argue. The armor and survivability features incorporated in its design favor it over other platforms such as the F-16, they content.

But that overlooks shifts in technology, doctrine, and threats since the A-10 was first fielded in the 1970s. Back then, effectively, the only precision sensor for all strike platforms was the Mk 1 Mod 0 eyeball. Radar could help an F-111 find a bridge, but spotting tanks and artillery pieces still came down to  a visual search.  But those days have been gone for over 2o years. Virtually every warplane today features some form of electro-optical sensor for spotting and precisely locating discrete targets. When the A-10 was fielded, only a handful of guided weapons were in regular use. Contra the thought that the GAU-8 was the main weapon of the A-10, the real main battery was the AGM-65 Maverick guided missile. It’s standoff range made it safer for the A-10 to attack Soviet formations guarded by radar guided 23mm ZSU-23-4 guns and SA-7 missiles. Only after Soviet air defenses were suppressed would Warthogs mop up with the gun. The rest of the weapons inventory mostly consisted of unguided dumb bombs and cluster bombs. Low and slow made for a more accurate delivery via the A-10 than from fast mover jets.

But today, virtually every weapon dropped in combat today is a precision guided weapon. Indeed, rules of engagement make it almost unheard of to use a dumb bomb. You’d be hard pressed to  simply find a picture of an unguided bomb hanging from a deployed attack aircraft.  Given the precision nature of the weapons, there is no accuracy benefit to a low and slow delivery platform.

The A-10’s ability to better acquire ground targets visually is more than offset by the better sensors of other strike platforms. Add that current US doctrine stresses target acquisition by offboard sensors, primarily UAVs and ground troops, the ability to visually search the battlefield is of significantly lesser importance.

And so we come to the last point- vulnerability. There’s an old fighter pilot saying that “speed is life.”

When it comes to missile combat, that’s literally, mathematically true. MANPAD systems have improved both in the quality of their guidance systems and in their propulsion. The improvements in rocket performance in just the last 30 years is surprising. And so the engagement envelope of a given MANPAD against a given benchmark target has improved. The slower the target, the better chance a missile has of generating an intercept. The faster the target, the poorer the prospects of an intercept. Similarly, altitude has the same effect. Combining higher speed with higher altitude greatly shrinks the bubble of airspace that a given missile can even theoretically generate an intercept in.

Being low and slow, the A-10’s window of vulnerability is greater than most strike aircraft. And for all its vaunted toughness, it is hardly invulnerable. During Desert Storm, four A-10s were downed by relatively crude air defenses, with a further two written off after crash landings. Current and near future threats might not be as dense, but they will likely be more sophisticated.

It’s not that the Air Force really wants to retire the A-10. It’s that it is being forced by sequestration to make hard choices on where it spends the money it does have. And they’ve come to the regrettable, but defensible conclusion that they can provide adequate close air support of ground troops with other platforms, and reap the savings of retiring not just the A-10 airframe, but also the institutional infrastructure needed to support an operational type. I may not like it, but I understand it.

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.

The Revolt of the Generals

We’ve been unimpressed with the senior leadership appointed to four star rank by Obama, virtually without exception.

But civilian control of our military is one of the bedrock principles of our nation. As it should be. Senior officers get their orders, and execute them to the best of their ability.

But one other role, by custom and law, is for the senior leadership to provide to the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief their best advice on how operations should be conducted.

Having given that advice to the CinC, and seeing it rejected, the generals are getting a might touchy. They have a vested interest in keeping the military going strong, both as a budget issue, and as an esteemed institution in the nation.

And so they’re pushing back against the White House.

Even as the President is telling anyone and everyone that there will be “no boots on the ground”* in our fight against ISIS, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GEN Martin Dempsey, testified before Congress that he thought it should be a viable option. Such a clear break in policy positions between the White House and the CJCS is rare. And there’s not a lot that Obama can do about it. His options are either downplay the pushback (which is what he’s doing now), or fire Dempsey.

But Dempsey is hardly the only one that’s letting the rest of the government, and the people, know how the military feels about being tasked with a mission, but no reasonable means to accomplish it.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Friday that ground forces remain an option for military planners.

“I did not say we need U.S. divisions and brigades on the ground to do this,” he said. But “if sometime, someday, that means U.S. forces [and] we think that’s the right thing, it might be something we recommend.”

So, that’s the two top guys in Army Blue.

He also acknowledged that Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander for the Middle East, had already recommended doing so in the case of at least one battle in Iraq, but was overruled.

Make that the three top guys in Army Blue.

That doesn’t even touch on GEN James Mattis’ testimony Thursday.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”

Mattis is probably one of the most respected general officers around, even if he is retired.

Another recently retired senior leader, ADM James Stavridis weighed in:

“Without question we will see our young men and women engaged in combat. I don’t think they’ll be given a primary, direct, combat assignment initially, but I think it’s entirely possible that as events change and morph, the situation may ultimately require that,” said former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis.
“If we’re going to be honest, we ought to start by saying we’ll send in troops and they’re going to advise, train, ,mentor, and they’ll stiffen the Iraqi security forces and they’ll stiffen the Peshmerga in the north, and we’ll do the bombing in the west and initially no combat mission,” he said.

Stavridis might not enjoy the personal popularity of Mattis, but he’s a deeply respected strategic thinker. Obama isn’t.

Coupled with Congressional skepticism over Obama’s response to ISIS, I don’t know how much, if any, effect this will have on policy going forward. I tend to think Obama’s “no boots” promise is like every other promise of his. It comes with an expiration date.

We’ll see.

But to my recollection, this is the loudest disagreement with a President that the uniform leadership has shown in a generation.