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.

[scribd id=292745023 key=key-moEDuIqyKhnLYMc6zpox mode=scroll]

Thanks to the reader who tipped us off.

Via

Daily Dose of Splodey

Via Foxtrot Alpha.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHSFhh2Gb6Y]

Tyler does have a good question about the multiple aimpoints toward the end. I suspect they’re GPS tags from the laser rangefinder. See, the laser on a sensor ball, is tied into the aircraft’s onboard GPS system. Knowing the aircraft’s position, and using the depression angle, azimuth, and range means it is a simple mathematical problem to derive the precise geographical position of a target, which can then be uploaded to the GPS guided weapons on board (or for that matter, shared via datalink to just about anybody else).

ISIS attacks Egyptian Warship

Via EagleSpeak

International Business Times brings us the story.

The Islamic State (Isis)’s offshoot in Egypt – the Sinai Province – claims it launched a rocket and destroyed an Egyptian Navy frigate in the Mediterranean sea.

The IS affiliate released pictures of what it said was a guided anti-tank rocket attack on the vessel off the coast of northern Sinai, in Rafah, an area bordering Israel and the Gaza strip. The Egyptian military said it exchanged fire with militants off the coast and the boat caught fire, but there were no casualties as result of the incident. It did not mention that the boat was destroyed.

f1

f2

f3

Spill says he think’s the ship is a Chinese built Type 062 gunboat, which the Egyptian Navy does operate. It looks pretty close to me. “Frigate” is a fairly flexible term in overseas navies, and there also might be something lost in translation.

The first picture shows what appears to be an anti-tank guided missile in flight inside the red circle.  The fireball seems awfully big for an ATGM warhead. On the other hand, some missiles like the Russian Koronet have a fairly large warhead.

Other pictures clearly show the vessel remained afloat after the  attack, with firefighting efforts underway.

egypt-boat-fire

Eyad Baba—AP

Whether there were no casualties aboard, well, we’ll see.

As Eagle One notes in his post, the cost of inshore patrolling just went up.

The Jordanian Prisoner Executions vs. Extra-Judicial Killings

After the brutal murder of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh at the hands of the sociopaths of Daesh, King Abdullah of Jordan has begun to fulfill his promise to execute prisoners in retaliation.

Ordinarily, we (and international law) would condemn retaliatory killings. It should be noted however, that those prisoners executed were in fact already facing death sentences. Jordan’s judicial system may not have the protections of our own, but by the standards of the region, it is a good deal more just than those of failed states such as Syria or other autocratic regimes where the whim of a despot determines guilt or innocence.

Keep in mind that the death penalties were delayed, partly so the condemned could be used as bargaining chips. Jordan in fact was attempting to negotiate the release of their pilot via a prisoner exchange. With his murder, obviously the prisoner’s value as a negotiating chip plummeted.

Ask Skipper notes that Lt. Kaseasbah was doomed the moment he was captured, and that his value to Daesh was as fodder for information operations. As repulsive as we find the stream of brutal videos and pictures flowing from the region, we should remember that we are not the intended audience. The propaganda is targeted both internally to their own fighters, and as a cautionary tale to those Arabs that are fighting them. And the brutality of Daesh may be having its desired effect.

Shortly after Lt. Kaseasbah’s plane went down, the United Arab Emirates quietly suspended operations for fear of losing its own pilots.

What will be interesting to see in the coming days is what further actions Jordan takes.

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.

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.

Politics, Actresses, and Stuff

The morning coffee hasn’t completely kicked in yet. So you get stuff, instead of a post  on the construction boom of WWII.

We’re just a teensy bit obsessed with former One Tree Hill and current Chicago PD actress Sophia Bush.  She’s a three time Load HEAT feature, here, here, and here.

Season 2 of Chicago PD starts next week.

———-

GamerGate:

http://33.media.tumblr.com/238a2b625c0b1529546cce2c83732da8/tumblr_nbz1knJbXK1rwmkdpo1_500.png

 

I don’t game, so I haven’t seen the ins and outs. Suffice to say, a small, vocal cabal has corrupted the gaming community, especially news media devoted to it, and anointed themselves as the morality police.

If you have to modify “justice” with “social” or other modifiers, your goal isn’t justice.

————–

We’re going to send about 3000 troops to Africa to fight Ebola. I’m conflicted, I’ll admit. I think it is in our best interests to do something to curb the outbreak. And our troops will not be directly providing care to patients, but building treatment centers and setting up transportation and logistics. Things we do very, very well.

On the other hand, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be sent on this deployment. And if one of our troops does become infected… ugh.

———–

Marc Thiessen’s piece in the WaPo a couple days ago was good.

We firmly, devotedly, believe in the civilian control of the military. And the boss gets to follow, or reject, the advice of his generals.  And the job of the generals is to salute and do the best they can from there.

But there is a consistency in this president in rejecting sound advice that is remarkable.

Pity poor Gen. Lloyd Austin, top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Rarely has a U.S. general given his commander in chief better military advice, only to see it repeatedly rejected.

In 2010, Gen. Austin advised President Obama against withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, recommending that the president instead leave 24,000 U.S. troops (down from 45,000) to secure the military gains made in the surge and prevent a terrorist resurgence. Had Obama listened to Austin’s counsel, the rise of the Islamic State could have been stopped.

But Obama rejected Austin’s advice and enthusiastically withdrew all U.S. all forces from the country, boasting that he was finally bringing an end to “the long war in Iraq.”

Now the “long war in Iraq” is back. And because Obama has not learned from his past mistakes, it is likely to get even longer.

Last week, Obama announced a strategy to re-defeat the terrorists in Iraq. But instead of listening to his commanders this time around, Obama once again rejected the advice of . . . you guessed it . . . Gen. Lloyd Austin.

———

Our friend Brandon gets a nice bit of recognition for the outstanding work he’s done on election coverage this year.

H. R. McMaster in the news

Go hit CDR Salamander this morning.

LTG H. R. McMaster, arguably the best strategic mind in the Army right now, spoke recently  to the AUSA on the future of warfare.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2014) — Americans and their leaders all too often wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to assessing future warfare, said the deputy commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for Futures and director, Army Capabilities Center.
Too often, people think battles can be won through engineering and technological advances: cyber, advanced weapons systems, robotics and so on, said Lt. Gen. Herbert R. McMaster Jr.
Big defense firms sell big-ticket systems that are supposed to win wars, he said. The firms use subtle and not-so-subtle advertising that you need this system for the sake of your children and grandchildren and if you don’t purchase it, “you’re heartless.” Congress usually obliges…

…Although the Army has dominated the battlefield technologically in the recent past, that’s no guarantee against an increasingly agile, adaptive foe. The enemy is becoming more adept at eluding firepower through dispersion into civilian areas, disrupting communications and adopting new technologies, he explained. And, non-state actors like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are already fielding capabilities once the sole domain of states.
The “zero dark-thirty” myth is another, he said. This idea uses systems theory to explain warfare as a series of linked nodes. The idea is to selectively take out nodes that are critical to the enemy’s network.
In systems theory, the U.S. would simply conduct air strikes or a special operations raid of limited duration to disrupt the network, he said. The systems theory goes back to the Spanish-American War in 1898, when sea power was supposed to win the war, but it took boots on the ground, he said.

As CDR Sal alludes, sometimes the medium IS the message. This wasn’t an OpEd piece in a military journal or a newspaper. This was on the army.mil domain. That makes it, if not official policy, then official enough.

There’s a lively discussion in the comments at Sal’s, which has a greater depth and grasp of history than any coming from the White House about our operations against ISIS.

Thoughts on the War on ISIS…

John Kerry, the Secretary of State, tells us the War on ISIS isn’t a war.

“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation,” Kerry said. “If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counter-terrorism operation.”

“I don’t think people need to get into a war fever on this,” the secretary of state added.

President Obama ran his 2008 campaign  almost entirely on the premise of withdrawing the US from Iraq. Secretary Kerry was a staunch opponent of the war, at least after he voted to authorize it.

And in 2011, President Obama used the Bush administration’s planned withdrawal of forces, a signed agreement, as the reason for the complete withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq.

But even while the Bush administration had a signed agreement for the withdrawal, they were also negotiating and arguing for a continued US presence in Iraq.  Rather than having US Brigade Combat Teams conducting operations, the US wanted BCTs configured as “Advise and Assist” BCTs to support Iraqi Army operations.

As then President Bush stated in 2007:

“To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States,” Bush cautioned.

He then ticked off a string of predictions about what would happen if the U.S. left too early.

“It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to Al Qaeda.

“It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale.

“It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan.

“It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”

Forward to 2009, and the new Obama administration half  heartedly continued the negotiations with Baghdad for a continued US presence.  Arguing that an unsatisfactory Status of Forces Agreement could not be reached with the Iraqi government, the Obama administration allowed the talks to collapse, and in 2011 executed the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The administration not only allowed this, they praised it as a political triumph. They demanded (and received, politically) credit for this state of affairs.  

The important thing was, just as Obama had promised, the US was out of Iraq. Iraq became a political and diplomatic non-entity.  Obama was quick to tout the end of the war in Iraq in his campaign of 2012.

But the war in Iraq wasn’t over. Just the US influence in the war.

While Iraq was remarkably stable at the time of the US departure, and our forces had generally achieved their objectives, serious people knew that the underlying civil society was not so stable as to preclude a descent back into chaos.

The goal of the desire US A&A BCTs would have been two-fold. First, the most obvious- to assist the Iraqi Army in defeating attempts at destabilizing the recognized Iraqi government.

The second, less visible, but arguably more important role, was to serve as both carrot and stick for that Iraqi government. Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shia, led a shaky coalition government that purported to represent both Shia and Sunni. But Maliki tended, not surprisingly, to favor Shia elements, at the expense of the Sunni population.  US A&A BCTs, and other forms of US power, such as funding of reconstruction projects, could be granted or withheld as needed to influence Maliki to treat both Shia and Sunni somewhat equitably. Maliki could be convinced to listen to legitimate Sunni issues as long as he knew US assistance would be available to confront illegitimate Sunni factions.

But the absence of any US backing meant Maliki could only turn to his political base, the Shia population. And not surprisingly, in doing so, he invited increasingly effective Sunni attacks upon the Baghdad government. And that led to a spiral of ever greater repression of Sunni elements, which in turn fueled every greater sectarian Sunni violence.

This isn’t particularly deep analysis here. This is exactly what almost everyone predicted would happen with the total US capitulation of any role or influence in Iraq.

If ISIS hadn’t been the one to march on Iraq, it would have been some other group.

But the Obama administration refused to even consider such an eventuality. The talking point was that Obama would end the war in Iraq, and so it must be.  There was a steadfast refusal to see any possible outcome other than a campaign trail soundbite. The important thing was to move opinion polls, not advance America’s interests.

And since Obama ended the war in Iraq, there can be no further war in Iraq. No matter how many US troops find themselves there, no matter how much ISIS insists it is at war with the US, the proclamation is that there is no war. A major counter-terrorism operation sounds more a police matter, not a war.

Which is cold comfort to the American serviceman facing the nation’s enemy. An enemy whose cruelty and wanton violence has shocked the conscience. We dare not work ourselves to war fever on his behalf.

As an old friend of ours was fond of saying, it is to weep.

.