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

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.

Secondary

As we’ve noted a time or two, the steel armor of a combat vehicle doesn’t burn. But damn near everything else on board will. Artillery self propelled guns are especially vulnerable. As soon as one round cooks off, the rest are sure to go in a sympathetic detonation.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blcMsqIi4J8]

H/T: Funkers 350

Do you even tank, bro?

M1A1TrkTrror commented on an earlier post about the Free Syrian Army

Everything I’ve seen from the Syrian army shows they don’t know how to tank at all. A lone tank sitting buttoned up and exposed isn’t something I put past them.

And quite often, that’s the case.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgpsOO_MRB8?feature=player_detailpage]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y231cCAchR8?feature=player_detailpage]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E3wSHMXvWY?feature=player_detailpage]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCJu-iG0S5U?feature=player_detailpage]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkqQL5yOW7U?feature=player_detailpage]

There’s a fairly eclectic mix of Russian and Chinese Anti-tank Guided Missiles. And I’ll not that in spite of much Alan Snackbar going on, several seem to have not been catastrophic kills.

Tomorrow I’ll link a long video, from the FSA, that actually shows the Syrian Army tanking pretty well.

Syrian Rebels use a TOW Missile to snipe a tank

Via Funkers 350.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwQmO1YoR1M]

 

Where did the FSA get the US made TOW missile system? Probably not from us. But there are literally dozens of nations that use it, and it can’t have been too hard for someone to slip pretty fair numbers of the TOW system and some older missiles to the rebels. You could fit the whole thing in a car.

And you’ll notice it’s pretty dirt simple to assemble and operate (at least, during daylight, against a single stationary target).

Notice also the relatively long time of flight for the shot. The TOW is a fairly slow missile, with a time of flight of up to 23 seconds out to its maximum range.

And finally, notice also that the tank (my eyes are failing, I can’t tell if it’s a T-55 or a T-62) has plenty of secondary explosions in the aftermath. Tanks may be a steel box on treads, but they’re also packed with stuff that loves to burn.

Free Syrian Army vs. Assad Regime Armor

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlbihLtR0HI]

1. Virtually any penetration of the armor of a Soviet era vehicle ends catastrophically. Especially the T-72 tank. The combustible cartige cases for its 125mm main gun are stored on an open turntable at the bottom of the turret ring. When you see the “blowtorch” out the turret hatches, that’s the powder from those shells burning.

2. Never, ever operate tanks and armor in a city without strong infantry support. Dismounted infantry provides better observation of potential firing points, and better suppression of dismounted anti-armor teams.

3. FSA may not be the most professional force in the world, but the guy running up to toss a grenade into the hatch of a T-72 (twice!)  has all the balls you could ask of any grunt.

MG Scales on Intervention in Syria

I mostly know retired Major General Scales as the author of the official US Army history of Desert Storm. He’s also written several opinion pieces and essays. I tend to respect his opinion.

So when CDR Salamander links to his thoughts on a possible US intervention in Syria, I pay attention.

They are tired of wannabe soldiers who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare. “Look,” one told me, “if you want to end this decisively, send in the troops and let them defeat the Syrian army. If the nation doesn’t think Syria is worth serious commitment, then leave them alone.”
They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.

Over the past few days, the opinions of officers confiding in me have changed to some degree. Resignation seems to be creeping into their sense of outrage. One officer told me: “To hell with them. If this guy wants this war, then let him have it. Looks like no one will get hurt anyway.”

If the services are ordered to strike, they’ll do the best they can.

[gigya height=”340″ width=”500″ src=”http://l3cdn.iqmediacorp.com/SWFs/iqmedia_player_resize_cdn_v1.1.swf” wmode=”transparent” allowscriptaccess=”always”  allowfullscreen=”true” flashvars=”embedId=3f717faa-7633-4c25-9839-2def6272ff1a&autoPlayback=FALSE” ]

URR has railed again and again about the spinelessness of GEN Dempsey. For him to say in front of Congress that he has no idea of what any possible US strategic objective is in Syria is a deliberate statement that the White House is clueless. I can assure you, it was no slip of the tongue, or off the cuff statement. After being a toady for the current administration’s policies for so long, one can only assume it is a sign of extraordinary frustration with the puerile thinking of the national security “leadership” in the Obama White House.

Very Cold Launch

We wrote a post a while back about hot and cold missile launches, and noted that the US, submarines aside, uses hot launches for most missiles, because if the motor of the missile doesn’t start…. well, you’ve got problems. Like this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtuN8UuAWTg]