Russians Take Gori

The Times is reporting the Russian forces have seized the Georgian town of Gori. Gori is outside the disputed regions that Russia is supposedly “protecting.” I had initially thought the Russians would confine themselves to air and naval attacks on Georgia proper, but it appears I was wrong. Will Russia occupy all of Georgia? We’ll see. As I mentioned, Gori is only about 15 miles from Tskhinvali, and from there it is only about 40 miles to the capital, Tblisi. It looks as though Russia may decide to solve this dispute once and for all. Gori sits on the main east-west highway in Georgia, so in effect, the Russians have cut Georgia in two. This does not bode well for Georgia.

UPDATE: Not only have the Russians attacked south from Ossettia, they have attacked from the western region of Abkahzia and seized Georgian towns and bases in western Georgia. Georgia, faced with a two front conflict is at the mercy of Russia. Pleas to the UN will not influence Russia in the least. They have a veto on the Security Council, so there will be no resolution condemning Russia.

The Russian-Georgian War

While I haven’t posted anything on this war yet, rest assured I’m paying attention. There are several problems getting good grip on events, however. There are conflicting stories from both sides over the timeline and events transpiring so far. Not surprisingly, both Russia and Georgia are attempting to control media coverage to produce favorable press. Deciding which parts of the coverage are true is difficult.

A little background. Georgia is one of the many smaller states that broke away when the Soviet Union collapsed. Falling under the nominal control of Georgia were two regions, South Ossettia and Abkahzia. Both regions were ethnically different from the Georgians. The Russians have long supported separatist movements in both regions, extending Russian passports to any residents who wanted them. They also encouraged these separatists to use violence in the furtherance of their goals, then stepped in with Russian troops as peacekeepers in both regions as a solution to the violence. Separatists in South Ossettia continued attacks on Georgian troops under the cover of these Russian peacekeepers. Georgia, which has been strongly aligned with the west since its independence, decided to attack the capital of South Ossettia, Tskhinvali, hoping the opening of the Olympics would distract world attention. Their operational security was poor. The Russians were clearly prepared, and by the end of the first day, large Russian units had crossed into South Ossettia and began pounding Georgian units. Georgia’s plan had been to secure Tskhinvali and block the only road into the area before Russian units could reach the area. They failed largely as a result of their lack of surprise. Knowing full well that the Georgian attack was coming, the Russians were able to inject their forces into the region and secure their lines of communications into the area (by lines of communication, we mean supply routes, not phone lines and such). The Russians also felt no compunction about confining the conflict to South Ossettia. They used artillery and airpower against Georgian positions inside Georgia and attacked the airfields the tiny Georgian air force could use.

The Russians also moved to open a second front, by mobilizing the Abkahzian separatists and moving troops into Abkahzia and engaging the Georgian’s tiny navy in the Black Sea.

Georgia has clearly bitten off more than it can chew. They have withdrawn from South Ossettia and are defending the town of Gori. Their entire navy consisted of two missile boats, one of which has been sunk by the Russians as of Sunday. There are unconfirmed reports that the Russian have sunk two vessels.

This graphic shows just how small the area is. The line from Tskhinvali to Gori is only 17 miles. It is about another 30 or so to the capital of Georgia, Tblisi.

This second image is a wider view of the top, showing the position of Georgia on the Black Sea. Abkahzia is in the Northwest corner of Georgia.

And I stole this map from the excellent Information Dissemination, who has been all over this conflict. While he has a naval slant towards this, he also has great links to the war as a whole.

One of the big problems the Georgians face is that they have a tiny army, only about 26,000 strong. And 2000 of those troops are in Iraq fighting alongside us there. The Georgian government has asked the US to move those troops back to Georgia. Here’s a graphic showing the size of the Georgian forces and the size of the Russian forces:

While the Russians obviously haven’t put their whole army into this fight, they have much larger reserves to move to the battle. Once the Georgians deploy their army, that’s it. That’s all they have. And it would be a mistake to think that the Russian forces are the same ones who fared so badly in the first Chechyan war. These are the soldiers who won the second Chechyan war. They are far better trained, and thanks to Russian petrodollars, are far better equipped. The Georgian forces, while using Soviet equipment, are stuck using older, less effective versions.

The Georgians have pretty much been defeated in South Ossettia. The question becomes, what next. Will the Russians attempt to overrun Georgia itself? Probably not. While they have the forces to do so, it is not likely their intention. They can achieve their goals without doing so. Will they instigate a fight in Abkahzai? Quite possibly. If they do, there isn’t a whole lot the Georgians can do about it.

So what are the Russian goals? Russia has long seen the Georgian alignment with the West as a major thorn in their side. By undertaking this limited operation, they have weakened Georgia without any real risk of intervention by the Western nations. DrewM over at Ace’s tells us that one political goal is the removal of Georgia’s pro-western President, Mikheil Saakashvili.

In addition, the Russians have sent a message to a lot of other small nations that once fell under their sway. First, play ball with Russia, or you too might suddenly find yourself with  a “separatist movement.” Second, they have demonstrated that they are willing to use naked force to achieve their goals, and world opinion be damned. Third, those small nations have been put on notice that the West, in the form of NATO and the EU will not lift a finger to help them.

UPDATE: Of course, Castle Argghhh! has a great post on this topic. Be sure to check out this map from the comments.

Apache Pron and YouTube

Believe it or not, the Army didn’t spend millions upon millions of dollars developing the Apache just so you could watch clips of it smokin’ jihadis on YouTube. Mainly because YouTube didn’t exist when they came up with it.

After the end of the Vietnam war, the Army found itself with old, obselescent and poorly maintained forces facing a massive Soviet Army in Western Europe. The need to recapitalize and re-equip the forces was great, but the defense budget was tight. Military spending was unpopular and the mood in the country was fairly isolationist. The Army was one of the least trusted institutions in the country. The leadership was faced with a problem familiar to managers and leaders everywhere- a huge task and very little in the way of resources.

The development of the Apache took place in this arena of limited budgets, and was a product not only of the state of the art in aerospace engineering, but also of changing ideas of how best to fight a war. As the development began, The 1973 Yom Kipur war showed just how violent and intense an armored battle could be. It also showed just how effective Soviet weapons could be. We tend to treat them with scorn now, but they were very effective in the Sinai, and fit in very well with the Soviet view of how to fight. Partly as a result of the 73 war, and a very comprehensive study of history, the Army developed the doctrine of Active Defense, which would later evolve into the AirLand Battle Doctrine. AirLand Battle was the governing view of “how to fight” from roughly 1982 to the end of the Cold War. It’s effectiveness can be seen in Desert Storm. The equipment that the Army bought in the 1970s and 1980s was designed with this doctrine in mind as well as the constraints of budget and engineering.

Doctrine drove the development of equipment. The Army looked at how it wanted to fight, then decided what it needed to fight that way. Knowing that there was a very limited pool of money, the were ruthless in aiming for what the NEEDED versus what they WANTED. This eventually boiled down to what became known as “The Big Five”: The M-1 Abrams tank, the M-2/M-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, The UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopter, the Patriot air defense missile system, and of course, the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The big problem facing US commanders on the ground in Western Europe was being outnumbered. A US division could expect to face up to nine Soviet divisions. The rule of thumb is that the attacker should bring three times the troops as the defender. The problem for the Soviets was that there wasn’t enough space to get all nine divisions into the fight at the same time. There just weren’t enough roads to move the divisions and supply them. Their answer was the “echelon attack”. The first echelon of three divisions would attack. If they broke through, fine. If not, they would pull back slightly while keeping pressure on the US forces. The second echelon would then pass through and make its attack. If that didn’t work, the third echelon would then take its turn. During each attack, they could expect to wear down the US division to the point that it collapsed. The question for the US was how to counter this. The answer was-timing. If the US could delay the follow up attacks by the second and third echelons, the US division would be in a position recover from the first attack, and even counter-attack to upset the Soviet efforts. The question became “how do we delay and disrupt the follow on echelons?” Artillery and rockets didn’t have enough range to reach that far behind the front. The Air Force would do its part by concentrating on targets like bridges, supply and fuel depots, and command posts. That left a middle ground from roughly 25-100 miles behind the front lines that the Army needed to be able to attack.

The solution was the attack helicopter and deep strike. Attack helicopters had been around almost as long as helicopters themselves. Previously, however, they had always been used in close support of the ground forces, like flying artillery, and tied to the units they were supporting.  Anyone who has seen Apocolypse Now remembers the choppers coming in over the beach and laying waste to the bad guys. The new concept was for the helicopter to act more like Cavalry, raiding deep behind enemy lines, popping up where least expected. Think JEB Stuart in the Civil War. Rather than one or two helicopters providing support to an infantry battalion, an entire battalion of helicopters (18 birds) would slip past the first echelon and attack the second and third before they could even get to the fight. They would sow confusion, concentrate on taking out commanders and headquarters, force the Soviets to react to us, rather than having us react to them. By carefully choosing when and where they attacked, they could influence not only when, but where the follow on echelons attacked. For instance, if the Soviets planned to attack by crossing a river, the helicopters could concentrate on attacking bridging vehicles, forcing the Soviets to choose another path.

The Army’s first attempt at a purpose built attack helicopter was the AH-56 Cheyenne. It was not a success. It was primarily designed to serve as an escort for transport helicopters, but the ability to fly fast for long distances also helped inspire the deep strike concept. After the failure of the Cheyenne, development of the Apache began in earnest. What was wanted was a long range helicopter that could survive considerable small arms fire, and packed a large punch, able to defeat any known enemy armor. The helicopter needed to be able to operate day  or night, or in bad weather. This lead to the development of the Apache’s TADS/PNVS (Target Aquisition and Designation System/Pilots Night Vision System). This used infrared sensors to allow the gunner to spot enemy vehicles and “paint” them with a laser designator. The pilots night vision system used was mounted above the TADS and moved separatley. This allowed both crewmembers to use night vision, even while looking in differnt directions. One of the “good ideas” incorporated was to allow the 30mm cannon to point where the pilot was looking. While the gunner was using the TADS to fire Hellfire missiles at enemy tanks, the pilot could engage any threats that got in close.

The Hellfire missile was developed in concert with the Apache. It has a range of about 5 miles so the Apache is outside the range of most anti-aircraft missiles and guns it would encounter. It’s warhead was large enough to defeat any known armor and since it was laser designated, it could be guided by the helicopter firing it, another helicopter, or a scout on the ground. The 30mm chain gun gave the Apache to engage soft targets like trucks without spending an expensive Hellfire missile. It also gave it good self-defense against troops and anti-aircraft guns. In addition, 2.75″ rockets could be used to attack soft targets and troops.

The best known use of the Apache performing a deep strike was on the opening night of Desert Storm. A force of eight Apaches, supported by four Air Force MH-53Js, attacked two Iraqi radar stations on the border to open up a corridor for Allied strike planes to slip through unobserved. Less well known were several deep strike missions performed by the Apaches of the VII Corps to attack Republican Guard brigades and “fix” them in place to be destroyed later by ground forces. They were so successful, by the time they were done, there was little left of the units to be destroyed.

Ironically, the Army has abondoned the deep strike mission for the Apaches. This is partly because there is little chance of US forces being so greatly outnumbered. Another major factor was the deep strike mission against the Medina Division on March 24, 2003. Thirty-three Apaches attacked the Medina Division near Karbala. Having learned their lesson in Operation Desert Storm, the Medina Division laid a clever “flak trap” that shot down one Apache, and damaged almost all the others. All the damaged Apaches were able to make it back home, but several were damaged beyond repair. The high cost of the mission wasn’t worth the results.

If you made it this far, many thanks. Here’s the payoff-

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=UOIsDJsH1kw]

A personal favorite:

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=jXvEy8leKpM]

And one more:

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=Og_qqzuj6xY]

Flying Tanks (yes, really)(well, sorta)

No, we aren’t going to drop a 70-ton M-1A1 tank using parachutes. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had airborne tanks. I wouldn’t call any of them huge successes, but our main topic today, the M551 Sheridan wasn’t a complete flop, either.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50cpPAVoxJQ]

Airborne forces got their start in WWII. We’ve all seen the movies of paratroopers jumping into Normandy. One problem they had was a shortage of ways to defeat German armor and take out targets like bunkers and pillboxes. The bazooka went a ways toward this, but a tank would help a lot. The US and the British developed a very light tank called the M22 Locust that could be landed by glider or transported by plane. Arriving in service too late to see combat in WWII, it was also badly undergunned.

After WWII, the Army still tried to come up with lightweight tank for the airborne forces, but had little success. To have any success defeating armor meant a bigger gun. A bigger gun meant a heavier vehicle, and heavier vehicles couldn’t be airdropped. That was pretty much the state of affairs until missile technology entered the picture.

Instead of using a solid shot to penetrate enemy armor, the plan was to use High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) rounds. These use a warhead that focuses the explosion to “burn through” enemy armor. The velocity of the round doesn’t matter to the penetration. The effectiveness of a HEAT round is directly related to the diamater of the warhead. The larger the better. But that takes us back to the problem of weight. The solution was to sacrifice muzzle velocity and accept a slow flying round, since the velocity on impact didn’t matter. This made the gun effective at short ranges. Unfortunately, the problem of long range defense against tanks was still there. The Army solved this by using the same gun as a launcher for a guided missle. After a protracted (and not terribly successful) development, the gun and missile combination was finalized. The gun was a 152mm bore (about 6″) that could fire HEAT rounds for short ranges, and the MGM-51 Shillelagh guided missile.

The gun/missile combination was mated to a lightweight, aluminum hull (or chassis, if you will) that was capable of both being airdropped from a C-130 and of swimming. Production started in 1966 and vehicles soon began to equip the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, and other units soon thereafter.

While the system worked to some extent, most of the users weren’t very happy with it. The aluminum armor was easily penetrated, and vulnerable to mines. The Sheridan was also prone to breakdowns. By the mid-70s, most Cavalry units had phased it out. The 82nd Airborne Division, however, had nothing to replace it and so held on to theirs until 1996. The 82nd actually airdropped eight of them during the invasion of Panama, and deployed 51 of them to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

By the late 1970s, the Army had several hundred relatively new, but obsolete Sheridans on its hands. It had also just opened the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, near Barstow, CA, and needed lots of armor to simulate a Soviet regiment attacking across Western Europe. Many Sheridans were modified with sheet metal and fiberglass to give them a distinctive, somewhat Soviet look to play this part. They served very honorably in this role until 2003 when they were replaced by highly modified M-113s.

Update:

Because there were few enemy tanks in Vietnam, and the recoil of HEAT rounds tended to damage electronics on board, Sheridans deployed to Vietnam had their missile guidance packages removed. In addition to the HEAT round, they carried a cannister anti personnel round. You’ve seen a shotgun shell before. Now imagine one six inches across and about 2 1/2 feet long. This was a fearsome weapon when the VC or NVA attacked Sheridan units.

Well knock me over with a feather…

An article from “some news organization” says there’s a poll of independents believe McCain would do better on Iraq than Obama. Boy, didn’t see that one coming.

Yes, I know a majority of our citizens don’t support the war, and think it was a bad idea. That doesn’t mean a majority want to lose.

Despite McCain’s best efforts to alienate voters (especially his base), he just might win this thing.