Thursday, January 19, 2017

44's Drone Legacy

The most convenient stick for certain elements with which to whack 44's foreign policy has always been his use of military drones to kill American enemies in chronically anarchic parts of the Mideast and Somalia.

A president who came into office hoping to put a friendlier face on American empire has made significant use of a global assassination technology that seems disturbingly uncircumscribed, not only by domestic laws and democratic oversight, but even by cost or inconvenience

Drones are to the 21st century what the atomic bomb was to the 20th and the crossbow was to the 12th: a new class of weapon that inspires an emotional nightmare of indiscriminate and rising bloodshed. It is an idea that seems to demand the creation of new taboos.

From the standpoint of innocent non-combatants who might be killed in a drone attack, the horror of the drone is just the same as the horror of ordinary bombing, whether perpetrated by planes or ships or wearers of suicide vests. It can really be of no comfort to the dead to know that their destruction was endorsed by an independent committee, or followed some sort of secret adversarial trial.

But since the legislative branch of the U.S. government has left the use of drones up to the president personally, and since the power to assassinate is hard to delegate even within the executive, drones have had a philosophical tendency to delineate the structure of American empire—to reveal the way in which death flows out into the world from the mind, some would say the whim, of one man. It is, in a sense, a public relations problem, one that Islamists have not been slow to exploit.

It was sheer chance that a constitutional lawyer was president when U.S. military drone technology reached an advanced state of perfectibility. Not that this seems to have made much difference. (When constitutional lawyers were needed to endorse torture, America had no trouble finding some.) Since historians continue to have no scholarly access to alternate realities—put DARPA to work on that one!—we have no way of knowing whether 44’s choices about drones have improved the world or made it worse.

The dead can be enumerated, loosely, although the White House’s estimates of “civilian” deaths are an order of magnitude lower than those of non-government assessors. Critics rightly ask whether we can know who is definitely a “civilian.” Indeed, they take Obama to task for the unintended deaths of rank-and-file combatants who were not personally any threat to the United States.

Politicians always think that history will be kind to them—that once all the records of their dilemmas and options are known, and their sincerity can be judged, they will be forgiven even their objective mistakes. They create diaries and assemble libraries knowing that they are pleading a case for themselves to be argued by others. Probably 44 is no different, privately.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

EMP Artillery

If the U.S. Army has its way, America’s next secret weapon may be an electromagnetic pulse artillery shell that paralyzes an enemy city.

These special shells won’t carry high explosive. Instead they will emit EMP bursts, or some other non-kinetic technology, to disrupt the computers, radio communications, Internet links and other ties that bind modern societies. And do so without creating any physical damage.

This is sort of a twenty-first-century version of  the neutron bomb, that notorious Cold War weapon designed to kill Soviet soldiers through a burst of radiation, while inflicting little damage to property. Except this weapon targets the radio frequency networks that keep a nation functioning.

The concept is expressed in a single paragraph in a new Army research proposal:

Extensive use of wireless RF [radio frequency] networking for critical infrastructure and communications systems provides an alternative attack vector for the neutralization of an adversary’s underlying industrial, civil, and communications infrastructure without the destruction of the hardware associated with those systems. Advances in munitions-based microelectronics and power technologies make possible the implementation of non-kinetic cyber and electromagnetic – or electronic warfare (EW) – attacks that could be delivered via artillery launched munitions. The precision delivery of the non-kinetic effects (NKE) electronics payload close to the target allows low power operation which limits the geographical extent of impacted systems, and reduces the overall impact on the electromagnetic spectrum.

In addition, the weapon must fit in a 155-millimeter artillery projectile, with the eventual goal of shrinking the weapon’s size so that a single shell can carry multiple submunitions, each capable of creating electronic havoc.

However, the proposal does not specify how all this is to be accomplished. A query to the Army didn’t shed much light. In an email response, the project scientist said that the project is “open to a broad range of non-kinetic effects.” In fact, the artillery shells don’t even have to be 155-millimeter, but “maybe any other caliber that has the space to place an electronic subsystem that can be used to neutralize an enemy infrastructure and computer based systems.”

Nonetheless, some kind of electromagnetic-pulse shell would appear to be a likely candidate. EMPs, those short but intense bursts of radiation that fry electronics, are generated by nuclear weapons. The United States has long been concerned that a nuclear device, especially one detonated at high altitudes, could massively disrupt the electronic fabric of American society.

However, conventional weapons, such as bombs and missiles, can also generate EMP bursts. North Korea allegedly has such devices, and Russia claims to have equipped aircraft and drones with them, while the Pentagon has been working on high-power microwave weapons for years.

Whether such microwave weapons are effective or reliable is another matter. But regardless of how the artillery shell disables electronics, what’s interesting is that artillery will be the delivery system.
Nuclear and nonnuclear EMP bombs, delivered by aircraft or missiles, can be launched at targets hundreds or thousands of miles away. But a shell launched from a 155-millimeter howitzer suggests the targets will only be ten or twenty miles away.

In other words, what the Army wants is a battlefield weapon for U.S. troops in fairly close proximity to enemy forces. Except that the research proposal isn’t asking for devices that would disrupt, say, Chinese or Russian military command-and-control systems.

Instead the Army speaks of paralyzing “an adversary’s underlying industrial, civil, and communications infrastructure.” This sounds more like some form of strategic bombing.

Or perhaps, it could be used to cripple an enemy city prior to an assault or a siege by U.S. ground troops.

The fact that the Army also desires a low-power weapon that precisely targets a small geographic area and a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum also suggests that the Pentagon is aware of the possibility of collateral damage. An artillery shell that fries the power supply for a government ministry is one thing, but frying the power supply to a hospital or water-treatment plant is another.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

COIN, Chechnya Style

Tiny Battles Gazette has a great bit on the Forever War in Chechnya.

One of multi money shots right here...

 Terror Tactics
The Russian army suffered greatly during the urban fighting of the First Chechen War and during the Second War the Russian High Command was eager to avoid repeating the same mistakes. As an alternative strategy the authorities opted for devastating air and artillery strikes to ‘preserve infantry fighting strength and combat effectiveness’). This approach reduced urban centers practically to rubble and made plain to the local population that the cost of supporting the insurgency would be prohibitive.

The general in charge of the operation wrote that the bombing of the city of Komsomolskaya forced the Chechen inhabitants ‘to say a permanent farewell to their town’). The enormously high civilian casualties which such methods incurred would have provoked outrage and protest in liberal democracies but in Russia the coverage was limited and the war weary public was largely uninterested.

From a strategic perspective, these tactics were effective and the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya ) reports that 841 Chechen fighters were killed in the battle for Komsomolskaya. By bombing urban centers into submission and using overwhelming force, the Russians gradually gained control of all big cities and population points. This had the effect of forcing the rebels to flee to the mountains and therefore lose their material support base. From then on the Russian campaign was ‘a containment mission’ and the security forces adopted a ‘village-targeting strategy’) to deprive the guerrillas of support in the mountains.

Indeed, by targeting the civilian population, Russian forces were able to gradually strip the rebels of ‘sanctuary and social support’ and thereby grind them down. Russian intimidation and brutality confirmed to the general populace ‘the futility of further resistance and the risk of genocidal collapse of the Chechen population’ . By adopting strategies reminiscent of 19th century counterinsurgency policy, the Russians left the population in no doubt that any collaboration with the insurgents would be punished.

Finally, the Russians conducted a ‘relentless, extensive and protracted HVT campaign’ which yielded numerous scalps. Although the intrinsic value of decapitation campaigns has been questioned, it is surely significant that ‘the past four top leaders of the Chechen militants have been removed from their posts due to their loss in targeted killings’ .

The decimation of the Chechen leadership would have degraded the rebels’ combat effectiveness.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Two China Policy

So, what's better than one China?

Why, two China's of course!

As best understood, the "One China Policy" refers to the something something policy or view that there is only one state called "China", despite the existence of two governments that claim to be "China". As a policy, this means that countries seeking diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC, Mainland China) must break official relations with the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) and vice versa.

The amoral corrupt cult of Realpolitik developed this ancient policy way back in the Cold War as a way to reassure, nurture and contain the Earth's largest Collective nation state.

That either the PRC or the ROC is the sole rightful government of all China and that the other government is illegitimate. While much of the western bloc maintained relations with the ROC until the 1970s under this policy, much of the eastern bloc maintained relations with the PRC.

While the government of the ROC considered itself the remaining holdout of the legitimate government of a country overrun by what it thought of as Communist rebels, the PRC claimed to have succeeded the ROC in the Chinese Civil War. Though the ROC no longer portrays itself as the sole legitimate government of China, the position of the PRC remained unchanged until the early 2000s, when the PRC began to soften its position on this issue to promote Chinese reunification. 


While the U.S. officially adheres to the one-China policy, it practices a de facto two-China policy. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. sells Taiwan military weapons, and the language of the act warns the People's Republic that any coercive unification efforts would be "of grave concern to the United States."

Beginning in the late 1980s, the two Chinas flouted their one-China policies by establishing economic and cultural but not political ties. Last summer Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui upset this delicate balance by referring to the "state to state relations" between Taipei and Beijing.

Chen Shui-bian, elected Taiwan's president in March on a pro-independence platform, has continued to pay lip service to independence--two Chinas--but, out of fear of provoking China, has refrained from explicitly repudiating the one-China policy.

Since Red China is acting out - seizing International turf, failing to handle North Korea and generally P.O.ing all her neighbors (except maybe Pakistan), it may be time to coax desired behavior from her with a new schoolmix called the Two China Policy

Friday, January 13, 2017

Royal Navy Versus China?

Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, recently told a Washington think tank that Britain will send aircraft carriers to the Pacific once they become operational in the 2020s. Four Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters, which arrived in Japan in October for joint exercises, are scheduled to fly over the South China Sea.

“Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers onstream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defense forces, they will be seen in the Pacific,” Darroch announced. “And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.”

Naturally, Beijing warned that these moves could threaten relations between China and Britain.

There are two questions here.

The first is technical: What exactly does Britain think it can accomplish militarily against China? The Royal Navy is now down to just nineteen destroyers and frigates, and is phasing out its antiship missiles, leaving British warships to slug it out with cannon like the Grand Fleet at Jutland in 1916. The Royal Air Force is shrinking, and the British Army has fewer infantrymen than were killed on the first day of the Somme in 1916.

Compare this to China, whose defense spending has surged 12.9 percent per year between 1989 and 2011. Even with the Chinese economy slowing, the defense budget was still expected to increase by 7.9 percent in 2016.

Assuming the Queen Elizabeth–class carriers and their F-35B aircraft are ready by 2020—two big ifs, given the history of these two programs—then each carrier will accommodate perhaps fifty aircraft at most, including F-35B vertical/short takeoff and landing strike fighters, as well as assorted airborne early-warning and antisubmarine aircraft and helicopters.

If the Americans, with their bigger carriers and sophisticated Aegis-equipped escorts, are worried about Chinese submarines, hypersonic weapons and carrier-killer ballistic missiles, how would a British carrier task force fare? If a time warp could take a Queen Elizabeth battlegroup back to 1982, it could possibly take on the entire Argentine air force and navy. But China in 2020? Not likely.

Which in turn brings up the question of what Britain hopes to accomplish. As a means of asserting British influence in East Asia, the British military presence probably won’t help much unless London is prepared to somehow wield a bigger stick (nuclear weapons don’t count—China has them too). As deterrence against a Chinese attack on Taiwan or Japan, if Beijing isn’t afraid of the United States, then it’s not likely to be afraid of Britain.

Militarily, despite some claims that Britain could defeat China under some conditions, this seems a risky proposition at best. With Chinese GDP almost five times greater than Britain’s, it is a proposition that will only get riskier. In the high-tech arms race between America and China, Britain simply doesn’t have the resources to compete.

Nor should it. Regardless of what China does, there is still the emerging Russian threat in Europe. Wouldn’t it make sense to concentrate the Royal Navy in Europe and the Mediterranean, as in World War II, and let the United States worry about the Pacific?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

von Richthofen Day

Gott Mit Uns!

100 years ago today, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was awarded Imperial Deutschland's highest military award - Pour le Mérite - often informally referred to as the "Blue Max."  Pour le Mérite was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, von Richthofen earned his for shooting down 16 confirmed French and British fighters and observation planes (not counting two unconfirmed kills).

With Red Baron as his nom de guerre, von Richthofen in his all red fighter wrecked havoc on Allied Air Forces for the next 15 months, shooting down 80 aircraft in very close combat. 

For comparison, the highest-scoring Allied ace, the Frenchman René Fonck, achieved 75 confirmed victories. The highest-scoring British Imperial fighter pilots were Canadian Billy Bishop, who was officially credited with 72 victories, Mick Mannock, with 61 confirmed victories, Canadian Raymond Collishaw, with 60, and James McCudden, with 57 confirmed victories.

Along with his posse of fighter pilots known as the Flying Circus, von Richthofen became an international celebrity and a genuine war hero to the Central Powers and Germany especially.

A true blue blood of Prussian nobility, von Richthofen led his Flying Circus to unparalleled success, peaking during "Bloody April" 1917. In that month alone he downed 22 British aircraft, including four in a single day, raising his official tally to 52. By June he had become the commander of the first of the new larger "fighter wing" formations: Jagdgeschwader 1, composed of Jagdstaffeln 4, 6, 10 and 11.

The Flying Circus was highly mobile and combined tactical units that could move at short notice to different parts of the front as required. In this way, JG1 became "The Flying Circus" or "Richthofen Circus", name coming both from the unit's mobility (including, where appropriate, the use of tents, trains and caravans) and its brightly colored aircraft.

von Richthofen was wounded in combat at least once and although he was performing the duties of a lieutenant colonel, he remained a captain as it was a Deutsch custom for a son not to hold a higher rank than his father, and von Richthofen's father was a reserve major.

Instead of using risky, aggressive tactics like his brother Lothar (40 victories), Manfred observed a set of maxims (known as "Dicta Boelcke" ) to assure success for both the squadron and its pilots. He was not a spectacular or aerobatic pilot, like his brother or the renowned Werner Voss, however, he was a noted tactician and squadron leader and a fine marksman. Typically, he would dive from above to attack with the advantage of the sun behind him, with other pilots of his jasta covering his rear and flanks.

Richthofen was a brilliant tactician, building on his mentor, an air superiority pioneer Oswald Boelcke's tactics. Unlike Boelcke, he led by example and force of will rather than by inspiration. He was often described as distant, unemotional, and rather humorless, though some colleagues contended otherwise. He circulated to his pilots the basic rule which he wanted them to fight by: "Aim for the man and don't miss him. If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don't bother about the pilot".

Richthofen's early victories and the establishment of his reputation coincided with a period of German air superiority, but he achieved many of his successes against a numerically-superior enemy, who flew fighters that were, on the whole, better than his own.

At various times, several different German military aviation Geschwader (literally "squadrons"; equivalent to USAF "wings") have been named after the Baron particularly Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen" (from 6 June 1959)—the first jet fighter unit established by the post-World War II German Luftwaffe; its founding commander was the most successful air ace in history, Erich Hartmann

von Ricthofen's tactical genius is still required learning today for Air Forces around the world and his autobiography is a very good read.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the creation of a legend.




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Confronting North Korea

One of the most critical foreign policy challenges 45 will face in the early days of his administration is what to do about the nuclear saber rattling that continues to emanate from North Korea.


Ringing in 2017 with a New Year’s Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told the world that the year ahead would see North Korea test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), perhaps one capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Because North Korea denies most information to the outside world, no one knows for sure whether Kim’s claim is true or whether North Korea possesses the technological know-how to launch a missile on a suborbital trajectory and have it return to Earth on target. Last year, it tested its intermediate-range missile and failed seven out of eight times.



45 has signaled that he has a plan, but it remains under wraps. He did tweet that "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!"


Whether successful or not, an ICBM test by North Korea would be very much against U.S. interests, and 45 should act to counter it as early as possible. A turn to the basics of deterrence would be the path most likely to succeed.


For deterrence to be effective, the United States should make it clear to North Korea and its autocratic 32-year-old leader that no benefits will flow from an ICBM test — that it will neither empower the regime nor advance its nuclear capability.

When North Korea threatened ICBM development in 2006, former Defense secretary William Perry and Ashton Carter, who now holds the job, recommended that the United States destroy any test missile on its launch pad. That plan, however, was considered too escalatory and raised fears that North Korea might respond by firing artillery at U.S. allies in the region, such as South Korea or Japan.

Instead, 45 could announce a plan to use U.S. missile defenses to shoot down any test ICBM after its launch. Shooting down North Korea’s test vehicle would be a spectacular demonstration of the futility of the regime continuing to pursue its nuclear ambitions, and far less escalatory than dropping bombs on North Korea.

At the same time, the new administration could threaten to undermine the Kim regime’s power through new information operations if North Korea tests an ICBM. 45 also could pressure China to intervene, though  44 and 43 had similar hopes and China never delivered.

45 made clear his dissatisfaction with China’s failure to intervene in a recent tweet: "China has been taking out massive amounts of money and wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!"

But China might be more willing to intercede with North Korea if it knows that the United States is prepared to take major action against the Kim regime to stop its testing of ICBMs.

Kim has parallel goals in pursuing nuclear weapons. One is to distract his people from the many economic and social failures of the Kim family regime by showing the world that North Korea is a nuclear peer of the United States. The other is to demonstrate his ability to strike the USA with nuclear weapons. He hopes to thereby coerce U.S. agreement to a peace treaty with North Korea to end the 1950s Korean War, which could lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. Without U.S. forces in South Korea, Kim might be emboldened to pursue the only form of reunification he supports — North Korean conquest and absorption of South Korea.

Though a test is merely a test, if Kim orders enough of them during 2017, the North could succeed in resolving the many problems its missile program has encountered. That’s why a strong U.S. response is needed now.

There clearly are risks to any response that could provoke the mercurial Kim, but the risks of allowing North Korea to have a proven ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear payload are far greater. If even a single nuclear-armed North Korean ICBM were to strike a U.S. city, it could kill or seriously injure several hundred thousand Americans.

45 should be clear on how he would respond, not just to the threat of attack, but also to the tests that could make such an attack possible in the future. Kim should know that testing ICBMs will bring no benefits but will instead extract costs.