Aug. 21st, 2017 08:29 am
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Comes news today of yet another collision between a US Navy ship and a merchant vessel. One wonders why, especially since, after the first collision, everybody in the Navy involved in ship driving would huddle up and say "we need to get smarter."

Here's a thought - Russian GPS spoofing. Apparently already done on large scale in central Moscow, there was a recent incident in the Black Sea where 20+ merchant ships were fed badly erroneous data into their GPS system. Like, "you're actually at the airport" erroneous data.

Now, Yours Truly learned to navigate ships back when GPS was new, and so we'd check GPS for accuracy against other navigational means, but there are large numbers of people (military and civilian) operating ships and planes strictly on GPS. This spoofing appears to have gone from the plot of a James Bond movie to real life. Yippee.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I've been busy, so have some links:

1) I'm still giving away free e-copies of my book The Night Watch.

2) You can read an interview of me.

3) An interesting article: Why Nothing Works Anymore. Best opening line: "“No… it’s a magic potty,” my daughter used to lament, age 3 or so, before refusing to use a public restroom stall with an automatic-flush toilet."

America’s military doesn’t need more money — what it needs is an engaged public to demand a genuine strategy

5) Among other things: Mars Needs Lawyers.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
In an effort to give Trump a rest, let's talk about another subject of mine - military history. Specifically, why countries build a military. I developed an interest in how a military came to be back when I was in grade school and read (and re-read) a book on how air combat evolved during the First World War. I was (and am) fascinated by the concept of in 4 years going from waving at opposing aircraft to one man shooting down 80 of them.

Then I started reading science fiction, and I noticed that most fictional planets had fairly robust military establishments, which tended to look a lot like either the US military (the good guys) or the Soviet military (the bad guys). At some point, I put the WWI book and these fiction books together, and started to wonder how all these militaries came to be.

The short answer, I discovered, was that a military was built to protect against a specific threat. So, for example, New Zealand, 900 miles from the nearest continent, that being closely-allied Australia, has a tiny military, which just over 11,000 people in it out of a population of 4.7 million. Simply put, they don't need a large military. There is no major threat.

Other nations make a similar decision. Take Mexico, for example. They are the 11th most-populous country in the world, and have the 11th largest economy. They are just ahead of #12, Italy. Yet Mexico spends .677% of its GDP on defense, while Italy spends 1.27 of GDP. Italy, with half Mexico's population, has 350,000 people in the military, vs. Mexico's 280,000. Mexico has three (3) (!!!) fighter aircraft, all ageing F-5s. Italy has 209 fighters.

Here history and strategy play a part. Historically, the Mexican Army has been used to put down internal dissent and support military dictators, from Santa Ana to Porfirio Diaz, so there's a bias against a large military. Second, the chief threat to Mexico is the United States, which since WWII has been the 800 pound guerrilla of militaries as well as an ally. Bottom line - no real reason for a large military.

What I find in most science fiction (John Scalzi and Jack Campbell being notable exceptions) is that the military is the size it is largely for authorial convenience. I also find that it is organized along the principles of whichever military the author is most immediately familiar with.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
The Internet continues to provide things to point at and ridicule blog posts to discuss. In my Navy days, it would have been called a "target-rich environment."

Today's target is a blog posting over at Wile E. Coyote, SuperGenius (Just ask him, he'll tell you) site. Reacting to a news article that the US sent small numbers of troops to NATO-ally Lithuania, an act that should be no more controversial then sending troops to Arizona, he is concerned that the neo-cons are trying to "goad" Russia into war. Ignoring the fact that sending troops to an ally is in no way goading, herewith was my response (Google the facts yourself, I'm not doing your research for you):

the US is under Article 5 obligated to treat an attack on one member nation as an attack on the US and "assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force."

We are also obligated to "consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened."

In short, by law, if Lithuania feels threatened, we're required to listen to them, and if they get attacked by nuclear, conventional or unconventional means we're required to defend them. And Lithuania feels threatened enough to re-institute the military draft in 2015.

Our other options are 1) kick the Baltic States out of NATO (which actually requires NATO approval) or 2) withdraw from NATO, which requires a 1-year notice.

What Obama is hoping to do is to suggest to Putin that taking these states won't be as easy as rolling into Crimea was. Aiding him in this effort is the great reduction in the size of the post Cold War Russian Army.

The Western Military District, responsible for the initial attack, has three "Armies" but these "Armies" are each of ~2 division equivalent. (The Russian Army is moving from a divisional to a brigade equivalent, and for example 6th Guard Army is by brigade but 1st Tank is still in 2 divisions.)

Putin doesn't have a million men to send, he's got more like 400,000, of which the approximately 80,000 airborne troops are at NATO standard. The rest are 2-year conscripts.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
It's becoming clear that the latest pressure-cooker bomber is frankly an idiot.

One Internet commentor said (in full - emphasis mine): I appreciate your latest post about how many mistakes the alleged perpetrator made, and we are all extremely thankful that he was as bad at this as he was. But that's not an accident.

Good intelligence work, good police work, more aware citizenry and other measures set up since 9/11 have limited -- for now, and hopefully far into the future -- the ability of major terrorist plots to get off the ground in the US. Major cells get disrupted, chatter on social media leads to arrests, and then great police work over this past weekend gets the bad guy in no time. There simply isn't any scope for large-scale, mass-casualty events at the moment in the US. Our strategy is working. It is impossible to prevent every idiot with an internet connection and a pressure cooker from blowing something up. What we can do -- and are doing -- is make sure that the numbers are limited, the major plots don't happen, and the casualties are kept to a minimum. Fear and chaos are not the answer. We are winning this war.

Not all wars end formally. Sometimes they just peter out.

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. With apologies to Michael Corleone, I thought I was going to refrain from posting about things political today. Then comes this New York Times article in which Trump said if Russia attacked them, [NATO-allied Baltic states] he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Now, I understand and generally agree with the idea that our allies can and should do more for their own defense. But here's the thing - the Baltic states, short of having ballistic nuclear missile submarines, cannot and will not be able to defend themselves from Russia.

Geographically, the countries in question sit on flat plains, AKA "good tank country." They aren't very big (Lithuania is roughly the size of West Virginia) and don't have a large population (Lithuania is roughly the same population as Connecticut). They would be easily overran in a conventional war, even with NATO involvement. Simply put, the only way these countries stay independent is with a strong guarantee that, even if Russia pushes us out, we're coming back.

It may have been a mistake to add these countries to NATO, and it would be a valid policy position to say we're dropping them from NATO, but for right now they're in, and we as a country have given our word to defend them. Asking if they have "fulfilled their obligations to us" is morally bankrupt.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
As a fan of University of Illinois basketball, I have decidedly mixed opinions on Bobby Knight, a long-time coach at rival Indiana University. However, he definitely was an effective coach, if you define "effective" as "winning basketball games."

Knight has been quoted as saying "The will to succeed is important, but what's more important is the will to prepare." In thinking of our government's response to Benghazi I was struck by how appropriate this quote was.

Reading through the report, I was struck by how ill-prepared pretty much everybody was. Quick-reaction units that took 6 hours to get mustered and didn't have transport. A shocking lack of knowledge by the military of what resources where on the ground or even where the key building were. The bottom line is that nobody prepared a response. When the shit hit the fan, everybody was improvising. We got lucky that only four people died that night.


Jun. 28th, 2016 03:48 pm
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
The House Select Committee on Benghazi has released their final report. After much Strum und Drang, there's nothing there. Specifically:

1) Ambassador Stevens died before anybody could have done anything.
2) Nobody in any level of command issued a "stand down" order. The closest to such an order came from the CIA chief in Benghazi who may have had his team wait a couple of minutes while he was trying to get local help - help that the team leader wanted.

There were a few new items. First, the only military unit available to respond, a FAST platoon, was in Rota, Spain. That's 4 hours flying time to Benghazi. Alas, the unit doesn't have C-130s available - they have to come from Ramstein, Germany.

The unit commander testified that he saw TV news of a problem around midnight local time and started recalling his troops from liberty. He got the order to go to Libya at 2:39 AM local time. To be clear, Stephens had been dead for hours, the consulate had been overrun for hours, and the CIA annex had been attacked once by then. He'd already recalled his troops and were getting them packed up, but that's when he got the order. At 5:45 AM local time, FAST reported that they were ready to go.

They did not have a C-130, as Ramstein had not been ordered to send one. The general at Ramstein, also acting on TV news, had gotten some birds prepped. Yet the C-130s didn't arrive from Ramstein for another six (6) (!!!!!!) hours, and FAST spent several hours on the ground deciding whether or not to travel in civilian clothes and with what weapons.

What is clear to me from reading the report is a shocking lack of urgency in any of the military units involved, from the immediate reports of the Secretary of War on down to the European commanders. What was also clear to me was a very low, peacetime, level of readiness for a problem. Having said that, the fault seems to lie at the level of uniformed officers, not Clinton.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Today's post is later than usual due to a busy morning.

A) Having merely pointed at Scalzi's post yesterday on Brexit and saying "me too" let me today point at Scalzi's newest post on Brexit and say "me too."

B) Game of Thrones a TV show that I do not watch, had a big medieval battle scene in it. Various people are complaining of inaccuracies, including the idea that the cavalry (well, armored knights) arrive to save the day, unbeknownst to the Big Bad. I remind people that at Waterloo, Napoleon knew the Prussians were in the area and had detached a Corp to fend them off, yet the Prussian arrival forced his retreat.

C) Chuck Wendig talks about common sense gun control. I note the article primarily to point out that there is a divide in gun culture from "old school" (Chuck and I) and "new school." The new school types seem to want everybody to have a gun instantly to hand.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I've blogged before about my dislike of the US Navy's most recent type of surface warship, the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS. For those not clicking through, the LCS is "a class of relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore)" and combines light troop transport and anti-ship warfare into one small (2500 to 3500 ton) vessel. (For the record, the frigate I served on was 4,100 tons, so an LCS at ~25% lighter isn't that small.)

My chief complaint with the LCS is firepower, or rather lack of same. As built, the ships have a single 57MM cannon with a range of ~ 5 miles and an air defense system designed for anti-missile use with the same 5 mile range. The cannon is simply too small a caliber for anti-ship use, at least against anything the same size as the LCS or bigger, and the anti-missile system is rudimentary (largely due to radar limitations). In short, the LCS simply can't effectively engage ships it's own size or larger.

I've seen this movie before. In WWII, most armies fielded a type of vehicle called a tank destroyer. This was a tank-like vehicle but one, unlike the "typical" tank of the period, equipped with a gun powerful enough to destroy an enemy tank. In theory, tanks were used to support infantry attacks and tank destroyers would hunt enemy tanks.

In practice, this didn't work. Tanks frequently found themselves fighting other tanks and tank destroyers found themselves supporting infantry attacks. The long-term solution proved obvious, namely give the tank the firepower it needed to face other tanks.

Thus, I expect, unto the LCS. The first rule of modern naval warfare is that every ship needs to fend for itself in the area it is expected to operate in. So the LCS needs to be able to sink, or at least fight evenly, a ship it's size and deal with a small airstrike and have some anti-submarine capability.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Over on Crooked Timber, John Quiggin asks does Australia need a navy? He did a cost-benefit analysis and determined the answer was no. Herewith my reply.

This post is a classic example of what I call “Wall Theory.”

Imagine that a village keeps getting attacked by barbarians, so they build a wall. Attacks stop, as the barbarians don’t like heights. Then, about the time the last person who actually saw a barbarian is old and feeble, somebody shows up and says “lets tear down the wall. It’s too expensive to maintain and blocks the breeze.” The question is, are the barbarians gone or just waiting in the treeline?

Quiggins concludes: the counterfactual in the absence of naval expenditure would have to be a chronic state of crisis ten times as bad as the blocking of the Suez canal. Just how many deep-water pirate ships would it take to create that crisis? If any ship is liable to be attacked, they all will need to be armed, insurance rates will skyrocket, and the cost to ship anything will radically rise. Not to mention the human cost in loss of life and limb.

Surface ships at sea serve the same purpose as armies on land: they prevent the development of warlords, and keep crime down to levels that can be handled by police forces. What keeps the Somali pirates down to the level of speedboats and AK-47s is naval power. Otherwise they could take some of their captured merchant ships, mount a cannon on them, and go roaming the oceans. I should note here that Nigeria and Indonesia have piracy problems as well – problems also kept in check by navies.

Oceanic commerce moves on surface ships. Submarines are useless at protecting surface ships from anything, including other submarines, because of the technical difficulties of convoy operations.

Aircraft are helpful in protecting ships, but if you don’t like the expense of operating a frigate, you’ll hate the expense of maintaining a combat air patrol over a convoy 2000 kilometers from the nearest airbase. They also have clear limitations in anti-piracy, in that frequently the only way to tell a pirate from a fishing boat is to board and search the vessel. Also, should a merchant ship be captured, air power becomes useless.

One can and should argue how much navy one needs. (Speaking as an American, frankly I find Australia in particular and most countries in general are spending too little on their navies and relying on Uncle Sam to pick up the gap.) In any event, there is a clear need for some organization to police the seas.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
So, I just finished reading the latest bit of MilSF from Tanya Huff ([ profile] andpuff), her book An Ancient Peace. It was an entertaining book, if not especially profound. But the book highlighted a gripe of mine.

My gripe is this - the future militaries of MilSF look an awful lot like the early 21st Century US military. For example:

1) Space Marines are always the unit to conduct landings from spaceship to ground. This is because, in modern warfare, we expect the (oversized relative to other countries') US Marine Corp to do landings. Except MacArthur did three landings in the Pacific and the US Army did six landings (including D-Day!) in Europe with nary a Marine in sight! IMHO, the role of "Space Marine" would be a small-scale force optimized to fight on asteroids and space stations - vacuum and variable Gs being a tricky environment.

2) Everybody has the same military rank system - the US system. Tanya, a Canadian, at least has a slight variation in that she has Master Corporals. (Come to think of it, she was a Master Corporal.) But rank structures evolve and differ by countries! For example, the French Army Major Generals are billets, not ranks. Also, in the old Soviet and current Russian Navy, there is no rank of "Commander." You're either a Lieutenant, a Captain (1st, 2nd or 3rd) or a Captain-Lieutenant.

3) Everybody has an agreed-upon definition of what type of spaceship is what. But in our world, that's largely a function of some 20th-century treaties. Even that is variable - Japan operates several helicopter destroyers that everybody else would call a light aircraft carrier.

4) Battlecruisers! There was a period from about 1910 to 1930 that, due to limitations of steam engines, one could have a ship of battleship* size, speed and firepower but not equivalent armor. These faster but less-protected ships were called "battlecruisers." Then, steam turbines became available, and in ships like the US Iowa-class battleships, you could get speed AND firepower AND armor. In short, the "battlecruiser" was a historical accident, yet MilSF has them zipping around by the gross.

5) Unit organization. In 90% plus of MilSF I've read, the XO of a unit is of a lower rank than the CO. This is generally true in US military units, except in Navy aviation squadrons, where both officers are of the same rank and the XO "fleets up" to the CO spot.

I could go on, but I shan't. I shall end by saying the US military is not the be-all or end-all.

* The word "battleship" prior to the 1880s was used (rarely) as a contraction for "ship of the line of battle" and could refer to any of a number of types of ships.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
A Thought

It’s always better to practice on a fake hand grenade than a live one.

(Words to live by...)

Interesting Article with a Cool Picture

The F-104 - not quite the right stuff.


Jan. 13th, 2016 04:23 pm
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I'm slated to be busy tomorrow, so have tomorrow's thought today:

A pair of USN gunboats (more like "ski boats with a machine gun") strayed into Iranian waters. The Iranians arrested our sailors, and one of them apologized for being in Iranian water while blaming a GPS failure. Various right-wing sources are comparing this to Carter's hostage crisis. Thoughts:

1) If a Cuban or Iranian gunboat strayed into US waters, you'd be damn sure we'd arrest everybody on the boat and haul them to shore.

2) If said boats had fired on our ships during the arrest, you'd be damn sure that an airstrike would be called in and those boats, plus anybody who got in the way, would be sunk.

3) Given the size of the boats, and presuming one of them needed to be towed, thus slowing both ships, the practical result of any armed resistance would be to get the resisting boats sunk and their crew dead.

4) Saying "we're sorry" is the quickest way to end the standoff. Armed resistance is the quickest way to start a war, and nobody on those boats is within a country mile of the paygrade that equals "get to start a war on my say-so."

In short, the right-wingers are pissed because we got treated exactly like we'd treat somebody else.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Comes news today that Turkey shot down a Russian jet allegedly over Turkish airspace. Several thoughts:

1) Generally not helpful in trying to patch together a response to ISIS and the mess in Syria.

2) Turkey and Russia have been shooting at each other since the invention of gunpowder. I doubt this will get past the harsh words stage.

3) Turkey takes air defense very seriously. When I was in the US Navy, Turkey shot down a Greek (NATO-ally Greek) plane for violating Turkish airspace. When Turkish ground control says "turn around" you'd best turn around.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Via various sources, I was led to this article. The article claims that, should we fight head-to-head with Russia, especially in the Baltic states (Lithuania, for example) the Russians will wipe us out. It also claims to have an answer, namely reorganize the US Army into Reconnaissance Strike Groups (PDF) driving an upgunned German-designed Puma armored vehicle.

I find this yet another example of a long-standing trend in military thought. The trend is to perceive your enemy as ten foot tall and bulletproof, and only by adopting some Cool New Thing can you have a hope of defeating him. Herewith are my (I hope more reasoned) thoughts:

1) A conventional defense of the Baltics is very difficult. They are small, flat countries, perfect for armored warfare. Any realistic defense conventional defense would realize that the best one could do is retreat to a handful of coastal enclaves and there await a counter-invasion.

2) The Russians are not ten feet tall. They have had to significantly reduce their military, and other than the airborne units rely on two-year conscripts who are not particularly well-trained or motivated. Nor do their NCOs and officers have the real-world experience of our units.

3) Having said #2, our troops are used to operating in total air supremacy and with minimal electronic interference to their communications. This would not be the case in the Baltics, and would result in US losses.

4) Putin has not shown a willingness to launch all-out fights. He could have unleashed a torrent of tanks against the Ukraine but did not, largely because even against a poorly-armed enemy his forces would take unacceptable losses.

Given all of the above, the best defense of the Baltics in particular and NATO in general is to convince Putin that any attack on any part of NATO is going to result in a long and drawn-out war.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Retired US Army Colonel Tom Kratman is writing a column for Although I don't agree with Kratman's politics, he does have a wealth of knowledge on things military (mostly Army) and has written a number of insightful articles. I found especially interesting his various articles on training and the failures of the US Army to do so effectively. This led to two profound thoughts.

Profound Thought #1

Most militaries are like a high school football team that only plays a game once every eight years. What happens is that people who haven't actually played a game (or fought a war) are training other people who haven't actually played a game or fought. This almost inevitably leads to degraded training. Some militaries are better at delaying this degradation then others, but it happens. If, as happened during the 19th and 20th centuries, one throws in rapid technological change, one ends up with lancers on horseback charging tanks.*

Now, for the Army at least, and to a lesser extent the Air Force and Marines, the past decade or so of war has changed that equation somewhat. To paraphrase Churchill, nothing kicks the cobwebs out of training like getting shot at for real. Having said that, Profound Thought #2 kicks in.

Profound Thought #2

As I've mentioned before, this century is rhyming with the 19th. One of the ways that's happening is our military. Much like the Victorian British Army, we're not actually fighting anybody who is a serious military threat. They can be local problems, and some of them (Afghanistan) are the same enemies, but there is no way in hell an Afghan army is ever going to take Washington DC. This leads to a situation where, to some extent, we don't take our enemies seriously.

In 1854, this led to the Charge of the Light Brigade, a military fuck-up of epic proportions, which instead of getting generals shot became a famous poem. In 2015, this leads to a reliance on drones that couldn't fight off a determined cropduster controlled from lightly-secured office buildings. This isn't a good thing - it's just a thing.

* There's actually significant evidence to suggest that at least in Poland this didn't actually happen.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
1) Happy Trafalgar day - a very interesting animation at the link.

2) Speaking of navies, the Royal Australian Navy just bought two big through-deck amphibs.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I think everybody's heard of the shooting of five sailors and Marines at two recruiting centers in Chattanooga. Herewith, some thoughts.

1) Although I'm saddened by the shooting, why do these five individuals merit the flying of flags at half-staff and the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan did not?

2) I notice various citizens standing self-appointed guard at recruiting centers. Given that we run about one shooting at a recruiting center every other year, and that there are thousands of such centers in the US, how long does anybody think these guards will be on station? Or what real effect the guards will have?

3) I am enthusiastically in favor of letting troops have weapons to defend themselves. However, if the first indication of a problem is you taking a round in the chest, your list of tactical solutions is very short. Even if you don't get shot, surprise attacks by your enemy will always be difficult to overcome.

ETA 3a) At the second location, the one where everybody was killed, two soldiers were armed and returned fire. Neither individual was able to stop the shooter.

4) Recruiting centers, by the nature of what they do, are soft targets and can't really be secured. They are also legitimate military targets.

5) As with much of the current "War on Terrorism" (tm), killing Arabs in Iraq does not seem to prevent Americans from launching attacks in America. Perhaps we should re-evaluate our approach to the problem.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Various sub-tribes of The Usual Suspects are perpetually concerned about the military buildup of "communist" China. (I put "communist" in quotes because the authoritarian government in charge there is communist in name only.) Yesterday, there was this article pointing out why China was increasing their military.

Put simply, from the period 1820 to 1960, China was the 98-pound weakling of Asia, and got beat like a drum by pretty much everybody. They were not happy at the time, nor are they in the mood for a repeat. Critically, the vast majority of Chinese people live relatively near the coast (western China is an empty desert). China has several large and navigable east-west rivers, allowing access deep into the interior.

Strategically, the only way to defend China is prevent another navy from controlling their coastline. Thus a naval buildup largely aimed at intermediate (out to 500 miles) defense of the coast. This is basic geography, and any Chinese government would be following the exact same policy. It's actually largely the same as the US policy in the 1800s. We're not as coastal-centric as China is, but New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans aren't exactly chopped liver.

Geography controls strategy.


chris_gerrib: (Default)

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