Monday, January 21, 2008

Pentagon Prepares for Cut and Run

The recent announcement that General Petraeus, senior commander in Iraq, is being considered for assignment as top NATO commander is clear proof of the proposition that COIN is antithetical to Transformation, and his success in battle threatens billions of acquisition dollars being spent on the wrong stuff. He is slated to be kicked upstairs, and out of the way.

At first blush, it appeared to me that “Full Spectrum Operations” was a return to some form of sanity within the Pentagon. While I have the greatest respect for Defense Secretary Gates, the Dark Forces Within the Pentagon’s bowels (certainly no higher) conduct Psychological Preparation of the (Political) Battlefield to support a “Cut and Run” from Iraq, and abandon the Iraqi people to the same fate we let the Vietnamese face.

They are preparing for an incoming administration dedicated to the same “Anti-War” posture that led to the Killing Fields. And, at the same time, preserve Modular Madness, Rotational Warfare, and the Fantasy Combat System – all Neo-Con dream states.

The billions being spent on Army Transformation are focused on an imaginary battlefield originally designed in the Fifties for a so-called “Nuclear Battlefield” while USAF airplanes fall out of the sky, and the Navy creates an imaginary “Thousand Ship Fleet” based on the presumption that our allies will rally to our cause when the Chinese decide to seize their designated defense perimeters which include the Philippines and Japan.

It is hard for me to imagine a national military command structure so inept that it’s abolition seems to be the only rational course left. This is to say that the law that created the Department of Defense be repealed, and start over. While we have won more battles that before WW2, it is likely that the increased size and operations of the services accounts for that. Despite more victorious troops, our record for winning wars has gone into the toilet. Which is where DoD needs to go.

Or, maybe there are some serious Philbys in there.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Of Butter Bars and Stripes

I wore tracks on my collar during the days of when we fought Victor Charlie in jungle and rubber. On tracks I rode, on Thunder Road, named not after Robert Mitchum’s story of running moonshine on Kentucky roads, but of exploding mines made from unexploded bombs, and artillery rounds. A lot of this comes to mind as I watch the detailed accounts of combats in Iraq, and Afghanistan. But there are some really big differences I note.

The biggest is that of the extraordinary competence of the Non Commissioned Officer Corps. Of missions they routinely carry out with expertise unheard of in the “old” Lifer-Draftee army. We never trusted a sergeant to do anything outside the range of an officer which downgraded the Butter Bar to do sergeants work without the experience with troop handling that sergeants with time under their belts. It was demeaning and counter-productive.

We ran out of experienced Noncoms early in the war, as by 1961, the WW2 veterans reached the twenty year mark, and emptied the mid ranks of Noncom as they filled the First Sergeant jobs, for which they had not trained. To fill the void, a program was instilled, called the “Shake and Bake” program to take enlisted direct from Advanced Individual Training into a NCO academy. Successful conclusion gave the graduate the rank of E-5. After the dust had settled, studies found that half were damn good, the other half was over-paid.

The NCO training that was built to meet an emergency grew and matured into the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) which has produced the best Noncoms in the world. It is because of this, that our troops are so damn good. I am constantly amazed at the degree of detailed knowledge and competence I see on the small screen from what I see against over thirty years of experience. The talking head in front is a distraction, so listen to what the sergeant says.

To back the development of Noncom competence, the Army lifted a training system from the Strategic Air Command (SAC) that we eventually called the Battalion Training Management System (BTMS). BTMS stressed a collective action oriented training mode which insisted that, during breaks in the battle, the Noncom would conduct “hip pocket” instructions that he believe his squad or platoon’s Mission Essential Task List (METL) needed to practice.

I am concerned over maintaining the competence of the NCO corps in the face of the return of the Training Cycle.

Another thing that concerns me is that these magnificent sergeants, including those the Marine Corps calls “the Strategic Sergeant”, are being committed outside the range of both radio and fire support. That’s something that the uneducated OJT officer corps of Vietnam never would do. Two to five minutes is more than enough to get 155mm on the way, with mortars filling the wait. It’s a bad idea to send troops into Indian country without eyes in the sky carrying a minigun and maybe some rockets. Something’s not right here.

I also don’t see the grab and pile on tactics developed in Vietnam for Air Cavalry or Leg Infantry riding into hot LZ’s on Slicks with Guns covering the flanks. I don’t see the Air Cavalry role of reconnaissance by force being used by forces with plenty of Cobras, Apaches, and Blackhawks.

The basic tactic of air cavalry we used was to nose around with grunts on the ground or a “Pink Team” made up of a Cobra and an OH-6. The idea was to get a reaction from the bad guys, hold on and pile on. The Air Cavalry Squadron had an infantry platoon, called the “Blues” ready to drop in and join battle. Ordinarily, an infantry generated contact was similarly treated with forces on strip alert or close to a landing zone for pick up. A shot fired at or by a squad at noon could be answered by two or more companies by dusk.

I hear the cry of collateral damage to explain away not using artillery, justifying the cut in guns in direct support of troops in contact by reliance on precision munitions which aren’t available when you need them and upon air strikes dependant upon the approval of CinCWorld to fire. I love the Air Force with their Nape, Snakes, and Nails. But they aren’t responsiveness for those caught in the killing zone.

There’s a break in the chain somewhere/

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Operational Artless

The shift in using the Guard and Reserves from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve suggests that the Guard and Reserves (RC) will operate without a strategy. It begs the question as to what exactly are meanings of strategy and operations mean, at least to the Pentagon.

In the halcyon days of wars between nations, where politics and warfare were considered to follow one after the other, there was an implied hierarchy between tactics and strategy with something called the “operational level” of warfare. This latter was made popular during the era of “AirLand Battle” which emphasized the movement of large units on a grand scale. It raised the view of battle from taking the next hill to doing what comes after. Jackson’s Valley campaign, the 1940 invasion of France, Patton’s breakout from Normandy and the maneuvers of Napoleon were classic examples of bold maneuver and the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the best example of the operational art.

Understood in this paradigm is the notion that strategy dictates the operational art which, in turn, dictates the tactics and techniques use at the cutting edge of the force. In this paradigm, the guns move first in tactics, while trucks (ammo and fuel) move first in the operational art as in the “Hail Mary” of Desert Storm. As used, the operational art was centered on the movement of divisions within a corps, and on corps operations itself. Under the Abrams Doctrine, the bulk of the “trucks” and a good slice of the big guns were in the RC, and as an unintended consequence, the expertise of the operational art shifted to the RC, leaving the Active Army the run of the tactical level, and little sense of how and where the ammo, gas, repairs, and trucks were coming from.

This begs the question of the meaning of a shift from strategic to operational levels as the strategy for war included both operational and tactical operations and organization. As Transformation has sunk it’s claws into the military, operations have, until FM 3-24 was published consisted of rotations of units from Festung Kansas to the Eastern Front, and back without regard to any scheme of maneuver as any decent example of the operational art or strategy would have.

The establishment of modular support brigades for the Army Reserve fits the overall notion of “plug and play” but this concept that logistics isn’t modular, but systems and functionally organized and vertically oriented such as the flow of gas, ammo, repairs, and transportation. Putting a support brigade in a divisional task force doesn’t deal with anything until linked to a chain going all the way back to depots, arsenals and factories.

Under Army doctrine from WW2 until now, ammo was delivered from containers stateside to a Corps Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) where it was loaded on trucks (or trailers) for delivery to the guns. It was called throughput. The default rate of delivery was ten tons of ammo per gun per day.

Trucks hauling ammo require fuel and repairs enroute. The roads they need, need to be built and maintained, and traffic control exercised. Movement Control Centers (MCC) and Material Management Centers (MMC) coordinated the effort from rear to front. Rear Operations Centers (RAOC) managed the security of the routes along with Military Police Brigades. Early reports from Iraq suggested that little management or movement or materials were in effect as contractors unfamiliar with the totality of combat service support replaced the trained RC structure.

It might be useful to note that, hierarchically speaking, strategy dictates the operational level of war which in turn dictates the tactical level. Shifting the RC from “strategic” to “operational” has meant operating without a strategy.

There is a powerful and long standing offensive being waged from within the Pentagon to complete the process of modularization, so long standing that it has been several complete rotations of senior military officers and of political appointees through the Pentagon. This suggests that the force behind Transformation is civil service and/or industry oriented.

The Air Force and Navy is being subjected to policies focused on personnel that are consistent with the Army’s. The effects appear to be the same on the support structures of those services. The operational art without the art.