Archive for the ‘Pentagon’ Category

Yet more stupid giant floating radar news. Not only can’t it keep the sea if the weather turns bad, not only is there no sea boat, and no security – but its support vessel won’t be able to go alongside it most of the time, according to the US Coast Guard. This really is one of the poster children for Stupid Defence Procurement, no?

Speaking of stupid defence procurement, Richard North has issued a Christmas list of stuff he thinks the armed forces need. Predictably, all but one item on it comes from either BAE or the United States, and it’s all very expensive, electronic and Rumsfeldesque, not to mention tactically defensive. For example, he advocates we buy a “system” (a word that is usually the key indicator of useless expensive kit) whose manufacturers claim it can shoot down mortar rounds in flight.

Well, when it’s working, if the enemy chooses to shoot at the camp that got the scarce gadget, and until they invent a countermeasure (like chaff stuffed in the tail of their 107mm rockets, say). This is a classic example of cheap, highly available 4GW that entrains incredibly expensive technofixes on the part of conventional armies. Far better to take the money Northo wants to give Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Rockwell, Raytheon and Co and pay a large bonus to recruit more linguists and agent handlers for the Intelligence Corps, so there might be a chance of finding out who is firing the mortars. And that way, perhaps we wouldn’t just have discovered that General Richards’ interpreter was an Iranian spy.

(Seriously, the guy is a nightclub owner and salsa instructor as well as a TA I-man. How could he not be a spy of one persuasion or the other?)

In other North-related news,
HRW picks up the “ambulance hoax” bullshit and hoofs it into Row Z.
Bloggers were said to be collapsing with asphyxia awaiting Dick’s apology.

Yet more stupid giant floating radar news. Not only can’t it keep the sea if the weather turns bad, not only is there no sea boat, and no security – but its support vessel won’t be able to go alongside it most of the time, according to the US Coast Guard. This really is one of the poster children for Stupid Defence Procurement, no?

Speaking of stupid defence procurement, Richard North has issued a Christmas list of stuff he thinks the armed forces need. Predictably, all but one item on it comes from either BAE or the United States, and it’s all very expensive, electronic and Rumsfeldesque, not to mention tactically defensive. For example, he advocates we buy a “system” (a word that is usually the key indicator of useless expensive kit) whose manufacturers claim it can shoot down mortar rounds in flight.

Well, when it’s working, if the enemy chooses to shoot at the camp that got the scarce gadget, and until they invent a countermeasure (like chaff stuffed in the tail of their 107mm rockets, say). This is a classic example of cheap, highly available 4GW that entrains incredibly expensive technofixes on the part of conventional armies. Far better to take the money Northo wants to give Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Rockwell, Raytheon and Co and pay a large bonus to recruit more linguists and agent handlers for the Intelligence Corps, so there might be a chance of finding out who is firing the mortars. And that way, perhaps we wouldn’t just have discovered that General Richards’ interpreter was an Iranian spy.

(Seriously, the guy is a nightclub owner and salsa instructor as well as a TA I-man. How could he not be a spy of one persuasion or the other?)

In other North-related news,
HRW picks up the “ambulance hoax” bullshit and hoofs it into Row Z.
Bloggers were said to be collapsing with asphyxia awaiting Dick’s apology.

Remember this post regarding the US military’s gigantic floating X-band radar installation? Well, it turned out that the 282 foot long, 50,000 tonne beast that is meant to be a key part of the ballistic missile defence scheme wasn’t in position during the North Korean missile scare because it was in need of dockyard attention in Hawaii.

It turns out that the problems with it are worse than we thought. Essentially, as you could have guessed by looking at it, it’s desperately unseaworthy, and its planned station is in one of the stormiest seas on earth. Not just that, but it can’t be towed in waves of more than 8 feet and therefore can’t move if the sea gets up, and it doesn’t have a sea-boat that could be launched to rescue a man overboard. Not to mention the total lack of any self-defence capability (although the sea ought to see to that tolerably well).

Yours for $815 million.

This post back in January dealt with Rudyard Kipling’s excursions into science fiction, As Easy as ABC and With the Night Mail, and a curious contemporary relevance.

Strange, in the light of their vision of a future ruled by a globalised technocracy in nuclear-powered airships, to see this article, “A Conceptual Vision for Near-Space Operations” by one Major Mark Steves in the US Air Force’s Air & Space Power Journal. Both very ABC-esque, and (it hardly needs to be said) an interesting example of the sheer range of behaviour described by the word “sane”.

What sets it apart from As Easy.. is that, despite the immense technological and military changes Major Steves foresees, the political background changes not at all. His ultra-high altitude airships are stationed over the Iran-Iraq border, in support of (what else?) the new democratic Iraq’s army, over the US/Mexican border, as well as along the coasts of the continental US for reasons of homeland security. Out in the field, the forward-deployed ships are stationed, inevitably, in the UK (RAF Fairford, one presumes, or perhaps Lakenheath?) and “a friendly Central American state”.

On the one hand, this can be read as a creditably realistic view of technology’s limited power to alter the political-economic correlation of forces and the geographic constraints, the “permanently operating factors” as the Russians call them. On the other, this can be read as an alarming lack of curiosity as to why the same problems continue, year after year.

This post back in January dealt with Rudyard Kipling’s excursions into science fiction, As Easy as ABC and With the Night Mail, and a curious contemporary relevance.

Strange, in the light of their vision of a future ruled by a globalised technocracy in nuclear-powered airships, to see this article, “A Conceptual Vision for Near-Space Operations” by one Major Mark Steves in the US Air Force’s Air & Space Power Journal. Both very ABC-esque, and (it hardly needs to be said) an interesting example of the sheer range of behaviour described by the word “sane”.

What sets it apart from As Easy.. is that, despite the immense technological and military changes Major Steves foresees, the political background changes not at all. His ultra-high altitude airships are stationed over the Iran-Iraq border, in support of (what else?) the new democratic Iraq’s army, over the US/Mexican border, as well as along the coasts of the continental US for reasons of homeland security. Out in the field, the forward-deployed ships are stationed, inevitably, in the UK (RAF Fairford, one presumes, or perhaps Lakenheath?) and “a friendly Central American state”.

On the one hand, this can be read as a creditably realistic view of technology’s limited power to alter the political-economic correlation of forces and the geographic constraints, the “permanently operating factors” as the Russians call them. On the other, this can be read as an alarming lack of curiosity as to why the same problems continue, year after year.

Apparently, Douglas Feith wanted to bomb targets in South America, or perhaps South-East Asia immediately after the 11th September 2001 raids “because it would surprise the terrorists”. Following the link you can find much snark as to alternative options that would achieve the aim of surprising the terrorists. It seems intuitively bizarre that anyone would think of such a thing, although there could perhaps have been basis to it.

Why? Well, taking an enemy by surprise always seems like a good thing. The problem is, though, that it’s not always that useful. Surely, bombing northern Argentina would have astonished Osama bin Laden. Would it have helped nail him? No. The answer lies in what are called the levels of analysis. To understand wars, four of these are used. The tactical level deals with the direct, immediate confrontation of small units of soldiers, and scales up to formations of them – these days, up to brigade strength. At the tactical level, we are talking about fighting. In the second world war, from a British perspective, this covers everything from Private Snodgrass advancing straight to his front, in Wavell’s words, and also in Wavell’s words, that he should move like a mixture of a gangster, a catburglar and a poacher, up to the 7th Armoured Brigade commander in his tank turret.

Next is the operational level. This covers the manoeuvres of bigger forces over bigger areas, but it’s still about trying to beat the other bastards in a direct struggle. At this level, we are talking about battles. It’s sometimes called grand tactics, but mostly the same terms are used that the Germans of von Moltke’s staff introduces – because they conceptualised the thing. Using the same Brit-o-scope, the 8th Army HQ handles it, or Slim’s command at Imphal.

Higher is the strategic level. This is about trying to win in whole theatres of war, with consequences of national scale. We are talking campaigns of many battles here. Montgomery and Admiral Ramsay putting together the Normandy invasion. And above this is the fourth, the grand strategic level. This is where the political leadership, with the top general staff, decide whether there should be a war at all and who with. Churchill and Alanbrooke negotiating with the Yanks and Stalin.

Now, how much does surprise matter? Well, at the tactical level it is decisive. The reason being that the effect on individuals matters most there. If only a few people, or a few dozen people, are scared, confused and disorientated enough at the right moment, that might be enough. At the operational level, surprise counts for a lot still, but the people who need surprising are the opposing generals. It’s not enough to get over the front line – the deep battle will count. At the strategic level, it matters for something (because if the tactics really go wrong, the strategy is irrelevant), but not that much – there is a lot more fighting after the surprise.

And at the grand-strategic level, it’s barely meaningful. You ask Hitler, or Hirohito. Surprising the Soviet Union – which the Germans should never have been able to do given the clues the KGB had – was hugely useful tactically and operationally, and at Kiev strategically. But it couldn’t finish the job.

So what does this all mean? In so far as the idea of bombing the tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meant anything, it was to deal with dodgy businesses in this debatable land. But the point of these zones, much loved by terrorists and criminals as they are, is not to locate anything physical there – it’s to evade clear jurisdiction. It’s not camps, it’s addresses on pieces of paper and in WHOIS databases. It would have been a strategic surprise to al-Qa’ida, in so far as they had money or interests there – but it would also have been disconnected from any other activity of theirs. And strategic surprise is of little value – they would have run away, as they did from the botched intervention in Afghanistan. That the enemy came for them there would be uninteresting. The enemy is coming anyway, speaking grand-strategically, and to a lesser degree, the more the enemy goes there the less they go elsewhere. Strategically, other fronts will benefit, and on the operational and tactical levels, well, terrorists and revolutionaries’ profession is readiness to flee.

(In a sidelight, the Pentagon seems to have a weird mixture of clue and utter stupidity on terrorism. At once, they realise the reality of open-source warfare, the exchange of ideas and symbiosis between rebels and the illicit economy, but are also convinced that all nonstate actors are really the tools of some demon-state and that there is little difference between groups.)