Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DADT – Equality or Partial Equality - What will the repercussions be?

This week, many commands within the Defense Department are beginning the initial implementation phase of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Unit commanders are conducting training and engaging in discussions with their troops on this policy. Even though many commanders openly stated their opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) publicly, they are now taking the appropriate actions to enact this policy change in a timely manner.

For example, in January, the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps released a video to the Corps providing overall guidance while waiting for the final policy decision on the implementation of the DADT repeal. As of March 4, 2011 the Marine Corps provided guidance through MARADMIN 143/11 on the training and reporting instructions to implement the repeal of DADT. Nevertheless, there are still many questions left unanswered and policy guidelines are incomplete.

In the Armed Forces Journal, there is an interesting commentary by L. Michael Allsep Jr., David A. Levy and LT.COL. James E. Parco on reconciling policy change and military culture after the repeal of the DADT. The commentary encompasses all the topics that have been discussed in public debate and discusses the moral and religious arguments for and against the repeal. What is interesting though is that commentaries, such as this one and other discussions on the repeal of DADT, do not take into account the long-term repercussions that will face commanders. Repercussions such as the various family scenarios and questions a commander is faced with that make up the majority of many commanders' daily agendas. These scenarios and questions have yet to be legally addressed within the Department of Defense. For example, if a service member is planning a move from one duty station to another, will a homosexual’s spouse be recognized? Or if a service member is stationed in one state where same sex marriage is recognized, but is given orders to a new duty station where same sex marriage is not recognized, will the service member have a valid complaint when he/she states to a commander that the newly assigned duty station poses a hardship for his/her spouse and their family? Or will homosexual couples receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts?

Training guidelines fail to address these scenarios stating, “There are no changes to the Defense of Marriage Act”, where the Defense of Marriage Act only recognizes marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. Questions like these are many, but there is little to no discussion in public debate about the repercussions. By failing to fully address legal questions such as these during the debate or failure to incorporate sexual preference as a protected category under Equal Opportunity laws, policy makers have left the “commander” little guidance and assurance to properly address complaints and questions by homosexuals. Homosexuals might still have a valid argument when questioning whether their “openly gay” rights have been recognized or not.

As the authors of the Armed Forces Journal commentary argue, repealing the DADT has reached a monumental step in the integration of a previously “banned” class of Americans, meaning not just gay members, but “openly” gay members. There should be more public debate to understand the reason to put so much emphasis on the legal decision to use the word “openly”. For this would seem to mean that everything about an openly gay’s lifestyle would be granted equal status as a heterosexual service member. However, taking into account scenarios and questions like the before mentioned, the COMPLETE legal path has NOT been cleared to give homosexuals equal status under the law with regard to military service.

The authors also argue that countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have integrated homosexuals into their militaries, but again fail to address the culture and laws of those countries when addressing the equal rights of homosexuals in their societies. The United States has equal employment opportunity laws that protect homosexuals, but has yet to take into account whether to recognize same sex marriage. Many of the before mentioned countries have debated this topic on a national level and signed into law same-sex marriage rights. I do not know which came first in these countries; homosexual rights within their defense departments or homosexual rights on a national level, but I find it interesting that the DADT has been repealed and supporters argue that the legal path has been cleared to give homosexuals equal status under the law, but fails to address the equal status of these service members’ marital status and the impact this can have on their families.

I foresee this will be a topic for discussion in the future and it will be interesting if the Department of Defense reveals itself to be the stepping-stone for policy makers in their pursuit of equality for homosexuals in same sex marriage across our country.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meanwhile in Cote D'Ivoire...

Over the weekend Cote D’Ivoire moved ever closer to civil war or “guerre civile” and the French papers are only ones monitoring the situation in anything close to the magnitude it deserves. Let us not forgot that last November Cote D’Ivoire finally held its presidential election. Originally scheduled for 2005, the election had been postponed while the Ivorian Civil War raged on. A peace agreement with the rebel New Forces was signed in March 2007. The election was scheduled for 2009 and then postponed again. Finally, the first round of voting occurred in October 2010.  The first round was inconclusive. The second round, held in November, resulted in Alassane Ouattara winning a narrow victory as recognized by the independent electoral commission.  The incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo, whose support base is in the south of the country, disputed the results and has since refused to step down.
Recent developments include Ouattara rejecting AU mediator Jose Brito because he apparently has personal and political connections with the president. Meanwhile in Abidjan Gbagbo gathers thousands of supporters around Republic Square, where he has barricaded himself. Fighting already rages in neighborhoods around Abidjan. And Le Monde reports hundreds of mercenaries pillaging, raping and killing in the west of the country. The UN says that more than 460 people have been killed since the election and more than a million are displaced.
Gbagbo only barely lost the election and his supporters control most of the country’s infrastructure – such as the Ivorian Electricity Company. And while sanctions imposed by the UN are certainly damaging the economy, Gbagbo essentially nationalized the cocoa industry (Blood Chocolate anyone?) While revenues are down – customs duties at the port are reportedly down 96 percent – Gbagbo gets off the hook by pointing the finger back at the UN, France, and the US.
An unnamed diplomat made this prediction in mid-march: “If he [Gbagbo] makes it through the month of March, I think he could be here for 20 years.”
Gbagbo is reading from the “How to Hold On to Power” chapter in the Official Dictators Handbook. Taking cues from Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Gbagbo is standing strong and playing the game. He is gathering and arming his supporters for the eventual clash and expertly redirecting anger about the ruined economy from himself to those imposing the sanctions. Lastly, he is being patient, waiting for the opportune moment to act.
While the UN moved rapidly and decisively (for good or not, who knows) in the Libya case Cote D’Ivoire sits and waits for a resolution banning the use of heavy weapons against civilians to be debated sometime this week. Early this month Gbagbo supporters fired machine guns into a crowds of unarmed protesting women in the capital. And this week the UN might hear a resolution on the matter?.
But to be honest, I am not convinced there is really much the international community can do for Cote D’Ivoire. Short of militarily supporting Ouattara when the time comes, when the guerre civile breaks out for real, what can be done? Have we dug ourselves into a pit by intervening in Libya? Are we reinforcing the notion that certain situations (call it a responsibility to protect if you will) warrant violation of sovereignty and international meddling in internal affairs? If so, and I’d agree there are situations where sitting by and watching is simply not human, but where is that line?
(and je m'excuse for the links - half of them are to Le Monde and thus en francais)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

WALL-E at War and in Peace

It's the premise of an award-winning children's film: an adorable robot is tasked with cleaning up a toxic mess created by humans and making the area safe for their return. After a few close calls, the robot ends up saving the world. In the process, it teaches the humans about friendship, the responsible use of technology and the merits of a catchy soundtrack.

Now, picture that robot in Japan, then add “defusing bombs” and “firing electric machine guns” to its list of hobbies.

Earlier this week, the iRobot corporation dispatched four robots to aid Japan’s relief workers, who are struggling to manage the fallout from the March 11th earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. While the exact role of these robots hasn’t yet been determined, they’ll most likely be used in the Fukushima plant’s cleanup efforts, performing tasks like handling radioactive materials and delivering water to overheated nuclear fuel rods.

Of the four iRobots sent to Japan, two of them are the PackBot model used by many of the U.S. military’s EOD teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with the cameras included with each standard PackBot, one robot now contains a sensor to detect radiation levels at the plant. The other two robots, a pair of new 710 Warriors, have each been specially equipped with a robotic arm strong enough to move a fire hose. Since they can climb stairs and lift objects, all four robots could be useful for inspecting barrels or other containers near the reactors and taking samples to check radiation levels in and around the plant.

iRobots aren’t the only military assets in Japan with their eye on the problem. On March 17, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan confirmed that a Global Hawk drone has flown several missions to survey damage at the Fukushima complex and other areas heavily affected by the disasters. Data and images from the flights have been shared with the Japanese government to help with relief efforts.

The robots’ visit to Japan isn’t the first time that military robots have made the jump to relief work, either. Before they ever went to war, PackBots were used to search through the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. When Haiti was shaken by its own catastrophic earthquake in January 2010, a Global Hawk drone flew damage-assessment missions and shared high-resolution images with first-responders. In May 2010, iRobot’s unmanned underwater Seaglider was released into the Gulf of Mexico to monitor ocean currents, water temperature, and dispersed oil droplets in the wake of the BP oil spill.

Given the increasing overlap between DOD and State Department roles, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see wartime robots on peaceful missions. In a 2007 report to Congress, the State Department welcomed a more permanent role for the DOD in many development activities, arguing that the military can “provide a flexible, timely, and effective whole-of-government approach to today’s security environment that is well coordinated in the interagency [coordination process], both in Washington at the policy level and in the field at the operational level.” With a public FY11 operating budget of approximately $718.8 billion and an arsenal of cutting-edge technology at its disposal, the DOD has financial and physical resources that the State Department and its $53.8 billion FY11 budget just can’t match. Why not use them to help out a domestic region or a foreign ally in need?

As our robots take to the skies and disaster sites of Japan, though, it’s important to acknowledge the ambiguity that using military assets for social projects can create. While the Global Hawk data is an asset to Japanese nuclear and reconstruction teams right now, will the Japanese government later regret giving a sophisticated U.S. surveillance plane such a high level of access to its airspace and reactor facility? Despite its use for a more humanitarian mission, the Global Hawk is ultimately a military drone designed for target surveillance, and there’s nothing preventing the U.S. from using the “humanitarian surveillance” data for our own benefit later on. On the other side, will the U.S. regret sharing so much information on and access to the drone’s capabilities?

Similar questions exist for the land-bound iRobots, especially the easily-weaponized Warrior bot. If robots primarily associated with warfare pop up on aid missions, they may raise concerns about covert data collection or other dual-use worries. Worse, they may serve as targets for conspiracy-minded groups that see them as evidence of a U.S. military intervention, making an already-unstable environment even more unsafe. Finally, shared access to U.S. equipment only raises the likelihood of copycat technology, which should and will affect what we share, and with whom.

While disaster-management missions can be worthy ones for U.S. military robots, we can’t forget that our lovable WALL-Es are still related to the weaponized "Small Soldiers." That’s a pretty tricky film soundtrack to write.

Gender Gap or a Difference in Perspective?

Just over a week ago Christian Science Monitor staff writer Brad Knickerbocker explored what he called the “gender gap” in the current administration’s attitude toward a no fly zone in Libya. One might assume the article highlights men in government with an urge for power and military domination. After all, that has often been the stereotype.

However, Knickerbocker interestingly addresses the notion that it has been prominent women in the Obama Administration calling for the use of military force. He cites Secretary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and NSA aide Samantha Power as key examples.

Conversely, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, and General Wesley Clark have expressed concern over involvement militarily. Specifically, Gen. Clark suggested that the U.S. should have learned from past mistakes of intervention, and this is a road not worth traveling.

While Knickerbocker brings an interesting observation to the surface, it seems that if one takes a closer look there is a deeper issue. Secretary Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen and General Wesley Clark all come at this issue with vast experience in the inner workings of the military. This is not to discredit the women mentioned above or suggest that they lack vast knowledge of the Department of Defense or national security, but it is meant to highlight differences in perspective.

Specifically, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already stretched and tested America’s military might. It was just last year that Admiral Mike Mullen suggested the military is often at the forefront of American foreign policy, but stressed that it is vital to recognize that the military does have its limits (Lubold). Secretary Gates uttered similar sentiments by suggesting the U.S. needs to focus on soft power as much as hard power and that involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly demonstrate that military strength and victories alone aren’t enough to get the job done (Miles).

Thus, it is makes one stop and wonder if many in the DOD are coming to terms with just how much the American military can truly handle. Perhaps they sense that reaching a breaking point is a reality. This is in no way meant to suggest that American men and women in uniform cannot handle the tasks before them. It is merely intended to ponder the notion of when enough is enough. At what point has the United States extended itself so much that it is spread too thin?

Perhaps these differences as noted by Knickerbocker relate back to the DOD wishing to take a step back from the forefront and allow the U.S. to refocus the means through which it centers its foreign policy.

Now that a no fly zone is in place, Secretary Gates has had confront his concerns about such action head on. Yet, it is interesting to see prominent DOD figures aiming to take the spotlight off their agency and place a greater emphasis on other facets of foreign policy like diplomacy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Imagine your grandfather, or even your father, trying to decipher your Twitter tweets or Facebook status updates. See how things could get problematic quickly? Don't worry- your dad isn't the only person with the problem- it appears American intelligence agencies had some trouble, too, when it came to predicting the revolutions in the Middle East. But next time, instead of asking their teenage daughters for help, open source intelligence analysts may be focusing on trends in Googles and Tweets instead of the unique content.

While many have dubbed the events in Egypt the "Facebook Revolution" due to the amounts of video posting, information sharing, and relative-contacting done online, early stage event planning was also evident on the social networking sites. While inviting your friends to an event will certainly help disseminate the information locally, in countries where Internet penetration is extraordinarily high - like Korea's 81%- sifting through thousands of statuses about cute puppies and Charlie Sheen for a tweet on the next big thing is nearly impossible. Thus feed aggregators and trend monitors like Google and Twitter Trends may be the best options for monitoring situations in the pre-event and initial-event.

For example, have you ever searched online for flu symptoms or even just the word "headache"? If so, you may have helped Google in their trend monitoring software- Google Flu Trends- which takes keywords and phrases they believe to be good indicators of flu activity, and then plots the results by state and country. Google often beat the NIH on predicting flu outbreaks by a week or more.

Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, an instructor at West Point, used Google Trends to monitor the moods of the Egyptian people from January 25th onward, to see if Egyptians followed the revolution in Tunisia, and then compared the number of searches to things like "weather" and "Egyptian pop stars". The results suggested there was a definite increase in searches in the weeks leading up to their own revolution. Based on these results, Koehler-Derrick suggests we may be able to use current trends to predict the future.

From his interview with NPR News regarding the technology: "In other words, few [Egyptians] seemed interested enough in the Muslim Brotherhood to search for them on Google. So how much of a role could the group have been playing in day-to-day conversations in Egypt? ". (Note: Not surprisingly, thier influence at present, while still significant, is not currently anywhere near US intelligence community estimates.)

In actuality, intelligence agencies do hope to expand the Google Trends software for use in a Minority-Reportesque program known as Recorded Future. While the program is still very much in the initial phase, the software would search for the invisible links intelligence analysts might not. There is little reported on exactly how much/how many predictions are made, and in a community already flooded with information overload, it doesn't look like analyst positions will be going away any time soon. So, if you're applying for a job in the intelligence community after graduation, don't forget to add "Expert Googler" or "Intermediate Tweeter"- or perhaps even "Trend Follower" to your job skills.

Friday, March 25, 2011

PMFs: Everybody Hates You…

When one thinks of war, rarely does he or she think of it as being fought by private businessmen. However, as we read P.W. Singer’s Corporate Warriors, we see that private soldiers have been common throughout history. That reality is no different today.

Private defense contractors have been—and still are—important to the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They provide a variety of services in wartime. Often, they provide security services for bases or convoys, however even if they are performing seemingly menial tasks such as construction or food services, they are taking positions that could be filled by servicemen. The result is that fewer troops are deployed to the warzone while an adequate amount of force in the area is maintained.

States that use private military contractors must deal with the bad as well as the good. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, these forces have performed questionable actions. It is well known that private contractors are guilty of killing civilians. Other news articles mention their involvement in the death of civilians in Afghanistan as well. It seems that in a counterinsurgency environment such as Afghanistan and Iraq, forces outside the military chain of command—as are PMFs—can cause as much harm as good.

Leaders of the states in which PMFs have been employed by occupying forces have a right to be opposed to these forces. In Afghanistan, the government has responded to the undesirable activities of private soldiers. After months of threats and bans, the Afghan government has finally established a timeline for the withdrawal of private security firms from Afghanistan. The plan will allow international entities to use private forces for 12 months, after which Afghan forces will take over their security responsibilities. Although the reality of this happening is highly unlikely, it reveals that PMFs may be harmful to our efforts to rebuild Afghanistan because they do not have the support of the host government, however incompetent it may be.

National armies also feel the effects of private military firms. Not only do they fall outside the chain of command, as is obvious by the activities mentioned above, but they also pose as an attractive alternative for soldiers considering reenlisting in the army or searching for private employment. Often, members of PMFs can make more money performing the same services in the private sphere than in a national army. Even the U.S. has found this to be the case.

News made public concerning private security companies typically involves them participating in immoral activities. This has to overlook numerous instances of their contributions to the security situation in the war zones. They have been an integral part of U.S. efforts for years, and only certain instances of their misuse have emerged. However, their status as forces outside the chain of military command can pose problems for states or other organizations employing them. Although Mr. Karzai’s view that they must be avoided is unfeasible, regulation of their activities is necessary.

Iraqi SOF: Under the Radar but on Point

Much has been made about the controversial tactics of US SOF operations in the War on Terror but one of their core competencies and greatest contributions to American strategic capabilities seems to have gone unnoticed internationally. In small training bases in Jordan in 2003, U.S. and Jordanian SF began the task of transforming young Iraqis into soldiers with unconventional capabilities.
Iraq has long possessed Special Operations units but, much like the purging of the Iraqi Army itself, it was disbanded due to its Sunni/Saddam loyalty. The goal was to forge the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Brigade (ISOF) of over 4,100 soldiers with US equipment, training, and tactics thus making interoperability feasible. ISOF recruits from all sects throughout Iraq but is beholden to no one except the Office of the Prime Minister by executive order issued by PM Maliki in 2006. ISOF operates with US advisers even to this day and have participated in nearly every large military operation since Fallujah in 2004.
The US SOF and partner units, such as Columbian and Salvadorian commandoes (also US trained and equipped), sing high praises of the ISOF and the respect is certainly mutual. Successful counterinsurgency operations require competent counter terror capabilities as well and that is exactly what ISOF has provided in greater amounts as each year passes.
But, much like the distrust among some US military and civilians of our own SOF community, many Iraqis shutter at the mention of ISOF. The memories of Saddam’s secret police surely come to mind when one describes a secretive, competent unit unchecked by the Ministry of Defense who reports solely to one political office. It is exactly this distrust that our own Inspector General found to be among the greatest setbacks for ISOF’s sustainability.
Reports of civilian abuses by the “dirty brigade” as they are known in Sadr City grew rapidly during offensive operations in 2008. Even mentioning the word Diyala (Iraqi Province previously controlled by insurgents for periods throughout OIF) in the presence of ISOF operators will get you cut off by their American advisors. ISOF is very close now to operating without any advisors whatsoever as the Status of Forces Agreement continues to decrease the American troop presence in Iraq. While 5th Special Forces Group (regional focus is the Middle East) will continue their partnership indefinitely, ISOF must gain trust on its own. Although a quick reaction force is necessary for any government, I would recommend that the current command and control structure of ISOF be reviewed. The Iraqi government has come a long way towards gaining the confidence of its people and it is counterproductive for one its greatest assets for providing security to be controlled by one political office that invokes the terrors of the past.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not another Western Intervention, honest.

There have been a variety of questions asked about the intervention in Libya, such as whether the effort itself can have the intended effect of helping the rebels, as well as how to deal with a post-Qadafi Libya. However, you would expect the insane "hidden Western agenda" remarks would be limited to the mad colonel himself.
First, we had Vladimir Putin's recent remarks likening the airstrikes as "medieval calls for crusades." Then we have the Turks drinking the kool-aid. According to this recent BBC Post, Turkish president Abdullah Gul sent a statement to coalition forces stating "that it was "obvious" some coalition forces perceived the conflict as an opportunity for themselves." Gul then warned coalition members not to "pursue any hidden agenda."

While Gul may just be playing to Turkish politics, it doesn't exactly send the right image to the rest of the Middle East when the most moderate and western of the muslim nations is paying lip service to the same rhetoric of "Western/zionist conspiracy" used by Islamic fundamentalists.

I think that this type of rhetoric mostly has to do with the lack of certainty among the various allies in the coalition. Without a clear statement of objectives, governments are questioning just what the true purpose of this intervention is. Opportunists can use this uncertainty to make such conspiritorially-minded comments.

Also, while it was probably prudent of President Obama to wait for broad international support before intervening in Libya (particularly to avoid the image of Iraq), the fact that practically all the coalition members are Western means that it is difficult to garner support for our actions in the Arab world. It doesn't help that the Arab League is getting wishy-washy about its endorsement of our intervention.

While it may be difficult to do much, I think that the United States should try to ask for greater support from other Arab nations that are not currently facing problems of domestic unrest. Also, we should attempt to emphasize the support of Muslim nations already helping us (such as Qatar and Turkey) much more prominently both in the media and in statements about operations. I worry that if all the Arab states see is NATO forces conducting air raids, it will be difficult to allay the suspicions that this isn't "just another intervention."

What the Hell are We Doing!?

The other day, the Obama Administration decided that the pressure from the international community, namely the UN and the Arab League, was too much for him not to pursue military action in the Libya situation. With this "no fly zone," the administration has fallen into the trap of believing that detached operations from aerial platforms can effect lasting strategic change. The administration struggles to answer what the endstate in Libya looks like. I thought we should expand on this for them.

First, we should understand (as best as we can) what we are committed to.
- We want Qadaffi gone, but AFRICOM, at least on the low side, is not allowed to kill him.
- Some have admitted that a Libya with Qadaffi is still a possibility.
- We are supporting an unknown "rebel" entity that has no clear leader or political organization that is prepared to take control of the country once "regime change" happens.
- We got into this now instead of before, because........
- The Arab League originally supported a "no fly zone" but not they are wobbling
- Russia is laughing at us. But Putin is an idiot.
- We are going to "hand this over" ASAP

Someone studying strategy would consider what the end of this thing looks like. So lets...

Those thinking about this in the administration are likely praying for an Egypt-type scenario where the Libyan military, with overwhelming support by the Libyan people, turns against Qaddafi and he is run out of town. Somehow there is a smooth transition to an interim government, followed by steps toward elections. Since this same military was just shelling its people, I don't see it happening, but you never know... Though the Eqypt solution still isn't even clear in Egypt, we will call that the absolute best case scenario.

More likely to happen in this case is that if Qaddafi is killed or run out of town and retaliatory acts ignite in a lawless land. This will result in complete state failure, a la Somalia. What then? The international community will be hard-pressed to stand idly by while the country implodes, since military action contributed to this state. Someone, therefore will have to commit Stability and Support personnel into the country that will help stand up a new Libya. The uncertain security situation will likely demand some sort of military personnel and "they" will look to the US for money and/or troops. Regime change was our mission in Iraq, and that is what this outcome resembles.

Considering the process before Qaddafi falls...our "humanitarian effort" right now is designed to establish a no fly zone to prevent Qaddafi from massacring somebody. If the rebel forces restart their offensive and start getting whacked by the Libyan Army again, what will we do? An idea...lets identify a leader in the resistence that has a reasonable amount of political clout and may be able to run the country. We can embed special forces with this guy and have them call in Close Air Support until the regime falls. Oh wait....we did this....that guy's name was Karzai.

Now...if Qaddafi doesn't fall. He can rightly declare victory against basically the entire world. Does this matter? Maybe, maybe not. I believe that it will place in doubt other country's belief in America's resolve. President Obama will almost certainly not be reelected.

Reality check:
- This "got real" to many when our first casualty, an F-15 (thankfully no humans were seriously wounded) crashed into "friendly" territory because of mechanical problems. Let's imagine for a second if this plane crashed where Qaddafi's goons got a hold of him.

Our recent lesson on the mythical RMA addresses this situation very well. Despite the Army Operational Concept - the product of a lengthy project that considered the fundamental fallacy of the RMA - some among our higher brass are still convinced that the technology advances in recent decades have lifted the fog of war and allowed us to execute decisive action using PGMs (precision guided munitions) and no BOGs (boots on the ground). BG McMaster discussed in a teleconference with the COIN class this week how Iraq and Afghanistan have proven this.

To be clear - I want the US / Obama to "win" this thing. I just don't know what that means. Unfortunatly, the only good solution I see is someone (hopefully not the US) conducting Iraq-like Stability and Support Operations in Libya. Hopefully they will quell the insurgency (because there will be one) early with the lessons that we've learned over the last 11 years.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We'll see your Dong Geng 21 and raise you a Doctrine

In Secretary of Defense Gates’ speech to the Air Force Academy cadets a few weeks ago, he continued his tour of blunt speeches to the services by outlining the hard realities these soon-to-be officers would face. The mention of a shrinking budget received some groans. The expanded use of UAV platforms, large numbers of cargo missions, and personnel recovery sorties may have invoked some panic. The cadets probably felt pretty good about Gates’ mention of the 2,400 F-35s on the way. But what seems to be drawing the least amount of attention in his speech so far are the implications of the Air Sea Battle Concept (ASBC).

The concept itself is over half a century old, as it was originally used in the North Atlantic where B-24 bombers were used to target German U-boats before they could sink ally supply ships. Gates believes the ASBC can do for America’s military deterrent power now what the Air Land Battle Concept did at the end of the 20th century. To categorize it, Gates said “think of naval forces in airfield defense, or stealth bombers augmented by Navy submarines.” However, the ASBC intends to go beyond deterrence. In contrast to the 2001, 2006, and 2010 QDR where China is referred to as a close competitor, it names China as a “pacing threat” and seems to signal a move away from the management of China’s peaceful rise. Efforts to keep military tensions low in order to prevent a new arms race may be have been pushed aside as the ASBC is now “actively and publicly planning, training, and equipping a joint air-sea force to confront even something as benignly described as a pacing threat” and implicitly challenges China’s military (PLA) influence in Asia. The strategy looks like this:

  • Air Force counter-space operations would blind PLA space-based ocean surveillance systems to prevent the PLA from targeting Navy surface assets, providing the Navy with operational freedom of maneuver.
  • Navy Aegis ships would supplement other missile-defense assets in Air Force forward bases in the Western Pacific.
  • Long-range penetrating strike operations would destroy PLA ground-based, long-range maritime surveillance systems and long-range ballistic-missile launchers to expand the Navy's freedom of maneuver and reduce strikes on U.S. and allied bases. Concurrently, Navy submarine-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike support against PLA integrated air defense systems would pave the way for Air Force strikes.
  • Navy carrier-based fighters' progressive rollback of PLA manned and unmanned airborne ISR platforms and fighters would secure the forward operation of Air Force tankers and other support aircraft. This would require the Navy to rethink its current inventory of missiles, jammers, and decoys.
  • Air Force aircraft would support the antisubmarine warfare campaign through offensive mining by stealthy bombers and persistent non-stealthy bomber strike support of Navy ships conducting distant blockade operations.

For those who worry about the US’s lack of response to China’s military growth, development of anti-ship missiles, and the J-20 stealth jet, the ASBC should provide some comfort. Naming names is controversial, as it has the potential to produce unwanted friction and many skeptics of the ASBC will surely note it. But calling China a threat doesn’t mean we will go to war tomorrow or ever. It tells the Chinese military that we know who their anti-ship missiles, stealth fighters, and growing military influence in Asia are targeting. And the US will continue to pursue countermeasures to any potential threat’s anti-access and area denial capabilities to maintain our preponderance strategy in the Pacific.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Andale, Andale, Arriba, Arriba!

Well, they did it. No, not the UN's approval of a no-fly zone over Libya. No, not UK's close win over Princeton. I'm talking U.S. drones in Mexico.

"The Pentagon began flying high-altitude, unarmed drones over Mexican skies last month, American military officials said, in hopes of collecting information to turn over to Mexican law enforcement agencies."

This is an interesting development in U.S. involvement in the drug war south of the border. Since President Calderón declared war on the drug cartels, over 30,000 people have died in Mexico. The United States has tried to cooperate with the Mexican government in various ways, but has typically been stopped short of methods that hinted toward military involvement (as opposed to police or border security operations). Understandably, the Mexican government does not want to appeal to U.S. military forces for fear of weakening its sovereignty and in effect inviting the label of "failed state" to its country.

Despite the perceived stigma of U.S. involvement, the security issue in Mexico has reached the point that many officials on both sides of the border have begun terming the violence and lawlessness as symptoms of an insurgency. In the New York Times article, a "senior American administration official had this to say of President Calderón: "He's not really a fan of the United States, but he knows he needs their help, so he's willing to push the political boundaries."

Assuming that the drones are effective in their information-gathering runs over the drug cartels, will this escalate U.S. involvement in Mexico? Is there ever a chance of the drones being armed? Does the very use of drones further legitimize the labeling of the drug cartels as an insurgent threat?

If it walks like an insurgent, quacks like an insurgent, and gets spied on by remote control airplanes like an insurgent, I say it's an insurgent.