Tuesday, March 31, 2020

America vs. Private Military Contractors?

The existence and use of private military contractors (PMCs) are not new phenomena. Their services were utilized throughout the 20th century, particularly after World War II and during the Viet Nam war. However, the use of armed PMCs during Operation Iraqi Freedom engendered a new debate on the role of PMCs in American military operation and how they might affect the efficacy of American military organizations.

Primarily, PMCs pose an issue of image and endanger overall U.S. Foreign policy objectives. By their very nature as employees contracted outside of the central military force, PMCs are not held to the same social obligations. They are proven to be less likely than enlisted soldiers to adhere to the American military’s professed morals. The incident of the Nisoor Square massacre, when employees of Blackwater Security Consulting shot Iraqui civilians, exemplified this ethical disparity and damaged American-Iraqi relations. As exemplified in Afghanistan, foreign nationals are unlikely to differentiate between an American soldier and American contractor. Their armament and use in conflict zones therefore endangers America’s international reputation.

Additionally, there are significant issues of coordination between the U.S. military and its contracted workers. Their disconnect was recently highlighted by the advent of the coronavirus crisis. A lack of clear guidance from the Pentagon amid the coronavirus pandemic is causing confusion among contractors. The Pentagon has issued no agency-wide guidance of contractors. With a lack of cohesive policy, officials are concerned that contracting officers will be handling the virus differently.

As it has done across society and government, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting preexisting issues of coordination and the ability of the military to respond to a crisis. If they are to continue to rely on private contractors, the military must formulate a more effective and efficient relationship with them so as to preclude crises like the one we are currently experiencing.

The U.S. military should be able to utilize Private Military Contractors for certain operations. But, they would be better used to protect property and personnel and leave direct combat to state-run military operations. International and internal events have effectively demonstrated that while PMCs have their uses, the American military profession will be weakened in the long term and be less able to respond with cohesive policies in the face of inevitable future crises.

US Military helping fight Covid-19

How To Join the Military Police in the Marine Corps 

The Corona virus pandemic has created massive changes in our society. It has impacted the way we live, work, and interact with one another, and the scary part is that we haven’t reached the peak of this virus yet. To stop the spread and “flatten the curve,” especially in hot-spots such as New York, California, and Washington, the Trump administration issued an order to activate the National Guard these places. Few weeks later, Governors from the remaining 47 states as well as the Mayor of DC called their national guards in addition to thousands of active duty personnel and reservists. All in all, as of last week, there were nearly 13000 thousand National Guards personnel activated to help in the relief efforts. Presently, the military role is minor, but I anticipate a greater participation in medical efforts, supply chain, and even law enforcement to contain and stop the spread of covid-19. 

Because of the strong organization skills and discipline, the military can provide manpower, organization, and logistics quicker than any organization. They can clean and disinfect common areas or medical facilities, screen and in-process patients at understaffed hospitals, stock shelves if supply chains break down, or support medical personnel and local police if requested. As announced by the DOD, military laboratories and hospital ships will be deployed to help California and New York as their hospital systems are overrun and severely understaffed. 

Moreover, not only can they help but also there’s a possibility they could collaborate with local police to enforce mandatory quarantine and stay-at-home orders if the president ever instituted one. Many countries that have seen progress in containing the spread of the virus (Russian, South Korea) did so by instituting and enforcing nationwide strict stay-at-home and/or curfew orders. If similar measures are taken in the US, I doubt that local police officers alone could enforce them. Obviously, the military cannot be expected to lead the effort, but I think they should be part of the equation as they possess speed and capacity – two things that critical in a pandemic fight. For example, in the past three weeks alone, the National Guard has mobilized more personnel for the covid-19 response than are on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s entire payroll. As the virus spreads and manpower needs increase, the improbable military involvement might be the last resort.

Despite the obvious benefit of military involvement, there are also many downsides. As many critics have pointed, military men and women are trained as police, and thus might find themselves in situation citizens’ rights are violated or in situation where they are unsure what kind of force to use. Nevertheless, though improbable, we must prepare ourselves for a similar as it’s been done before and may as well happen again.

Source: Washington Post & NY Times

Monday, March 30, 2020

Hybrid Warfare

What does the future look like when it comes to war? With the influence of technology, wars cannot stay status quo, but we are not yet ready to fight an all-out new age war. While we are progressing towards a new type of war, we are in the middle of a transition, and this in itself has created a new kind of war. This new war is a mix of the old ways and with the help of technology plus new arenas. Many have deemed this new type of war Hybrid warfare—a war where that combines the conventional and the unconventional to achieve objectives.   
The world is seeing more and more uses of hybrid warfare in the form of cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, and information operations. But still, these attacks are only like a teaser of what is to come. Hybrid warfare is not a new technique, but nations are using it at greater and more profound levels than ever before. We live in the information and technology age, which makes the tools of hybrid warfare stronger than they have ever been. Hybrid warfare is most useful to countries that are not large enough to confront countries like the U.S., but it is also valuable for the fact that it is not as costly: it costs less money and fewer lives.  
The U.S. needs to be ready to fight this type of war. The key to this type of war is adapting and modernizing and adapting in the form of using more of the unconventional methods and reducing the amount of large scale troop movements. Also, with modernizing, the U.S. needs to further the work of incorporating technology into our forces.  In 'hybrid' warfare, old school military tactics are used and just integrated with the new technology. The U.S. could have a significant advantage in this since we have a well-trained military. The transition to technological warfare needs to happen sooner rather than later as we prepare for new types of war.

Academi LLC/Xe/ Blackwater Worldwide Background

Blackwater Worldwide was a private military company that was founded by former Navy Seal Erik Prince in 1997. It was later called Xe Services LLC and then ACADEMI LLC in late 2011. In 2014, ACADEMI LLC was incorporated into the Constellis Holdings company. ACADEMI LLC calls itself "a global provider of sustainable training solutions and secure logistics management".   

Some critics are quick to point out Blackwater Worldwide's past controversies. From 2001-2006, Blackwater had two State Department contracts worth $832 million primarily for guarding high-profile officials and the United States Embassy in Baghdad. U.S. officials questioned Blackwater's cost-effectiveness vs. using regular U.S soldiers. This was because Blackwater charged the U.S. government $445,000 a year per private military contractor. This was over six times more than the cost of a regular U.S. soldier.

In 2004, four Blackwater employees were killed by insurgents in Fallujah. Congressional investigations concluded these guards were under-staffed and under-equipped. In 2007, Blackwater employees were guarding a State Department convoy. They then opened fire in Baghdad's Nisour Square and killed 17 innocent civilians. Many debated if the actions were appropriate and Blackwater claimed its guards were in a firefight. However, congressional hearings suggested Blackwater had reckless guards who were not always sober. In 2014, one former Blackwater guard was found guilty of murder. Three more guards were convicted on voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges.

This raises the question of accountability. Reports in 2008 say these contractors operate in a legal gray area and cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts.  If the Justice Department wants to press charges, then they must do so under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.  However, Blackwater claims their State Department contracts have no Pentagon ties. This may provide Blackwater additional legal cover to avoid charges. In 2012, ACADEMI paid a $7.5 million fine to settle various criminal charges. In 2013, the U.S. government dropped most of its remaining charges against ACADEMI.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

COVID-19 Dystopian Fiction

The following is intended for entertainment only and should not be considered predictive or an endorsement of any of the actions contained herein.

The year is 2022, more than 2 years since the outbreak of coronavirus. Society broke down after a new COVID-19 strain (called COVID-XX) appeared in late 2020 and ravaged healthy individuals who were forced to rely on a healthcare system that had already been weakened. The global death toll was last estimated to be 700 million, but most government agencies ceased counting in mid-2021. It's likely to be between one and two billion today.

The US began to unravel when Senator Bernie Sanders passed away due to pneumonia in mid-2020 as the Democratic party held its national convention virtually. Some of his followers blamed the Democratic establishment for failing to push for health care reform early enough to save him. Sanders supporters spammed the virtual convention which had been planned to help consolidate support behind presidential candidate Joe Biden. This split among the Democratic base gave Trump a victory in both the popular vote and electoral college in November. Trump entered 2021 believing he had a mandate for governance and promised to impose federal rule to end the crisis.

The economic downturn that began in early 2020 worsened when most oil-producing nations refused to take losses on oil sales because of the Russo-Saudi price war. At the same time, the US government gave a 90-day extension for taxes in 2020 and approved universal basic income one month later; the US government's excessive spending and lack of revenue bankrupted it midway through 2021. That doomed any chance of recovery from the crisis in America.

Revolt first began in Portland, Oregon, where a sect of Sanders extremists sacked a Wal-Mart and stole its firearms to fight back against the Trump administration's martial law shortly after his re-inauguration in January 2021. Trump sent his son, Don Jr., to negotiate with Portland. But the helicopter carrying him crashed (or was shot down, depending on whom you believe). Trump responded with a constant umbrella of UAVs launching hellfire missiles against the insurgents, incurring many civilian casualties. Most Americans condemn these brutal attacks, but large numbers of Trump supporters are quick to point out that Barack Obama also carried out extrajudicial killings of Americans using UAV strikes during his presidency.

Still, UAV strikes against US citizens on American soil proved to be a step too far for most Americans. The country fractured. Combined with its bankruptcy a few months later, the federal government lost control over large sections of America as soldiers defected to defend their families as of mid-2021 rather than fight their countrymen. The UN's final act before shuttering its New York headquarters in September 2021 was to condemn the human rights violations of the Trump administration. The UN, WHO, World Bank, Interpol and other international organizations move most of their operations to the former US military base at Keflavik, Iceland. The Trump administration had already withdrawn its troops from Europe to assist with the insurrection at home.

The oil crisis left the US military and police forces mostly paralyzed to fight the insurrection. Billionaire inventor Elon Musk stepped in, finally delivering on one of his sweeping promises -- to devastating effect. He produced 40,000 electric vehicles for law enforcement activity in a specially-modified Tesla with light armor. He invoked the name of Henry Ford at a ceremony where the first 100 were delivered to the government, comparing it to the Model T. "It comes in any color you want," he said, "as long as that color is black." Musk called it the "T2." The rebels, freedom fighters and criminals around the country call them "Terminators." Insurgent forces, including criminals, operate mainly on rewired orange and green scooters that were left on the streets following the breakdown of society.

Regular military forces maintain a hold on most of the southeast and Appalachian, which remained loyal to Trump. Their control stops in West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi. The government relies on drones and small units to carry on its war against the West. This includes some special forces, but is mostly comprised of about 20,000 men and women contracted to private defense firms contracted by Erik Prince, now serving as Secretary of Defense.

Urban areas were hit the hardest by the COVID-XX virus in the US, but some areas were mostly untouched. Midwestern plains cities, such as Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City, fare the best. They have a loose economic affiliation to provide food and supplies to one another but no longer recognize the Trump administration's authority. Their capital is Detroit, now one of the most advanced cities in north America. The virus wiped out nearly its entire population in late 2020, leaving behind a small portion of people who had become immune. Survivors from around the country flock to the city, where there is abundant housing and a foundation for large-scale infrastructure to repair.

The densely-populated northeast has become largely empty, ravaged by the outbreaks and clashes with government forces. The western states are mostly lawless, not loyal to Trump and with no central governance. Some areas through the Rockies remain mostly peaceful, while the Pacific Northwest and Southern California remain in violent conflict with the Trump administration. The west coast in particular has become corrupt with warlords importing black market supplies from China to maintain their control on power.

Donald Trump Sr. retreated to Mar-A-Lago following the death of his son. Army engineers who had been directed to construct a wall on the southern border with Mexico are instead sent to Miami, where they turned the coastal island of Mar-A-Lago into a modern fortress. The resort itself has 3 layers of walls; one with the mainland, a seawall to contain a number of saltwater crocodiles, and a wall around the perimeter of the resort. Only a handful of staffers remain with Trump. After being banned from Twitter, Trump communicates publicly via Facebook live, shot using the front-facing camera on his phone in vertical format.

Trump's fixation on revenge for his son's death in the northwest and his increasing isolation in Mar-A-Lago led him to ignore intelligence reports in summer 2021 about increased cartel activity in the US and Central America. A coalition of cartels quietly worked together to infiltrate into cities in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and their logistical hub in Chicago. In one fell swoop, they destroyed most government infrastructure and captured oil facilities in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Gang warfare in Chicago was brutal but brief while violence continued in Texas. Armed civilians calling themselves "Comanches" continue to fight back against the cartel coalition, but they maintain a grip on the oil and Chicago as a central transportation hub. They sell limited supplies to the rest of the US at exorbitant prices, preventing large-scale military machinery from being brought to bear against them.

Italy was evicted from the European Union following its threat to send its cases of infected over the border for treatment when its medical system collapsed in late 2020 with the second outbreak. The UK, slow to move under Boris Johnson, was also hit hard by the virus. In early 2021, Italy and the UK announced a military alliance and moved against mainland Europe. Border wars break out all over Europe; the West collapses in on itself as military leaders seize power in the crisis. Switzerland is believed to be neutral and untouched by the second outbreak, but has strict border controls and shoots anyone on sight attempting to cross the Alps. France survives by threatening nuclear annihilation of any European country that threatens it, but is ravaged by the new strain of virus internally. Most of the other nations in the former EU buckle and collapse by early 2022 following months of disease and war.

China isn't immune to the second strain of the virus, sustaining some 50 million dead. But Xi Jinping remains in power, directing manpower and resources to develop, test, and produce a vaccine en masse. It arrived in significant numbers in China in mid-2021, shortly before the US devolves into chaos. The Chinese government declines to send assistance to America, stating that it cannot protect its aid workers in the country. Instead, they send medical staffers and scientists to Africa and South America in early 2022 to assist in distributing the vaccine. The aid workers are accompanied by large numbers of PLA troops who were conscripted in the previous year. After the aid is distributed, the PLA forces remain. China has become the dominant world power, stripping resources from Africa to continue its economic recovery.

The growth and stability of China makes some of its neighbors nervous. India and Pakistan reached a long-term peace agreement about Kashmir in late 2021 with the world spiraling out of control, and by mid-2022 announce a mutual defense treaty. The historically unthinkable alliance is a clear hedge against China's omnipotence in the new world order. Russia reached out to China for assistance with the second outbreak in late 2020; China waited several months before sending its vaccinated troops in to restore order. Vladimir Putin passed away two weeks after receiving what he believed to be the Chinese vaccine, administered by PLA doctors on national TV. The Chinese troops remain in populated and resource-intensive regions of Russia but most of the country is abandoned and left to fend for itself.

The Middle East was one of the first areas to collapse. Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, knowing his country couldn't sustain itself through the oil price war with Russia, invited the Muslim world to continue its annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Summer 2021 despite health officials warning of it as an imminent disaster. The Hajj drew only 2 million visitors, well below its normal rate, but more than enough to spread the virus throughout the region.

Friday, March 27, 2020

From Science Fiction to Science Fact: the Exosuit Solider

From the book Starship Troopers to movies like Aliens and Edge of Tomorrow, the powered exoskeleton has been a staple of military science fiction. As Lawrence Freedman’s The Future of War suggests, these works of fiction have captured the imagination of many. Undoubtedly parallels of Robert Downey Jr., Sigourney Weaver, or Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt battling bloodthirsty aliens in exo-suits are made at every new exoskeleton prototype showcase.

While the technology is yet to enable superhuman feats, the US Army has been exploring the use of exoskeleton technologies to allow warfighters to run faster, lift heavier objects, and relieve physical strain. The Army’s Soldier Center designated 6.9 million USD toward a 48-month long Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) to develop enough exoskeleton systems to conduct a comprehensive operational evaluation. So far, the Soldier Center has only selected Lockheed Martin’s ONYX and Dephy’s ExoBoot.

The LockheedMartin’s ONYX has sensors distributed on the exoskeleton report speed, direction, and angle of movement to an on-board computer that drives electro-mechanical actuators at the knees. Ideally, the ONYX delivers the right torque at the right time to assist knee flexion and extension. Ultimately, the ONYX reduces the energy needed to cross terrain, squat, or kneel. A soldier utilizing the ONYX enhances their strengthen and endurance to carry loads or use heavy weapons. Additionally, the ONYX should reduce fatigue and the stress on leg muscles.  The ExoBoot focuses on the lower leg below the knee, aligning the joint areas of the human musculoskeletal system with a mechanical structure rigid enough to transfer significant force to the ground and yet not compromise the user’s natural range of motion.

While the ONYX and ExoBoot exoskeletons would undoubtedly benefit a soldier’s effectiveness, these are far from a revolutionary technology seen in movies and video games. However, the Army Solider Center is not alone in its interest in exoskeletons. The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) rewarded Sarcos Robotics with a contract to deliver a full-body robotic exoskeleton called the Guardian XO. The Guardian XO gives the wearers “the strength of a forklift but a gentler touch” and is powered by an on-board battery that can operate for up to eight hours. Though still far from the kind of exosuits Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt had in Edge of Tomorrow, a functional full-body exosuit could be revolutionary. A single soldier with the same firepower and speed of a tank while maintaining maneuverability might become a reality in the coming decades

Is Information Warfare Just?

In today’s ever-changing world of technology, a new type of warfare has arisen called information warfare. Defined by  Professor Dan Keuhl of the National Defense University as "two or more groups waging warfare in the information environment."  Examples would be the jamming of radio and internet communications, or even just posting “fake news” online to spread misinformation in the populace. Information warfare is so prevalent, that there have been calls for the United States to create an information warfare command. However, one has to wonder, if all of this right, is it ethical to undertake these practices, is information warfare just?

The concept of a Just War is defined under the two terms “Just Ad Bellum” and “Jus in Bello.” Respectively meaning the “right to go to war” and “right conduct in war.” Both of these principles were coined by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. He also addresses that war must have “just cause” as well as what these just causes are. Later philosophers have expanded upon these concepts as the world and technology have evolved, but the principles remain the same.

One conflict that information warfare has with these principles is that it provides much less risk than, say, a ground assault or a bombing. This allows the entity conducting the warfare to make these attacks much more often than they could otherwise. Despite writing how war is justified, Aquinas, as well as future scholars, make clear that war is only a last resort when all other methods of negotiation and diplomacy have failed. This is partly because war carries a risk for both countries, namely the loss of human lives. Information warfare does not risk any human lives at all, it does not harm the attacker and only harms the defender. It a country just wanted to jam another’s internet for x period of time, then they could with no harm to any of their populace.

Another concern is the frequency of information warfare attacks on civilians, especially on social media outlets. Another way to look at this is so-called “fake news.” Aquinas brings up in his Just War theory that combatants should not and cannot target civilians. However, isn’t "fake news" targeting civilians. Is it just to do so because they are not being directly harmed?  This brings up the other ethical issue of right to privacy. If governments try to enforce control of civilian infrastructure and technology in an attempt to stop information warfare. Is that ethical? In the United States at least, the answer would be no and that makes efforts to stop information warfare campaigns waged against the United States next to impossible.

Of course, one could argue that information warfare, as well as other types of warfare such as cyber, are not considered “conventional warfare” and therefore require a new set of principles. Is this correct, or should these principles still apply? That is a question needs to be decided by international governments and fast, since as technology keeps involving, information warfare will become easier and easier to wage and will become more and more prevalent.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

March 26: The Future of War

Hey all,

Here is the link to today's PowerPoint presentation, also available on the right sidebar.  And here is the link to the audio version of today's lecture; I've been struggling a bit to get an annotated video version into a reasonable file size.  Let this post serve as a comment thread for questions and discussion about the lecture; I will create another post for question and discussions regarding today's student presentation.



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Covid-19 and Military Readiness

Image result for coronavirus

The corona virus pandemic has wreaked havoc in the US; it exposed the nation’s vulnerability to protect its citizens and turned both civilians and military lives upside down. Indeed, as the greatest nation in the world showed its ineffectiveness to fight this pandemic, should the population be worried about the military’s readiness to fight or defend in case of an attack? As of 20 March 2020, according to a USA today article:
·         Training has been canceled or cut back. The Air Force scrapped Red Flag in Alaska, a training exercise for top-gun combat pilots, Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters Wednesday. The Army is altering operations at bases that prepare troops for combat to accommodate National Guard units needed in their states for relief operations. War games in Europe, Africa and at sea have been cut back or scrapped.
·         At least 67 troops in the U.S. and abroad as of Friday have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. In Europe, 2,600 troops and civilian employees are quarantined as a precaution.
·         The Army is shuttering its recruiting centers across the country, moving to online efforts only. It has also reduced the number of recruits in training centers by 50%, said Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff. Six recruits have shown possible symptoms, he said.
·         Foreign and domestic travel for troops and their family members has been banned or severely restricted until mid-May.
Just like US leaders insisted on being ready to tackle the then epidemic at the beginning of the year, military leaders are insisting that despite the impact the virus has had, the US military stands ready to protect the territory and fight and win against any threat around the world. As Secretary Esper put it, “I want to assure the American people that the United States military remains ready and capable of meeting all of our national security requirements.

The Defense Department defines readiness as “the ability of military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions.” However, the sole purpose of the US military is not to just fight; its might, readiness, and force serve as a powerful foreign policy tool to influence how adversarial countries think and behave. For instance, having a powerful military that is ready to fight prevents nuclear attacks from enemies and discourage allies from pursuing their own nuclear programs as the US will come to rescue when called upon.

Moreover, the virus impacts the military’s ability to upkeep its complex equipment such as ships, tanks and aircraft. Modern military not only need this equipment, but they also need them in proper conditions. Before the pandemic started there were reports that military equipment was in poor conditions due to inexperienced maintenance technicians at some facilities that created delays, and with the reduce in workers, the situation will continue to get worse. Finally, the US military is in a dire situation as the pandemic is affecting not just domestic operations, but also global. It will be very interesting to see how military leaders adjust their strategies to protect the US and its allies.