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Two Readings, and If You Read It, Why Not Review It?

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

One Hundred Days, The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward

For professional reasons, many trusted colleagues have recommended One Hundred Days, and I finally finished it a few weeks ago. They reminded me the Falklands War “was the first modern anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) war, pitting a joint expeditionary force against a regional power with modern land, air, and sea capabilities.” [sourced from Proceedings magazine, May 2012, by Commander Jim Griffin, U.S. Navy—strongly recommended] In other words, the scrap in the South Atlantic in 1982 was the last time a “modern” expeditionary force faced a credible adversary with modern capabilities. 

Admiral Woodward reminds that no one expected Argentina to invade the Falklands, and even if they did, no one expected the UK to respond with force (even the Royal Navy (RN) was surprised, and many had to find the islands on a map). Woodward departed with the two remaining UK carriers, the Hermes and Invincible which were already on the chopping block due to budget problems (sound familiar?). Fighting was such a distant memory for the RN, having not engaged in significant action since WWII, and Woodward recounts that many of his men had difficulty making the transition from “a sea-going job” to fighting, and possibly dying. I wondered as I read if the U.S. Navy has prepared/is prepared for this transition; and truly both officer and rates proved susceptible. The personal nature of Woodward’s account was bit of a surprise, but provides valued insight into the challenges and frequent frustrations faced by naval leaders.

Commander Griffin’s account in Proceedings referenced above has a very good list of lessons learned, and a few observations and questions are added for consideration:

  1. Naval warfare is war of attrition. Attrition can occur as a result of sinking or disabling an opponent. In the case of the Brits, many of their ships sustained non-fatal hits that, for practical purposes, removed the ship from any offensive or defensive action. Many of our enemies, while not sophisticated, understand and plan accordingly. As a result numbers are important; numbers of ships and weapons.
  2. In the age of the missile, response times were/are measured in seconds, so ships and aircraft will be lost…often, quickly.
  3. Are our systems susceptible to electro-magnetic interference (EMI)? 
  4. Could our ships navigate or fight without GPS or other satellite-dependent technologies?
  5. Can sailors onboard fix systems when they break (and they will break, see #6 below)? One RN ship had a contractor embarked who made the difference, which was blind luck. Over the last 20 years, the USN has tended towards “operators” over technicians.
  6. “Murphy” is alive and well. When things can fail (including technologies), they will, at the worst possible time.
  7. Is the theater commander in command? In the Falklands, Woodward had command of ships, but not submarines—which hampered the effectiveness of his battle group.
  8. Ship preservation (preventive maintenance) is often paid for in battle. At least two RN ships were unable to use weapons because of salt corrosion rendering missile hatches inoperable. This is engineering problem, too, to be sure, but also an example of how preventive maintenance can pay-off when it counts.
  9. Damage control training for all-hands; rigorous and often. RN sailors did a masterful job of saving several of their wounded ships.
  10. Anti-missile capabilities on logistic/support ships.
  11. Homefront politics and posturing provides fog in war as does the enemy. One curse of modern communications; having the White House Situation Room second-guessing/micromanaging the war.
  12. The press is often not your friend. On a couple of occasions, the BBC broadcast orders of battle and goals, and the Argentineans planned and acted accordingly.
  13. The motto of Captain John Coward, RN, of HMS Brilliant, “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.”

Woodward’s book is the clearest account we have of naval warfare in the missile age. If it is not already, One Hundred Days should be required reading for every naval officer. Strongest recommendation.

National Security Dilemmas, Challenges & Opportunities, Colin S. Gray

Colin Gray is no stranger to the readers of Zenpundit. I read this title over the Christmas break, and have returned to review with some frequency. In fact, my copy is so littered with underlining and marginalia, these periodic “reviews” can take a couple of hours. As the title suggests, Gray outlines the challenges and opportunities facing policymakers, and in so doing provides an accurate glimpse of our current state of political-military affairs. He encourages policymakers to reacquaint themselves with the importance of the concept of victory, and on how to successfully navigate a transition of our military from our previous focus of regular warfare to the realities introduced by enemies using irregular methods. Gray discusses “revolutions in military affairs (RMA)” and deterrence and the implications of both in our thinking and planning. Gray’s concluding section on preemption and preventative war is exceptionally well-presented.

For example, Gray’s section on Achieving Decisive Victory includes:

  1. Better armies tend to win.
  2. No magic formula for victory.
  3. Technology is not a panacea.
  4. The complexity of strategy and war is the mother of invention.
  5. Know your enemies.

This book is imminently quotable, so I’ll share a few with my highest recommendation.

The idea that strategy has an essence is deeply attractive. Strategy sounds incredibly rare and valuable, like something that could be bottled and sold. Unfortunately, American understanding of and sound practice in strategy is desperately rare. Strategic thinking and behavior are endangered activities in the United States. This is hardly a stunningly original insight. However, familiar though the criticism should be, it loses none of its bite for reason of longevity. Much as the U.S. defense community periodically is prodded by irregularist anxiety to worry about insurgency and terrorism, so from time to time it remembers the value of strategy. Though American defense professionals do not know what strategy is or how it works, they know that it is a matter of grave importance. The pattern has been one wherein a politician or a senior official with a personal interest has lit the fire of genuinely strategic discussion. The fire briefly flare brightly but then dies away for want of fuel. The fire is not fed, because there is not much demand for the heat and light of truly strategic argument in the United States. Although America is not quite a strategy-free environment, such a characterization would err in the right direction. (page 169 of paperback edition)

Since, inter alia, warfare is a competition in learning between imperfect military machines, fortunately one need only be good enough. (page 178; this is a personal favorite of mine)

There needs to be a continuous, albeit “unequal,” dialogue between civilian and soldier. War and warfare are permeated with political meaning, and consequences. A competent supreme command knows this and behaves accordingly. However, this relationship carries implications for civilian participation in military decisions in wartime that run contrary to the traditional American way in civil-military relations. If the strict instrumentality of force is not to be neglected, there has to be a constant dialogue between policymaker and soldier. Policy is a nonsense if the troops cannot perform “in the field,” while the troops may be so effective in action that policy is left gasping far behind unexpected opportunities by events. (page 179, emphasis added)

Gray’s National Security Dilemmas is a must read for policymakers and practitioners. [btw: it has been my custom to provide selected referenced works in book reviews. Gray’s bibliography is so excellent and comprehensive, I could not make a list that would do it justice.]

That said, I’ll close with more questions, and an apology: Does anyone read anymore? I’m rereading Manchester’s classic American Caesar after an absence of 30+ years, and I’d forgotten how much time both MacArthur the Elder and MacArthur the Younger (Douglas) spent reading. That said, how often do we see military leaders review the books they recommend? A reading list is one thing, explaining why the book made the cut another. With blogs, the internet, and social media, there are no barriers to entry. Recommendation to senior officers, including the General Officers and Flag Officers who post required reading lists: let your folks know why, write it down, explain it—the exercise will do you good, and give your subordinates insights into your thinking.

Now for the apology: there are four of us here at Zenpundit, but I’ve been the anchor man. This is my first post in too long, and I apologize to my colleagues and you, the reader. I’ve been on a tear reading naval stuff, mostly associated with my business endeavors. That said, I’ll endeavor to eat my own cooking and review what I read/have read with greater frequency.

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Applied Pontecorvo: Gaza

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — lessons from Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers for the medium-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and other instances of asymmetry ]
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Pontecorvo‘s film, The Battle for Algiers, really seared itself into me when I watched it again recently — and so it has been a bit of a template for other thoughts, and notably influenced some of my thinking as I was watching events unfolding in Gaza, now thankfully in cease-fire mode.

Pontecorvo, as I noted in my previous post, takes the side of the Algerians in their conflict with the French, and I suppose it’s only natural that a “reading” of the Gaza situation in light of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece will tend to support the Palestinian “cause” against the Israelis.

After all, Yitzhak Epstein, addressing the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel in 1905, had a point when he said:

We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticise in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.

On Thanksgiving Day I am reminded that my Lakota friends also have a point — but there’s what’s memorable, which can remain in very long-term memory indeed, and there’s what’s practicable, which may in practical terms be changing by the day or decade…

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Let me put that another way.

I don’t need the words of a Zionist Jew from a century ago to give me that insight into the Palestinian side of things, but Epstein’s words remind me that there are facts in the heart on the Palestinian side, just as the Israelis are building facts on the ground in the occupied territories. What of the Israeli side, are there not facts in the heart there too? And on the Palestinian side, what of the ghastly hadith of the Gharqad tree? Must apocalyptic hate last till the end of time?

Of all the reporting I have read, this, from Dahlia Litwick in Jerusalem, struck the deepest chord:

I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone — absolutely everyone — is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

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Here, then, are the parallelisms and oppositions that struck me, as I was reading about the Gaza conflict — may today’s cease-fire endure and a peaceful resolution emerge — in light of Pontecorvo’s film:

Gilad Sharon‘s words echo those of Col. Mathieu in the film: they think alike, and indeed their perspective is a not-uncommon one. But while I might otherwise have overlooked Sharon’s voice as but one among many in Israel, having just seen Pontecorvo’s film I take more note of it, and my mind seeks its rebuttal.

I find that rebuttal in the words of Thomas More, in a speech from Robert Bolt’s play that has stuck with me since I first saw Paul Scofield in the role in London at the age of sixteen:

I am, I suppose something of a Taoist by inclination. I think, with Lao Tse, that the way that can be phrased in words isn’t the authentic way — or as Count Alfred Korzybsky might put it, the map does not adequately describe the terrain — and so my feeling is that the letter of the law should be tempered by its spirit, and that justice should be tempered with mercy — a point I hope to return to.

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There is one other moment in Pontecorvo’s film that struck me as prescient — the one when Larbi Ben M’hidi comments on asymmetry:

I’ve heard remarks of that kind (upper panel) repeated many times in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, but the graphic impact of the image (lower panel) outweighs a thousand explanations.

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Perhaps we can leave Pontecorvo for a moment, and consider the asymmetry further, and the symmetry:

The lower panel, by a Swiss cartoonist of Lebanese extraction, is titled An Eye for an Eye (Oeil pour Oeil) — a symmetry that is taken to its logical conclusion in a quote often attributed to Gandhi:

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

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My apologia:

I am distant, and I am a writer: distant enough to take all humanity for my own side, and writer enough to wish to contribute what I can of concern and insight.

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Strategy, Power and Diffusion

Monday, November 19th, 2012

“….and therefore, two kinds of reactions are possible on the defending side, depending whether the attacker is to perish by the sword or by his own exertions.

                                                               – Carl von Clausewitz,  On War

 “Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.”

                                                                 – Sun Tzu,  The Art of War 

A recent estimate for the cost of the war in Afghanistan by the Congressional Research Office is $443 billion dollars to occupy and fight a Pakistani-supported insurgency in a primitive country whose annual GDP is a mere $ 27 billion. A  figure that itself inflated by $ 3-4 billion is remittances, $ 4 billion in NGO aid and $14 billion in direct US aid (2010 figure); when you then subtract opium smuggling ($ 4 billion), Afghanistan’s legitimate economic activity may only be a miniscule GDP of  $ 2 – 3 billion.

This does not, of course, include the cost of ten years of lavish bribes for Pakistan, a portion of which was used by the ISI to support the Taliban  killing American and ISAF  soldiers  and Afghan civilians.

This is not a cost-effective or strategic way to run a war. In fact, even for a nation as wealthy as the United States there is nothing in Afghanistan worth such an expenditure of blood and treasure, especially when the bulk of our enemies appear to be based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. You can approach a strategic problem directly or indirectly but to do so indirectly in the most expensive way logistically possible makes little sense. For example:

….Since the ‘war to end all wars’, however, war has not exactly stood still.  Although the US Defense Logistics Agency rather quaintly describes its mission in terms of a supply chain extending ‘from factory to foxhole’, it is, above all, the mobility of military violence that is central to the conduct of late modern war.  But Creveld is adamant that since 1945 the operational freedom of modern ground forces has not markedly increased, not least because their prized mobility is absolutely dependent on supplies of petrol and gasoline.  Since the end of the Second World War the use of petroleum-based fuels by the US military has soared, and as its stripped-down forces have been expected to do more with less (through technological change and outsourcing) so the fuel expended per soldier has increased by 175 per cent to an average of 22 gallons (83 litres) per day. [viii]  As Obama had US forces ‘surge’ into Afghanistan in 2009 so ISAF’s daily fuel consumption rocketed from two million to over four million litres a day. Given these volumes, it is scarcely surprising that the death-dealing capacities of the US military and its allies should have been tied in knots by ‘umbilical cords’ far more convoluted than Creveld could ever have imagined.

There are three main supply networks to be disentangled in turn.  All of them are ground lines of communication.  Air transportation is extremely, usually prohibitively expensive, and only four airports in Afghanistan are accessible to non-military aircraft, so that until 2011 only 20 per cent of cargo was flown in.  Similarly, onward delivery to combat outposts and forward operating bases has usually only involved airdrops if other options are too dangerous. Still, by the start of 2010 around 30-40 per cent of bases were being supplied by air because the Taliban controlled much of Highway 1, the ring road that loops between Afghanistan’s major cities, and its IED attacks on NATO and Afghan forces were increasingly effective.  The high cost of airdropping pallets of fuel, ammunition, water and supplies has imposed all sorts of fuel economies on the military as it attempts to reduce its carbon footprint – ‘troops have learned to sip, not guzzle’ – but it is still the case that, as one US pilot put it, ‘we’re going to burn a lot of gas to drop a lot of gas’.  According to some estimates it can cost up to $400 a gallon to deliver fuel by air. [ix] 

Neither war nor strategy are a hard science like physics. That said, there are fields of study and investigation that while not being a science are, like physics, inherently about systems or systemic relationships. Economics  and engineering are two such examples, strategy is another.  Because of this similarity, it is often profitable to employ metaphors or analogies from physics to illustrate strategic problems, as Clausewitz famously did in On War with “friction” and “center of gravity“.

Diffusion” might be another analogy for statesmen and soldiers to keep in mind.

Military force, or more broadly, national power marshaled and employed toward a vital objective represents a potent concentration of energy like a red hot iron bar. Thrust deeply into a trough of ice water, the surface of the water yields to the mass and heat of the iron bar in a furious burst of steam and boiling turbulence. Keep the bar submerged and every erg of heat will be sapped out of it by the water and the iron will emerge cold, tempered by the experience and inert. Keep the bar submerged long enough and the water will begin to rust the iron away until nothing is left.

Vast spaces, hostile populaces and deeply impoverished environments are like ice water to the molten heat of an invading power, as we have discovered in Afghanistan.

There are already old military maxims that express a warning about the risks of diffusion, notably “Don’t get into a land war in Asia” or “Don’t invade Russia in winter”.  Napoleon Bonaparte marched his vast and fabled Grand Armee of 600,000 men into the endless steppes of Tsar Alexander’s Russia. Everything gave way before Napoleon’s legions, but the Russians were not the Austrians or Prussians, they retreated, savagely burning and destroying as they went:

….Alexander’s proclamation to his people, issued at the time of the French invasion, appealed to these deep seated feelings: Napoleon had come to destroy Russia; the entire nation must rise against ‘this Moloch’ and his ‘legions of slaves’. ‘Let us drive this plague of locusts out! Let us carry the Cross in our hearts and steel in our hands!’ The proclamation was read in all the churches, and the priests supplemented it with embellishments of their own. The Comte de Segur, at this time an aide-de-camp to Napoleon, wrote: ‘They convinced these peasants we were a legion of devils commanded by the Antichrist, infernal spirits, horrible to look upon, and whose very touch defiled”

In Moscow, the city in flames, even Napoleon the Conqueror, the master of Europe, did not have enough men, or material or speed of movement to either digest and rule the immense spaces of Russia or compel Alexander to come to terms:

….Throughout the fall of 1812, Napoleon waited in vain for Alexander’s peace proposals to arrive in the Kremlin. When none came, he made overtures of his own, but Alexander sent no reply. As the days stretched into weeks, Napoleon came to see that he, not Alexander, faced a truly desperate situation, for Russia’s armies grew stronger by the day while his own dwindled from desertions and the ravages of disease. He faced the hopeless prospect of wintering in Russia without adequate food, shelter, or supplies, surrounded by a people so hostile that they burned their grain rather than sell it for French gold. As winter approached, and as the Russian partisans stepped up their attacks on his rear, Napoleon saw that his line of communications, which relied upon a perilously vulnerable corps of couriers who raced from Paris to Moscow in fourteen days, must soon collapse.

Of the Grand Armee, only five thousand returned home from the snowy wastes of Russia alive.

The Wehrmacht did little better. Hitler’s imagined drive to the Urals without a surrender and territorial concession by Stalin was a fantastical ambition. The far-flung distance, roadless mud and icy snow alone were too much for panzer armies and Luftwaffe air wings that proceeded to break down with statistical certainty. Supply lines were too long; gasoline and replacement parts were too few, as were replacements for the men for whom the Eastern Front was a grave. To the dogged resistance of the Red Army, the Germans needlessly added the people’s rage of the Russian partisans by demonstrating to the peasantry that the NKVD held no monopoly on atrocity.  Imperial Japan’s coterminous war in China tells exactly the same unhappy tale.

William Lind and the 4GW school used to like to make the point, regarding your moral and political legitimacy, that ” If you fight the weak, you become weak”. The corollary to that is economic: “If you fight the poor, you become poor”.

Grinding poverty itself  is a tax upon the invading force. There are no resources for your army to comandeer or buy, no skilled manpower to requisition or hire, no infrastructure for them to use. All of that must be imported and built at great expense by the invader whose troops are accustomed to far less spartan environs. The local population is usually malnourished, illiterate, ignorant, suspicious of outsiders and  rife with disease; their living habits and water sources unsanitary and endanger the troops. Caring for the locals, even minimal administration of humanitarian aid, becomes a bureaucratic and logistical burden consuming time and diverting resources away from urgent military needs.

The United States under George Bush the Elder, entered into Somalia, a land beset by violent anarchy and it’s people in the grip of a terrible famine and was driven out shortly thereafter under Bill Clinton. The last scenes there being the emaciated Somali followers of  a two-bit warlord,Mohammed Farah Aidid, gleefully swarming over and looting our military’s former…. garbage dump.

When the enemy has a land so poor that he treasures and makes use of the crap you throw away, the economic spillover of your logistical supply lines will fund his war against you. Used to surviving on bare subsistence, the invader’s presence becomes an economic bonanza for resistance and collaborator alike. Sort of a highly kinetic form of military Keynesianism. The war itself and the occupation become an irreplaceable cornerstone of their economy. They hate you being there, but can’t afford to defeat you and drive you out either – making a “quagmire” irregular conflict their ideal economic equilibrium to maintain.

What lessons can we draw here?

  • Keep your national power concentrated – don’t diffuse it with unmanageable, ill-defined, tasks of unlimited scope
  • Military power is to be used for a clear and articulated policy end with a defined political settlement in mind
  • If a political settlement is impossible because the problem is intractable, avoid involvement.
  • If you cannot avoid getting involved (i.e. -you were attacked) your best option is to engage in a punitive expedition to destroy the war-making capacity of the enemy and impose  ruinous costs and then immediately leave.
  • Keep campaigns short. In operation, military power is a terrible, swift sword and you should sheathe it just as quickly. 
  • Ruling over enemy population is a wasteful, thankless, burden not to be undertaken except in extremis (Reconstruction and occupation of Germany and Japan were in extremis cases).
  • Maximum gains accrue from the most effective use of the smallest possible force in the shortest period of time.
  • Make an army large enough and the enemy will become a secondary or tertiary concern of its leaders.

 

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Graphical footnotes, 1: Iwo Jima and the Muj

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — another insight into mujahideen ethos via their graphics, this time from their Soviet era campaign ]
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First, a current graphic which I’ve already shown you in a recent post on jihadist imagery — then a version of the same visual idea from earlier days:

credits: above, Ibn Siqilli, below, Mathew Trevithick for Foreign Policy

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Ibn Siqilli‘s image is contemporary, Trevithick‘s is drawn from his fascinating series of images titled The Not-So-Funny Papers, which I missed myself when it first came out, and warmly recommend. The legend the flag in Trevithick’s piece carries is “Jihad”.

This post is intended as a footnote to my earlier post, Iwo Jihad? — the muj have clearly been at this business of graphical borrowing for a while…

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“Ground Hog Day” Afghanistan Style — Lara Logan Shining Light Where Needed

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

This is worth the 20 minutes. Strategy without clarity, isn’t. There is no clarity or strategy to our current problems in Afghanistan.

“We have killed all the slow and stupid ones. But that means the ones that are left are totally dedicated.” Ambassador Ryan Crocker

Cross posted at To Be or To Do.
H/T Feral Jundi at Facebook.

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