Monday, December 17, 2012

“The Mini-Arnie”

By LtCol Walter F. McTernan III, USMC (Ret.)

After I retired from active duty I went to work for our Uncle Sam in a civilian capacity. My clothing changed, but my duties – not so much. One of my main assignments was to serve as a liaison officer (LnO) between “OGA” and deployed commands in the Balkans and Southwest Asia. Most of those great experiences were with largely U.S. Army commands. In the Balkans on multiple tours I served with IFOR, SFOR and KFOR (which had me often asking why for?). As the main thing I miss about the Marine Corps is being around Marines, serving with the relatively few Marines in those joint-combined commands was a truly great experience which I will always treasure! One of the most memorable Marines I served with in Bosnia was a young man and a great, representative U.S. Marine Corps non-commissioned officer who by his very presence added to the laurels of our Corps among his Army friends, colleagues and comrades. His name is Rob Townley. At the time we first met Rob was a Corporal of Marines.

Unknown to many is the point of fact that military retirees are still officially members of their parent services, but on the “Retired List.” The phrase “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” is a bona fide truism! This largely unknown and ignored personnel fact rarely matters to me, but has on occasion been of benefit to a young, junior active duty Marine whom I have been able to officially assist in some small way in battling the bureaucracy. This was one such time.

Then-Corporal Townley was a PMOS 26XX “SigInt” Marine who was at HQ, IFOR as a member of a national level support group. He was the sole acdu Marine I knew at Camp Eagle, Tuzla, Bosnia at that time. Rob was perhaps one of the shorter Marines in physical stature that I have known, but he was a giant of a man nonetheless. He had the physique of a wrestler or weight lifter and exuded an aura of supreme self-confidence at all times. Cowed by seniority he was not; thoroughly professional and respectful he always was. In terms of military presence, he frankly put his Army NCO and SNCO counterparts to shame. He strutted around like a mini-Arnold Schwarzenegger or like a samurai among peasants in a rice paddy. He was supremely self-confident and was/is an all-around great guy too. It was quite obvious to me that his Army colleagues were not only jealous of him, but intimidated by him as well, though of course they would have been loath to admit it. So much so that the Sergeants First Class (SFC/E-7) in the J-2 Section looked for ways to put Rob “in his place”. That was no easy chore, let me tell you.

One day Rob approached me asking for some advice. By Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E), Cpl Townley was armed with a M-9 service pistol and a Kabar combat knife. Rob had been issued the latest style Kabar (a very cool weapon, I must admit). The Army NCO’s up to SFC/E-7 were, per TO&E, armed with the M-16A1 service rifle and bayonet. It obviously bothered them that a “mere” corporal/E-4 got to wear a pistol and Kabar while they, in their exalted seniority, had to carry an M-16 and bayonet, just like the junior soldiers-snuffies. Clearly they were jealous of this. And so they were messing with the Marine corporal, using this arming issue as their excuse to engage in “the seventh troop leading step” – harassment. Rob inquired informally, young Marine to old, how he might handle the situation.

So I did something I rarely ever did; I put on my “lieutenant colonel” cover and sent a letter to the J-2, an Army MI LTC friend of mine and a good guy, explaining that per Marine Corps policy, a Marine is to be armed for duty IAW the TO&E. That one each Corporal Rob Townley, USMC, was to be armed with an M-9 service pistol and a Kabar combat knife, and that the opinions and feelings of the other NCO’s and SNCO’s were irrelevant. Marine Corps policy trumped Army NCO egos. End of subject; and so it was. So Rob continued the march with his pistol and ninja-looking Kabar (which on Rob looked more like a machete). He continued to rule the roost in J-2 like the “cock o’ the walk” and by his sheer force of personality and commanding military presence made Marines stand tall in the eyes of their countrymen in other uniforms.

I next saw Rob at Fallujah in 2007, when I had the extreme honor to again serve with Marines in the field, this time as an OGA LnO to II MEF of MNF-West. By then Rob had risen through the ranks to Staff Sergeant of Marines, and switched his Primary MOS to 0211 (Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence) – the only Marine I ever knew who cross-decked from OccFld 26 (SigInt) to 0211. Rob was a great Marine and I was delighted to have the opportunity to serve with him once again. I wish him well, wherever he is.

MCLL: Don’t mess with Marine NCO’s!

Semper Fi!

Monday, December 10, 2012

“A Class Act”

By Lieutenant Colonel Walter F. McTernan III, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

Holiday greetings from Kabul. I just started a fantastic new job heading an instructor team developing and teaching Intelligence courses to Afghan National Army Special Forces. One of my teammates is a crusty old Army Ranger-Special Forces first sergeant from Puerto Rico, home to so many great American fighting men. Working with “don Angel” has reminded me of a Marine SNCO from Puerto Rico whom I was blessed to serve with many years ago, a Marine who both personally and professionally was a real class act!

My company command opportunity occurred late in my captaincy. I was privileged to have as my company first sergeant then-First Sergeant Blas “Pete” Pedrero, USMC. Pete was a suave, sophisticated, urbane multi-talented Marine who was the best all-around natural athlete I ever knew in the Corps. I used to tease him by saying that he was in the Marine Corps on an athletic scholarship. He was a real people-person and I greatly admired him. In fact I still do. Eventually we each moved up and onwards in our careers after our service together. I lat moved to OccField 02 and PCS’d back to Washington, D.C. and Pete made Sergeant Major of Marines and PCA’d down to San Diego from Camp Pendleton.

In the ‘70’s I had had a unique tour as a military advisor in Thailand. While serving with JUSMAGTHAI I was befriended by a retired Sergeant Major of Marines named Bill Crabbe. SgtMaj Crabbe was a three war Marine (WW-II, Korea and RVN) who retired out of the Corps in 1969 and settled in Thailand. He married a Thai lady whose cousin was a Thai Marine I worked with. I learned a lot through my friendship with SgtMaj. Crabbe, with whom I stayed in touch after departing country at end-of-tour.

Several years later I received a letter from SgtMaj Crabbe informing me that he had been diagnosed with cancer and had to return to the U.S. for treatment at USNH Balboa in San Diego. He had not been back to CONUS since his last tour in ‘Nam, out of which he retired to nearby Thailand. He did not know anybody in ‘Dago, and he was clearly a bit concerned – and understandably so. So I got in touch with SgtMaj Pedrero to ask if he could assist SgtMaj Crabbe in any way. Pete told me not to worry about it, that he would look after SgtMaj Crabbe in fine Marine Corps fashion. And man, did he ever!

I learned the following later, after SgtMaj. Crabbe had lamentably passed away. When Bill’s flight arrived at Lindberg Field in San Diego, the aging, ailing sergeant major was greeted by SgtMaj Pedrero and a couple of young Marines, all resplendent in Dress Blues. They took SgtMaj Crabbe in a staff car to Balboa Hospital. There the group was greeted by the Marine SNCO Liaison Officer to the naval hospital. SgtMaj. Crabbe received the best of care possible medically and VIP treatment with lots of TLC, as rated by a three war Marine. Unfortunately, the ugly side of nature did what neither the Japanese, the North Koreans, The ChiCom’s, the Viet Cong nor the NVA could ever do – it took the life of a brave American and a great Marine. But until the day he died there, Marines in Blues came to visit SgtMaj. Crabbe in the hospital every single day, and the old sergeant major got to spend his final days among his younger brethren, importing the lore of the Corps via war stories and Corps stories. Not a bad way to go under the circumstances. This classic example of “The Marines take care of their own” was due to the good offices of SgtMaj. Pedrero – a class act if ever I knew one in our Corps. May God rest SgtMaj. Bill Crabbe, USMC (Ret.) and bless SgtMaj. Pete Pedrero, USMC (Ret.)

Semper Fidelis!

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Pearl Harbor Declassified"

Normally I review books and write for Leatherneck and Gazette, but today I veer slightly of my lane; our friends at the Military Channel asked if I'd review a Pearl Harbor special they're airing tonight

and I'd like to share my thoughts with you:

Today is the 71st anniversary of Japan’s infamous attack at Pearl Harbor, and Military Channel is commemorating it with a most extraordinary special “Pearl Harbor Declassified.” (10pm E/P)

While there have been many Pearl Harbor documentaries produced over the years, this one is different in both tone and imagery. Written and produced by Creative Differences Erik Nelson for Military Channel, “Pearl Harbor Declassified” approaches the fight on a forensic-history basis in which he’s used state-of-the-art image-stabilized technology to enhance the original black & white footage into HD – with stunning results.

This is Nelson’s 6th Pearl Harbor-related film, a topic he approaches scientifically. As the producer of the popular “Unsolved History” series, Nelson uses both art and technology to illustrate what actually occurred, making “Pearl Harbor Declassified” a most interesting documentary.

While the attack lasted close to two hours, Nelson demonstrates how most of the damage was done in the first fifteen minutes. Coupling his computer-generated imagery with rare Japanese aerial footage of their attack, Nelson shows how the Japanese attacked in waves, with torpedo bombers launching the dreadfully effective “Long Lance” torpedoes, while minutes later high-altitude bombers were dropping battleship-killing 1,750 lb modified 16” naval shells from 10,000’. His sand table-style graphics bring the viewers into the fight as they follow the initial waves of Japanese planes over Wheeler and Hickam Fields in order to first destroy the expected American fighter defense, and then attacking Battleship Row.

“Pearl Harbor Declassified’s” graphics shows the effects of the multiple torpedo hits on the outbound-moored battleships, with the USS Oklahoma slammed by nine-to-eleven before she capsized. Especially poignant are the final minutes on board the doomed ships; with Nelson enhancing the old Japanese imagery the viewer sees the still-lit movie screen used the night before on the USS Vestal, as well as the canvas awnings erected on the USS Arizona for the Sunday morning church services never held.

Most painful is the footage shot during the attack by Army Doctor Eric Haakenson. As fate and history would have it, Haakenson was filming the USS Arizona from the close-by anchored USS Solace as a single 1,750 lb armor-piercing bomb penetrated deck and exploded in her forward magazine. As the Arizona disintegrates in a huge fireball, the newly digitized and HD-upgraded footage shows the force of the blast that blew her 30’out of the water.

Just prior Haakenson filmed the Japanese air armada as it flew overhead, potentially taping the bombing run that destroyed the proud ship. “Pearl Harbor Declassified” reveals the force of the explosion caused a 10’ tidal wave to slam into Ford Island, creating even more damage as the aviation gas storage tanks caught fire and began to burn.

By focusing on the initial 15 minutes of the attack, “Pearl Harbor Declassified” shows the ferocity and effectiveness of the attack in a detail never before revealed. While the fight continued with the arrival of a second wave of Japanese planes, it was within the first minutes the majority of the ships were sunk and sailors and Marines killed.

Powerful stuff, and well worth watching; I think you'll agree.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Do We Need Amphibious Capabilities? At What Cost?

 Lt Col Frank Hoffman USMCR (Ret) and Col Pat Garrett USMC (Ret)

These are valid questions of prime importance.  The National Security Strategy is less specific on the “who” or “where” but it does mention that challenge of access in the 21st century and it does define of role of global leadership and global interests that need to be secured.  

The supporting defense strategy in the Quadrennial Defense Review and the more recent strategic guidance of February 2012 are all consistent about the impact of regional powers acquiring capabilities that appear to be designed to target U.S. naval and aerospace assets and their supporting bases with greater precision and lethality.  The implications of such anti-access strategies were not lost on the Pentagon, as they undercut our conventional deterrence and our ability to reassure allies and appear to limit our ability to project power.  As noted in the last Quadrennial Defense Report in 2010, “In the absence of dominant U.S. power projection capabilities, the integrity of U.S. alliances and security partnerships could be called into question, reducing U.S. security and influence and increasing the possibility of conflict.”

The last QDR stressed the importance of overcoming the anti-access challenges.  In fact, in terms of priority it was listed as the fourth major mission area with the clear objective of being able to “Deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environments.”  But while the priority of the mission may be clear, the programmatic solutions needed to ensure it can be accomplished have not yet taken form.

Likewise, the Joint warfighting community also addressed the importance of the problem in their assessment of the future in the last Joint Operating Environment.  That forecast concluded “the United States may not have uncontested access to bases in the immediate area from which it can project military power…. The battle for access may prove not only the most important, but the most difficult.” 

Most recently, this difficulty has been highlighted by Defense Policy Board member Dr. Andrew Krepinevich.  In his latest Foreign Affairs article, he stresses the need for the United States to focus its limited investment options on assuring access.  Much of this assessment is based on perceived impact of the growing anti-access threat in general and the diffusion of precision missile architectures in particular.  A future campaign against an adversary armed with precision-guided missiles, rockets, and mortars may more closely resemble the Normandy invasion and Iwo Jima than the relatively unopposed attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan.  We can hope that some form of secure access is granted by a host country, but that’s only part of a solution, and in any case, “hope” should NOT form the basis for U.S. strategy.  We should be generating real options, not wishing away risk.

We need to rethink the challenge of modern amphibious warfare and reassess the benefits that accrue to amphibiously agile states.  History, as Liddell Hart once intoned, suggests that this strategic capability has enormous strategic utility if not outright necessity.  DoD’s leadership has made it clear that the Nation faces serious future challenges in ensuring that U.S. security interests can be met far from its shores.  The Pentagon realizes that potential adversaries can easily acquire new systems or enhance legacy systems and platforms to radically enhance their combat power.  As noted in the QDR, we must expect that these capabilities will increasingly be used to deny us access to regions where our interests are threatened. 

We might be able to purchase or negotiate intermediate basing access in overseas theaters, and they may even be robust or mature enough to support major U.S. operations.  But ultimately, this holds U.S. interests hostage to the whims or internal political dynamics of third party states that may not consistently share our interests.  Ultimately, without the ability to project decisive combat forces into an area where its national interests are at stake, and sustain them there, the United States will not have an independent security strategy.

Does this mandate putting forces at risk in a contested landing?  This is a perfectly logical question.  Given the long-term fiscal pressures facing the Nation, U.S. taxpayers should not be expected to support missions and capabilities that do not have clear and compelling relevance to projected U.S. security needs.   Certainly, the Marines do not want to retain such a taxing mission merely for tradition’s sake.  The logic of our choices about strategic capabilities needs to get past the surface level.  We must explore the true historical record and look clear-eyed at the strategic implications of the decisions to be made.  Projecting combat power across a contested shore is not cheap, in treasure or potential human cost, but neither is nuclear war.  If capability investment is guided solely by the metric of low probability/high cost, we could just as easily discard Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, as neither of them has been used in anger for the past seven decades.  Yet the Nation is prepared to invest more than $100 billion to recapitalize a ballistic missile submarine fleet, a force which has a far narrower range of strategic and operational utility than our amphibious forces.   

Eliminating the modernization of our “boomers” would make a large dent in the Pentagon’s projected budget crunch.  But those capabilities are to be retained because they are presumed to have a strategic effect on the behavior of states and contribute to deterrence.  History is equally compelling in supporting this same argument with respect to our amphibious forces.  In addition to deterring bad behavior from potential aggressors, amphibious power projection capabilities reassure allies and would be partners, underwrite stability, and provide key options across the entire spectrum of crisis response challenges, from major wars to humanitarian and disaster relief. 
As the Under Secretary of the Navy so cogently noted in the Marine Corps Gazette in 2010:
…the historical evidence of strategic advantage that accrues to maritime powers with amphibious capabilities is significant across the full range of military operations.   Moreover, the strategic/political costs of allowing adversaries to prevent access or to be perceived as having created ‘no go’ areas for U.S. forces are high and unacceptable.

In the simplest terms, an amphibious forcible entry capability assures access.  We can hope that allies of long standing or other foreign governments will provide overflight rights or port and airfield access.  Yet as we have seen in recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are inevitable political dynamics at work that can constrain or completely eliminate access to countries and facilities when they are most needed.  

Some might contend that the United States need not risk its ground forces in contested zones, and that we should in the future rely on our extraordinary ISR and precision strike capability.  This would narrow America’s power projection options to “Stand Off Warfare.”  Some have alleged that with such powerful and precise strikes we can offset investments in littoral maneuver, and preclude the need to place our young men and women at risk in the “contested zones” of the world’s increasingly urbanized littorals.  True, laboratory and field testing suggests that precision strike can shatter the adversary’s networks and fielded forces with multiple kinds of kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, but these have yet to be proven as decisive in the absence of a combined arms approach.  Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya all bear witness to the tremendous impact of air-delivered attacks, but they also demonstrate the need for complementary capabilities.  Power projection cannot be just precision strike unless the mission is limited to punitive objectives and entirely short term (something we have had historically little true control over).  Enduring, decisive results emerge only from a combined arms approach that creates continuous operational and strategic dilemmas for our adversaries.  

Our amphibious capabilities provide the United States with a distinctly asymmetric and disruptive option all of its own.  Without such capabilities, no global power can exert its influence nor can its military leadership assure their policy masters that it can effectively gain access to and act promptly at some flashpoint where security interests are at risk.  If we allow ourselves to reach the point where we have to concede “no go” zones to other regional powers, that will be the day this country will have to admit that it is no longer a superpower, and is neither interested in nor capable of defending its allies and friends.

1.  Gates, QDR, p. 16.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sequestration - Not Necessarily the End of the World

With the election behind us, let’s strip the politics out of the sequestration debate and look at facts surrounding this idea of reducing the defense budget.
  •  If implemented, the budget will be reduced annually from 2013 to 2023, not all at once.
  •  Assuming the cuts are fully implemented, sequestration only reduces defense spending to 2006 levels – which was the highest defense budget in the history of the world…until the defense budgets of 2007…2008…2009…2010…

In short; sufficient money is available for a robust military- the question lurking under sesquestration is: what will it realistically cost to defend America in the upcoming generation?

“National Security” is a broad term. Defending America can include attacking Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11 or hauling our citizens out of danger as the 24th MEU did in 4 days during July 2006 when they pulled 17,000 Americans out of Lebanon - or their standing off the Israeli coast two weeks ago in case Americans needed to be evacuated. It also includes the long-term positive effects of providing humanitarian and disaster relief in areas ranging from Haiti to Japan to Staten Island.

The electoral sniping over defense spending ignored the facts that both the Navy and Air Force quietly maintain a huge global superiority with the Navy’s battle tonnage exceeding the battle tonnage of the next 13 countries combined, while the Air Force has a similar advantage. Worth noting is that the last eleven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that unlimited firepower could not quell an low-tech insurgency; it took a Marine-led COIN strategy of boots-on-the-ground engagement that turned both Anbar and Helmand Provinces.

Lost in the rush to prove one’s patriotism by increasing the defense budget is that the Marines and Army have been ordered to reduce troop strength by 20,000 & 80,000 respectively by 2014; most of those discharged will be their experienced combat veterans – leaving America’s national defense at the mercy of inoperable hi-tech weapons systems years behind schedule and billions of dollars over-budget.

To Defend Against…??
Short Term: Iran
Longer Term: China
Wild-card Opponent: the next Bin Laden

Iran: They are proud of their heritage and will fight if attacked; in the 10-year war with Iraq they viewed the invasion by Saddam as a war of survival, and despite Saddam’s use of poison gas they fought the Iraqi’s to a stand-still. Sending troops into Iran will make 3rd Bn, 5th Marines fight in Sangin look easy, while bombing them from afar will turn the world against us.

They’re trying to develop nuclear bombs, but equally important is their homegrown defense industry developing weapons to be used regionally. They modified the Marine-Navy LCAC and made it a high-speed offensive weapon capable to launching missiles. Iran can temporarily block the Straits of Hormuz and halt oil shipments and the likelihood is that the Navy will lose some expensive ships re-opening it.

China: They’re funding the world’s 2nd largest defense budget in order to dominate the Asian seas. Energy-short China is embroiled in disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan over control of South China Sea and East China Sea islands whose waters are rich in natural gas.

They’re in the midst of a huge naval build-up targeted to projecting power and influence into Asian waters; two weeks ago outgoing President Hu made a pointed reference to strengthening China's naval forces, protecting maritime interests and the need to "win local war”- which is how they view the South China Sea.

The Navy needing a rail gun to shell Chinese ships from beyond the horizon is both a waste of money and a mis-guided strategy. However the effectiveness of the Marine Rotational Forces-Darwin, coupled with 31st MEU’s reputation in the Pacific Rim for HA-DR and multi-lateral exercises such as Cobra Gold, should make the planners take a very hard look at the dubious effectiveness of the rail gun and such overbudget programs as the Littoral Combat Ship and instead concentrate on bringing the Gator Navy back to its required strength.

The next Bin Laden: From Yemen? Somalia? Nigeria? The population in the developing countries is growing exponentially. In many of them the populace is over-educated, under-employed, and led by non-traditional sorts ranging from Hezbollah-like religious zealots to warlords. As Gen Amos said last year “There will be places where clean, potable water will be as valuable as a gallon of fuel. I believe the world will be full of these nasty, difficult, unclear conflicts that are energized by poverty, by stateless borders and by the proliferation of state-like weapons in the hands of organizations that are not states. These places will be the Marine Corps’ backyard for the next two decades.”

He's correct, and hi-tech drones operated from Nellis AFB aren't effective; it's Marines and sailor training local security forces, conducting med-caps, or helping open schools who are.

Sesquestration cuts the defense budget across the board; it’s the Pentagon who plans the specific strategies and procures the equipment necessary. While perhaps a harsh medicine, finite budgets provide the opportunity to plan for the wars that will likely occur instead of the wars they hope will occur.

The Navy and Chinese won’t be fighting a 2015 Battle of Midway so the Navy needs ships capable of effectively projecting presence into small, shallow Asian ports. The Air Force won’t be carpet-bombing Russia, instead they need to plan how to airlift Marines, Soldiers, and HA-DR supplies quickly into a hot zone.

Cutting 10% of the Marine and Army’s combat veterans might address costs tomorrow, but if the money is then spent on more hi-tech programs that take decades to perfect, how has national security been improved if the recent call to evacuate American citizens from Israel had been necessary and the ships and Marines were unavailable to respond?

Unlimited funding doesn’t build a military capable of defending the United States – but careful planning and honest threat assessment does

Real Wars, Real Capabilities

Yesterday, a few people alerted me to this Time Battleland blog post, USMC: Under-utilized, Superfluous Military Capability, by retired US Army Colonel Douglas A. Macgregor. There’s not much to say, it’s an example of another Army take on Marine forces that simultaneously misunderstands both the Marine Corps and the Army.

Macgregor starts out with an old mistake: he assumes away an enemy capability. Avoiding this pitfall is one of the first things future military planners are taught at resident schools, like, say, the US Army Command and General Staff college, for example. Macgregor assumes that any enemy will not defend a beach because they will be blown up by US Navy and Air Forces, forgetting perhaps that well after the advent of aircraft and naval surface fires capable opponents could, and did, establish robust shore defenses.

His evidence is a strange list of complaints:

First, like the Marines ashore, Army airmobile and airborne forces are “soft targets,” extremely vulnerable to long-range air and missile attack, as well as heavy weapons in the form of self-propelled artillery, mortars and auto-cannon.
I’m not sure if Macgregor realizes this, but that description applies to all ground forces. An M1A1 Main Battle Tank can take a few standard artillery or mortar rounds. But any advanced anti-armor indirect fire is just as lethal to an Abrams as it is to an infantryman, the tank is just easier to find. Citing susceptibility to indirect fire as the definition of a “soft target” applies equally to any ground force. It’s not called the “King of Battle” for nothing.

Macgregor gets a few things right. Namely, that future enemies will shy away from defending beaches and instead focus on counterattacking the beachhead. This is certainly right, but it’s also, contra-Macgregor, exactly what current Marine doctrine expects the enemy to do. We just do not plan on attacking defended beaches anymore, we plan on bypassing them and attacking forces inland before they can counterattack. The Marine Corps figured this out in the 1980’s and has planned accordingly since.

What Macgregor is actually arguing against, poorly, is light infantry; he just uses Marine and Army Airborne forces as marionettes in an attempt to distract the reader from his thesis. This is a mind-boggling argument after eleven years of light infantry combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if he does dismiss those wars. It does not change the fact that they were fought and any future war will have a stability operations component.  One wonders if Macgregor wishes to take armored divisions into sandbrick hamlets on cordon and knock operations during Phase IV operations since they are apparently the only “hard targets” our ground forces employ. Even in conventional operations, light infantry provides vital reconnaissance and screening functions to heavy armored forces, as per both Army and Marine doctrine.

The article also betrays a profound ignorance of the joint force. All of the so-called weaknesses Macgregor points out are directed at a Marine infantry or Airborne unit alone as if they will never be supported by joint assets.. His statement that “most of today’s Marine force consists of airmobile light infantry” is just factually incorrect. Subjected to Macgregor’s doomsday scenario, any lone combat unit would be hard-pressed to function. Of course, that’s why neither the Marine Corps nor the Army ever employs units as such. A Marine battalion ashore takes with it artillery, armor, and aviation units in direct support and under a single commander. It’s also supported by naval fire support and joint air assets. The use of a variety of forms of combat power is known as combined arms. Check out this U.S. Army Command and General Staff thesis for a good explanation of combined arms. The reality is that while the Marine Corps may be built around light infantry, it never operates with light infantry alone. Macgregor claims that “Marines cannot confront or defeat armored forces or heavy weapons in the hands of capable opponents.” This might be true if Marines didn’t, you know, bring armored forces and heavy weapons of its own as they always do. In wars against capable opponents, such as those Macgregor is focused on, Marine and Airborne forces will not operate independently, but in support of those heavy armored forces that Macgregor fantasizes can gain access and win the war by themselves.

Macgregor’s myopic focus on a conventional war with a peer competitor causes him to ignore the other functions that the US military provides to the nation like humanitarian aid/disaster relief. Marine units afloat are specifically trained to conduct HA/DR on short notice and are normally the first responders on the scene. If hurricanes and earthquakes ever begin to employ ballistic missiles and self-propelled artillery pieces, Macgregor may have a case that a MEU is anachronistic. Until then, the Marine Corps will remain the best placed units to provide aid to disaster victims.

This analysis might pass for compelling in the feverish fantasy of a young child playing with GI Joe figures on his parents’ living room floor, but that’s the only scenario where a commander of troops would employ forces in the simplistic manner Macgregor argues against. Even math is against Macgregor. I’ve cited this before, but combatant commander requests for amphibious forces are perennially unfulfilled. Less than half of these requests can be met with the current force. That’s not the definition of a superfluous capability, but an overstretched one. While it’s true that Macgregor’s Tarawa strawman is unlikely to occur anytime soon, his “future war with real armies, air forces, air defenses, and naval power” will still be fought, in part, by real Marines and real Airborne units. Not by Macgregor’s toys.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Day I Met LCpl Christ

Veterans’ Day occurs on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a date stemming from the Armistice Day of the First World War.  Unfortunately, “The War to End All Wars” did not live up to its title, so we honor the veterans of many more conflicts: the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq; in addition to the many other actions of the Cold War and our new post-Cold War world.  In peacetime and in war, members of the military are the sheepdogs of American society, always on the watch for predators that lurk in the night.  And the burden of this vigilance is high.

One day in the fall of 2006, I met a young Marine lance corporal who shouldered that burden—the burden of the watchstander. The burden of those left behind, wondering why it was their buddy, and not they, who paid the price.  I was traveling the road from Fallujah to Habbiniyah that day. Although we had three observation posts—OPs—on the road, it was still littered with IEDs.  The first one was called OP Redskins, located on an overpass over a railroad track. I had visited the OP before and planned to push through it this day as we were running late.  Engineers further down the road were still sweeping for IEDs, though, and we had to wait until they were complete.  So, we entered the serpentine of concrete jersey barriers and made our way into the OP to wait.  On our way in, I noticed a blackened hole in the road surface, surrounded by pieces of shattered concrete—a reminder of the constant threat.

Once we were inside the OP, I got out to stretch my legs and noticed that most of the Marines were sleeping, obviously having spent the previous night either on post or on patrol. Doing my best not to disturb them—and hoping that no one would start waking them up because “some General is here”—I headed to the guard tower at the west end of the OP.  I could see the silhouette of a Marine standing watch so I decided to go up and say hello.  I approached the ladder, sounded off, “Neller coming up” (it is not good to sneak up on a guy with a loaded weapon) and climbed up into the post.  As I entered I was greeted by a Marine Lance Corporal.  He was about six feet tall and lean, with a scraggly moustache.  His gear was clean and neat and he was clearly wide awake.
Being wide awake as a watchstander is no small thing. First off, being on post, especially if you are doing it right, is an exercise in interminable boredom.  Second, this Marine had probably been up most of the night on patrol, as he had been for nights on end. When you are in combat the first thing you notice in men is their eyes.  The eyes of a combat Marine, regardless of their age, are usually somewhat recessed and dark underneath.  These are the eyes of men who are tired, have seen hardship, danger, and sometimes the carnage of combat.  This Marine had combat eyes.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Dr. Steven Metz, military theorist with the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, wrote in this gated article about the psychological dimension of warfare and its relation to the Office of Strategic Landpower, which I wrote about here. The divide between the Army’s focus on psychological effects and the Navy/Air Force technologically focused AirSea Battle concept harkens back to the debate over Effects-Based Operations, a debate so powerfully ended by General Mattis. (link to Mattis’ guidance on EBO) The conclusion of that debate does not bode well for ASB, neither does the massive amount of fiscal investment that will be required to realize ASB given the state of Defense budgets.

The Marine Corps is already familiar with this dimension of conflict. MCDP-1 mentions the mental aspects of war in the very first sentence. It goes on to state that, “Although material factors are more easily quantified, the moral and mental forces exert a greater influence on the nature and outcome of war. This is not to lessen the importance of physical forces, for the physical forces in war can have significant impact on the others.” While most Marines are more familiar with a simplified version of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop, the physical, mental, moral formulation comes from his theories as well as many other concepts in MCDP-1.

But it goes back further than that, Ardant du Picq, a French Army officer and theorist, wrote Battle Studies (published in full in 1902). In Battle Studies, du Picq put a heavy emphasis on the psychological aspect of fighting. He wrote that, “In battle, two moral forces, even more than two material forces, are in conflict.” For du Picq, the military force that mastered the interplay of physical and psychological aspects of warfare was the ancient Roman Legions. “The great superiority of Roman tactics lay in their constant endeavor to coordinate physical and moral effect.” Clausewitz as well recognized the importance of the psychological and titled a short chapter moral factors. “Hence most of the matters dealt with in this book are composed in equal parts of physical and of moral causes and effects. One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious  metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.” So, it would seem that theorists are in agreement about the psychological aspects of war and warfare and thus the Army is on track when it comes to focusing on it.

The problem with AirSea Battle is not that it proposes technological solutions to problems. It should do that. Rather, the problem is that its solution ignores the nature of war by focusing solely on the physical means. That being said, it seems that the Army’s Office of Strategic Landpower, with its focus on the psychological dimension of warfare, is a far better fit for the Marine Corps. The combination of the Marine Corps and the Army is a potent one. The two services are the most combat experienced and tested professional military forces on the planet. If the relationship between the two is as good as the Commandant says, the burgeoning partnership in defining modern landpower will hopefully be a fruitful one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Identity Crisis

For a months now, there has been something of a discussion about the role of the US Army going forward after the end of OEF and the budget cuts that will accompany it. First, strategic theorist Antulio Echevarria wrote this piece. Then, in a widely discussed article on Foreign Policy, Douglas Ollivant defended the Army’s importance to the nation and went so far as to shoehorn in the Marine Corps in a misguided attempt to bolster his argument. Although Ollivant’s point about the Army stands, better analysis can be found here and in the latest Military Review. In this article, Lukas Milveski looks at the utility of landpower in the context of a landpower, airpower, and seapower framework. The Army’s seeming identity crisis is so acute that last week General Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army,said that there is much “angst” in the Army and announced his intention to establish an Office of Strategic Landpower. Since AirSea Battle involves the airpower and seapower component and proponents claim that the concept will guide future Air Force and Navy operations, we seem to have our bases covered for the coming budget fights.

Except where does that leave the Marine Corps? I’ve already mentioned Ollivant’s use of the Marine Corps as a rhetorical device, but the actual Army seems to agree as the Marine Corps will participate in the Office of Strategic Landpower along with SOCOM. But does that make sense? We are mostly dependent on the Navy after all. The Marine Corps falls under the Dept of the Navy and the Navy’s budget, not to mention the money the Navy provides out of its own slice for things like Marine aviation. Additionally, Navy personnel serve in Marine units and we depend on the Navy for transportation and are logistically tied to the sea even after reaching the beach, at least until Army theater logistics operations are in place. Additionally, the Marine Corps has been very vocal about returning to its naval roots. Those roots probably do not grow in an office focused on landpower. While it is true that an opposed amphibious assault has not occurred in US history since Inchon, it is still an important capability. While the Navy and Marine Corps may be likely budgetary allies, they seem to be at odds. AirSea Battle was developed without Marine Corps input. Since the Army and the Marine Corps have taken the lion’s share of budget cuts so far, and the Army is looking for a counterweight to the USAF/USN alliance, they find themselves on the same side. Enlisting the Marine Corps in defining the future of landpower is a smart move for the Army. The Army’s two greatest foes have been Nazi Germany and the Marine Corps Propaganda Machine.  

But this doesn't answer the theoretical question. Is the Marine Corps landpower, seapower, or even airpower? Obviously we’re a mixture of all three, and those that understand how we operate know the value of that, but have we articulated it? The AirSea Battle office and the Office of Strategic Landpower will be influential in the coming years, and the Marine Corps’ equivalent, the Ellis Group, may have its hands full explaining the value of an amphibious force. The group’s centerpiece concept, single naval battle, is sound but it speaks more to the integration of the Marine Corps and the Navy than to how the Marine Corps itself will operate in the future. The Navy may in fact not be interested in further integration. Both General Conway and General Amos have called for a Marine Corps return to the sea, but has the Navy? Perhaps the Ellis Group should look at how the Marine Corps fits into a landpower, seapower, airpower triad rather than focusing on solely the naval aspects.

In conclusion, both the Air Force and the Navy seem to be reaching for a new vision with AirSea Battle. The Army seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis as well as the perceived threat from AirSea Battle. The Marine Corps is lucky given that we know well our mission and our basic structure is codified in law. However, we are the smallest service. Allies are good to have but no one will advocate for us like we will. As our three bigger sisters clamor for their slice of the budget, it will be difficult for the Marine Corps to explain its vision. The continuing confusion about just what kind of service it is, as evidenced by Ollivant's claim, means that we have more work to do whether our budget drops or not. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Brief Note on Air-Sea Battle

Editor's Note: Thank you to the Infinity Journal for providing the PDF to the article Friedman mentions below.

Since I have posted here about Air-Sea Battle on more than one occasion, I wanted to highlight an article in the most recent issue of Infinity Journal that does the best job of explaining the concept so far. It's free to read with registration so check out "Air-Sea Battle as a Military Contribution to Strategy." 
As the United States continues to shift its political focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the importance of a rising China and the Asia-Pacific states to international stability continues to garner attention. A portion of this attention includes the military threats that are present and possible capabilities necessary to ensure stability and access to that area of the globe today and into the future.

For the U.S. military a set of concepts that are colloquially merged in the media under the phrase “Air-Sea Battle” are being developed to address these access threats and the possible military response to their use. While many, particularly in the world of political and military analytic punditry, continually conflate the concepts tied to Air-Sea Battle with strategy, they are in reality a military’s contribution to strategy development.

While strategy is the identification of a desired political effect and the means that are to be used to attain it while balancing the inherent risks, Air-Sea Battle is merely a starting point for the negotiation that ultimately leads to a strategy. These sets of concepts are designed to identify the operational access-related challenges created by other actors, the capabilities required to overcome those challenges, and possible operational means for employing those capabilities to achieve military success – regardless of the political effect desired. This paper is intended to assist in separating the issues that swirl around the Air-Sea Battle concepts, while also pointing out deficiencies in our common conceptions of strategy highlighted by these debates…..

It's written by MAJ Nathan K. Finney, a US Army strategist and friend of the author. (He tweets at @BareftStratgist) MAJ Finney makes the important point that ASB would merely be the military portion of a strategy developed to defeat a hypothetical enemy in a hypothetical future conflict. If you're interested in ASB or strategy in general, check it out and the rest of the articles.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mullah von Clausewitz

First, read Marine Captain Jonathan Rue’s recent piece for the Guardian looking at how we’re doing in Afghanistan.

It’s tough to argue with his conclusions, especially with regards to the advisory effort. Developing effective Afghan security is, for all intents and purposes, developing an indigenous Afghan counterinsurgency capability to combat a threat that only time will kill. It is the last, best hope for Afghanistan after our departure, whether that occurs in 2014 or 2024. The idea that we can exterminate the Taliban is, of course, an infantile fantasy. We either build enough capacity to stave off the Taliban without significant US troops, or we allow their return.

That’s why the numbers cited in the Guardian piece are so troubling. This is not to knock our advisors. I’ve been an advisor myself, in Iraq, and fully understand what a difficult job it is. I can’t speak to the quality of the advisory and partnering effort in Afghanistan but the majority of advisors I worked with in Iraq were definitely value-added to the Iraqi Army. Partnering efforts were spotty but fully supported by US combat units in theater. From what I’ve heard from maneuver commanders with Afghanistan experience, partnering is something they fully believe in. The US military has admirably developed a robust advisory and partnering capability on the fly.

Eventually. It certainly did not start out that way. The book The Snake Eaters by Marine Major Owen West details the difficulties the US military had in creating this capacity from scratch. While we’ve succeeded in creating an ability to advise and partner with host nation forces, we have done so at a strictly tactical level. At the Kabul Cable, Nathan Finney detailed our problems translating that tactical capability into strategic effects. Caitlin Fitz Gerald at Gunpowder and Lead also delved into our effort from a strategic standpoint:
The new version of victory would be to stand up the Afghan military and police forces, to act as advisors to build their capacity. It’s not that advisory missions can’t be effective – Finney’s piece touches on some of the ways in which they can - but forgive me if in this case it looked to me like another way to redefine victory, a grasping at one last straw that might let us tell ourselves that no we weren’t leaving because we’d lost, no it wasn’t all for nothing, all the damage and death and ugliness, that we achieved this thing, and that’s why we’re leaving, because we’re done and Afghanistan is better off….… This is why the advisory mission is a shambles too, with so-called ‘green on blue’ attacks – a pretty term for an ugly thing, that always evokes in my mind high grassy hills and wide summer skies, swirls of cool soothing color, not the heat and betrayal and blood it’s really meant to mean – occurring with alarming frequency, and I can’t help but think that it’s because all it ever was was a cover for our exit, a half-assed attempt to save face on our way out the door, and that deep down, we know it, and so do the Afghans.
Translated to Marine speak- the advisory effort is an expediency. Something we have to do in order to get out of the country. Or, even worse, a placebo placed on an open wound just to calm the patient. While this may not the case, it’s easy to see why it seems that way. Before 9/11, the US military only had a paltry capability to advise, train, and build host nation forces. Foreign Internal Defense was considered a special forces mission and the rest of the military was happy to foist the responsibility on a special forces community too small shoulder the entire burden. I’m sure the analogy has been used before, but our creation of advisory and partnering tactics, techniques, and procedures was akin to building an airplane while it’s in flight. The US simply did not see the need before it was upon us. Captain Rue alluded to the fact that the US made this same mistake in Vietnam. That’s true, but we also made this mistake in Korea and El Salvador. The US military, caught flat-footed by the need for advisors in Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, AND Afghanistan, has had serious issues when forced to create an advisory capability from scratch. Achieving productive strategic effects from an advisory effort may be a little bit easier if we did not have to reinvent the tactical wheels every single time we need it. This is another result of the “casual arrogance” with which we approached Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the race to both develop our own skills as advisors and partners and then to put those skills into action with our Afghan partners may have been begun too late to overcome an enemy that recognizes our vulnerability. While it is unclear just how many of the green on blue attacks are directly due to Taliban efforts, that number is irrelevant. The Taliban can exploit the trend to drive a wedge between ISAF and Afghan security forces. They do this because they recognize that relationship for what it is: our center of gravity. They’re in good company.
One must keep the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends…. (emphasis mine)… For Alexander, Gustavus Adoplhus, Charles the XII, and Frederick the Great, the center of gravity was their army… In countries subject to domestic strife, the center of gravity is generally the capital. In small countries that rely on large ones, it is usually the army of their protector. Among alliances, it lies in the community of interest… (emphasis mine).- Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (Page 596 in the Howard/Paret translation)
Whatever the cause, green on blue attacks are steadily eroding the bonds between the community of interest formed between ISAF forces and the Afghans who choose to fight alongside them. While the casualties that result from these attacks are few and the advisory effort is only a portion of the ISAF strategy in Afghanistan, they effects of these incidents can have far larger strategic consequences. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Real Loss in Afghanistan

The following is a repost from the USNI Blog. Founded in 1873, the U. S. Naval Institute is a non-profit, professional military association of more than 50,000 members.  An independent, nonpartisan forum on global security issues, it creates books, magazines, blogs and conferences – and maintains expansive historical archives.  The Institute educates on the need for a strong national defense; on the enduring role of the maritime services in preserving it and on our national obligation to the men and women of the all-volunteer force who provide it.

After noting the loss of Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Atwell in the attack a week ago, it is natural for many to point out the irreplaceable nature of the AV-8B+ Harriers that were destroyed – our greatest loss of aircraft since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

While true, that is just the background. It is also true that every loss of life is significant, but in time except for those who know them – losses become a number or perhaps a thumbnail picture.

It is helpful when the opportunity presents itself to look a little deeper in to a loss. What was the character of those lost? What did they represent? What impact did they have on those they served with, the organizations they led, the services they were members of, and the nation that they gave the ultimate sacrifice?

Thanks to our friends over at SLD – we have a copy of Lt. Col Raible’s Command Guidance. Read it. Ponder it. Compare it to your own. If you are someone soon to take Command and are working on one; here is your benchmark.

From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211
To: Squadron Attack Pilots

1. Professional hunger.
My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.

If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.

If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.

2. Professional focus.
Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”

Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.

3. Attitude.
I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”

Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.

4. Moral courage.

Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.

We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.

5. Dedication.
If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.

Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”

6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.

The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.

It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.

To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”

If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.

C. K.
Semper fi, LtCol Raible and Sgt Atwell.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Increasing the Stress Levels: A Complex Attack

GySgt Marco Angviano on patrol in Sarob.
By Andrew Lubin for Leatherneck Magazine

Range 220; Sarob District—The 19 Marines of Team One accompanied two platoons of notional Afghan National Army soldiers on a patrol into Sarob, Sept. 12. Led by Capt Jose Castillo, Sarob was believed to be a semipermissive town where a presence patrol was easily accepted by the locals. In a scene reminiscent of many villages through which Marines have patrolled since 2001, a few role players/Sarob residents sat outside their shops casually waving and smiling as the patrol slowly moved past under the hot desert sun.

But in another scene reminiscent of many Afghan villages in which Marines have patrolled, the bucolic scene disappeared in a burst of machine-gun fire and the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED).

“We plan the attacks carefully,” Sergeant Philip Lubin explained. “We’re able to conduct complex ambushes, with multiple points of attack, which are designed to stress the Marines we’re training.” Assigned to the Advisor Training Group a year ago, Lubin is on the Role Player Control Team. He and 12 other Marines plan attacks that include the use of notional crew-served weapons, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGS) and IEDs. With contractors hired to emplace and fire the IEDs, Lubin and his team don Afghan garb and while firing blanks from their AK47s and RPKs will ambush the joint patrols as they deem appropriate.

Today’s attack began less than 10 minutes into the patrol, and the “Afghan commander” and Castillo immediately fell into a synergistic rhythm with Castillo talking to the two Marine mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles accompanying the patrol as the Afghan took reports from his platoon commanders. Keeping their “terp,” very busy as they exchanged information, Castillo positioned one vehicle in order to evacuate a “wounded” member of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as the other laid down suppressing fire so the ANA troops could rush the insurgents.

But the attack was far from finished, and suddenly gunfire and indirect fire raked the neighboring bazaar, causing “casualties” amongst the civilians. Following the shouts of the angry men in the bazaar and the screaming women, the Marine and Afghan corpsmen and troops found a scene that would have been horrific if it were real. Three Afghan male bodies lay crumpled in the bazaar, with a notionally wounded male raising a bloody arm as he begged for aid. However, only a few meters away, the situation was worse. Three women had been theoretically wounded, and with other women shrieking and trying to aid their friends, the Marines and Afghans rushing to their aid had to push through them to attend to the wounded. Ululating wildly, the ladies pushed their way into the shop that the Marines had commandeered for a hasty aid station and continued to add their voices to the shrieks of the wounded ladies. It was an intense event in the day’s training.

For the Advisor Training Group (ATG) Marines, however, the day was not yet complete. An hour later, Team Five was observing a jirga, held in the Sarob Jail. A jirga is the first step in the Afghan court system, where evidence is produced in front of a judge, and an initial determination of guilt or innocence is made. It’s typically an Afghan-only event in which the Marine advisor may be invited to observe, and several of the Marine officers from Team Five were watching the proceedings. The jail was guarded by role players dressed as ANPs (Afghan National Police) who were perhaps not as attentive as the Marines and Afghans inside expected. With the proceedings drawing to a close, one of the American contractors, dressed as an insurgent, casually walked up to a green ANP light truck, screamed “Allah Akbar!” and detonated a mock suicide vest. As the SVIED (suicide vest improvised explosive device) bomber lay on the ground surrounded by notionally dead and wounded ANPs and the ANP and Marines pulled on their gear as they ran from the jail to the point of attack, the SVIED driver could be observed speeding away.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Advisor Training Group “Mission Rehearsal Exercise”

Capt Alex Luedtke (right) and a contractor observing during a notional 'attack.'

By Andrew Lubin for Leatherneck Magazine

Range 220, MCAGCC Twentynine Palms—It’s been “Clear-Hold-Build” throughout the length of the Helmand River Valley since 2009, but its “Transition,” or how successful the Marines are in teaching the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to control their own battlespace, is how the Marine efforts in Afghanistan will be remembered.

In the past few years, the Marine Corps built the largest military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) town in the American military, with 1,550 buildings spread over 284 acres. Built primarily from 20- and 40-foot shipping containers, the buildings replicate jails, hospitals, a bazaar, and even a multiple-story hotel complete with furniture. The roads have been reinforced to allow for Marine armored vehicles ranging from M1A1 main battle tanks, amtraks and light armored vehicles to participate in the exercises, with graveyards, Afghan women and “bazaaris” added to the atmospherics. The 284 acres have been subdivided into seven different districts, with Advisor Training Group (ATG) owning its own “battlespace.”

Taking teams of 14 to 20 Marines into the field, the Advisor Training Team uses a 28-day training cycle to teach the Marines the subtleties of training the ANSF. “It’s not just teaching tactics,” Captain Alex Luedtke told Leatherneck, “it’s using trust and respect so important in the Afghan culture to teach the tactical and soft skills necessary.” An infantryman by trade, Luedtke normally assists in the Human Dimension classes. This week he is one of seven captains who are overseeing the teams going through the mission readiness exercise (MRX).

Commanded by Colonel William Gillespie, the ATG consists of 25 to 30 Marines and some 400 (primarily) Afghan men and women who work together in teaching the Marines the subtleties of training the ANSF when they deploy. “We’re not teaching,” Luedtke continued, “we’re mentoring and advising, and it’s important the Marines understand the difference.”

Each training cycle has an MRX, in which the Marines are graded in how they interact and advise their Afghan counterparts during a series of high-stress exercises ranging from complex ambushes, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) strikes, detainee processing, jirgas, force protection, morale and discipline, and air medevacs. Each team consists of a number of ranks: staff sergeants, gunnery sergeants, lieutenants, who are able to advise one-rank-up or one-rank-down as necessary.

In one of today’s exercises, an Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol suffered multiple wounded from an improvised explosive device (IED) and was then attacked as they called in a medevac. With five Afghans bandaged realistically (including copious amounts of fake blood), while moaning and shrieking in Pashtu, the Marine first lieutenant called in a 9-line for a Mercy Air medevac. But while awaiting the helicopter’s arrival, the patrol was ambushed, with the Afghans being attacked from a nearby village by notional heavy machine guns, small arms and artillery. The purpose of the attack was to see how well the Marine lieutenant would liaise with his Afghan captain-partner while under the pressure of combat; and in this complex war, it was a complex answer.

With the Afghan commander seemingly paralyzed by the heavy fire, the Marine tried to get him to make a decision. “We can’t stay here,” he emphasized to the Afghan, “we need to move forward and attack, or we need to pull back.” A Marine armored vehicle accompanying the patrol moved forward into the fight, but an audible was called declaring the up-gunner wounded and the vehicle pulled back in order to deal with the WIA. Calling for additional ANA troops was another option, but as the audio of incoming fire increased in volume, the Afghan remained unable to make a decision. “We can’t wait 30 minutes,” the Marine emphasized, in a tone one could hear over the gunfire. “You need to decide NOW!”

While the lieutenant continued to push the ANA for orders, other equally important actions were ignored; no defensive perimeter was established, the landing zones (LZ) were not swept for IEDs, a rifle was left unattended, and the ANA troops remained huddled around the wounded who had been carried to the LZ. After an intense 10 to 15 minutes, the medevac “bird” arrived, the Afghan “casualties” were loaded, and the Mercy Air flight departed in a cloud of dust.

It seemed a complex problem with an unpalatable answer. If the Afghan continues to waffle, ANA and Marines may die. If the Marine takes command, he undermines the command structure by showing the Afghan commander to be ineffective, while the other issues needed to be addressed simultaneously. If the ANA commander isn’t effective, the role of the Marine is not to take command, but rather to spur him to command effectively.

“Mentoring is often an exercise in pushing the Afghans,” Luedtke explained, “but not to the point of pain. Leadership is tone as much as tactics; it can be a fine line.”

Tomorrow: a complex ambush and IEDs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Great Caesar's Ghost

Over the weekend, news broke that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has recommended General Joseph Dunford, currently Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, to replace General John Allen as Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Although this recommendation must be approved by both Congress and President Obama, it has already drawn fire since General Dunford has yet to serve in Afghanistan. Doug Ollivant pointed this out in Time’s Battleland blog. Andrew Exum, also known as Abu Muqawama, contrasted the appointment with Julius Caesar’s eight year tenure as governor of the Roman provinces of Cisalpine Gaul, Illyricum, and Transalpine Gaul where he faced a Gallic insurgency for much of those eight years.
But the two things that made the biggest impression on me were the following:

a. Caesar was the commander for eight full years, and he enjoyed similar continuity among his subordinate commanders.

b. Caesar very rarely sent green units into the offensive. By the fourth and fifth year of the campaign, he is still making those legions which were the last to be raised in Italy responsible for guarding the freaking baggage. He relies over and over again on those legions -- most especially the Tenth--that have proven themselves in combat in Gaul. With Caesar's commentaries in mind, I read Doug Ollivant's lament about Gen. Joe Dunford. Gen. Dunford will be the fifteenth commander of NATO-ISAF in eleven years of combat in Afghanistan and the ninth U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Each of his subordinate commanders have rotated on an annual basis. Gen. Dunford -- who is, by all accounts, an excellent officer and highly respected by his peers--has never served in Afghanistan
Caesar’s long tenure in command of Roman legions in command was due more to his own political machinations than any insightful policy of the Roman Senate, but the point is still well made. The knowledge of Gaul and its people gained by Caesar over those eight years was certainly instrumental in his eventual success.

But the idea that the outcome of Operation Enduring Freedom rests on the local knowledge of COMISAF does not hold water. The overall operational concept that governs operations in Afghanistan, population-centric counterinsurgency, is not up to COMISAF. The billet calls for an entirely different skill set than was required by Caesar. COMISAF must run a ponderous bureaucracy, manage an immense joint and multinational staff, and work at the policy level with high-level Afghan leaders. General Dunford is as well qualified as any four-star general to do these jobs. His knowledge of how tribal dynamics affect irrigation practices along the Helmand River is frankly not that important. If there is an issue with the tribal leaders and their irrigation system and only COMISAF can make a decision on the matter, we’ve got far bigger problems. It should be handled by subordinate leaders.

Which brings me to Abu M’s other point: That those subordinate commanders that do need a deep knowledge of Afghanistan are rotated too frequently. Even those that do return may not go back to the same area of Afghanistan on subsequent deployments. It is commanders on the ground that will make decision that ultimately win, or lose, Afghanistan. In 2009, General Peter Chiarelli, then Vice Chief of Staff, said that, “It’s no longer realistic to assume all- or even the majority- of “game-changing” decisions will be made at senior levels of command. To the contrary, those decisions are more often made by the individual Soldier on the ground.” [Quoted in this Small Wars Journal post.] He’s right of course, and we’ve known this for years. This is a “squad leaders’ war.” Yet, we continue to rotate forces in and out of Afghanistan in an a strategic manner without any plan or overarching strategy. To be sure, units must be rotated out to ensure continued readiness and to rest and refit. However, we can do this while balancing tactical and troop welfare requirements. We are currently far too skewed towards force preservation at the expense of mission accomplishment. A better way can be planned and executed, but it has thus far been easier to keep on keeping on. This force generation dilemma is a far larger problem than COMISAF’s pedigree.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tollkeepers and Prac Apps

In the most recent issue of Infinity Journal, retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul van Riper, of Millenium Challenge fame, wrote an excellent article on the foundation of strategic thinking. In the article, he brings up Hew Strachan’s appropriate critique of the operational level of war: that it sets up a “firewall” of sorts between the political considerations that pervade strategy and the tactics that must support that strategy.

Regrettably, introduction of the operational level of war did not bring about the desired results. Rather than center attention on operational art, too many officers focused on mundane issues like what types of units were to deal with the operational and tactical levels, and the creation of new and more complicated planning techniques based on formal analyses. Noted historian Hew Strachan sees an even more pernicious fault with the so-called ‘operational level’ of war, that is, it “occupies a politics-free zone” where military officers are able to concentrate on maneuver while ignoring strategy and policy.

This is probably a very valid criticism of the operational level of war and, by extension, operational art. (See this SSI publication for more on problems with the operational level and operational art.) But this problem is not just a result of the original formulation or understanding of the concept on the part of the Army, but also of our execution of the idea. And every Marine has experienced this poor execution.

Throughout the Marine Corps, instruction is augmented by practical application. From the NCO Academies up to Command Staff College, leaders are expected to practice planning a tactical action or operation, either as a staff or individuals. The problem is that the majority of practical exercises lack context. The enemy is “red” or the infamous, fictional “Centralians” that operate around TBS at Quantico. Even when the scenario is more involved, it may not be up to date. In one simulation I participated in, enemy units were still labeled as Soviet tank divisions. This was in 2006. When students complained about the outdated exercise, the simulated enemy units were renamed as insurgent tank divisions. Someday I will tell my grandkids or my local VFW about how I defeated the 347th Insurgent Tank Division, but for now we should strive for a little more realism. The best scenario I’ve ever seen was during the Joint Maritime Operations course at the Naval War College which I completed in 2011. My class was tasked with planning a joint operation to defend a real Pacific nation against a real Pacific nation, which caused us to examine the culture and geography of both nations in order to effectively complete the project. This kind of training does not need to be exclusive to high level schools. We can inject realism, context, and culture into our practical planning exercises; we just frequently choose not to do so.

Monday, July 9, 2012

AirSea Battle 2: AirSea Battler

Yesterday I was catching up on my reading when a single sentence in this recent blog post by Daniel Blumenthal at Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog caught my eye.
Concurrently, details of a new operational concept called Air Sea Battle were released, that despite protestations to the contrary, is more or less about how to defeat China in a conflict.
This sentence is both right and wrong. Despite protestations to the opposite, of course ASB is about beating China. Amongst our potential adversaries, China has the most capability to develop effective A2/AD systems and indeed, has already begun to do so. They also have the most motivation to do so because of their extensive Pacific coastline. If ASB is not about China, what good is it?

While ASB is, or should be, about China, it is certainly not about defeating China. The concept, if executed according to plan in some future Sino-American War, would do nothing of the sort. As I’ve written before, ASB intends for the Navy and the Air Force to go head-to-head, salvo-to-salvo, with Chinese A2/AD systems, win this gunfight, and then… something something. The something something part can only be one thing, the now much maligned “boots on the ground.” Part Two of ASB is landing troops on Chinese soil. This will include, but will not be limited to, amphibious landings. There’s no point in gaining access to a once denied area if not to use it.

In short, ASB is nothing more than preparation for Joint Forcible Entry operations. However, ASB assumes that the US will take on an A2/AD system directly a la Operation Overlord. I cited earlier that Operation Overlord was an A2/AD operation, and it was. But consider this. A2/AD capabilities were far less capable than they are today. Furthermore, Overlord was not even launched into the strongest shore defenses of Fortress Europe. After the Dieppe raid, Hitler ordered increased fortifications and defenses at major ports like Antwerp vice the beaches in between, assuming the allies would attack a major port again. In 1944, Normandy was not even the strongest of Nazi Germany’s shore defenses. In the Pacific, Iwo Jima was probably the most advanced defense Imperial Japan was able to mount on the most difficult terrain. In both cases, allied naval and aerial forces had almost complete air and sea superiority over the adversary. Both Normandy and Iwo Jima resulted in allied victories, but at great expense because they were direct offensives against prepared defenses ashore, exactly what ASB plans to do. Remember also that it was assumed, by the US Navy as late as 1943 and the US Army in 1944, that air and sea firepower would negate shore defenses. ASB is built around this same assumption, an assumption proven false sixty-nine years ago.

What a natural A2/AD system might look like. 
There is another option, of course. Don’t take on the enemy defense directly. Think Anzio or Inchon. There were significant A2/AD challenges on the shores of both WWII Italy and North Korea. Salerno proved that in Italy and many of the alternative landing sites in North Korea had been mined by NK forces. The best response in both cases was to not go where the enemy had emplaced A2/AD defenses. Anzio, if not an unmitigated operational success, was virtually unopposed and Inchon, better exploited, collapsed the entire North Korean war effort. Think I'm off base going so far back to gain insight about these types of operations? The latest desultory defense of the concept, in Armed Forces Journal, does so as well, defining all Japanese naval and air forces during World War II as A2/AD systems.
Modern amphibious assault planners know that, while it sometimes may be necessary to take on shore defenses head on, it should be the last resort. We can never assume that we will have air and naval superiority offshore, especially in light of China’s naval buildup. Furthermore, naval ships are far more vulnerable to shore based missiles than in the past. The increased A2/AD threat is real, after all. Joint Forcible Entry and its rebranded offspring AirSea Battle should strive to achieve an Inchon vice a Normandy.

This guy knew how to exploit access, with photo ops. 
In the recent past, direct offensive actions against A2/AD systems, straight into the teeth of the defense if you will, may have worked but were extremely costly. Even if you successfully overcome A2/AD, you need enough survivors and firepower to then, you know, wage warfare inland. ASB wishes away this requirement, so much so that the two services who know a thing or two about land warfare were not even included in its formulation. The other option, a Liddell-Hart-esque indirect approach, is absent from the concept. (See this issue of Infinity Journal for just such an approach by T.X. Hammes) Those who say ASB is about beating China are wrong because ASB only plans a tactical victory over Chinese shore defenses, which may or may not lead to operational access, which may or may not be operationally exploited, which may or may not have strategic effects. Oh by the way, someone will figure out war termination after all our hopes come true as they always do. ASB can offer no victory over China, at best it gives us a framework for D+1. ASB gives you all this, or less, in the most expensive manner possible. Blood and treasure accepted.