December 9, 2013
Sir Humphrey on how the UK still manages to project force around the world in the wake of the most recent set of budget cuts:
While the numbers may be smaller than in the past, reading the twitter feed [@NavyLookout]and looking at the images of modern vessels, one is left with a genuine sense that the RN remains an immensely capable force by any reasonable standard. The ability to deploy this force globally, and to meet a wide range of missions is extremely impressive. One of the centre pieces of the SDSR was the restructuring of the RN to provide the so-called ‘Response Force Task Group’ (RFTG) which has since establishment proven to be a superb means of deploying a worked up task group around the world and reacting to events.
In this year alone the Royal Navy has been engaged in operations across the globe, and been able to not only rely on warship deployments, but also highlight the value of its wider basing and command and control capabilities. As the year draws to a close, there are by the authors reckoning three 1* command groups deployed out there co-coordinating both UK and Multi-national operations. The facility in Sembewang has once again highlighted its importance to the RN (and the wider UK) as a useful foothold in a region that the RN hasn’t frequented for some years, and HMS DARING and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS have helped restore hope to thousands of people affected by the dreadful events in the Philippines.
While many wish to be downbeat about the RN, given the pace at which it is operating globally, and the way in which it is able to respond so rapidly to so many events, it is hard to see it as a navy in decline. Yes it is smaller, but so are most Navies these days. But to judge a Navy purely by hulls and not by output is misguided — the RN today remains one of the most capable on the planet, and the events of this year have gone to show that it continues to meet the task placed on it with aplomb.
December 6, 2013
Sir Humphrey is back with the next part of his series assessing the needs of an independent Scottish military organization:
Despite the ability to talk to each other being so vital, there seems to be no mention [in the Scottish white paper] of any form of IT infrastructure beyond a vague reference to ‘communication units’ in the paper. This is a real concern — good secure IT able to provide secure communications of classified material and not fall prey to hackers or cyber attack is very expensive and requires specialist skills. It is probably highly unlikely that the UK Government would be willing to allow the new Scottish Government to use its national defence IT system (and arguably would a Scottish Government want to?). This means that in the run up to independence the SDF is going to have to work out how to install an entire communications network from scratch. Don’t forget that provision of IT is contracted out to various different companies for the MOD, so its not as if one can simply divvy up the assets and black boxes.
The paper commits the SDF to retaining in existence all current MOD sites in Scotland, and possibly restoring RAF LEUCHARS to flying status. One of the challenges facing the MOD at the moment is the dilemma between having a broad footprint across a range of areas, often made up of aged buildings with heavy maintenance requirements, or condensing this into smaller but more modern sites.
The SDF will find itself inheriting a very large footprint of sites, many of which are quite old, quite remote and in need of a lot of work. It will need to decide whether to invest in them, or rationalise and save money for better facilities elsewhere. At a most basic level, is the SDF going to provide housing to their personnel? After all the MOD housing isn’t actually owned by the MOD, but by Annington Homes — this means that at independence there will not actually be any housing for the SDF personnel. It may sound a small thing, but the new SDF will need to quickly work out a complicated contract to house people in married quarters.
At a most basic level, one must ask about how the recruitment and selection process is going to work. To grow a force of some 15000 over 10 years and then retain it will prove to be a real challenge for any military when you consider the small resource base open to it (barely 5 million people). At present recruitment for the UK armed forces is able to draw from a much larger pool, and even then it is a struggle to get the right recruits at the right time. When you look at the potential sets of skills required — Typhoon pilots, Infanteers, Naval Officers etc, and consider that these all have very different selection and training procedures, you quickly realise how challenging its going to be to recruit for the SDF.
Finding the money to pay the troops will be one thing, but actually finding the troops willing to join will be another. The key worry is that barring wholesale transfer of troops against their wishes, it seems that very few personnel would willingly wish to transfer over to the SDF on independence. Given that the current ORBAT calls for very specialist personnel and skills, one can foresee a situation where the SDF may inherit the kit, but if the operators and maintainers choose not to come over, and if the training pipeline cannot cope, then this equipment is likely to stand empty for quite some time to come, and also calls into question the ability of the SDF to effectively defend Scottish interests.
December 5, 2013
In History Today, George Goodwin reviews A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War by Gordon Corrigan:
As Corrigan explains, the Hundred Years War extended over a longer period (1337-1453) than its name suggests, but then it was not a continuous war either. Instead its series of intermittent campaigns featuring major battles and sieges was interspersed with periods of lower tempo siege warfare and long stretches of peace. The war was initially sparked by Philip VI of France’s formal declaration that Edward III’s territories in France (most notably Aquitaine) had been confiscated because the young English king had refused to act as his vassal and to hand over Robert of Artois, Philip’s mortal enemy. The war escalated after the Declaration of Ghent in 1340, when Edward proclaimed himself king of France on the basis that, through his mother, he had a superior claim to the throne than Philip, as she was the daughter of Philip IV, while Philip VI was merely his nephew. France, however, had never allowed for kingship to descend through the female line.
Corrigan’s dramatic description of the Battle of Sluys in 1340 gets the book going. Though fought between opposing navies, Sluys was essentially a land battle that took place on a flotilla of French ships chained across the mouth of an estuary, with the victorious English army moving from vessel to vessel and pushing their French opponents overboard. Corrigan accounts for England’s victory being due to superior tactics and the far greater effectiveness of the longbow in comparison to the French crossbow. This was down to both to the nature of the weaponry and the superior skill of the Anglo-Welsh archers. They proved decisive time and time again at the great set-piece battles of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and Verneuil.
December 1, 2013
At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls this “justification” for restoring the draft the dumbest argument yet:
While I oppose bringing back military conscription, there are respectable arguments for doing so. The all-volunteer force allows the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful to avoid the burden of fighting our wars. It also makes sending young Americans into harm’s way easier.
But Dana Milbank offers a nonsensical reason for denying our youth the freedom to choose their own path:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.
It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
That few in Congress have served in the military is lamentable for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it not only makes them less intimately familiar with the demands of combat but also tends to undermine civil-military relations by making our civilian leaders afraid to challenge our military brass. But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd.
November 30, 2013
We looked at the problems of setting up a Scottish naval organization last week, and now Sir Humphrey turns his attention to the proposed air force for a post-independence Scotland. The proposed air force equipment from the white paper included “a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth” and “a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron”:
The first challenge is the Typhoon fleet and how it can be operated to best effect. QRA is a very expensive thing to do properly — it’s not just about having pilots based in a cockpit ready to take off. Setting up QRA is about having a Recognised Air Picture, a means of sharing information and communicating it to the airbase. It is about having the C2 links in place so that in the event of a scramble, the means exist for the senior decision taking Minister to be able to authorise a shoot down decision and then for the pilot to carry it out in an appropriate manner. This ability needs to be available 24/7/365 and is an onerous task on aircrew and support teams.
In the SDF the reality is that with only 12 jets available, their entire effort will be taken up doing QRA — assuming two training aircraft come over, this gives a squadron of 10 aircraft to generate 2 airframes on a constant basis. Take two out of the equation for servicing, two on the flight line and two being prepared to take over, and this leaves you with a flex of four aircraft to conduct all training and flying for the fleet.
The MOD currently estimates that Typhoon costs £70k per hour to fly (full costs), so assuming that it flies for 30 hours per airframe per month over a year (an averaged figure as there will be peaks and troughs), you suddenly realise that it would cost £2.1 million per month, £25 million per year to keep each aircraft going, or a total of nearly £300 million per year to ensure that two jets were constantly available for QRA. This is well over 10% of the putative budget. Add to this the operating costs of RAF Lossiemouth currently exceed £100m per year, and you realise that nearly 20% of the SDF budget is going to be taken up just to run QRA.
As Sir Humphrey pointed out in an earlier post on the naval question, there’s no guarantee that lopping off a “fair share” of the UK’s existing equipment inventory makes any sense for the quite different needs of an independent Scotland. Again, the right approach is to ignore the equipment question at first and instead analyze the actual needs — what does Scotland need their air force to do — rather than building a wish list of impressive machinery that almost certainly won’t provide value for the money. An independent nation needs to protect their own airspace (or be involved in alliances to provide that protection communally), but that requires identification of actual or potential threats to Scottish interests.
Another problem with automatically adopting the same equipment as the UK is that the supporting organizations and infrastructure will also have to be created to utilize the equipment:
The other problem is who actually supports the aircraft — a lot of deep level RAF servicing has been contracted out now, and these contracts will be null and void for the SDF airframes. The SDF will either have to spend a lot of money to introduce servicing facilities (which are not cheap) or it will have to enter into all manner of very expensive commercial arrangements with UK companies to get them to support Typhoon in Scottish service. This sort of arrangement cannot be skimped either — if you don’t service your aircraft, then you quickly lose the ability to fly them. As such a newly independent Scotland may find itself hamstrung by a need to pay a great deal of money in support contracts and servicing contracts and not capital investment in new technology.
The proposal to acquire C130s seems similarly expensive. There is not, and has never been a C130 basing presence in Scotland. This means that the SDF would need to pay out from the start to set up a C130 support facility and hangar in Lossiemouth. They would also need to find sufficiently trained crews and groundstaff – a small point, but the C130 fleet has been based at Lyneham and Brize Norton for nearly 50 years. Finding a sufficient pool of operators and support staff to uproot from their home to go to a newly independent Scotland is going to be a major challenge in itself.
November 28, 2013
Sir Humphrey says he’s neutral on the political issue of Scottish separatism, but he has a few professional criticisms of the fleet plan contained within the white paper:
At a most basic level, the paper appears to fall foul of what can be described as the ‘fantasy fleet’ syndrome so often found on the internet. In other words, people have taken an order of battle, hived of a reasonable sounding level of equipment and assumed that this would make a good defence force. That’s a great theory, but in reality its likely to be far more complicated than this.
For starters, the British Armed Forces are the product of hundreds of years of evolution, procurement and support. They operate a closely integrated set of equipment, underpinned by a well developed training network, and supported by a very complex set of support contracts to ensure availability. Due to the numbers and amounts of equipment in service, costs can be calculated using economies of scale, and planned workflow, in a way that smaller sized support cannot.
A nascent SDF would find itself operating a truly eclectic collection of units which are not necessarily the most appropriate for its situation. For instance, the proposal that the Navy takes on two Type 23 frigates seems a little odd. The Type 23 is one of the worlds most advanced anti-submarine warfare escorts, and designed to be a submarine killer par excellence. To use it to best effect requires a well trained crew, who have a range of extremely specialised skills. Assuming that no one is forced at independence to join the SDF, the challenge will be recruiting and retaining a core of niche skills to actually employ the vessel in her intended manner. This includes the engineers, weapon systems maintainers, the warfare department and those with the skills and experience at all ranks and rates to use the vessel in its intended manner.
Similarly, the issue of maintenance will be a complex one. There are no T23s based in Scotland, which means that a great deal of money will be spent creating a permanent support facility for the class in Scotland. In these circumstances the SDF will need to negotiate and establish support contracts, similar to the ones used by the RN, and pay to put in place the complex web of support arrangements in order to keep the vessels available for service. In a small procurement and support budget, it is hard to see where the money will come from for this sort of activity.
The sheer running costs of the vessels will also be a challenge — on average it costs about £20 million per year (source THEY WORK FOR YOU) to keep a Type 23 at sea, and about £3 million for MCMVs and patrol craft. To keep the Scottish Navy afloat, you are looking at an annual running cost of around £60 million — before you consider salary costs of the crew and the shore support infrastructure to go with it. On a relatively small budget of £2.5 billion, it is easy to see how much of a cost it would be just to keep the ships at sea, let alone deploy them.
In a sense, the white paper’s defence plan does appear to have been drawn up with an eye toward “order of battle” and “table of equipment” that would create — on paper, anyway — a scaled-down version of the RN, RAF, and British army. That isn’t the sensible approach for an independent Scotland’s defence needs. The first thing they should have done is analyze what practical tasks their defence forces would be required to undertake, then consider the most cost-effective way to build and equip an organization to accomplish those tasks.
When I was a child, I was obsessed with toy soldiers. I had hundreds and hundreds of them from various eras from Roman versus Celt down to 8th Army versus Afrika Korps. When setting up my “battles”, it was always the soldiers with the cool kit who got to be the heroes: stirring combat poses and cooler weapons were my selection criteria. When I moved on to building models, the same characteristics dictated the particular models I built: more heavily armed ships, bigger tanks, more weapon-studded aircraft. The authors of this portion of the white paper appear to have had similar childhoods … and they’re still influenced by the same selection criteria. What sense does it make for Scotland’s defence forces to operate Type 23 frigates and Typhoon aircraft? They’re cool kit, but do they accomplish the primary protective duties for Scotland cost-effectively? Almost certainly not.
Scotland has a large coastline and significant offshore assets to protect, but it isn’t likely to need the hugely expensive (and admittedly very capable) kit that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force need to accomplish their wider tasks. Scotland’s navy is much more likely to end up resembling a strong coastguard than a battle fleet, and their air force will probably not be equipped with top-of-the-line fighter aircraft (especially not F-35 or Typhoon fighters) as they would eat a hugely disproportional share of the defence budget for capabilities the Scots don’t actually need.
I strongly suspect the best course of action for Scotland (in the event of a successful independence vote) would be to negotiate a short-to-medium term deal with the rest of the UK to provide military units to Scotland as an interim solution while a sensible Scottish organization was built-up to take on those roles. It might sting the pride of nationalists to admit that they can’t afford to take on the full trappings of an independent state immediately, but it would be far more practical (and far less expensive) than carving off “their share” of the UK’s existing military.
November 27, 2013
Think Defence has posted a portion of the Scottish Independence White Paper dealing with defence issues. This includes an outline view of what is thought to be required for Scotland’s (non-nuclear) military establishment at independence:
One naval squadron to secure Scotland’s maritime interests and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and contribute to joint capability with partners in Scotland’s geographical neighbourhood, consisting of:
- two frigates from the Royal Navy’s current fleet
- a command platform for naval operations and development of specialist marine capabilities (from the Royal Navy’s current fleet, following adaptation)
- four mine counter measure vessels from the Royal Navy’s current fleet
- two offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to provide security for the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, as the Royal Navy only has four OPVs currently, a longer lead time for procurement might be necessary
- four to six patrol boats from the Royal Navy’s current fleet, capable of operating in coastal waters, providing fleet protection and also contributing to securing borders
- auxiliary support ships (providing support to vessels on operations), which could be secured on a shared basis initially with the rest of the UK
These arrangements will require around 2,000 regular and at least 200 reserve personnel.
An army HQ function and an all-arms brigade, with three infantry/marine units, equipped initially from a negotiated share of current UK assets, and supported by:
- a deployable Brigade HQ
- two light armoured reconnaissance units
- two light artillery units
- one engineer unit deploying a range of equipment for bridging, mine clearance and engineering functions
- one aviation unit operating six helicopters for reconnaissance and liaison
- two communication units
- one transport unit
- one logistics unit
- one medical unit
Special forces, explosives and ordnance disposal teams will bring the total to around 3,500 regular and at least 1,200 reserve personnel.
Key elements of air forces in place at independence, equipped initially from a negotiated share of current UK assets, will secure core tasks, principally the ability to police Scotland’s airspace, within NATO.
- an Air Force HQ function (with staff embedded within NATO structures)
- Scotland will remain part of NATO‘s integrated Air Command and Control (AC2) system, initially through agreement with allies to maintain the current arrangements while Scotland establishes and develops our own AC2 personnel and facility within Scotland within five years of independence
- a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth
- a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron
- flight training through joint arrangements with allies
In total this would require around 2,000 regular personnel and around 300 reserve personnel.
In addition to military capability following a vote for independence, the Scottish Government will establish core government capacity for defence functions, such as strategic planning, oversight and policy functions for defence and security. Given the importance of ongoing shared security interests between Scotland and the rest of the UK, we will ensure a partnership approach during the period of transition to independence.
Following a vote for independence, priorities for the Scottish Government capacity dealing with defence will be planning for the strategic security review to be carried out by the first Scottish Parliament following independence, based on the most recent UK National Risk Assessment and input from Scottish experts and academic institutions.
I linked to a couple of posts by Sir Humphrey on this issue that are also worth considering.
November 25, 2013
Recently the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville was hit by a target drone that reported malfunctioned. There were some injuries onboard, but none were said to be serious and the ship was safe and could continue operations. However, as this post shows, there are some pretty big open questions based on what the US Navy’s public relations department has shared:
The Navy tells us the drone malfunctioned, and apparently the combat system on the ship had no problems if the ship remains capable of operations, so based on those details of the press release the officers and crew of the USS Chancellorsville tracked the target missile drone — during the radar tracking exercise — apparently as it scored a direct hit into side of the ship.
But the ship was unable to defend itself? I get it that the safety systems were probably engaged that would prevent the full capabilities of the AEGIS combat system from being employed against the rogue drone, but what about the independent close-in point defenses of the cruiser?
The official story, based on the details as released officially, is that the most advanced AEGIS warship in the world tracked a direct hit by a missile drone and was apparently unable to defend itself successfully. Did the ship even try to defend itself from a rogue drone? We don’t know, because the press release focuses on telling the public the technology of the ship is sufficient enough for the ship to conduct normal operations, but tells us no details at all regarding what the crew did or did not do to defend the ship from a direct hit.
There is a detail that is omitted in the official press release, and because it is a detail of the incident known at the time of the press release, we can only assume the omission is intentional for purposes of protecting a reputation. The ships officers and crew apparently did try to defend the ship. The CIWS apparently fired at the BQM-74 but was unsuccessful in defending the ship. That detail matters, because the omission of that detail is the difference between protecting the reputation of the ships officers and crew who tried to defend the ship, or protecting the reputation of a piece of technology that was unsuccessful — for unknown reasons — in performing the technologies primary role as the last line of defense for the ship.
You can understand why a detail like that would fail to make the cut for what the PR department wanted to release to the media.
H/T to John Donovan for the link.
November 21, 2013
Strategy Page discusses one of the problems of wars long-gone, but still dangerous today:
These are the many bombs, shells, grenades, and other explosive devices that did not go off when they were supposed to. In the first half of the 20th century, over a billion fuzed devices were used in combat, and five to ten percent of them were duds. In Europe, the site of heavy fighting in two world wars, dozens of people are still killed or injured each year by duds.
In the last few decades of the 20th century it got worse, and the reason was submunitions. These were smaller bombs carried inside a container. The idea was that when the shell or bomb carrying submunitions was used, it would spread these smaller bombs over a larger area and do more damage than one large explosion. It worked, but it also created more duds. Not just more but smaller duds. Small enough for children to pick up and start playing with. Kids are more adventurous and less well informed than adults. A dud submunition looked like a new toy.
In actual use submunitions turned out to have a higher dud rate than any previous weapon. New artillery shells have a dud rate of about two percent. Israel went so far as to fire 10,000 new shells to confirm that dud rate. But many nations stockpile shells and as these grow older, their dud rate increases. Shells actually have an expiration date, reflecting the fact that the chemicals in the explosives and the fuzes grow more unstable as they age. The Third World and communist nations often had poor quality control to begin with and were more prone to keep old ammunition. During the Afghanistan war of the 1980s, Russian shells appeared to have a dud rate of some thirty percent. And even the United States would sometimes use submunitions that had exceeded their recommended shelf life.
Submunitions were originally designed to have a dud rate similar to that of artillery shells. But in practice it was much higher, closer to five percent. Part of reason for this is the lighter weight of submunitions. Shell fuzes detonate a shell when the shell hits the ground. The impact sends a pretty strong message to the fuze that now is the time to do it, and go bang. But submunitions, weighing from a few ounces to a few pounds, can make a soft landing and not generate enough force to activate the fuze. These make even deadlier duds, for the fuze is not defective, just deceived. When enough force is applied to activate the fuze, you have an explosion. The dud rate got higher depending on where the submunitions landed. When there is a lot of snow or mud on the ground, the dud rate was as high as fifteen percent.
November 19, 2013
In his NFL column last week, Gregg Easterbrook had a bit of fun-poking at the Royal Navy’s expense, based on a rather silly story in the Daily Mail which reported that Britain had many times more captains than combat ships and asked his readers for the “vessels-to-admirals ratio of the once-mighty Royal Navy”. He follows up this week:
Many readers, including Stephanie Cummings-White of Torqauy, England, suggested I should be asking instead for the admirals-to-vessels ratio, citing this 2008 story noting 41 admirals supervising 40 warships. Nathan Green of Hempstead, Long Island, suggested matters were worse, citing this 2013 story reporting the Royal Navy has “15 times more commanding officers than ships,” with 260 captains and 40 admirals for 19 warships.
The “15 times more” story, from the Daily Mail, lists as warships only “major surface combatants” — destroyers, frigates and the Queen’s lone remaining flattop, a light aircraft carrier scheduled to be retired in 2014. The major-surface-combatants definition excludes support vessels plus the Royal Navy’s strategic nuclear submarines, which bear far more destructive power than all the navies of the world combined during World War II. Paul Meka of Buffalo, N.Y., notes that in total, the Royal Navy has 79 commissioned ships, two vessels for each admiral. Yoni Appelbaum of Cambridge, Mass., compared this to the United States Navy, which has 331 admirals for 285 ships in commission, a worse H.M.S. Pinafore ratio than under the Union Jack.
A common mistake among those who’ve never served in the military is to assume that the appointment as commanding officer of a ship also means that officer is a captain by rank. And the reverse is also assumed to be true: that every captain commands a ship. Modern navies don’t work that way (and probably never did). The rank structure does not imply anything about the command structure other than indirectly. The army always has more brigadier generals than brigades, and not every brigade commander is a brigadier general (although it’s usually the case).
Every western military force in the modern era has more staff in non-combat roles than on the front lines, as they perform essential tasks in ensuring that the warfighters are properly trained, armed, equipped, fed, transported, housed, paid, and have appropriate levels of medical care while they’re doing the fighting (or training). The tail-to-teeth ratio of modern armies is much higher than ever before … and that’s the nature of modern military organizations. Demanding more “teeth” and less “tail” doesn’t mean you’ll get a more capable military — it means you’ll get a less capable one.
Certain armed forces (especially in the Middle East) have relatively huge inventories of weapons and a table of organization implying a much higher “teeth-to-tail” ratio than Western forces. Such armies are not likely to do well in actual combat (and historically have not done well), because they are too brittle and incapable of function after taking some combat losses. The troops run of out ammunition (or water) almost immediately after going into combat, because they don’t have sufficient administrative support to ensure that fresh supplies can be moved to where they’re needed. In many cases, they can’t even move into combat because they don’t have enough vehicles in a fit state of repair and lack the trained mechanical staff to fix anything more serious than flat tires.
Some non-Western navies have relatively large fleets … tied up at the dock almost all the time. They don’t go to sea very often and aren’t able to remain at sea for extended periods. They may have all the outward trappings of a modern navy, but it’s all show and no go. Ships need regular maintenance and ships’ crews need regular training. Sitting in harbour, polishing the brass and looking ship-shape won’t cut it.
November 18, 2013
Unlike other branches of the US government, the Department of Defence still isn’t properly accounting for all its expenditure, says Scot J. Paltrow in a Reuters report:
The Defense Department’s 2012 budget totaled $565.8 billion, more than the annual defense budgets of the 10 next largest military spenders combined, including Russia and China. How much of that money is spent as intended is impossible to determine.
In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.
The consequences aren’t only financial; bad bookkeeping can affect the nation’s defense. In one example of many, the Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies between 2003 and 2011 as it shuffled equipment between reserve and regular units. Affected units “may experience equipment shortages that could hinder their ability to train soldiers and respond to emergencies,” the Pentagon inspector general said in a September 2012 report.
Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.
November 11, 2013
In the Globe and Mail, J.L. Granatstein wants us to remember the greatest military achievement of the Canadian Corps in World War One (and it isn’t the battle of Vimy Ridge):
On Aug. 8, 1918, the Canadian Corps had secretly moved into position in front of the French city of Amiens. The German army had been on the offensive since March, and the Amiens sector was rather lightly defended. The Canadians, British and Australians struck this sector a surprise hammer blow in the early morning, a hurricane of artillery fire clearing the way for the tanks and infantry that blasted through the defences. Thousands of Germans surrendered, more were killed and within a few hours, the Canadian advance was almost 15 kilometres. This, wrote the German army’s great strategist, General Erich Ludendorff, was “the black day” of the German Army.
Lt.-Gen. Currie’s troops then moved north to the Arras area, where, at the end of the month, they struck toward and then through the Drocourt-Quéant Line, an immensely strong extension of the Hindenburg Line defended by crack troops. In heavy fighting at high cost, the Corps broke the line, forcing the Germans back behind the Canal du Nord, their last position protecting the key supply point of Cambrai.
The Germans now were in full retreat, moving eastward as fast as they could go. The Canadians took Valenciennes, smashing the enemy defences with a massive artillery barrage, and then moved into Belgium. By Nov. 11, they were in Mons, the same small town where the men of the British Expeditionary Force had first faced the invading Germans in August, 1914.
The Canadian Corps, more than a hundred thousand strong, had fought its last battles. As Lt.-Gen. Currie noted proudly, it had beaten 47 German divisions since Aug. 8, a quarter of the German forces in the West. The Corps had accomplished this because of its great fighting spirit, its fine leadership at all levels and its effective reinforcement and logistics systems. The cost in lives and in wounded was terrible — 45,000 casualties, 20 per cent of the total of Canadian losses in the entire war — but for once, the campaign had achieved measurable gains on the ground. More than that, the Canadian shock troops had battered the enemy, forced them eastward and obliged them to seek an armistice that was a de facto capitulation. It had scored its greatest victory, the greatest battlefield triumph ever by Canadian troops.
A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:
The Great War
- Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
(Elizabeth’s great uncle)
- Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
(Elizabeth’s great grandfather)
- Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
(my great uncle)
- Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
(Elizabeth’s great uncle)
The Second World War
- Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
- Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the Defensively Equipped Merchant fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
- Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
- Elizabeth Buller, “Lumberjill” in the Women’s Land Army in Scotland through the war.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army Medical Corps (1872-1918)
A Remembrance Day slideshow using Mark Knopfler’s wonderful “Remembrance Day” song from the album Get Lucky (2009). The early part of the song conveys many British images, but I have added some very Canadian images also which fit with many of the lyrics. The theme and message is universal… ‘we will remember them’.