Quotulatiousness

January 5, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s PR team fumbles badly with Boyle photo-op

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Late last year, the Boyle family were “rescued” from the Taliban and the Prime Minister not only met with them, but allowed some photos to be taken that quickly made their way out onto social media. Now that Joshua Boyle has been arrested for a long list of offenses, the PM is looking very bad indeed, as Chris Selley points out:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Boyle family in Ottawa, 18 December.

The supposed geniuses surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are capable of some very strange decisions. Arranging a meeting with Joshua Boyle and his family after their release from Taliban captivity, and agreeing to the Boyles photographing the smiling encounter — Joshua later tweeted out some snaps — is certainly one of them.

Boyle was arrested Tuesday and charged with a raft of offences including sexual assault and unlawful confinement, concerning events beginning immediately after the family’s return to Canada in early October. Trudeau met the Boyles on Dec. 18. Now photos of Trudeau beaming with the accused are all over the news. If PMO procedures somehow didn’t flag the investigation, that’s a serious concern. If they did and the meeting happened anyway, it’s horrendous political risk management at the very least.

Indeed, these were hardly the first red flags. The PMO argues it would agree to such a meeting with any released hostages — a very stupid policy if it exists, because the Boyles aren’t quite any released hostages. When the Taliban nabbed Joshua and five-months-pregnant Caitlin Coleman in 2012, they were ostensibly “backpacking in Afghanistan.” The phrase dances off the tongue a bit like “scuba diving in Yemen” or “gastronomic tour of Somalia”: not inconceivable, but the Boyles will not have been surprised to learn that some in the U.S. intelligence community were suspicious. They reportedly refused an American military flight home over fears — perfectly reasonable ones, surely — that they might wind up stuck at Bagram Airfield.

But what the heck, let’s think the best of the Boyles. Sunny ways, etc. The best still involves the unpleasant matter of Joshua’s short-lived marriage to none other than Zaynab Khadr — daughter of the late Ahmed Khadr, the Egyptian-Canadian al-Qaida financier for whom Jean Chrétien famously went to bat when he was detained in Pakistan.

[…]

Unseriousness is a serious charge against Trudeau: big hat, staff photographer, few cattle. Another non-official photo released this week shows Trudeau and his Castro-worshiping brother Sacha in matching sweaters depicting the Last Supper attended by emojis, with the words Happy Birthday strung over top. In a rather over-the-top tweet, Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused the PM of “intolerance” and of “mocking Christianity” — and no question, many Canadians might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment lest it cause offence. (It was in private, of course, but it’s public now.) But many Canadians also might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment because he’s the leader of a G7 country, a serious person with a serious job that he’s taking seriously.

This touchy-feely cool-dad happy-go-lucky shtick has taken Trudeau a long, long way. I very much doubt it can take him any further. And I think the backlash, when it comes, could be legendary.

November 28, 2017

The Canadian Army’s Leopard tanks

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In a discussion on Facebook the other day, I’d mistakenly stated that the Canadian Army had initially sent the “new” Leopard 2 tanks leased from Germany (20 refurbished Leopard 2A6Ms) to Afghanistan to support the Kandahar mission. In fact, as a lengthy article linked by John Donovan pointed out, our poor zipperheads had been operating non-air-conditioned Leopard 1 tanks until the government made arrangements with some of our NATO allies to get modern MBTs into the combat zone. I suspect the reason for my confusion was that the old Leopard 1 tanks were designated as “C2” by the army and I’d confused that with the more general “Leopard 2” name for the modern tank. This article in Defence Industry Daily sets out the details:

Leopard 2A6M in Afghanistan

A number of options for renewing Canada’s tank capability were considered, ranging from refurbishment, to surplus, to new. Delivery time was of the essence, and DND’s examination determined that the cost of any new vehicles involved paying up to 3 times as much as buying the same basic tank models on the surplus heavy tank market. New medium tank options like the 32-tonne CV90-120 light tank also offered full tracked mobility and similar firepower at less cost, but Canada had learned that heavier weight was often a tactical plus in theater, and decided that they needed vehicles sooner rather than later.

Accordingly, the Canadian government approached 6 allied nations regarding surplus main battle tank sales, and received proposals from 3 of them. It then went ahead and made 2 purchases, plus another 2 follow-on buys.

Their tank choice is a modern mainstay for many countries. Thanks in part to the great DeutschePanzerSchlussverkauf (German Panzer fire sale), the Leopard 2 and its variants external link have now been bought by Germany, Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden, and Turkey.

Canada’s 1st step was a lease, in order to get modern, air-conditioned tanks to the front lines immediately. Germany won that order, and 20 German Leopard 2A6M mine-protected tanks were delivered by the summer of 2007 to replace existing Leopard 1A5/C2 tanks in Afghanistan. The new tanks’ electric turret systems produce less heat than the C2s did, and air conditioning was added to the new German tanks in theater. This was a relief to Canadian tank crews, who had needed protective suites in the 140F/ 60C interiors of their Leopard 1A5 tanks.

The 2A6M is the most modern serving Leopard variant, though KMW had proposed a “Leopard 2 Peace Support Operations” variant with improved protection, and integrated combat engineering capabilities. By the time modifications were finished, the Leopard 2A6 CAN turned out to fall somewhere between the conventional 2A6M and the PSO. Canada actually ended up keeping the leased and modified German tanks, and sending 20 Leopard 2A6Ms from its follow-on purchases back to Germany.

The follow-on purchases of 127 tanks were won by 3 countries. The biggest order for 100 tanks went to the Dutch, who are serving under NATO ISAF beside Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan. Training for 5 years and initial spares will also be provided. Cooperation between these nations is not new. Dutch PzH-2000 mobile howitzers have already proven very helpful during Operation Medusa external link, and so had their CH-47 Chinook medium-heavy helicopters – some of which were bought as surplus from the Canadians in the 1980s. The cycle continues. And so it goes.

In the aftermath of their sales to Norway, Denmark, and now Canada, The Dutch were left with 110 Leopard 2A6-NL tanks in their arsenal. Other sales dropped that total further, and on On April 8/11, the Dutch Ministry of Defense announced that the last tank unit was to be dissolved and all remaining Leopard tanks sold.

The additional Leopard 2 buys totaled 27 tanks/ hulls. First, another 15 Leopard 2A4s were bought from Germany, to be used for spare parts. This hadn’t been contemplated in the initial plan, but it was necessary. The initial set of 20 leased German Leopard 2A6Ms were experiencing readiness problems, as tanks were cannibalized in order to keep others running. A 2010 buy from Switzerland added 12 stripped Pz 87s (Leopard 2A4 variants) for conversion to specialty vehicles, under Canada’s Force Mobility Enhancement (FME) program.

The earlier Leopard 1 tanks had been purchased in the late 1970s (very much against the preferences of the government of the day) to replace the late 1940s vintage Centurion tanks the Canadian Army had been operating:

Canadian Leopard 1A3 (Leopard C1) at the Bovington Tank Museum.
Photo by Chris Parfeniuk, via Flickr.

When 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group was moved from Westphalia to Lahr on the Rhine frontier with France, some policy-makers apparently sought to do away with Canada’s tanks entirely.

For some years, the brigade continued to use their Centurion tanks, an excellent tank in its day but one that could not be used on long road moves. In 1975, the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, visited Germany to ask the Chancellor for his support for getting Canada special trade status with the European Common Market. He was told to come back to discuss the matter once Canada had replaced its antiquated tanks.

The contract for the Leopard tank acquisition followed quickly. Consideration had been given to totally rebuilding the Centurions with new power pack as the Israeli army has done with their Centurions. Before the order could be delivered Canada negotiated a deal with the German Government to lease 35 Leopard 1A2’s to train their crews on the new tanks.

The upgrade from the initial Leopard C1 to the C2 model began in 1996:

Late in 1996 it was announced that the Canadian Forces were to carry out a major update on their fleet of Leopard C1 tanks (The C1 was the equivalent of the Leopard 1A3), which involved the replacement of the existing turret with the complete turret of the German Leopard 1A5. The Leopard 1A5 turret features the STN ATLAS Elektronik EMES-18 computerized fire-control system which incorporates a Carl Zeiss thermal imager.

The 105mm L7 rifled guns in the Leopard 1A5 turrets were not retained but were replaced with Canadian Leopard C1 original 105mm guns, the L7A1. The ballistic computers were reprogrammed to match 105 mm Canadian ammunition.

The turret rebuild was carried out in Germany and commenced in June 1997 with the first turret being shipped to Canada in December 1997. GLS refurbished the turret, removed the 105 mm gun, modified the turret where required, including the installation of the new radios ordered under the Tactical Command, Control and Communications System project.

The turrets were shipped to Canada where a subcontractor installed the 105 mm L7A1 barrel and mounted the turret on the existing chassis for final delivery to the Canadian Forces. It was expected that about six turrets a month would be upgraded with each turret taking six months to upgrade. The program was completed by late 2001.

November 11, 2017

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military, WW1, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Bob Oldfield
Published on 3 Nov 2011

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’.

November 10, 2017

The future of the Royal Marines

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A few months back, Sir Humphrey took a look at the British Royal Marines and suggested that they need to “re-marinize” to avoid just being light infantry that wear a different cap badge:

HMS Albion conducts amphibious operations with Landing Craft Utility (LCU) during Exercise Grey Heron off the coast of Portsmouth in 2007.
The Albion Class, Landing Platform Dock ships (LPD) primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo, forming part of an Amphibious Assault Force.
(Photo via Wikimedia)

The challenge for the Royal Marines [RM] right now is that they look particularly vulnerable targets, with a highly specialised core role that is increasingly unlikely to be used in anger. The RM and the RN [Royal Navy] have long had a slightly odd, and at times, uneasy relationship. It is often forgotten these days that the role of amphibious warfare isn’t something that really took off until WW2, and that the RM have only been leading on it for about 70 years. Until that point they were arguably merely light infantry embarked on ships and the odd landing party.

[…]

The key point where things began to change was arguably OP HERRICK. At this point the Corps transitioned from being an organisation which fought from the sea onto the land, to one that spent many years focusing on being a land based warfighting force. The depth of commitment to HERRICK meant that the Corps lost a lot of its links to the wider RN; speaking to friends who served in the RM, many remark that during the HERRICK years the RM did very little with the RN at sea. This would have been fine for a short operation, but for a multi-year commitment it meant that an entire generation of Officers and NCOs were growing up who excelled at conventional land warfare, but who had lost touch with their maritime roots.

At the same time, there was a growing sense in some parts of the RN that the RM was arguably a money pit that cost the RN a significant amount of time, money and platforms, but which delivered very little for the RN itself. Tellingly, during the worst years of the piracy issues in Somalia, the RN had to rely heavily on RNR ratings to form ships protection teams, not RM in part reportedly because the RM was so focused on Afghanistan. At a time when the RN was taking heavy cuts to ships and other platforms as part of budget reductions to help deliver success in Afghanistan, there was perhaps some resentment that the Corps delivered little, yet absorbed a huge amount of the Naval Service budget. What is the point of having an amphibious fleet, and maritime amphibious helicopter capability, if your amphibious troops are stuck in a cycle of deploying only to a landlocked country?

[…]

In the current security environment that the UK faces, it is hard to see a need for a major amphibious lift capability to conduct opposed operations. This may sound like heresy to say, but if you consider that any major beach landing would be fraught with risk, and require major military support and logistical access to a port and airhead quickly to succeed, it is hard to see the circumstances where the UK and US would want to conduct such an operation. The political circumstances are such, that it is difficult to see the UK willingly wishing to indulge in a full scale amphibious assault against a hostile nation with a brigade sized force anytime in the future.

There are plenty of situations where the ability to transport equipment and people is vital – for instance conducting a NEO [Noncombatant Evacuation Operation], or moving troops and supplies into a friendly country ahead of a wider land conflict. There are also circumstances where an ‘amphibious raid’ capability is equally important – the ability to quickly send a small number of troops ashore via helicopter or fast landing craft to conduct a specific mission, or diversionary raid is extremely useful.

[…]

For the RM, the chance to re-embark at sea and focus on maritime counter piracy and security could be an opportunity to rebrand and reinvent the organisation, giving it a new lease of life. There is a real and pressing need to marinize the RM again, getting them used to being at sea, not permanently working ashore. At the same time it would free up a lot of highly trained infantry soldiers who could train to deliver boarding teams, and maritime counter piracy duties. This is a deeply complex role that requires a lot of training and support to get right, and is only going to grow in importance over the next few years.

Investing in niche roles such as this, or protection of nuclear weapons, and coupling this with a smaller ability to land raiding parties not brigades has the benefit of making the Corps far more valuable to keep in the long term. Right now it is arguably a light infantry brigade which has some other secondary duties tagged on the side. This is fine, but there are plenty of light infantry brigades out there, and probably too many soldiers in the Army as it is. If the RM were to refocus onto being sea going soldiers again, and deliver a small range of capabilities very well, then this makes them far harder to scrap entirely.

October 31, 2017

The adage “When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it” also applies to the military

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

John Stossel talks to Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater:

The military uses contractors to provide security, deliver mail, rescue soldiers and more. Private contractors often do jobs well, for much less than the government would spend.

”We did a helicopter resupply mission,” Prince told me. “We showed up with two helicopters and eight people — the Navy was doing it with 35 people.”

I asked, “Why would the Navy use 35 people?”

Prince answered, “The admiral that says, ‘I need 35 people to do that mission,’ didn’t pay for them. When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it.”

Prince also claims the military is slow to adjust. In Afghanistan, it’s “using equipment designed to fight the Soviet Union, (not ideal) for finding enemies living in caves or operating from a pickup truck.”

I suggested that the government eventually adjusts.

”No, they do not,” answered Prince. “In 16 years of warfare, the army never adjusted how they do deployments — never made them smaller and more nimble. You could actually do all the counter-insurgency missions over Afghanistan with propeller-driven aircraft.”

So far, Trump has ignored Prince’s advice. I assume he, like many people, is skeptical of military contractors. The word “mercenary” has a bad reputation.

He moved on after selling Blackwater, and dabbled in fighting piracy:

In 2010, Prince sold his security firm and moved on to other projects.

He persuaded the United Arab Emirates to fund a private anti-pirate force in Somalia. The U.N. called that a “brazen violation” of its arms embargo, but Prince went ahead anyway.

His mercenaries attacked pirates whenever they came near shore. His private army, plus merchant ships finally arming themselves, largely ended piracy in that part of the world. In 2010, Somali pirates took more than a thousand hostages. In 2014, they captured none.

Did you even hear about that success? I hadn’t before doing research on Prince. The media don’t like to report good things about for-profit soldiers. Commentator Keith Olbermann called Blackwater “a full-fledged criminal enterprise.” One TV anchor called Prince “horrible … the poster child for everything wrong with the military-industrial complex.”

When I showed that to Prince, he replied, “the hardcore anti-war left went after the troops in Vietnam … (I)n Iraq and Afghanistan they went after contractors … contractors providing a good service to support the U.S. military — vilified, demonized, because they were for-profit companies.”

If we don’t use private contractors, he added, we will fail in Afghanistan, where we’ve “spent close to a trillion dollars and are still losing.”

H/T to Stephen Green for the link.

July 29, 2017

QotD: Imposing “democracy”

Filed under: Government, History, Middle East, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To be fair, the British set up monarchies, in the hope that they would become constitutional monarchies (which were their experience of something that might actually get somewhere). Jordan seems to be succeeding; the Gulf states are so successful few want to change; and Egypt was derailed by the Soviets and Americans playing Cold War games. The French tried to set up republics (god knows why, their’s [had] never worked) in Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, and other places. In the words of Dr Phil, ‘How’s that working out for you?’. The Americans successfully undermined the Egyptian and Iranian attempts to get constitutional monarchies off the ground, and celebrated the resulting republics… very briefly. The second in particular no longer looks a very clever move.

The latest American attempts to force republics on Afghanistan and Iraq have been absolute disasters.

Afghanistan might, might… have worked if the Americans had understood that such a tribalised society required a House of Lords of all the powerful tribal leaders and major clerics, to balance [the] elected representatives. (But of course it would still need some sort of monarch to make it work, because, as Machiavelli pointed out, you need 3 powers in balance, so any two can stop the third from dominating!).) Or they could just have a system where the two major components completely ignore each other while they compete for control, and leave an easy opening for the return of the Taliban.

Iraq might, might… have worked with a federal system of at least a dozen ethnically based states that each had two representatives to a senate that had the right to block the excesses of an elected house where a 50% majority could get revenge on everyone else for every slight since the death of the prophet. Or they could go for a more simplistic version of a republic, and get what they inevitably got.

Why couldn’t the Americans have kept their big fat ideologies out of it, as they largely did after the first Gulf War. Kuwait is no great shining beacon, but it doesn’t suffer from the American idealism that lead to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Iran!

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

May 27, 2017

Canada’s hollow army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Thanks to a post at Army.ca, here is the rough outline of the NATO battle group that Canada will be leading in Latvia later this summer (oddly lacking in attached artillery support):

… the Canadian-led battalion level battle group will be composed of about 1,138 soldiers, as well as armor, armored transport and combat support. Of that number, 450 will be Canadian mechanized infantry bringing with them armored vehicles and various support elements. A specialized Canadian reconnaissance platoon will also be on the ground. Albania will send 18 combat (explosive ordnance disposal) engineers. Italy will send a mechanized infantry company consisting of 160 soldiers plus armored fighting vehicles. Poland will send a tank company with 160 troops. Slovenia will send 50 soldiers specializing in defense against weapons of mass destruction, (chemical, biological and nuclear weapon defense, decontamination operations etc). Spain will send the second-largest contingent: 300 soldiers from a mechanized infantry company and armored vehicles, combat engineers and support elements.

As Ted Campbell points out, this is an odd and unwieldy formation and seems unnecessarily multi-national for such a small tasking. Why isn’t the Canadian Army just sending a full battalion with the necessary supporting troops (artillery, armour, engineers, medical and logistics, etc.) to minimize operational and linguistic friction? It’s because we don’t have enough troops to do that successfully:

There is an old, tried and true, military expression to describe this: “it’s a dog’s bloody breakfast!” Can you imagine trying to command and control that organization? Especially under NATO’s rules that, as we saw in Afghanistan, allow each country to impose caveats on what where when and how its forces may be told asked to do anything at all.

So how did we, Canada, get to this? How is it that we cannot, it appears, deploy a complete battle group without Albanian, Italian, Polish, Solvenian and Spanish troops? After all, we had a full battle group in Afghanistan just five years ago, didn’t we?

Well, yes, but …

First, a “battle group” is rarely a formed unit (never in the Canadian Army). It is, usually, either a full up armoured (tank) regiment or infantry battalion with add-ons: tanks or infantry, artillery in direct support, engineers and so on and so forth. Our battle group in Afghanistan was always based on one of Canada’s nine infantry battalions with attachments from a tank regiment, an artillery regiment and so on. But even the infantry battalion, the “base” of the battle group had to be augmented. Canada has not had one, single, full strength, properly organized and equipped infantry battalion for more than a decade. A battalion ought to have 950± soldiers and its own, organic, mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank or assault weapons, and, and , and … but many years ago, in an effort to “balance” the army the infantry was (stupidly) stripped of its mortars ~ the artillery will take care of it, it was said … and, bless ’em, the gunners have not let the infantry down, but that doesn’t mean the decision to strip the mortars, especially, from the infantry made any military sense at all. It didn’t; it was a dumb decision ~ the wrong thing for all the wrong reasons. But, a good friend tells, me, the prevailing view in the Army, especially, is that nothing must ever be cut because it will never, ever be gotten back. Thus we strip the battalions but leave the empty shells ~ a Canadian battalions circa 2017 has 500+ soldiers, not the 1,000- it needs. Even at the height of the Afghan campaign, when Major General (then Lieutenant Colonel) Omer Lavoie led Operation Medusa (you know, the one which Harjit Sajan said he conceived as “the architect”) his battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment 1RCR) had to be augmented with a company from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry because there were not enough companies in all three of the RCR battalions that had not been deployed within the last 18 months … the Army, in other words, had been hollowed out for years, even decades.

April 2, 2017

The (inevitable) failure of the “Revolution in Military Affairs”

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In an article about security incident response automation, Bruce Schneier provides a useful thumbnail sketch of a US Army attempt to dispel the fog of war in real time:

While this is a laudable goal, there’s a fundamental problem with doing this in the short term. You can only automate what you’re certain about, and there is still an enormous amount of uncertainty in cybersecurity. Automation has its place in incident response, but the focus needs to be on making the people effective, not on replacing them ­ security orchestration, not automation.

This isn’t just a choice of words — it’s a difference in philosophy. The US military went through this in the 1990s. What was called the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) was supposed to change how warfare was fought. Satellites, drones and battlefield sensors were supposed to give commanders unprecedented information about what was going on, while networked soldiers and weaponry would enable troops to coordinate to a degree never before possible. In short, the traditional fog of war would be replaced by perfect information, providing certainty instead of uncertainty. They, too, believed certainty would fuel automation and, in many circumstances, allow technology to replace people.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. The US learned in Afghanistan and Iraq that there are a lot of holes in both its collection and coordination systems. Drones have their place, but they can’t replace ground troops. The advances from the RMA brought with them some enormous advantages, especially against militaries that didn’t have access to the same technologies, but never resulted in certainty. Uncertainty still rules the battlefield, and soldiers on the ground are still the only effective way to control a region of territory.

But along the way, we learned a lot about how the feeling of certainty affects military thinking. Last month, I attended a lecture on the topic by H.R. McMaster. This was before he became President Trump’s national security advisor-designate. Then, he was the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center. His lecture touched on many topics, but at one point he talked about the failure of the RMA. He confirmed that military strategists mistakenly believed that data would give them certainty. But he took this change in thinking further, outlining the ways this belief in certainty had repercussions in how military strategists thought about modern conflict.

McMaster’s observations are directly relevant to Internet security incident response. We too have been led to believe that data will give us certainty, and we are making the same mistakes that the military did in the 1990s. In a world of uncertainty, there’s a premium on understanding, because commanders need to figure out what’s going on. In a world of certainty, knowing what’s going on becomes a simple matter of data collection.

January 19, 2017

QotD: Elphy Bey rides again

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

William G. K. Elphinstone (1782-1842) commanded the British 33rd Regiment of Foot (later the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, and today incorporated in the Yorkshire Regiment), and was almost certainly the worst battalion commander in any of the armies during the campaign. His troops broke at Quatre Bras and lost their colors at Waterloo, which he afterwards tried to cover up by secretly ordering new colors; a deception that failed to retrieve the regimental honor. He went on to prove quite possibly the most inept officer ever to command an army, when, as a major general during the First Afghan War (1839-1842), he dithered on so heroic a scale that, of his 4,000 troops and 10,000 camp followers, only one man escaped death or capture.

Al Nofi, “Al Nofi’s CIC”, Strategy Page, 2015-06-18.

November 26, 2016

Using anecdata to paint a picture of PTSD-plagued veterans

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the way Canadian Forces veterans have been portrayed in the media:

Yesterday the Surgeon General of Canada issued the latest in a series of annual technical reports on Canada’s great soldier suicide crisis. If you occasionally read the newspapers, and particularly if you ever pick up the Globe and Mail, you have probably been left with the impression that it is astonishing anyone who fought in Afghanistan in a Canadian uniform is still alive and sane. There is a tradition in newspapering, admittedly a recent one, of being very cautious and elliptical in reporting on suicides for fear of encouraging imitators. The Globe observed the run-up to Remembrance Day this year by blowing out the sphincter of that tradition, offering intimate details of suicides by a sequence of Canadian Armed Forces veterans left to struggle with the psychic aftereffects of witnessing combat.

The idea was to point an accusing finger at an unfeeling, ignorant state and to awaken the consciences of those who elect representatives to it. We are all to blame, you see: Canadian soldiers come home with nerves shattered by conflicts to which we have dispatched them, and yet at election time we overlook a lengthening trail of dead and a choir of the emotionally tormented. Veterans scarcely ever turn up in the newspaper, as veterans, without the words “suicide” or “PTSD” nipping at their heels. They are stalked by drink, painkillers, nightmares, uncontrollable outbursts of violence, homelessness. Only by the wildest of chances will one turn up in the news as a successful, well-adjusted individual.

So it is with trepidation and nausea that one turns to the Surgeon General’s report, hoping for a careful epidemiological documentation of the crisis. What one quickly finds is that when the overwhelmingly male Canadian Forces are compared to the ordinary male population… there is no crisis. Until very recently, CAF members have had significantly lower rates of suicide than male civilians in the same age brackets. The rates are statistically indistinguishable for the most recent time period in the table, 2010-12, owing to a transitory spike in CAF suicides in 2011.

Soldiers are, by this measure, healthier if anything than the average chap. This is not really surprising if you do not read the newspaper, and you merely hold to the old-fashioned idea that the military is pretty good at taking man-children and giving them purpose, abilities, structure, and a social network.

November 11, 2016

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military, WW1, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:41

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’.

November 24, 2015

Soviet military drinking in Afghanistan

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:

Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.

Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.

As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.

November 11, 2015

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military, WW1, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

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’.

November 6, 2015

Canada’s new Minister of National Defence

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the National Post, Adrian Humphreys provides a look at the new defence minister in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet:

Defence minister Harjit Sajjan

Many defence ministers pose for photos with military hardware, but few pull off the true badass combat stance as well as Harjit Singh Sajjan — draped in flak jacket and camouflage, gripping an assault rifle on an actual battlefield.

Sajjan was, until recently, a decorated Lieutenant-Colonel in the Armed Forces, the first Sikh Canadian to command an army regiment.

“Command breaks down barriers because no one looks at what you look like when the bullets are flying,” he said in 2011. “Having to carry your, you know, wounded soldiers off the battlefield, not just wounded, but the ones that have been killed and place them into a helicopter, nothing prepares you for that.”

Sajjan, sworn in Wednesday as Canada’s new Minister of National Defence, was, in military lingo, “a trigger puller.”

He was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and three times to Afghanistan, for which he was awarded one of the military’s highest recognitions, the Order of Military Merit, for reducing the Taliban’s influence in Kandahar Province.

“He has a taste for the reality of war and that’s very, very important,” said David Bercuson, director of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

“He will have seen the aftermath of the effect of war on some of our men and women, which is a major issue with veteran’s affairs,” said Bercuson.

[…]

He served as a reservist, and was deployed with the Canadian peacekeeping forces to Bosnia in 1996.

In 2006 he served in Afghanistan, playing a key intelligence advisory role to Brig.-Gen David Fraser in the successful Operation Medusa offensive against the Taliban. He returned to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011.

Rising to the rank of reserve lieutenant-colonel, he was named commander of the B.C. Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), in 2012.

I’m pleased that Trudeau managed to find someone to fill this cabinet post who has actual military experience in the field (as opposed to a former general or admiral). I hope he can fight his political corner to get the Canadian Forces the updated equipment they so desperately need, even if the F-35 is not going to be part of the package (Trudeau explicitly promised to drop the F-35 purchase during the election).

November 4, 2015

The XM-25 “Punisher” isn’t dead yet

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Five years back, there were interesting reports about a prototype weapon that seemed to have an inside edge for getting into the hands of front-line troops in Afghanistan for specific bunker-busting and similar missions. Then it went silent. Recently, Strategy Page says it may be back in the running:

Two years after having its budget sharply cut in 2013 the U.S. Army XM25 grenade launcher is back on track and is now expected to enter service by 2017. It’s been a long road from concept to acceptance and mass production. The army began working on this type of weapon back in the 1990s as the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) and that mutated into the XM25 (the “X” in XM25 designates a system that is still in development). Since then the similar South Korean K11 and Chinese ZH05 have appeared. The XM25 is the only one of three to have been tested extensively in combat but because of a misfire during a demonstration, budget cuts and some troops finding there were not really that many situations calling for the XM25, the system was thought to be cancelled (development funding was eliminated) in 2013. But the army managed to keep the project on life support. That was mainly because a lot of troops who got to use it in combat liked it a lot and even gave it a nickname; “punisher.”

The initial spectacular success and popularity of the XM25 grenade launchers in Afghanistan led the army to request that the weapon enter regular service as the M25 in 2014. But Congress, looking for ways to reduce military spending in 2013 cut all money for the M25. The army never gave up and managed to scrounge enough cash to build 1,100 of them. Currently the XM25 cost $35,000 each with the 25mm ammo going for $55 per round. Initially SOCOM (Special Operations Command) had some XM25s and some enthusiastic users but in 2013, with few American troops in combat there is not a lot of demand for a weapon like this. The resumption of counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan changed that led to more support for reviving the project.

When the first evaluation models of the XM25 arrived in Afghanistan in 2011 the weapon soon became much sought after by infantry troops. There were never more than a few dozen XM25s in Afghanistan and limited supplies of ammunition. Despite that the weapon quickly developed a formidable reputation. The Special Forces had priority on the weapon because it is very useful for special operations missions. The army planned to buy enough so that they could issue one per infantry squad. There are 27 squads in an infantry battalion.

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