Published on 18 Mar 2015
Howitzer’s new system allows troops to shoot and move faster.
Episode – 549
March 25, 2015
February 27, 2015
Russian military exercises tend to dwarf those of their neighbours, especially in the number of troops involved (and the kind of troops). Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis report on the phenomenon:
Exercises are used by defense establishments to test their readiness, deployability, and logistical and combat proficiency. They can be used as demonstrations of force to underscore determination to defend national territory/interests and those of allies and partners. They can also be used to intimidate and to camouflage offensive operations. Regarding the latter, in February 2014 Russia mobilized 150,000 troops under the guise of an anti-terror simulation. Many of the units in this exercise were deployed along Ukraine’s border just as Russia invaded Crimea and then later eastern Ukraine.
While military exercises are not the sole indicator of military readiness and capability, they do reflect seriousness of intent. In this case, a comparison of exercises by NATO and those of Russia reveals a troubling disparity in magnitude. In short, there is a NATO-Russia “exercise gap” that is all the more glaring when one would think it would be easier for a group of nations to orchestrate larger exercises than those conducted by a single nation.
The following chart indicates that since 2013, Russia has conducted at least six military exercises involving 65,000 to 160,000 or more personnel. In contrast, during the same period, NATO’s most significant exercises included STEADFAST JAZZ, a collective defense exercise conducted in Poland and Latvia in November of 2013 involving 6,000 personnel (of which half were headquarters staff) and NOBLE LEDGER, a test of the NATO Response Force (NRF) that brought 6,500 troops to the field. Individual NATO allies have hosted larger multinational exercises in the North Atlantic Area. These include Norway’s COLD RESPONSE involving some 16,000 troops, the United States’ BOLD ALLIGATOR involving 15,000 personnel and Poland’s October 2014 ANAKONDA with 13,250 personnel.
February 25, 2015
A report from the Lithuania Tribune details a change in Lithuanian defence policy:
The State Defence Council, comprising of the Lithuanian president, prime minister, parliament speaker, defence minister and army chief, decided on Tuesday to reintroduce military conscription in Lithuania.
The conscription, which was suspended several years ago as Lithuania opted for the professional army, should be reintroduced in light of the changes in geopolitical situation, President Dalia Grybauskaitė said after the meeting.
“We must reinforce the country’s defence capacities. Under new geopolitical circumstances, the army must be properly prepared for the country’s armed defence even in times of peace. Today’s geopolitical situation requires that we strengthen and speed up the manning of our army. Therefore the State Defence Council has decided that it is necessary to temporarily, for five years, reintroduce compulsory military draft,” President Grybauskaitė said.
Under the proposal, compulsory military service would apply to men between the ages of 19 and 26. The plan is to draft between 3,000 and 3,500 men each year. Exemptions would apply to university students, single fathers, men with health issues or otherwise unsuitable for military service.
In Newsweek, Damien Sharkov reports on the high tempo of Russian “training” missions near the Baltic states:
Increasingly frequent snap military drills being carried out by Russia near its eastern European neighbours could be part of a strategy that will open the door for a Russian offensive on the Baltic states according to defence expert Martin Hurt, deputy director at Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security.
The Lithuanian and Estonian defence ministries have expressed alarm at the increased military activity, and drawn comparisons with moves prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea.
Commenting on Russia’s announcement last week that its armed forces will not cease holding snap military exercises, Hurt, who has previously worked for Estonia’s Ministry of Defence as well as for the armed forces of both Estonia and Sweden, warned against taking this news lightly.
“My take would be that the Russian authorities want to raise the readiness of their forces and also make European nations more relaxed to a new norm where the Russian Armed Force often conduct snap exercises,” Hurt says.
According to him, a relaxed European attitude about increased Russian military activity would be “extremely dangerous” for the democratic governments of Europe and particularly for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“A realistic scenario against the Baltics would be a ‘normal’ Russian snap exercise that without notice turns into a quick assault on one or several of the Baltic states’ capitals. Such an attack would have greater probability of success than the hybrid scenario we saw in Crimea,” Hurt adds.
“A decisive move by Putin assuming that the weak leaders of Europe will not react quickly and ‘avoid escalation’ is a possible scenario,” Hurt adds, highlighting that “the higher readiness NATO forces have, the better it is for the democratic part of Europe.”
February 13, 2015
Think Defence looks at the 2015 iteration of the British defence review process:
There is a pre defence review ritual that everyone with an interest indulges in. It starts with a few gentle discussions on Great Britain’s ‘place in the world’, the scale of our global ambition and obligations as a G8 regional power with a seat with our name on at the UN.
After a suitable period has elapsed the discussion then veers into areas of risk and threat but even during this phase the mood is still good natured.
Phase 3 gets heated because it is the first stage at which money is usually involved and therefore consideration of how the diminishing cake is sliced up between the services.
It is during this phase that negotiations and backroom deals kick in and the inevitable ‘test the water’ leaking to sympathetic journalists.
The final phase happens when it is all over and then as the implications of actual decisions made become clearer the bitterness sets in which can last for decades (see moving Australia and CVA01 for a good example).
If you start with the money and define a fixed budget you still get into the same argument and all that happens then is people tend to shape the first phases so that, oh look, my answer was right all along.
Start with risks and threats and the answers will always have to be tempered by the time it comes back around to budgets. Each review is rapidly made redundant by ‘events dear boy’ and the cycle starts again.
There are no easy answers and to think so is rather foolish, if there was an easy method, everyone would be doing it.
The ‘punching above our weight’ theme needs to be ruthlessly struck from the vocabulary because not only does it lead to illogical equipment decisions and hollowed out forces it fundamentally results in the talk loud small stick foreign policy that we seem unable to wean ourselves off.
You can only get away with this for so long until others start to realise you are bluffing and I believe this is where we are now, even our allies are starting to realise that our big talk isn’t backed up, despite having the worlds most advanced x or y, they are of little practical value if you only have a handful. Fur coat and no knickers could be an apt description of much of the UK’s defence capabilities, as painful as it may be for us all to recognise, and so I think there is a fundamental need to reassess ‘our place’.
February 12, 2015
Strategy Page explains why Canadian military instructors in Kurdistan sometimes need to use their weapons even if they may not technically be “in combat”:
Canada has sent 625 troops (11 percent of them commandos) to train Iraqis (mainly Kurds) to more effectively fight ISIL. Canadian legislators (not to mention the media and many Canadians) insisted that these troops not be directly involved in combat. Then it became known that Canadian troops had, in the last three months, called in at least 13 air strikes on ISIL and in several instances Canadian commandos used sniper rifles to “neutralize” ISIL mortars and machine-guns. The military responded that this was not exactly involving Canadian troops in combat. Calling in air strikes is something you want to entrust to people with experience especially since Canada also has six F-18 fighter bombers operating over Iraq. Training Kurds to call in air strikes involves showing them how it is done. This is best done at the front line, and demonstrations by the more experienced Canadians is a very useful training technique.
The commandos firing on ISIL fighters was because some commandos were assigned as security for senior Kurdish commanders and Canadian advisors visiting the front lines. When the Canadians and Kurds came under fire the commandos quickly located and “neutralized” (killed or caused to flee) the ISIL men involved. Most of the critics accepted these explanations, which basically said that if you are going to train and advise combat commanders you have to spend some time near where the fighting it taking place. This is not only more realistic, but gives your trainers more credibility of your students can see their instructors in action.
February 5, 2015
At Looserounds, a bit of an exercise in stripping away the myths and legends about the M-14:
Go on to any gun forum, and it won’t take you long to find people willing to tell you how great the M14 is. How accurate,like a laser, tough as tool steel with no need to baby it or clean it. Powerful as a bolt of lightening, and how well loved it was by those early users who refused the M16 because they wanted a “real” weapon made of wood and steel … But, is all that really true? Maybe it is a triumph of nostalgia over common sense and reality. One truth is, it was never really liked as much as people think they remember.
To quote Lt Colonel Chandler owner of Iron Brigade Armory and former Officer in Charge of many USMC marksmanship and sniping programs.
“Remember that the US Army struggled for more than twenty years to transform the M14 into a sniper type weapon. The Army finally abandoned all attempts to salvage the M14 rifle. Continued use of the M14 as anything other than a drill rifle is better described as DISASTER. ( emphasis Chandler’s). The M14 is old, and has never been more than a modified M1 Garand.”
“Unfortunately the M14 rifle is costly to modify and modification requires many man hours of skilled labor. In the field the m14 cannot maintain accuracy. The Army refused to admit that they could not solve the M14’s accuracy problems and wasted two decades attempting to make a silk purse from an old infantry rifle. Milspec spare parts are no longer made and those that can be found are often inferior, and ill fitting.”
“The M14 requires constant ( continual ) maintenance. Maintenance on an M14 progress geometrically. That means if you double an M14 rifle’s use, you quadruple its maintenance.”
“The world has moved beyond the M14. The weapon remains a standard piece only because it is used ( though less and less) in service rifle competition marksmanship, which is very different from field use. If anyone recommends it, run them through.”
“It is ironic that some of the USMC rifle competitors whose accurized M14s have been consistently waxed by the Army’s M16 s are supporting the use of the M14 as accurate rifles.”
“As we discuss the costs of bringing scoped M14s onto line in large quantities, allow me another digression. The M14 is a bitch to keep in tune, and a untuned M14, no matter who did the accurizing is about as accurate as a thrown rock . Unless the M14 is continually babied it will not retain accuracy. ( this is an important note from LT Col Chandler for those who fire 100 rounds a year and tell you the M14/M1A is wonderful). Imagine the hardships and brutalities a scoped M14 will experience as a DM weapon in combat. ( one recalls the story of Carlos Hathcock walking back the shoot house and starting to pass out, another Marine grabbed the accurized M14 and let The Ultimate Sniper fall face first into the asphalt. Letting a weakened man fall to keep the pathetic NM M14 accurate). No M14 ever built will stay accurately zeroed and tight group shooting , (meaning close to MOA) under field conditions.”
Chandler goes on to point out the requirements in specially qualified armorers who know how and can keep a M14 accurate and how even in the early 2000s those men are almost extinct in the USMC accuracy and Sniping world.
I can honestly say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. As the Canadian Army standardized on the FN C1A1 well before my militia days began, it was the only assault rifle I had extensive experience with … and I loved it. If the government hadn’t pre-emptively added the FN to the restricted weapons list, I’d certainly have bought one when they were being retired from active service. I’ve fired an M-14 once, and I’ve fired an M-16 once, but that’s nowhere near enough exposure to make any kind of judgement about either weapon (and they’d really have to impress the hell out of me to displace the FN in my estimation anyway).
February 4, 2015
POSSIBLY there has been a greater shambles in the history of warfare than our withdrawal from Kabul; probably there has not. Even now, after a lifetime of consideration, I am at a loss for words to describe the superhuman stupidity, the truly monumental incompetence, the bland blindness to reason of Elphy Bey and his advisers. If you had taken the greatest military geniuses of the ages, placed them in command of our army, and asked them to ruin it utterly as speedily as possible, they could not — I mean it seriously — have done it as surely and swiftly as he did. And he believed he was doing his duty. The meanest sweeper in our train would have been a fitter commander.
Shelton was not told that we would march on the morning of the 6th January, until evening on the 5th. He laboured like a madman through the night, loading up the huge baggage train, assembling the troops within the cantonment in their order of march, and issuing orders for the conduct and disposal of the entire force. It is a few words on paper: as I remember it, there was a black night of drifting snow, with storm lanterns flickering, troops tramping unseen in the dark, a constant babble of voices, the neighing and whining of the great herd of baggage animals, the rumble of wagons, messengers dashing to and fro, great heaps of luggage piled high outside the houses, harassed officers demanding to know where such-and-such a regiment was stationed, and where so-and-so had gone, bugle calls ringing in the night wind, feet stamping, children crying, and on the lighted verandah of his office, Shelton, red-faced and dragging at his collar, with his staff scurrying about him while he tried to bring some order out of the inferno.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
January 31, 2015
Earlier this month, I linked to an article about the low reputation enjoyed by India’s first domestically designed and manufactured assault rifle. According to Strategy Page, there’s a potential change of heart by the Indian military on the INSAS rifle:
In response to the growing combat losses because of flaws in the locally made INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56mm assault rifle, the Indian government seems likely to capitulate and allow the military to get a rifle that works. Unfortunately for nationalist politicians, this will probably be a foreign rifle, and the leading candidate is Israeli.
This all began in the 1980s when there was growing clamor for India to design and build its own weapons. This included something as basic as the standard infantry rifle. At that time soldiers and paramilitary-police units were equipped with a mixture of old British Lee-Enfield bolt action (but still quite effective) rifles and newer Belgian FALs (sort of a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield) plus a growing number of Russian AK-47s. The rugged and reliable Russian assault rifle was most popular with its users.
In the late 1980s India began developing a family of 5.56mm infantry weapons (rifle, light machine-gun and carbine). Called the INSAS, the state owned factories were unable to produce the quantities required (and agreed to). Worse, the rifles proved fragile and unreliable. The design was poorly thought out and it is believed corruption played a part because the INSAS had more parts than it needed and cost over twice as much to produce as the AK-47.
The original plan was to equip all troops with INSAS weapons by 1998. Never happened, although troops began to receive the rifle in 1998. By 2000 half the required weapons ordered were still not manufactured. Moreover in 1999 the INSAS weapons got their first real combat workout in the Kargil campaign against Pakistan. While not a complete failure, the nasty weather that characterized that battle zone high in the frigid mountains saw many failures as metal parts sometimes cracked from the extreme cold. Troops complained that they were at a disadvantage because their Pakistani foes could fire on full automatic with their AK-47s while the INSAS rifles had only three bullet burst mode (which, fortunately, sometimes failed and fired more than three bullets for each trigger pull.) What was most irksome about this was that the INSAS rifles were the same weight, size and shape as the AK-47 but cost about $300 each, while AK-47s could be had for less than half that. The INSAS looked like the AK-47 because its design was based on that weapon.
Update: Added the link to Strategy Page.
January 24, 2015
But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.
No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.
Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.
Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
January 22, 2015
A lot has been said about the purchase of commissions — how the rich and incompetent can buy ahead of better men, how the poor and efficient are passed over — and most of it, in my experience, is rubbish. Even with purchase abolished, the rich rise faster in the Service than the poor, and they’re both inefficient anyway, as a rule. I’ve seen ten men’s share of service, through no fault of my own, and can say that most officers are bad, and the higher you go, the worse they get, myself included. We were supposed to be rotten with incompetence in the Crimea, for example, when purchase was at its height, but the bloody mess they made in South Africa recently seems to have been just as bad — and they didn’t buy their commissions.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
January 18, 2015
Indian troops suffer a particularly bad experiment in local sourcing of equipment:
In 1999, the Indian Army fought a three-month-long undeclared war with Pakistan. It was also the combat debut of India’s new INSAS battle rifle.
The INSAS is a very bad rifle.
During the conflict — waged over the disputed and mountainous Kargil district in the province of Kashmir — the Indian troops’ rifles jammed up, and their cheap, 20-round plastic magazines cracked in the cold weather.
Designed to shoot in semi-automatic and three-round burst modes, some soldiers would pull the trigger, and the gun would unexpectedly spray rounds like a fully automatic.
Soldiers also preferred the heavier 7.62-millimeter rounds in the FAL rifle, which the INSAS and its 5.56-millimeter rounds replaced.
Then in 2005, Maoist rebels attacked a Nepalese army base. The Nepalese troops had INSAS rifles bought from India. During the 10-hour-long battle, the rifles overheated and stopped working. The Maoists overran the base and killed 43 soldiers.
“Maybe the weapons we were using were not designed for a long fight,” Nepalese army Brig. Gen. Deepak Gurung said after the battle. “They malfunctioned.”
January 15, 2015
Tam indulges in a bit of reminiscing from before it had a fancified name like “stolen valour”:
Once upon a time I worked in a gun store whose owner had invented a rather colorful Vietnam-era military past for himself. It’s called “stolen valor” now, but back then it was still just plain bullsh!t. One of his favorite topics on which to hold forth was how awful the M-16 was, and how, when his unit had switched to the new rifle from the old M-14, he threatened to kill his sergeant and so he was allowed to keep his M-14. I managed to refrain from pointing out that when the Army switched from the 14 to the 16, he was too young to lift either one and, as a consequence, was barely old enough to have been drafted to help pack boxes for the inactivation of Tan Son Nhut.
Every time an AR-15 came in the shop, we’d get an earful about how he wanted to kill Eugene Stoner (who was three years in the grave already) and about all the times his unit had been ambushed and wiped out almost to a man and he had to (and I quote, here) “turn over the bodies of his boys and each and every one of them had a broken-open M-16 with a cleaning rod jammed down the barrel!” The travails of the XM16E1 as reported to the Ichord Subcommittee have taken deep root in American gun nut culture indeed when even semiliterate Bubbas can repeat them as though they were first-person happenings.
December 17, 2014
Now, no one in my life that I could remember had ever been so damned civil to me, except toad-eaters like Speedicut who didn’t count. I found myself liking his lordship, and did not realize that I was seeing him at his best. In this mood, he was a charming man enough, and looked well. He was taller than I, straight as a lance, and very slender, even to his hands. Although he was barely forty, he was already bald, with a bush of hair above either ear and magnificent whiskers. His nose was beaky and his eyes blue and prominent and unwinking — they looked out on the world with that serenity which marks the nobleman whose uttermost ancestor was born a nobleman, too. It is I the look that your parvenu would give half his fortune for, that unrufflable gaze of the spoiled child of fortune who knows with unshakeable certainty that he is right and that the world is exactly ordered for his satisfaction and pleasure. It is the look that makes underlings writhe and causes revolutions. I saw it then, and it remained changeless as long as I knew him, even through the roll-call beneath Causeway Heights when the grim silence as the names were shouted testified to the loss of five hundred of his command. ‘It was no fault of mine,’ he said then, and he didn’t just believe it; he knew it.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
December 9, 2014
During the first World war use of the four-letter word, as it is now called, became universal, or more probably its universal use was first observed by the literate classes. Between the wars the word was presented by writers in a modified form — mucking or flicking — or with its initial only: f—ing. Its use in full — fuck — now seems to be approaching literary, though not conversational, respectability.
A.J.P. Taylor, A History of England: England 1914-1945, 1961.
December 7, 2014
In Popular Mechanics, Erik Schechter talks about the most recent DARPA work on power-assisted suits for soldiers in the field:
The Army doesn’t have an Iron Man suit. Yet. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Warrior Web program is a step closer to developing a soft, low-powered exosuit that will augment the physical capabilities of soldiers. Worn under the uniform, the proposed suit will allow troops to carry 100-plus pounds of equipment without risking the joint and back injuries that typically accumulate in the field.
The Warrior Web program, which is also supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), just wrapped up its first phase in which it tested exosuit components in the lab and the outdoors, says Mike LaFiandra, Dismounted Warrior Branch chief at ARL’s Human Research Engineering Directorate. In their next step, engineers will test how various pieces developed by different program participants perform when integrated into one suit. Basically, DARPA is “looking for performers to pair up and say, ‘We’re going to pair up this ankle with this knee’ and come up with a system that they bring here to evaluate,” LaFiandra says. That will take 18 to 24 months.
That first phase involved nine prototypes. By Phase II, the program was down to six, including entries from the Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, Ekso Bionics (now a subsidiary of Google), and Arizona State University’s Human Machine Integration Laboratory.