Quotulatiousness

July 28, 2015

Like a bad monster movie cliché, the INSAS rifle rises again

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

India spent a lot of time and money to develop an arms industry that could supply the Indian army with Indian-made weapons. One of these weapons is the INSAS rifle. Unfortunately. Strategy Page reports on the resurrection of the INSAS despite its many failings in combat conditions:

INSAS rifle (via Wikipedia)

INSAS rifle (via Wikipedia)

In early 2015 India seemed to be finally responding to complaints from soldiers and other security personnel fed up with the poor performance of the locally made INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56mm assault rifle. The government recently reneged on that promise and announced that the despised INSAS would be replaced, in two years, by the MIR (Modified INSAS Rifle). On paper there are some improvements, like full auto-fire (INSAS can only do single shot or three round bursts), folding butt stock, Picatinny rail (for all manner of accessories), more reliable and effective magazines and more ergonomic design (making MIR easier to handle, clean and use). The government also revealed that recent firing tests have shown only two jams after 24,000 rounds fired by MIRs. There will also be a MIR 2 that is chambered to fire the AK-47 (7.62×39) round. Despite all that, to the current unhappy INSAS users the promise of the MIR comes as a huge disappointment. The government weapons design capability has a long and consistent history of failure and disappointing promises. Few INSAS users believe MIR will be much of an improvement over INSAS and will serve more as another source of cash for corrupt officials. While buying foreign weapons uses a lot of valuable foreign exchange it is more closely monitored and has proven to be less corrupt. In 2010 the government had agreed to allow the military to get a rifle that works and that meant a foreign rifle. The leading candidate was Israeli. But now that competition has been cancelled and many troops believe it is all about corruption, not getting the best weapons for the military.

This sad situation 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, easy to use 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 was 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.

July 27, 2015

The rapid evolution of the US army helmet

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

Strategy Page charts the increasing pace of change to the US army’s combat headgear:

Since 2000 combat helmet design has made enormous advances. The new helmets have increased protection (often against rifle bullets as employed by snipers) while becoming more comfortable to wear, more accommodating of accessories (especially personal radios and night vision gear) without becoming heavier. Combat helmets were long considered low-tech but that has changed since the 1980s. Creation of new materials plus advances in the design and construction of helmets have been accelerating, especially in the last decade. For example, the American ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet), as popular as it was after appearing in the 1990s, soon underwent tweaks to make it more stable. That was required because more troops were being equipped with a flip down (over one eye) transparent computer screen. The device is close to the eye, so it looks like a laptop computer display to the soldier and can display maps, orders, troop locations, or whatever. If the helmet jumps around too much it’s difficult for the solider to make out what’s on the display. This can be dangerous in combat.

The first modern combat helmets appeared during World War I (1914-18), with the U.S. adopting the flat, British design steel model and using it for 25 years. This was replaced by the M1 helmet in the early 1940s. This was the “steel pot” and liner system that lasted over four decades. The PASGT (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) replaced the M1 in the early 1980s and lasted twenty years. The ACH replaced PASGT by 2007 but by 2012 the ECH (Enhanced Combat Helmet) began appearing as a replacement. ECH, like ACH is built to take lots of accessories and is the version bought by police and emergency service organizations.

It was only in 2005 that the ACH began entering service. The Kevlar PASGT design was a third generation combat helmet, nicknamed the “Fritz” after its resemblance to the German helmets used in both World Wars. That German World War I design, which was based on an analysis of where troops were being hit by fragments and bullets in combat, was the most successful combat helmet in both world wars. This basic design was finally adopted by most other nations after the American PASGT helmet appeared in the 1980s. Most of the second generation helmets, which appeared largely during World War II, were similar to the old American M1 design. The fourth generation helmets, currently in service, use better synthetic materials and more comfortable design.

July 25, 2015

Gurkhas in the SAS

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

Strategy Page on the (long overdue) inclusion of Gurkha troops in the British army’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) units:

It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.

There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.

When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century.

July 23, 2015

Why US military installations are gun-free

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

L. Neil Smith grew up on and around US Air Force bases, and explains at least some of the reason for the government requiring military installations to be gun-free:

One reason, of course, for military gun-free killing zones is the dire need the military experienced during the 1960s for conscriptees — for which read military slaves. Almost any scum were gratefully-accepted. Judges regularly sentenced car thieves and other such criminals with “go to jail or join the Army”. Would you really like to issue guns to society’s dregs like that? My dad, who ran Vehicle Maintenance Departments in Newfoundland and in Florida, was always having to get his younger men out of jail on various charges. Sometimes, in Florida, it was simply because the Sheriff’s deputies were moronic redneck thugs and many of Dad’s men were black. The uniform made them “uppity.” Sometimes it resembled the Jerry Springer show, one of his Airmen got his wife and mother-in-law pregnant simultaneously. And they say incest is a game the whole family can enjoy.

As a teenager, I was taught to throw a knife and an axe to good effect by a youngish Lieutenant Colonel in the First Air Commando Group who’d remarkably earned his Master’s degree in Anthropology by making and learning to use primitive weapons. He spent his spare time in Vietnam teaching airplane mechanics on the maintenance line to throw a two-foot screwdriver like a knife whenever the Viet Cong came marauding around. But when your enemy is armed with an AK-47 and half a dozen hand grenades, a screwdriver must seem like a pretty frail reed. If possible, it’s even worse than bringing a knife to a gun fight.

So, am I saying that Air Police and Military Police (and Shore Patrols) should be fully armed at all times? Not at all. I’m saying that all military personnel should be armed at all times. A soldier is a guy (or a gal) with a gun. You can’t have it two ways. An unarmed soldier is a joke — and potentially a corpse. Officers should wear their sidearms publicly and proudly; a democratic republic should issue equally-effective sidearms to all of its enlisted personnel as well.

Pentagon officials and other military bigwigs who oppose this principle, which would put an immediate stop to base-shootings like the one in Chattanooga that happened today are criminally negligent. A very big part of the problem is corruption or stupidity in high places. Shamefully, the U.S.government treats its soldiers very badly and without respect. The lower ranks are forced to go on welfare to feed their families, and seek food stamps. The sleazy, sloppy treatment they receive in Veterans’ Administration hospitals closely resembles being sentenced to a Third World prison. Incompetent, uncaring doctors don’t listen and have to be argued into doing what is required of them.

Years ago, I prescribed, in an article for Reason/Frontlines that the raw numbers of American military personnel be reduced, that it should become very difficult to join the military, and that military personnel receive a tenfold raise in wages. Now I say, arm them, as well, and allow them to defend themselves as they defend our country.

The alternative is more death.

July 18, 2015

Want to bone up on India’s armed forces?

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

If so, you’ll want to read all of Shashank Joshi‘s recommendations (full disclosure … I haven’t actually read any of the linked sites myself):

Peter Mattis’ explanation of what one should read to be an expert on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made me wonder: What might a similar list look like for India-watchers? Western interest in India’s armed forces is considerably slighter, largely because India looms far smaller in U.S. strategic thinking and is viewed as a potential partner rather than probable military adversary. But there’s a large and growing volume of writing on Indian military affairs, almost all of it in English, with cutting-edge books or articles appearing every month. So where should one begin?

Each service has its own doctrine and/or strategy — most recently the army in 2004, the navy in 2009 (remarkably, it is not available online), and the air force in 2012 (the official link is — perhaps aptly — perpetually broken, but you can get it here) — but these are of limited use, not least because they’re not written in close coordination with other services or with a coherent national military strategy in mind. So most analyses depend on secondary texts, occasional statements by serving officers, and writing by retirees.

June 24, 2015

Ceremonial Guard 2015 Season

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Jun 2015

The Ceremonial Guard is one of Canada’s most recognizable military units. For over 50 years, the Changing of the Guard has been a top Ottawa attraction, having thrilled thousands of visitors on Parliament Hill, at Rideau Hall and at the National War Memorial. The Changing the Guard Ceremony will take place daily at 10 a.m. on Parliament Hill from June 28 to August 22, 2015.

June 19, 2015

Camouflage – the changing of the spots

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

At Strategy Page, a quick look at the US Army’s latest change in camouflage clothing and equipment:

The U.S. Army has begun issuing its new combat uniforms featuring a new and improved camouflage pattern. This is yet another effort to deal with troop complaints about the shortcomings of earlier camouflage patterns. Back in 2012 the army has decided to scrap its current digital pattern camouflage combat uniforms and replace them with the more effective (according to the troops), but more expensive, MultiCam. Actually, MultiCam itself was not used but a pattern selected for the new uniforms, but one based on MultiCam. This variant is called Scorpion W2 and the army gave it another, official, name; Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). So if you hear someone talking about the new uniform being Scorpion W2 or MultiCam they are not entirely wrong. But the final, official term is OCP.

Since 2001 both the army and marines adopted new, digital camouflage pattern field uniforms. But in Afghanistan U.S. soldiers noted that the marine digital uniforms (called MARPAT, for Marine Pattern) were superior to the army UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern). Both UCP and MARPAT were introduced at the same time (2002). From the beginning there was growing dissatisfaction with UCP, and it became a major issue because all the infantry have access to the Internet, where the constant clamor for something better than UCP eventually forced the army to do something.

This is ironic because UCP itself was another variant of MARPAT but a poor one, at least according to soldiers in UCP who encountered marines wearing MARPAT. Even more ironic is that MARPAT is based on research originally done by the army. Thus some of the resistance to copying MARPAT is admitting the marines took the same research on digital camouflage and produced a superior pattern for combat uniforms.

June 3, 2015

China’s PLA conducts military exercise on Burmese border

Filed under: Asia,China,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page posted this informative article the other day:

China announced that it will hold military exercises tomorrow along the Burmese border, including firing artillery shells into jungle areas next to Burma. These exercises are a response to fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic Chinese (Kokang) rebels within a few hundred meters of the Chinese border. This has frequently led to bullets and shells landing in China. Since this fighting began in February this stray fire has killed five Chinese civilians and wounded many more. Burma blames some of it on the Kokang rebels firing into China to cause problems between China and Burma. In any event Burma insists that this fighting is finally over and that the Kokang rebels have, for now at least, been defeated.

The fighting against the Kokang in the tribal north (Shan state) apparently has died down since the middle of May. As usual the rebels lost because the army had more, and bigger, guns (artillery) and aircraft. The rebels were gradually pushed back and the soldiers took over twenty rebel camps or fighting positions (like fortified hilltops overlooking key roads). The action was spread out and gradual. Since February the rebels lost over 500 dead while the army lost over 140 soldiers in about 300 separate violent encounters (ambushes, artillery or air attacks or battles for small bits of territory). Some of the army forces were pro-government tribal militias who suffered fewer losses than the army. Nearly 100,000 tribal civilians fled (most into China) the fighting and for the last few weeks more of these refugees have been returning home. Some of the refugees are fleeing rebels who are more aggressively recruiting new fighters. In some cases the tribal militia recruiters are “conscripting” (kidnapping) young men and when word of that gets around many potential victims flee, often with their young wives and children.

The fighting isn’t over, this is just a pause. A permanent peace deal does not exist yet although negotiations continue on yet another agreement that will finally bring peace to the north. The Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) are accused of starting it all when they ambushed an army patrol on February 9th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. That led to more fighting which then escalated. The rebels claim it was more army abuse (rape and robbery) against tribal people that set off the latest round of violence. All this is actually a resumption of clashes that began in December. By the end of 2014 the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The rebels often ambush army trucks bringing in supplies and reinforcements and are expert at ambushing army patrols. The army responds by attacking villages and driving away the families of the rebel fighters, denying the rebels food, medical care and other support. The rebels have struck back by firing on neighborhoods where the families of local policemen live. In response the government has moved these families further south until the fighting is over.

Re-examining the history of “the Raj”

Filed under: Britain,History,India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Diplomat, Nigel Collett reviews a new book by Ferdinand Mount called The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905:

It was the discovery of a book by his aunt, Ursula Low, published in 1936 and entitled Fifty Years with John Company, which opened Mount’s eyes to his family’s history and led to the writing of The Tears of the Rajas.

His aunt’s book, a work long ignored and derided as an eccentricity by her family, was a biography of her grandfather, General Sir John Low. What staggered Mount about his aunt’s account was her matter-of-fact recording of the massacres, mutinies and mayhem in which her grandfather and many of her relatives had been involved during their colonial careers. For General Sir John Low had, during a career in India that lasted from 1804 to 1858, seen the brutal suppression of the mutiny of his own regiment at Vellore a year after his arrival in India, the “White Mutiny” of European soldiers in the East India Company’s Forces in 1808 (which resulted in the massacre not of the European mutineers but of the Indian soldiers they led) and finally, in 1857, of the Indian Mutiny itself, which erupted at a time when Low was the Military Member of the Governor General’s Council.

More than this, Low, in a largely political career up until the outbreak of the Mutiny, had been intimately involved in policies which led directly to it, including the removal from power of three Indian potentates to whom he was attached as Resident (the Peshwa of Poona, the Raja of Nagpur and the King of Oudh) and the annexation of their lands. He was at one point, in yet another posting as Resident, personally involved in detaching a large chunk of Hyderabad from the lands of the Nizam.

During his service, Low had watched, and other members of his family had been involved in, the British annexations of Sind and the Punjab, the conquest of Gwalior and the disastrous attempt to depose Dost Mohammed, the Shah of Afghanistan, which led to the catastrophe of the 1st Afghan War. Mount’s title is well chosen: Low literally reduced several of his Rajas to tears.

[…]

Perhaps more stomach-turning than this, especially to a British reader, are Mount’s revelations of the dishonest policies followed by almost every Governor General of India towards India’s native princes, policies driven by pure greed, conducted with cold ruthlessness in utter disregard of treaties, promises or any code of honor, and hidden beneath layers of hypocritical cant. Much of this has not been made generally known. Few, for instance, in the Far East, will know that as the First Opium War in China ended in 1842, another began in India, for the British conquest of Gwalior was aimed at the control of the opium it grew independently of the East India Company.

The removal of misgovernment was all too frequently the fraudulent public excuse for the imposition of direct rule and the canard of the protection of the peasantry from their own rulers was little more than a front for taxing them more efficiently. Add to this noxious behavior insulting racial pride, ignorance of culture and tradition, and a religious evangelism that persuaded army officers that it made sense to tell their Hindu and Muslim soldiers that they would go to Hell if the wars into which they were leading them resulted in their unconverted deaths, and there seems little need for further explanation of why it all ended in disaster in 1857.

While I can’t claim to have read deeply in Indian history during this period, I still think the best introduction to the at-best-ambivalent legacy of British rule is the fictional exploits of Sir Harry Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (especially the original Flashman, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, and Flashman in the Great Game). How many other novels have extensive footnotes about all the historical characters and situations the fictional hero encounters? Oh, right … for the younger set: trigger warning in all the Flashman novels for racism, sexism, imperialism, militarism, violence, and pretty much anything that would offend the ears of a young Victorian lady modern university student.

May 27, 2015

Sir Arthur Wellesley, before the fame and fortune

Filed under: Britain,History,India,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Diplomat, Francis P. Sempa looks at the early commands of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) as formative experiences:

Before Waterloo, Wellington had brilliantly commanded armies on the Iberian Peninsula, where they wore down and drained French forces, causing Napoleon to refer to it as “the Spanish ulcer.” But Wellington learned how to command, supply, and lead soldiers to victory not in Europe, where he is most remembered, but in India. Wellington in India, wrote biographer Elizabeth Longford, was “a great commander in embryo.”

Wellington, then Colonel Arthur Wesley (the last name was later changed to Wellesley) of the 33rd regiment, arrived in Calcutta at the age of 28 in February 1797, after a journey of more than three months. His most recent biographer, Rory Muir, described Colonel Wesley as “an unusually ambitious, intelligent and well-read officer who looked far beyond the horizons of his regiment … and who was already comfortable assembling his thoughts into coherent arguments …” In all, he spent eight years in India, where for much of the time his brother was Governor-General. Wellington’s time in India, writes Muir, “were crucial years in which he developed his skills as a commander of men, a tactician, a strategic planner and a civil governor.” It was in India that the future victor of Waterloo and future prime minister of Great Britain first dealt with questions of war and peace and civil government.

On March 26, 1799, troops under Wellington’s command came under attack by forces of Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. As the French-trained enemy forces approached, wrote Elizabeth Longford, Wellington’s men held their fire “with the utmost steadiness until the enemy were sixty yards away.” British infantry then decimated the columns of enemy attackers, spreading confusion, while cavalry forces scattered the remnants of the attacking force. Then, during April and May 1799, Wellington participated in the siege of Seringapatam in Mysore, and led an attack on the entrenchments of the fortress there. After Seringapatam was taken, Wellington was made civil governor and remained there until 1802.

During his time in Seringapatam, Wellington was ordered to suppress a rebellion in north Mysore led by Dhoondiah Waugh. For the first time, Wellington exercised independent command in battle. During this operation, Rory Muir explains, Wellington “displayed all the characteristics of his subsequent campaigns, …” which included attention to logistics and “unremitting aggression.” He fought a battle at Conaghul and won a complete victory. Muir writes that Wellington exhibited a remarkable flexibility on the field of battle. A British officer commented on Wellington’s “alacrity and determination” during battle.

May 25, 2015

Women in combat roles

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

At War on the Rocks, Anna Simons looks at the ongoing controversy in the United States over allowing women to serve in front-line combat roles:

Earlier this year, I spoke with a roomful of field grade officers about the debate and controversy over women in combat. The officers knew my position. What was next to impossible for me to discern, however, was where most of them are when it comes to this topic — which is the challenge with trying to have an open debate about it. The topic is just too politically charged for opponents to feel they can speak openly or honestly.

Officers who balk at the idea of women serving in ground infantry units or on Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha (ODAs) won’t publicly say so, let alone publicly explain why. They worry about retaliation that could hurt their careers. In contrast, those who have no reservations — usually because they won’t be the ones who have to deal with the fallout from integration at the small unit level — slough off the challenge as just another minor problem or “ankle biter.”

There is more to this dichotomy than just officers’ career concerns, however. As one member of the audience put it, even if special operations forces and Marine Corps brass are prepared to go to Capitol Hill armed with irrefutable logic and unimpeachable facts against integrating women into ground combat units, they will still come across as chauvinists. For any male who opposes full integration, the chauvinist charge is impossible to escape.

I am sure there is something to this; and if I were a male, the chauvinism charge might mortally wound me as well. Maybe knowing in advance that this is how I would be branded would cause me to fight only on grounds of proponents’ choosing. For example, I could use standards and measurable data — as if there is some scientific way to determine what the right ratios and formulae are to prevent anything untoward happening when young men and women are put together in the field for indeterminate lengths of time.

May 22, 2015

The trains of war – the military application of steam power

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

James Simpson on the revolution in military affairs triggered by the development of the steam engine and the railways:

Navvies working on the Grand Crimean Central Railway, 1854. Walker, Charles (1969) Thomas Brassey, Railway Builder (via Wikipedia)

Navvies working on the Grand Crimean Central Railway, 1854. Charles Walker: Thomas Brassey, Railway Builder, 1969. (via Wikipedia)

Trains were cutting-edge weapons of war in the 19th century — and all the major powers were figuring out how to deploy them. The Europeans learned how to move troops by train. The Americans — how to fight on rail cars. The British, meanwhile, found they could dominate an empire from the tracks.

In today’s world of tanks, bombers and submarines, it’s perhaps hard to believe that the train was once an amazingly mobile weapons platform. They might be locked to their rails, but for over a century trains were the fastest means of hauling troops and artillery to front lines across the world.

The invention of the railway shaped warfare for a century. Rails allowed force projection across immense distances — and at speeds which were impossible on foot or by horse.

[…]

The first demonstration of the military efficacy of the railroads was the 1846 Polish Uprising. Prussia rushed 12,000 troops of the Sixth Army Corps, with guns and horses, to the Free City of Krakow to help put down the Polish rebellion. In this period of nationalist uprisings, Russia and Austria also used their railroads against similar uprisings from 1848 to 1850.

A lack of infrastructure and experience stifled the success of these early endeavors. Due to a lack of rolling stock, suitable platforms and double-track stretches, the trains sometimes operated far slower than a man could march on foot.

Austria was first to get it right. In 1851, the Austrian Empire shuttled 145,000 men, nearly 2,000 horses, 48 artillery pieces and 464 vehicles over 187 miles.

May 21, 2015

John Monash – Australia’s greatest general

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

Strategy Page reviews a new biography of Australia’s General John Monash:

The centennial of the First World War has brought forth renewed public interest and additional scholarly study of that still controversial conflict, variously the last 19th century imperial war and the first modern war. When its great generals are enumerated, one named by relatively few outside the Antipodes is Australian Army Corps commander John Monash (1865-1931), this despite Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery’s declaration half a century after the Armistice that Monash was “the best general on the Western Front in Europe,” and historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s even stronger accolade as “the greatest general of World War I by far.” Yet in the three-volume Cambridge History of the First World War, there is not one mention of him.

Monash, it must be said, has not been entirely overlooked. He was knighted in the field by George V (as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath) and subsequently given the title Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and in his homeland his name graces a university (indeed, the publisher of the book under review), a scholarship, a town and even a freeway. Nevertheless, in Maestro John Monash, former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer argues that Sir John has been wronged by history and not given his due. In a breezy hagiography (Fischer vehemently denies that characterization, protesting that his biography is “warts and all,” however, he downplays or dismisses most of the “warts” cited, e.g., other generals also had mistresses, and while he made mistakes at Gallipoli, he learned from them) and advocacy piece, he makes a justifiable case for Monash’s posthumous promotion to field marshal (backdated to 1930). Had he been promptly promoted postwar, rather than in 1929, to general (that is, full or four-star general), Fischer points out logically, he likely would have been promoted by the king one step up in rank to field marshal.

In his account of Monash’s life and military career, Fischer details the many obstacles faced and surmounted by “the most innovative general” of the war. His sobriquet for Monash, “maestro,” comes from Sir John’s comparison of a “perfected modern battle plan” to a “score for an orchestral composition.” Indeed, while some British and French generals were still thinking in terms of cavalry charges, sabers and bayonets, drawing on his engineering background, Monash made concerted use of infantry, artillery, tanks, aircraft and radio in (to quote him) “comprehensive holistic battle plan[s].” His strategy’s success became evident in thwarting Germany’s final westward push and smashing through the Hindenburg Line, in the 93-minute Battle of Hamel and the second Battle of Amiens, which German General Ludendorff later called “the black day of the German Army in the war,” victories achieved while Monash was still a lieutenant general (three stars). “Never has a general who did so much to help win a world war … been so unacknowledged,” affirms Fischer, returning to his theme.

May 20, 2015

Ask what “Red Team” can do for you

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

At Strategy Page, a look at the “Red Team revolution”:

Red Teams came out of wargaming. There, the “Red” team represented the enemy, while the “Blue” team played the good guys. Beginning in the late 1970s the U.S. Army adopted a form of wargaming based on historical models but where commanders are presented with very realistic situations for future battles. This was applying to wargames the old phrase, “train as you fight, and fight as you train.” But in addition to providing more realistic games for training, this style of wargames also made it possible to analyze war plans as never before. In the past, your war plans didn’t really get a workout until you were in combat against a real, live Red Team (the enemy). The new wrinkle was that it was now easier to have your own people provide an effective, if not perfect, Red Team experience because of all those officers with wargame experience.

So now the senior commanders of the U.S. Army have been sending Red Teams around to the major commands, to play devil’s advocate to whatever war plans senior commanders and their staffs have come up with. It’s not new, really. The concept of “devil’s advocate” has been around for a long time. But now the army has institutionalized it and used more powerful techniques (wargaming) to implement it.

This all began back in the 1980s, when realistic wargaming was catching on, especially among the students at the Command and General Staff School (C&GSS) and the Army War College AWC). The younger officers at the C&GSS were particularly enthusiastic, and they came to be known as the “Jedi Knights,” mainly because the analytic skills obtained from playing lots of wargames, gave them a seemingly magical ability to find flaws in war plans. That’s what the Red Teams are all about, Jedi Knights on steroids. Since then the Staff School at Leavenworth has established courses for training Red Team members, some of the courses are 18 weeks long.

And what would the poor Red Team officers do when, as in Japanese wargaming before the Battle of Midway, the Blue force commanders “re-floated” most of the losses, thereby winning the game (but losing the war)? You don’t subordinate the Red Team to the local commander:

The Red Teams all report to the head of the army, which insures that none of the commanders they are working with try to pull rank. The Red Teams give the Chief of Staff of the army regular reports on how effective the many war plans developed in the army combat units are holding up to scrutiny, which is a unique capability in the military world.

May 19, 2015

The Tin Foil Hat Brigade and Jade Helm 15

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

Tom Kratman on the overtly paranoid reactions to the upcoming Jade Helm exercise:

In about two months, exercise Jade Helm 15 is scheduled to kick off. This is a two-month long special operations exercise, spread out across the southwest of the country, from Texas to California. It has the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, Right Wing Regiment1, demonstrating all the calm and relaxed demeanor (I am, of course, kidding), as well as the typical paranoid delusions (not kidding at all), for which it and its members are justifiably famous.2

Never having actually enlisted with the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, my initial reaction to exercise Jade Helm 15 was a resounding, “ho hum,” and my reaction to the TFHB reaction was, “As Christ probably would have said if He’d thought about it, ‘The loons ye shall have with ye always.’”

To be fair to the TFHB, though, whenever the New York Times3 and Washington Post4 agree that something like this is clearly harmless, it’s possibly time to inventory our stocks of ammunition and break out the banana oil to make sure our protective masks are in good working order. In other words, their enthusiastic and unquestioned agreement constitutes a rebuttable presumption that FEMA is about to open concentration camps.

However, rebuttable presumptions are there to be rebutted. This week and next I’m going to limit my rebuttal to the notion that the exercise is inherently suspicious because it is so militarily useless and unnecessary as to be indefensible. To do that we need to get into a little history, a bit of doctrine, and a touch of dogma.

[…]

1 Which in general demeanor much resembles the TFHB, Left Wing Regiment.
2 Just Google it; there are too many examples for me to illustrate without appearing to be playing favorites.
3 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/us/conspiracy-theories-over-jade-helm-get-some-traction-in-texas.html?_r=0
4 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/29/jade-helm-15-a-military-simulation-draws-scrutiny-and-wild-speculation-in-texas/

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