Friday, November 16, 2018

Fullbore Friday

Last week was the story of the HMS JERVIS BAY and her crew during the Battle of Convoy HX84.

When we finished last week, HMS JERVIS BAY was out of the fight and the convoy was scattered - but she did her job.
By the time they realized that the Jervis Bay had been terribly alone, an hour had been lost. The convoy had been given time enough to break up and begin to flee.
...and so the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER, unopposed now, closed in.

However, there was a Canadian ship, the SS BEAVERFORD, armed with one 4 inch & one 3 inch gun who turned towards the SHEER and her six 11 inch, eight 5.9 inch guns and eight 21 inch torpedo tubes. What was the BEAVERFORD?
Beaverford was the first of five Beaver class cargo liners in service with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s fleet. The 10,042 ton twin screw, steam turbine merchant ship had her maiden voyage in 1928 ... designed to carry 10,000 tons of cargo and twelve passengers at 15 knots.
Although a Canadian Pacific ship, the company chose to register her in the UK, as was the practice at the time. She carried a crew of seventy-seven sailors and ably mastered by 60-year-old Captain Hugh Pettigrew from Coatbridge, Glasgow. He had been sailing with CP since 1910. Most of her crew came from the UK, except for two Canadians.
She was one of 18 ships that sailed in HX-1, the first convoy of the war from Halifax to the UK on 16 September 1939; just six days after Canada declared war on Germany. In early 1940, Beaverford had a 4 inch gun installed on her stern and a three inch gun on her bow, for defense against surfaced U-boats.

By the time HX-84 left Halifax on 28 October 1940, Beaverford had already crossed the Atlantic sixteen times in convoy.
JERVIS BAY was lost, and here is where we pick up the story, wonderfully told by Roger Litwiller;
SCHEER then steamed past the sinking JERVIS BAY, now free to engage the merchant ships of the convoy. With only 22 minutes the convoy was still a smorgasbord of targets for the pocket battleships 11 inch guns with a range of over 19 miles; she could pick and choose her targets unimpeded.

In quick succession she sank the freighter Maiden carrying a mixed cargo and military vehicles, all ninety-one sailors killed, then damaged and set on fire the tanker San Demetrio, followed by sinking the freighters Trewellard, carrying steel and 12 aircraft, killing 16 sailors and Kenbane Head, general cargo, with 23 killed.

Captain Pettigrew had heeded the order to disperse, bringing Beaverford to full speed and turning away from the mighty German warship, as he and his crew watched JERVIS BAY engage ADMIRAL SCHEER. Beaverford’s radio operator sent out a continuous update of the action on the ships wireless.

They watched as the ship closest to them, Kenbane Head, suddenly exploded and sink as the massive German rounds found their mark. Pittigrew gave the order to turn Beaverford about and he raced his ship through the smoke towards the mighty ADMIRAL SHEER.

Beaverford’s radio operator sent one last message on the wireless, “It is our turn now. So long. The captain and crew of SS Beaverford.”

Pettigrew ordered the stokers, manning the boilers to make smoke, laying a dense smoke screen to hide the fleeing ships of the convoy.

At 15 knots the Canadian Pacific ship suddenly broke through the smoke close enough for her 4 and 3 inch guns to register a near miss on SCHEER. The pocket battleship checked her fire and concentrated on the new threat, turning her full might on Beaverford.

With the skill of a master mariner and the courage of his crew, Captain Pittigrew battled ADMIRAL SCHEER, playing a deadly game of “cat and mouse” as she ducked in and out of the smoke screen, harassing the enemy warship.

Beaverford’s superior steam turbines allowed the merchant ship to utilize a burst of speed and with Pettigrew’s skill and exceptional seamanship he would wait for SCHEER’s 11 inch guns to fire and then order an increase in speed and change of course, making his ship a difficult target to hit.

Beaverford’s delaying action allowed the Swedish freighter Stureholm to return and pick up the sixty-five survivors from HMS JERVIS BAY.

The battle between Beaverford and ADMIRAL SCHEER continued into the dead of night. The fleeing ships of HX-84 could see the star shells and illumination rockets lighting the night sky, as SCHEER attempted to find her antagonizer. The merchant ship had many opportunities to turn away and escape in the darkness and the smoke, but she continued on with the fight.

Whenever SCHEER would turn towards the direction of the fleeing merchant ships, Beaverford would break through the smoke and darkness and engage the pocket battleship, then disappear again. Beaverford suffered for her actions, SCHEER fired 83 rounds from her 11 inch guns and 71 rounds from her 5.9 inch guns at the Canadian Pacific ship.

The battle had now lasted over five incredible hours, Beaverford was in trouble, and fires were raging in the ship, making her an easier target for the German gunners. She had by now been struck with twelve 11 inch shells and sixteen 5.9 inch shells. We can only imagine the hardship, destruction and carnage faced by her sailors as they attempted to continue the fight.

With her speed slowing as the steam turbines were damaged, SCHEER fired a torpedo. It found its target in Beaverford’s bow at 2245. With a sudden, fierce explosion, Beaverford disappeared in a mass of flames as the ammunition stowed in her bow detonated.

We do not know how many of Beaverford’s brave crew died during the battle or if anyone survived that final devastating moment as their ship erupted into a massive ball of fire. By the time Beaverford was lost, there were no allied ships in the area to search for survivors. All seventy-seven sailors sacrificed their lives so convoy HX-84 could escape.
What can you say of such men? Such leaders? Such Sailors?


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Revenge as a COA: Approved

Nice bit from France24 in an interview with French journalist and writer Matthieu Suc. It it, the author and interviewer discuss the elimination of the Islamic States terror organizing braintrust in Raqqa responsible for the bloody 2015 attacks in Paris and others.

France was not alone in the fight. This hints at the very international nature of the Long War we don't hear enough about.
The US understood that with the September 11, 2001, attacks, where there were engineers among the terrorists. The 2015 attacks made it clear to French intelligence that the enemy was in fact talented operationally.
The shock of the attacks of November 13, 2015, and July 14, 2016, [the Nice truck attack, which killed 86 people] sparked a collective awareness within the services of the need to work together.
The intelligence services of the different Western countries have overcome the culture of mistrust that prevailed before, and everyone has cooperated in the common mission against the IS group. The hunt for the jihadists was conducted both to avenge the November 2015 attacks as well as to get to the roots of the problem. From 2015, the paradigm shifted, the international community understood that the Islamic State could strike anywhere in the world. Even the Russians and the Chinese cooperated. The British have been very good at infiltrating the terrorist group and [Israel's] Mossad have been too.
Note the Russian play. As I am wont to say - stupid actions by the Russians aside and silly petty politics on our end in response - we have more reasons to work with the Russians than against them in many areas. This is one.
The United States is much less modest than France in speaking openly about the targeted killings of IS leaders. No official French news release announced the death of Oussama Atar on November 17, 2017. That would have meant acknowledging that there are assassinations outside the legal framework. Paris prefers to talk about strikes on geographic locations.

For example, on August 30, 2016, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the IS No. 2 and spokesman for the terrorist organisation, was killed by a US missile. The death notice released by the DGSI, the French spy agency, soberly declared that the death of Adnani marked the end of the terrorist who supervised the attacks of Paris and Brussels [in March 2016, which killed 32 civilians].

But Paris has regularly given detailed information to the Americans on the presence of high-ranking IS figures in the Syria-Iraq zone to be tracked and eliminated. Cooperation between France and the United States has been successful, to the point that France did not target the planners of the November 13, 2015, attacks – they were eliminated by American bombs. Washington sees France as its "external border" – if the attacks were not happening in France, it would probably be in the United States.
Mossad believes that with the 2017 elimination of the head of the caliphate’s "CIA", Oussama Atar, the branch within IS responsible for the Europe attacks has been beheaded. But the Islamic State group is not defeated – it has been pushed back geographically. The amniyat may no longer exist – the means of a state apparatus are no longer available to their terrorist projects – but one shouldn't underestimate its heritage.
This is good as it buys time for the West between attacks as IS rebuilds their ability and has to re-capitalize ... but as we have learned the hard way, they will not be deterred. They will find new people. They will attack again.

Yes, I know, we never seem to "finish" the job - but let's be adults here. The American public would not allow us to "finish" the job, much less the international community, so we do what we can when and where we can.

Mowing the grass? Perhaps, but life is better with a well tended lawn than an overgrown mess.

Hat tip Craig Whiteside.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Arab Lessons of the Arab Spring

I wish it were different, but I think this is the only smart take right now, and the one most in-line with American interests.

Until education, secularism, demographics, and culture in the Arab world return to a sustainable path, I don't think the world wants anything to do with a fully democratic Arab world.

Hasan Hasan has a great read over at The Atlantic;
If the autocrats lost control over the masses in 2011, the thinking goes, that was because they did not go far enough in their repression. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak gave some space to the Muslim Brotherhood, political activists, and critical media. Look what happened to him.

As unrest generated by the Arab Spring shifted power away from Arab republics to richer, more stable Gulf monarchies, leaders throughout the region dropped the pretense that they would ever bow, or bend, to the popular will—whether in the direction of more democracy or more extreme religiosity.

Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for example, declared in 2017: “We will not waste 30 years trying to deal with extremist ideas; we will eradicate them here and now.” In defense of moderation, he proposed simply stomping out religious radicals. (In American terms: Shock and awe rather than hearts and minds.) And MbS was probably using the term “extremist” conveniently; the Saudis have since designated as terrorist organizations certain religious groups, such as the International Union of Muslim Scholars, broadly perceived as mainstream.

Generally speaking, authoritarian countries seem more willing than ever before to disregard the desires of the Arab street. It is now an open secret that Gulf states have developed ties with Israel, in the absence of formal relations, including trade partnerships and security deals. Just last week, an Israeli minister toured Abu Dhabi, the national Israeli anthem was reportedly sung in Doha, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to Muscat. Such reports along with continued support for President Trump’s “deal of the century,” despite his administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, have enraged Arab populations.
"Enraged Arab populations." We know what that is, we see what that will do.

Would you rather deal with those gaggles, or these?
Of course there is a constituency for such high-handedness. Elites, secular nationalists, and ordinary people exhausted by or fearful of wars were euphoric following the rise of leaders such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt and MbS. They are now banking on their success, convinced that any compromise will undo the “gains” made so far.
Speaking of Egypt;
In Egypt, the campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and any form of dissent is the fieriest in nearly 50 years. Most Islamists and critics are either languishing in jail or living in exile. ... To Sisi and his supporters, harsh measures are acceptable because they have stabilized the country. Even Muslim Brotherhood leaders acknowledge that the campaign against it has been effective in the sense that it has been devastating, breaking the organization into multiple pieces. Precisely because crackdowns have worked, the regime and its supporters also back their continuation. Now that a final victory against the Muslim Brotherhood is within reach, why let up?
I wonder who helped give the Muslim Brotherhood a boost in Egypt about a decade ago...
A sign that the Obama administration is willing to publicly challenge Egypt's commitment to parliamentary democracy: various Middle Eastern news sources report that the administration insisted that at least 10 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's chief opposition party, be allowed to attend his speech in Cairo on Thursday.
The West should be humble in its efforts in that part of the world. Help those modernizing and secularizing leaders who emerge organically. Starve, ignore, and hobble retrograde leaders who promote externalizing their radicalism. Sometimes those can be the same people, but such is a culture that goes back to the dawn of human existence.

Whatever we do, we need to be quiet about it - and not the major player. Young, short-term players - as we are - do not usually come out on top vs. the old long-term players - as they are.

Young, long-term players - such as the Israelis - they are the exception, but you could argue they are only "young" players in the modern context. One could argue they are the oldest playing the longest long-term game of anyone.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Fullbore Friday

You go to war with what you have or what you can quickly patch together, the end result of the decision of others who will not have to fight, not have to command, not have to die.

There is no time to what-if. There is no time to complain. There is only time to get underway.

Duty. Mission. Training.
If confronted by the enemy, Fegen told his officers when he came aboard, “I shall take you in as close as I possibly can.”
You have what you have, but it is what you do with it that matters.

War is not fair. Your enemy will not wait for you to be ready. Time arrives when it want to.
November 1940.

America is over a year from joining the war. The Blitz is in its 2nd month. Liverpool has been bombed over 200 times already. German U-Boats rule the North Atlantic.

In Halifax, a convoy forms. 37 freighters heading to Britain across a hostile sea. They get one escort.

A converted merchant ship armed with a few late-19th Century manually aimed 6" guns that could fire - with a well trained crew - about 8-rounds per minute with a range of 14,600 yards.

She was the HMS JERVIS BAY, and she had a mission.
In November 1940 the Jervis Bay was the sole escort for Convoy HX84 of thirty-seven freighters moving from Halifax to Britain
An extended quote from the HMS JERVIS BAY website
The position of the convoy was known to the Germans. In his book, Kapitän Theodore Krancke certainly makes no secret of expecting to find convoy HX84. ("That was the convoy all right").

As the Jervis Bay repeatedly signalled the challenge "A", the signals officer of the Scheer was commanded to attempt a bluff.

" ... 'She'll give her recognition signal in a moment,' said Krancke. 'Whatever it turns out to be repeat it at once as though we were calling her.'

Krancke was anxious to leave the enemy in doubt as to his real identity for as long as possible in order to get close up to the convoy before opening fire. At the moment the distance between the Scheer and the British auxiliary cruiser was still about fifteen miles.
That is 30,000 yards.

Who was Krancke? The Skipper of the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER. SHEER was armed with 11" guns with a range of 39,000 yards and a secondary armament of 5.9" guns with a range of 25,000 yards.

The Skipper of the HMS JERVIS BAY, Captain Edward Fegen, VC SGM, Royal Navy, knew this.
The auxiliary cruiser's 'A' was now followed by 'M' - 'A' - 'G' in quick succession. The Signals Officer of the Scheer immediately had the 'M.A.G' signal repeated, but the bluff failed. The Captain of the British auxiliary cruiser was not deceived. In any case, he probably knew quite definitely that no friendly warship could possibly be in that quarter, and now sheafs of red rockets began to hiss up from his decks - clearly the pre-arranged signal for the convoy to scatter. At the same time the auxiliary cruiser and most of the other ships in the convoy began to lay down a smoke screen.

The distance between the two ships was considerably less now and when it was about ten miles the Scheer, which up to then had been racing straight towards the convoy, turned to port to bring her broadside to bear. The guns were trained on their targets now - the big guns had been ordered to concentrate on the British auxiliary cruiser while the medium artillery was to take a tanker not far away from her as its target.

The British auxiliary cruiser, which was ahead of the second line of the convoy, had stopped signalling, and by this time the ships were close enough for the British Captain to have realised what he was faced with, for the outlines of the Scheer were now clearly visible against the evening sky and he could plainly see the guns of her triple turrets trained on him. As unlikely as it might seem, he had encountered a German pocket battleship in mid-Atlantic.
Let's pick up Chuck Lyons story over at WarfareHistoryNetwork;
Made aware of the Rangtiki’s sighting, at about 4:45 Captain Fegen sounded action stations and began accelerating his ship out of her convoy position and toward the Admiral Scheer.

Fegen immediately began firing his 6-inch guns even though he was well out of range of the Scheer. He also ordered smoke canisters deployed to hide the convoy, which made a quick turn away from the German ship and scattered. At a distance of about 10 miles, Captain Krancke swung the Scheer to port, bringing both his triple turrets to bear on the convoy and Jervis Bay. He began firing at the oncoming armed merchantman, the second salvo splashing 50 yards off Jervis Bay’s bow with 150-foot spouts of sea water, soaking the Bay’s forward gun crews.

Sam Patience, a quartermaster aboard Jervis Bay, heard what he later described as a “thunk” and turned to see a member of his gun crew slump to the deck, his head severed from his body. Admiral Scheer’s third salvo hit Jervis Bay’s bridge, knocking out her rangefinder, wireless, and fire-control equipment. Several officers and crewmen were killed by the blast, and Captain Fegen’s left arm was mangled.

As Scheer continued to fire, Jervis Bay was hit repeatedly on her superstructure, and her hull was holed in several places. The port bulkhead of the radio shack was gone and a radio operator and two coders were dead.

The remaining radioman climbed to the remnants of the bridge where he saw Captain Fegen“clutching his arm, blood spilling off his sleeve.”

Fires burned uncontrolled.

Wanting to neutralize the escort ship so he was free to attack the convoy, Scheer’s commander continued to train his big guns on Jervis Bay. Darkness was falling, and he knew he needed to sink Jervis Bay quickly so that he would have time to attack the convoy. Each salvo from the Scheer launched two and a half tons of ordnance at the stricken ship. The forward port side of Jervis caught the brunt of the fire and became a mass of twisted girders, bent and jagged plate, dead and wounded sailors, and flames. A shell somehow loosed Jervis’s anchor, and another knocked the white ensign of the Royal Navy off the top of the main mast. Midshipman Ronald Butler later recalled helping an unnamed seaman climb the mast to nail up a replacement ensign.

Jervis Bay continued steaming at Admiral Scheer and firing her guns until her steering gear was knocked out. The petty officer manning the wheel called into the voice tube that the ship’s steering gear was out of action and heard the captain’s pained voice come back ordering him to “man the aft steering position.”

With his ship aflame and sinking, Captain Fegen continued to maintain the unequal fight and stayed in command despite his shattered arm, consciously buying time for the ships of the convoy to escape.

Up to now, Captain Fegen had stayed on the collapsing bridge, which was under continuous hits from Admiral Scheer’s big guns. Shortly after giving the order to man the aft gear, however, he struggled down the starboard side of the bridge and, aided by a signalman, headed aft, stopping to encourage a gunner along the way and ordering more smoke deployed.

After a blast destroyed the after-control compartment just as he arrived there, the captain headed forward again, with “blood running over the four gold stripes on his sleeve,” Midshipman Butler later said.

Captain Fegen never made it. His body and the body of the signalman who was helping him were later seen on the deck. “[Jervis Bay] did not have a chance, and we all knew it,” said Captain Sven Olander, commander of the Swedish freighter Stureholm, one of the convoy ships. “But she rode like a hero and stayed to the last.”

Meanwhile, exploding cordite bags on Jervis Bay’s poop deck had convinced Captain Krancke that the smaller ship was still firing despite the severe damage she had suffered. He didn’t dare concentrate on the convoy until the threat posed by Jervis Bay was eliminated. Any damage to his ship from a lucky hit could seriously affect her ability to escape any hunt for her launched by the Royal Navy.

Krancke continued focusing his big guns on Jervis Bay, but turned some of his smaller ones against ships in the convoy that were still within his range.

After an hour of the unrelenting German fire and with Captain Fegen dead, Lt. Cmdr. George Roe, now in command, ordered the remaining crew of Jervis Bay to abandon ship. All of Jervis Bay’s life boats had been destroyed but rafts, some of which were damaged, and the ship’s 18-foot “jolly boat” had survived the bombardment and were launched. Most of Jervis Bay’s men simply jumped into the icy, sub-Arctic sea, some making it to the rafts and jolly boat. Others made do with what they could find floating in the water.

Shortly after the order was given to abandon ship, Jervis Bay went down. The white ensign Midshipman Butler had helped raise was the last thing to settle beneath the Atlantic waves.
Of the 254 crewmembers of JERVIS BAY, only 68 survived the battle.

The Skipper of JERVIS BAY, 49-yr old Captain Edward Fegen, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross as a result of this action.
"for valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect. On the 5th of November, 1940, in heavy seas, Captain Fegen, in His Majesty's Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, was escorting thirty-eight Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German warship he at once drew clear of the Convoy, made straight for the Enemy, and brought his ship between the Raider and her prey, so that they might scatter and escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour the Jervis Bay held the German's fire. So she went down: but of the Merchantmen all but four or five were saved."
The Battle of Convoy HX-84 was far from over even after the loss of JERVIS BAY.

For that, you'll have to wait for next Friday's FbF.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Sweden's Diverse Answer to ASW in the Littorals

I like the direction Sweden is going. Keeping solid, basic kill ability while incrementally making newer weapons.

I'm reviewing over at USNIBlog.

Come on by!

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Just Vote

That is all today. If you have not already, vote.

I won't tell you who to vote for, just to vote for those who best reflect your policy views, or is the candidate of the two who is less corrupt or who leans towards individual liberty more than the other.

If you can vote but choose not to, then shut up.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Space Force; America's Bolivian Navy

Frankly, I don't care what you do to your ORG Chart. You can move things around and call them what you want - but what are you actually putting money towards, what will it buy, and what will you plan to do with it?

Bolivia - a landlocked nation - has a navy. That does not mean they are on any navalist's benchmark list.

Sure, it isn't fair to use that scenario as a direct parallel to the US space program - we are by almost all measures the #1 space power - but there are a lot of what-ifs and caveats to that #1. Decades of bi-partisan neglect has set us back from what was once a rock-solid structure.

I think everyone has had a little fun with the "Space Force" chatter over the last few months. It is a deadly serious subject, but as to the question if we need a separate service, I'm not totally sold.

I can argue the "pro" side easier than the "con," but only by a little bit.

Here's why; we have yet to do the very basics right first. Step 1: we should have a sovereign capability to execute the entire depth and breadth of space operations.

NASA has been starved for a long time, but has still done great things. For way too long we have had to rely on the Russians. The private sector is stepping up and we are trying to get better - but the nation that went to the moon and back decades ago is just throwing away a competitive advantage that history will not see in a positive light.

Let's get that right, then we can get back to arguing if Space Force should have Air Force ranks, or be the Space Corp with proper Navy ranks.

BZ to John Mosbey over at MWI, he's saying what needs to be said; Congress needs to put its money where its mouth is.
But one thing is missing: congressional support for launching America’s most precious assets—including national security satellites—exclusively from American launch facilities. The sooner we realize the importance of this element, and insist on it, the more secure and economically viable the American space launch sector becomes.

There are, of course, arguments against such action, typically made on ideological grounds—that such a move would amount to protectionism, something inconsistent with American notions of a free market economy. But remember, even Adam Smith, the father of free-market economic theory, believed exceptions should to his theory were justified: he believed, for instance, that subsidies for gunpowder manufacturers made sense if it ensured a ready domestic supply.

Discussions of whether, how and, when to stand up a Space Force, as well as what budget to provide, how to manage potentially splitting the US Air Force, and whether to put older industry players and ideas on waivers so we can field a more robust “US Aerospace Force,” will continue. And they should.

But below that level, important security options do present themselves to Congress. One is more vigorously supporting entrepreneurial, American space launch companies. Yes, we must always consider the inputs of time-proven sources, such as the Air Force Association, and others, but whatever the score on the Space Force, the time is now to get behind small American companies, and keep space launch on US soil.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Fullbore Friday

I like to bring this back as an encore FbF now in then. I first posted it in 2006, and again in 2010.

I'll adjust the dates and try my best to update dead links to keep it up to date - but the message stays the same.

One of the last. Great history. USS WISCONSIN (BB-64). BTY, shipmates have a great website as well. Just don't like it too much.

Oh, and for some perspective about how far the Battleship came to peak of the Iowa class, here is a nice pic of her next to the uprighted USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37).

As a final commentary - the USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37) was commissioned in 1916. The USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) in 1944. 28 years. Click that link above and come back.

The first
TICONDEROGA class CG was commissioned 35 years ago. The next "ship of the line" to be commissioned will be the Flight IIA ARLEIGH BURKE Class Destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116).

There are a couple of transformationalists that I have friendly exchanges with on-&-offline. Their constant refrain is that we are in a period of radical technological advancement.

That always bothers me - no, we are not. 1898-1918. 1916-1944. 1939-1962. Please. We are not even close to be in a period of quickening.

If we looked as technology as a tool and not an answer, we would save a lot of blood and treasure. Be humble.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Not a plot for a Bond film, just another day in Finland

You have to admit - you wish this kind of stuff was happening in your back yard.
Retired to a tiny island in an archipelago between Finland and Sweden, Leo Gastgivar awoke early one morning to visit the outhouse in his bathrobe, only to notice two black speedboats packed with Finnish commandos in camouflage fatigues waiting in the bay near his front door.

After an exchange of awkward greetings, Mr Gastgivar went inside, collected a pair of binoculars and watched aghast as the commandos raced off towards the island of his nearest neighbour, a mysterious Russian businessman he had never met or even seen.

“I thought: ‘Wow! That is certainly unusual’,” Mr Gastgivar recalled of the encounter. “Nobody ever visits that place.”

The island, Sakkiluoto, belongs to Pavel Melnikov, a 54-year-old Russian from St Petersburg, who has dotted the property with security cameras, motion detectors and no-trespassing signs emblazoned with the picture of a fearsome looking guard in a black balaclava.

The island also has nine piers, a helipad, a swimming pool draped in camouflage netting and enough housing – all of it equipped with satellite dishes – to accommodate a small army.
Who knows ... but still. 

If you want to play around, here's the google link to the island.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

More If a dragon catches a cold, who gets the flu?

Is China's strength more fragile than we think?

Are we estimating the future of China's growth too much on its recent past?

What if our assumptions are wrong?

A little economic pondering over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and ponder with me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Another Round of the AFG RW Argument

Some days it seems like 2007 all over again when a regular discussion topic at CENTCOM was the variety of rotary wing problems in Afghanistan.

There was the short term crisis of the Aviation Bridging Force that summer; would NATO ever do what it promised it would do – or will Uncle Sam have to once again patch together a last minute fix? (of course, NATO failed to fill what they promised in the CJSOR, so we covered it).

Then there was the long term question; what kind of helicopter force would be best for the re-constituted Afghan Air Force?

In a great short outline of the 2018 challenge over at Small Wars Journal, Abdul Rahman Rahmani, Major Afghanistan Airforce and his co-author Jack McCain, LT USN – the authors put the choice in clear terms; keep trying to make Mi-17 happen, or go Blackhawk.
First, the facts on the ground.
By April 2017, despite money and training from the United States, “The AAF had 46 Mi-17s in total, of which 18 were not flyable either due to scheduled overhauls or major repairs,” noted the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan in its recent report. The report stressed that the Mi-17s are "in a state of steady decline due to higher-than-anticipated utilization rates and accelerating attrition."
Why are there so many problems with the Mi-17?
…Mi-17 parts (are) exceedingly expensive (and) also required more time and negotiations to be made with the Russian government, an unreliable broker, at best. The result placed Mi-17s in the “…state of steady decline,” situation. For example, according to SIGAR, “Out of unavailable Mi-17s, six of them are in overhaul, four are in heavy repair, and six have expired.” If this situation remains, by the middle of 2018, AAF would be out of Mi-17 helicopters. Unlike Mi-17s which steadily ‘decline’ this plan will provide overhaul inspections to the American aircraft quicker than the past because the Afghan government had to send the Russian aircraft to countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia for overhaul inspections, while Blackhawks can be inspected inside Afghanistan, by American and Afghan trained maintenance personnel. Also, a less apparent disadvantage, translating Russian publications to English and then to Dari or Pashtu was time and energy intensive, which negatively affected maintenance efforts, and leads to misunderstanding.
Amazingly, the argument for keeping the Mi_17 is exactly the same one made over a decade ago.
AAF pilots and maintainers are already familiar with and used to the Mi-17, and re-training would require significant time and effort, two limited components in this war. This is a case that can be made, albeit a flimsy and shortsighted one
Time has shown that we should have taken another path to US equipment, training, and maintenance.
Here’s the argument;
From the combat and operational perspectives, when comparing the capabilities of Blackhawks and Mi-17s, among several different factors, three key elements should be considered: speed, maneuver, and lethality. First, Blackhawks are faster than Mi-17s … Second, Blackhawks are lighter and smaller than Mi-17s, and therefore, more maneuverable … Taliban were, in fact, scared of American Blackhawks because they were more maneuverable and acted more aggressively when operating against insurgents. While very few Mi-17 helicopters have been designated gunships, out of 159 Blackhawks 60 would be designated gunships which will bring maneuver, firepower, and enable more and aggressive tactics allowing the AAF to destroy the Taliban elements on the battlefield, limiting their operational and tactical space.

From the maintenance perspective, the US would provide the majority of aircraft parts to the AAF faster from Bagram and Kadahar, as opposed to Mi-17 parts which were not only exceedingly expensive but also required more time and negotiations to be made with the Russian government, an unreliable broker, at best. The result placed Mi-17s in the “…state of steady decline,” situation. For example, according to SIGAR, “Out of unavailable Mi-17s, six of them are in overhaul, four are in heavy repair, and six have expired.” … this plan will provide overhaul inspections to the American aircraft quicker than the past because the Afghan government had to send the Russian aircraft to countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia for overhaul inspections, while Blackhawks can be inspected inside Afghanistan, by American and Afghan trained maintenance personnel.
This is the best selling point from Team-Blackhawk;
the AAF needs a plan that will guarantee sustainability of its rotary-wing fleet and; therefore, it cannot rely on an aging Russian aircraft forever. Moreover, Afghanistan needs a new, elite corps of military officers, divorced from legacy Russian equipment and doctrine, to lead its military in the future, because victory in this war depends on the young generation of Afghans. The US and Afghan government can train this new generation inside Afghanistan, at bases like Shindand, Kandahar, and Kabul International Airport, without having to send them to the US and Europe, where many of them flee or seek asylum, which further delays the training cycle and disrupts the military education system. Training pilots and maintainers on Mi-17s did not previously have the flexibility of using Afghan military bases. Also, future training of Blackhawk crews can be conducted easier than Mi-17s, because most American rotary wing pilots, from the U.S. Navy, Army, and Air Force, are familiar with Blackhawks and do not need to be sent to Ukraine or Czech Republic for specific aircraft familiarization training. Unlike the Mi-17 helicopters translated publications, this plan will facilitate availability of original English publications to the pilots and maintainers without having to rely on third-hand translated versions.
It’s almost 2019, BTW. Let’s do this right this time.

PS: fun side-note to this article;

Monday, October 29, 2018

From Berlin, Beijing, to Brasilia – a New Era is Setting Up

Though human nature and geography are generally constants through history, there are pivot points where the needs, wants, and desires of people and the leaders of the nations they inhabit cause a change in the course of history.

We are clearly in one of those pivot points of how our world works.

Whatever the “Post Cold War Period” was, it’s long over. When did it end? Somewhere between the attacks of 2001 and the election of Barak Obama in 2008.

As I’ll outline below, much of what some called a new-era in the recent past were not quite right, they just saw the ending chapters of the age of their lifetime.

Though the press is obsessed with President Trump defining a change we are seeing, that is a classic case of mal-educated Amerocentrism. The shift started before him. He is just a symptom, not a cause. It isn’t even an American phenomenon. If anything we are lagging the global trend.

What period started to come to an end at the start of this century? The end of the post-Cold War as a period by itself? I don't quite buy it. There is a lot of talk of an end to the post-WWII, “Liberal World Order” (LWO). I think that might be right.

The LWO began at the end of WWII. The period after the fall of the Soviet Union that people call as the Post-Cold War Era wasn't really an era. It was either the final or the penultimate chapter of the long running LWO that the Cold War was just a longer chapter of. Even while the Soviet Union was on its death bed we saw the next chapter, AKA Bush41’s “New World Order” (NWO).

One could argue the NWO was the penultimate chapter, and 2001-2008 the final chapter of the LWO.

Hard to say right now, but if forced, I’d put my chips on that argument.

The NWO lasted less than a decade, if that. It was a period of unchallenged American dominance, but that rode on the back of the “The Liberal World Order” built in the post-WWII period.

What I would call the final chapter, somewhere from the attacks of September 2001 and the newly elected President Obama's apology tour and welcoming of a rising China, I'm not sure - but it marked a shift to something new. The pivot is not yet complete - it is a slow turn that took awhile to get here.

The last two chapters of the LWO saw the falling apart of those structures – the EU, ascendency of Western culture, extra-national international legal bodies, American dominance of the high seas - that defined the success of the old age. The vacuum left behind by them, and the fragility of remaining ones like NATO, is feeding change.

This new era is a movement of returns, reckoning, and realization. Strangely, end of the LWO can probably can be traced back to the Muslim world. They were an the early adopter or canary in the coal mine of the structural culmination of the LWO. There you find the first place where the assumptions of the ruling Western elite began to fail.

Just look at the pictures of Cairo and Kabul in the 1960s and 1970s. Western dress, cultural norms, secularism, and political systems (socialist, capitalist, or a mixture of both) dominated. At the end of the 1970s the wave crested first there when you saw decades of progress for women in the public space begin to retreat from Islamabad to Alexandria.

Those were indications that the West had lost its confidence and its appeal. Once that support goes soft, everything it underpins weakens. Much of the weakening started with the anti-Western efforts in our own universities and popular culture. Jesse Jackson’s “Hey, hey, ho, ho; Western Civ has got to go” was just one of a long series of notes to the outside world that things were well along the way to being not quite right.

If you value Western values of tolerance and progress, how do you expect them to grow and expand abroad when you cannot support them at home? In their absence, something will fill the void.

What will it be? I think too much is in flux, too many assumptions false to really know – but whatever it is, it is forming right in front of us. Some aspects and characteristics of our new era are revealing themselves bit by bit.

Here are three items in the mix.

Berlin - Enough Self-loathing:

It is difficult for Americans to understand the German national mindset. From the end of the Franco-Prussian War to the end of WWII, the national record was a horror show for a people who for centuries contributed so much to Western culture, industry, and advancement.

For obvious reasons, the German establishment's political body remains sensitive to a wide variety of triggers, and they over-compensate. Even though they had already festering crime and internal security problems imported mostly from Asia Minor and North Africa over decades, the former East German Merkel took over from the SDP’s Russian toy Schröder, ruled well, and then decided to take Germany somewhere she didn't want to go.

Though her CDU/CSU was right of center for their politics, Merkel was more in line with center-left American Democrat – but with less patriotism to the point of refusing to wave the national flag.

As a by-product of working out her generation's German's national self-loathing, she invited millions of military age economic migrants from mostly Muslim nations who had little desire or history to assimilate – much less have skills needed in the modern German state. She even accepted the eventual forced change of their national character.

Along with the rest of her internationalist peers, she scoffed at the concerns of the German people – or at best was willfully blind to them. It was bad enough that – being that there was no place for their concerns to be addressed to the left – an ever growing percentage of the German people moved right to the AfD outside established parties, and inside the CDU/CSU moved to undermine Merkel.

As Germany was part of the EU, Merkel’s call for millions of migrants all of a sudden became an EU wide problem. All around Germany, this helped accelerate and already growing populist movement in Poland, Hungary, Italy, France, UK, and elsewhere.

The internationalist elite of Europe’s contempt for their own people and self-loathing of their culture was too much for their own indigenous populations. Merkel, who could have ruled for the rest of her natural life, is now in the process of a long goodbye. She says she will leave in 2021, but I don’t think time will be that patient with her.

The center throughout Europe is under stress. In some nations, established parties are trying to fill the void by moving in the direction of the people, but so much damage has already been done. 

This story is not even close to playing out.

Beijing – those are your rules, not ours:

After centuries of humiliation from near and far abroad, China is returning to her place in the world. Few see how huge this move will be. The scale is hard to grasp for many. You could remove the equivalent of the entire population of the USA, and China would still have almost a billion people.

Unlike her fellow mega-nation India, China is not content with making things best inside her borders.

She wants a global stage, and she is buying as much of it as she wants to.

She was not party to this “Liberal World Order” others keep telling her about, and she is not bound to it. She reserves the right to approach international law cafeteria style; she’ll take what she wants and slide by the rest.

She has scores to settle and strategic depth to secure.
President Xi Jinping has told his military commanders to “concentrate preparations for fighting a war” as tensions continue to grow over the future of the South China Sea and Taiwan.
“We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly,” President Xi told the officers of the Southern Theatre Command.
This is bluster, but it also is Direction and Guidance. We are close to this point already, but by the end of the next decade, American policy leaders need to have a realistic view on what they are or are not willing to go to war over. The Chinese will test where they find weakness first.

When they do, they will pull us in close and then they will make a point. 

If I were Chinese, I would already have three COA to the east for leaders to consider. All I would ask for is a few more POMs and a bit more ripening.

This new China is growing, and not going anywhere.

Brasilia – Forever Tomorrowland:

Remember just a few short years ago when Brazil, again, was to be the vanguard of a new surge of leftist governance? I do.
And so, where does that leave us? After over a decade in experimentation of a new post-Cold War leftist governance in Central and South America, they find themselves where we Chicago School folks warned them they would be.

Of use, the basket cases of full socialism, Venezuela & Nicaragua, are right there for people to point to and say, “Let’s not do that.” Argentina, an nation a century ago that had a per-capita GDP on par with the USA, continues to struggle with decades of bad governance, corruption, and leftist economic policies.

Uruguay and Chile are doing quite well, with the other nations in South America somewhere in between – but the superpower of South America should be Brazil. With a population 2/3 that of the USA and almost the same landmass, she only has a GDP about 1/6th the USA.

The Brazilian people are flooded with crime and corruption. Their leftist governments, the darlings of the internationalist BRIC fetishists, only built on that record of crime and corruption.

The people of Brazil were left with what option then?

All the correct people with all the correct opinions are tut-tut’n the election of Jair Bolsonaro, but what did they expect? The center-right and the center-left, again, failed to properly respond to the demands and concerns of the people who brought them to power. The left did what it always does; what it did not steal, it destroyed. The Brazilian people reacted accordingly after they saw what the left did; personal enrichment, the acquisition of power, and as President Obama once said – reward their friends and punish their enemies.

They wanted the correct friends, the press to write nice things about them, and invitations to the good conferences and ceremonies – with a nice picture next to Bono for the effort. They were willing to sell their nation's future for it.

We see this pattern throughout the West. As I pointed out this weekend over on twitter, the turn to populism is due to the failure of the center-left & center-right to do the basics of governing, and instead choosing either corruption or concern for extra-national internationalism over the concerns of their own people. 

I don't know what it will take for this T-Paw/Walker/Rubio/voted-for-Jeb!-3-times (R) to see a return to the center - but many of the people yelping about the tide of nationalist-populism are responsible for its birth towards the fringes.

Make no mistake, populism is not sustainable. When you hollow out the center, all you will have are wild swings from one extreme to another – and with each swing, a wider gulf develops between the sides – the center cannot hold. Once that happens, violence follows.

If the West is to meet the challenge of this new era we need better leaders, braver leaders, and a people who demand good governance and individual liberty, instead of a call to tribal sectarianism and an ever more powerful state waiting for the next populist.

The correct path is the more difficult path in the short term, but the most rewarding in the long term.

Especially in Europe where so many of their leaders don’t even have children, asking for a long term focus in the West may be too much to ask.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Patience & Resilience of the Long War at 17, with Craig Whiteside - on Midrats

While off the front page, ISIS is not gone, the Taliban remain a strong force, and throughout the globe, the Long War continues.

A war unique in living memory in the West, it isn't going anywhere.

Returning to the show Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern for a broad ranging discussion of the war - however you want to call it - that we have been waging before we even knew it for sure in September 2001, will be Craig Whiteside.

Craig is an associate professor at the Naval War College Monterey and an associate fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT)-The Hague.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Fullbore Friday

Most who have served are familiar with the feeling that, in your youth and at war, you peaked early. Everything after those events seem, well, like an afterthought.

The best you can do from there is to just live the best life you can.

Speaking of doing great things in your youth and then doing the best to live a good life from there, I hand you Joachim Rønneberg;
The plan was audacious, requiring a midnight parachute jump onto a snow-covered mountain plateau, cross-country skiing in subzero temperatures, and an assault on an isolated, heavily guarded power plant in southern Norway.

And the stakes, though no one in the five-man commando team knew it at the time, were spectacular: Destroy the Nazis’ sole source of heavy water, a recently discovered substance that Hitler’s scientists were using to try to develop an atomic bomb, or risk the creation of a superweapon that could secure a German victory in World War II.

“We didn’t think about whether it was dangerous or not,” Joachim Ronneberg, the 23-year-old Norwegian resistance fighter charged with leading the mission, later told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. “We didn’t think about our retreat. The most important decision you made during the whole war was the day you decided to leave Norway to report for duty. You concentrated on the job and not on the risks.”

Mr. Ronneberg went on to land a crippling blow against Nazi Germany’s atomic ambitions, blowing up much of the plant and destroying its heavy-water stockpile without firing a shot or losing a man. Mr. Ronneberg was 99 and the last of Norway’s celebrated heavy-water saboteurs when he died Oct. 21, according to the state-owned broadcaster NRK, which confirmed the death but did not provide additional details.
Remember, he was 23 at the time and escaped from Norway after the German invasion in a fishing boat.
By the time Mr. Ronneberg was enlisted to lead Operation Gunnerside, the mission to destroy the plant, 41 men had already died in a November 1942 raid dubbed Operation Freshman, in which a pair of gliders crashed in bad weather in Norway. The survivors were executed by the Nazis.

Rather than risk another glider mishap, Mr. Ronneberg and the four commandos he selected for the mission parachuted into Norway in February 1943. They landed in the wrong location but waited out a snowstorm inside a cabin and met up with four local fighters in Hardangervidda, a desolate plateau northwest of the plant.

The group reached Vemork the night of Feb. 27, after scrambling down a steep gorge, crossing a frozen river and climbing up the far side to avoid a bridge guarded by the Nazis. Timing his infiltration of the plant to match a changing of the guard, Mr. Ronneberg said he was able to gain entry undetected, quickly and quietly breaking through a chain on the gate, only with help from a pair of heavy-duty metal cutters. He had purchased them in Britain “entirely by chance,” he said, after walking by a hardware store during a trip to the movies.

Drawing on intelligence from a Norwegian escapee who had worked at the plant, Mr. Ronneberg crawled through a ventilation duct and found his target — a row of pipes — without understanding its significance as a source for a mysterious new weapon in Germany.

The charges, he later said, “fitted like a hand in a glove,” and in a last-minute change he trimmed the fuse, causing the explosion to go off in about 30 seconds, rather than two minutes, so that he and his team could ensure it went off — and, he hoped, escape the facility without being caught in the explosion.

“It was a mackerel sky. It was a marvelous sunrise,” Mr. Ronneberg later told the Telegraph, recalling the moment hours later when he and his team had returned to the mountains, safely out of reach of Nazi guards. “We sat there very tired, very happy. Nobody said anything. That was a very special moment.”

Mr. Ronneberg and his fellow commandos skied 200 miles across southern Norway, escaping into neutral Sweden before returning to Britain.
Yep, I'd call that a peak.

After the war he he went in to broadcasting, being hired NRK Ålesund in 1948. He retired in 1988.

Just a normal dude, doing a normal, ordinary job.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part LXXVIII

What is significant about 2033, 15 years from now?

- we will have just exited the "Terrible 20s" that we've warned about for the last decade.
- as Kristina Wong reported this summer, the Chinese Navy may be double its present size at about 550 ships+/-.

I wonder what comforting words the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, USA has for us;’s likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years.

Hodges said: "I think in 15 years — it's not inevitable, but it is a very strong likelihood — that we will be at war with China. The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat."
That is an unalloyed fact - and one of the top reasons European NATO needs to up its game to 2%+ GDP on defense.

If coming out of the Terrible 20s we find ourselves engaged in WESTPAC, it will require every deployable air and sea asset we have. If we are smart, perhaps not as an exceptional percentage of our land forces ... but they will be shifted west anyway. That would leave Europe pretty much on their own against threats south and east.

Oh, I've wargamed this as have others. It is bad enough in 2025 (you need two separate teams due to different macro-assumptions), 2033 needs at least 3 or 4 team to do right, but I don't think it will be much better.

Unless you're paying my bill, I won't give you the full brief here but, besides praying for peace you better:
- pray for the effectiveness of the Vietnamese Army.
- pray for civil unrest in western China.
- pray for a re-militarized Japan.
- pray for a decade of political and financial stability in the USA to mitigate the Terrible 20s.

So, yeah, we've got that going for us. The four above are low probability assumptions. When you wargame without any of them  against Best/Most Likely/Most Dangerous Red COA - well ... interesting.