Monday, December 05, 2022

Irregular War's War on Thinking About War

Building a coherent intellectual foundation of an effective military force to be ready to defend the nation and its interests never ends. As a levee against a large and turbulent river must be constantly monitored, maintained, and reinforced – so too must support for reasoned, reality-based, up-to-date, and sound arguments continue against the constant erosion from doe-eyed “war is new” and sharper “this is my hobby horse” idea/concept sellers looking to grow an empire or to reinforce their world view.

For every “New Model Army,” “AirLand Battle” or “War Plan Orange,” there is a “New Look” or “Transformationalism.”  

Let me just put this marker out there: what we call “Irregular Warfare” is about as “Regular Warfare” as can be. There is nothing “new” here. There is nothing “exciting” here … but there is danger in selling it too hard or worse, bureaucratize the entire concept.

Just one example that should be top of mind to everyone. You know the last war that was started based on the concept of “Irregular War” being primary? Someone sold to their political bosses that war would be quick, cheap, and all the hard parts of traditional war could be solved by a few highly trained “irregular” forces?

The Russians in February of 2022, that’s who. The “Special Military Operation” that was supposed to be just a few days, lighting quick, transformational. 2014 but with Kyiv/Kiev instead of Crimea. Instead they have a grinding war regressing to the mean; mass, firepower, logistics, manpower.

As if the Russo-Ukrainian War isn’t happening, over the last year there has been a big push to sell the military cure-all of “Irregular Warfare.” 

As we have outlined here often through the years, from riverine to specialized helicopter squadrons, in peace too many short sighted people want to decommission capabilities in the irregular warfare area that we will need again in the next war - like we always do. I do not care if "thought leaders" find them icky, short of sponsorship, or "too specialized" (whatever that means), they will be needed. You can do a job with a good tool well, or with a bad tool poorly - but the job must be done.

This failure of vision from the uniformed and civilian leaders in the bureaucracy cannot be solved by growing the bureaucracy, can it? The intentional distraction and sub-optimization of our existing war colleges cannot be fixed by creating yet another, should it?

I am sympathetic to a desire to make sure this skillset does not die on the vine – I was there at C5F at 09/11/2001 in the opening months of the Afghan conflict - but we need to be careful about keeping it in the proper context. 

A solid overview of the challenges is in Sean McFate’s latest in The Hill

Warning here, it reads like two different articles. It starts off in a direction that triggered the first part of my post - McFate is the author of The New Rules of War: How America Can Win--Against Russia, China, and Other Threats, so this is kind of his bag. He also attacks wargaming - something I would think he would want more of, not less. Anyway, the second part that should stand alone has some solid observations on what/where such a a “Functional Center for Security Studies in Irregular Warfare” should be. It all revolves around Section 1299L of the Mac Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act of 2021.
Congress authorized the creation of a “Functional Center for Security Studies in Irregular Warfare” in Section 1299L of the Mac Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act of 2021. The center should fill critical gaps between thought leaders, irregular warriors, and international partners. Done well, it will vastly improve our irregular warfighting capabilities and understanding.
In some way, I guess this is Congress doing what I've asked it to do - force DOD to do its job - but this is such a blunt tool. It is the law though, so how do you execute it?

Let me get the bad part of his article out of the way first;
Today’s defense community has forgotten that strategic competition is won through irregular warfare — a dangerous mistake. Taiwan wargamers view ultimate “competition” as conventional warfare, and recreate the Battle of Midway in the Taiwan Straits with Ford-class carriers and F-35s. It proves the saying: “Generals always fight the last war, especially if they won it.” The conflict probably would go nuclear in hours or days, and the gamers’ artificially prolonged conventional war phase is fantasy. 
I'm sorry, but no. The last 10-months have clearly showed everyone that "prolonged conventional war" is a reality. It is the normal flow of events when major powers or their alliances reach near parity. "The last war" was/is where "irregular warfare" was the reality. When the next war comes, what haunts my mind is a cleverly briefed "72-hr War" turns in to 72-weeks or 72-months. 

McFate has 180-deg lockoff here.
Policymakers are equally misguided. Of the $780 billion defense budget, the Pentagon is overwhelmingly buying conventional war weapons like fighter jets and navy ships while ignoring irregular war capabilities. The budget for U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees all American special operators everywhere, is 75 percent the cost of an aircraft carrier, and we’re building three at $13.3 billion a ship, with two more planned. Budgets are moral documents because they do not lie. The Defense Department is preparing for a war with China that looks like World War II with better technology, an improbable scenario.
Again, I'm not buying what he is selling. All evidence points to the greatest military threat in the short to medium term is from the People's Republic of China. If we are lucky, it will be for us at least a maritime and aerospace war. That is what we need to prepare and invest in. That means "fighter jets and navy ships." Their missions will be supported by properly funded "irregular forces" - not the other way around.

Again, "irregular warfare" is subset of "regular warfare." Always has been. Always will be.

Now to Part-2 of the article I like;
...there are four pitfalls the Irregular Warfare Center (or whatever it will be called) must avoid. First, it should not “reinvent the wheel.” There is a relatively small but robust infrastructure within the Defense Department that already delivers elements of the center’s mission. 
Yes. Agreed. Improve that. McFate does outline significant dangers of rent-seeking and poor thinking;
Second, some think the center should be housed at a civilian university, but this would be a mistake. Most universities eschew the study of war as distasteful, and academic literature is notoriously left-wing. It’s why war colleges exist. Last year, the director of Yale University’s Grand Strategy Program resigned in controversy over her public disdain for Henry Kissinger and teaching Black Lives Matter and “Strategies of U.S. Social Change.” When Yale demurred, she caviled it had succumbed to “donor pressure.” Yale’s Faculty Senate and History Department backed her up, stating professors and programs should never be “under outside surveillance.” Not a good omen for the Defense Department. Additionally, exceedingly few professors specialize in irregular warfare strategy, and there are zero programs dedicated to the topic. Housing the center at a place full of rookies makes no sense. The Defense Department’s desire to leverage academic institutions is principled but unwise.
This is correct. However, if he thinks in 2022 that the academic disease has not infected not just our war colleges but also our service academies, he is greatly mistaken. These are not "right wing" institutions, just the opposite. Especially in the last 15-years, in many areas and departments they are fully left-wing - and not very military.
Third, to do its job, the center must constantly interact with warfighters, the interagency, and policymakers, and that means Washington, D.C. You cannot influence from afar. The National Defense University might be the optimal choice because it’s located in D.C. and is the Defense Department’s premiere senior service school. It houses five war colleges, three regional centers, and a research arm. It offers an accredited master’s degree in Security Studies and its students are exclusively senior leaders (15+ years of service) from across the military, interagency and allied nations, and all are moving up in their organizations. This is the exact population the center is tasked to influence.

Sadly, I believe he is correct here. I say "sadly" because as many here can attest, DC is an abnormal carbuncle on our nation. Its social, intellectual, cultural, and informational stew is out of alignment with the nation it serves. The longer military personnel spend in DC, the more of them become "of" DC and not just "in" DC. It is not a healthy place. 

I don't like this reality, but I can accept it.

Fourth, some in the Pentagon overlook the importance of allies and imagine the center as inherently inward gazing. We are delusional if we think we can “go it alone.” Building partnership capacity is a form of integrated deterrence and mutual strength...In some ways, the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) offers a blueprint for the new center. It’s the U.S. military’s “Irregular War College” and resides at the National Defense University and Fort Bragg, home of the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces. 

This may be a better idea. Sure would get fewer people and brains being corrupted by DC, and the deer hunting is better if nothing else. Like the DC option, it would give us an opportunity to retool an existing institution. 

Give me 96-hours and the manning documents for the DC and NC operations, and I might be able to help pay for it out of hide - especially if I had the option of taking some of the paid positions in Newport, Carlisle, and Leavenworth. Some of those academic positions are, how does  one say, "sub-optimally aligned with the mission of the Department of Defense."

I have a list.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

December Maritime Free For All - on Midrats


Now that you’re in that time where you’re trying to make that transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas & New Years saturation … give your stomach and mind a break and join EagleOne and Sal for a maritime and national security free for all this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern.

As is usual with our free for all format, the studio line is open for you to call in and the chat room will be running for your questions, observations … or even topics you wish we’d discuss but it seems we never get around to.

In the course of the hour we’ll try to at least touch on this week’s warship chicken in San Diego, why everyone should care about secure undersea infrastructure, and take another look at how the logistics failures by the Russians ashore informs planning for logistics planning for a major Pacific war at sea.

No guests, no set agenda, just open phones, open minds, and open chat room for those who are with us live Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern.

Join us live if you can
, but it not, you can get the show later by subscribing to the podcast. 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. You can find us on almost all your most popular podcast aggregators as well.

Friday, December 02, 2022

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.

First posted 09NOV2018.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Galrahn ... Rest in Peace

Life is short, and people are few.

That little cornerstone was pointed out to me yesterday when I found out that Raymond Pritchett, AKA "Galrahn" passed away last week.

How do you remember a friend and colleague who passes away too early? Everyone has there own way, mine is to tell a story. Here an outline of the Raymond I got to know.

I got to know him like most listeners here did - via the maritime natsec online community. Raymond and I used to have fun talking about "the early days" and that is where I'd like to start the story, as in this corner of the world, that is how we got to know Raymond.

While everyone is online and communicating via a huge constellation of methods today, the first phase where in addition to many of you, Raymond and I (unknowingly at the time) used to communicate was in Phase-1 of the online navalist community; bulletin boards, forums, and chat rooms. In the early 1990s through the early 2000's that is all there pretty much was. 

There was a community though, and in some ways it was a better community. Everyone had an online name they went by, that is where Galrahn came from. I ran under a variety of names, but the ethos of that era is where "CDR Salamander" came from. 

When Raymond and I first met face to face a dozen years ago, we pulled that thread for awhile until we realized we had actually been exchanging ideas for a long time, well before we both started blogging.

Yes, blogging. 

For those who were not there, milblogging in the early years was a surprisingly small space. I started in the summer of 2004 after being inspired by places such as National Review's The Corner and John Donovan's Castle Argghhh!!!

Plus or minus a year from when I started there was a Navy presence in the online discussion space. There was the late Neptunus Lex, Steeljaw Scribe, The Stupid Will Be Punished, Skippy-San, Boston Maggie, EagleOne, and a few others. It was a free wheeling place and we communicated and occasionally collaborated with each other. There was no social media churn like you see today. There was us and our comments sections; that was it.

Looking back at it, we all were writing for roughly the same reasons - it was a hobby and we did not care to rely on traditional institutional structures to get our ideas out there - if they would facilitate it at all. We would bounce in to each others comments sections, link to each other's posts ... it was a new place to exchange ideas and discuss topics we did not think were getting discussed properly.

That was Phase-2, and right in the juicy middle of Phase-2 was when Raymond came onboard with his blog, "Information Dissemination" (ID) in 2007 and we all started to get to know him.

ID started simple, but then quickly grew. ID grew fast and for all the right reasons. Raymond was good, clear, direct. He then brought on other writers who to this day represent some of the best thinking in navalist circles. 

That is a key part of Raymond's legacy. He knew this wasn't a zero sum game. More voices need space to come forward, to work around the barriers, filters, and warping nature of traditional institutions who dominated the discussion space. 

His sharp critique and tight arguments are why when you found yourself in disagreement with him, you had to pay attention. At the end of the day, you may remain in disagreement, but Raymond helped you better understand an opposing view, and as such, better refine your oppositional view to his. All without rancor ... if he saw you as an honest player. Bad actors or grifters? He did not suffer them all that well.

I spent last night reviewing the ID archives to where he commented on my writings and then in the CDR Salamander archives to where I mentioned his. It had me nodding my head, smiling on occasion, but more than anything else missing that phase. As a sidenote, in 2012 Wired had a nice overview of the rise of ID.

We then came to Phase-3; the podcast/social media expansion. A few months after I left active duty in 2009 I started to think about the possibility to take advantage of the growth of bandwidth that might present the opportunity to have a "radio show" without having access to a radio. Audio recordings were nothing new online, but at that time "podcast" was not the term of art or that common. In to the space came our friend Claude Berube who saw the same opportunity and thought that Raymond, EagleOne, and I should have a talk show. I had not thought of doing a group show - and without Claude's push may have never gone solo - but I could think of nothing better than spending an hour with two individuals I've communicated with for years and had the greatest respect for.

If you dig in to the Midrats archive's first year, there's "Galrahn" as our third co-host. Of course, life gets busy, and with work and a growing family of young'uns, weekend time became a premium. Raymond had to drop, but we managed to bring him back for an anniversary show in 2016. In 5-weeks we celebrate our 13th anniversary of a show that Raymond helped create. 

2016 is roughly where Phase-4 started and Raymond was not "out there" as much as we selfishly wanted him to be, but playing in the maritime natsec space was a hobby. He had a serious job and a big family ... but he was always there if you dropped him a line.

That was probably for the best. Phase-4 saw the closing of the Navy's mind in a way. Not a byproduct of, but in sympathy with, the rise of twitter - things started to get nasty. Senior leadership became more distant. PAO's who used to reach out on a regular basis, now were hard to get a word from ... for everyone. The Navy's information ecosystem is a more distracted, paranoid, and toxic environment - right at a time where it needs more ideas, more openness, and smart minds like Raymond's to face the challenges west of Wake. That revival, if it comes, will not have Raymond's help.

The last few years, Raymond and I would drop an email, send a DM, or like we did last in March of this year, tweet back and forth to each other - but that was it. We all think we have more time. Of course, he knew he was sick, but I didn't know. I wouldn't think someone almost a decade younger than I am would go so early. None of us in this space knew.

I last saw Raymond in person last almost exactly five years ago at NAVYCON One. As in San Diego the previous time, Raymond may not have been a Sailor, but he could hang with them. With an interesting gaggle of folks who many of you would recognize, we haunted the Annapolis pubs until closing. We all had the honor of meeting one of Raymond's daughters who was there I think to keep dad out of trouble. It was five years ago, but I still smile at our conversation and good company.

I'll miss him for two reasons; professionally I hoped he would find an opportunity to rejoin the conversation with vigor when work and family would allow; personally I was looking forward to an opportunity once again to spend an evening of good food and good drinks with a good man.

If you never met Raymond in person, take time to watch his presentation. I think he'd be honored if you would, a screenshot of it was his twitter profile.

This is where I'd like to make a point I've brought up to many in the past. Raymond started ID when he was 32. Didn't even have a Navy background and was always a great person to point to in order to tell people they aren't too young or too inexperienced to be a good thinker and share those ideas.

He was on the short list for me to point to whenever the usual suspects would bring credentialism-based barriers in the face of people bringing ideas forward. Look who listened to Raymond - and that defines the man. Ideas and character matter, not your CV.

Credentialism: those who care the most about credentials seem to know the least; those who care the least about credentials seem to learn the most.

We all learned a lot from Raymond.

For those who never got a chance to know Raymond in person, here is what I took away from three occasions covering a half dozen days we broke bread and shared drinks from San Diego to DC; he was funny. He loved, more than anything else, his family; he loved our Navy; he was self-deprecating, to a fault; he was welcomingly direct with his opinions of himself, you, and others; he was rough on those who deserved it, but understanding of everyone else, and exceptionally nice ... with a sly smirk when he decided someone needed to be poked in the rib.

He left too early. Selfishly, I wish I knew he was sick - but if he wanted others to know, he would have let us know. He was, in the end, a private man - and I respect that. He left us as we knew him; his own man on his own terms. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part XCV

We started doing the "Long Game" series about the rise of the People's Republic of China to challenge American's place in the world. At the end of that first post in the series in July of 2004, I wrote;

Say what you want about the Chinese, they are very focused on their long term strategic needs. They will continue to study the way we do business at sea, and they will make sure they are ready when the call comes. Are we?

A lot of folks hear rustling in the woods behind us.

There were a lot of us, but few were listening. 18.4 years later, they are now.

That is part of the reason it has been since May of this year since I did a Long Game post. I've written a fair bit about the PRC since then, but did not use the "Long Game" tag. Why? Simple, we are here. Over 18 years is a "long time." All but the most compromised see the threat from the PRC and the game is afoot.

It is military, economic, and academic - and it is in our face.

I still think the tag is helpful in that while the PRC is now ready to call our bluff west of Wake, they are the nation with thousands of years of history, and they have a plan ... we just need to keep an open eye and mind to see it.

If you want to get the view from the official organs of the US government towards the PRC, a good place to look would be the recently published review of military and security development in the PRC by the USA's Department of Defense

There is one paragraph early on that I think is the most important;

Sensitive, dual-use, or military-grade equipment that the PRC have attempted to acquire include radiation hardened integrated circuits, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, accelerometers, gyroscopes, naval and marine technologies, syntactic foam trade secrets, space communications, military communication jamming equipment, dynamic random access memory, aviation technologies, and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. 

How will they acquire all this dual use technology? If you are thinking it is Spy-vs-Spy old school espionage, you are only looking at a very small portion of what is going on.

You need to look at the very sober fact that they are getting that technology the most efficient way - they are convincing us to give it to them. It starts at our universities and pipelines right in to industry.

First of all, let's look at some charts from Statista

Even with the COVID effect, the numbers are staggering. Here's the number of college and university students from China in the United States from academic year 2010/11 to 2020/21 :

Note the decline to the USA is not the same as the decline globally. Here's the number of students from China going abroad for study from 2010 to 2020;

The numbers here are hard to come by and I would consider the above to be on the high side. SCMP puts the number at 290,086. A 2020 study from Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service have about half those numbers, but the commentary to the study is sound;

The results speak to ongoing policy conversations about the risks and benefits of Chinese students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs at U.S. universities. These conversations have been hampered by a lack of granular data on the number of enrolled Chinese students by field and degree level. For example, it is currently impossible to calculate the financial impact of Chinese students on the U.S. university system because we do not know how many Chinese graduate students are in master’s programs (and thus likely to pay full tuition) versus Ph.D. programs (for which they often receive university or federal funding). This paper seeks to provide such data and to identify remaining data gaps that should be filled.

Because there is no single database of domestic and international students in the United States that includes all the relevant information, analysts have had to produce estimates using several different data sources. These sources often count slightly different things over possibly different periods, complicating the analysis and increasing the risk of inadvertent errors. Our findings differ from widely-cited government estimates. Whereas those estimates suggested that 25 percent of U.S. STEM graduate students and 15 percent of STEM undergraduates are Chinese, we conclude with high confidence that the numbers are 16 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

That's right kiddies; one of the nation's top universities that happens to be in our nation's capital with incredible connections to our federal government finds, " single database of students in the United States..."

In case you were wondering, the number of Americans studying in China in 2020 was 2,481. I can't find out how many are completing a full program of study or just doing a semester ... or what their majors are ... but just look at that delta.

From that study, it is clear that they are not in the USA to get Gender Studies degrees.

Look at how close the numbers of undergrads and graduate students are. Note that they're all STEM.

You cannot classify math. You cannot classify dual-use research. You cannot remove knowledge gained. Just look at those numbers. Look at those fields. Look up-post what areas the PRC wants to advance in.

We are making our #1 competitor better, and taking away opportunities for the children of American taxpayers who especially with land grant universities, paid for these universities to exist to serve them.

I don't blame the PRC's citizens for wanting to come here to study, for both personal and professional reasons. However, they never really leave their dystopian nation behind;

On the bucolic campus of Purdue University in Indiana, deep in America’s heartland and 7,000 miles from his home in China, Zhihao Kong thought he could finally express himself.

In a rush of adrenaline last year, the graduate student posted an open letter on a dissident website praising the heroism of the students killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

The blowback, he said, was fast and frightening. His parents called from China, crying. Officers of the Ministry of State Security, the feared civilian spy agency, had warned them about his activism in the United States.

“They told us to make you stop or we are all in trouble,” his parents said.

Then other Chinese students at Purdue began hounding him, calling him a CIA agent and threatening to report him to the embassy and the MSS.

Kong, who goes by the nickname Moody, had already accepted an invitation from an international group of dissidents to speak at a coming online commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre anniversary. Uncertain if he should go through with it, he joined in rehearsals for the event on Zoom.

Within days, MSS officers were at his family’s door again. His parents implored him: No public speaking. No rallies. 

That powerful hook back home isn't just used to keep people under control - but to get them to do further things for the PRC.

In August 2015, an electrical engineering student in Chicago sent an email to a Chinese national titled “Midterm test questions.”

More than two years later, the email would turn up in an FBI probe in the Southern District of Ohio involving a suspected Chinese intelligence officer who authorities believed was trying to acquire technical information from a defense contractor.

Investigators took note.

They identified the email’s writer as Ji Chaoqun, a Chinese student who would go on to enlist in the US Army Reserve. His email, they say, had nothing to do with exams.

Instead, at the direction of a high-level Chinese intelligence official, Ji allegedly attached background reports on eight US-based individuals who Beijing could target for potential recruitment as spies, according to a federal criminal complaint.

The eight – naturalized US citizens originally from Taiwan or China – had worked in science and technology. Seven had worked for or recently retired from US defense contractors. The complaint says all of them were perceived as rich targets for a new form of espionage that China has been aggressively pursuing to win a silent war against the US for information and global influence.

It would be one thing if we took an active roll here in the US and other Western nations (like The Netherlands in the link below), but we allow not just PRC police and intelligence services to run free, we allow other students (many the same people) to act as enforcers

26-year old UG student Meng avoids interacting with Chinese government supporters altogether, if she can. ‘These Pinkies are way too sensitive’, she says, using the nickname for young Chinese Communist Party supporters. ‘They are always very aggressive and feel they represent the side of justice.’

I’m always careful about choosing people to talk to

She is also careful when talking to people she doesn’t know well. And when she participated in a protest in Amsterdam this summer, remembering the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square that cost hundreds of lives and left thousands wounded when the Chinese government opened fire on protesters, she wore a mask and disguised herself in cheap clothes. ‘There were Chinese people there who kept taking pictures of us with their mobile phones’, she remembers. ‘When the protest was over, my companion and I walked to a place where no one was around. We changed our clothes and threw the outfit we had on in a trash bin.’

The FBI is, in theory, on the hunt - but read this from NPR and tell me if you think they are getting all the help they need from universities.

"The Chinese intelligence services strategically use every tool at their disposal — including state-owned businesses, students, researchers and ostensibly private companies — to systematically steal information and intellectual property," FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the Council on Foreign Relations in April.

Former FBI agents say the bureau's recent visits to universities are merely an extension of long-running efforts to collaborate with the private sector and academia on national security issues.

Speaking of dual use, not only are many of the finite number of PhD programs going to foreign nationals - and as this is a zero sum game - and not US citizens; so are the jobs.

Chinese and Indian students make up nearly half, and “most stay long after graduation”. “In February 2017, approximately 90% of Chinese nationals and 87% of Indian nationals who completed STEM PhD programmes in the US between 2000 and 2015 were still living in the country, compared to 66% of graduates from other countries,” the report states.

"Wait..." you say, "How can they help the PRC's military if they are working for American companies and universities?"

Well, its complicated - and made more so by the numbers being so large. It is hard for the FBI to keep track of what the threats are when the pool of candidates are so large and the connections so varied. Heck, the problem people don't even have to be from China;

The China Initiative’s most high-profile case has been that of Charles Lieber, the chair of the chemistry department at Harvard and a perennial Nobel Prize candidate, as well as the recipient of more than fifteen million dollars of federal funding, including from the Department of Defense. From 2012 to 2017, Lieber participated in China’s Thousand Talents, the most vaunted talent program; his contract paid him fifty thousand dollars per month, along with generous startup fees to establish a lab in Wuhan. He had, however, neglected to inform Harvard of his double-timing in China, and, when approached by federal investigators, he continued to conceal the arrangement—and the sacks of cash he had smuggled through customs. In December, he was convicted of lying to federal authorities, falsifying tax returns, and failing to report foreign earnings. Some felt that this was just another anti-Chinese expedition; a D.O.D. official testified that the investigation was prompted by the sheer number of Chinese students working in Lieber’s lab. But John Krige, the historian, has noted that Lieber’s contract stipulated that he work on the development of batteries for high-performance electric vehicles, an area of industrial competition. “The academic research community must ask itself if it is morally or politically acceptable to engage in international scientific collaboration with China in fields that can seriously harm the domestic economy,” he wrote.

This problem of our own creation is worthy of a few books and won't be solved here - but policy makers have to address:

- Too many of the finite numbers of US STEM graduate program seats are being taken up by citizens of the PRC.

- These STEM degrees feed the knowledge base for dual-use technology.

- PRC nationals working in cutting edge technology jobs received by having been given one of those limited positions make them the target for PRC exploitation.

- Even if PRC nationals take nothing material when they go home, they take their education and exposure with them.

- For a quarter century, us government and educational institutions have developed close and unequal relationships from entities controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

This should be a non-partisan issue - but an American issue.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

War, Humility, and Hubris

Peace is the ultimate goal and is a wonderful thing – but what makes it so special is that peace is not the natural state of things for our species. If you are lucky, you might get a couple of decades of peace before the next conflict of significance. More than that is a blessing few get to enjoy.

That is the human benefit of peace, but peace also has a heavy price. As eventually wars come, nations have to be ready for them. From the time the first band of men walked in to your valley, you heard the horses of the steppe archers in the distance, or the tank rumbled through your local gas station – war comes and demands you join it immediately. 

You go to war with the people, equipment, and concepts built when you were at peace. Good, smart nations make sure that their militaries do their best to ensure they know how the tools of war have advanced since the hard lessons of the last war, and the ideas and techniques that take advantage of those changes adjust with them. You hope smart people with the ability to effect change have a good, if not imperfect, understanding of what the next war will require. 

The longer the time of peace, the greater the error will be between what you have/think and what you will need/demand.

The wisest thing to do is to step away from anyone in the natsec arena who – like some late-night televangelist – tells you they have THE vision of the future or has the ONE thing that you will need to succeed.

No, the wise planner and strategist is one who is first humble and has that humility grounded in history. 

Why humility? Simple. The humble mind is a flexible mind, a mind that can change when facts present themselves. The humble mind is a harder working mind as well. Knowing it might be wrong, it will try harder to get it right and will continually look for indications that it was wrong and will correct accordingly.

These are some of the threads that tied together to construct the great fear I have for our Navy: we have been a peace for too long. The ground and to a lesser extent the air component have been tested firsthand in the last couple of decades, though at the low end of the conflict spectrum. Our naval forces at sea simply have not. We have placed large bets on theory and hope. From our airwing to our VLS cells, we have limited our flexibility to change simply by limiting our number of systems/platforms.

I think we have been getting better since the Age of Transformationalism at the turn of the century, but we still lack enough humility. That is clearly demonstrated in the haughty attitude of many towards the quality of the People’s Republic of China’s naval growth and the turning of a blind eye to the scale of their growth in units and industrial capacity.

Recall earlier that I mentioned that humility is grounded in an understanding of history? History is just a written record of experience. Mistakes should be expected, and in efforts to constantly modernize, new structures can come up that on paper and at peace – or in the face of a different level of war – looked right, but in the practice of war their shortcomings become manifest.

Can your military adjust? Can it do so in a timely manner?

This whole thread came top of mind today in this brief graph from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence.

This is firmly in the Rumsfeldian “Known-Unknown” realm in that we really don’t know what we have wrong, or slightly wrong.

Just one datapoint of many coming out of the Russo-Ukrainian War. The future-perfect turned out not to be, and the neglected “old-think” of artillery, air-defense, logistics, shore-based anti-ship missiles, and armor were, in hindsight, unfairly shunted to the side for not being sexy enough.

As we try to get our Navy ready for the next war, what is important is that we don’t convince ourselves that we fully understand what future war will be. That uncertainty should shape our force such that it distributes future-risk such that we have a variety of flexible tools out there, not single points of failure. 

Single points of failure are a secondary indication of hubris, as we all know what the gods like to do with that.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The EU's Real Enemy - the United States?

If you are an American who lived on the European Continent, specifically Western Europe, you’re very familiar with an exceptionally sharp strain of anti-Americanism that resides in a significant percentage of their ruling elite – an adult version of the middle school mean girls. Though present in all nations to one degree to another, it is especially acute in Germany and France for slightly different reasons but are all working towards the same goal; degrade American influence in Europe.

The best way for this political and corporate anti-Americanism to find a lever of power is through the the trans-national and anti-democratic modern iteration of the European Union – made even more problematic with the departure of Great Britain who once played a balancing role between the Continental powers as she has for centuries.

Why primarily France and Germany? To start with, this is part of the sibling rivalry between the children of Charlemagne for primacy in Europe that has churned Europe over the last thousand years. The Anglo-Saxons on both sides of the Atlantic kept getting in the way of their return to the struggle.

Their armies under various blood-soaked leaders moved across Iberia to Moscow and back for centuries in order to be THE driver of power and influence on the continent. The European Union, once the “trade association” nose was in the tent, is now seen – fairly – as a mechanism to centralize power so The Smartest People in the Room™ no longer have pesky minor powers and – Buddha forgive – voters getting in their way. Without checks, power only seeks more power for itself. The morphing of the EU is just the latest example.

Not unlike their American counterparts who would like the USA to extract itself from foreign entanglements (NB: as I have written through the years, I am sympathetic/supportive of these efforts), many of the strongest proponents of the EU just want the USA to go home.

The Europeans, while benefiting from the WWII/Cold War leftover presence of the USA, want it to end and the influence that comes with it. If any opportunity to push back against the USA appears, they have their talking points ready to dirty up the reputation and standing of the USA. If that can be done while blaming Eurocrat failures on the USA as well, even better.

You know the Americans, citizens of that mongrel nation whose gene pool is full of religious zealots, failed revolutionaries, slaves, economic refugees, grasping second sons, criminals, and their descendants – spoiled with a continent overflowing with food, water, minerals, forests and open land they don’t even appreciate.

Loud. Fat. Pushy. Americans.

The usual snarled insults cobbled together by smug people who get much of their opinions of the USA by reading The Washington Post or The New York Times. “I know America, I read your newspapers.” That is right after, “I’ve been to America. I spent a week in DC/NYC/Boston/Chicago. I studied a semester at Brown.”

If you are used to countering America’s resident self-loathing Left, these are easy to deal with, and even entertaining. 

Don’t laugh too much though. Their externalized insecurity is a mortal danger to Western unity by constantly working to divide the West and undermine its cultural, economic, and military strength. When those snotty 20/30-somethings get in their 40s, 50s, and 60s in the Eurocracy, they start to get access to the levers of power and influence. That is when they can make trouble.

For my generation, we used to sneer and poke fun at the useful idiots of the 1980s anti-nuke/anti-war protest movements in Europe – clearly useful idiots for the Soviet Union – but we’re not laughing too much now, one of those fools is the Chancellor of Germany.

Knowing these people is as important as tracking what they say and do. With the East ablaze or rising to challenge the West, this is what the Eurocrats want to train their ire at – to the west across the Atlantic.

There is a lot to unpack in this ... whatever you would call it in Politico - but let's dive in;

Nine months after invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is beginning to fracture the West. 

Top European officials are furious with Joe Biden’s administration and now accuse the Americans of making a fortune from the war, while EU countries suffer. 

Funny opening, and telling. No, Putin is encouraging useful idiots in the West to do the fracturing for him.

As for the second part of the pull quote...just let that soak in. As if EU nations have nothing to benefit from keeping the Russians east of the Dnepr, and not threatening the Vistula. 

“We are really at a historic juncture,” the senior EU official said, arguing that the double hit of trade disruption from U.S. subsidies and high energy prices risks turning public opinion against both the war effort and the transatlantic alliance. “America needs to realize that public opinion is shifting in many EU countries.”

Almost comically lacking in self-awareness. Which nation tried to warn, pre-war, against reliance on Russian energy? What was the European reaction?

Another top official, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, called on Washington to respond to European concerns. “Americans — our friends — take decisions which have an economic impact on us,” he said in an interview with POLITICO.

Why yes; the decision by the USA for over half a century to subsidize European defense with American taxpayer largess sure did have an impact on Europeans. It gave them the opportunity to spend not just on unsustainable welfare states, but in virtue signaling and corrupt green energy policies built on Russian gas, Chinese solar panels, and clear cut American forests

The U.S. rejected Europe's complaints. “The rise in gas prices in Europe is caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin's energy war against Europe, period," a spokesperson for Biden's National Security Council said. Exports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to Europe "increased dramatically and enabled Europe to diversify away from Russia," the NSC spokesperson said.

This is, of course, correct.

An American official stressed the price setting for European buyers of gas reflects private market decisions and is not the result of any U.S. government policy or action. "U.S. companies have been transparent and reliable suppliers of natural gas to Europe," the official said. Exporting capacity has also been limited by an accident in June that forced a key facility to shut down.

In most cases, the official added, the difference between the export and import prices doesn't go to U.S. LNG exporters, but to companies reselling the gas within the EU. The largest European holder of long-term U.S. gas contracts is France's TotalEnergies for example. 

I am shocked ... SHOCKED ... that the French would try to profit while shifting blame to the Anglo-Saxons. Next thing you know, the French might actually facilitate the migration of uninvited military aged males by the hundreds of thousands across the English channel to the Anglo-Saxon homeland. You never know ...

It’s not a new argument from the American side but it doesn’t seem to be convincing the Europeans. "The United States sells us its gas with a multiplier effect of four when it crosses the Atlantic," European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said on French TV on Wednesday. "Of course the Americans are our allies ... but when something goes wrong it is necessary also between allies to say it."

Amazing. Just read it again. It is almost high art.

Despite the energy disagreements, it wasn't until Washington announced a $369 billion industrial subsidy scheme to support green industries under the Inflation Reduction Act that Brussels went into full-blown panic mode.

“The Inflation Reduction Act has changed everything," one EU diplomat said. "Is Washington still our ally or not?”

Not content with meddling in the laws of their member states, the EU now wants to control the American legislative process? Hey, I didn't like the stupidly named Inflation Reduction Act either, but these are the people the Europeans like running America, so take it up at the next World Economic Forum discussion roundtable on ESG. 

...the EU sees that differently. An official from France’s foreign affairs ministry said the diagnosis is clear: These are "discriminatory subsidies that will distort competition.” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this week even accused the U.S. of going down China's path of economic isolationism, urging Brussels to replicate such an approach. “Europe must not be the last of the Mohicans,” he said.

I'm not even sure what that means.

The EU is preparing its responses, such as a big subsidy push to prevent European industry from being wiped out by American rivals. "We are experiencing a creeping crisis of trust on trade issues in this relationship," said German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer. 

"At some point, you have to assert yourself," said French MEP Marie-Pierre Vedrenne. "We are in a world of power struggles. When you arm-wrestle, if you are not muscular, if you are not prepared both physically and mentally, you lose.”

If the Europeans had that much of an attitude towards Russia, there probably wouldn't be a war in Ukraine right now.

Behind the scenes, there is also growing irritation about the money flowing into the American defense sector.

Well, this is were I stop laughing and my blood goes cold.

The U.S. has by far been the largest provider of military aid to Ukraine, supplying more than $15.2 billion in weapons and equipment since the start of the war. The EU has so far provided about €8 billion of military equipment to Ukraine, according to Borrell.

According to one senior official from a European capital, restocking of some sophisticated weapons may take “years” because of problems in the supply chain and the production of chips. This has fueled fears that the U.S. defense industry can profit even more from the war. 

For decades, USA based voices have pleaded with Europe to spend more on defense, to take the threats to our collective civilizations seriously, to maintain their sovereign defense industries, but from the loss of Dutch submarine building capability to the disappearance of the once spunky Belgian military - here we are in 2022. 

The diplomat argued that a discount on gas prices could help us to "keep united our public opinions” and to negotiate with third countries on gas supplies. “It’s not good, in terms of optics, to give the impression that your best ally is actually making huge profits out of your troubles,” the diplomat said.

No one benefits from this except for the enemies of the West from Russia to China. These are the same useful idiots from the 1980s are with us today ... just with more power.

Perhaps we expect too much from France, Germany, and their auxiliaries. There are equally strong friends of the USA in these countries that we should do more to encourage and raise their profile. While doing that, there are other emerging power centers in Europe who could use more support from the USA and may actually appreciate it.

The smaller European nations don’t trust France and Germany all that much, for good historical reasons. Most of the Europeans in the “new territories” in the east like the USA. They see the Americans as a more reliable guarantee of safety from hostile powers in the East, having a few centuries of experience of the Western European Frankish tribes carving them up for fun and profit – irrespective of local desires. Collectively these nations are not that large in GDP or population - not much more than Italy (for now), but that’s OK. They have the correct geography.

If we shape this relationship correctly, we don’t have to permanently garrison this part of Europe. Poland is already establishing a new paradigm of proper levels of security investment. Once NATO’s eastern front calms down a bit, we can rotate through forces for exercises and training. Perhaps even create some combined training and logistics bases ready to scale up in case of trouble in Mordor. A template we should have put in place in Western Europe decades ago.

Reward positive behavior and let the French and Germans continue their millennium-length struggle – peaceful this time – in the west; keep them frothing in Brussels and Strasbourg while the forward-looking nations try to set up the next thousand years of Western progress in a positive direction.