Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monetary Velocity and Growth in China

I want to amend my earlier China article by expanding on the monetary side of Chinese economics. Yes, China is becoming a closed economic system. However, even a slight uptick in urban spending, and hence monetary velocity, can go a long way in the monetary system. Any little bit of trickle-down to the rural areas will be significant from the rural perspective. So China still has plenty of space to grow before reaching the glass ceiling of a closed economic system.

However, it is difficult for China to manipulate the monetary velocity through the central bank, due to the shadow financing system in China. With interest rates being a limited tool, Chinese leaders depend on moral-suasion to boost the monetary system. To boost velocity, they have to encourage consumers to spend more and save less. An ill-timed bubble bursting will derail their campaign for a higher velocity, with consumers scrambling for cash to pay down informal obligations.

With the excess of industrial capacity, China does have room to print more currency. That is part of how they're financing the current infrastructure stimulus. This debasing of currency also helps the Yuan to keep up with the sliding Dollar.

It will be interesting to see if China reverses its currency policy and allows the export of the Yuan to other countries.

The Classical Tragedy of the Iranian Revolution

The Ashura protests in Iran has brought forth a torrent of videos and images, many documented by Andrew Sullivan. It is sad to watch the protesters descending upon the police officers and beat them up. Obama has called them "courageous", but it is hardly courageous when you enjoy an overwhelming numerical advantage, as it was in most of these cop-beating videos. The protesters have crossed an ethical line here. While it is fleetingly satisfying to attack a helpless fellow human being, something humane is lost in the process. I guess it is sad but inevitable in a protest movement, powered by and given over to emotion, that it will turn violent.


[It is courageous to face the supposed omnipotence of the secret police, which is what Obama also means.]

Everything I said earlier, on the topic of the Iranian protest and re-revolution, remains valid.

Looking back, the Iranian Revolution, and the clergy and students who effected it, constitutes a tragedy in the classic sense. They started out well, striking for an Islamic way toward redeeming their country. However, their hubris pushed them toward political expediencies and compromises, until in the end, what remains makes a mockery of Islamic theocracy. The Iranian politburo pursues power for its own sake, even as it believes it is doing god's work. [Thanks to anonymous for pointing out the lack of a Revolutionary Council today.]

Even as they deserve our pity for having fallen, we should strive for their overthrow, for the good of the Iranian people. Proper checks and balances remains the only way to protect the people. We are learning, again, that even the clergy are vulnerable to the corruptions of power.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Tom Ricks is running a series on TTP after-action reviews from a Marine CWO2. At the small unit level, tactical competency is vital, no matter COIN or Fulda Gap. I said earlier that you need to treat those "presence patrols" as recon patrols. The CWO2 reinforces that lesson with his litany of patrolling basics here.

CWO2 also reminds us that, if you slow down, you will find that IED before it finds you. It's a lesson we've known for a long time, yet still have trouble applying. It's true that if you slow down, it takes you more time to cover the area of operations. However, most of the time you can afford to slow down. Hey, you've got all year to patrol your area of ops. What's another two hours gonna cost you?

Russia: Climbing the Export Tree?

Galrahn at Information Dissemination analyzes more news on the Russian Mistral LHD purchase and talk about the Russian shipbuilding industry and why it is importing French shipbuilding technology. He also talks about the US Senate reaction to this pending purchase.

I have earlier talked about the Mistral purchase as reviving the historic Franco-Russian relationship. Galrahn's discussions reminds me that France may be actively pursuing this geo-political realignment as well. France is betting on Russia becoming the next China.

For all the abuses of the Soviet era, it has left Russia with a relatively well-educated work force familiar with modern manufacturing technology. Although Russian quality control was deplorable, its heavy industries sustained the mighty Red Army for decades. Even today Russian metallurgy is still state of the art. Compared to India and Brazil, Russia is probably best prepared to take on China in mass manufacturing. Moreover, China itself is trying to climb the export tree and leaving the export manufacturing business behind. If France injects capital and technology into Russia, it stands to profit from Russia's re-industrialization and China's de-exportation.

At the same time, France is trying to balance a multipolar world. From France's perspective, an economically ascendant Russia is a nice counter against China. Russia is a potential ally who shares France's distrust of both the US and China. With the communist party still popular in both countries, they share a social affinity as well.

Therefore France hopes to re-industrialize Russia, starting with its ship-building sector. They may be working on a Korean model, where the heavy industries spin off into the light manufacturing industries. There are certainly many challenges, not the least of which is Russia's demographic collapse. But the time is right for a geo-economic/political partnership between France and Russia.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Alienation, Culture, and the Welfare State

This is a sad story from Londonstani of the Abu Muqawama blog. Basically, the concentration of immigrants in the low-income housing projects alienated many of them from England as a state and a nation. The norms in the projects appeared to be the most hedonistic of Western cultural stereotypes.

If the immigrants could live in a less hedonistic environment, perhaps they would be less alienated from England, France, and the other European countries. This is the sad consequence of the welfare housing system we have in the West. Fortunately for the US, we have less of it now after the general welfare reform of the '90s, when new urban planning theories dictated the dispersal of low-income housing in the urban area. Not sure the situation in Europe nor their urban planning theories. It is certainly sad because the urban planners in the 50s and 60s pinned such high hopes on these high-rise low-income housing projects, yet they have caught their residents in a feedback loop of poverty and self-destructive behaviors.

That the immigrants had little choice in British housing appear to be the result of their welfare system. Hopefully Londonstani's video will spark a British version of the welfare reform.

One issue I want to touch on is the cultural alienation in the immigrant community. Many people smarter than I have written on the subject of alienation, and perhaps have already said what I'm saying.

As Londonstani hinted in his article, Western Culture(tm) is the combination of two seemingly antagonistic ideas: "People Obey Rules", and "You Can Do Anything". People in the less developed countries have a universal vision of the West, and that is a place where things work. People obey laws. Trains run on time (mostly). Drivers don't run red lights (mostly). Bureaucracies work like they're supposed to. You don't need to pay bribes.

Yet it is also a place you can do anything, as Hollywood relentlessly reinforces with an endless stream of movies and music videos.

It is a jarring combination. Even native Westerners sometime cannot handle this combination. Communism is but one ideology exploiting and trying to solve this alienation problem. You can see it in the proliferation of ethnic and religious groups on college campuses, and in the teenage angst literature. For many, it marks a retreat into more fundamentalist communities, where (at least) you can meet like-minded individuals who are against the mindless hedonism marketed by Hollywood.

This is a problem faced by many parents in the West: How to raise children who can lead a meaningful, productive existence? Children who have a chance to reproduce and enjoy parenthood themselves? [Hedonism is not conducive toward species propagation, mostly.]

In the age of the super-empowered individual, though, this issue is also a national security threat. For all the calls for Islamic enlightenment, the West should own up to its own role in the alienation process, and work on this cultural contradiction. I know that sex sells, but shouldn't horny teenager-hood be a transitional stage, rather than the human aspiration?

[I guess you can trace the age of empowerment to gunpowder and the printing press, but only now is it upon us, the age of free, online Anarchist Cookbooks.]

This is a recent article that also talks about alienation and the gangster culture, in the Latin American context

China: A Real Real Estate Bubble?

The Atlantic has some analysis on the Chinese housing market on Friday. It contains a bad piece of news: That the Chinese banks are now financing consumer home purchase mortgages, in adddition to the more traditional financing of housing developments.

This means that, after the Chinese bubble pops, the visible credit market (aka banks) will lose a lot of money, constraining the money supply. This is in addition to the shadow credit market I talked of last week. So there is going to be a full recession, as opposed to a stagnation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Chinese Not-Recession-To-Be

I want to clarify my earlier article by saying that, if you were a pessimistic investor like me, you will need to start hedging against the possibilities that the economy will really take off soon, given that employment may pick up soon. For example, you should start getting back into the stock market, if you recently moved your 401k and IRA into money market in anticipation of that W-shaped stock market.

One issue from the employment article is on world trade. Specifically, the deficit spending in China and India to stimulate domestic spending, and to make up for the deglobalization. I can't speak for India, since its economy is not much in the American news. However, China is continuing its real estate boom. So I want to visualize its end state, to help with policy responses.

The Chinese real estate boom will end in a couple of years. The mega-cities of Shanghai and Beijing cannot expand forever. The primary input into the Chinese economy, export, is declining. So they're becoming a closed economic system, and real estate value cannot rise forever in that. They can grow the money supply by issuing more currency or increase monetary velocity. Due to the excess production capacity, inflation is not a big issue. However, real estate is a sinkhole and will limit the velocity growth. So the point is that the real estate will either flatline or dip a bit. Until the world re-globalize and China export again.

Many China watchers and Chinese economists downplay the effects of a real-estate recession in China, because, they say, that Chinese banks do not give out home mortgages, that most Chinese pay cash for the condos, and that they hold the condos to rent out, instead of speculating on a rising value.

The above assertions are true, and these characteristics have constrained the velocity of the real-estate market. However, real estate investment is still tying up a big chunk of the Chinese savings. House purchase is a clan affair in China. The banks may not be lending money, but a shadow-financing system is operating in China to make up for it. A clan (or extended family) will pool its savings to buy a house. People can borrow money from relatives and good friends to put up the cash for the houses. They use the rent payments to pay back the informal mortgages they've incurred.

If the Chinese housing market deflates, all that savings is tied up in these informal mortgages. There may not be a precipitous crash, but there will be a sudden slow-down of the monetary velocity. Economic activity will slow down. And China will have few tools to start it up again, short of an economic-stimulating event (Like World War II) or increased global trade.

Because the lending is informal, the central bank cannot just lower the interest rate to stimulate lending (or mortgage re-financing). Because the saving is not liquid, China will have to borrow money from abroad if it wants to deficit spend its way out. Which does not seem favorable, and which may prompt China to start unloading its T-bills.

I supposed that the banks can start doing home equity loans to increase the liquidity of the real estate market, but that would require a culture change, and start China down a difficult path we've just tread.

Therefore, China may soon hit that real estate asymptote. And it will have to start aggressively export or face economic ennui.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Economic Forecast Contrarianism

Daniel Gross has an interesting article on Slate, arguing that we are about to turn a corner on American unemployment. It is interesting because it is so optimistic, and against my personal feelings on this matter. It is at times like this that we need to stop and check our own assumptions, when our feelings ask us to ignore the opposing point of view.

The strongest reason I do not believe we are turning a corner, is because the US economy has not fixed its structural problems. The recent report on the mortgage rescue program showed that, of the subprime applicants so far, only about 12(?)% are capable of paying the re-negotiated fixed-rate mortgage. Many more houses will go onto the foreclosure block in the near future. Maybe the banks have already wrote down all these mortgages, but I doubt it.

A related problem is with the velocity of money and savings. In America, the savings rate is going up, which reduces the velocity of money. The Fed rate is already near zero, and Obama is going up against the limit on deficit spending, so they are almost out of tools to re-inflate the US money supply. The contracted money supply means the US domestic economy has contracted.

Although the personal savings rate is up, the foreclosure market is sucking up a lot of the savings. Being an "asset-rich, cash-poor" enterprise, real estate investment is a sinkhole on the money supply. This is money that might otherwise be available for business investment.

Therefore, going forward, businesses may want to expand, but the credit market will be expensive. They will have to rely on their own funds, and some foreign investment, to fund the expansion. With the rise in savings, we cannot rely on the consumer spending to grow the economy. The business spending side of the house does not look too hot, either.

One growth mechanism Gross identified is the export route. With the decline in the dollar, export is definitely paying for the recent gains in the American economy. However, Gross himself just wrote about the decline in global trade over this past year. With the worldwide loss in savings this past year, and the decline in global demand, I'm not sure if export will be enough.

One semi-bright spot from the Black Friday shopping report is that the rich are spending again. I wonder if it's enough.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Business Lending Update

Washington Post reports that the Treasury is considering a scheme similar to what I discussed. The Treasury wants to give TARP money to the banks, who promises to lend the money to businesses.

The difference between Treasury's plan and my proposal is an accounting one, I guess. Treasury wants to transfer the money into banks' own accounts, like a deposit or investment. Whereas I was proposing to have the banks act as government agents in administering the funds. Kinda like selling IRAs or T-bills.

Because Treasury's plan involves changes in ownership, the pay-caps and other limitations apply, making the plan unsavory to banks and possibly requiring congressional action.

Edited: updated links and added tag.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Honduras Follow-Up

The New York Times has a note on the continuing Honduras drama. It's nice to see that Zelaya is negotiating an exit to Mexico. That indicates Zelaya is giving up on his claim to the presidency. Hopefully when he leaves, that will be the end of the drama. Perhaps he'll continue calling himself, the "Rightful President of Honduras", and be accorded diplomatic respect during his travels. That'll fulfill his dreams of an unending presidency without subjecting the Honduras people to a constitutional crisis.

It is also nice to see that cooler heads prevailed in the US, and that we're recognizing the Honduras government. Depressingly, only Colombia, Panama, Peru, and Costa Rica, of Latin America, have followed suit in recognizing the election. Perhaps this is the rise of opposing camps in Latin America.

I want to go back to my earlier observation on the Brazilian embassy preparations. It appeared that Brazil evacuated most personnel out of its embassy during the siege, so that allowed Zelaya to hold out for a longer period of time. Micheletti may also have allowed humanitarian supplies to go in, therefore rendering the indicator invalid.

Responsibly Using TARP for Jobs

Washington DC is abuzz over the $200 billion surplus from TARP. Many want to use that money to create jobs. However, the policy proposals are jumbled and incoherent. The democrats and Obama said something about green jobs, but no way on how to get there without massively re-writing the TARP authorization.

One impediment to job creation these days, according to business writers, is the absence of business credit. The business credit market is hardly moving at all. Most small businesses get their credit lines from local and regional banks, who have largely weathered through the financial crisis intact, but who are also scared of lending money. Despite the whole TARP bailout, and the Fed's rescuing of the commercial paper market, the business credit market remains choked off.

Therefore, one quick way for the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to jump start business lending, is to use the TARP money to finance business lending. We can build on the CDO-bailout model: We make the banks agents of the government. If a bank is going to lend out some money ($1 million, say) to a business, the bank can use TARP money to double the loan (plus $1 million TARP money). This way, we preserve some accountability, because the banks still have skin in the game. At the same time, we instantly double the size of the business loan market. The Fed and Treasury are not equipped to administer the small amounts in business loans, so using the banks as government agents minimize the administrative requirement.

I hope this idea gets some traction.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bottom-Up Innovation: China

Alexandra Harney wrote an article on Foreign Policy.com today, bemoaning the lack of central direction from Beijing, in the area of industrial policy. She ended up arguing for more centralization, less local regulations, and voila, currency de-regulation. She compared China against Japan, where the Ministry of International Trade and Industry pretty much ran the country, economically speaking.

However, Harney fails to establish clearly why Bottom-Up innovation, seems the case in China, is worse than Top-Down Innovation, the case in Japan.

The general problem with an opaque policy-making process is that it imposes too many regulations and encourages corruption. Is that the case with China? Harney does not say.

Harney bemoans the saving nature of the Chinese consumers. What's wrong with that? A lower velocity of money helps to head off a bubble in China, which is good news for everyone (except perhaps India.)

Lastly, Harney talks about currency deregulation, but fails to establish why that's good. It seems to be conventional wisdom that currency pegging is bad, but conventional wisdom is frequently wrong. If the prices reflect the inputs, ie not artificially distorted, a pegged currency is not market-distorting. Now China may be giving up control of its monetary policy, but a currency peg is not automatically bad.

She also ignored the case of the United States, where we had 50 states running their own industrial policies. Which is the better model for China?

Iranian Revolution: Visualizing the Aftermath

Iran's less-than-lethal Insurgency is in the news again, when the college students mounted another protest and clash on Monday. At this point, it is clear that the Revolutionary Council does not have the political power to suppress the student insurgency. If this status quo holds, we will soon see the fall of the current Revolutionary Council, probably within 2 to 5 years. Whether it takes the form of a coup, a constitutional convention, or a violent revolution, however, is an open question. I will briefly explore the policy options to the US, then describe the possible end states.

At this time, there is little for the US to do, that it is not already doing. The current nuclear confrontation with the US is holding back the Revolutionary Council in manpower terms. The need to guard the various nuclear refinery sites, and to mitigate an air strike on the sites, prevents the Revolutionary Guards from moving these guards to Tehran to help with the crackdown. The manpower shortage of the IRGC allows the students to continue protests. The on-going economic embargo and maritime interdictions similarly limit the ability of the IRGC to operate against the students. Therefore, it is vital that we continue our peacetime confrontations and containment against Iran.

I will re-iterate my call for an American Embassy in Tehran, though. Such a move will head off the Hardliners' characterizing the protests as an American conspiracy.

Similarly, the US should refrain from material support of the student protests, other than refugee protection. There is plenty of light weapons in Iraq, should the protesters take up arms. And the Israeli Mossad is likely already aiding the insurgency.

Right now, the IRGC is being pulled in multiple directions. It has to continue supporting Hezbollah and possibly Hamas by sending out weapon shipments. Following the terrorist attack in Eastern Iran, IRGC has to step up security across the Persian empire to confront the ethnic separatists. The ongoing nuclear crisis means that they have to maintain the security posture at the nuclear sites. The possibility of an air strike means that all of the IRGC air defense sites (in addition to the Air Force air defense sites) need full manning. American stealth bombers and Israeli cruise missiles means the listening sites (where people listen for jet and missile sounds) need full manning, too. And they have to deal with the student insurgency. The IRGC is running out of people.

The Revolutionary Council is politically constrained, as well. Most of the college students are the sons and daughters of Iran's middle and upper class, many of whom working in the government bureaucracy. If the Revolutionary Council starts shooting protesters indiscriminately, they are bound to kill the children of senior government workers. Such a move would turn the bureaucracy, the machinery of governance, against them. In addition, the military has not taken a side in this insurgency. The military has to uphold the Iranian regime, but the children of the senior officers are marching in the streets. The council cannot afford to alienate the military.

So the status quo is leading toward a regime change in Iran. If the students keep on protesting, the protests will highlight the political constraints of the council, its limitations. The Revolutionary Council, like all totalitarian regimes, operates on the perception of its omniscience and omnipotence. People report on their neighbors because they are afraid of the reach of the secret police. If the Iranians find out that the IRGC has political limits, they will be less likely to report their neighbors and more likely to keep on testing the behavioral limits. The ethnic separatists will operate more openly. The black marketeers will be more brazen in hawking their wares. The decline of social controls will bring about more social disruptions. The protests will get closer and closer to the government buildings. At some point, the IRGC will have a showdown with the protesters, trying to restore its perception of control. If the students succeeds in embarassing the IRGC, that's when regime change will take place.

The critical question for the US and the West concerns Iran's nuclear program. If a revolution occurs, hopefully the nuclear program stays above the fray, and enters a conservatorship awaiting a legitimate government. A renegade IRGC commander may transfer nuclear material to a terrorist organization, although that possibility is slim due to the bureaucratic nature of a government entity like the IRGC. The military may take over the nuclear program during the revolution because it is a vital strategic bargaining chip for Iran as a state.

The nature of the student revolution remains unclear, because students operate on emotion. The last student revolution in Iran led to the current theocratic regime. The students today coalesced around the opposition to government oppression, but there is likely much disagreement on the endstate, of the revolution. Various politicians are trying to hijack the movement, with Mousavi and Rafsanjani being possible examples. A hijack is possible if a politician can bring a bureaucratic entity or a guild (the merchant or clerical guild, say) into the protest movement. This politician can ride the resulting goodwill all the way to the top. We will hear his name as soon as the IRGC kidnaps him.

Ideally, this revolution would lead to a new constitutional convention to re-write the constitution. This is a likely outcome because of the neutrality of the military and the government bureaucracy in general, so far. These entities serve as moderating influences on both the Revolutionary Council and the students, barring further radicalization and escalation. As neutral actors, they have the authority to strike a bargain, hopefully allowing the clergy to save face and take on a lesser role. Their governmental nature make them invested in the current form of government and resistent to radical changes. Minimizing change would minimize social upheavals and human suffering.

However, if the IRGC escalates by massacring protesters, Marxist-type revolutionaries will have more followers among the students. The radicalization of the movement will lead to a post-revolution purge we've seen in France, Russia, China, and elsewhere. A violent revolution would be inevitable.

Factions of the IRGC may, in self-preservation, stage a coup against the Revolutionary Council. Such a move would allow the IRGC to bargain with the military and the rest of the government in the resulting transitional governance, over its future roles. This action would also preserve the income and fiefdom of much of the IRGC bureaucracy, while sacrificing few offenders to appease the students. For the IRGC, this is the most favorable outcome in a regime change, thus highly likely to occur. The Revolutionary Council may anticipate this and counter-move by purging the IRGC, but that would weaken their protection and force the Council to accept a compromise with the students.

Given that we in the public rarely hear about the bureaucratic machinations in Iran, it is unlikely for us to confirm any of these scenario until the last moment. For everyone's sake, I hope the Revolutionary Council compromises with the students through a constitutional convention, but there are too many entrenched interests in the IRGC to hope otherwise. The IRGC will probably survive in some form in the end, hopefully with more checks on its power. For the US we need to keep up the war rhetoric and nuclear confrontation all the way to the end, but ready to detente at the earliest opportunity.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Presence Patrols (& Movements to Contact)

Tonight President Obama will give a policy speech on Afghanistan. Hopefully it will give us some real strategic direction. However, before we get to the strategic level, we need to remember that the US military itself has major tactical deficiencies. One such area is the confusion over presence patrols and movements to contact. Many small unit leaders do not appear to understand how and why they are conducting these missions. Hopefully this article helps our squad and platoon leaders accomplish these missions.
In John T Reed's review of Craig Mullaney's Unforgiving Minute, he pointed out Mullaney's ignorance on presence patrols and movements to contact. This is sad, but unsurprising. I have talked earlier about the Army's tactical deficiencies at the small unit level. The Army officer basic course common core (which all basic courses cover) touches upon tactics, but only as slogans. There is a section on the "Military Decision Making Process", which is a battalion+ level staff planning procedure. The field grade officers have made MDMP the holy grail of tactics in OBC, even though it is just a process and inapplicable at the company level. Mullaney went to Afghanistan in 2003. I hope we're better at it today.
Incidentally, when I looked up Presence Patrol on the Small Wars Journal, I found the discussion "What is Prescence Patrolling?", started five days ago. That is a sad sign for this anti-intellectual Army.
Looking at the Mullaney's description on the Presence Patrol, and on the Small Wars Journal, people seem to think that it is an information operation technique, where you show the flag and remind everybody of your presence. This is an unfortunate legacy from the Cold War, where the US Navy did "Presence Patrols" and coined the phrase. That cultural connotation has carried over into Army operations. However, the Navy Freedom of Navigation and Presence patrols took place in an uncluttered environment, relatively devoid of civilians. The intended target, other navies, were bound by peacetime rules of engagement. The patrols aimed to reinforce existing attitudes, not to change them.
On the other hand, in today's War Amongst the People, ground presence patrols operates on the human terrain. Showing the flag to the population has little effect on hearts and minds. Especially when the Yanks go back to base at the end of the patrol, while the Taliban maintains a permanent presence, as is the current practice in theater. Therefore, these patrols do not accomplish their IO mission, but rather present well-scheduled targets to Taliban IEDs and ambushers.
Therefore, we need to rethink presence patrols and make it militarily useful to the small unit. To the small unit (Company and below), the presence patrol has two purposes: To gather intelligence from the population, and to disrupt enemy Tactical Assembly Area activities.
1. Gather Intelligence
The fact that the Taliban can mount attacks means that we do not know who the enemy is, especially at the small unit level. The presence patrol is the primary intelligence tool available to the small unit leader. You need to keep talking to the locals and finding out what's going on. Just as all operations start with a map reconnaissance, you need to start with a map of the human terrain: Who are the village leaders? Who is related to whom? What blood feuds are in place? Etc.
One of the biggest innovations over the past 8 years, at the small unit level, is the Company Intelligence Cell. As we are doing more distributed operations than ever, and as we fight amongst the people, it is absolutely critical that all "Battlespace-Owning" companies have their own intel cells. These intel cells organize intel and analyzes trends. Regarding War Amongst the People, your intel cell collates the link diagram of your population, telling you who are hostile, who are possible abetters, and whose support you need. If you haven't head of it, read up on it in the Infantry Magazine and the Small War Journal.
To build and maintain your "model"/link diagram of the population, you need to get out there and talk to people, get the latest gossip. If the locals won't talk to you, then you need to build relationships with them. Start with "Hello"s and go on from there. Start a business relationship by hiring a few day laborers to work on your outpost, pick up trash on the surrounding roads, etc. A business relationship is a perfect cover to start talking. Once you know the Who's Whos, then you have a starting point to get to the suspects.
2. Disrupt the Enemy
Of less military utility, but still important, is Disrupting Enemy TAA activities. Just like you, the enemy needs a secure Tactical Assembly Area to plan ops, rehearse actions on the objective, and do pre-combat inspections. If you are patrolling an area, you deny the enemy the availability of that area for TAA activities. He has to go elsewhere, away from the cover of the population.
Therefore, your patrol schedule has to be random, and sometimes you should stay the night.
To sum up, you are not doing presence patrols. You are doing reconnaissance patrols, reconning on the population as opposed to the terrain.
On the subject of "Movements to Contact", you should never just go from one point to another, waiting to get hit. You will always know where the potential ambush sites are, even from a simple map recon. You can then do things like taking detours, clearing enemy Objective Rally Points, etc.

Monday, November 23, 2009

M-4 Carbine Updates

According to Army Times's Matt Cox, the US Army is proposing six changes to the M-4 carbine. The most major among the six are a heavier barrel and a piston gas system. As I discussed in my previous articles, M-4's reliability problems comes from chamber heating, leading to failures to extract. These two changes help to mitigate against that problem.

A heavier barrel will increase the heat capacity of the barrel by adding mass, ie, more heat energy is required to raise the temperature by one degree. Therefore, the new M-4 will fire more shots before the chamber heats up to extraction failures.

A piston gas system gives a sharper tap on the bullet case during extraction, compared to the current gas-impingement design. That higher transient force may be enough to overcome the case "sticking" to the heated chamber, further improving reliability.

So these changes are a good fix to the M-4. However, we still have the problem of excessive heating. The fixes only postpones the inevitable. I wish the Army would go to the root of the problem and either 1) slap a cooling fin/heat sink on the barrel nut, or 2) go to a longer barrel (16 - 20 inch) that the 5.56mm round was designed for.

Hat tip: the Firearm Blog.

PS: Added links and tags.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fort Hood and the Second Amendment

I've been reflecting upon the Fort Hood massacre and the Second Amendment. As many of you know by now, military bases, like all federal facilities, are gun-free zones. They strictly regulate personal weapons, and concealed carry is prohibited. Doubtlessly, a soldier with a weapon would have disrupted MAJ Hasan's killings. In general, soldiers allowed to carry personal weapons will make terrorist attacks more difficult [against the military].

At the same time, the military regulation of personal weapons came from past experiences. There are many young, immature, and passionate men in the armed forces, who are very likely to shoot each other in a moment of passion, if they have a gun at hand. The challenge here is to reconcile the needs of force protection against good order and discipline.

It is eminently sensible, then, to allow a limited conceal-carry scheme in our military. Specifically, commanders (O-5 and above) can give their officers and non-commissioned officers license to carry their own weapons in garrison, and perhaps on liberty. Officers and NCOs are [hopefully] more mature than the rank and file. Traditionally, officers have sidearms to enforce discipline, so this policy is a natural continuation. Moreover, officers are to look out for the welfare of their subordinates, making concealed carry a logical extension of that duty. Being at the commander's discretion, this licensing scheme allows commanders to apply their judgement. If a licensed individual is at psychological risk, his commander has the right to revoke the license and place him under observation.

In the field and on deployment, soldiers are issued weapons, so they do not need to carry personal weapons. Personal weapons at war may also complicate the Laws of Warfare.

Of course, today's military, as John T Reed reminds us, is a micro-managing institution that fears the concept of accountability. Even if the generals were willing to delegate such a responsibility, their JAG lawyers will probably talk them out of it. I cannot see us implementing this policy any time soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Afghan Auxiliaries in the Making

Here are two encouraging pieces of news from Afghanistan:

1.) Danger Room reports that the Coalition is paying villagers to maintain militias, somewhat similar in concept to the Sons of Iraq in OIF and the Strategic Hamlet Program of Vietnam. Not everyone is onboard with the idea, of course. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/11/us-to-afghan-militias-dont-throw-away-your-guns/

2.) Danger Room also reports that the Coalition will hire some Afghans to man the base security for some FOBs. This one sounds like it came from a Good Idea Fairy, and has the potential to end very badly. On the other hand, this could be the manifestation of a treaty between the base commander and the local chieftain. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/11/us-turns-to-local-guns-for-hire-to-guard-afghan-outpost/

These two pieces show that the Coalition is building up security from the local level, arming villagers to defend themselves and paying sub-warlords to maintain their armies. In a previous article I said that the Coalition was failing to learn their lessons from Iraq. That the Coalition is now building up Afghan militias, shows that they are implementing some lessons, at least. http://americanmohist.blogspot.com/2009/10/india-afghanistan-somalia-staying-ahead.html

There has been some arguments in the public domain, saying that we need to give money directly to the Afghan provinces, rather than Karzai's central government, following the Afghan election disputes. That's good news, especially since some of the advocates were American political appointees. We are moving strategically away from the Westphalian paradigm by focusing on local, rather than national, governance. However, we can't bypass the Karzai administration completely, as he appointed the governors, who presumably return the favor by tributes and political supports.

In any event, we are taking baby steps to recognize the non-Westphalian realities on the ground, which is that people only have loyalty to their own tribes/villages in Afghanistan. However, we will continue to fail in Afghanistan until all parts of the Coalition comes to accept this paradigm change (yes, I'm looking at you, State Dept.) The German soldier quoted in Nathan Hodges' article clearly needs a paradigm shift as well.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Art & Science of Defensive Planning

The recent overrun of COP Keating (http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/10/10/the_battle_of_cop_keating_an_earwitness_account) is too close a replay of Wanat for comfort. (http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/01/28/inside_an_afghan_battle_what_happened_at_wanat_last_july_i). In both cases, an American unit is located on tactically unsound terrain, at the tip end of the logistic chain, and were overrun by the enemy assault. Only the belated arrival of air support saved the American bacon.

It appears that the US Army has gotten too relaxed after 20 years of living on Forward Operating Bases (Starting in Somalia). The logistic and security posture/doctrine these days are based on these brigade-sized FOBs. (If the Army still has an institutional security doctrine anymore.) To the extent that the Division staff (and above) think about security, it is from the stand point of Anti-Terrorism/Force-Protection. Maybe the Infantry School (& Ranger School) is still teaching tactical security and patrol base defense, but most Army officers have no training on this subject beyond that FM 7-8 (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/7-8/index.html) they're supposed to read on their own. If you're one of these unfortunate officers, I urge you to pick up a copy of Millen's "Command Legacy" http://www.amazon.com/Command-Legacy-Tactical-Leaders-Revised/dp/159797207X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256222637&sr=8-1 . It's a great book filled with concrete TTPs and discussions. You have a defense plan that you can pick up from the book to use, and he explained all of his reasons so you can adapt it on your own. Even infantry officers will get a lot out of this book. Granted, Millen's chapters on defense are based on a Mobile Defense, where you have a Battalion Reserve to come save you. On the other hand, in a patrol base defense like Wanat & Keating, you site your positions around the center, and have a parameter wall. The basic principles are the same.

As we go into the world of Resilient Communities, some of you may find the need to brush up on defensive planning. Millen's book is an excellent starting point. Just remember that you need at least a platoon of people to defend your hamlet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

India, Afghanistan, & Somalia: Staying Ahead of the Meme!

Jeremy Kahn of Newsweek published an article about India's strategic involvement in Afghanistan here http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/wealthofnations/archive/2009/10/19/india-is-key-player-in-afghan-conflict.aspx This article corroborates my discussion earlier on the geo-strategic environment of Afghanistan.

Empires throughout history held their holdings together by negotiating with the local warlords and strongmen for their support. They faced the same problems we do in Afghanistan: the tyranny of distance and a population untouched by the printed word. It is time we take up these medieval methods once again. We need to drop our Westphalian, nation-state paradigm obsession and face up to the tribal reality of Afghanistan/Pakistan at all levels.

Incidentally, I need to revise my earlier prediction on the Iraq-Afghanistan-Mexico progression of the nation-tribal paradigm. (http://americanmohist.blogspot.com/2009/01/paradigm-shift-us-foreign-and-security.html) It does not look like the military is "getting" the nation-tribal paradigm they picked up from the Sunni Awakening. They're not implementing the bottom-up lessons of Iraq (formalizing the tribal militia of Afghanistan, eg). So we're not going to "get" Afghanistan anytime soon.

Mexico is even farther away, what with the recent "anti-assault weapon" pronouncement endorsed by the "Bi-National Task Force". http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/13/AR2009101303996.html Its blatant and willful ignorance of the illegal arms flow from the Mexican government to the narco-insurgents means that the foreign policy "elite" has yet to face up to the reality of the world, where people (gasp!) do not obey laws and policies.

Somalia is the crisis on the horizon right now, with the collapse of the TFG there. Perhaps our limited presence there will make a virtue out of necessity, forcing us to start taking Somaliland and local tribes more seriously, as we struggle to understand Al Qaeda and possibly Iranian influences there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sub-Compact AR PDWs Going Forward

Christian of DefenseTech reported that the Army is going ahead with Sub-Compact ARs as a PDW replacement for pistols. http://www.defensetech.org/archives/005066.html That's a good development, as I have advocated here http://americanmohist.blogspot.com/2009/02/us-army-mtoe-rifles-pistols-pdws.html and here http://americanmohist.blogspot.com/2008/09/army-open-to-new-pdw-ideas.html

America and NATO have had a Personal Defense Weapons requirement for close to 3 decades, but previous procurement efforts were derailed by post-Cold War budgetary constraints and by the special ammunition used by some of the PDWs [The militaries didn't want to add a new caliber of ammunition to the supply system.] Hopefully this time around, this PDW program will make it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Afghanistan & the Geopolitical Game

The recent suicide bombing on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the attacks in Pakistan reminds us, that Afghani violence is not purely a function of American military input, ie, Violence != Function( American Soldiers, Talibans). The violence there is a combination of tribal vendettas, Taliban/Al Qaeda ideology, American/Western presence, and Indian/Pakistani/Iranian competitions. We need to keep this complexity in mind as we debate our strategic aims for Afghanistan.

One thing people may not know much is the presence of Indian and Pakistani contractors and NGOs in Afghanistan. India is spending quite a bit of money on Afghanistan, both in buying influence and assisting its merchants in making American military money. Pakistani vendors and ISI operatives are, of course, already on the ground in Afghanistan. So part of the violence there is this low intensity conflict between Indian and Pakistani factions. The Karzai administration is embroiled in this battle, as well.

Robert Kaplan has a nice opinion piece on China's efforts in Afghanistan as well.

Therefore, many anti-coalition militants may be fighting to kick the Yankees out, but the recipe is there for the fighting to continue, long after we leave.

Humanities vs Engineering at the Service Academies

Tom Ricks had an interesting article and discussion on the service academies last week, http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/10/08/which_teaches_officers_more_engineering_or_the_humanities

Basically, the argument is over whether the academies have over-emphasized engineering at the expense of humanities.

My sense is, it is not one or the other, as plenty of cadets majored in non-engineering fields (economics, history, etc) at the West Point. Rather, I think it's that the academies force the non-engineers into a bachelor of science track, whereas they might be better served with a bachelor of arts track. The BS track, with its concentration on the majoring subject, gives the social science students a false sense of mastery over the subject. Whereas a BA track would encourage the students to think in a non-standard direction.

Moreover, the requirement of multivariable calculus, newtonian mechanics, and electro-magnetism are not enough in understanding our physical world. The requirements of calculus and newtonian physics sprang from an era when we thought we could solve every equation. [ie, they offer the world view where we can solve everything deterministically, rather than empirically.] It is only when you go one step higher, to differential equations and dynamics, that you find the far bigger world of problems we cannot solve, where most equations do not have closed-form solutions.

The BS curriculum tries to be a scientific program by offering calculus and newtonian physics, but it does not go far enough. So we end up with students who think they can solve everything, who has not seen the world as it is.

So the service academies are doing a dis-service to the nation by forcing non-engineering cadets to go through the BS program. The academies need to get with the times, step beyond their 18th century curriculum, by either requiring DiffEqs & Dynamics for all, or start offering BAs.

PS: Added tags

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

USAF's Near Ridiculous Push for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft

USAF just put out an RFI for an unmanned cargo aircraft. The specifications are: 500-3,000 lbs, 500 nautical miles, 250 knots, V/STOL up to 300 feet runway, etc, etc.

As I see it, that's a pretty ridiculous set of specifications for an unmanned aircraft. If you're going to have a payload of up to 3,000 lbs, you have room for a pilot. The USAF could use a commercial off-the-shelf prop-driven aircraft that would meet all of the specs (other than the unmanned part). They could spend the money saved on a strapped-down auto-pilot unit, later, that could fly the plane. Voila, immediate capability in the field! This is the USAF re-inventing the wheel the USAF-way.

Speaking of re-inventing the wheel, here is a blast from the past: The Soviet Antonov-2 biplane cargo aircraft. 3,000 lb, check [4,700lb "useful load"]. 500 nautical miles, check [456 nm, almost there]. V/STOL, check [30 miles per hour stall speed.] 250 knots, no [139 kn max].

Wiki quotes a serviceable An-2 at $30,000. That is probably cheaper than the salary we paid the USAF people during their RFI preparation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts & Re-Thoughts on the Afghanistan Campaign

Since Afghanistan is in the news lately, with the McChrystal report to the President, everybody is talking about Afghanistan, again. I guess I need to join the fray, too. I do not have much new to contribute to the current strategic debate, other than my earlier proposal to focus on refugee camps as an alternative, economy-of-force, population-centric tactic. We do not have the resources to save every Afghan, not to the standards we want. We need to focus on the ones we can help, and build a refuge that people can turn to. A refugee camp, which is self-sustaining (a place that gives inhabitants the means to make money and feed themselves, and allows them to organize themselves to administer shared resources), will give the displaced Afghans a place to live, and oppressed Afghans a place to go to.

In addition, such a refugee camp will provide a wealth of human intelligence for the Coalition.

In 2007, I asked the commanding general of the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan about their plans for civilian "internally displaced people"; he said there was none. It was a Department of State mission, and the US military is authorized only to assist when State asks. At the time, State didn't ask, so the military didn't prepare. Luckily for the Iraqi people, Iraq kind of sorted itself out. However, Afghanistan is still a wreck. If the military really wants to "win" Afghanistan, then they need to break down the bureaucratic walls and seize this mission for themselves. We can't wait for State to get its acts together.

[Perhaps, with Hilary Clinton in charge, the State Department will do something about this. However, they do not have the money in FY2010 to do this mission. The latest they can is FY2011, and we do not have a year to wait.]

The current Afghanistan strategic debate has two levels: Build the Country vs Disrupt the Insurgents, and Top-down vs Bottom-up. Obviously, we need to go with the Bottom-up strategy, which unfortunately has not been in vogue with the Nation-State-Centric Paradigm crowd. I personally would prefer that we build the Afghanistan state; but that's not realistic, so I'm settling w/ the Disrupt the Insurgent camp.

In terms of strategic location, Afghanistan is in an interesting location. It borders Iran, Pakistan, and China, and close to India, all four states of interest to the US. A US presence in Afghanistan can thus influence nearby events. The only problem is that it is expensive to sustain our presence there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Honduras: The Drama Continues

Heard on the news today that Zelaya is back in Honduras, holding out at the Brazilian Embassy. Brazil's Lula is calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Yes, that would be waiting for the planned December elections! Why can't people just wait three more months?!

But anyway, this embassy standoff will be revealing on Brazilian embassies' preparedness procedures. It appears that the Brazilian embassy was not prepared for Zelaya's appearance nor the subsequent standoff. Now that the utilities have been cut off, the embassy has to rely on its stored supplies.

In general, without previous preparation, people can hardly hold out for more than three days. So if the embassy can hold out for more than three days, we can conclude that Brazil has a quite robust preparedness protocol for its embassies. That would be an interesting indicator on Brazil's worldview in general.

Friday, September 18, 2009


USAF's Chief of Staff, Gen Schwartz, has signalled his support for the air-launched missile defense concepts. This is good for missile defense. Additionally, the USAF will have an option to improve its air-to-air capability.

As I have talked about before, the USAF needs new air-to-air missiles to make up for F-35's inferior capabilities. Raytheon's NCADE and Lockheed's ALHTK will nicely address the shortfalls.

NCADE will give the AIM-120 an infrared seeker option. This will address the seeker diversity problem USAF and USN faces. NCADE's booster stage will also extend the range or improve AIM-120's kinematics. Even if NCADE does not pan out, Raytheon can quickly leverage its results into AIM-120 improvements.

ALHTK will introduce new missiles into USAF inventory, if NCADE doesn't pan out. PAC-3's radar seeker operates on a different band from AIM-120, so that will complicate threat jamming efforts. THAAD's IR seeker will address seeker diversity.

If air-launched missile defense progresses beyond the study stage, hopefully BAE will bring on its Meteor in the competition.

May the best missile win!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Army Combat Uniforms: the Nth Go-Around

Matthew Cox of the Army Times reported that two US Army battalions are going to Afghanistan with alternate camouflage patterns, to satisfy Rep. Murtha's congressional inquiry over the Army's "universal camouflage pattern". One battalion will wear Multi-Cam, while another will wear "UCP-Delta".

The UCP-Delta is so unique that I have to use a picture in this blog, for the first time ever!

A few observations:
1.) It took the Army more than 5 years to admit that the UCP is not universal enough.
2.) It took a Congressional mandate for the Army to admit it was wrong.
3.) We will probably end up with the UCP-Delta because it would be too expensive and too humiliating to go with the more versatile Multi-Cam.
4.) How the UCP came into being is still a mystery to most of us.
5.) At least this clothing mistake is way cheaper than the Future Combat System.
The picture came from DefenseTech.
PS: 6.) The big Army will have a reason to strip the Assymmetric Warfare Group, Rangers, Special Forces, and Delta of their Multi-Cam. That non-uniformity of these special people just makes their non-conformity that much more of an eyesore for the brass.
PSS: reduced picture size.

Attack: Helicopter vs OV-10

It's nice to see the return of the OV-10. I know that it's an Army fad to have a fleet of anti-tank helicopters. Hell, we even convinced the Russians and the Chinese to build such a fleet. However, pound for pound, and dollar for dollar, an attack helicopter is much less capable than a light attack aircraft. All armies would be better served to relegate their anti-tank mission to light attack aircrafts.

In terms of the runway requirement, the modern attack helicopter company occupies such a large area that it is simple to plop a runway down the middle. If you think about the payload of an AH-64 (about 2 tons), it is a ridiculously expensive platform for the payload. This article summarizes many of the advantages of a light attack aircraft over an attack helicopter.

The reason the Americans started down the road of an attack helicopter fad, was because the Key West agreement took away the Army's fixed-wing attack aircrafts. So the political agreement steered the Army into the rotary wing CAS alternative. For some reason (maybe Fire Bird?) this political compromise became an international military fad, still going strong. The Israeli have one; the Russians have 3; the Chinese and the Indians are working on it.

This fad proves that groupthink will transcend bureaucratic boundaries. It is so sad it is scary.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Reader's Response to Healthcare

A reader responded to my Four Components of Healthcare Spending by advocating for a baseline level of government-sponsored health insurance, where people can purchase additional coverages if they want to. A tiered healthcare system, in the jargon of the day. Or similar to how MediCare has a "MediCare Part B" from private insurers.

It is important to note that the American Administration has specifically rejected such a tiered system in its current proposal, due to equality concerns.

Personally, I think we will end up with a tiered system. My analysis of the four components supports that conclusion. So actually, Anonymous, I somewhat agree with you. Where we differ, is on what the base healthcare plan should provide.

In your basic healthcare plan, it looks to me like you are covering all health problems/diseases, but only paying for standardized, concensus treatments for each of them. The coverage appears to be similar to private group plans today.

I disagree. I think the base plan should omit a couple categories. For example, there are many people who believes vaccines are bad. We should allow these people to opt out of the vaccine component of our base health plan. In return, however, we should either tax them, or charge higher insurance premiums, for their risky behavior, and for the greater disease transmission resulting from their actions.

Another example: Some people engage in risky behaviors such as drunk driving or speeding. Their actions increase demands for expensive trauma care. We should charge these people dramatically higher premiums for their risk to society.

Another example: Obesity is positively correlated to a whole host of health problems, and is also the probable cause for many of these problems. Treating Type II diabetes is expensive. So we should charge such individuals for the present value of these treatments. [ie, if they're young (20-ish) and obese, we should charge them enough money to cover their later treatments.] At the same time, we should reward people who lead a healthy lifestyle by lowering their premiums.

On the subject of healthy lifestyles, some people exercise too hard and sustain sports injuries. These injuries, such as hurt knees, ironically make these people more prone to become obese later in life. We should charge them for exercising too hard.

On the OB/GYN example you cited: Many people don't want kids, and some of them actually hate(!) kids. Should we make them share the cost of a child birth? Or is a newborn baby an inherent public good, which deserves taxpayer subsidy? Should we subsidize the families that bear more than 4 children?

The theory of mandatory healthcare coverage is that, by having a bigger client pool, we reduce the average expense for everyone. The assumption here is that, most of the uninsured Americans are of the young, healthy variety. However, that is not necessarily the case. By having mandatory coverage, we may in fact raise the per capita expense. Massachusetts's experience should hopefully have dispelled some of that assumption.

Another reason I broke out the four healthcare components is to show that, many individuals are willfully negligent, or in some cases, reckless, in managing their healthcare. As I commented elsewhere, we should not subsidize people's bad judgement. The moral hazard is too great. As a democracy, we expect voters to take responsibility for their political decisions. How can we then abrogate their responsibilities for their own personal health decisions?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Clarifications on Russia and Western Europe

An anonymous commenter responded to my thoughts on the Mistral order. He objected to my analysis because
I think Russia's present security preoccupations are NATO expansion towards
Russia's Near Abroad. Islam is a very minor threat to Russia, and entire
point of the SCO is to manage Sino-Russian interests without butting heads.

I responded:

Yes, Russians are pre-occupied with NATO expansion. However, as Defense
Secretary Gates has said, there's the war you're preparing for, and there's the
war that you're actually fighting.Yes, NATO is expanding. However, that does not
pose a security threat, per se, to Russia. Rather, it is more over spheres of
influence, prestige, and control.

In addition, NATO expansion is driven, in large part, by former Warsaw
countries such as Poland and Czech. If you think about intentions, these Central
European countries are more hostile toward Russia than, say, England and France
are. England and France may object to Russian internal politics on humanitarian
grounds, but that could change if Russia becomes more Westernized. Poles and
Czechs, on the other hand, will forever hold Russians in suspicion.

So geostrategically, England and France may be rekindling their strategic
relationship with Russia. Here I am thinking on historical timescales of
decades. Historians in the 22nd Century may well mark this Mistral order as the
start of the trend.

Ref SCO and China: For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the SCO,
Russia is deeply worried about China due to the demographics. With the sporadic
anti-Chinese riots and actions in Moscow, and the de-facto Chinese colonization
of Russian Far East, China is Russia's biggest security risk at this moment.

As Russia is fighting its Muslim minorities right now, Islamic insurgency is
Russia's biggest security task. The war you're fighting today, like I said.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Quick Thought on Russian Mistral Order

DefenseTech and InformationDissemination have thoroughly covered the Russian order of France's Mistral Landingship, Helicopter/Deck, or Landingship, Platform/Dock, depending on your classification tastes. Just a quick thought here:

Historically, Russia had allied with France and England to balance against Germany. So this Mistral perchase is interesting in this historical sense. It could be the re-start of Russia's affinity with France and England. Germany is no longer Russia's enemy number one; China and Islamic insurgents are Russia's present security preoccupations. So in this context, it will be interesting to note how other EU countries will react to this. How this new strategic relationship affects the global dynamics of balancing will also be interesting to observe.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

LMG, Assault Rifles, & Infantry Squads

Alter has some questions about LMG magazines. Sorry about the delay in my reply here. I will also talk about how assault rifles has changed the infantry squad, and squad operations in general.

1.) Drum magazines: Yes, reloading drums can be slow. However, in a fire fight session, soldiers rarely have time to reload their magazines, so the loading time is not an issue.

For the US Army, the basic load for a SAW gunner is 600 rounds. A 200 round belt and box is 6.92 lbs, whereas 200 rounds in BetaCo drum magazines is 8.8 lbs, and in 30 round magazines 7.5 lbs. The belt-feed mechanism (top cover) on an M-249 is about 0.75 pounds [from memory], so given the basic load, belt-feed would be lighter. 30-round magazine feed is a close second, though.

2.) Top-loading vs optics: you can angle either the feed or the optics. Angling the magazine well would also help with changing the magazines and reduce the exposed profile of the gun crew during reloading.

3.) Configurable components: ARES's Shrike is a great example of a modular weapon system, with various barrell lengths and belt feed vs magazine feed. However, soldiers generally will leave all of the components behind in the barracks and will deploy with a single configuration.

With the invention of the fully automatic Assault Rifle in World War II, the Light Machine Gun has become much less critical in squad operations. A fire team of 4 full-auto assault rifles can keep up a fire volume similar to that of a fire team with 1 LMG and 3 semi-auto rifles. Therefore, today, infantry squad armament is more a reflection of philosophy than fire volume arithmatics.

There are two schools of thought in infantry squad armament: Generalists vs Specialists. The Specialist school is exemplified by WW2 Stormtroopers and modern American squads: you have riflemen/marksmen, machine gunners, grenadiers, and submachine-gunners in a squad. Each man specializes in a weapon system. In a squad attack, he has a designated role based on his weapon system. He may cross-train on the other weapons, but he is supposed to be an expert of his weapon.

The Generalist school is exemplified by the French All-FAMAS squad. Everyone uses a full-auto-capable, high rate-of-fire, assault rifle. In the Generalist squad attack, the focus is more on the tasks than the weapons: Suppression, indirect fire (rifle grenades), marksmen, and close-in/breach/demolitions. Over time, the squad members end up specializing anyway, but at least their assault rifles help them do everything when necessary.

In an attack, squad/platoon fire (as opposed to maneuver) has two main tasks: suppressing a bunker and cutting off enemy reinforcement/maneuver. A machine gun suppresses the bunker by firing at it as a target. A rifle does so by aiming and firing at the bunker's firing ports/holes. Similarly, the machine gun cuts off maneuver by firing at the group, while the rifle fires at the individual maneuvering. So in the attack, the Specialists and the Generalists engage the same targets; they just go about it differently.

In the defense, the Specialist squad acts different from the Generalist squad. The Specialist squad defense is organized around its LMGs. The LMGs focus on the enemy attack axis, and the rest of the squad focuses on protecting the LMGs. At the same time, the squad needs to site the LMGs away from the other fighting positions, because the LMGs draw fire from the enemy. So the defensive line tend to be a series of one- and two-men foxholes.

The Generalist squad defense also orients on the enemy attack axis. However, it relies on 3- and 4-men fire teams to generate the fire volume (to approximate LMGs). So the defensive line tend to be section trenches (short trenches for the team) or fire team strong points. A fire team strong point can be either one large foxhole or two smaller foxholes right next to each other.

Regardless of the squad armament, both schools have medium machine guns (or general purpose machine guns) at the platoon level. The machine gun may not be critical in the platoon attack, but its value shines through in the platoon defense. Much as its historical role since World War I, the machine gun is a force-economy tool in the defense: A platoon can cover its sector with just the machine guns. It can keep the rest of the soldiers resting and/or under protective cover. At the moment of attack, the machine guns give time for the defenders to get on the firing line.

The reason the Generalist squad can get away without an LMG is because a squad is always part of a platoon defense. A ten-men squad cannot defend a location on its own for long. It can barely keep up an LP/OP while staying on 50% security. Because the platoon MMGs are always available in the defense, the Generalist squad does not need an LMG.

Hope you find it useful in understanding squad operations and machine guns.

Edited to add links and labels.

Polyethylene Combat Helmets

Army Times this week reported that the US Army and Marine Corps are buying new helmets made of polyethylene, instead of Kevlar. Polyethylene is significantly lighter than Kevlar, so it can provide the same level of protection at a lower weight. That will be nice, in reducing soldiers' load weight.

Polyethylene is used in many applications. As Dyneema and Spectra, it is used in bulletproof vests. Manufacturers have also used polyethylene to make rifle protection plates, as an alternative to steel and ceramic. So it has a proven track record in protection. The French Army currently uses a helmet made with Dyneema.

However, polyethylene is very sensitive to temperature. BulletProofMe.com, for example, advises against exposure to temperatures less than 15 degree Fahrenheit nor more than 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Ultraviolet exposure will also degrade its performance.

So it remains to be seen if the vendors have fixed the temperature problem. The US Military definitely will have to replace their helmets much more often to avoid performance degradation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Further Thoughts on US Field Artillery

After my earlier article on the US artillery gap, I thought a bit more on this subject. The artillery gap is not uniform throughout the field artillery branch.

Field artillery has two sub-fields: howitzer cannons and rockets. In OIF and OEF, the cannoneers are often working as ad hoc dragoons, as I described earlier. However, the rocketeers are staying on their wartime mission of fire support. So the cannoneers are losing their skills, but the rocket artillery are still very proficient with their Table VIII tasks.

So in our next war, at least the rocketeers will be there to save our bacons.

College Admissions and the Female Applicant Pool

Interesting article at Volokh and discussions.  Basically, the admission office of selective schools are looking for female applicants who stand out from other female applicants.  One way to stand out, is to be good at math and science, want to major in science/engineering, and be athletic.

It is interesting to note that, 40+ years after the general civil rights movement, America still faces a demographic disparity in the undergraduate physics and engineering population.

It is also interesting to note, for example, the majority female undergrad math population in Portugal, and the majority female undergrad engineering population in UAE colleges.

Windows Live™: Keep your life in sync. Check it out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

REOs Priced to Move

Another interesting real estate story on Real Estate Owned (REO) properties, which are the ones banks have foreclosed on.

Good News: Banks are pricing the REOs to sell.  They price them low so they can get their money more quickly.  They'd rather bid up the sale price from multiple offers, than price higher with no offers at all.

Bad News: They all are predicting the next wave of residential foreclosures in the fall.  This prediction is largely in agreement with my earlier analysis on this blog.

Windows Live™: Keep your life in sync. Check it out.

Swine Flu, Cellular Quarantine, and Education

Swine flu is on the news in America, as the school systems around the country try to convince parents that they are on top of the potential crisis, at the start of our new school year.  Most take the form of disinfecting the schools during the summer break, and educating the school staff on swine flu and precautions.

However, one refrain I've heard from the school systems is, "We will not close the schools during a Swine Flu outbreak," to accommodate the working parents who cannot find alternative childcare arrangements.  That is suicidal.

I will not discuss the potential virulence, or the absence of, of swine flu for this fall/winter flu season, because it is mostly an unknown factor at this time.  Instead, I will focus on the general quarantine procedure policy here.

When swine flu, or a general flu outbreak, hits a school (probably defined as 5+ patients at the same time), we have to quarantine the student population.  Parents know that the schools in America serve as the disease incubator and transmission vector for the community; students get sick first, most of the time, before passing it onto the rest of the households.  So schools have to take the lead in minimizing disease transmissions.

At the same time, working parents have a legitimate concern over childcare during a school close.  Schools serve a secondary function as general daycare for working parents, who need to make ends meet.  So we need to provide an alternative childcare function during the quarantine as well.

The answer, logically then, is a cellular quarantine.  Essentially, the school teachers and students disperse away from the school during such a quarantine, but keep up the school days. 
1. The students in a subdivision or a neighborhood meet up at a location, either a teacher's house or that of a parent volunteer. 
2. The student group is made up of all students in that local area, regardless of grade, age, school, or other groupings. 
3. We keep the groups small, at 5 to 20 per group, depending on staff availability.
4. We assign a teacher or a school employee to supervise the student group.  The adult preferably lives close to the student group.
5. The students work on their assigned homework under adult supervision, a local Study Hall for an American equivalent.  The adult, or other students, provide homework assistance when necessary.
6. The local study hall can operate during the regular school day, or go on until 5pm, depending on the school policy.
7. In the litigation-prone America, the school district takes on all legal liabilities of the study hall, to encourage the house volunteering from parents.  The students then can walk to study hall.
8. Parents have the right to keep their children home, away from even the study hall, if they choose.  It is treated as equivalent to school absence.
9. Private schools are on their own, but they can work out memos of agreement with the public school systems, if they want to participate in the cellular quarantine.

We keep the students and staff dispersed into local cells.  These cells minimize interaction with each other, so there is no disease transmission across cells.  Any outbreak is immediately contained.  Parents will continue to have their day care.  The school staff continue to receive their working salary during the school close.  We keep the students occupied during the day.

This policy of a cellular quarantine provides a spectrum of policy responses for the public health officials and the school systems.  Instead of choosing between a business-as-usual versus a total system lock down (school closing), now we have a third choice of a cellular quarantine.  If the school system has a Geographical Information System, then it can even calibrate the size of the cells based on a risk assessment.  In other words, it can set the group size, 5 vs 10 vs 20, depending on the speed of disease transmission.

For the school systems in Northern America, who frequently have to contend with Snow Days during the winter time, this cellular quarantine provides an alternative as well.  Students can walk to their local rendezvous point during the snow days.  Parents have a daycare available, and we keep the kids occupied.  The school system gets a workout of its cellular quarantine procedures as well.

I hope some school districts will pick up on this idea and thus become less afraid of the political costs of a school closing.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Somalia and Nation-State Paradigm News

Another report supporting my previous piece on Nation-State paradigm and Somalia. Any good scientist knows to chuck the model when it no longer fits the reality. Perhaps Obama and Hillary Clinton should have studied science (or engineering) back in college.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Field Artillery: Critical US Army Capability Shortfall

Anonymous, sorry I hadn't replied to your comment. An airborne tank would be in the same class as the M8 Buford or an M-113 ACAV. It has been the shortfall of the airborne/light units in the US Army.

However, on further reflection, the true Army capability shortfall is in field artillery. There are two components to this short fall: human and materiel.

[SHORAD has been drastically cut back as well, but there wasn't much to start with in the first place. If the USAF cannot come through on the air superiority piece, we'll be in for a tough, long fight.]

Human: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has depended heavily on artillerymen serving as Dragoons (mounted infantry). In the process artillery collective training has fallen by the wayside. In the chaotic dwell time back at home, there is too much turnover to get any benefit out of collective training. Much of the training focus is on the war time mission of convoy security and dismounted operations. A few of the batteries get lucky and draw an artillery fire support mission during deployment. These lucky batteries get to train on the artillery collective tasks, but there is little institutional memory instilled, because of the personnel turnover later on and because they probably won't do artillery fire support the next deployment.

So it is a real question if anyone will remember how to shoot a Table VIII to the standard by the time we get out of OIF/OEF. [Table VIII is the 8th table in the 12 gunnery tables of the collective training pyramid, 12 being a fully proficient battery. 8 means proficiency at the section level: gun lines, FDCs. During the Cold War, few units got past Table VIII, and never in a repeatable, year to year, manner.]

If people don't know how to shoot a Table VIII, then we will start shooting our own people by mistake. Of course, the situation is fixable if we bring back all the retired red legs as contract consultants and rebuild our field artillery branch. But it will take a long time, and during that time the US Army will have a gap in its conventional capabilities.

Materiel: On the materiel side, we have a gap in fire delivery. The acqusition trend is going toward precision munitions and away from dumb weapons like regular shells and DPICM rockets. So we will be short on stock for sustained volume fire, should we ever need it again. In addition, the Assault Breaker project was essentially abandoned. So the US Army is short in the Deep Fight arena. Granted, we will have plenty of smart weapons to take out the high valued targets, and Apaches will still swarm with their Hellfire volleys. But the OMG over the Fulda Gap? Not so much anymore.

Mortgage: A Still Ticking Time Bomb

This story yesterday from CNN is very interesting and confirms my suspicions and observations on our current economy. Basically, it says that the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the whole "Mortgage Bailout" has frozen the mortgage industry in its tracks.

Last year, people were predicting left and right that the coming wave of foreclosures will devastate the housing market and push the US into the Second Great Depression. Today, there have been some foreclosures, but definitely not the tsunami waves predicted by the Cassandras. What happened to all those ARMs?

Bush and Obama launched the "Mortgage Bailout" to rescue all those ARM homeowners. The Bailout was supposed to help these homeowners to stay in their homes. By converting the ARMs into fixed rate mortgages, the Bailout aimed to arrive at the unhappy median where both the bank and the "homeowner" lose some money, but still stay in the house and pay the bills.

The Bailout failed to rescue all ARMs. Banks and homeowners do not like to realize their paper losses. Both the banks and the homeowners are expecting the government to give them a better deal later on, so they do not have to write down their losses. So in that respect, the Bailout failed in conclusively resolving the ARM problem, and thus allowing the US economy to "Move On" toward full recovery.

On the other hand, the Bailout accomplished its political purpose, which is to hold off that tsunami of foreclosures for now. In that respect, it is "Mission Accomplished". Banks are reluctant to foreclose all those houses, because they will definitely have to write off those profits from the 10% ARM mortgage rates. Homeowners are reluctant to move in general. The Bailout gives them the expectation of a better deal in the future, so they wait the best they can.

However, the mortgage time bomb is still ticking. The hope behind the Bailout was that, by delaying the foreclosures, the economy will improve, lifting the housing markets, and thus make the ARM problem go away. "Hope and Change", in a sense.

So now we are in a race against time, as I mentioned in the agriculture and economy in general articles. The ARMs from the crazy home real estate 2006 year are resetting right now, so the full scope of the problem is coming to the surface. The commercial real estate time bomb is still ticking away. The economy is improving. The Whales now have some money to spend in Las Vegas, but not the rest of the gambling market. The other real estate hot spots are suffering similarly.

So the question now facing the economy is: Can the US multi-nationals make enough money from the Chinese and Indian economic stimulii to save us from the mortgage time bomb? Will the Chinese and Indians buy enough American wheat, industrial machinery, airplanes, and financial consulting man-hours? Or, will they and the oil sheiks be crazy enough and start playing the American stock market again, that other great "export" of our economy?

[Note: That crazy Wall Street market is our invisible export. Its promise of riches lures in investors around the world. Their active stock trades generate tons of trading fees for the traders in New York, et al, who in turn spread the wealth to the rest of the US. We will have to place our faith in the hope that foreign investors do not wise up to the wisdom of Passive Management.]

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Capt Speicher: Closure for the Family

DoD confirmed that they found Capt Speicher's remains. At least his family now know what happened to him.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Recession vs Recovery: A Race of Time

This is an interesting story on the post-recession America. What it tells us, is that we are now in a race against time. If we do not have a recovery in demand, somehow, agriculture and manufacturing will start falling again. Agriculture, and to a lesser extent, manufacturing, remain important drivers of the US economy. Agriculture, in particular, is vital in propping up the trade balance of the US, making it not as bad as it could be.

So we may yet have that "W" shaped recession, after all.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Colombia and the South American Arms Race

In a world of non-state conflicts (Iraq, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria), it is refreshing to witness a good old-fashioned state-to-state confrontation. It is much less violent than the up-close-and-personal, messy, insurgency. Today, we see Venezuela kicking it up a notch against its regional rival, Colombia.

Venezuela and Ecuador have funded guerrilla proxies against Colombia. Now that Colombia is emerging from its civil war, it is naturally antagonistic toward its unfriendly neighbors. A FARC-free Colombia will tackle the resource and border disputes it currently ignores. Colombia's battle-hardened army, and its friendly relation with the US, do not comfort Hugo Chavez, either. The strategic rivalry in the area may draw the rest of the continent into the confrontation. An arms race started by Peru and Venezuela will lead to some much needed cash for the American military-industrial complex for the next few years.

Whether this arms race widens will depend on the ABC: Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Argentina's Kirchner may well take Chavez's side and use the Venezuelan aid money to "recapitalize the military" [aka graft money to constituents.] Where Brazil and Chile will come down is more difficult to read, due to their complex relationship with the area. Venezuela will interpret the outcome of the Brazilian fighter competition as a signal of where Lula is going.

Iran: A Less Than Lethal Insurgency

We're seeing the Iranian protesters again on the news, with the memorials for Neda and the ensuing melee.

Iran is an interesting case right now on the bureaucratic struggles during an insurgency. The fact that the protests have dragged on this long, one month plus and counting, means that the Iranian government does not have enough manpower to secure the streets. The counter-insurgency rule of thumb for manpower is 10 to 20 soldiers per 1000 residents. Obviously here Iran fails to have those soldiers to lock down Tehran.

The reason is simple. In the news videos we have seen thus far, there is a conspicuous absence of the Iranian army. Instead, the riot police and the Basij militia are the primary enforcers against the protesters. Without bringing in the rest of the Iranian security apparatus, the Basij is outnumbered by the protesters on the street. It would take a more rigorous analysis, but I suspect the Tehran metro police department is being kept out of play here as well.

The fact that Iran has not deployed the military means that the revolutionary council does not trust the military. The size of the protest population has backed the Revolutionary Council into a corner here: It can call in the Army, which would contain the current crisis, but which would leave the protesters to fight again down the line, as I described earlier. Or, it could stick with the Basij, and the current insurgency will continue like an open sore, sapping the Iranian security apparatus.

It appears that the Revolutionary Council is facing a lose-lose situation here, and the Iranian Insurgency has a genuine chance of success, my previous predictions not-withstanding.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Care Alternative: More Doctors

Today NPR has two healthcare stories I heard:
1.) Volunteer doctors provide free care at a camp/fair for the uninsured,
2.) Community organizers help Obama push for universal healthcare.

I'm struck by a thought: These community organizers would surely do a lot more good if they all have a medical or nursing degree! Just imagine the concrete, physical good they can do to the world, instead of the intangible, unmeasurable service they are providing. Yes, they are talking to people, and helping people's voices get heard. But what if, they can do that, and give people what they need, too!

As a community organizer, you are usually backing a lost cause. It will take forever to see a return on your efforts, if ever. As a medical professional, you see an immediate return of your efforts. People get well right before your eyes, or at least do not suffer as much as before. You are helping people, either way. But you do more good as a medical caregiver than a community organizer. That medical fair would never have happened if doctors and nurses did not show up. You would only have a bunch of community organizers then.

Of course, it may be because I'm an engineer that I'm thinking this way. But it is a logical choice to get a nursing degree instead of community-organizing-efforts. Unless those community organizers do not really want to help people.

If Obama wants to give more medical care to the American people, one way he can start is by opening a free medical and nursing school open to all. This school will keep up the academic rigor by failing people who cannot make it. It will focus only on primary care and trauma care. Its graduates will man those community clinics for MedicAid and MediCare patients, and the uninsured.

That federal medical/nursing school has got to be cheaper than the $1+ trillion/year (2002 dollars) that MediCare is projected to require by 2075.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kenya: the Next Sino-Indian Flash Point

The New York Times has a summary article on Kenyan politics last week.  For all the talk about Americans' self-obsession, the Old Media does a pretty fair job of covering world events, for those who care to look.

Anyway, the article basically says that the old Mau Mau Uprising never went away.  The ethnic fissures in Kenya are as explosive as ever.  This instability, coupled with Indian and Chinese ambitions in the area, may well make Kenya the next Sino-Indian flash point.

Here I am not saying that either China or India will instigate a crisis, but rather, that their local allies have an incentive to drag the two countries into the conflict.  Both countries are expanding their commercial relationships with Kenya.  Their alliances with local politicians and powerbrokers will start to line up along Kenya's ethnic fault lines.  When Kenyans go to war against each other, they will call on their external allies for support, thus widening the conflict.

In a sense, this is similar to the dynamic covered in Freakonomics and Gang Leader for a Day: The powerful chiefs have an inherent desire for peace and quiet, because war is bad for business.  Their underlings, however, are trigger happy, because war improves their odds of advancement in a tournament-style system.

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American Recession is Over (Or, We Have Hit Rock Bottom)

Bernanke has added his voice to the growing concensus view, that the Recession is over.  This is one week after Daniel Gross's article on some leading economic indicators.

So this means that we have hit rock bottom, low enough that the economy will not shrink anymore, for a little bit longer.  You can kind of see this in the stock market as well, where the SP500 hit the bottom back in March, and has recovered quite a bit of its value since then.

However, the question now is, what's next?  The current "recovery" is primarily the result of fear easing and hitting bottom.  Back in the first quarter of this year, the credit market locked up, and businesses went into survival mode, hoarding cash and minimizing expenses.  Now, the commercial papers market has returned to somewhat normal, meaning businesses can stop hoarding cash.  Businesses cannot slash any more expenses without impeding their operations.  And productivity is up, as they fire many of the lazier employees.

American companies are earning some money from the economies of China and India (and Brazil and other developing countries), which gives you that small rise in earnings you are seeing in the Second Quarter reports.  However, the American consumers are not spending, so there is little domestic driver for corporate earnings this year.

There are three scenarios going forward:

1.) Optimistic: The Obama stimulus finally hits the economy.  The Adjustable Rate Mortgages stop being a drain on banks (because they already wrote down the mortgage sector, hopefully).  We can't see a consumption-driven recovery, but we can see Investment from a new technology, as yet unknown.  Rich people the world over start going on vacation again to luxury destinations.  Inflation stays under control.  These little things add up to start dragging the world economy out of the slump. 

This would depend on all of these little things happening, and so far, it looks highly unlikely, short of a World War III-driven economic recovery.

2.) Neutral: Stimulus hits, but the ARM write down (from all the 2007 homebuyers losing their homes, or a Federally-forced "mortgage protection" settlement) largely cancels out the stimulus.  Consumption stays the same.  Investment stays low.  Inflation stays middle.  Rich people are afraid to visibly spend on luxuries, keeping them at home.  We enter a Japanese style economic ennui.

This scenario is very likely, because the ARM write down has yet to happen.  As Gross said in his article, we cannot foresee a technology compelling enough to start an Investment-driven recovery, in the style of the 90's Internet Boom.

3.) Pessimistic: The ARM writedown overwhelms the Obama stimulus.  Inflation on the Supply inputs (a bad corn harvest, rise in fertiliser cost, Nigerian MEND terrorism, et al) pushes companies and households into bankruptcies.  The stock market takes a second nosedive.

This scenario is somewhat likely.  If it does happen, it will be a long, bad stretch for the world.

The above analysis does not account for several wildcards.  For example, the Cap and Trade regime and other environmental initiatives could severely curtail corporate investment and bankrupt small companies.  A bad H1N1 outbreak in the northern hemisphere could drive 2009 back into negative growth territory.

So for those of you looking to invest in the stock market: Yes, you have missed the bus, once again.

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