Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fight the New Assault Weapon Ban

If you want to fight the new Assault Weapon Ban from the Obama administration, you need to start writing your Congress people (House and Senate). I have included a sample letter you can adapt and modify as you see fit below:

Mr. [Congress Person],

I am writing to you to oppose any gun control measures from the current administration. Specifically, I am opposing any thought of a new assault weapon ban.

Attorney General Holder recently said that, because of Mexico's current gun violence, the administration will propose a new, permanent assault weapon ban. That is an illogical conclusion. The reason Mexico is having gun problems is because Mexico chooses not to secure its own borders against gun traffickers. The BATF is assisting Mexico by investigating and arresting gun dealers who violate the law, and that is good. However, to conclude that we need to constrain the rights of law-abiding Americans because of the ineptitude of the Mexican government is simply absurd.

Moreover, the firearm industry is providing many well-paying manufacturing jobs in the United States, jobs that are disappearing from the rest of the economy. If you support the Assault Weapon Ban, you will be destroying well-paying manufacturing jobs in your district, deepening this recession. You will be contributing to your own electoral loss at the next election.

Thank you for your consideration,

[Insert Name]

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Design to Improve Canine Effectiveness in Arid Climates

The military employs military working dogs in bomb detection. Therefore, working dogs can help us avoid mines and improvised explosive devices, and detecting the female suicide bombers currently in vogue in Iraq. However, the dogs are not effective in OIF and OEF because it is too dry over there.

A dog's nose is a mucous membrane with sensors all over. The sensors bind to the scent particles in the air through the mucous membrane. If the nose dries out, the sensors are not as effective in binding to the scent molecules. Because the air is so dry in Iraq and Afghanistan, it dries out dog noses rapidly. The bomb detection dogs were only effective for much less than one hour before needing to take a break and re-wet their noses.

When I was deployed, I wrote up a proposal to build a humidifier for a working dog, to extend his working time. To accomplish this, you can take a spritzer to spray water onto his nose directly, for a low tech method, interim capability.

My design was: Mount the spritzer by the dog's head, and aim it to a point 3 inches in front of his nose. The spritzer would automatically spray water toward this point periodically, to moisturize the air as he breathes in. The exact configuration and timing will require experimentation, for which I did not have the money, personnel, nor assets to do.

Alternatively, we can spray moisturized air, instead of water spray, into the air. This might be more effective, but it would also be more complex.

Anyway, I submitted the proposal to the local counter-IED working group. They forwarded it to some people in the K-9 community. And I never heard back from them again. Story of my life, eh? :)

This proposal will make a great college/backyard engineering project if you want to build it. All you need is a dog, some dry weather, and some time to tinker with. It is not technically sophisticated, but you do need to program that motor controller.

So that is another one of my engineering ideas as I was sitting in the Fallujah contracting office doing paperwork. We need to get more working dogs into the military because they are so useful. In Vietnam, soldiers used to patrol the jungle with working dogs. The dogs could smell and hear the boobytraps, and were great sentries at night. Dogs also are good at reading body language and help us separate good guys from bad guys. In the new population-centric warfare we are fighting, working dogs are a crucial tool that we are not using effectively.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Follow up on Nation-State Paradigm

Here is a response to the Nation-State paradigm article that I want to highlight.

Grandma wrote in to say that this is a dangerous course of action because we have no business intervening in other people's business. It is a common sentiment, and I feel the need to address this sentiment here. I wrote:


It is true that, in practice, the US had done quite a bit of "bottom-up" intervention in the past century. However, you will notice that I mentioned "the CIA shenanigans" in my discussion.

There are two components to your arguments, which I will address separately:

1. "Who are we to intervene in other people's affairs"
That is an artifact of the Nation-State, Westphalian paradigm I discussed. I agree that we should not intervene in Sovereign States' internal affairs. For example, Spain effectively exercises its sovereignty over the Basque County, so the Basque question is a purely internal Spanish question and none of our business.

However, what about Somalia? Should we respect the "Ambassador" sent by the non-functioning Somalian Transitional Federal Government? Or should we accord more respect to the ambassador from Somaliland, which is actually a functioning government? If we start talking to Somaliland directly, wouldn't that disrespect the TFG? Does the TFG matter?

You can see where I'm going with this. Our respect for the international legal regime (aka UN) (which is based on the nation-state paradigm) is preventing us from recognizing reality. The reality is, Somalia does not exist. Rather, we have a bunch of principalities and fiefdoms, whose borders shift everyday. They sometimes band together in the TFG, but othertimes go to war. However, we have no legal way to deal with/engage these somewhat sovereign entities, because we have to honor our laws on nation-states.

So that is what I am saying here. If we stop looking through the Nation-State glasses like we are, and step back, we can see that Somalia is really not a disaster like the news make it out to be. Rather, there's only parts of it that's bad, where people are suffering. The other parts have law and order, but we can't give them foreign aid because we have to funnel the money through the TFG.

2. "Pawns of an Evil Empire"
Yes, CIA shenanigans, banana republics. The fact is, we have done a lot less of it for the past 40 years. Transparency is good. Conspiracy is bad.

Generally, the State Dept has not been involved in these shenanigans. However, DoS's embrace of the legalistic paradigm of international relations is preventing it from seeing the world as it really is. Theory is good only as far as it helps us understand reality, and in the post-Cold War world, the Nation-State theory is rapidly losing coherence with reality.

Just to give an example: the Montagnard people of south east Asia. They have generally been prosecuted by the plains people. In the Vietnam War, we allied ourselves with them. Yet when we withdrew from Vietnam, we cut them loose and left them on their own to the slaughter and cleansing. Was that morally right? Could we have carved out a small sanctuary in Vietnam for our allies there? To minimize bloodshed, nation-states be damned?

Part of this post is: How can we do the right thing, the moral thing, when international law on state sovereignty is keeping us from our morality [moral compass]. That is something we can probably agree on.

Budget Cut: Military Healthcare Costs

The Defense Department has to cut some money in its FY10 budget. It's not much of a cut, though. DoD will make most of the cut by not keeping up with inflation. Regardless, this is the start of the budget reckoning I have talked of before. If you are interested in the Defense budget, you should check out Holding the Line, edited by Dr. Cindy Williams. The book is a product of the 1990-era strategic confusion, so there's a lot of maintaining status quo, aka "Holding the Line". However, the authors made a nice case of where we can cut and hedge our strategic bets.

Over at Abu Muqawama, I made a comment on the military healthcare costs. The military healthcare is the fastest rising sector of defense spending, just like the rest of the US economy. In FY09, the DoD requested $42.8 billions for the Defense Health Program. If you add in the Veterans' Administration, it will be even bigger. The brass are having to decide between guns (weapon acquisition) and butter (personnel cost) directly now. [As opposed to just DoD vs everybody else.]

This may be unfortunate for those of us in the military-industrial complex, and for the generals and admirals. However, this healthcare problem is largely the result of the military culture. The brass has known about the problem for years, but ignored it because it's not sexy.

For example, back in the '80s and '90s, the most common cause of injury (or conditions preventing duty performance) for male soldiers is intramural sports. During physical training or unit-wide sports competition, they played too hard and hurt their knees or break bones. [Don't have the data but the sports injuries should be true for the Regular Army pre-AVF as well.] This directly drives up our healthcare cost because:
1: Soldiers are getting medical treatment for something that's prefectly preventable.
2: They will develop chronic conditions later on, requiring knee surgeries and other expensive treatments.
3: Due to reduced mobility from the chronic injuries, they will get fat and develop type 2 diabetes.

So, all because the leaders are having too much fun on the sports field, we now do not have enough money to buy the F-22, FCS, etc.

Or, to take another example: Hearing loss. We do a lot of loud stuff, firing weapons, drive tanks, blow stuff up. However, the leadership does not do a good job with hearing protection. These days, they at least hand out foam earplugs and make an effort to raise hearing awareness, but back in the day, they did not even do that much. For years, the Army has said that electronic hearing protection is too expensive, even though they would be more effective than foam earplugs. Yet when OIF started, Army suddenly had enough money to buy the electronic ear muffs for the line units. Years later, the now veterans file for disability because of military duty-related hearing loss, and the brass has to pay for it.

So, to the American people: Please demand better accountability from your generals and admirals when they come to you asking for more money. Make them find money from smarter healthcare decisions. It is their own stupidity that their healthcare cost is eating up their budget pie.

Edited to Add: Here are a couple of articles that add to this: Andrew Exum's article on soldier's load, and 3 years later, his predictions coming true.

Monday, February 2, 2009

US Army MTOE: Rifles, Pistols, & PDWs

One thing the US Army needs to fix is the way it assigns weapons in the MTOE.

OIF/OEF has exposed some of the problems with Army thinking on this subject. The following rules describes the current situation:

1. One soldier, one weapon. Except for special situations such as military police or special forces, who gets both a pistol and a long arm per soldier.

2. Company Commanders get pistols. Lieutenant Colonels and above (and most Sergeants Major) get pistols always. Majors may get M-16/M-4s if necessary. Everyone else gets M-16/M-4s or machine guns.

3. Some Corps and EAC units will get more pistols due to the (supposed) reduced threat environment.

The above rules made the pistol a status item in the military: If you carry a pistol, you must be important. Nevermind that the pistol is only good in special situations. The soldier who has only a pistol is under-protected by the Army.

In OIF/OEF, however, the special situations come up all the time for the line infantry and ad hoc infantry: In close-quarter combat, pistol is crucial as a backup. When your M-16 magazine is almost empty, it may be faster to draw your pistol and keep firing, as opposed to taking the time to change out the magazine. Snipers and machine gunners also need a pistol for close defense.

At the same time, many staff officers carry pistols as their only weapon. However, a pistol has limited range and cannot penetrate body armor. In the modern 360-degree, non-linear battlefield, a soldier with only a pistol has a limited chance to survive.

However, the status symbol of the pistol meant that, at the beginning of OIF/OEF, there was a critical shortage of pistols for the line companies. The US Army has bought more M9 Berettas to fill the requirement, and the real MTOE, as opposed to the official one, for most active duty line companies now include more pistols.

At the same time, staff officers need to give up their pistols and pick up a personal defense weapon or carbine. Everyone in the Army needs to be ready to defend themselves against an enemy soldier.