Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Art & Science of Defensive Planning

The recent overrun of COP Keating ( is too close a replay of Wanat for comfort. ( 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 ( 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" . 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 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. ( 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". 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. That's a good development, as I have advocated here and here

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,

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