Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Showtime Islands

The Showtime Islands
James E. Mason
Smarter Policies
September 11, 2015

            China’s reclamation of land and the formation of outposts in the South China Sea is an odd mixture of domestic politics and military folly. Simply put, they cannot be defended and China lacks effective expedition capabilities needed for any adventures in the region. The purpose of the entire island building venture is political leverage. Nothing more. Alarmist media coverage in both countries ensures this.
            The island building campaign has the quest for natural resources as its reason for existence and this sounds logical. Where the logic breaks down is in logistics. The distances that need to be covered are vast. If there was not an issue of territorial waters (Philippines, Vietnam etc.) and a simple matter of exploiting and transporting resources then the entire endeavor would be sound. This is not a perfect world. The islands will have to have a complex logistics chain in order to be profitable. The Chinese Navy (PLAN) is not a “Blue Water” navy like that of the US. The greatest threat they can pose in those waters comes from their submarine fleet, a fleet made up predominantly of aging Soviet designs that the U.S. already knows how to track and kill. There is only one carrier in their inventory and it is still a work in progress. Even if the carrier was in full operation it is sole source of sea based air power, for an entire navy.
            As work progresses on the islands it becomes clear that China wants to use them as early warning pickets as well as outposts. The islands are far enough from the mainland to provide warning of an attack or to simply monitoring an enemy. Over the horizon radar and other communications equipment are being installed. There is speculation that the communication equipment could be used to help target the D-21 anti-ship ballistic missile (the “Carrier Killer”) and therefore give the Chinese a deterrent. There is still one flaw that undermines this strategy.
            Islands do not, move. Stealth can defeat radar and the U.S. has decades of experience in implementing stealth technology. There has been much criticism regarding the U.S. military’s and, the air force in particular, reliance on the strategy of overwhelming air power as it was used in the 1991 Gulf War. Many call for the strategy to be scrapped because we will not always need it in the rapidly changing world. That is true. What is also true is that these islands present the same situation that enable the Desert Storm strategy to work. A key component to this doctrine                           is the destruction/disruption of communications, command and control (C3). This worked well in the deserts of Iraq and the distances involved with the Chinese bases are even greater.
            With all of the factors at play one has to wonder what the endgame is for these outposts. It is too soon to have any hope that they would provide a military use. The Chinese military is still in the midst of massive modernization. Politically they are more useful for internal propaganda than they are for international leverage. The only possible explanation is they are part of a long range plan. If so, is making noise about them advantageous at this point in time?
Only China knows.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Thawing Conflict

The concept of a Frozen Conflict was not invented by Vladimir Putin but he has been a staunch supporter of the strategy. A frozen conflict is one in which the active combat has ended or ebbed yet no peace treaty has been agreed upon. The Kremlin has used this state of Non-war as a foreign policy tool in places such as Georgia and Transnistria. Eastern Ukraine still sees its share of violence from separatists backed by Russian troops and equipment, but there has been no full blown invasion of Ukraine. The fighting is dragging on which follows the typical pattern of frozen conflicts. In light of the strategy’s success for the Kremlin one has to wonder if it is sustainable.
As a strategy, Frozen Conflicts are essentially a hybrid of covert and limited warfare. Both of these methods have been proven, in most cases, to be losing options. Russia uses Frozen Conflicts not to facilitate regime change or expand territory but to establish hegemonic buffer zones. This can be attributed to the fear of NATO encroachment. The problem lies in the question of the threats. Russia has lost close to two thousand soldiers in Ukraine alone. The Kremlin has tried to suppress this information but the attempts have the aura of a macabre farce. Tension with the west has been building since the 2008 war over South Ossetia and has only escalated since. Putin may be able to use this strategy in the few places he already has, but with economic sanctions and other issues such as Syria, will these operations be feasible in the future? In conventional warfare, the chessboard set piece warfare, one knows not to spread forces too thin or risk losing territory. The goal is not to gain territory so, losses from having troops in combat zone while, in theory, not engaging in combat will take a toll at home. There is also the risk of a degradation in military readiness that may affect other potential missions.
The recent Russian troop deployment to Syria is not going to be a Frozen Conflict. It is too far away and does not serve a purpose in the context of that strategy. Like Crimea Syria hosts a vital naval port for the Russian navy. Common sense would put the Tartus base on a higher priority than Transnistria where thousands of Russian troops happen to be sitting. As Putin seeks to have global influence could his Frozen Conflicts become an Achilles heel?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Islamabad's Wake Up Call

Smarter policies
Islamabad Wake Up Call
Pakistani Taliban Cross the Line


Pakistan has suffered Taliban attacks in the past but the level of savagery and selection of targets has never been this severe or cruel.

            The latest attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a military school in Peshawar has far ranging implications for the government of Pakistan and in particular its military establishment. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban movement. Despite periodic offensives against them many see the ISI as going soft on the militants and they are known to have ties and support at high levels in the military. This may soon change.
            The attack and its brutality against children will likely have the same effect that the September 11th attacks in the U.S. or the Beslan massacre of school children in Russia. Pakistan is known for its anti-American sentiment among its general population but this high profile act of carnage will put the Pakistani Taliban in the position of enemy number one. How much of this grief and outrage will become a unifying force for the civilian leadership and the military is yet to be seen at this stage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has flown to the site and also declared a three day period of mourning for the victims.[1] There are reports that a teacher was burned alive in front of students and many of the students (as young as 10 years old) were beheaded.[2]
            In the coming months there will be several things to look for:
·         Will the civilian leadership take a stranger stance against the Taliban? They have spent time vacillating when it comes to direct action against the militants.[3]
·         As the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan deteriorates will the Pakistani Taliban use Afghanistan as a safe haven in the event of a massive crackdown by Pakistani forces. This would be a role reversal of the current situation with the Afghan Taliban.
·         Given the climate after this latest attack there may be human rights abuses by the Pakistani military in the event of an offensive.

[1] (Brinded, 2014)
[2] (Brinded, 2014)
[3] (ZAHRA-MALIK, 2014)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This Battle Actually Does Matter

Smarter policies
This Battle Actually Does Matter
Fighting ISIS


Despite our trouble history in Iraq the fight  against ISIS and the change in Iraqi government are crucial in ensuring the sacrifices of our involvement will not be in vain

                                 The debate over U.S. intervention against ISIS militants in Iraq is a heated debate with many valid points being made on the pro and con sides.   After beginning with a flimsy premise and close to a decade of combat it is only understandable that there would be reluctance to reengage in combat of any sort in Iraq. This overlooks one important factor. The sacrifice in blood and treasure that was invested in Iraq with be squandered if Iraq degrades into a large failed state. Whether one was for the invasion of Iraq or against it matters very little now that all the events of the past decade have transpired. Pointing the finger at who started the war, who managed/mismanaged it and who ended it will does not matter. In short, no one wanted it so the least we can do is ensure it was worth it. Two key factors make the current intervention potentially more positive in the long run.
                        First is ensuring Iraq has a functional and inclusive government. With the departure of Nuri Al Maliki this looks possible. The process of turning Iraq into a democracy that is more inclusive than what we have seen will be a long process. Sectarian divisions will not disappear overnight. But, going in the opposite direction that Maliki was taking the country was not and is not an option. When a nation is in crisis, and this is a prime example of a crisis, the hope is that the citizens will pull together for the common good. If this happens on any level it will be a vast improvement over the past several years and after that only time will tell.
                        Second is our approach to the current crisis. Regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama he is sticking to his promise to move away from unilateral intervention. This policy has come under fire from hawks in the government but a unilateral approach toward ISIS would ruin any gains to be made just as surely as doing nothing would. In the 1991 Gulf War President Bush made the decision to have Arab troops ride into Kuwait city during its liberation to put an Arab face on the war, at least in the minds of the countries providing those troops. With the current situation in Iraq the act of partnering with the Iraqis, Kurds and any other willing member state not achieves the same goal but that goal is more important this time around. By having the Iraqis and Kurds lead the fight (with advisors and air support from the U.S. and possibly other allies) the Iraqi fighting force can be rebuild and the fallout from masses of American troops in country can be avoided. There is also the benefit of repairing out tarnished image in the region. Middle Eastern nations, like any others, want a sense of dignity when it comes to their own affairs. The unilateral approach is no better than colonialism in their view and in the long run counterproductive to our foreign policy in the region. The best way to fight ISIS is to have the Iraqis do most of the fighting. Period.
                        No one can say how things will turn out. The certainties are that the fight will last years. This is an asymmetric conflict with a fanatical enemy that is well trained and able to attract recruits despite its brutality. The U.S. will take casualties on the ground. When the Obama administration speaks of “No boots on the ground” it is using double speak for “No large unit actions on the ground.”  Our casualties will come from security/support forces, advisors and Special operations troops. Anyone who things our bombs and training alone will win this conflict is either not well versed in military operations or in denial. Last, no one should expect Iraq to turn into Dubai even if all operations go well. The fight against ISIS is simply one of making the best out of a bad situation.                


Friday, August 22, 2014

Defeat via Ally

smarter policies
Defeat via Ally
How Strategy is Made Pointless


Working with allies can sometimes be the worst strategy

                                In the current state of foreign affairs many experts, pundits and policy makers have touted various strategies to deal with areas of crisis around the globe. Some of them are plausible, others are laughable but all tend to ignore a crucial factor that can enhance or, more often than not, undermine the best of strategic plans. Our allies, for better or worse, determine how successful our strategies are. This is not a call for unilateral action. Unilateral action is of limited use and often causes more problems than it solves. This is a statement about the hazards of expedient or bad statemenship.
                        The recent report of Shia Militias executing Sunni worshipers in Iraq is a symptom of Maliki’s sectarian based decision making. The situation has made it difficult for the new Iraqi government to implement reconciliation policies that would help the country move out of the morass of violence and strife it is now wading through. Iraq is only the most recent in a long line of allies that have fostered the defeat of U.S. strategy. From South Vietnam to Nicaragua bad leadership by allied nations has made the best strategies pointless. The most costly and heartbreaking allied relationship has to be that of the U.S. and Pakistan, and in particular their relationship to the war in Afghanistan.
                        Afghanistan can be looked at as a war where the U.S. beat the Taliban and lost to the Pakistani ISI. That is a brutal assessment that will not be found in many publications. Pakistan is the perfect example of the bad ally syndrome that is little more than a political Catch-22. They are too well strategically placed and nuclear armed to abandon. Yet, they are working against our national security interest while taking cash handouts.  While Pakistan is the most blatant example of this problem it has and does exist any many international relationships the U.S. has forged. It is a hazard that for the most part is an unavoidable part of geopolitics. But, unlike dealing with one’s family where you do not get to choose who you are related to, the arena of geopolitics does provide the option to pick and choose.

                        The end result of not evaluating our allies’ policies and intentions over the past decade is a tendency to blame, the intelligence services and the Pentagon for failure that stem more from bad policies and association than bad strategy.  The threats have increased and we are still saddled with allied leaders that are doing more harm than good when it comes to our national security objectives. A bad allied government is almost worse than dealing with a failed state in that they can invoke sovereignty (as the Pakistanis do in the tribal areas) to cover their own efforts. Until this false friendship situation can be mitigated (it can’t be helped in some cases) we will have uphill battles and many defeats in the future.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Matter of Investment

Smarter Policies
A Matter of Investment
Moscow’s Elite Forces and Ukraine


An examination of Moscow’s commitment of elite forces in Ukraine and what the Kremlin’s endgame may or may not be.

            In the world of intelligence what sounds outrageous may in fact be true. This may be the case with Ukrainian claims of subversive operations being conducted by the GRU in the country’s east. In the west such claims can be written off but one must take into account that there are Ukrainians who served in the GRU during the Soviet era and therefore the knowledge of how they operate and what their mission is something the Ukrainians know about first hand.
            One mission of GRU Spetznaz (Special Forces) is to penetrate deep behind enemy lines, in uniform or civilian clothing, and to secure or destroy strategic targets prior to an invasion by conventional/ follow on forces. The seizure of key buildings and communications sites bears all the hallmarks of a GRU operation. The fact that the follow on forces are massed on the other side of the border lends more credence to the Ukrainian accusations. It is also probably that the FSB has a hand in fomenting unrest in the region. The recent distribution of pamphlets urging Jews to register could be a black operation in support of the Kremlin’s accusation that fascists have taken over Ukraine.
            On a tactical level these pieces fit neatly into a pre-invasion puzzle but what is Moscow’s end game? Putin’s recent speech using the phrase “Novorossiya” and his desire to protect ethnic Russians “anywhere” does not bode well. Prior post in Smarter Policies downplayed alarmist sentiment but as time goes by the alarmist may have the last laugh.


Caryl, C. (2014, April 21). Novorossiya is Back From the Dead. Retrieved from Foreign Policy: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/04/17/novorossiya_is_back_from_the_dead_putin_russia_ukraine
Shishkin, P. M. (2014, April 21). Ukraine Accuses Kremlin Agents of Coordinating Separatist Unrest. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/news/article_email/SB10001424052702304279904579513873878428430-lMyQjAxMTA0MDIwMDEyNDAyWj?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=*Situation%20Report&utm_campaign=SITREP%20APRIL%2021%202014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Scorpion Philosophy

Smarter polices
Scorpion Philosophy
Low Cost Does Not Mean Low Capability


An examination of U.S. Philosophy of Combat Aircraft and associated costs

            Bigger, faster and louder, are words that America loves and applies to all things from food portions, cars and entertainment.  America is a country that prides itself on giant breakthroughs in industry and technology.  Every new invention does not have to be from the ground up. What the aerospace defense industry needs to look at is adaptability, and versatility. This is prudent from an operational and economic standpoint. This is not to say the technological gains should not be sought after but that they should not impeded the procurement of new systems.
            Examining Soviet/Russian philosophy towards combat aircraft is one way to move forward and remain dominant. Russia’s history of being invaded pushed their weapon’s makers to use practical weapons that could be built in large numbers and used by a conscript force. The most famous of these weapons is the AK-47. When it comes to aircraft the thinking was the same. All Russian military aircraft are built with worst case scenarios in mind. The landing gear is always designed to be rugged to allow operations from unimproved or dirt strips. The Mig-29 went so far as to have special doors on its intakes to enable it, a high performance fighter, to operate in areas where foreign object ingestion would destroy other aircraft.
            Another philosophy, which is more relevant, now than ever, is to find a platform that works, then expand upon it. This can be either through new specialized versions or derivatives based on a previous platform. Sukhoi has demonstrated this with an entire family of aircraft based on the Su-27. Naval variants, thrust vectoring and strike/bomber aircraft (Su-34) are all adaptation of a platform that was viable and versatile. More to the point these aircraft are still relevant in today’s combat environment. The U.S. is trying to have a degree of versatility with the F-35, a new ground up design, and billions of dollars have been spent on an aircraft that is good at many things but not lacks excellence in any one area. The U.S. has tried to find aircraft for all branches of service in order to cut the cost of having specialized aircraft of different types.
            The U.S. would benefit from taking the Russian path but using off the shelf or proven systems with new technology. The A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) took that approach and the result was a classic warplane that proved its worth. The Textron Scorpion  was developed as a low cost easy to produce and maintain aircraft. It is marketed for COIN, ISR and FAC roles. While not a frontline fighter, the philosophy behind it and its affordability should be adapted towards major weapons platforms.
            The production lines for the F-15 Eagle and the F/A-18 Hornet are still going. Taking the Russian doctrine of making new variants or new aircraft based on these proven platforms is a wise option. In addition to being a wise avenue to explore it would also save jobs and as the newer aircraft are created it may create more jobs in the long run. The technology to keep these airframes relevant is here and waiting twenty years for another new ground breaking aircraft is costly and unwise. This is especially true as new challenges arise faster than new aircraft can be produced. Boeing attempted this with the F-15S Silent Eagle. Stealth technology was applied to a proven frame. With more study and input the project might have succeeded.  

One overriding concern of the military and the aerospace manufacturers is an obsession with true stealth. True stealth itself is a misleading phrase, in that no aircraft is truly invisible to radar. What this obsession with stealth does is drive up costs for aircraft that will only need to have a reduced RCS to improve survival. Even the F-22 has retains the capability to carry un-stealthy external stores once air dominance has been achieved in a theater. In essence, this turns it into another fighter, but with a larger price tag.
In order for this shift in production to be effective strategies and tactics would have to change as well. A mix of UCAV’s for ISR and SEAD mission and manned aircraft would be a prudent choice. Even among manned aircraft there should be the high tech stealthy aircraft suck as the F-22 Raptor that would achieve air dominance in theater and other aircraft to operate in the environment after air dominance has been achieved. (See Smarter Policies “Steel on Target” http://smarterpolicies.blogspot.com/2011/01/steel-on-target.html)
There will always be a need for completely new aircraft to fit special niches. The U.S. Marin Corps has unique requirements one of which is V/STOL. The AV-8B Harriers are long overdue for replacement. The F-35 is an expensive choice and may not be the best fit. In the meantime, the other forces would benefit from a different train of thought.