mm371: Ever wonder why the U.S. is using more robots?

May 6, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Well, most of our robotic forces are air forces these days, but we keep learning about “spiders” and the like that are meant to assist ground troops.

It’s not just about protecting precious lives, although heaven knows that should be a sufficient rationale for investing in this sci-fi like technology.

It’s about substituting for Army and Marine ground troops that simply aren’t available.

Fred Kaplan, who writes most cogently on military affairs for Slate.com, has an intriguing analysis.

slate

The Army’s Math Problem

We don’t have any more soldiers to send to Afghanistan unless we take some out of Iraq.

By Fred Kaplan | Posted Monday, May 5, 2008, at 4:56 PM ET

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to send 7,000 more U.S. troops—about two brigades—to Afghanistan, according to the May 3 New York Times. But there’s a problem, which the story underplays: We don’t have any more troops to send. The Army is in a zero-sum state: No more soldiers can be sent to Afghanistan without a one-for-one reduction of soldiers in Iraq.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm326: Go figure! Even our robot forces are undermanned!

March 23, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© is always intrigued when one of its obsessions interests pops up as news.

Danger Room is a military affairs blog (part of Wired.com) we don’t check into sufficiently often, but today we were rewarded with a new Predator tale.

The changing face of military aviation

ninth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

predatorfromdangerroom

Read the rest of this entry »


mm312: Fallon the fallen — a bitter defeat for strategic common sense

March 11, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

A good one gets away, while sleazy politics and politicians linger.

Unaccustomed as I am to following the news moment by moment, I did find myself cruising CNN.com more than usual (i.e., usual = never! exception? election night) awaiting the axe to fall on Eliot Spitzer’s governorship.

Life happened while waiting for something else: Admiral William F. Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, resigned today.

It took an IM from my ex-naval officer son to open my eyes to the tragic implications. He directed me to a profile of Fallon that appeared last week in Esquire, which was hurriedly updated this afternoon.

esquire

The Man Between War and Peace

By Thomas P.M. Barnett | March 11, 2008, 3:10 PM

The Bush Administration wanted a war with Iran. The head of U.S. Central Command, Admiral William “Fox” Fallon, disagreed. And now, as of March 11, Fallon has resigned.

That’s the update: here’s the story. Read about an amazingly accomplished diplomat in uniform.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm288: Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling fusion

February 17, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Mark Benjamin, writing in Salon.com, opened our eyes this weekend with an exclusive look inside the U.S. Air Force’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the illuminating article allows this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© to return to an abiding interest, what’s going on up there in the sky?

The changing face of military aviation

eighth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

The videogame theme has struck yr (justifiably) humble svt before. Take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm156: There’s a war on, folks, and this must be a military weekend…

September 29, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

So, yesterday’s post on Predator (not the Governator’s flick, the UCAV, silly!) was not impelled by news, but rather by the (semi-) creative gestation process.

Then, today, while strolling through Digg (which this MUDGE must admit has somehow elevated itself over what was happening a few weeks ago — could it be that school is back in session and people are a bit more serious-minded?) found a couple of Navy related stories.

Now, MUDGE and the U.S. Navy go way back. No, never served. Yes, as one interested in the history of technology, and therefore military history, and technology in general, and the Navy has long embodied applied technology at its most dramatic.

This interest apparently was infectious, and this draft evader (in thought if not in deed) was bemused to have spawned MUDGElet No. 2, mentioned before in this space, a proud graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and distinguished former lieutenant in the Navy’s surface warfare community.

Parents: be careful what you read, and what books and magazines you leave around for your kids to find!

Just kidding. I couldn’t be prouder of our children, and their spouses, and No. 2’s spouse happens to be proud graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (tough as it is for men, extraordinarily so for women), and distinguished former lieutenant in the Navy’s surface warfare community.

So, two stories. One odd in and of itself; one an intriguing window into the state of the generation of young women and men just a year or so younger than MUDGElet No. 3.

Odd:

navyswas

CORONADO, Calif. – The Navy will spend as much as $600,000 to modify a 40-year-old barracks complex that resembles a swastika from the air, a gaffe that went largely unnoticed before satellite images became easily accessible on the Internet.

The Navy said officials noted the buildings’ shape after the groundbreaking in 1967 but decided against changing it at the time because it wasn’t obvious from the ground. Aerial photos made available on such services as Windows Live and Google Earth in recent years have since revealed the buildings’ shape to a wide audience.

Typical government decision-making: no one can see our error, so let’s ignore it.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Navy to alter swastika-shaped barracks – Peculiar Postings – MSNBC.com

Don’t get MUDGE started about swastikas. I don’t hold Indians responsible for an ancient religious symbol.

As a boomer, born three years after the full panoply of horror was daylighted in a way that the world could not longer ignore, I manifestly do hold Nazi Germany responsible for every murderous, dreadful and inhuman act performed under that forever tainted symbol, and the successor generations of Germans get less benefit of the doubt from this curmudgeon than from many.

Not the Navy’s best building. If there wasn’t a war on, I’d vote for demolishing the place, just because.

Intriguing:

Military recruiting in this age of volunteer soldiering, rather than my generation’s drafted, has not previously been a problem for the Pentagon. Oh, they keep needing to seed the ground, with education benefits, and with retention bonuses (MUDGElet No. 2 reported that he passed on a $50,000 re-up bribe to resign to go onto grad school).

But, now there’s a war on. And, while the Navy isn’t on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and taking the casualties that the Army and Marines (yes, a branch of the Navy) are taking, recruiting today’s 17-24 year-olds is a challenge.

This story comes, quite indirectly, courtesy of Salon.com’s excellent technology blogger known as The Machinist.

Noah Shachtman, the master of Wired’s Danger Room blog, and Entropic Memes both have cool posts about a presentation put together by some Navy experts regarding the difficulty of recruiting “millennials,” Americans aged 17 to 24, to the armed forces. In the words of the presentation, the kids are not alright: They’re “coddled,” “narcissistic praise junkies” who “demand respect” though they lack experience, and who are so comfortable with technology that talking to them is like “dealing with a somewhat alien life force.”

navyrecruit

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles – Salon

Navy recruiters! Of course you’re having trouble recruiting, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the generation you are focusing on doesn’t speak your language.

Of course “the millennials” speak your language. If all else were equal, the signing bonuses, and education rewards should work for that generation as well as it has for its predecessor’s.

The problem is, Navy, that there’s a war on. Soldiers are dying, or are taking combat injuries that the hospitals aren’t dealing with effectively.

Is there any wonder that the volunteers aren’t breaking down the doors of the Navy recruiters’ offices?

Even “millennials” watch the news.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm142: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

September 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Got to tell you, like most of us, I have long since developed war fatigue. And I’m nowhere near the front. All I seem to be able to do is wring my hands and whimper, “Get our soldiers out of this!”

But, I have a soft spot for technology, and this is a technology story, about Iraq. But of course, wars are fought by women and men. And this is even more a story about a creative and determined man who took on as his mission to sell a particular technology to the command structure.

So we’ll take a look.

latimes

Greg Harbin saw a way to streamline airstrikes. The solution — and his cause — was the Rover, a device that would one day save his life.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 13, 2007

In the summer of 2003, an Air Force pilot named Greg Harbin was doing desk duty at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

Day in and day out, Harbin sat in front of five computer screens, scanning photographs and video sent by unmanned planes flying 1,200 miles away, over Iraq and Afghanistan.

His job was to take that information, along with reports from ground troops, and identify fresh targets — Taliban fighters or Iraqi insurgents.

But one thing puzzled him.

When regular units called for an attack by a Predator drone, the request went to Harbin, and then, if approved by a general, to “pilots” in Nevada, who fired the missile by remote control. The process often took as long as 45 minutes.

By contrast, special operations forces could call in attacks by unmanned Predator aircraft in less than a minute.

The difference, Harbin learned, was that a handful of special ops units were equipped with a device called the Rover, which gave them the same view as the pilots in Nevada. This greatly simplified communications.

Why don’t all American fighting units have the Rover? he asked himself. Then he put the question to his boss, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan, commander of the Air Force in the Middle East. Buchanan’s reply: Why indeed.

There’s a lot that’s intriguing about this story. The Predator UCAV, symbolic of technology (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) that will one day make human aircraft pilots sitting inside their aircraft an obsolete and quaint artifact of the first century of aviation.

Then there’s the Rover technology.

The Rover, or the Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver, was born in 2002, shortly after the Afghanistan war began.

Christopher Manuel, an Army Special Forces chief warrant officer, had long wanted ground units to see, in real time, the video footage shot by Predators. After serving in Afghanistan, he traveled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to make his case. Engineers quickly developed a prototype of the Rover system.

Over the next year, it was used exclusively by special operations forces. Harbin’s mission to widen access to the technology began with the 82nd Airborne, the first conventional forces to use the system. His next stop was Mosul, Iraq, and the 101st Airborne Division, which happened to be his brother Eric’s unit.

And then there’s Greg Harbin’s unique story. Take a look at the complete article, along with its embedded video.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

There’s so much to like here. The Katrina angle.

The life-saving angle (his own!)

The technological evangelist angle (your humble correspondent likes to believe he maintains that role for the technology he represents in his place of employment).

“I am not the guy who invented it. I am not the guy who built it. I am not the only one who believes in it,” Harbin said. “My role was to get it out there.”

But, mainly, it’s about how one person, among millions, has used his creativity, initiative and will to make a difference. It’s Archimedes’ lever.

In the light of Harbin’s example, how much more tragic is it that, as of this writing, 3,781 soldiers have died in Iraq.

Once again, even worse than the trillions Bush has mortgaged and squandered, the human capital lost is even more irreplaceable.

Can’t get that bumper sticker out of my thoughts:

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

Congress, do the American people, especially its courageous women and men combatants, have to wait that long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm127: Sunni Rule Again in Iraq? – Early Warning

September 4, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The always dead-on military analyst, William Arkin of the Washington Post has this to say regarding George III’s sudden visit to Iraq on Monday.

arkinearlywarning
Posted at 08:17 AM ET, 09/ 4/2007

President Bush’s surprise eight-hour visit to Iraq yesterday will be read by many Iraqis, and by many others in the Islamic world, as part of a great conspiracy. The conspiracy’s goal? To create an American-Sunni alliance, restore the Sunni minority to power and suppress the Shiite majority.

No one doubts that the intended audience of Bush’s photo op was Congress and the American public. But, as has been typical of Washington’s initiatives in Iraq from Day One, perceptions of the visit — by the Iraqi people and by our potential adversaries — was ignored.

Interesting isn’t it how the president stayed out of Baghdad, in favor of a Sunni stronghold?

For weeks, the administration and the military have been pointing to Anbar as a success. Local Sunni tribal leaders have broken with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the argument goes, throwing in their lot with the United States. The U.S. has responded by arming and training Sunni militias and freelancers. Oh, if the rest of the country could just follow suit, the United States could leave a safe and stable country. (Put aside for a moment what happened to the Iraqi Army and police force in this process. At this point, the United States is clearly ready to accept progress from whatever quarter it can get it.)

So, the U.S. didn’t have a quarrel with all Sunnis, just the one? What an unsettling symbolic visit for anyone who cares about Iraq’s future as a democracy, and for long-term stability in the region. Read on:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Sunni Rule Again in Iraq? – Early Warning

And whether we civilians are thinking on it or not, the endgame seems to be war with Iran.

Anyone else find this disturbing?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm126: Iraq = Vietnam – Compare with Care

September 3, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We and the world tackled this topic last weekend, but the NYTimes had something useful to say last Friday:

nytimes

AS the nations of Europe leapt to arms in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson’s mind turned to President James Madison and the war with England in 1812.

“Madison and I are the only two Princeton men who have become president,” Wilson observed ominously in a letter, noting that tensions with Great Britain over its naval blockage of Germany recalled earlier disputes with England about freedom of the seas. “The circumstances of the War of 1812 and now run parallel. I sincerely hope they will not go further.”

His fears were unfounded. Great Britain became an ally in World War I, Wilson’s alma mater notwithstanding. But his knack for reading — or misreading — historical parallels hardly stands out in the annals of American presidents and public officials.

President Bush sent historians scurrying toward their keyboards last week when he defended the United States occupation of Iraq by arguing that the pullout from Vietnam had led to the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia. His speech was rhetorical jujitsu, an attempt to throw back at his critics their favorite historical analogy — Vietnam — for the Iraq war. His argument aroused considerable skepticism from historians and political scientists, who note that the United States’ military action in Vietnam was among the factors that destabilized Cambodia. But Mr. Bush’s statement also revived a perennial question. Whenever a public officials starts to say “the lesson of,” is that a cue to stop listening?

The Times references some interesting parallels: the Cuban missile crisis of 1963 (Kennedy denied his advisors’ attempts to justify bombing Cuba by comparing the crisis to the pre-WWII Munich appeasement) is their most interesting example of attempts to find historical parallels where none exist. Take a look:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

War – History – Iraq – Vietnam – Korea – War of 1812 – New York Times

It’s common to attempt to understand complex situations by making associations to (hopefully) understood events of the past.

But those historic events themselves were of course complex, in the case of Vietnam/Cambodia probably still incompletely understood (after all, who ended with command of the battlefields?) and should resist a simplified reduction. However,

“People alight on the likeness with an event in the past, and it helps them to understand something when they can associate it with something familiar,” Professor May said in an interview.

The key of course is whether the comparison is apt. Just can’t give the Bush administration credit for considered reflection, unless the reflection is about how to award more spoils to their Halliburtons.

Wisdomquotes.com tells me that George Bernard Shaw said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” Even that concept seems beyond the capability of the intellectually bankrupt administration of our very own George III.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm124: Michael Vick: Crimes Worse Than The Iraq War | TPM Cafe

September 1, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

This post was almost going to be MUDGE’s classical music trifecta (I, II) but this terrific post from Talking Points Memo (highly recommended, and an inexplicably late addition to the blogroll) jumped up to the top of MUDGE’s consideration.

tpm

By M.J. Rosenberg | bio

Michael Gerson, the former White House speechwriter, wrote in his Washington Post column yesterday that he and his fellow neocons worried that this was going to be the summer in which opposition to the Iraq war overwhelmed the Bush administration.

It sure looked that way in the spring when Democrats were mobilizing and popular support for the war and Bush dropped to levels reminiscent of LBJ and Vietnam after the Tet offensive.

But now the ship of state has been righted. The President’s popularity has risen a bit. More Americans think the war is succeeding. And the Democrats have lost their zeal about ending it.

section break

As I keep asking: where is the outrage?

This is a country where millions of people can hardly stop weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth about Michael Vick and those poor animals he tortured and killed.

How many dogs did Vick kill anyway. 25, 50, a hundred. I don’t know. But 3739 Americans have been killed in Iraq and maybe 600,000 Iraqis — not to mention the US destruction of a whole country and society.

Isn’t the above what many of us have been thinking, but haven’t been able to articulate nearly so well?

The rest of the post is terrific, and some of the replies and comments are thoughtful also. Please take a look.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Vick: Crimes Worse Than The Iraq War | TPMCafe

So, there’s another element of the Michael Vick story, one that was very clearly articulated by one of MUDGE’s absolute hands down favorite writers, Gregg Easterbrook, writing as ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because there is racial animus in the current turn of events. If Vick really is guilty of cruelty to animals and associating with lowlife gamblers, these things leave him open to a kind of condemnation that has nothing to do with race. But don’t you just sense there are loads of people who are happy to have the chance to condemn the first African-American quarterback who was drafted first overall — via an accusation that has nothing to do with race? That there might be racial animus against Vick is not an excuse; he is responsible for his actions regardless of what others do or think. But suppose everything about the Michael Vick controversy was exactly the same except Vick was a white quarterback from an upper-middle-class family in Winnetka, Ill., Newport Beach, Calif., or Coral Gables, Fla. Can you say with a straight face that the public reaction and government action would the same?

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because he tripped into a “summer scandal.” Starting around mid-July, legislatures recess, business executives and heads of state go on holiday, Hollywood airheads fly their private jets to Sag Harbor, N.Y., to relax in 10,000-square-foot mansions while complaining about greenhouse gas emissions: The news world slows down. Every summer, there is a scandal that is magnified beyond its inherent importance, owing to lack of other news. The Michael Vick accusations are this year’s summer scandal. His indictment came in late July. Had it come in October or March, far less attention might have been paid.

Note that Easterbrook’s second point above (actually about the fourth in his original post) emphasizes the seasonal factor that M. J. Rosenberg picks up on.

TMQ is always wonderful, in Easterbrook’s fulsome way about much more than professional football. During the season, I relish his columns even more (most years up until the last few) than watching MUDGE’s home town team, the Bears. Finish his Vick reflections and hurry back!

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

ESPN Page 2 – Easterbrook: Sympathy for Vick

WIWICWLT! But I can’t, and I’m grateful for your readership despite the inelegance and worse.

Let’s summarize our reasons for outrage: The ongoing tragedy of Iraq should have us storming the bastions to get our representative government to make changes now to literally stop the hemorrhaging. Not happening, in or out of Washington.

And the fact that so many U.S. citizens who aren’t up to the task of activating themselves and their friends and neighbors to get behind ending Bush and the neocons’ military misadventure are happy enough to feel outrage over a wealthy young man’s mistreatment of some dogs.

And, aren’t most of those most upset reacting for only slightly submerged racial reasons? Now, that’s outrageous!

To quote M. J. Rosenberg:

I’ll tell you. If we were sending dogs over to fight this war, and they were dying and being maimed like our soldiers, this war would have ended before it started.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm116: Lies, Lies, and More Lies, in History-Illiterate America – The Smirking Chimp

August 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

There have been a number of refutations of George III’s infamous Iraq/Vietnam comparison statement of this week. Here’s an excellent one:

smirkingchimp

by Larry Beinhart | Aug 25 2007 – 7:44pm |

George Bush — and other Iraq War supporters — have argued that if we withdraw from Iraq the result will be like the slaughters — the killing fields -in Cambodia.

Here are the facts:

  • The killing fields were real. The genocide against their own people was committed by the Khmer Rouge.
  • The Vietnamese — the Communist Vietnamese — were the people who went in and put a stop to it.
  • The United States then supported the Khmer Rouge.

MUDGE isn’t doctrinaire about history. He won’t trot out George Santayana (yeah, okay, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”).

On the other hand, the world isn’t some Magic Slate, wiped clean every night, starting afresh every day, sparkling and new.

Some middle ground is preferred between codgerdom (we who remember everything, just before we start to forget everything) and Gen Y, who seemingly haven’t bothered to learn anything outside the narrow confines of MySpace and YouTube.

So take a look at the rest of this cogent posting:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Lies, Lies, and More Lies, in History-Illiterate America – The Smirking Chimp

The old analogy of ships of state is an apt one. The USA sails through history, accumulating barnacles which slow it down and inertia and ponderousness cause it to stay on a course way longer than necessary or advisable.

And, the generals are fighting the last war (albeit as we heard again from the White House this week with very selective memories).

The result, as we all can see, is that change comes rarely, if at all. War is still prosecuted for the same (often obscure or selfish) reasons; the face of the enemy changes, but that’s a detail.

What the generals have not yet worked out is a successful solution to the conundrum of asymmetric warfare.

Mentioned this in a comment over at Monte Asbury’s Blog (a new regular read, courtesy of A View from the Bridge at ClapSotronics): all of our accumulated $trillions of military spending did not protect us from 19 guys with airline tickets. The $trillions don’t protect Iraqi civilians nor our courageous but under-protected troops from Saudis with a clunker and some plastic explosive.

Vietnam was one of the first indicators that asymmetric warfare was a tougher challenge than the generals and their political masters had ever before faced.

Our vaunted economic might, capable of purchasing the most advanced technology and putting it and manpower in overwhelming numbers into the field, a formula that worked so well in the period roughly corresponding to the Industrial Revolution in North America (i.e., 1830-1950, Mexican Wars through WWII), didn’t protect us from a determined enemy in pajamas (albeit with powerful friends — of course, think of France’s role in our own Revolutionary War).

Have the generals and admirals and the politicians learned from this? Not well enough.

And of course the incredible irony is, that the White House finally agrees with the Cindy Sheehan and the kneejerk peaceniks: Iraq = Vietnam.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE