Archive for April, 2013

Ed: This piece comes to us from repeat Blog Tarkin contributor Don Gomez, whose writings can be found at Carrying the Gun

A skyscraper-sized Reaper descends to dominate a planet.

This event, entirely fictional, is inspired by chapter 33 of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In it, Lawrence lays out his vision for how the Arab Revolt  might defeat the Turks in Arabia. In this, I lay out the counter-insurgent’s dream, a fantastical imagination of the introduction of the Reaper, a la Mass Effect fame, as the ultimate weapon in counter insurgency.

About four weeks I spent lounging in that stuffy barracks, eating – no, gorging – on what they allowed, my body soaking up the calories, exhausted from weeks of neglect. As usual, in such circumstances, my mind began to spin and process, finally turning towards that perpetual thing, war, but more accurately, insurgency. Till now, our moves and methods were built upon our mistakes and their remedies, solidified in doctrine and then presented as the final antidote, tried and deemed successful, though it was not. So, in this forced mental solitude, I began to look towards those things I knew of the subject from study and experience, as well as my many digital travels. In this caffeine-free environment, my brain shrunk and made the world around me a haze, in which I pondered the subject at hand.

I am as well read as any on the subject. I have read Petraeus, McChrystal, Kilcullen and Nagl. I follow @abumuqawama and the War Kids. I’ve read the ideas and actually did them, seeing their effects, better now with the luxury of time, distance, and results, or lack thereof.  All this has resulted in me and my peers an almost unquestioning acceptance of the way – drink tea, be nice, be patient.

To win, it is argued, the key lay in the population. Win them, their hearts and minds, and you shall know victory. It had become an obsession of ours. Learn the language, study the culture, be persistent and kind and absorb casualties if needed but by all costs, win the population. Then, and only then could one expect to find victory. Now that l was in this broken, recovering state, it became unclear to me if this goal was worthy and just. What again, did we want this for and why were we doing so much to achieve it?

The barracks ebbed and flowed with the chow hours. Breakfast followed by post-breakfast naps, then lunch and then more napping. Only come dinner did the camp come alive. Debate mixed with the agonizing stories of recent failure. While they gossiped, I lay in my bed, lower back aching from too much rest – the king’s ailment – and thought more of our aim in this war. Win the population. Only we showed no prospect of winning anybody’s population.

I flopped over on my bunk, relieving the pain in my lower back temporarily and closed my ears to the nonsense around me. What if winning the population was not the key? Maybe the goal was in fact, the destruction, or at least the permanent defeat of the enemy, that vapour, blowing where it listed. Population be damned.

A trio of soldiers laughed and debated the merits of wholesale annihilation vice the softer approach. I listened in as one made his point, struggling to convince the others of the foolishness of such a barbaric tactic. They would come to no conclusion.

This unending insurgency, this vapour, how to defeat it? The tools provided, we knew not, with any certainty, if they worked. A confluence of events in that vilified theater led to a sort of victory, while those same events attempted to be replicated in the virtuous theater, are at this time indecisive. Perhaps to win the long war, winning the people is the essence and necessity. But what might be done in the interim? Better, a cheaper, yet permanent solution that does not annihilate the insurgents but threatens as much?

They wanted after all, the removal of us from their lands – an understandable goal if ever there was one. To do so they harassed and sniped and bombed and generally caused havoc, not just for us but for the people of whom we have made it our goal to win. As much as we killed them, which wasn’t much enough to secure victory, we could not do so to that end. They fought for their own freedom, or notion of it, and we ours. Killing to killings end would not accomplish these war aims.

Days went by and my gorging increased before slowing to something recognizable. Vigor returned in small doses and I milled about, chatting lightly and raising spirits with riddles and games. My chief concern, as fantasist, lay still with the house of war, it’s tactics, strategy, and psychology, for my personal duty was service, and my service was to all.

The first confusion lay with the idea that this enemy could not be destroyed, or again, defeated. Their base was their idea, and how does one really kill an idea? This, given the proper gathering of intelligence, technology, and imagination might be overcome.

To hold this territory of square miles: sixty: eighty: one hundred: perhaps two hundred thousand square miles, we would need troops there, on the ground. Impossible! Yes, but perhaps, the counterinsurgent would argue, we could partner with the locals, our host nation brothers and sisters who would exponentially increase our numbers. True, I say, but would it yet be enough? And to be there and to win the population? And even then, we know they will not come to fight us with an army of banners, lest it be online, in the info-space. No, they do indeed come as an army, in small numbers, happy to exploit our size and vulnerability, knowing fully we must be careful in our application of violence to win the population. Armies, it was argued, are like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. They, the enemy, they are the vapour. Their kingdom lay in the mind. A regular soldier might be helpless without a target, owning only where he sat and subjugating only what he could poke his rifle at.

Yes, all this being true, to do the deed as we know it, we would need hundreds of thousands of light infantrymen, with support, to garrison the land. An expensive and altogether unlikely scenario.

Now then, we get to the rub of his whole thing. Let us take the assumption that what we need to win is an immovable Army large enough to poke his rifle at whatever it is he seeks to subjugate. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Instead of drafting the rank and file for the colourless duty on the imperial frontier, why not leverage the incredible advantage in technology that we solely possess and develop and deploy a new concept of counter-insurgent?

Imagine a gigantic spider of steel and electrons, nuclear powered and nearly invulnerable to small arms and explosives. Tall and wide, imposing and always there. Part of its weaponry is its size, imposing, a mobile skyscraper. Rooted into the ground, an immovable army – only it moves! Rapidly it does, descending from the air or creeping along the land, watching all around, threatening to strike. It is ever present and sinister. That is the nature of it, to strike fear into the hearts of men who wish to oppose it. It cannot be defeated, only avoided. And even then, assisted by its junior siblings, the drones, and their network of spies, it captures the vital element of the modern battlefield – information – and quickly processes that into a strike from it’s all seeing eye.

Yes, this might be the irrational tenth, the kingfisher of the pond, the test of generals, for there lay in this no real predecessor except in the minds of children and mad men.

The absolute strength of our power, to the sadness of the modern noble warrior, rests in the pure economic and scientific dominance we maintain over all. To engage in ground combat with the insurgent is madness. It provides the enemy with that chance to fight and win against an icon of his hatred. To send the Reaper, is to show that there is no hope. It cannot be defeated. It can be there forever or be there not at all, only to return in an instant.

Some, understandably, might object to the black nature of such a weapon. Is this not more humane than the alternative? Flooding a land with hundreds of thousands of individuals all guided by their own hearts, attempting to stroke a hostile population to neutrality, instead of deploying a dozen Reapers to act as statues of justice?

Battles in Arabia or its cousins were a mistake, since we profited in them not at all. But if we must, honesty may do more for the case of victory than ill-conceived notions of pure intent. Our power is not in patience or numbers, but technology and imagination. Our developments have been lateral, not horizontal. We saddled our trucks and troops with armor and a brief class on “culture” and called them counterinsurgents. Our power is our strength, and a failure of imagination stunted its development and deployment.

Time passed, and my weight restored, somehow more natural than even before. These thoughts solidified and were packaged and stored away.

It seemed to me that our forces are strong but not prepared for the enemy they face. Our enemy is sophisticated only in that it faces us as we are and not as we should be. Our own population is supportive so long as we remain safe, and so enamored by technology are they that the introduction of the Reaper would be the crown achievement and marvel of our time. On its first landing, the absolute folly of opposing it would become apparent, and in that the war would be won.

The Bombs of August 2014

Posted: April 15, 2013 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized

This guest essay by notorious airpower theorist and New York Times columnist Guilo Douhet. In his words: 

This is a response to the April 1, 2013 post at “Danger Room” by one Andrew Exum, a thinker of moderate intellect and exceedingly conventional vision. The issue in question regarded a series of scenarios describing possible wars between “Tennessee” and “Georgia,” apparently  pair of your American states. After exhaustively researching the histories and capabilities of these two nations, I have set forth a series of events far more likely to take place, and considerably more interesting to the strategic theorist.

that Douhet hopes with level Georgia

A Tennessee Air National Guard C-5A Galaxy

The causes of the war of August 2014 are not interesting or relevant, apparently involving some sort of trivial dispute over water. The logic of modern warfare applies independent of the political exigencies of any particular conflict.   Regarding the order of battle of the two antagonists, the only weapons relevant to our analysis air the air fleets that each could access. Fortunately, the government of Tennessee had the foresight to initiate a set of agreements with Federal Express that allowed the conscription of FedEx planes and pilots in case of invasion from Georgia or Kentucky. These agreements would prove critical in the end stages of the conflict. Altogether, Tennessee would eventually call on the following fleet of aircraft:

  • Airlift Squadron: 5 C-5 Galaxy
  • Airlift Wing: 6 C-130 , 12 MQ-9 Reaper
  • Air Refueling Squadron: KC-135R
  • Fed Ex Express:
  • 35 A300
  • 18 A310
  • 28 757
  • 8 777
  • 3 MD-10
  • 21 MD-11

Georgia pursued a different path, eschewing the difficult work of developing relationships with the many airlines operating out of Atlanta International Airport.  Instead, Georgia concentrated its efforts on small aircraft and helicopters, the better to support the advance of its ground forces into Tennessee. In addition to a plethora of such small craft, Georgia was able to draw on some large aircraft from the Georgia Air National Guard.

  • Air Control Wing: 6 E-8C Joint Stars
  • Air Lift Wing: 6 C-130H
  • 250+ helicopters and small aircraft

Fundamentally, this war represented the cleanest collision of the air-minded and the ground-minded.  Consequently, it also represented the clearest vindication of the principles that I had set forth in my volume Command of the Air.

Georgia’s land offensive made initial progress, but bogged down as bands of primitive East Tennessee hill people ambushed and harried Georgian columns and logistical trains. Tennessee had wisely invested in only minimal land forces, relying on the inherent savagery and fighting prowess of the Appalachian tribesmen to sufficiently slow the Georgian advance until airpower could prove decisive.  Regular Tennessee National Guard forces prepared a defense-in-depth in the outskirts of Chattanooga, allowing the Georgians their initial prize while working with the tribesmen to make them pay for it. However, this defense would not have held for long in the face of a renewed Georgian offensive if airpower had not won the day.

Georgia foolishly squandered the airpower available to it in by dissipating its aircraft and pilots across a variety of secondary missions.  Georgian C-130s supplied operational air mobility and some close air support, but could not sufficiently break open Tennessee’s defenses to allow penetration into vital areas. The fault lay not with the airmen (who were surely brave and skilled) but rather in their employment in service of a land offensive that could not possibly produce decisive results in the brief period before Georgia’s cities began to burn.

The aircraft appropriated by the government of Tennessee were not designed as bombers, which reduced their effectiveness.  In the future, state governments should take care to arm their Air National Guards with dedicated bomber wings.  Nevertheless, the courage, tenacity, and technical know-how of Tennessee’s air guardsmen allowed the conversion of these cargo craft into strategic bombers, albeit often in awkward, dangerous fashion. Given the ad hoc nature of the Tennessee Air National Guard offensive, a robust air defense system, supported by pursuit aircraft, might have prevented or at least substantially delayed the decisive blows of the war.  Unfortunately, Georgia devoted so little attention to air-centric matters that it failed even to mount the most tepid air defense.

The first fire-raid came on August 20, as over 40 Tennessean bombers appeared over the city of Athens.  Renowned for its cultural significance, Athens proved little match for the 2000 tons of incendiaries dropped by the “Volunteers.” Additional raids devastated Roswell and Macon, with a follow up raid against Athens throwing the region into chaos on August 30.

On September 1, 2014 the decisive moment came in a pre-dawn raid against the Georgian capitol of Atlanta.  4 C-5, 4 C-130s, 25 A300s, 13 A310s, 20 757s, 6 777s, 1 MD-10, and 18 MD-11 delivered nearly 5500 tons of ordnance onto the city and surrounding suburbs.  Tennessee’s attacks concentrated on the downtown financial districts as well as on wealthy outlying areas. The municipal capacity of Atlanta was overwhelmed, with fires continuing to burn for days.

The timing of the strike was no accident. Coming 150 years to the day after the burning of the city of Atlanta by a band of Northmen, this raid proved a political masterstroke, shattering the will of Georgia’s political class to continue the conflict. Georgia responded with a desultory attempt to bomb Knoxville, but apart from gutting a few square blocks of the University of Tennessee, the attack had no serious strategic impact. Their homes in ruins, soldiers in Georgia’s advanced ground elements began to desert and mutiny against their officers.

At this point the details of the conflict become uninteresting to the historian, allowing us to shift to strategic lessons learned.  Tennessee won this war because of a culture of airmindedness.  It had prepared (through laying the groundwork of a relationship with Federal Express) to acquire an air force capable of strategic action. Tennessee then used this air force to strategic effect, rather than dissipating it for ephemeral battlefield advantage.  The smoking ruins of urban Georgia attest to the folly of yoking airpower to conventional ground thinking.

And, as Douhet envisions it, September 1, 2014

Ruins of Atlanta deopt after burning by Gen. Sherman’s troops, 1864