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The crew of the USS Enterprise ponders an ethical dilemma in the latest film, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.

Reeling from a series of deadly terrorist attacks, the Federation dispatches the Enterprise on a vengeance mission.  The target?  A terrorist hideout deep within sovereign Klingon territory.

Armed with dozens of long-range torpedoes, the Enterprise silently parks just inside the neutral zone, as the crew debates their options.  Is it ethical to kill from such a range?  Is it human?

In the end, Kirk shelves the long-range strike idea in favor of a night raid on the Klingon homeworld.

Of course, his reasoning has nothing to do with violating the sovereignty of a major power.  Instead, Kirk yields to the Prime Directive of sci-fi combat, which states that space combat can only take place when ships are a.) within visual range, b.) on the same two-dimensional plane, and c.) aforementioned ships must fire broadsides at one another.

This rule, of course, holds true despite all the advances in beyond-visual-range technology pioneered in the 21st Century.  Sci-fi script writers have long realized that long-range missile combat lacks suspense.  A shootout on the Klingon homeworld is no less ethical than a long-range missile strike…but it’s a lot more exciting.

And, perhaps that’s why there’s such hysteria about “drone ethics“.  Drones are yet another step removed from the battlefield.  Indeed, drones alter the notion of what it is to be a warrior:  their pilots return to their homes at the end of a combat mission  A recent proposal to offer valorous awards to drone operators was met with universal snark and mockery.  In fact, many manned aviators even argue that drone operators aren’t really pilots.

In short, we expect our warriors to be more like Captain Kirk–even though Captain Kirk’s reckless disregard for regulations would hardly make him a good captain.  Given the cinematic Kirk’s penchant for insubordination and sexual harassment, we would have expected him to be drummed out of Starfleet years ago.

Well, either that or perhaps promoted to Chief of Starfleet’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force.

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March 19, 2013 marks the International Hindsight Day–a day in which Internet pundits sit back, reflect, and inform the world that they were against the Iraq War the whole time.  Unfortunately, news articles from 2003 paint a far different picture–one in which the war enjoyed far greater popular support. 

Of course, it’s not the first time pundits have distanced themselves from ill-fated military adventurism.  Gene Rodenberry supported the Vietnam War through an allegorical proxy war with the Klingons in a Star Trek episode which aired in February 1968.  Kirk’s insistence that the Federation continue to arm a primitive race with weaponry reflects what many felt was a need to keep the Communists in check in Southeast Asia.  Or “staying the course” as we’d say these days.

Of course, no one remembers being for escalating the Vietnam War.

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Clones can think creatively, you will find them immensely superior to droids
–Taun We, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Okay, we get it. We shouldn’t rely on “Death Star” weapon systems. They promise too much, come in over-budget, and come with all sorts of pesky design flaws.

But that doesn’t  mean we should rely too heavily on droids to carry out our foreign policy.  As our Empire has moved away from traditional fleet-on-fleet warfare, we’ve taken on more policing actions in the ungoverned ares of the Outer Rim, which require the use of droids to carry out our dirty work.  But our battle droids have yet to encounter a hardened, competent opponent.  Sure, they’re great for hunting Jawas, Ewoks and Gungans.  But what if they came up against a conventional, or “hybrid” force?

In one incident, an eight-year old child  flew an N-1 Starfighter into a Droid Control Ship, disabling the primary controls for an entire droid army.  Moreover, droids are increasingly reliant on the Electromagnetic Spectrum, making them susceptible to hacking and jamming.

Sure, we can produce autonomous, hunter-killer Vulture Droids…but would we really want to take a Neimoidian out of the loop?

Let’s face it, we need to invest in people, rather than technology.  We need well-trained, educated Clone Troops who can adapt to any situation.  We need to reverse a decade’s worth of growth acceleration and allow our Clones the opportunity for broadening assignments and leader development.

Unfortunately, hundreds of Imperial Senators have fallen under the control of a Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, who stands to personally profit from the construction of a Death Star.  And by spreading out contracts for the Death Star among his cohorts in the Techno Union, the Corporate Alliance, and the Intergalactic Banking Clan, components of the Death Star superlaser are built in seemingly pacifistic systems, such as Alderaan and Naboo.

If the Imperial Senate can’t kill this project, I’m afraid nothing will, with the possible exception of a proton torpedo fired down a conveniently-located exhaust port.

With this sort of Senatorial gridlock, it seems that Clone training, education, and leader development will be the first thing we sacrifice, should the Imperial budget be cut.  Already, Clone Pilots are unable to maintain currency in their LAAT/i Gunships.  Marksmanship training has been cut so significantly, I fear that our Stormtroopers–legendary for their “precise” marksmanship–won’t be able to hit the broad side of a barn.

So forget Battle Droids; invest in people.

Invest in our Clones.

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Meanwhile, at AKO headquarters…

Utopian science fiction has long featured highly sophisticated central computer, functioning as the ship’s central nervous system.  But the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica takes a much different approach.  In the pilot episode, we learn that Cylons have infiltrated the Colonial Defense Mainframe, allowing the Cylons to disable nearly the entire Colonial fleet in a devastating cyber-attack.  This, in turn, paves the way for the destruction of the Twelve Colonies.

Yet the series’ titular ship, the aging Battlestar Galactica, was unaffected; Galactica’s obsolete analog computer was an asset when fighting the Cylons, as it was was impervious to Cylon hacking.

As the US Army extricates itself from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its combat training centers have focused on a type of war–one which challenges many of the command and control systems we’ve become accustomed to in the last 10 years.  Multiple US Army Brigade Combat Teams have confirmed that we are over-reliant on digital communications systems–we simply do not know how to operate without them.

An Army which preaches “empowering subordinates” and “mission command” should take note.

Galactica CIC

Kara Thrace can track a battle with analog products. Could you?  From Episode 1.10, “The Hand of God”.

A modern BCT’s complete paralysis in the fact of a downed Outlook Express server is distressing for two reasons.

First, we’ve taken digital communications for granted.  Unfortunately, we can’t always count on the robust communications our forces in Afghanistan enjoy today.  We’ve had ten years to build hardened buildings, lay fiber-optic cable, and truck tons of equipment into even the most remote combat outposts.  In future conflicts, an Army Brigade Combat Team may be communicating while “on the move”, or may jump into a hostile country, with little more equipment than the radios on their backs.

Forget PowerPoint slides and CPOF (Command Post of the Future)…it’s back to paper maps and radios.

The difficulties will only multiply at the joint-force level.  If an Army Brigade is communicating through analog means, but the Air Force is communicating digitally, can we honestly say that we are a digital army?

Add to this the fact that our enemies know how reliant we are on computers, and are actively seeking to attack our computer systems, and our satellites.  In fact, our own Opposing Force (OPFOR) units are already wreaking havoc on Army brigades, the best of which are forced to plot the battlefield with acetate and markers.

Digital communications don’t necessarily make us better communicators.  Since the advent of the optical telegraph, commanders have used information technology to micromanage troops in the field.  Every advance in information technology has generated an exponential growth in the amount of information we’re able to disseminate and produce.  When organizations are unable to prioritize information, it has a deleterious effect.

This has become most evident in the case of small-unit leadership within the US Army.  After-Action reviews are finding that junior leaders are so inundated with minutiae during mission briefings that they cannot identify several critical pieces of information–most notably, their commander’s intent, and the mission statements of organizations two levels up (see page 6).  More simply put, junior leaders:

  • Do not know how they fit into the big picture
  • Do not understand what their commander’s priorities are
  • Do not know what to do if an unexpected situation arises

Interestingly, unit After-Action Reviews have indicated that units which produce a clear, concise, “mission order” are generally more successful than those who post dozens of detailed, often inane, “fragmentary orders” to their Sharepoint sites.  Just because we have the ability to disseminate a 100-slide briefing doesn’t mean we should.  In the 21st century, just as always, what we’re saying matters much more than the medium we say it with.

Much like the crew of the Galactica, we’re going to have to learn to communicate more effectively.  That’s going to mean terrain models and equipment mock-ups.  And, of course, we’ll need to communicate with simple, clear, effective language.

My Starbuck alter-ego, Lt. Kara Thrace, will demonstrate the aforementioned clear, effective language.

Charlie Kenobi’s War

Posted: October 28, 2012 by Crispin Burke in Uncategorized
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Episode 5.02: “A War on Two Fronts”

Lesson: “Aiding an insurgency is not counter-insurgency.  Rather, that’s counter-counterinsurgency

Our story arc begins with a request for assistance from insurgents on Onderron, who are currently battling to overthrow a pro-Separatist puppet dictator, a predicament which mirrors absolutely no real-life situation whatsoever.  Anakin Skywalker pleads with the Jedi Council to intervene–thousands of worlds contain freedom fighters who simply need advisors to overthrow their Separatist-aligned masters.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi, ever the strategist, urges caution and restraint, lest the Republic be seen as supporting terrorism.  Plus, the Separatist-backed king is a legitimate leader; overthrowing him would lead to “dangerous possibilities”.  Silly little details like this never stopped the CIA, but I guess we need to move the plot along somehow.

Anakin convinces the council that Jedi advisors could link up with the insurgents to give them training and non-lethal arms for use against the Separatist drones.   The Jedi Council agrees, noting that foriegn advisory missions could be a “great new weapon for us”.

The Jedi, scrapped for resources, try to sell foreign advisory missions at the next AUSA Convention, lest the Republic Navy get that 300-Star Destroyer fleet they’re always asking for.

Episode 5.03, “Front Runners”

Lesson: “This is indicative of an insurgency is in its death throes”

Obi-Wan, Anakin, Ahsoka Tano, and Clone Trooper Rex link up with the insurgents.  After a brief training session, the insurgents infiltrate the city of Iziz, where they wage an urban guerrilla campaign against isolated droid patrols.  The insurgents plan to stage a high-profile attack on a large power station, located within a droid bastion in the middle of the city to demonstrate their new-found strength.  Which is silly, because everyone knows that spectacular attacks on huge bastions are really indicative of weakening insurgencies!

I think we need to re-adjust our success metrics…

Following the battle, Count Dooku promises to surge the number of droid troops on Onderron, placing them under the command of a new general.  After all, Dooku’s been looking for a new general ever since the previous tactical droid made some outlandish comments in Rolling Droid magazine.

Episode 5.03 “The Soft War”

Lesson:  “Sometimes there aren’t any snarky COIN comments to come out of a Clone Wars Episode.  This is one of them”.

Episode 5.04, “Tipping Points”

Lesson: “You know, maybe the CIA was right after all”

Population-centric COIN be damned, the Separatist droids embark to smash the main insurgent base.  Because all insurgent movement have one main, smashable base, and doing so crushes the entire insurgency.  To do so, the droid armies unleash massive, missile armed gunships, which wreak havoc on the insurgents.  Receiving a call for help, Anakin and Obi-Wan mull how best to aid the failing insurgency.  What would you do if giant floating gunships rained down death from the sky on your proxy insurgency?

In an allegory to absolutely no event in living memory, Anakin and Obi-Wan conspire with shady arms dealer Hondo Ohnaka to illegally provide the insurgents with shoulder-fired guided missiles which possess the ability to destroy giant missile-firing gunships.

Thanks to the timely arrival of MANPADS, the rebellion is saved, and the insurgents go on to govern the planet in a completely just manner, without giving rise to any sort of dictatorial rule or becoming a haven for terrorism.

Well, until Episode 5.05 comes out, I guess…

Lessons from the Clone Wars: Occupy Coruscant

Posted: July 29, 2012 by Crispin Burke in Uncategorized
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Season 3, Episode 10: “Heroes on Both Sides

Original Air Date: 29 November 2010

Long-time fans of the Star Wars saga might feel some dismay that George Lucas–the man who makes billions marketing Star Wars toys–incessantly hammers home ham-fisted anti-corporate rants throughout the Star Wars prequel saga.  So it is with the Clone Wars episode, “Heroes on Both Sides”, a unique commentary on the war in Afghanistan, and its perceived effects on the American economy.

Lesson Number One:  Corporations are bad because they’re, well, corporation-ey.

The episode  begins with the Galactic Senate debating the escalating debt.  Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan places the blame solely on the cost of the escalating Clone Wars, ignoring the obvious effects of Senator Palpatine’s tax cuts, the soaring costs of medical droids, and the thousands of members in Gungan marching bands.

There are more Gungans in marching bands than there are in the entire State Department.

This prompts the representatives from the Trade Federation and the Intergalactic Banking Clan to run a bill through the Galactic Senate proposing the de-regulation of the banks.  Right away, we know this is a sinister plot because:

a.) It involves de-regulating the banks, which is, like, totally corporation-like.

b.) The script writers were lazy, and somehow forgot to notice that the Trade Federation and the InterGalactic Banking Clan were in clearly in league with the Separatists since Episode II.  Then again, Obi-Wan seems to never remember ever owning a droid…

Meanwhile, Senator Padme Amidala argues against spending more money on the Republic’s military-clone creating-Senatorial complex. This earns her the ire of a powerful senator, whom we’ll simply refer to as “Loren Thompson”.  (I fully expect George Lucas to release a special edition in which this Loren Thompson alien has a giant butt for a head, which would only confirm that Loren Thompson is a total asshat.)

The spiraling cost of the war, both in blood and treasure, has caused Padme to secretly negotiate with Separatist insurgents on the planet Raxus.  There, an incognito Padme attends a session of the Separatist Congress, where delegates are also pressing to negotiate with the Republic.  Says one idealistic Separatist representative, “Corporations do not rule here, only democracy”.

Oh, if only he’d watched Episode II, when Count Dooku rallies powerful corporations to his cause:  the Trade Federation, the Corporate Alliance, the InterGalactic Banking Clan, Industrial Lights and Magic, and LucasArts Software.

Lucas’ anti-corporate rants are little removed from your local “Occupy Wall Street” denizen: Railing against corporate oligarchy by posting blog posts on their $4000 MacBook Pros.

This girl is basically a tool of Steve Jobs. Or General Grievous, I get the two mixed up…

Lesson Two: Insurgents cannot negotiate for peace without the backing of their powerful proxy overlords.

Several idealistic Separatist leaders push for a negotiated peace with the Galactic Republic, only to meet a terrible end, as they are conveniently killed by Clone Troops.  Darth Sidious, in his guise as Chancellor Palpatine, learns of the secret negotiations from Padme, and passes the details along to his apprentice, Count Dooku–also known as Darth Tyranus.  Dooku and Palpatine have every reason to keep the war raging, and a non-sanctioned peace overture could overturn the Sith’s plot.

Sound far fetched? Tell it to Mullah Baradar.