Posts Tagged ‘guest post’

T-70 X-Wing From Force Awakens, Flying A Ground Attack Mission

T-70 X-Wing From Force Awakens, Flying A Ground Attack Mission

As with any war, the evolution of the Galactic Civil War means a change of tactics, technology, and policy in order to address new requirements. However, just because a (very small) piece of evidence highlights one particular technology does not make this technology universal, or even particularly widespread.

This is the first mistake that Eamon Hamilton makes in his recent article comparing the newest model of X-wing to the (rather less airworthy) F-35. By relying on mere seconds of film  and the availability of a toy, we can only determine that the T-70 is distinct from its predecessor, and that it can fly and shoot lasers. We have no real grasp of its new advantages or capabilities, and most importantly we do not know if it is the only starfighter at the Resistance’s disposal, or even if it is particularly widespread. We could also watch the Top Gun trailer, and conclude that the F-14 was the Navy’s only combat aircraft. The T-70s we see may even be an experimental or elite squadron, which, given the appearance of a new superweapon, more than merits its deployment. The T-70 might be exceptionally expensive, and deployed in a proportion more like the F-22 than F-35. As an aside, though, I think a better comparison would be between the F-16 Block 60 and the T-70, given that both are improvements to 30+ year old designs, rather than entirely new airframes (spaceframes?).

This comparison, however, is fundamentally flawed, and comparing the Rebellion or Resistance’s requirements to those of the US Navy is folly. Doctrine is entirely different: for example, our carriers do not have any significant armament other than their complement of fighters, and certainly don’t fight other capital ships at point blank range. There is no equivalent ship in any fleet on this planet, let alone in the USN. This is partly a consequence of politics. With planets (or moons) being the primary political unit, space is the only medium of travel between them.

This means the Rebel navy is far more important than its American equivalent, where air and land provide alternative avenues. The priority of ship defense reflects this, and the logistical aspect can be seen in starfighter design. Rebel starfighters, for example, are very space efficient: they take off and land vertically, making it easier to arm a ship of a given size. Underlining all this is the fact that the X-wing is vastly more capable and durable than any aircraft currently in service.

As we saw in The Empire Strikes Back, the X-wing is capable of sitting around in a swamp for extended periods of time (days? weeks? a month or more?), sinking into said swamp, and after being raised fly away with little-to-no maintenance. Thus, it is safe to assume its regular maintenance requirements are very few indeed. Barring battle damage, which would be partly obviated by its shields, a pilot could fly the fighter continuously for a week (the duration of its life support systems). Equally importantly, the X-wing can travel literally astronomical distances unassisted by capital ships. Further easing its logistical requirements, its primary ammunition comes directly from its power generator. Hyperdrive and shields are present on all Alliance starfighters, and it is safe to assume that the minute logistical requirements follow with them. This removes perhaps the greatest advantage of moving to a single platform, and also highlights that the difference in mobility between terrestrial vs. carrier-based fighters is not so severe in Star Wars as on Earth. This results in a lot of “tooth” and very little “tail”.

Damaged TIE Fighter Falls To A Planet Below

Damaged TIE Fighter Falls To A Planet Below

Have some things changed between A New Hope and The Force Awakens? Inevitably, but I find it unlikely that the widening of the civil war (as the Rebellion moves to establish itself) would diminish the need for starfighters with different capabilities. Indeed, it seems that the threats the Resistance faces are not, tactically, much different than when it was still the Rebellion. As the trailer suggests, the First Order’s decisions on how they fight have not changed much from the Empire’s. There is still a preference for TIEs, Star Destroyers, storm troopers, and superweapons with trenches. Given the Empire’s reliance on conventional military structures, there is every reason to believe that most other Imperial remnants remained doctrinally similar. There is also no reason to believe that the Resistance’s position is secure enough that they can safely scrap their less advanced fighter designs. I can think of another conflict that looked rather worse for the side that 30 years earlier were the unqualified victors.

We should also consider the tactical advantages of multiple starfighter types. In a galaxy where dogfighting is the main way of engaging other starfighters, improved electronics and warheads cannot take you very far. This means there is still a clear need for a more dedicated interceptor and space superiority fighter design. The A-wing was designed to fill these roles by the time of the Battle of Endor, and an upgraded version should be available to the Resistance, or even an entirely new fighter.

Hamilton does not help his case by his clear unfamiliarity with the starfighters. He claims the A-wing to be designed for “hit-and-run” attacks on convoys, when, as mentioned above, it was designed to fight other starfighters first and foremost, especially as a counter to the TIE Interceptor. With only two laser cannons and concussion missiles instead of the more powerful proton torpedoes, it is not nearly as capable at destroying heavier targets as the other Rebel starfighters. Hyperdrive makes even the Y-wing capable of hit-and-run tactics, and, with its heavier payload, far more effective against these targets.

X-Wings Fight Tie Fighters In Shakycam Battle

X-Wings Fight Tie Fighters In Shakycam Battle

Stepping back for a minute, there is a good chance that the T-70 will be the only, or almost the only, starfighter fielded by the Resistance in this film. This is not because of any in-universe logistical or training priority, but rather because having only two types of starfighter (especially those with shapes as distinct and recognizable as the X-wing and TIE Fighter) makes it easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in Abrams’ preferred style, which involves rapid camera movements in close fights. It also makes an obvious callback to A New Hope, and nostalgia is a rather effective moneymaker. Nobody remembers the Y-wings from that film, of course, because all they did was die.

Robert of Bellême (Count of Ponthieu, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury, etc.), is an Anglo-Norman magnate renowned for his cruelty and violence, who now spends his time posting bad jokes. His favorite starfighter is the TIE Interceptor.


Our special Christmas day guest post comes from General Giulio Douhet. Douhet is the father of modern air power, and writes a weekly column for the New York Times. He tweets at @DouhetNYT.

Late this Christmas season I was introduced by the hosts of this fine publication to a short film dubbed “Peace on Earth.” This film depicted an aging rodent and his young rodent family in what appeared to be post-war bliss. The last war, so the story went, had resulted in the complete destruction of the human race, thus leaving the fields, farms, and homes to the surviving animals. Intended no doubt to evoke the horrors of the recent war, the film implied that the likely devastation of future human conflict ought to force the accumulated peoples of the world to make every effort to avoid future war.


Unfortunately, I came away tremendously disappointed.

While the devastating effects of airpower are shown (or at least implied) in the film, the second order effects are not considered. Waves of bombers can destroy cities (dropping as much as a thousand tons of bombs per city, if necessary), an operation which has critical effects on the rest of the war machine. Artillery, machine guns, tanks, and heavily equipped infantrymen fighting to the last after an aerial bombardment? Not likely. The war machine will begin to break down after the first few hundred tons of bombs are dropped, with industry collapsing and intricate mobilization orders coming to naught.

As I wrote in the War of 19–,the next war will be won not by gas mask wearing soldiers, but by proud aviators flying bombers not unlike the Caproni Ca. 5 (capable of flying at 160 kilometers/hour), or even the Gotha G5. In the future, we might be able to conceive of bombers that could carry as much as 3000kg worth of aero-chemical bombs, and strike targets at as far as 1200 kilometers distant. In the first days (perhaps even hours) of the next war, the two sides will commit their full strength to the aerial war, with one side inevitably proving victorious. Formations of bombers, shrugging off insignificant pursuit groups, will deliver bombs and poison gas to the enemy. The Independent Air Force that dominates the sky will methodically destroy the cities, railways, depots, and staging areas of the enemy, reducing its victim to helplessness in less than a week. The defeated will then sue for peace. Trench warfare, as envisioned by the less-than-imaginative military leadership of past conflicts, will be utterly superfluous to the outcome of future battle, thus rendering the depiction of combat in “Peace on Earth” quaint and idiosyncratic.

And this, indeed, is the true peril implied by the film; that our next war shall be fought by unimaginative, unenlightened ground and sea commanders, not to mention civilians with little knowledge of or interest in the most complex aspects of warfare. While humanity itself will not be annihilated in the last war, the society that fails to prepare by creating a strong, Independent Air Force supported by a large scale aviation industry surely will suffer virtually complete destruction. So too those who heed the siren song of “air defence” and “pursuit planes”; such weapons will only marginally slow the destruction wrought by heavy, well protected battle planes. Woe be to the civilization that fails to prepare for Command of the Air, and to the nation that lacks the courage and fortitude to drop poison gas on the cities of its enemies. Let me be clear; the only way in which “Peace on Earth” will come to pass is if men are too cowardly to drop poison gas on the families of their foes.

I should also note that the post-war situation described in Peace on Earth similarly fails to satisfy. An owl sagely read to the squirrel, when in reality the owl would take advantage of its Command of the Air to quickly kill, eviscerate, and devour the juvenile rodent. Simple logic dictates that the birds would quickly come to dominate any post-human landscape, with the largest, most powerful birds at the top. Much like the flocks of Caproni Ca.1s that would have darkened the skies over Vienna if the fools in Rome had listened to me instead of throwing me in prison, these birds will have dominion over the earth.

Skip “Peace on Earth.” However, I highly recommend “Donald Duck Snowball War,” a technically accurate and deeply moving film about the tragedy of siege warfare.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Gunpowder & Lead editor Jimmy Sky, though really all credit goes to his sons Kid A & Creep.

My eldest son has reached the age of seven. The age at which I determined it was my solemn duty as a father to teach him the ways of the Force (minus the part where I have to lop off a hand). Conveniently, I had this epiphany going into a long weekend while my wife was out of town.

I was pretty tortured about how best to approach this. I have two boys, seven and four, who have, for the purpose of the Internet, been nicknamed Kid A (7-yo) and Creep (4-yo). I say that I was tortured, because like most people with a functioning cortex, I really, really disliked the prequels. However, I recognize that they are now canon and since my kids had already watched some of the Clone Wars cartoon, I didn’t really feel like I could completely excise the prequels.

However, I did decide to utilize something called ‘Machete Order’ for viewing. There is a much longer post on Machete Order here, but the basics are that you watch the series in this order:

1)A New Hope (Episode IV)
2)The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V)
3)Attack of the Clones (Episode II)
4)Revenge of the Sith (Episode III)
5)Return of the Jedi (Episode VI)

If you know anything at all about trilogies and multiplication, you will quickly see that this cuts out one entire movie. However, since it is the one with Jar Jar Binks, the Midichlorians, the Virgin Birth, and the Pod-racing Jake Lloyd, it didn’t seem like much of a loss. At some point in the future I’ll show them The Phantom Menace and they can watch it with the same sense of bewilderment and betrayal that I felt upon watching The Star Wars Christmas Special.

While part of my motivation in showing them these movies was to be able to share a formative experience from my own childhood, I also wanted to monitor their reaction to the movies upon seeing them for the first time and interview them on some of the places where I thought they may have “unique insights.” I let them watch the whole movie, without much pausing and then jumped back through the movie to gauge their reaction, especially from a military and policy perspective.

Strategic Thinking

Kid A and Creep hard at work



Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from repeat contributor Jon Jeckell, who previously wrote about the Jedi Way of War.

Two of the most successful Western epics conclude with a triumphant victory after the elimination of the enemy leader. The literary versions (at least the extended stories) betray some doubts about these seductively easy victories and hint that the authors understand war better than the movies indicate. The movie version of the galactic civil war in Star Wars abruptly and cleanly ends with the death of Emperor Palpatine, and the subsequent rapid collapse of Imperial command and control and other critical systems. Similarly, Middle Earth literally swallows up the entire enemy host in The Lord of the Rings after the demise of Sauron when the One Ring is unmade.1 Both of these wars finish like a game of chess: the pawns become completely irrelevant after the destruction of the enemy king.2

Star Warsis especially egregious in using this theme. The combined Naboo forces win an abrupt victory over the Trade Federation at the end of The Phantom Menace when Anakin Skywalker destroys a single enemy battleship (with a single, random shot), bringing down the command and control network, causing every single Battle Droid to simultaneously go limp. Similarly, Revenge of the Sith essentially ends when the Emperor issues Order 66, and usurps command of the entire Clone Army with a single phrase.3 As for the Separatists, Palpatine already controls that army and merely needs to liquidate his accomplices, who are all conveniently assembled in one location and have the same highly centralized authority, so their organizations effectively die with them. A New Hope ends with the destruction of the single powerful, but brittle weapon system—the Death Star—through a critical vulnerability emblematic of the dangers of over-integration and lack of resilience.

To be fair to George Lucas, paranoid dictators like Stalin, Hitler, and Emperor Palpatine concentrate the power to themselves to assure their control, and otherwise establish complex, diffuse, dysfunctional mechanisms to ensure their subordinates cannot function without or conspire against them. The novelizations and some of the dialogue in A New Hope make it clear the Emperor built the Death Star because he wanted to concentrate his power in one indomitable platform under his direct control. Note how the Imperial Fleet sits like well-disciplined dogs with the entire Rebel Fleet directly in front of them at the end of Return of the Jedi. Even the Admiralty was completely in the dark about the Emperor’s plan. They merely did what they were told. See what taking the initiative and applying common sense to think of a better approach to a tactical problem got Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back.

An admiral is choaked

Figure 1: “He felt surprise was wiser…” This is what happens to Imperial Flag Officers who improvise, on even tactical decisions. Don’t think; just carry out your orders. Seriously, what was Vader’s plan if it wasn’t to surprise the Rebels?

But the aftermath of real wars can be as daunting and challenging as any other part, even if you utterly and decisively defeat the enemy, achieving unconditional surrender. George Lucas explicitly modeled much of the Star Wars saga on World War II motifs, and the era seems to resonate with Americans. However, the mythological accounts of this war and its fictional echoes distort our expectations of what war is really like, and these expectations don’t even work in the Star Wars setting.4 Although World War II seemed to have the same triumphant, happy ending, it involved a lot more than parades and mopping up at the end. Besides the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Crisis and subsequent airlift, the postwar environment was much more complex than popularly portrayed, even if you recall the Cold War. Even the iconic Japanese surrender on the deck of a US battleship was not as simple as it seemed.

Japan's foreign minister surrenders while MacArthur watches.

Figure 2: “No, no, no. There’s TWO O’s in Goose, boys.” Foreign Affairs Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

The Japanese military desperately tried to prevent the broadcast of the Emperor’s surrender announcement. Unusually tight Japanese cultural cohesion and hierarchy played a prominent role in nearly universal obedience to that order. Less cohesive and hierarchical societies will suffer even more from diverging interests when parts of one side or the other are satisfied with the results, but not others. For example, while some elements of Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army tired of their long struggle against Britain, many ignored peace deals declared by their supposed leaders and fought on.5 The rebel groups in many parts of the Arab Spring were happy to work together against a common enemy, but were no longer bound by a common enemy at the end. Likewise, World War I did not end on 11 November 1918 with the armistice, the peace process and related fighting continued for years afterwards. Moreover, while German society was very cohesive, the peace process created massive turmoil resulting in the fall of the Kaiser and set conditions for the rise of the Nazi regime. Ultimately, lasting peace requires reconciliation and normalization of relations acceptable or enforceable by all parties, or conflict will inevitably return.6

The surrender than ended the Persian Gulf War

Figure 3: One of these Generals will be on a book tour soon, another will be repudiated and be lucky to survive the coming purges, ending up in house arrest as the sequels to this war began. Either way, this surrender accomplished nothing other than successfully stalling until the next round. Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and GEN Norman Schwarzkopf, 1991.

Most dictators have layers of patronage networks and enforcers in place to keep them in power. These groups have the resources and motivation to keep fighting proportionate to the likelihood of reprisals, whether official, such as the Nürnberg War Crimes Tribunals for the remnants of the Nazi regime at the end of World War II, or spontaneous, such as retribution against former Ba’athists in post-invasion Iraq. Even without reprisals, groups with power and access to resources will resist giving up privileged positions. What about the surviving imperial forces and government officials after the death of the Emperor? Would they just give up when they are likely be subject to war crimes trials or retribution?

Given the scale of violence, suffering, genocide and planetary destruction, it seems very unlikely the victorious rebel forces would let them go free. Some low ranking, low profile Imperial troops might try to melt back into the population unnoticed, but the new authorities could use personnel and other records to track them down. Senior level officials and Imperial officials with more blood on their hands, particularly in a regime with a penchant for ruling through terror like this one, would be highly motivated to prevent any desertions to preserve their own security. Would all of the bureaucrats throughout the Empire be so tainted they could not participate in the New Republic government or have valuable skills or experience to contribute? The Emperor’s unique capabilities as a dictator suggest although he may have initially picked his lieutenants for access to political power, but later would have selected purely for obedience and reliability in his absence. Most Imperial officials are probably disciplined thugs who reliably execute what they are told. The New Republic would have to establish a lustration process to vet every one of them, and how many would willingly undergo the process under the threat of reprisals by remaining Imperial enforcers?7

Reconciliation after a war has entailed demobilization by one or both parties to reduce tensions, particularly in the era when states began raising mass armies against each other. Mobilizing a mass army or industrial preparations for war, such as shipbuilding, was a long, difficult and visible process that provided neighboring states an early warning of the initiator’s intentions, so demobilization provided security assurances to relax tensions. Large standing armies are also expensive to maintain, and from the 1500’s on, Western armies commonly just released soldiers where they were when they no longer needed them. States were gradually forced to take responsibility for demobilizing their soldiers, not least because many became brigands and criminals to survive crippled trade. The demobilization problem continues to haunt states. The US faced serious challenges demobilizing large numbers of soldiers following the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Veterans of World War I struggling through the Great Depression formed a group called the Bonus Army to demand immediate compensation for their service. The costs of World War I and the failure to demobilize soldiers and the economy in many countries were arguably major factors in the Great Depression itself. The US implemented the Montgomery GI Bill and many other preparations to help soldiers and industry demobilize and transition to peacetime to prevent economic or social disruption from recurring.

So what did the Republic plan to do with all of those clone troopers when the war against the Separatists ended? Perhaps the Republic/Empire is prosperous enough in terms of basic necessities to afford a large population of idle ex-soldiers. It seems people only work in Star Wars because they want to, not because they need to, particularly with ubiquitous, affordable droids capable of doing just about everything. But what would the clones’ personhood status be and how would society treat them after the war? After all, only they and the Jedi fought in the war (with some exceptions), and their service was compulsory, so clearly society assigned value to their lives differently than any other Galactic citizen. They were clearly expendable enough to be sent into battle against droids manufactured on an assembly line. How would they cope with their memories, a bias toward action in idle times, and with obsolete, dangerous skills rivaled only by the now nearly extinct Jedi? At a minimum, they would have a completely different outlook than other Galactic citizens. How would a society that demonstrably favors collective security over liberty or justice at every turn deal with them?8 Some form of disposal is especially likely because of the dangers of built-in triggers like Order 66, and the possibility of suddenly swelling their ranks with new clones to form their own army.

This brings us back to Lord of the Rings. While the movie climaxes with a titanic battle, and all threats are conveniently eliminated when the enemy leader falls, the books tell a different story. In it, Aragorn and Èomer reclaim all the lands possessed at their greatest extent and eventually make peace with reconcilable Easterlings and Haradrim (other humans). Appendix A of Return of the King states: “For though Sauron had passed, the hatreds and evils that he had bred had not died, and the King of the West had many enemies to subdue before the White Tree could grow in peace.” More importantly, they would’ve faced the dilemma of utterly exterminating every last Orc, Troll and Goblin, or risk their ability to opportunistically breed and explosively populate to form an overwhelming army without warning. Tolkein’s books and the movies give few hints at how baby Orcs are made (actually, the movies show fully grown, battle-ready Orcs emerging), but clearly they can build an overwhelming army very rapidly.9 Whether or not they could be reformed to coexist peacefully with the other free peoples of Middle Earth, they have the demonstrated inclination and capability to snuff out all other life. In short, you could never be fully confident that the Orcs haven’t mobilized another massive army to exterminate you because they can do it much more quickly and secretly than humans.

In contrast, the anime series Robotech contains a very rare, realistic look at the challenges of conflict termination, reconciliation and demobilization. The first half of the first saga fits the typical American preference, featuring a technological wonder-weapon manned by a maverick crew, single-handedly protecting the Earth from the relentless onslaught of an implacable and overwhelmingly powerful enemy against impossible odds. The humans win a stunning victory in a cataclysmic battle. They win in part through their unique talent, innate human traits and a daring strike on the enemy flagship that throws the enemy into disarray.

But instead of this resulting in the typical, jubilant, decisive happy ending we’ve all come to expect…wait…it’s just the middle of the first saga, not the end. Earth is devastated, with severe food and resource constraints for the shell-shocked survivors, including huge numbers of surviving sixty foot tall former enemy combatants who caused the devastation. Worse, these former enemy soldiers are genetically modified sixty-foot tall lab grown clones assembled into a completely martial society through implanted false memories of a glorious history of conquest and lacking skills for anything other than combat. Their Masters kept them utterly dependent on them by limiting their skills and aptitude toward fighting. They cannot even build or repair their own equipment. Moreover, their Masters kept them strictly segregated from the opposite sex and programmed them to be repulsed by the sight of them to monopolize their ability to reproduce.

While these demobilized enemy soldiers lack useful skills for reconstruction, their massive size imposes commensurately enormous resource requirements to survive. Even the ones amenable to starting a peaceful new life face hostility and resentment from xenophobic, traumatized and hungry humans. Difficulties integrating with human society and ready access to weapons littering the landscape in the wreckage of the last war resulted in fertile ground for a rogue enemy leader to rally un-reconciled elements to regain their imagined glory in combat. Many surviving civilians also blamed the military for the devastation and staged protests that prevented routine peace enforcement by the only means available to the government–the military and the weapons used in the war. Estranged from people outside the military hierarchy, they have little choice but to wait until things flare up and employ deadly force, rather than work toward reconciliation and socio-political union.

An angry mob consisting of humans and giant aliens

Figure 4: How do you partake in a riot that includes angry sixty-foot tall former enemy soldiers? Very carefully, apparently. Humans and former enemy soldiers riot against the military presence in a post-war city.

Swift, easy victories are rare and depend on peculiar circumstances because the loser will adapt or eventually become subsumed. They’re also usually a fairy tale if you continue to interact with the vanquished because conflicts will continue to erupt unless conditions causing them are resolved. American military mythology often portrays easy, final victory as the norm or the ideal, but that mythology is predicated on generations of relative geopolitical isolation from the rest of the world. Furthermore, even the events hailed as exemplars of this phenomenon that inspired modern war epics involved much more of a messy struggle in the aftermath than popularly acknowledged. Real wars are based on conflicts between thinking people, all with their own interests, biases and loyalties, which must be adequately and be addressed and abided by both sides to build sustainable peace. Rebuilding after wars and reconciling with former enemies, not to mention maintaining solidarity among your friends often seems like a magical process in pop culture, and we keep falling for an illusion we keep wanting to believe.


1 If this is a spoiler to you, you should get out more.

2 These movies could also be the ultimate expression of the shortcomings of Cybernetic warfare, as defined in Chapter 4 of The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity by Antoine J. Bousquet. While Sauron and Emperor Palpatine had tightly controlled, centralized C2 systems, the Host of the West and Rebel Alliance had far more resilient, adaptable decentralized systems with distributed decision making.

3 This also illustrates the danger of outsourcing complex mission critical technology without understanding how it works. Without the ability to completely audit or understand how a supplier designed a technological artifact, you must inherently trust the reliability and security of their product within your operation.

4 Historic geo-strategic isolation and ability to strike at threats using offshore assets and ability to withdraw from wars before becoming entangled helped too. Although US invested a substantial commitment to World War I, the US was able to withdraw at the time of their choosing. Long-term commitments have been the exception, not the rule (examples: the Philippines, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan).

5 While Patriot Games portrayed a fairly recent fictional account of something like this, The Wind That Shakes the Barley portrays Ireland as it tumbled from the Irish War of Independence in 1921 to the Irish Civil War in 1922 over unacceptable peace terms accepted by the Irish leadership. Organizations comprised of loose affiliations to survive counter-insurgency efforts, also lack control of their members to enforce peace terms.

6 The Star Wars galaxy probably has the cohesiveness to prevent anarchic breakdown despite its rich mosaic of cultures and languages because of the ability of hyperspace-capable capital ships to indefinitely scale up in size and power. Han Solo’s smuggling career also suggests legitimate trade has enormous economic value, but even if a region could become economically self-sufficient, only a handful of regions seem to have the technology to produce quality starships. Moreover, capital ships entail enormous capital investment in an arena where there may not be a second best. All things being equal, a larger starship seems to be vastly superior to many small ones, creating convergent pressure on political groups to form a large enough base to afford ships capable of protecting them. Hyperspace capabilities give these ships the ability to move anywhere rapidly and appear without warning, reducing the utility of smaller ships dispersed over a wider area. The economies of scale starships inherently converge toward a unipolar political realm. While distributed swarms of fighters were decisive many times, they lack the ability to take on a planetary system alone, and the size and quality of fighter fleets follow economies of scale parallel with capital ships, at least with Star Wars technology.Whether the New Republic chooses to micromanage or not would be a political decision, not an indication of its capabilities. When playing with capital ships in the Star Wars universe, you win or you die.

7 Basically, I think Timothy Zahn got it right in the Heir to the Empire series, except the surviving senior Imperial Admiral would be more likely another boot-licking political hack than a competent leader like Thrawn. Hyperspace capabilities allow surviving Imperial Forces to employ their ships to maintain a shadow government through a terror campaign on any system that cooperates with the New Republic, as depicted in that series.

8 Sci-Fi is rich in dystopian scenarios featuring elimination of populations who have outlived their value, depending on who is in charge at the time. On the mild end, they could end up frozen to preserve them for future use or a Star Wars/Blade Runner crossover could result as some built-in time limit starts to “shut them down.” On the other end, they could end up “reprocessed” by harvesting their organs, or end up turned into Soylent Green, or simply just taken out and unceremoniously disposed of. The latter options risk making armed insurrection a self-fulfilling prophesy if they get wind of it.

9 It’s possible Sauron somehow controlled the Orc reproductive cycle to keep them in check, but Saruman was able to use it with or without his approval to build his own army so Orcs might’ve paid attention to the procedure. Besides, Orcs continued to exist between Sauron’s manifestations.

The Jedi Way of War

Posted: July 31, 2012 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post come from US Army officer Jon Jeckell, who studies complex adaptations to war and has been analyzing science fiction since the days of usenet. Here he takes a close look at disruptive conflict long ago and far away.

Chancellor Palpatine’s conspiracy to seize control of the Republic is central to the plot of the Star Wars series. Clearly a key part of his plan involved confusing, misleading and preoccupying the only other institution in civil society capable of recognizing and countering the usurpation and centralization of power—the Jedi Order.i

Palpatine deflected Jedi skepticism of the war by manipulating them to agree to lead it, with the premise they would avoid the need for war through their traditional role as diplomats and peacekeepers. By taking part in the government by leading the war, they devolved to just another interest group within the government, gradually ending their immunity to political infighting and culminating in charges of treason. The Jedi were not only distracted from their role in upholding the rule of law during Palpatine’s political plot by taking a leading role in the war, but cognitive biases inherent being part of it prevented them from taking a wholly objective, critical view of it. Veneration and respect for the Jedi institution, their powers and skills, their selflessness and wisdom placed their reputation among society beyond reproach. No one questioned or criticized Jedi performance in the war, even when the war raged directly above the capital at Coruscant. Surely the casualties from huge pieces of spacecraft and debris falling into a heavily populated city seen at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith would’ve prompted some public curiosity about the war. Even if some technology, such as shields or point defense systems deflected or destroyed debris before it fell on the city, the spectacle would’ve been impossible to ignore. Yet life seemed to go on as if it never happened. Lack of public involvement and discourse deprived the Jedi of badly needed outside perspectives and diversity of ideas. Public faith in the Jedi institution, their supernatural skills, and the vast resources provided by the Clone Army obviated the need for citizens to fight in the war and lulled them from even paying attention to it at all.

While it seems the Jedi would be the only institution competent in warfare after thousands of years of peace, they were the worst possible choice on many levels. What institution within the Republic retained any practical knowledge of warfare? Some private institutions and individual planetary governments, such as Naboo, had their own modest security forces, but the Republic seemed to lack any other institution capable of employing coercion on behalf of the state. This study will elide the political, policy and civil society aspects and focus on explaining why the Jedi Order were a uniquely poor choice to lead the Grand Army of the Republic. Although it superficially appears the Jedi are the only ones capable of taking on this burden, they suffered from numerous institutional biases and a philosophy that impeded their ability to understand what was happening or adapt to realities of their new role. Leading a massive Army was not a linear extension of the skills the Jedi possessed, and they lacked the ability to gain those skills.

Although the Jedi were renowned diplomats and keepers of the peace, they were not politicians or strategists, and never critically examined the Separatist’s grievances to identify the root causes of the conflict. Without understanding the causes of conflict, they failed to develop a theory of victory. Without this, they merely continued to pursue of the Separatist leaders and the destruction of their army after the first engagement. They failed to reframe from their roles as individual combatants to leaders of an Army for a multitude of reasons explored below.

The Jedi had become arrogant (Yoda says as much), complacent and convinced they possessed all knowledge worth knowing. The librarian at the Jedi Archives dismissed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s query about a planet he heard about that was not in the archives by briskly declaring it does not exist if it is not in the records. As Obi-Wan’s friend told him earlier, the Jedi have forgotten the difference between knowledge and wisdom. The last indication that the Jedi recognized their limitations was when Mace Windu told Palpatine they were keepers of the peace, not soldiers and that there were too few Jedi to fight a war. Even this last shred of self-doubt was swept away after the fortuitous arrival of the Clone Army to rescue a Jedi commando raid gone horribly wrong. Mace Windu led a large team of Jedi on a mission to rescue hostages(of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker) and to capture Separatist key leaders on Geonosis. Although he launched the raid hastily in desperation to save hostages from an execution already underway, they blithely ignored strong intelligence indicators that the Separatists had a large conventional force in the area. The Jedi were flushed with a false sense of victory by the providential arrival of enormous resources that turned the tide of the battle in their favor. Fortune forestalled further doubts about their abilities and the Jedi failed to learn lessons on how to use this new army wisely. Even though the battle entailed profligate losses, Yoda alone seems to recognize that this was just the beginning of the war and not a final victory, but fails to implement any institutional changes to adapt to their new role to lead the Army. Absence of outside skepticism and suppressed internal dissent, doomed this closed, oligarchic organization to fall prey to groupthink and fail to see broader implications of the battle. Lacking a diversity of ideas to draw from impaired their ability to comprehend what was happening and made them ill equipped to adapt.

Planning and strategy are anathema to Jedi philosophy, which relies upon using the force to guide them.ii . Daniel Kahneman provided an extensive look at different forms of thinking, both deliberate (rational) and instinctive in Thinking Fast and Slow.iii While instinctive modes of thought (without the force) can provide superior results in their proper context, particularly if instincts are honed and refined with experience, they can also be dangerously misled and lead to biases and dangerously bad results in others. Perhaps the Jedi can normally get by without calculating, planning, or developing deliberate strategies through their use of the force to foresee the future. However, although they are all aware someone using the dark side is deliberately clouding this ability, they continued to rely on it exclusively, disregarding solid intelligence and credulously acting on false information fed to them. They failed to develop alternative intelligence, decision-making, and planning models to compensate for their degraded senses. Clearly they have not faced a Sith in a very long time, or these battles involved were more directly focused among force users.

On the tactical level, they failed to evolve beyond the familiar individual fighting styles and develop basic tactics or lead the Clone Army. Yoda appropriately exploited the speed, shock, surprise and firepower provided by the Clone Army to air assault extract Mace Windu’s failed Jedi assault force at Geonosis. What followed, however, demonstrates the Jedi failed to understand the fundamental shift in warfare and their role in leading it.

The Jedi have a penchant for melee combat with lightsabers, and at first blush, leading from the front and setting the example are admirable qualities. But because they were too busy fighting, they failed to step back to organize, coordinate, and lead using anything resembling acceptable military tactics.

The Jedi value complete selflessness and acceptance of fate in battle, and view attachments as dangerous. Perhaps this is why they were undaunted by the grievous casualties suffered among the clones. Lab grown soldiers programmed for obedience and lacking ties to the rest of society obviated the need for accountability, outcry over casualties or the need to use them wisely. Were clones even considered people, or merely replaceable tools?

Of all the frontal assaults in science fiction, this is the most egregious. The leaders possessed values that should have caused them to recognize and value the well being of their troops. The organization valued reflective thinking and wisdom above all else. They had vast resources, time, and the option to do it differently.iv Once they recovered the hostages and the enemy leaders fled, why didn’t they commence an orbital bombardment of the enemy ships concentrated neatly on an open plain? Shields? How about a blockade to trap them and place them under siege? Perhaps the Separatists had local space superiority preventing a successful blockade? Even if a ground assault was the only option, the execution was ghastly.

Clone Troopers at Geonosis "Thumbs Up, let's do this...Leeroy Jen..GAH"

Clone Troopers at Geonosis “Thumbs Up, let’s do this…Leeroy Jen..GAH”

Not only did the clone troopers literally wade slowly forward into battle without using any cover while firing their weapons from the hip, there was no sign whatsoever of any coordination among them. It was a vastly scaled up brawl of millions of individual fights rather than a cohesive battle. They continually inserted fresh troops directly into the middle of the battle rather than in a safe landing zone or better yet, to maneuver for the enemy flank. Even when Yoda or others give commands, they are directing individual weapons systems to fire on a particular target, not to establish the synergy of combined arms and maneuvering units. A special team of commandos linked up with Mace Windu and he led them on a charge directly into the center of the battle! Countless clone troopers marched into a the machine onslaught. Every droid they destroyed could be easily replaced on an assembly line at a comparable rate. The only attempt to break with attrition style warfare was led by Obi-Wan Kenobi by pursuing the escaping leaders, but again is attributable to the Jedi’s preferred individual role and not an attempt to guide the army.

Why didn’t the clones organize themselves into units and fight cohesively? The Kaminoans claimed that clones can think creatively, giving them a decisive edge over droids…so why didn’t they? They were programmed with accelerated learning and genetically modified to make them totally obedient. Rote instruction styles and authoritarian models do not foster creative problem solving. Their programming and training regimen probably included some organizational and fighting techniques, but since no one had recent combat experience, where did those concepts come from? It seems they were merely copied as a symmetric response to the observed tactics used in the last war by the droid army, comprised of expendable, non-living combatants. No sign of anyone revisiting the logic predicating those tactics, nor to take advantage of capabilities the clones possessed. The clones also probably had their sense of fear and self-preservation suppressed as part of their programming, which further reduced their incentive to develop safer, more effective combat skills. Even if the clones had the capacity to develop and employ tactics, perhaps those thoughts pushed aside when they were ordered directly into the fight, particularly when they saw the Jedi wade directly into battle in front of them. The Jedi, suffering from the curse of expertise, probably never gave it a second thought that the clones were aping their fighting style without access to the required supernatural abilities to match (like the ability to deflect shots with a lightsaber).v

George Lucas undoubtedly intended to convey lessons regarding democracy and civil society, but the implications for warfare were no less profound. Forsaking their role outside the government and taking part in its actions, they lost their outside view and objectivity, and compromised their ability to enforce the rule of law. Worse, they made coup charges by their enemies plausible when they appeared to become just another interest group. The Jedi had fatal cognitive and institutional biases born from their abilities and their reliance on those abilities limited their ability to adapt. This perversely resulted in the Jedi blithely inflicting unnecessary and grievous suffering and exploitation on disenfranchised living beings rather than leading them. The Jedi completely misunderstood the cause of the conflict, leading to a faulty theory of victory and subsequently a poor strategy to end it effectively. Vast resources to fight the war, free from outside encumbrances or accountability, forestalled the need to think how to use them efficiently or adapt to profound changes on the battlefield. They continued to rely on cognitive models they knew had been compromised by the enemy, and failed to adapt their model of warfare. The Jedi bravely led the men under their command on repeated campaigns of profligate, epic attrition predicated on faulty strategic aims. While the Jedi superficially seemed like the only, if not the ideal choice to fight the war, their values and abilities defined their uniquely fatal disabilities.

Special thanks to @GWG, @Starbuck_WOI, @Aelkus, @Mims, @Exolyrical, @SMSaideman, @Neilbhatiya and @zenpundit for inspiration and discussion on this topic 23 July 2012.

i The Jedi Order seems to be an institution outside the government, yet with a role in keeping it accountable, limiting power, and fostering the rule of law, similar to the role the Catholic Church had in post-Roman Europe. Francis Fukuyama discusses this in detail in Part III of The Origins of Political Order.

ii This makes nicknaming graduates of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) after the Jedi since at least Operation Desert Storm rather ironic.

iii Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011

iv One discussion prompting this article nominated the climactic battle from Avatar as the worst frontal assault in science fiction. However, the opposition leader was a young former Marine corporal leading pre-technological indigenous tribes. He could have made much more effective use of the abilities and skills of the indigenous population in, say, a guerilla campaign. However, his limited military experience and mild influence with the tribes limited his ability to change the way they fought.

v Curse of expertise describes how experts often grossly underestimate the time and effort required by novices to acquire skills they possess, particularly when these skills involve large amounts of tacit knowledge the expert assumes they have. (Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To, Sian Beilock, 2010, Free Press, Ch1)

International Relations and the Batman

Posted: July 23, 2012 by J. Dana Stuster in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Christian Bale as Batman from Dark Knight Returns

When the movie “The Avengers” was released in May 2012,’s Danger Room blog reported that the U.S. military had opted not to cooperate with the film’s production because it found the subject matter too unrealistic – not because of the plot involving a half-dozen superheroes fending off a trans-dimensional alien invasion, but because Pentagon liaisons could not determine how the paramilitary organization S.H.I.E.L.D. fit in the chain of command. If it seems ridiculous that such a pragmatic concern would be the deciding factor in Pentagon advisers giving up their willing suspension of disbelief, well, it really is. (Steve Saideman did a great job dissecting this at the time.) But it is often the pragmatic issues in superhero comic books that have the most interesting implications.

The intersection of international politics and superheroes is infrequent, but reliably raises difficult questions for observers of international relations. Superheroes are almost always vigilantes, acting without any sort of government authority – they are non-state actors. (There are notable exceptions to this. Wonder Woman is the ruler of the Mediterranean isle of Themyscira. In the Marvel universe, exceptions include the “Fifty State Initiative,” a nation-wide effort by the U.S. government to sponsor domestic superhero teams, and a recent X-Men storyline in which, after decades of government persecution, a band of mutants secede and establish the independent nation of Utopia on an island in San Francisco Bay – no one ever said comics were subtle.) A number of recent plotlines have addressed the issue of nationality, particularly the fact that, though individuals with no formal ties to the government, characters like Superman or Batman cannot go abroad without being perceived as de facto American ambassadors. This was addressed in a brief (and non-canonical) vignette in Action Comics #900, in which Superman tells the U.S. National Security Advisor that he plans to renounce his American citizenship after the U.S. government chastises his show of solidarity with Iranian Green Movement protesters. “‘Truth, justice, and the American way’ – it’s not enough anymore,” he explains. “The world’s too small. Too connected.” In the 1970s, Captain America briefly followed through on this premise. After the Watergate scandal, and in what is truly a high-water mark for political disillusionment in comics, Captain America witnesses the suicide of a disgraced government official, prompting him to rename himself Nomad, “the man without a country.”

One of the most grounded approaches to this subject has come from one of the most grounded superheroes: Batman. The premise of Batman Incorporated, the climax of Grant Morrison’s run on the Batman title, is simple. Bruce Wayne publicly announces that he is Batman’s financier and establishes an organization to fund batmen and batwomen around the world. His motives are two-fold: to counteract a clandestine global terror network called “Leviathan,” but also to engage and empower local vigilantes fighting regional crime around the globe. The goal is “to fight ideas with better ideas,” he explains. “The idea of crime with the idea of Batman. From today on, Batman will be everywhere it’s dark, no place to hide.” (Yes, the sentence structure here drives me crazy.) The potential implications of this would be more complex and would affect every tier of international relations.

Bilateral Relations:

Let’s suppose for a moment that you are the embattled field marshal of a military junta in the generic central African country of Mtamba, trying to maintain what territory you control against rival warlords, armies of child soldiers, the machinations of a family of deposed royals, and corruption within and without your “government,” if you feel generous enough to call it that. Billionaire entrepreneur Bruce Wayne visits your country, and you help facilitate this visit because your country is a great investment opportunity – a polite way of saying, “really needs some capital.” Instead, he sets up a bat-franchise in your backyard. The situation is worse than you realize – you suspect that, behind the mask, this new superhero backed by foreign funds is actually a member of the former royal family. (In a spin-off title, this character is rewritten as Batwing, a former child soldier and the only clean cop in his police department in a fictionalized capitol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The fictional city is named Tinasha instead of Kinshasha – again, not ones for subtlety.) How many seconds would it take for you to issue an arrest warrant – if you care for such formalities – for Bruce Wayne, in the event he ever returns to your country? Would you impose a tariff on imports of Wayne Enterprises goods to disincentivize Wayne’s business in your country? How quickly would you call the President of the United States to complain about the American-financed terrorist threatening your government?

The junta tries a remarkably light hand with Batwing

Impoverished African countries have limited leverage with the U.S. government. The field marshal might huff and puff, but it is unlikely that an administration would do much on his behalf. But take for instance the scene from The Dark Knight (2008; spoilers ahead) in which Batman travels to Hong Kong to abduct the financial manager of Gotham City’s mob bosses. The banker is essential to a criminal investigation that could implicate Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, but as Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent explains to Batman, “We need Lau back, but the Chinese won’t extradite a national under any circumstances.”

We need Lau Back

So Batman goes to Hong Kong and forcibly extradites Lau, as only Batman can (with fighting, base jumping and a midair rendezvous with a plane, of course). In the world of Batman, Inc. incidents like this are even more likely to occur with a bat-franchise operating in Hong Kong and Moscow. (There’s not enough written about the “Batman of Moscow” to draw any conclusions about his relationship with the Russian government – he makes a three page appearance in Batman and Robin #1 before being unceremoniously killed off by a vigilante.)

China has considerably more influence in Washington than the field marshal of Mtamba. Lau would stand trial in Gotham City after Batman’s extrajudicial rendition (the legality of trying persons who were captured illegally has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court), but there would be considerable effects for China-U.S. relations. China prizes its sovereignty and the irregular rendition of a Chinese citizen would provoke a diplomatic crisis. China would almost certainly request that the United States extradite Batman for trial in China. This was the response of an Italian prosecutor, who brought charges against a group of Americans believed to be working with the CIA in the 2003 abduction of a radical Egyptian cleric with political asylum in Milan (the United States refused to comply with the request and the Americans were tried in absentia). China would also prove less cooperative with joint efforts. For example, after the United States seized and transported to the United States a Mexican national suspected of killing an American DEA agent, Mexico halted its cooperation with the DEA and threatened to arrest any American law enforcement officials operating without the explicit consent of the Mexican government. Sovereignty has already emerged as a point of contention with China this year, when Chinese activist Chen Guangchen took shelter in the U.S. embassy in Beijing in late April. The incident precipitated an international crisis over whether he would be returned to China or be granted asylum in the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell and State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh were dispatched to broker a compromise and defuse tensions. Though a very different circumstance, Batman pulling Lau out a window to stand trial in Gotham would prompt a diplomatic crisis of at least similar scale and create lingering tensions.

Multilateral Relations:

Most multilateral organizations would be unconcerned by the international proliferation of batmen and batwomen. Multilateral organizations tend to focus on issues of trade, which would be mostly unaffected, and security. The establishment of bat-franchises does constitute a transnational threat to some countries; in his own title (and a separate continuity from Batman, Inc.), Batwing, though based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, chases his archnemesis across Africa to the Great Pyramids in Egypt. However, convincing a multilateral treaty organization to take action against a transnational security threat is difficult. NATO certainly wouldn’t step in to shut down a bat-franchise, first and foremost because of the diplomatic cat herding always necessary to will NATO to action, and second because of its membership. The United States is and always will be the most important country in NATO, and it would not be eager to court the international embarrassment of a joint military operation against an American enterprise. France also hosts a bat-franchise, an Algerian immigrant and parkour-master with the nom de guerre Nightrunner, that operates with the knowledge and support of the French government, so French officials would be similarly opposed. Many other European countries would simply not have their interests affected enough to justify the expense.

Oh God, there could probably be an entire post about the contract this had to involve.

Oh God, there could probably be an entire post about the contract this had to involve.

Regional human rights courts might be more successful. For example, the European Court of Human Rights (an organization of the Council of Europe) could present legal challenges to bat-associates like Nightrunner and British-based characters Knight and The Hood. The ECHR hears cases about violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, with charges brought by individuals against governments or between governments. If The Hood detains a person in a way that involves torture, unlawful killing or the violation of other fundamental rights, and the British government does not prosecute The Hood, charges can be brought against him at the ECHR. If any Council of Europe country is involved in an extrajudicial rendition, this too can be challenged at the ECHR as a violation of individuals’ rights to liberty and security. The most high-profile instance of this was when Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish Worker’s Party, an organization responsible for terror attacks against Turkey, accused the Turkish government of illegally abducting him from Kenya to face trial in Turkey (the case was ultimately dismissed on account of the Kenyan government’s complicity in Öcalan’s enforced departure from Kenya). If Batman had abducted the Gotham mob banker, Lau, from Frankfurt instead of Hong Kong, he too could be indicted by the ECHR. Whether Batman would be likely to care is another matter – the ECHR’s decisions have at times proven difficult to enforce, with Russia frequently taking umbrage with the court’s decisions.

Concerned governments might try to work through other regional organizations. The Mtamban junta, if it is in good standing with the African Union, could argue its case to the AU assembly or press charges through the AU’s equivalent of the ECHR, the African Court of Justice. If Arab governments were concerned enough by the incident at Giza or a pair of incidents involving Batman in the Persian Gulf, they could present the issue at the Arab League (though no bat-franchise discussed in the comics has been established in the Middle East). Both of these organizations, though, are known for their infighting and stagnated politics. The AU has deployed peacekeepers in extreme cases, but barring a massacre or a civil war that can somehow be tied back to Batman, it is unlikely that the AU would intervene. The Arab League has a history of non-intervention – indeed, its approval of (but not necessarily participation in) the NATO intervention in Libya and sponsorship of a observer mission to Syria, while not particularly effective, have demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to critique the internal affairs of member states. However, it is unlikely the League could achieve even a toothless resolution or observer mission for what is only a peripheral threat to the Arab states.

Batman's presence in the Arab world

Batman’s presence in the Arab world

Smaller, less formal international partnerships would fare no better in forging agreement on a course of action. Various groupings of developing nations – often including Brazil, India, South Africa, China and sometimes Russia – have leveraged their economic and political strength to increase their influence. However, this cooperation has generally been on matters of trade, finance and climate change, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which this would change while Batman, Inc. directly affects China only (though Brazil could be concerned about its border with Argentina, the base of operations for bat-affiliate El Gaucho. Then again, the Brazilian government seems to be on exceptionally good terms with Batman).

NEXT TIME: Batman at the United Nations, and domestic responses! Same bat-time, same bat-channel!