Category Archives: Defence

That Stretched US Air Force–One Major War at a Time

Further to this post,

The incredible Shrinking US Air Force, or, Waiting for NGAD

the very realistic and capable air force secretary speaks very frankly (wish we had people like him in the spin-mad, all image all the time, Canadian government–see the secretary’s impressive bio here)–at Air Force Magazine:

Kendall: ‘Unrealistic’ for Air Force to Fight Two Wars While Modernizing

June 24, 2022 | By Abraham Mahshie

As Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall looks to modernize the force, he is calling for tough decisions that will shrink the size of the fleet [see post noted at start of this one] and make the waging of two simultaneous wars “unrealistic,” he said at an AFA [Air Force Association] Leaders in Action event June 24.

Kendall sat down with AFA’s president, retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, for an in-person discussion attended by a hundred air power professionals and enthusiasts at the Air and Space Forces Association’s headquarters in Arlington, Va. Kendall addressed topics ranging from threats posed by China and Russia to the ongoing congressional funding decisions that he said are necessary to keep pace with China’s heavy technological investments.

“I think it’s quite frankly unrealistic to think that we can have a force that will fight two major wars at the same time,” he said. He also said he did not believe any nation was capable of immediately ramping up from a peacetime force to engage in a prolonged, conventional war [emphasis added, note that “immediately”].

Kendall demurred when asked how many combat squadrons the Air Force should maintain, but he was clear in his commitment to take on the risk of a smaller Air Force flying fewer hours in order to make big investments in the short term.

“The critical thing is to get to the next-generation capabilities as quickly as we can [emphasis added, see this post yesterday: “USAF NGAD: Big Laser-Shooting Arsenal Fighter?],” he said. “Do we maintain current capability, keep the platforms that we have, or do we shrink down a little bit in order to get to the future? I think those are the trade-offs that we’re going to have to face.”

The Air Force currently has 55 operational combat squadrons, 32 in the Active duty and 23 in the Guard or Reserve, according to a Heritage Foundation study. And according to data provided to Air Force Magazine by the Air Force, fighter pilot hours declined 16 percent from 2020 to 2021, to an average of just 6.8 hours per month per pilot.

Kendall said it would be “hard” to get pilot hours back up, but he still called the force “healthy.”

“We’ve got to think carefully about the balance,” he said. “We’ve got to do it in a way which maintains a healthy force, while we’re doing this, as well as keeps pace with the technological competition.”

To continue to deter and defeat adversaries, Kendall called for leveraging “integrated deterrence,” or the flexing of allies’ and partners’ military and non-military capabilities, while the U.S. catches up to China’s decades of heavy military investment [e.g. various missile capabilities for attacking US bases in the Western Pacific].

Kendall has been pounding the pavement on Capitol Hill, he said, taking a classified threat briefing to the committees of Congress in order to help convince members of the importance of modernization over fleet size.

“Our average aircraft is 30 years old, and we have some aircraft that are not tailored to the high-end fight at all,” he said. “The people who manage and operate those aircraft do a fantastic job—I’m real proud of them. But we’re going to have to get to the next generation [emphasis added].”

And situation of the US Navy vs the PLA Navy is hardly encouraging either.

PREDATE: Kendall in 2012 under the Obama administration–imagine a senior Canadian official being so brutally frank:

F-35 Production Move Was ‘Acquisition Malpractice’: Top DoD Buyer

Given earlier comments by the F-35 program head, today’s [Feb. 6] remarks by the acting head of Pentagon acquisition that “putting the F-35 into production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice,” isn’t really news so much as confirmation that senior Pentagon leaders know mistakes were made.

Frank Kendall, who has been nominated to take the chair as undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a Feb. 6 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, that the decision “should not have been done” and that “now we’re paying the price for being wrong.” This was Kendall’s first public appearance since he was nominated to lead the Pentagon’s acquisition efforts.”..

Relevant post a year ago:

US Air Force Planning vs PLA in Indo-Pacific

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

USAF NGAD: Big Laser-Shooting Arsenal Fighter?

Perhaps amongst other things. At US Naval Institute News:

Report to Congress on Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program

The following is the June 23, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program [NGAD, more on the CRS here–excellent and expert non-partisan papers].

From the report

According to the Air Force, the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is intended to develop “a portfolio of technologies enabling air superiority.” The Air Force intends for NGAD to replace the F-22 fighter jet beginning in 2030, possibly including a combination of crewed and uncrewed aircraft, with other systems and sensors. NGAD began as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project. Since 2015, Congress has appropriated approximately $4.2 billion for NGAD.

NGAD is a classified aircraft development program, but the Air Force has released a few details. On September 15, 2020, then-U.S. Air Force acquisition executive Dr. Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the NGAD program. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced on June 1, 2022 that NGAD program technologies have matured enough to allow the program to move to the engineering, manufacture, and design phase of development.

Is the Goal of NGAD a New Fighter? 

While a stated aim of the NGAD program is to replace the F-22 fighter jet, the aircraft that come out of the NGAD program may or may not look like a traditional fighter. The Air Force is developing technologies involved in NGAD to provide air dominance. Part of the program’s goal is to determine how to achieve that end, independent of traditional U.S. military approaches to air dominance. NGAD could take the form of a single aircraft and/or a number of complementary systems—manned, unmanned, optionally manned, cyber, electronic—forms that would not resemble the traditional “fighter.”

For example, a larger aircraft the size of a B-21 may not maneuver like a fighter. But that large an aircraft carrying a directed energy weapon, with multiple engines making substantial electrical power for that weapon, could ensure that no enemy flies in a large amount of airspace [my “arsenal fighter”]. That would achieve air dominance. There appears to be little reason to assume that NGAD is going to yield a plane the size that one person sits in, and that goes out and dogfights kinetically, trying to outturn another plane—or that sensors and weapons have to be on the same aircraft…

The USAF certainly seems to be thinking, and prototyping, very creatively. The efforts had better work.

A very relevant recent post:

The incredible Shrinking US Air Force, or, Waiting for NGAD

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

US Defence Aerospace Companies Now Federal Government Lobbying Outfits

Funny how the biggies will almost all have their HQs in the D.C. area–at Aviation Week and Space Technology:

First Take, June 13, 2022

Graham Warwick June 10, 2022

VIEW FROM THE BELTWAY

Virginia Snags Another Aerospace Giant

Raytheon Technologies will move its global headquarters from suburban Boston to Arlington, Virginia, this summer, making it the last of the Big Five U.S. defense contractors to base its operations in the Washington region. The move into an existing Raytheon office tower near the Potomac River “increases agility in supporting U.S. government and commercial aerospace customers,” the aerospace giant says. But it is not expected to result in a large number of job shifts. Boeing announced last month that it is moving its home base from Chicago to Northern Virginia, following Northrop Grumman (2011) and General Dynamics (1991). Lockheed Martin is headquartered in nearby Bethesda, Maryland.

Capitalism at its finest hard at work. eh?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Enfin, PM Trudeau’s Government Commits Money to Several Aspects of NORAD Modernization

Further to this recent post on US pressure on Canada over NORAD,

US Air Force Chief of Staff Visits Ottawa: What’s Missing in This Story?

the Canadian minister on national defence made the Big Reveal June 20, likely with the June 29-30 NATO Madrid summit in mind (to show allies we are Doing Something on defence) as well as trying to placate the Biden administration.

It is clear the announcement at Trenton air base was rushed–a two tweets:

The news release is here. There is still no “Backgrounder”–customary with such major announcements–giving details about, and projected timelines and costings for, the individual projects mentioned.

Some key points:

1) The initial C$ 4.9 billion over six years (i.e. just over $800 million per year) for NORAD modernization is not new money; it was already included in the government’s April 22 budget; there are no details about what the promised $40 billion over 20 years is for;

2) All the major projects are related to detecting threats and processing the relevant information; only two projects relate to acquiring new kinetic defence capabilities. There are also some upgrades for existing NORAD-related facilities;

3) There is no indication of how these specifically Canadian initiatives relate to US plans to modernize NORAD (some of which may not fit in with this government’s thinking–see “left of launch” post below);

4) Canada is still staying out of the US’ GMD ballistic missile defence system;

5) Minister Anand, for some odd reason, did not name either Russia (main threat now) or China as the adversaries involved.

To begin with, an excerpt from an article last year in Aviation Week and Space Technology:

…the radars of the U.S.-Canadian North Warning System (NWS) are still functioning, although their days seem numbered…

The early-warning system lacks the range to detect Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 bombers [or Tu-95 ones] before they can launch cruise missiles and the resolution to track the latest Russian cruise missiles, particularly the stealthy nuclear Kh-102, after they are launched.

In other words, right now the capacity to intercept the bomber “archers” before they can launch their missile “arrows” at quite some distance from North American does not exist. And tracking those missiles on their courses to targets inside North America is exceedingly problematic. So it would now appear the main future challenge will be tracking and then shooting down the cruise missiles, not the bombers themselves (which may well have fighter escorts in any event–see this 2015 post: “NORAD to Face Escorted Cruise Missile-Carrying Russian Bombers?“).

Here are extracts from a Globe and Mail story:

Canada commits $4.9-billion over six years to modernize NORAD defences

Steven Chase Senior parliamentary reporter

Patrick Brethour Tax and Fiscal Policy Reporter

Defence experts told The Globe and Mail the spending commitment, nine days before a NATO Leaders’ Summit in Madrid, seems to be an effort to create the appearance that Canada is devoting more money to the military. Canada has come under pressure from allies, the U.S. in particular, to raise its military spending to meet NATO’s target level for each of its members: the equivalent of 2 per cent of annual economic output. Canada’s current defence spending amounts to 1.33 per cent…

“As autocratic regimes [Russia? China?] threaten the rules-based order that has protected us for decades and as our competitors develop new technologies…there is a pressing need to modernize NORAD capabilities,” Ms. Anand told reporters…

The new setup will have several components, according to Ms. Anand. “Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar” will provide early-warning radar coverage and threat tracking from the Canada-U.S. border to the Arctic Circle [clearly to track cruise missiles through Canadian air space after they have been launched].

The second component will be a “Polar Over-the-Horizon Radar” system to provide the same coverage and tracking over and beyond the northernmost approaches to North America, including Canada’s Arctic archipelago [clearly to track cruise missiles immediately after launch from Russian bombers well away from North American airspace–and perhaps track the bombers themselves–and not vulnerable to interception and attack by NORAD fighters].

A third piece will be a new network called Crossbow, which will be made up of sensors with what Ms. Anand called “classified capabilities.” They will be located throughout Northern Canada, where they will provide another layer of detection.

A final component will be a space-based surveillance system, which will use satellites to collect intelligence and track threats, she told reporters.

…She did not provide a breakdown of how the $4.9-billion would be spent, and did not offer any estimate of when the new surveillance equipment would be up and running. She said Canada will spend a total of $40-billion over 20 years for NORAD modernization under the plan [emphasis added]

Andrea Charron, director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba [a professor who really knows her NORAD and defence stuff], said it’s important that Canada is “thinking about and working on the joint defence of North America.”

But, she added, she thinks Monday’s announcement was aimed first and foremost at Canada’s NATO allies.

“There is incredible pressure that Canada spend more on defence, so they can go to NATO and say, ‘Look, we are spending more,’ ” Prof. Charron said. “At least they are going to the table with something.”..

Asked when Ottawa would reach its 2-per-cent commitment [to NATO], Ms. Anand pointed to Canada’s “upward trajectory” in defence spending….

With the $4.9-billion for NORAD, she said, “our defence spending is now on an even sharper upward trajectory.” However, that $4.9-billion is part of the $8-billion announced in the budget [emphasis added].

But Ms. Anand declined to provide a precise defence-spending target, or to explicitly pledge that Canada would reach the 2-per-cent threshold…

Prof. Charron said the new radar and surveillance projects will take “years and years” to build [emphasis added]

And from a CBC story:

The new network will monitor not only the Arctic — NORAD’s traditional domain — but also Pacific and Atlantic approaches to the continent [see the “Worries” post noted at bottom of this one”–our two fighter bases are well to the interior at Cold Lake, Alberta and Bagotville, Quebec and ill-placed to deal with threats approaching from those oceans; might we start rotating fighters through east and west coast bases as thought needed?]

Canadian Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, the deputy commander at NORAD, said he and other top military officials have been taking notes on Moscow’s air campaign [vs Ukraine].

“Some of that assessment is classified, but I can tell you that we’re seeing the usage of cruise missiles in that theater, like we were expecting it, and like we expect that that cruise missile may be used in the future, against potential … critical infrastructure in North America [emphasis added],” Pelletier told CBC News in an interview following the minister’s statement.

Asked whether Canada will end its prohibition on participating in the U.S. ballistic missile system (BMD), Anand said the government will maintain the current policy of non-involvement [emphasis added]

As for those new kinetic capabilities:

Canada will also acquire new air-to-air missiles [the new AIM-260 the US is developing?] that will be compatible with the 88 F-35 fighter planes from the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which will replace the aging F-18s of the Canadian military aviation in the coming years.

We will also work to develop options for a Canadian ground-based air defense capability” added the minister, remaining stingy with details…

Presumably that ground-based air defence capability will be missiles capable of intercepting cruise missiles closing on their targets. Will they be placed to defend our fighter bases at Cold Lake, Alberta and Bagotville, Quebec? Critical infrastructure such as ports? Nuclear power plants? Major cities in case of a possible demonstration nuclear attack (a 2016 post: “NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”? Part 2“)?

Just for comparison’s sake, the current cost for the Stage 2 expansion of the Ottawa’s (pop. some one million) new Light Rail Transit system is $4.6 billion.

Here’s a video of Ms Anand’s announcement and news conference:

Those posts noted above:

NORAD Chief Wants Defence (of what sort?) “Left of Launch” Focus, Russian Cruise Missiles (air- and sub-launched) Big Threat

What Worries the NORTHCOM/NORAD COMMANDER? What Worries PM Trudeau’s Government about Continental Defence? Note UPDATE

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

US Air Force Chief of Staff Visits Ottawa: What’s Missing in This Story?

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown Jr. speaks to members of the U.S. Marine Corps serving as Marine Security Guards at U.S. Embassy Ottawa. Photo from Twitter/U.S. Ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen.”)

Further to this April post,

Now publicly, US Ambassador Puts Pressure on Canada over NORAD Defence Spending–PM Trudeau Talks about “Crown-Inuit partnership” (note June 7 UPDATE and June 11 UPPERDATE)

here’s a story at Air Force Magazine–the Biden administration is having some high-ranking people put pressure, including publicly but still diplomatically, on PM Trudeau’s government for its (pathetic) defence efforts, especially with regard to NORAD upgrading and re-thinking (which our government just doesn’t like to do about defence). When you’ve finished, what is not in the story?

Brown Visits Counterparts in Canada to Talk Arctic, NORAD Modernization, F-35

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. made a trip across the northern border, meeting Royal Canadian Air Force officials in Ottawa to discuss some of the key issues between the two services.

During the June 8-9 visit, Brown met with his RCAF counterpart, Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, and RCAF Chief of Fighter Capability Maj. Gen. Sylvain Ménard. The leaders discussed steps to modernize and increase coordination across NORAD “to provide continuous monitoring and surveillance capability,” a USAF release said [a “readout’].

Modernizing NORAD has been an area of interest for years now but got a boost in November 2021, when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Canadian National Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan released a joint statement outlining their priorities for the effort, including better, more integrated command and control systems, investments in situational awareness, research and development, and capabilities to defeat aerospace threats.

In particular, that joint statement highlighted the need for “next-generation over-the-horizon radar systems that can dramatically improve early warning and persistent surveillance of North American airspace and approaches” to replace the aging North Warning System. 

Details on that next-generation system have not been officially announced, but the Ottawa Citizen reported in April that Royal Canadian Air Force officers had briefed industry officials about plans to spend $1 billion on a new radar system to be built in southern Canada with over-the-horizon capabilities.

Also during Brown’s visit to Canada, RCAF officials raised the importance of the Arctic region, emphasizing how their country’s “insights have been vital to identifying new opportunities for cooperation.” [That information is in the USAF readout.]

The U.S. and Canada have frequently collaborated in Arctic exercises and efforts. As the region becomes more and more contested by both Russia and China, and as the effects of climate change open it up for more competition, USAF has defined a strategy for the region and promised more investments.

“We are committed to working with the Royal Canadian Air Force on modernizing NORAD and on Arctic security to meet modern challenges in defense of North America,” Brown said in the statement. “Our continued collaboration is helping better prepare us to meet future challenges in the region together. I’m grateful for our partnership and look forward to building on our productive talks.”

During those discussions, Brown also “further welcomed” Canada’s decision to buy the F-35, the USAF readout states.

The Canadian government picked the F-35 in March as the preferred bidder for its next fighter jet, announcing plans to buy 88 of the fifth-generation aircraft. Deliveries would be slated to start in 2025.

However, the final contracts with Lockheed Martin have not been signed as negotiations are ongoing…according to Global News

Brown, for his part, “noted that the increased capabilities and interoperability afforded by a common platform would bolster the continental defense partnership,” according to the USAF release. Should Canada finalize a deal for F-35s, it would join the U.S., Finland, Norway, and Denmark as Arctic nations that either operate or have agreed to buy F-35s.

Guess what? There is no mention of a readout, or any other official statement, by the Canadian side. Because there was none. The only account of the visit is from the US Air Force readout.

A striking lack of, er, transparency. Especially as PM Trudeau and national defence minister Anand themselves had just visited NORAD HQ in Colorado on June 7. Also striking. No Canadian media coverage, even post facto, of General Brown’s visit.

UPDATE: This from the RCAF a week late. Pathetic:

A very relevant December post about another US Air Force four star general visiting Ottawa:

NORAD Commander puts Hypersonic and North Warning System Cats amongst Trudeau Government’s Pigeons

And for the bigger NORAD picture:

Here’s Looking at NORAD/NORTHCOM’s Way Ahead, or, Deterrence and Punishment

What Worries the NORTHCOM/NORAD COMMANDER? What Worries PM Trudeau’s Government about Continental Defence? Note UPDATE

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Revolution in (in particular) Indian Army Recruitment: Four Year Tour of Duty for Most Coming Immediately

Further to this post,

Shrinking the Indian Army: Three Year Tour of Duty to be Tried for Some Soldiers?

a huge shake-up is being implemented, note profound changes in recruiting for the army’s regiments –at the Indian Express:

‘Agnipath’: In major defence policy reform, govt announces scheme for soldier recruitment

The proposal, which will come into effect immediately, was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday morning [June 14].

Defence minister Rajnath Singh and chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force on Tuesday announced a significant reform on how soldiers across the three services will be recruited under the new Agnipath scheme which will come into effect immediately. Soldiers recruited under the scheme will be called Agniveers.

“This is a major defence policy reform introduced by the Government to usher in a new era in the Human Resource policy of the three services. The policy, which comes into immediate effect, will hereafter govern the enrolment for the three services,” the government said in a statement.

The proposal was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday morning. Moving forward it will make the permanent force levels much leaner for the over 13-lakh [1.3 million] strong armed forces in the country.

Under the scheme, most Indian soldiers will leave the service in just four years. Of the 45,000 to 50,000 recruited annually, only 25 per cent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission. The move will considerably reduce the defence pension bill, which has been a major concern for governments for many years [emphasis added].

Recruitment will begin within 90 days under the scheme which will bring “all India, all class” recruitment to the services. This is especially significant for the Army, where the regiment system has region and caste bases, and with time that will be eliminated to allow anybody from any caste, region, class or religious background to become part of existing regiments [emphasis added–his will be a completer revolution for the Army, how well will it work?].

Several veterans have raised concerns about how this new structure can be detrimental to the existing structure, where loyalty towards the regiment and battalion, and retaining their pride, plays a significant role as a motivator in the harshest of circumstances.

Announcing the scheme, Rajnath Singh said “efforts are being made that the profile of the Armed Forces should be as youthful as the wider Indian population.” A youthful armed forces will allow to be easily trained for new technologies.

The minister added that it will increase employment opportunities and because of the skills and experience acquired during the four-year service such soldiers will get employment in various fields [most of the new recruits for the army will be infantry, not that much relevance for most civilian jobs]. “This will also lead to availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth,” Singh said.

The average age in the forces is 32 years today, which will go down to 26 in six to seven years. It will create “future-ready” soldiers, said Lt Gen Anil Puri, additional secretary, Department of Military Affairs…

Under the new system, which is only for personnel below officer ranks (those who do not join the forces as commissioned officers), aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply. The recruitment standards will remain the same, and recruitment will be done twice a year through rallies.

Once selected, the aspirants will go through training for six months and then will be deployed for three and a half years. During this period, they will get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, along with additional benefits which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the four-year service.

Importantly, during this period, 30 per cent of their salary will be set aside under a Seva Nidhi programme, and the government will contribute an equal amount every month, and it will also accrue interest. At the end of the four-year period, each soldier will get Rs 11.71 lakh as a lump sum amount, which will be tax-free. They will also get a Rs 48 lakh life insurance cover for the four years. In case of death, the payout will be over Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure.

However, after four years, only 25 per cent of the batch will be recruited back into their respective services, for a period of 15 years. For those who are re-selected, the initial four-year period will not be considered for retirement benefits [emphasis added, see below].

Lt Gen Puri said the government will help rehabilitate soldiers who leave the services after four years. There will be a “whole of government” approach, and they will be provided with skill certificates and bridge courses. The impetus will be to create entrepreneurs, he added [sure]

For the government, one of the most important advantages of the scheme would be the significant pension savings, as there is a large population of ex-servicemen in the country [emphasis added]. The government had allocated nearly Rs 1.2 lakh crore for pensions for the Defence Ministry and the armed forces in the current fiscal year, which is about a quarter of the total defence budget of the country, and is larger than the capital acquisition allocation…

There will be strong reactions from retired officers; will update the post with some of them.

UPDATES:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Why the Russian Army’s Poor Performance in Ukraine (so far)…and Western Armies?

Objective assessment of military performance is a terribly hard thing to do. Extracts from two articles at the essential War on the Rocks, on the Russian army and US army respectively and then a related podcast:

Not Built for Purpose: The Russian Military’s Ill-Fated Force Design

Michael Kofman and Rob Lee

…Enter Putin’s “special operation,” which meant launching a major war in Europe, against the continent’s second largest country, with a force operating at peacetime manning levels. Putin assumed that Ukraine would quickly surrender, and a regime change operation could be conducted without the need to plan and organize for a major war. The resulting debacle, which will be studied for decades to come, proceeds from the intersection of terrible Russian political assumptions with those of the armed forces regarding the forces that would be made available for a war of this scale (as conceived in the design)…

The Russian military set a target to reach 425,000 contract [i.e. volunteer] soldiers by 2017 and later to reach 499,200 by 2019. Instead, according to Russian officials, it reached 384,000 in 2016, 394,000 in 2019, and 405,000 in 2020, which was the last time a figure was publicly released. As the Ministry of Defense kept releasing the same contract servicemen numbers several years in a row, it became evident that they were probably declining. The delta between official figures and actual contract manning levels was the subject of debate in analytical circles.

It appears the Russian armed forces achieved this target by reducing the number of personnel in each battalion, including the number in each company, which has had a significant effect on operations in Ukraine. There were two important outcomes of this decision. First, Russia’s offensive maneuver formations, assuming around 125 to 130 battalion tactical groups as disclosed by official U.S. sources, were in practice much smaller when we consider their actual strength. This force was approximately 80,000 in overall size, not including auxiliaries, and other supporting elements (total force size likely exceeded 100,000). Second, these formations were heavily weighted towards artillery, armor, support, and enablers rather than motorized rifle infantry and the availability of dismounted units. The effect on Russia’s ability to operate in urban terrain, support armor with dismounted infantry, and control terrain was profound. There were also shortages of key personnel, from enablers to logistics, and the force was far more brittle than many (including us) had assumed…

The end result is that the Russian military deployed maneuver formations with few available dismounted infantry, but still brought many of their armored vehicles with them. This situation begins to resemble the problems Russian forces faced in Grozny-1995: tons of metal, little manpower. Russian tank units require infantry support for various situations, and dismounted infantry are critical when fighting in urban settings or seizing or holding terrain. Tanks and armored vehicles are vulnerable without infantry to protect them from anti-tank teams, among other threats. By bringing minimal infantry, motorized rifle battalions are suffering from the same vulnerabilities as tank units. The high ratio of armored vehicles to soldiers in many Russian units also likely accounts for many of the vehicles that were left abandoned by Russian forces during the beginning of the war. The lack of organic motorized rifle troops also helps explain the poor performance by many Russian tank units, who were vulnerable to ambushes by light Ukrainian anti-tank teams armed with Javelin, NLAW, and Stugna-P anti-tank weapons. The problem was exacerbated by losses among infantry components in the first several weeks of the war.

…the reason the Russian military was set up in this manner ultimately ties back to core tenets of Russian military thought. Militaries have ideas about what kind of wars they’re likely to fight, how they plan to fight them, and the best way to balance capability, capacity, and readiness. While we cannot go in-depth into Russian military thinking here, the core choices were not just driven by an attempt to balance resources and attain force flexibility, but also by a coherent set of beliefs about how the Russian armed forces should organize to fight NATO. These drove the development of a force with less infantry, and less logistical capacity for sustaining ground offensives or holding territory, but more fires and support for enablers.

This does not explain the problems Russian armed forces demonstrate in a host of areas, from lack of secure communications to the poorly demonstrated integration of air support, fires, and reconnaissance on the battlefield. There are clear problems with competence, scaled-up employment, and integration. But conventional wars often come down to attrition, where manpower and materiel matters more over time than many other elements. A force with enough hedge in its structure can try to compensate for a terrible plan, recover from initial failure, and try to adjust. The Russian military has no such option and is further constrained by the political framing of this war.

Indeed, it is an open question as to whether Putin may have had an inflated sense of Russian military capability. Alternatively, he may simply let political assumptions that Ukraine would quickly surrender drive his thinking…

Having mobilized substantial manpower, and with access to Western military support, Ukraine now appears positioned to sustain this fight. The Russian campaign floundered not just because it pursued unrealistic political goals, but also because the plan for the invasion did not account for the choices made on force structure, and the limitations they imposed. Russian force employment exacerbated the disadvantages inherent in the force they built. Currently, Russia lacks the manpower to rotate current forces on the battlefield or to conduct further offensives beyond the current campaign in the Donbas. However, Russian forces do appear to enjoy a local-force advantage in the Donbas, and overall long-term challenges raised here may not impede Russian progress in the short term. Much is contingent, and this assessment is not meant to be deterministic.

The arguments we make here are preliminary, and not meant to be predictive of the outcome of battles in the Donbas, or the course of this war. However, contemporary debates on force structure and military strategy would benefit greatly by looking at the choices the Russian military made and how they ended up in this position. There’s much to be said about the primacy of political assumptions, which is one of the most decisive factors in how the Russian armed forces were initially thrown into this war, but equally, it is structural choices that have limited its military’s ability to adjust and sustain combat operations.

Michael Kofman is director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA and a fellow at the Center for New American Security.

Rob Lee is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program. He is a Ph.D. student researching Russian defense policy at King’s College London’s War Studies Department and a former Marine infantry officer.

And, on the other hand, also at War on the Rocks::

Would We Do Better? Hubris and Validation in Ukraine

David Johnson

…the second danger: hubris. The unspoken implication of the Western analysis is that we would do better than the Russians because we are better than them.Are we?

The words of Gen. James McConville, when he assumed office as Army Chief of Staff in August 2019, are not just talking points, they are deeply believed within the U.S. Army and by the other services about themselves: “Our Army — Regular, National Guard, and Reserve — is the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led land force ever to take to the field.” McConville also gave the principal reason for why this is true: “People are always my #1 priority: Our Army’s people are our greatest strength and our most important weapon system.” Given these deeply held convictions, it is not surprising that militaries that do not share U.S. approaches would fall short on the battlefield.

These views are dangerous in Western assessments of the Ukrainian military. Currently, the prevailing narrative is that the Ukrainian edge is that they have evolved into a modern Western military, trained for over a decade in Western methods. They are professionals. Therefore, they will prevail. Just as we would. Again, nothing to learn here.

However, the actual evidence is unclear; the assessments of the prowess of Ukraine’s military may be wishful thinking and hubris. The title of a Wall Street Journal article epitomizes this view, saying it all came down to “years of NATO training.”

One should recall that Western initiatives to reform the Ukrainian military did not even begin until after the 2014 Russian invasion…

An indication that there is some way to go beyond the NATO training is that there is little evidence that the Ukrainians are executing joint and combined arms offensive operations. This capability will be important if the transition from the defense and attempt offensive operations to restore territory lost to Russia. Furthermore, Ukraine also appears to be ceding ground in the Donbas to a slow, grinding Russian advance.

Consequently, the analysis of the Ukraine war needs to address another unasked question: What if this view that quality people and leaders are the most important ingredient in modern warfare is wrong? What if Stalin was correct that quantity has a quality all of its own? If that is the case, then the Ukrainians may need much greater assistance if they are to survive a Russian-style grinding war of attrition.

Additionally, as the United States plans for how it will compete and potentially fight China and Russia in the future, the approach should be characterized by humility and an intense desire to challenge existing assumptions, concepts, and capabilities, rather than to validate current approaches.

As it did for Russia, it could happen to us, and we need to fully understand what “it” is.

David E. Johnson, Ph.D., is a retired Army colonel. He is a principal researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an adjunct scholar at the Modern War Institute at West Point. From 2012 to 2014 he founded and directed the Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group for Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.

Plus a Rocks podcast:

What the Experts Got Wrong (and Right) About Russian Military Power

Christopher Dougherty, Gian Gentile, Michael Kofman, Dara Massicot, and Ryan Evans

It is now widely understood that many observers, in advance of this war, over-estimated Russian military performance and underestimated Ukrainian military performance. Prominent among those observers are those who specialize in analyzing the Russian military. To better understand what they got right and wrong, Ryan put two of those specialists — Dara Massicot of RAND and Michael Kofman of CNA — into conversation with two people who approach this conflict as generalists — Chris Dougherty of the Center for a New American Security and Gian Gentile of RAND. Do not miss this vivid discussion.

On verra. Keep in mind that the good guys frequently do not win.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

“Top Gun Maverick”: Tom Cruise is Flying the Wrong Fighter

An article at Aviation Week and Space Technology–their writers know their stuff:

The Weekly Debrief: Why The F-35 Should Have Been The Star Of The Top Gun Sequel

Top Gun: Maverick is—no spoiler!—a movie. And here are two things the Paramount blockbuster, which netted $151 million on its opening weekend, is not: a documentary, or a fictional account based on a true story. 

This seems obvious, but it’s important. The actors and director of the Top Gun sequel are in no way required to produce a realistic account of a strike mission. Their scriptwriters are, likewise, not obligated to constrain their characters to conventional tactics, or limit weapon systems to known specifications or even physics. 

For the sake of storytelling, your author prefers that they don’t, as long as any fictional conceits make the story more entertaining. By the subjective standards of this column, the Joseph Kosinki-directed sequel to the 1986 action film succeeds in ways that few follow-ups ever have.

All of that stated, it is time—and here come the spoilers, so you’re invited to stop reading if you care deeply about plot details yet missed opening weekend—to ruin a central premise of the plot of Top Gun: Maverick [emphasis added]

In an early, expository scene, Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a semi-successful hypersonic test pilot who has been re-assigned to train a detachment of elite Fighter Weapons School graduates for a seemingly kamikaze strike mission, explains that only the Boeing F/A-18E/F is capable of hitting a target in a GPS-denied environment. As a result, he explicitly rules out the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as an option for the mission. 

Unfortunately, it appears that Mitchell—er, Maverick—is not only foolish and dangerous (Iceman’s words, not mine): He’s also wrong. To borrow Maverick’s 2022 reply to a spiteful rear admiral: “Maybe so, sir. But not today.”

Maverick’s assessment of the F-35 was once correct. As filming of Top Gun: Maverick was beginning in 2018, the real stealth fighter was limited to an internal load-out of GPS-guided munitions. By November 2018, however, Lockheed Martin had integrated the Raytheon GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II. 

This dual-mode, GPS- and laser-guided munition gave the F-35 the ability to strike moving or stationary targets in almost any situation. If an enemy successfully defeated the munition’s anti-jam technology for receiving the GPS signal, the pilot could still designate the target with a laser. The F-35 could have performed the mission. 

As Maverick is fond of saying, “If you think up there, you’re dead.” Likewise, if you think during a Hollywood movie account of air combat, you’re probably missing the point. 

If you do, however, you might wonder why supposedly elite Navy pilots are dispensing flares to defeat radar-guided missiles, why an enemy with at least three Su-57 fighters somehow relies on 60-year-old SA-3s for ground-based air defenses and why the same enemy did not think to harden their mountain hide-out against anything except an attack by a 30,000-lb, GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator. 

Despite some discrepancies in the details, Top Gun: Maverick highlights one of the biggest challenges in modern air combat. More than 30 years after Operation Desert Storm, GPS can no longer be relied on for accurate targeting by stand-off munitions. 

Next year, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory plans to launch the Navigation Technology Satellite-3 into orbit, hoping to field a regional alternative to GPS guidance for munitions with greater resistance to enemy interference. Meanwhile, the Army’s Assured-Positioning, Navigation and Timing program is seeking to provide similar navigation support to dismounted soldiers. 

To quote one of the sequel’s less-heralded characters: “Put that in your Pentagon budget.” 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.

Plus a good background story at the NY Times (just right-click on the headline below):

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Why Afghanistan was Lost: US (and NATO) Created the Wrong Sort of Afghan Army–and Then Left it in the Lurch

This is the fundamental mistake the US military almost always makes in major support missions; when will they ever learn? Quote is from p. 2 PDF of SIGAR report discussed below:

…the United States designed the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] as a mirror image of U.S. forces. This created long-term ANDSF dependencies. The United States created a combined arms military structure that required a high degree of professional military sophistication and leadership.

From a story at Politico by an excellent reporter:

‘A red light blinking’: Watchdog thrashes Trump, Biden administrations for Afghanistan failures

Once the decision was made to pull the last Americans from Afghanistan, collapse was “inevitable,” the special inspector general said.

By Lara Seligman

John Sopko has been the bearer of bad news in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years. So when President Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed in August 2021, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction was not surprised, he told POLITICO in an interview.

Sopko’s team, charged by Congress with providing independent oversight of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, repeatedly warned in quarterly reports leading up to Kabul’s fall of significant challenges facing the Afghan national defense and security forces. Due to its dependence on the U.S. military and contractors, the decision to withdraw this support destroyed the Afghan military’s morale.

Once the decision was made to pull the last Americans from Afghanistan, collapse was “inevitable,” Sopko said.

“There was a red light blinking on Afghanistan for years saying ‘watch out,’” Sopko said. “Once the morale collapsed, that was it.”

Sopko’s latest interim report, out Wednesday, is the first U.S. government report on how and why the Afghan security force crumbled — and it pulls no punches. The report unequivocally calls out former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden for their decisions to withdraw U.S. military and critical contractor support from Afghanistan, calling this “the single most important factor” in the military’s collapse [emphasis added].

“We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. Game over,” one former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Sopko’s office, according to the report. “When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up.”..

The U.S.-Taliban agreement under Trump and subsequent announcement that the U.S. military would withdraw by May 2021 had a devastating effect on the Afghan military’s morale and was a “catalyst” for its collapse, the report states. One former Afghan commander told the IG that the agreement’s “psychological impact” was such that many soldiers “switched to survival mode.”

The release of 5,000 Taliban fighters in the summer and fall of 2020 further demoralized the Afghan military and helped regenerate the Taliban’s combat power, according to the report.

“We tend to think of the Afghan military as, ‘Oh, they didn’t do any fighting,’” Sopko told POLITICO. “No — a lot of them fought and died.”

The withdrawal agreement, parts of which “are believed to be contained in secret written and verbal agreements between U.S. and Taliban envoys,” introduced “tremendous uncertainty” into the U.S.-Afghan relationship, the report states. Afghan government officials were largely removed from the negotiations and struggled to understand its stipulations [emphasis added]. The U.S. military never clearly communicated the specifics of its policy changes to the Ghani administration or army leadership, Afghan officials told Sopko’s office…

The Taliban “weaponized” the vacuum created by the lack of information, claiming they had a secret deal with the United States “for certain districts or provinces to be surrendered to them,” according to the report. This led many police officers, who had not been paid for months, to abandon their posts, which started “a cascading effect” and led to soldiers fleeing as well.

“As much as I hate giving the Taliban any credit for anything … they did a fantastic psychological operation against the poor soldiers who are out there in the field, who haven’t seen their pay, haven’t seen any weapons or air support for weeks,” Sopko said.

Another crucial factor that contributed to low morale was the decision to suddenly reduce the number of U.S. airstrikes supporting the Afghan military [emphasis added], the report says. The United States conducted 7,423 airstrikes in 2019 — the most since at least 2009. But the next year the number of airstrikes dropped to 1,631, with almost half occurring in the two months before the U.S.-Taliban agreement…On the ground, Afghan troops never knew if or when U.S. forces would come to their defense. One former Afghan general told the IG that the U.S. military “took on the role of a referee and watched” the fight, something the general referred to as “a sick game.”

Low salaries, poor logistics that led to food, water and ammunition shortages, corrupt commanders who “colluded with contractors to skim off food and fuel contracts,” and “lack of ANDSF buy-in with the Afghan central government” all contributed to the “morale crisis,” according to the report.

The report also highlights the effect of Biden’s April 2021 withdrawal announcement on Ghani’s government. One senior Afghan official told the IG that it was not until that declaration that Ghani’s inner circle realized the army “had no supply and logistics capability [emphasis added].”

The decision to withdraw on-site contract maintenance beginning in May 2021 led to a cascade of problems, including reducing aircraft availability. The Afghan security forces had stockpiles of U.S.-provided weapons and supplies “but did not have the logistics capability” to quickly move them…

“The quest to withdraw from Afghanistan dominated the United States’ military strategy, but the U.S. wanted to ensure the ANDSF had the appearance of success,” the report concludes. “In essence, the U.S. created a false reality with the ANDSF.”..Overall, Sopko’s office concluded that the U.S. did not have a “realistic understanding” of the time required to build a “self-sustaining security sector,” something that took decades to develop in South Korea.

“Constantly changing and politically driven milestones for U.S. engagement undermined its ability to set realistic goals for building a capable and self-sustaining military and police force,” the report says. “Adapting a decades-long process to an unrealistically short timeline was reminiscent of the U.S. experiences in Vietnam.”

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

No kidding. Sigh. If one gives up, even if not defeated oneself, before achieving an end state that is even minimally satisfying then one loses. And the US cannot expect to win creating forces that are essentially replica models of their own in countries with no capacity to sustain such forces. Foolish, foolish, foolish.

UPDATE: Another major problem with the American (and Canadian and many other militaries’) way of expeditionary war: officers and commanders serve short tours of a few months or a year. This means that the main interest for a great number of them is to punch career tickets to get along and get up the greasy promotion pole. They certainly have little incentive to point out what they consider failings in policy or practice. And short tours give them nowhere near enough time or motivation really to understand the country and people where they serve–much less to learn local languages with any degree of fluency.

Relevant 2021 posts, along similar lines to the SIGAR study:

Pity the Poor Afghans, or, Who Lost Afghanistan (note UPDATE at end)?

How the US Military (and other Western ones) Blew it in Afghanistan (with UPDATE)

The One Thing to Read on the Fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban

“Podcast #162: Journalist and Book Author Terry Glavin on the Fall of Kabul and the Fate of Afghanistan”

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Where’s the US Army Going to Shoot its Missiles from in the Western Pacific? (Note Hypersonics)

(Images at top of the post are related to army’s long-range hypersonic weapon.)

Further to this 2020 post,

Who will be Willing to Host US Intermediate-Range Missiles in the Western Pacific?

Congress would like answers–from an article at Breaking Defence, note at end potential overlap with Marine missions:

Lawmakers worry Army doesn’t have basing agreements for long-range fires

“I don’t think it would be wise for us to wait to develop the kinds of weapons systems, we need for a future conflict until we had the diplomatic agreements signed,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said.

While the Army has hyped its foray into long-range missiles as part of its Pacific strategy, members of Congress expressed concern that the service is missing a critical element: the basing agreements with friendly nations there where the weapons would need to be effectively deployed to deter any Chinese designs on Taiwan.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., asked Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville whether the Army had sufficient basing agreements, only to have McConville defer to policymakers and say that “there’s discussions” ongoing.

Likewise, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers that there is “still conversations and work to be done,” but named Japan and the Philippines as allies the Army believes it has solid relationships with {Philippines? With Marcos fils to be new president?].

The Army leaders said they were wary of discussing potential specific basing locations for the Army’s long-range fires capabilities in the public hearing. Asked if he felt that Army was in where it needed to be to deploy the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) — the service’s new theater-specific units that employ long-range precision effects, including missiles, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities — McConville nodded his head in the affirmative.

“There are possibilities for basing the MDTF, but I also think we have to have a pretty robust diplomatic effort with other countries in the region to try to open up opportunities for basing and access [emphasis added, good luck with any widespread basing],” Wormuth said, adding that “it’s remarkable” how Japan’s “threat perception has changed in the last few years.”

Gallagher said it was time for a full court press.

“At least in Indo-PACOM, this has to be our top diplomatic priority,” he said. “What we should integrate is the State Department moving heaven and earth to negotiate basing agreements with key allies so that we can deploy teams of Marines or soldiers in order to deny PLA invasion of Taiwan.”

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., followed up on Gallagher’s questions by pressing the two service leaders “from where” in the region the service planned to launch its forthcoming ship-targeting Mid-Range Capability, raising skepticism because the earlier exchange pointed to the fact “there was not any identified basing locations that we [the US military] have access” to [emphasis added], she said.

“I don’t think it would be wise for us to wait to develop the kinds of weapons systems we need for a future conflict until we had the diplomatic agreements signed,” Wormuth said.

Long-range fires are among the Army’s key modernization priorities [emphasis added]. The MDTF will be armed with two of the Army’s forthcoming missile capabilities, the Mid-Range Capability missile and Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon. The Mid-Range Capability, McConville told lawmakers today, can fly “about” 1,000 km, while the LRHW has a range of about 2,775 km [emphasis added].

The Army established the first MDTF back in 2017, based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The second MDTF is assigned to Europe, and the third MDTF, which will be officially established this year, will be based in Hawaii…

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is also developing precision strike capabilities for its expeditionary advanced base operations concept [emphasis added, see this post: “How US Marines’ EABO Concept (deploying “Stand-in-Forces”) is Supposed to Work in Western Pacific, Part 2“]. That concept is a focus area for the Marines’ new 3rd Littoral Regiment, established to be highly mobile and low-signature, and equipped a ship-sinking missile battery. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., asked the Army leaders if they were working with the Marines to develop some commonality and interoperability in the weapons systems.

Wormuth said that the Army is in “active discussions” with the Marines and sees the Multi-Domain Task Force and Marine Littoral Regiment as “complementary [emphasis added, really? two separate capabilities both needed?].” Both the LRHW and Mid-Range Capability are being developed in tandem with the Navy. First prototypes of both capabilities are set to be delivered in fiscal 2023.

And what targets are those “long-range” army missiles going to hit that could not be covered by missiles from USAF and US Navy aircraft (not to mention PGMs), and from navy ships and subs? Other related posts–those US services just can’t help competing with each other for missions and funding (as in fact is the case in a great many countries):

What’s the Poor US Army to do when the Main Adversary is the PRC?

Western Pacific, or, the US Services all Want to Try to Sink PLA Navy Ships–US Army Section

Western Pacific Maritime Cockpit: US Marines, US Army, US Air Force all Fighting–each other for Missions and Funds. Who’s “Stupid”?

Western Pacific, or, US Army vs US Marines for Missions, Part 2

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds