A Losing Record


Spotted an article today on the History New Network (HNN): Win, Lose, or Draw?

This got my attention because I have outlined a book I may start work on next year (2017) called Future American Wars: Understanding the Next Twenty Years. This book is intended to complete a trio of books, one on understanding insurgencies (American’s Modern Wars), one on understanding conventional combat (War by Numbers — release date still August 2017) and this one covering the situation going forward.

My opening chapter is called: A Losing Record.

What they are recording in this article is that:

  1. For conventional conflict we have 3 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie.
  2. For other conflicts (what they call the “gray zone”) there are 9 wins, 8 losses and 42 draws.

Anyhow, haven’t checked the individual cases, and in some cases it depends on how your interpret win, lose and draw; but it does bring out a fundamental problem that I was partly trying to address in America’s Modern Wars, which is our track record in these conflicts is not great. My book primarily focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, which I why I felt I needed to third book to cover all the other cases of interventions, peacekeeping operations, and so forth.

Anyhow, the SOCOM briefing chart can be blown up to large size and is definitely worth looking at.


Colonel Toon

One more article from The National Interest, this one is from the past about the “famous” North Vietnamese Ace: Colonel Toon: The Legend the Vietnam Wars Mystery Fighter Ace

I remember one company even issued out a plastic model of the MIG flown by Col. Toon. Such is the stuff of legends.

Wikipedia has a list of Vietnam War flying aces: List of Vietnam War flying aces

The guy third on that list served 7 years in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes.  A pretty sad end to a career. He also supposedly shot down Col. Toon (and they made a documentary of this dog fight).


More on Mosul Offensive

Ran across this very optimistic article on Mosul: Uncertainly Roils Planning for Mosul Liberation

As the sub-headline notes, “ISIS fighters fleeing Iraq’s second largest city as coalition forces prepare for tough fight.” If ISIL fighters are fleeing the city….it may not be that tough of a fight.

A few notes:

  1. U.S. Army asked for another 500 troops (I gather the real number is 615).
  2. U.S. “authorities” say they will need at least 24,000 trained, well equipped Iraqi soldiers (this is less than the 30,000 reported in some articles).
  3. Provides three specific accounts of recent ISIL losses in battle (from sources I don’t know). The two from air strikes that could easily be over-estimated, but the 40 lost from a counterattack in the Qayara area gets my attention. Was this a company-sized attack?
  4. Approximately 20,000 “terrorists” are in Mosul.
  5. There is a force of 1,000 “resistance fighters” in the city, meaning a Iraqi fifth column.

Article was written by someone named Douglas Burton who is: “…a former U.S. State Department official in Kirkuk, Iraq and writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.”

Anyhow, unusually optimistic article. If true, Mosul could easily fall. We have seen before in Iraq and Afghanistan that some of these climatic fights are indeed anti-climatic as the defending force mostly bails out ahead of time.

Technology, Eggs, and Risk (Oh, My)

Tokyo, Japan --- Eggs in a basket --- Image by © JIRO/Corbis

Tokyo, Japan — Eggs in a basket — Image by © JIRO/Corbis

In my last post, on the potential for the possible development of quantum radar to undermine the U.S. technological advantage in stealth technology, I ended by asking this question:

The basic assumption behind the Third Offset Strategy is that the U.S. can innovate and adopt technological capabilities fast enough to maintain or even expand its current military superiority. Does the U.S. really have enough of a scientific and technological development advantage over its rivals to validate this assumption?

My colleague, Chris, has suggested that I expand on the thinking behind this. Here goes:

The lead times needed for developing advanced weapons and the costs involved in fielding them make betting on technological innovation as a strategy seem terribly risky. In his 1980 study of the patterns of weapon technology development, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare, Trevor Dupuy noted that there is a clear historical pattern of a period of 20-30 years between the invention of a new weapon and its use in combat in a tactically effective way. For example, practical armored fighting vehicles were first developed in 1915 but they were not used fully effectively in battle until the late 1930s.

The examples I had in mind when I wrote my original post were the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), both of which derive much, if not most, of their combat power from being stealthy. If that capability were to be negated even partially by a technological breakthrough or counter by a potential adversary, then 20+ years of development time and hundreds of billions of dollars would have been essentially wasted. If either or both or weapons system were rendered ineffective in the middle of a national emergency, neither could be quickly retooled nor replaced. The potential repercussions could be devastating.

I reviewed the development history of the F-35 in a previous post. Development began in 2001 and the Air Force declared the first F-35 squadron combat operational (in a limited capacity) in August 2016 (which has since been stood down for repairs). The first fully combat-capable F-35s will not be ready until 2018 at the soonest, and the entire fleet will not be ready until at least 2023. Just getting the aircraft fully operational will have taken 15-22 years, depending on how one chooses to calculate it. It will take several more years after that to fully evaluate the F-35 in operation and develop tactics, techniques, and procedures to maximize its effectiveness in combat. The lifetime cost of the F-35 has been estimated at $1.5 trillion, which is likely to be another underestimate.

The U.S. Navy anticipated the need for ships capable of operating in shallow coastal waters in the late 1990s. Development of the LCS began in 2003 the first ships of two variants were launched in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Two of each design have been built so far. Since then, cost overruns, developmental problems, disappointing performances at sea, and reconsideration of the ship’s role led the Navy to scale back a planned purchase of 53 LCSs to 40 at the end of 2015 to allow money to be spent on other priorities. As of July 2016, only 26 LCSs have been programmed and the Navy has been instructed to select one of the two designs to complete the class. Initial program procurement costs were $22 billion, which have now risen to $39 billion. Operating costs for each ship is currently estimated at $79 million, which the Navy asserts will drop when simultaneous testing and operational use ends. The Navy plans to build LCSs until the 2040s, which includes replacements for the original ten after a service life of 25 years. Even at the annual operating cost of a current U.S. Navy frigate ($59 million), a back of the envelope calculation for a lifetime cost for the LCS is around $91 billion, all told; this is also likely an underestimate. This seems like a lot of money to spend on a weapon that the Navy intends to pull out of combat should it sustain any damage.

It would not take a technological breakthrough as singular as quantum radar to degrade the effectiveness of U.S. stealth technology, either. The Russians claim that they already possess radars that can track U.S. stealth aircraft. U.S. sources essentially concede this, but point out that tracking a stealth platform does not mean that it can be attacked successfully. Obtaining a track sufficient to target involves other technological capabilities that are susceptible to U.S. electronic warfare capabilities. U.S. stealth aircraft already need to operate in conjunction with existing EW platforms to maintain their cloaked status. Even if quantum radar proves infeasible, the game over stealth is already afoot.

TDI on History News Network

My blog post on David Irving is now on the History News Network (HNN): http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163814

He put it under the more provocative title: What are Historians Supposed to Make of Quotes Reported by the Discredited Historian and Holocaust Denier David Irving?

That does nice summarize the problem. Anyhow, HNN has the trailer for the movie in the article.


TDI on Small Wars Journal

smallwars_theme_logoSmall Wars Journal has published an article I wrote, titled “Manpower and Counterinsurgency.”

SWJ is a great site for all things related to irregular warfare and more, and a must-read for me. Check it out.

M-1 versus Russia’s T-90 and China’s Type 99 Tank

Another interesting comparative article from The National Interest: China’s Deadly Type 99 Tank vs Russia’s T-90 and America’s M-1 Abrams: Who Wins?

A few points they make:

  1. The U.S. has the better gun.
  2. The U.S. has the better armor.
  3. The U.S. tank has more crew (this is a good thing).
  4. The U.S. tank is heavier (this is not a good thing).
  5. They do claim the Chinese Type 99 may be better protected due to its multi-layered defensive systems.
  6. The U.S. tank does not have a Laser Warning Receiver.
  7. The U.S. tank does not have Active Protection Systems.
  8. The U.S. tank does not have Explosive Reactive Armor.
  9. The U.S. tank does not have a “dazzler” laser to blind other gunners.

A few points for further comment:

  1. They state: “Moscow currently maintains good relations with Beijing, with which it shares a border, but the two powers are not close allies, having nearly come to war during the late 1960s.”
    1. They did have multiple engagements in 1969, including two actions that were at least company sized. We were not able to find anything of more significance. See our report SS-1: An Analysis of the 1969 Sino-Soviet Conflict. Link to our report listing: TDI Reports 1992-present
    2. I am not sure they had “nearly come to war” during that time.
  2. They state: “The Abrams, of course, is the classic American design which devastated Soviet-made Iraqi armor in the 1991 Gulf War without losing a single tank to enemy fire.”
    1. We were facing Soviet-built T-72s
    2. Not sure what has been publically released on this, but according to the rumors I have heard, it was truly one-sided. The M-1 was notably superior in firepower and sensors and T-72’s armor protection was deficient.
    3. The T-90 is a descendent of the T-72.

Quantum Radar: Should We Be Putting All Our Eggs In The Technology Basket?

Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) | M*A*S*H

Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) | M*A*S*H

As reported in Popular Mechanics last week, Chinese state media recently announced that a Chinese defense contractor has developed the world’s first quantum radar system. Derived from the principles of quantum mechanics, quantum radar would be capable of detecting vehicles equipped with so-called “stealth” technology for defeating conventional radio-wave based radar systems.

The Chinese claim should be taken with a large grain of salt. It is not clear that a functional quantum radar can be made to work outside a laboratory, much less adapted into a functional surveillance system. Lockheed Martin patented a quantum radar design in 2008, but nothing more has been heard about it publicly.

However, the history of military innovation has demonstrated that every technological advance has eventually resulted in a counter, either through competing weapons development or by the adoption of strategies or tactics to minimize the impact of the new capabilities. The United States has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in air and naval stealth capabilities and built its current and future strategies and tactics around its effectiveness. Much of the value of this investment could be wiped out with a single technological breakthrough by its potential adversaries.

The basic assumption behind the Third Offset Strategy is that the U.S. can innovate and adopt technological capabilities fast enough to maintain or even expand its current military superiority. Does the U.S. really have enough of a scientific and technological development advantage over its rivals to validate this assumption?

Russian Duma Elections


As the vote counts are being finalized for this election held 18 September, we have the following results for the Russia legislative elections (the Duma):

  1. United Russia (Putin’s party) = 54% of popular vote
    • 343 seats, up from 238 in 2011.
  2. Communist Party (yes, those dinosaurs) = 13%
    • 42 seats, down from 92 in 2011.
  3. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (mad Vladimir Zhirinovskii’s party) = 13%
    • 39 seats, down from 56 in 2011.
  4. A Just Russia (a moderate, well-behaved reformist party) = 6%
    • 23 seats, down from 64 seats in 2011.

Two other seats are held by two other parties. Fourteen parties participated in the election. Duma members serve for 5 years (next Duma election is in 2021).

A significant part of the story though is voter turn-out. In the bad old days of the Soviet Union, voter turn-out used to be very high. Even in 1990 (under Gorbachev) it was 77%. It was 60.1% in 2011. It was 47.88% in this election (and there is some question about this figure). It is the lowest turn-out figure to date. In the two major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg turn-out was low. For Moscow it was less than 35%, down from 66% in 2011. This is worth noting. There were no major post-election protests, unlike in 2011. Crimea did vote in the Russian election.

Several opinion polls from September shows United Russia with 39.3 to 43% of the vote and two exit polls show it with 44.5 and 48.4% of the votes. There were some voting irregularities reported. United Russia won 54.2% of the popular vote in an election of with a turn-out of 47.88%.

United Russia now has 343 out of 450 seats in the Duma. This is 76% of the seats. Half the seats were elected based upon proportional voting based upon party lists and half were elected based upon single-member constituencies. This was a change from the 2011 elections. United Russia does have a “supermajority” which now allows them to unilaterally change the constitution. This is probably a very important point. For all practical purposes, Russia is now a “single-party democracy.”

From 1999 to 2013 the Russian economy boomed at unprecedented levels. From 2014 to the present, it has been in decline. Next election is the presidential election of March 2018.

SU-35 Flanker vs F-15 Eagle

Another comparative analysis article from The National Interest: America’s F-15 Eagle vs Russia’s Su-35 fighter: Who Wins?

This article lacks the depth of the nicely done article in the Armata Tank vs the M-1 Abrams Tank and the TOW missile. A few points:

  1. F-15C Eagle is now nearly 40 years old.
  2. It may be in service for another 20 years.
  3. The Flanker-E clearly has the advantage at low speeds.
  4. The F-15C and F-15E have the advantage at long ranges.
  5. I gather the author considers them overall roughly equal.

But the lines that catch my attention are:

“More likely to happen is that a F-15 would run into a Su-35 operated by some Third World despot. The pilots are not likely to have the training, tactics or experience to fight against an American aviator with a realistic chance of winning.”

I am not sure which “Third World despots” he is considering for his analysis. Indonesia is a democracy. Indonesia is not on bad terms with the U.S. I gather only Russia has the SU-35 with China and Indonesia having ordered them. Indonesia is using them to replace their aging fleet of U.S. F-5E Tiger IIs. The initial buy is something like 8 planes. Perhaps Algeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan, or Vietnam may purchase them at some point, but these are also not countries we are likely to conflict with. It does not appear that places like North Korea, Venezuela, and what remains of the government of Syria is going to obtain them (although Russia deployed at least 4 Su-35s in Syria). I think the author of the article probably needs to re-examine who is actually going to have and use these aircraft. So far, it seems to be only Russia, China (24 of them) and Indonesia (8 of them).