Yes, it’s Major General Scales again, last seen blaming “jammed M4s” for the deaths of 9 guys whose valiant deaths we recounted in our two part Wanat series (Part 1) (Part 2), absolving the M4 in the process. Tam in the comments steered us to more of his unique brand of wisdom, from October, 2013. She asks, “[D]id you see this eulogy-turned-shopping-list from Scales?”
Scales explains that all the Army really needs, to prevent the kind of desperate fights that produce Medals of Honor, is a few simple trinkets, gimmicks, and imaginary technologies to be produced by his defense-industry clients. We’re not making that up! Scales:
[CPT William Swenson] was the sixth soldier or Marine to receive the medal for heroism in Afghanistan. All six stories are remarkably similar in that none of these incredibly brave men should have been in a position to have earned the medal. Had soldiers in these engagements been adequately provided with a few cheap technologies perhaps they might have avoided the bloody traps that precipitated their heroic actions.
Uh-huh. “Buy the right stuff, and you no longer need people with The Right Stuff.” You can see where a Macnamara-era officer, who fled fast and far from troop leadership towards academic pursuits, might come up with that. So what are these specifics, that will render valor superfluous in our all-conquering robot army of the future?
- “Cell phones” instead of “bulky radios.”
But did you happen to notice in the video the bulky radio stuffed in Swenson’s backpack? This battle was fought in 2009 a time when rag pickers in Mumbai had cell phones. Why can’t our fighting men and women have cell phones in combat?
“Sorry, Mom. I guess I butt-dialed!”
Imagine for a moment that Swenson, like the medevac crewman who took the video of Swenson, had a simple camera on his helmet capable of displaying the ground situation and linked it to screens in the Operations Center. Had the officers in the center seen the action in real time though Swenson’s eyes perhaps supporting fires might have been immediately cleared long before Swenson was trapped in the kill zone. You can buy helmet cams at Walmart.
“Imagine all the peo-ple… livin’ life in pee-ee-aa-a-ee-ce.”
What if our military had been able to deploy enough drones to put a set of aerial eyes over every ground patrol marching into a dangerous and uncertain situation? Surely had a drone been overhead the Taliban would never have dared to open fire.
[W]hat if the one of the lead element carried a sensor that detected movement or the metabolic presence of humans nearby? Such devices are easy to develop and the technology has been in use by civilian security companies for years. Again, had Swenson’s team been warned there would have been no ambush and no medal.
People Sniffers: Yesterday’s Bad Idea, Today.
- The M25 surviving half of the OICW boondoggle (emphasis ours)
[T]he M25 “smart grenade launcher” … uses a laser beam to program a grenade to explode over the heads of the enemy hiding behind protective cover. Such a weapon in the hands of Swenson’s team would have taken out the Taliban with ease. After a decade of development the Army hopes to have the M25 in the hands of troops this year…maybe.
- A lightweight heavy mortar!
What if Swanson [sic] had had access to a really good “carry along” heavy mortar? What if the mortar bomb had precision GPS guidance such that the first round landed directly on the Taliban? With such a weapon Swenson’s fight would have lasted about three minutes instead of nine hours.
Drat! The hard part is getting the Taliban into the included Exploding Pillbox.
We’ll get to his conclusion after we deal with these individual beefs, but as you see the essence of Scales is that everything the military has is crap, so they need to bow down before his brilliance (and not incidentally, make his defense-contractor meal ticket cash-registers ring).
So what’s wrong with the idea of….
…Combat Cell Phones?
Here’s what Swenson’s “bulky” radio could do that the retired General’s Samsung can’t:
- Use high-level, keystream encryption. This is kind of a big deal. Officers of Scales’s era, who don’t recognize the enemy’s initiative and seriousness, were always a problem with radios, because they could never be bothered with encryption. Yes, the Taliban and its allies do employ signals intelligence against the US and Coalition.
- Work with limited and even no on-the-ground infrastructure. See, a cell phone needs… a cell tower. You can’t count on those forward of friendly lines.
- Meet military demands for ruggedness. We’ve had military radios fall 250 feet due to a lowering-line failure on a parachute jump, and survive vehicle and aircraft mishaps. They can get wet (true, in Scales’s day, you had to put a baggie around the handsets), get hot, get cold, and the stout little beggars keep working. Anybody want to see our collection of dead iPhones?
That’s just what we need, a way for deskbound leaders and other rear-area drones (the human kind) to kibitz on combat. Call of Duty 5, Pentagon Edition? Does anybody remember what happened when one of the Army’s Unique and Special Snowflake™ intelligence analyst privates decided that he could interpret some gunship video?
Already, it’s a huge problem being able to fight your unit without constant demands for updates from self-important gawkers at levels and levels of higher headquarters. The sort of Type A personalities that become colonels and generals can’t resist the temptation to try to direct their younger analogues who are fighting in real time. There is a fine line, perhaps, between assistance and micromanagement. But Army culture (at echelons above combat, anyway) lionizes the micromanager and we’ve seen very few higher-echelon leaders who failed to stomp over that line with both big feet.
Then, there’s the bandwidth problem. The US military uses vast quantities of bandwidth, the majority of it for nonessential purposes. But imagine what happens when we start streaming helmet cam from everybody on patrol to the vast majority of everybodys who never go on patrol.
But that’s OK. In Scales’s world, sparkly unicorns will poop the bandwidth we need to flow all that video by satellite. Maybe he can also declare an end to communications latency whilst using satellites!
This is a great one. Because the Army alone has had literally dozens of drone-development programs, distinct from those at the Air Force, the other services, Joint programs, and other government agencies, all of whom went all-in for drones after their utility was proven in 2001-02. (Back then, everybody in Afghanistan had to share 1-3 Predator flights a day). The Army’s boffins had wanted UAVs for intelligence collection long before the war. (Here’s a staff college paper (.pdf) on requirements from 1990. And yes, the joint programs described in then-MAJ Harshman’s study lost control of service UAV requirements during the war).
There are some problems with drones. They’re not, as Scales seems to imagine military technology to be, FM (that’s an old radioman’s joke: F’n Magic). People have to operate them and interpret the product of their sensors. For instance, at the time of the Swenson battle, there was a small drone, the Raven… but it would take two men out of the fight, one to program the drone’s flight, one to operate its sensors.
But the bottom line is that drones can’t replace people on the ground, and they can’t be everywhere people on the ground go; they can’t operate in crummy weather, unlike, say, infantrymen, who will cheerfully tell you that they seem to operate only in crummy weather. And for all the spending on drone development, very little of it filters through Scales’s defense contractor pals and makes it down to the war fighters.
Let’s just re-repeat (threepeat?) some of Scales’s discussion on this,
But what if the one of the lead element carried a sensor that detected movement or the metabolic presence of humans nearby? Such devices are easy to develop and the technology has been in use by civilian security companies for years.
Because fighting a war among the population, you can just bring your weapons to bear on any hint of movement, or the waft of human pheromones, with your eyes closed. Scales is showing his “once they’re dead, they’re all VC” heritage here. But he’s also showing a remarkable ignorance of the technical history of the People Sniffer (.pdf), Projects Muscle Shoals (.pdf, in-progress whitewash), Igloo White, and all those Macnamara Line developments. Those things were all costly failures.
You know how we actually got actionable intel off the Ho Chi Minh trail? We put human eyes on it, and yes, the guys in that project got shot to $#!+ a lot and wound up with more than their “fair share” of MOHs.
…the M25 boondoggle?
Can you say SPIW? It was the Weapon of the Future® in 1960, and it still is…. There are several problems with the M25, but they basically come down to this: it’s optimized to meet a requirement that doesn’t occur all that often in combat, and that can be answered better by a well-trained 60mm mortar gunner and a lot of rounds. In other words, even if it worked 100% (which should occasion great mirth among those who worked with it), it is still inferior for its special purpose to a common general-purpose weapon already in the inventory.
But new space-age grenade launchicators are sexy and get written up in tech magazines (as well as, grease the big DOD prime contractors and their lobbyists). More mortar ammo for training is distinctly unsexy, and benefits only some dirty, uncouth infantryman, not a K Street lobbyist in a $3k suit. Which brings us to one of Scales’s weirdest demands:
…the paradoxical light heavy mortar.
… a really good “carry along” heavy mortar?
You mean like the 60 (which actually comes with a sling and can be carried with a round in place and fired with a trigger), and the 81s that some grunt units have hauled on patrols? Or a 120mm where the ammo is too heavy to carry more rounds than you need to set the baseplate?
Scales can be excused for not paying attention to mortars and understanding their current state of development, but the size of the mortar has more to do with its range than its lethality. And ammunition improvements have been remarkable over the last few decades. That light 60mm mortar is handier than the World War II vintage 60 despite its greater length, is hell for accurate, and has the range and lethality of the 1960-or-so vintage 81mm mortar.
And then, the problem is not the weight of the mortar, but the weight of the ammo. A round for the 60 weighs 2.5 to 4 lbs, a round for the 81 9 to 10 lbs.
And here’s a fun fact, that infantrymen all know but that may not have penetrated to the ranks of Retired War College Panjandrums: the M224 60mm mortar greatly outranges the small arms that engaged CPT Swenson’s advisory team, or any other small arm, for that matter. Its accurate range is over 3500 m on max charge, nearly 4,000 yards.
As far as precision-guidance goes, in a direct-fire situation, a decent mortar gunner who has had ammunition to practice with and develop his skills is utterly deadly with a 60. The best precision-guidance computer on the planet, at least for this purpose, is attached to the relevant sensors by a pair of optic nerves, and located in the brain-case of an infantryman who has been given challenging training, multiple targets, a case of mortar rounds, and some friendly competition.
But, there’s nothing in there for K Street. Or technology magazines. Sorry about that.
Some General Comments
Some of these things amount to, “Gee whiz, maybe if you grease my clients they can repeal Newton’s Laws of Motion.” It’s an example of Full Retard, defense intellectual division. And yet Scales says that it’s he who’s against wasteful defense spending:
These and other soldier-saving technologies could have been developed and fielded cheaply and quickly years ago.
Gee, does he mean the billions blown on the Macnamara Line and its sensors in the 1960s and 70s, cheaply, or the billions blown on drones, cheaply, since the 1990s? (Well, drones go back to the Kettering Bug if you want to get all inclusive).
Yet, after ten years of war the ground services, the Army and Marine Corps, remain starved for new, cutting edge life-saving materiel
Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. We call bullshit (threedundantly). The ground services have seen a vast quantity of high-quality, highly-useful, technologically improved equipment. The trooper of 2014 carries stuff that was fuzzy theory in 2001. We were there during halting, experimental and limited deployments of drones, blue-force trackers, and sophisticated counter-IED technologies, to name a few. We were there to see the capabilities of our electronic intelligence collector attached elements take off. We were there to see contact teams, and PEO Soldier, and tech reps from contractors, and they weren’t bringing all the goodies just to us in the white SOF, or our bros on the darkside, or the always high-tech Air Force, but plenty of things that eased the rocky path of the rifleman, good old 11B or 0311.
Want to see life-saving material? Shake out the M3 aid bag a retiring SF medic threw on his garage shelf in 2000, and then shake out one of today’s medics’ kir. And never mid the stuff, the training of the people is the biggest lifesaver going, and has undergone a quiet revolution. We lost guys in 2001 and 2002 to tension pneumothorax and exsanguination, and those are hardly the killers now that they were then.
[W]hile the Department of Defense and their big defense company allies continue to spend generously on profitable big ticket programs like planes, ships, missiles and computers. Soldiers’ stuff is more Popular Mechanics than star wars. But Captain Swenson and his six Medal of Honor colleagues might have had a better day had the nation spent a bit more to give them a technological edge over the enemy.
What they haven’t got is the kind of armchair brainstorms that Scales launches in their general direction, but maybe that’s because that’s not what they’re asking for.
What we need is a human edge over the enemy, not a technological one. Technology is a force enabler and, in very rare best-cases, a force multiplier. As a rule of thumb, a dollar spent on training beats a dollar spent on stuff. But what is the first thing a retrenching Army cuts?
And this confused fellow was a Major General and an Army War College Imperial Wizard or Exalted Octopus or whatever they call it. Lord love a duck. If this is the kind of talent we cultivate at that level, no wonder we haven’t won one clean since V-J Day.