THE SURGE IN AFGHANISTAN IS OVER, NOW WHAT?
The 30,000+ troop surge ordered by the Obama Administration almost two years ago has concluded amongst increasingly daring attacks on coalition troops and assets by Taliban forces in the region. With the surge troops fully removed from the operation there remains some 68,000 American servicemen still in country, with a total ISAF force of around 100,000. Between now and 2014 this number will dwindle down to a yet to be defined residual force which will theoretically be made up of special operations, force protection, and limited aerial support troops and assets.
Was the surge a success? Who really knows. It probably did not hurt the situation although it surely was not as affective as the surge in Iraq which largely pacified what was an all out war featuring many sides and factions, and allowed the US to finally vacate that misguided conflict. Afghanistan is a different animal, it’s “turbo-charged low intensity conflict” against a constantly morphing force that has time on their side. It really does not help when an occupying power announces their timeline for withdrawal of their forces in a land where time is more of a concept than a constant. Above all else we must think about those surge troops who went home in body bags instead of with their brothers in arms. Simply put, was this surge worth what we paid in precious life and treasure? That really all depends on if the Afghan Army can actually hold their ground and keep the Taliban and other violent factions at bay. So maybe the only thing this surge really bought us was more time to further train Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces.
I think at this point we can only hope for, at best, that Afghanistan turns into a feudal and corrupt narco-state that at least allows us to keep it free of terrorist elements. A place where an incredibly weak central government works more as a corrupt power broker to keep the peace than as an actual undisputed sovereign of its own territory or imposer of a constant and reliable rule of law. The other potential outcome will be that Afghanistan falls into total chaos once US combat operations end there, with the Taliban exercising their brutal rule over areas where feudal militias are not strong enough to keep them at bay and the possibility of an overthrow by Taliban elements of the Karzai government in Kabul in not totally outside the realm on possibility.
Seeing what happened in Libya last week, I think the US should come to terms with the looming force protection and diplomatic concerns related to our rapid draw-down in Afghanistan. The Afghani Army, from almost all the first hand accounts I have heard, is totally inconsistent and highly corrupt. Generals will call them “patriots” on camera, while the grunts training them on the ground often call them “an army for hire,” and make it clear that they are totally ill-equipped to deal with something as dynamic and invasive as the insurgency that exists in that Afghanistan today, even after the highly touted surge. Additionally, I have been told that tribal ties and regional affiliations within the rank and file Afghan Army are so potent that they present an incredibly volatile situation within the army itself. Also, the fact that once our troops leave Afghanistan so will much of our air power that supported them for over the last decade. The DoD has totally bungled the purchase of a light attack plane for the Afghan Air Force, so now they will have next to zero indigenous fixed wing air support for their troops on the ground, which will greatly level the playing field when it comes to fighting the Taliban. If there is a plan to embed US forward air controllers throughout the flimsy Afghan Army, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands, I have not heard about it. And come on, that would be a horribly dangerous job. Another issue is what happens if the US stops paying the Afghan Army’s wages? I have heard over and over that soldiers see their duty as much as a job than anything else. Like so many American adventures abroad, one should fear the day when the bucks stop flowing as it will probably mean the bullets will start flying.
Above all else, one can hope that the US has a very robust plan to pull contractors and diplomatic folks out of Afghanistan at a moments notice as the draw-down proceeds. Once there is nobody for the Taliban to shoot at in the mountains, villages and deserts, I fear that they will begin to overwhelm and overrun our residual forces left in situ. Listen, if they can breach Camp Leatherneck/Bastion while ISAF still has over 100,000 troops in country, what will they be able to do when there is only 10,000? We lived through a similar situation in Vietnam in 1975, as troops left cities fell, and we all remember the images of hueys crammed with US personnel clawing their way off the American Embassy in Saigon’s roof…
EVEN THE F-35’S WEAPONS BAYS ARE TEETERING ON A RAZOR’S EDGE
The good folks at Aviationweek.com have highlighted yet another unique issue with the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. We all know that space is at a premium in the stealthy fighter, as is weight, but now it seems that internal temperature is also an issue. It appears that the heat generated inside the weapons bay is within a few degrees of the maximum heat tolerated by many of the jet’s advanced weapons that often utilize miniaturized electronics and cooled seeker heads. Exacerbating the issue is not just the heat the weapons may be bathed in but the duration that they will be exposed to such temperatures. Seeing as the US is refocusing on the Pacific, primarily to counter the rise of China’s military and economic might, potential missions for the F-35 could take the better part of a day to complete, including multiple aerial refuelings due to the distances involved. Thus the weapons inside the jet’s bays need to be able to take long durations of exposure to such extreme temperatures. Will this mean that popular weapons would have to be re-designed or modified for F-35 use? Or will the F-35 require yet another redesign and fix to solve the problem, most likely adding to the jet’s cost, time-table, and weight.
The reality is that the F-35 does not need to be a fighter at all. When you miniaturize things and build in unprecedented capability into a single platform you have make continuous design compromises to make it all work together. If the short takeoff and vertical landing capability were never added to the JSF’s design requirements, along with the capability to maneuver like fourth generation fighter jets (something that DAS, AESA radar, lock-on after launch missiles, Helmet Mounted Display, advanced datalinks and low detectability makes obsolete) the F-35 could and should have been a larger, faster, less maneuverable and cheaper, while also allowing for more weapons and fuel to be carried internally. This would have left the jet with plenty of “margin” for weight and volumetric component additions to be added as the aircraft ages. Instead we are left with an aircraft that will enter service at the very margins of its design limits, although we know full well that historically military aircraft gain weight and capability as they age. This is just another fact that the DoD, Congress, and the manufacturer chose to forget about when mortgaging our future military capability on this design compromised boondoggle.
DOD COZIES UP WITH NEW ZEALAND
Things are warming up between the US and the Kiwis when it comes to military cooperation. It has been decades since New Zealand told the US that its nuclear armed or operated naval ships were not welcome in their harbors, and in response the US returned the “favor” by banning New Zealand ships the same courtesy, which was stupid as can be. Now, with the US pivoting hard, or attempting to pivot hard, towards the Pacific, the SecDef is over there applying some fire to once cool US-New Zealand military relationship. Can you say contingency basing anyone?
It’s funny, just a couple years ago I talked and wrote and length how America would turn away from counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East and onto the Pacific Theater. People scoffed at the idea and called me nuts. Now, it’s a full court press to do so by the Obama Administration and the DoD. Take that naysayers.
CONGRESSIONAL PLAYERS SEEK TO CHANGE THE WAY NASA’S MANAGEMENT DOES BUSINESS
This is great news for NASA, as currently it is almost impossible to have a spaceflight initiative stick through multiple Administrations, Congresses, and their associated chaotic budgets or lack thereof. Under this new plan the NASA Administrator would serve a ten year term and budgets will be much more predictable, amongst other smaller changes. Under such a plan there exists a double-edged sword. On one hand it should really help see a space faring vision through to maturity and would limit an Administrator’s loyalty to a single Presidential Administration, as well as all the associated special interests that go along with it. On the other hand, if you get a person with not such a great vision for space in the role as Administrator we would be mostly stuck with that vision for over a decade, unless there is major intervention from Washington. In the end I think it’s a great idea that will save us billions in abandoned programs, help us be more competitive in space, and it will bring some order to NASA’s spastic vision and budgeting uncertainty. And maybe, just maybe, it will produce NASA Administrators who are not “lap-dogs” of the Administration that originally appointed them and hopefully it will result in someone who can actually sell an internally derived “NASA” vision for America’s future in space.
US IS COMING TO TERMS WITH THE THREAT FACED BY CHINA’S EMERGING ELECTRONIC ATTACK CAPABILITIES
This article is good news. I realize a lot of things happen outside of the public’s gaze and that countermeasures is a rapidly evolving business, yet in such an information vacuum you have to wonder if anything is being done at all to repulse such potentially crippling capabilities. This topic is especially relevant in a time when unmanned aircraft are becoming more prevalent and our munitions are increasingly relying on data-links and GPS guidance. It looks like remedies will start being fielded by utilizing plug and play upgrades and podded systems on existing aircraft and integrating these systems into future platforms internally. None-the-less, this is obviously a soft spot for America’s net-centric air arms, as well as for potential enemy’s forces as it is a relatively murky area of aerial warfare that is just beginning to be explored in the digital age. Due to its relative infancy there is a great potential for the US to capitalize on its existing edge in the offensive realm of these capabilities, while at the same time it is possible that we could remain unknowingly vulnerable to the enemy’s creativity and cunning when it comes to exploiting vulnerabilities in US hardware. So in this case thinking like the enemy is absolutely key in reducing their potential effectiveness on the electronic battlefield of the future.
With all the talk about stealth airplanes and cutting edge drones, I think it is safe to say that in the future America’s biggest secrets and potential keys to supremacy will exist inside the black boxes stuffed inside the high-tech stealth airplanes and drones…
USAF CLAIMS THAT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THE F-35 AND F-22 FLEW TOGETHER, SORRY GUYS, NOT TRUE!