21 August 2008

Russia, Georgia, and Information Warfare

Oh, you've got to be kidding me...

Renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, who is Ossetian, led a requiem concert for the dead Thursday night in Tskhinvali — part of an effort to win international sympathy for Russia's argument that its invasion was justified by Georgia's attempt to regain control of South Ossetia by force.

"We want everyone to know the truth about the terrible events in Tskhinvali ... with the hope that such a thing will never again happen on our land," Gergiev said before the concert, held in front of the badly damaged South Ossetian legislature before a crowd flanked by two armored personnel carriers.

On today's modern battlefield it's one thing to fight and win against the opposing force you're squaring off against, but it's quite another thing to win the diplomatic war. While a fair degree of diplomacy is done behind closed door, public pressure (or lack thereof) is often influential in the shaping the direction discussions often lead. While the argument can be made that many decision makers in the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe can be insulated from public criticism, it forces public debate in directions that are often counterproductive to a government's efforts.

A perfect example of this occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. As Iraqi forces attempted to withdraw with as much loot and equipment as they could from Kuwait before they were surrounded and cut off the Allied forces started running bombing runs up and down the highway in an effort to deny potential military equipment and reinforcements arriving that could be used to shore up Iraqi defenses and potentially fuel a counterattack back towards allied forces. The air attacks destroyed thousands of Iraqi vehicles, but the strikes themselves did not play well on international screens, earning the action the unfortunate moniker "The Highway of Death." The more disproportionate the victory the more critical a reaction a country risks. Take for instance the first Battle of Fallujah in April of 2004. One of the most famous videos coming out of this period of the Iraq War was this video, of a USAF F-16 Falcon dropping a bomb onto a crowd on the streets of Fallujah. While this video demonstrates the precision weapon systems the US is actually able to employ, it also demonstrates how media without context can color an entire operation. Take this video from BBC 4, which effectively paints the picture that US forces are bombing a crowd of unarmed civilians. Without the context to go along with it, or an overall analysis of how the release of this video would play in relation to the public conversation at the time (which, in 2004, was very negative) more than likely did more harm to the already vulnerable image of Multinational Forces Iraq and the United States Military than it did demonstrate to the world (and potential aggressors) the capabilities of our Air Force.

Anyone familiar with calling in Close Air Support, for instance, knows that there is a great deal more context behind it than the clip allows for. Before a pilot can even drop he needs to know where to be, and as such has to be guided onto the target by the observer on the ground. This isn't a conceit, but rather a critical piece of the Fire Support puzzle. After all, that F-16 isn't going to be any good to the observer on the ground unless it knows exactly where to go. This process can be at times very, very painful (believe me), and it certainly doesn't take 30 seconds to do. In fact, before this pilot got to engage this target there was most likely minutes of discussion about where the target was, what to hit and what not to hit, where the observer and supporting units were located, and the situation on the ground. Even though we don't know what the nature of that crowd was, the pilot would have, because he would have been briefed by the JTAC on the ground what that crowd was. It wasn't sight in on the target and drop, but rather a very methodical and controlled process.

Of course, the video doesn't show that.

That, in a nutshell, we have the problem of information control on the battlefield. Minus any background knowledge of how air power really works, and without any real explanation, a video that shows somebody "in-the-know" one thing has a dramatic and opposite impact when presented to the public by the uninformed. Of course, this shouldn't come as a shock to US commanders; the United States took a long, hard look at their media relations in the wake of Vietnam, knowing full well that pictures like this trump disinterested and dismissive public relations any day of the week.

That said, Russia obviously has some significant public relations issues to face in the West. The massive, fearful reaction to their invasion on the part of Poland, who went from being lukewarm on the subject of Missile Defense dramatically changed course, demonstrates that the Russian Government is hardly winning the hearts and minds of their former client states. That said, the Russian government has taken some significant steps that might be viewed as an evolutionary progression from past conflicts like Chechnya and Afghanistan. Let's not forget the War in Afghanistan, where Russian MLRS cluster munitions looked like toys. Even earlier, Russia had earned scorn and ridicule during the Winter War. Soviet troops bombed Finnish urban areas with RRAB-3 Bomb Dispensers, which Molotov claimed were mealy food deliveries, a transparent and absurd explanation that did little to win the Soviet Union public favo

Georgian government sites were came under coordinated attack from Russian sources. While the breadth and depth of these attacks has been disputed its clear that there was an understanding on the part of the Russians that the further you can limit an opposing sides means of communications, the better off you'll be. I don't want to go into this any further, though, since Danhco Danchev has done a fantastic job outlining the attacks in his blog.

I'm not making the argument that the Russian government has been successful with these efforts. Far from it, in fact. It would appear that Russia's credibility in the west has sunk to an all-time low. That said, its significant that the Russian government has increasingly come to recognize the value of media operations on the battlefield. Of course, by hosting a concert like this in what amounts to a ruined city is a powerful image, and one that the Russians will be sure to capitalize on. The more they can pain the South Ossetians as poor, oppressed victims the bigger the wedge they can drive in between public opinion and any potential response on the part of NATO countries to the occupation.

Incidentally, this reminds me of the famous photo of Verdan Smailović, the "Cellist of Sarajevo," who famously played Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio in G minor" 22 days in a row at 4:00pm sharp to honor 22 people killed by artillery fire while lining up for bread. This imagine inspired many in the West, and I can't help but wonder if the Russian government is cynically attempting to cash in on this sentiment. After all, the Russians have a long way to go before they can win the hearts and minds war in Europe.

20 August 2008

US to Sell M1 Abrams Tanks to Iraqi National Army

The United States Army is apparently pushing for the Iraqi Army to purchase M1 Abrams MBTs:

[Iraq] is considering buying 140 of the U.S.'s most advanced tanks , at approximately $4 million to $5 million per tank, plus hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of support equipment to go along with the tanks.

The United States has a vested interest in ensuring that whatever government we leave behind in Iraq is stable and able to stand on its own militarily. While the former may be too much to hope for, the later isn't quite out of reach. The Iraqi Army, despite its significant shortcomings, has grown in leaps and bounds. However, some significant questions are raised about this sale.

First, is the M1 Abrams the best option for either party? While even the older versions of the M1 Abrams are formidable systems, leaps and bounds better than most of the regions weapon systems, does the potential for instability in the Iraqi government make them a good bet for the United States? There is no telling what direction the Iraqi government will move once the we move our military forces out of the region (and, make no mistake, one way or another this is becoming a reality). Do we really want a potentially hostile government to be in possession of a weapon system of this caliber. Small arms and helicopters are one thing, but selling Main Battle Tanks is entering a whole new ballpark.

Another, perhaps more pressing point, also comes up. It was once said that amateurs talk about firepower and technology, but it's the professional soldier that talks logistics. The question both the Iraqi Army and the US Army should be asking themselves is if the M1 Abrams family is a good fit for the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi's have been using Russian tanks for decades, from the T-55 to the T-72 MBT, and thousands of Iraqis have manned it, repaired it, supplied it, and trained its crews. Most of the Iraqi Army's senior staff have grown up in the ranks using the T-72 and are acquainted with its shortcomings and advantages. Further more, many older Iraqi bases were designed to supply, repair, and train with the T-72. It's easy to modify this sort of thing, but the question both sides have to ask is if it's worth the trouble.

The T-72 would also fit into the supply table the Iraqi Army has been using since we re-established it. Iraqi T-72s, hand-offs from former Eastern Bloc NATO partners, have been rolling out on patrols with Iraqi units conducting security operations and as such the Iraqi Army has the supply lines to maintain and operate them. By giving the Iraqi Army M1 Abrams we're faced with the prospect of having to spend more money not just to train and equip the Iraqi Armor Corps, but we're also going to have to supply them with the sheer amount of supplies needed to maintain them. Maintaining them also adds a sticking point for Iraqi units. While by US standards maintaining the Abrams is pretty simple, compared to the T-72 the Abrams is the equivalent of going from maintaining a semi-truck to maintaining an F-15. Again, this is undoubtedly a question of training, but why mess with something that works. While it would give the Iraqi Army a huge gain in warfighting ability, is that the Iraq we want to create. Keeping Iraq as a client state and dependent is a far more safe course than setting them up to be a potential regional powerhouse simple from the perspective of predictability.

Field Manual 3-24, "Counterinsurgency," builds on this premise. To quote:

While assisting South Vietnamese military forces, the United States armed and equipped them with modern small arms, communications, and transportation equipment—all items produced by and sustained from the U.S. industrial base. This modern equipment required an equally sophisticated maintenance and supply system to sustain it. Sustaining this equipment challenged the South Vietnamese economically and culturally, despite the training of several thousand South Vietnamese in American supply and maintenance practices. In short, the American way of war was not indigenously sustainable and was incompatible with the Vietnamese material culture and economic capabilities
...
After U.S. forces left and most U.S. support ended, the logistic shortcomings of the supposedly modern South Vietnamese military contributed to its rapid disintegration when the North Vietnamese advanced in 1975.

FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, "Building a Military: Sustainment Failure," Chapter 8, Page 8-10


The moral of this story as it applies to Iraq? Don't mess with something that has been proven to work. The Iraqi Army was able to maintain enough of a force of T-72s to deter their neighbors as well as to control their own territory in the face of massive, crippling sanctions. With sanctions lifted, their ability to maintain and operate a T-72 based force can only grow. Combine this with the promise of US support in the event of an attack by their neighbors and the Iraqi Army will have all the firepower they need.

However, another pressing question remains: where to get more T-72s? While Russia is clearly out, the events in recent weeks provides the United States with a huge opportunity. Many of the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet-controlled States in Eastern Europe are concerned with the newly reinvigorated and belligerent Russian military. Selling these states newer M1 Abrams tanks, perhaps along the lines of the M1A1, would send a signal to these countries that the United States is committed to their security, it would send the message to Russia that we're committed to the defense of our new allies, and it would also free up their stockpiles of T-72 and the support infrastructure that go along with them. Spare parts, repair vehicles, and the tanks themselves would be free. Help pay for their refurbishment (either though reduced price on the Abrams or as a condition of their sale) and then transfer them to the Iraqi Army. It's a win-win-win for all parties involved.

19 August 2008

Russian Forces Capture 20 Georgian Soldiers

Another example of Russian provocations coming out of Georgia today.

POTI, Georgia (AP) — Russian soldiers took about 20 Georgian troops prisoner at a key Black Sea port in western Georgia on Tuesday, blindfolding them and holding them at gunpoint, and commandeered American Humvees awaiting shipment back to the United States.

The Russian Government has said that their intention is to withdraw from Georgia in agreement with the terms listed in the ceasefire signed on 12 August. The Russians have made some progress withdrawing from Georgia, however it appears that Russian forces still control all routes in and out of the city. This, combined with this seizure of prisoners could be one of two things. First, this might amount to mis-communications with the units withdrawing. The other is that Russia is deliberately obfuscating in order to consolidate their hold on the contested territories. The operation in Pori appears to be part of these efforts. In addition to sinking Georgian Coast Guard ships, Russian troops have also been taking every piece of Georgian military equipment that isn't nailed down:

Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, said Russia would claim whatever Georgian armaments it considered useful.

“We will not leave a single barrel, a single cartridge for Georgia, which initiated this bloodshed,” he said, in an interview with Interfax-AVN. “Part of these arsenals, especially ammunition, will be destroyed and are already being destroyed, and as for the rest of the war trophies, we will use them as we please, in particular will take for ourselves part of the tanks and other armored vehicles that are in good condition.”

It appears that the seizure of the HMMWVs may have been part of this effort, and the scorched-earth policy in other parts of the countries appear to be in support of this. These HMMWVs were in Georgia to support Operation Immediate Response 2008. As such, the Russian troops have taken US Military property. Part of this is probably linked to ongoing operations to disarm the Georgian military, but it's also possible this is intended as a slap in the face to the United States.

These actions, however, provide a basis for NATO and US support to rebuild Georgian forces. While their troops are by no means ready for combat in their current state, the turmoil provides US trainers as well as Georgian troops an opening to truely reform their forces into an effient, modern force. It also gives NATO a means by which to signal their resolve in the face of Russian aggression in Georgia and the rest of the "Near-Abroad." Already it appears that the United States is considering transferring shoulder-fired MANPADs to the Georgian Army. While it hasn't been said that these systems will be FIM-92 "Stinger" missiles I feel it would be an interesting step to take. For one, it would allow the Georgian Army to have a MANPAD system that has proven effectiveness against Russian ground-attack assets, as well as tie them into our resupply system in the event of a conflict. It would also signal that the United States is willing to support the Georgian military rebuild and prepare itself for eventual NATO entry. However, it is also possible that the US will go with an alternate system provided by Eastern NATO members, like the Polish Grom, the or the 9K38 Igla (proliferated throughout former Warsaw Pact forces).

The bottom line for NATO leaders, however, is to demonstrate the commitment they made to Georgia and Ukraine to grant them membership. While I'm sure NATO will make moves to put them onto the Membership Action Program (MAP), a more important signal to Russia will be to take steps to ensure Georgia can stand as an equal partner in NATO, which will require a standing military.

18 August 2008

Russia Deploys SS-21 "Scarab" Launchers into Georgia


US officials are now saying that the Russian military has taken the step of deploying SS-21 "Scarab" short-range missile launchers into the contested regions of Georgia. To quote the news link:


WASHINGTON (AFP) — Russia has moved short-range SS-21 missile launchers into South Ossetia since fighting there halted, and has yet to give any sign of a significant pullback of its troops from Georgia, US officials said Monday.


The SS-21 Scarab (Russian designation OTR-21 "Tochka") fills a similar role in the Russian inventory as the MGM-140 ATACMS missile does in US and NATO inventories. Designed to provide a point targeting capability for Russian division commanders the ability to strike key infrastructure and logistics targets behind the Forward Line of Troops. In particular, these launchers are used, in their conventional role, to target command posts, airfields, supply dumps, and staging areas behind enemy lines. It's nuclear role was to target NATO short range tactical nuclear delivery systems. While not as accurate by NATO's precision standards (the CEP for the SS-21 is only about 90m), the system does provides Russian commanders in the Georgian area of operations an ability to target high value targets within Georgia.

A more pressing point, however, is the need for these systems in Georgia. The level of force that Russia has been throwing at Georgia has been puzzling. Even though its clear Russia is trying to make a point to their "near-abroad" neighbors, the fact remains the level of force has been wholly disproportionate to the level of threat presented by the Georgian opposition facing them. The deployment of these systems appears to indicate that Russian commanders on the ground are beginning to discover that their ability to precision target Georgian troops and command centers in the field has been severely lacking.

A good example of this appears to be some of the Russian air losses during the campaign. Russian estimates put the number of aircraft lost to Georgian ADA sites to be about 7 Aircraft. The Georgians place that number much higher, claiming 20 aircraft have been downed. While accurate battlefield reporting in this part of the world is quite hard to come by (command and control limitations, combined by government transparency bordering opaque), the number of Russian aircraft lost is surprising, considering the opposition they were facing on the ground. Two additional facts compound this. First, one of the Russian pilots killed was a flight instructor (a Colonel), and one of the aircraft shot down was a Tu-22M "Backfire" that was, incongruously, being used as a reconnaissance platform. Now, it would appear that the ideal delivery method for precision strikes, the Russian Air Force, appears to be hurting on capability. The fact that they're dragging out instructor pilots to fly recon with a strategic bomber more suited for naval interdiction and long-range strikes, paints this picture pretty clearly. The reasons for this are probably many. Flight hours, often hard enough to come by in good times, have probably been compounded by logistics and funding shortcomings, and the only pilots available with the qualifications to conduct missions are probably the instructor and test pilots, who by the nature of their job are inclined to log more hours behind the stick. However, the fact remains that the Russian Air Force simply isn't up to the task.

Enter the SS-21. It's conceivable that Russian missile forces have the capability to conduct missions with a greater degree of responsiveness and accuracy than the Russian Air Force. Artillery by its nature is always more responsive to the commander on the ground, especially in Russia where the layers of brass and coordination one has to plow through to get air support are fare larger than in NATO armies. I would imagine that commanders on the ground want that capability and have found that it simply isn't coming. This says a lot about the state the Russian Military is in, even after the massive influx of cash they've seen during the Putin years. A decade of neglect is a hard thing to reverse, and it appears Russian ground forces are feeling that pinch.

That said, there are some other obvious reasons for this deployments, and all of them signal a more forceful future course by the Russians in the near-abroad. First, Georgia has been the nation of choice by the West, starting under Clinton, to host a competing oil pipeline system (the BTC Pipeline) to feed Western Europe. This has never sat well with the Russians, who see their pipelines as a means to provide the reconstruction of their country with hard currency, as well as to provide leverage with Western governments. The deployments of these systems, with the range and capabilities they provide, give the Russian military the ability to target the pipeline, sending a clear signal to NATO countries that in the event of a military conflict they could easily shutdown sources of energy to Europe, both by closing off Russian pipleines as well as targeting Georgian ones.

That said, the deployment of these launchers send a signal to both the West as well as Georgia. To the west: you energy security is not safe. To Georgia: you're military has been bested, and now we can target you without needing to use the same level of force. This is a worrying development for the region, as well as for NATO, and should be taken as a strong Russian signal that they have no intention of letting Georgia enter NATO and continue moving into the Western sphere of influence without facing serious reprocussions from the Russian military.

Welcome to the blog

Welcome, all, and thank you for looking over my blog. My purpose behind this blog is twofold. First, I wish to participate in the increasingly successful .milblog movement taking place. I think that, in a lot of ways, the .milblog movement is allowing soldiers and strategically-minded folks to participate in discussions of policy and substance with a greater degree of readiness than ever before. Fantastic blogs like Information Dissemination and Worldwide War Pigs provide great analysis of developments in the respective fields of expertise of each of their authors (the authors of Information Dissemination are from Naval background, and Worldwide War Pigs is run by a former Airman in the US Air Force). One can also find supurb analysis conducted by specialty military blogs, like China Air and Naval Power, Russian Navy Blog, and others (In From the Cold provided some awesome reporting in the wake of the US Air Force's mishandling of nuclear materials, and IMINT and Analysis provides fantastic analysis utilizing opensource imagery that is becoming more widely available).

What this blog won't be is a focus on any military service I am conducting. I'm a Soldier in the US Army (an Artilleryman), but this won't be about my experiences on a day-to-day basis. The first reason for this is so that I don't inadvertently violate the great, insubstantial monster of OPSEC. This has been the downfall of many bloggers (to include the wonderful work being done by CPT G over at Kaboom, who was forced to shut down by his commanders as his blog rapidly gained popularity). My second, and more pressing, reason to differentiate this blog with my experiences is my concern for the overt politicization of military service. As is the natural course of my writings here, I'm going to often find my political views spilling over into the issues being discussed. However, by not coloring myself primarily as a military writer I avoid those personal political preferences coloring the uniform. I don't want people in this blog to think of me primarily as a Soldier, but I would much prefer that image to be one of an analyst. A quick reflection on this distinction to anyone should be apparent. I wouldn't walk into the middle of a crowded city square and start overtly broadcasting any partisan political viewpoints; a blog should be no different.

I'm expecting that my work will take me away from the land of coffee shops and laptops for a while and plunk me down into an area where time and energy are at a premium. As such, I simply can't guarantee that I'll be able to manage daily postings, and there may be periods where my writings become spotty. However, I think that keeping this blog will help me maintain my mind and give me an outlet for stress. I really enjoy talking about all things geopolitical and military, and by keeping this blog I'm hoping that it'll give me a place to enjoy that (eventually) with like-minded people.