Weekly Photo Challenge: Two Subjects

The two subjects caught here as part of the Wordpress Weekly Photo Challenge are one of the quick-firing guns on the USS Olympia, one of the earliest modern armoured warships, and, across the Delaware, the USS New Jersey, one of the last of that breed where big guns ruled the waves…both are worth visiting and worth supporting as once naval heritage like this gets scrapped, it can never come back…

In the beginning…

One of the reasons that my blograte has dropped off is that I am participating at an online advanced air power course and this has been tapping somewhat into my available time. The penny only just dropped that the course content is relevant to the blog and that I can probably kill two birds with one keystroke and use my contributions to the course as the basis for blog items…once I catch up, the output should be about a post a week til the end of the course…so here goes…

Q1. What do you think are the most important components of air power?

I’ve done a lot of driving this week and have wrested with this question more than any other. I’ve worked through all the various components of air power and then realised that all I was thinking about were the physical components, the tangibles like aircraft, systems, infrastructure, training, doctrine etc. The penny only dropped on the last leg last night that the component that really counts is the intangible, that thing referred to as airmanship or maybe air mastery: it’s not what tools you have in the box so much that count but how you wield them. Even more so than that, it is how you get up once knocked down and get back into the fight that counts.

While this isn’t a component unique to the air environment and applies equally well across the other environments and other walks of society (it’s A World Cup year so if we run true to form we offer up some dazzling examples later in the year!), it is one that muster be fostered and developed and maintained just as much as any physical capability or piece of equipment. Done well, it is the thing that makes the whole greater than merely the sum of the parts…

Q2. Are definitions useful in trying to understand what air power is?

Absolutely, but then I’m a doctrine geek so I’m bound to say that…definitions are essential to understanding anything even if only as a launching point for rebuttle or disagreement. Without these, discussion of air power becomes a meandering ‘how long is a piece of string?’  discourses…

Q3. Is air power different in any significant ways to other forms of combat power?

By definition, yes, otherwise it most likely wouldn’t be a separate form of combat power (and I’m more fan of military power than combat power which is a little narrow for the operating environment we’re in today) but if the question is actually leading towards whether air power is uniquer than other forms of combat power then, no, it’s not. Each form of combat power has its own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses which can be harnessed or exploited as the case may be to create an effect in support of national objectives. True, the air is not an environment in which man can survive naturally or sustain himself above a couple of metres but then submariners would have us believe the same about their environment and as a constraint is it relevant to air power as a form of military power. Probably not…and for every strength or weakness in air power, there are corresponding characteristics in other forms of military power – which is probably why we go down the dreaded ‘J is for Joint’ path instead of attempting to persevere as independent arms.

Credit where credit’s due

The Strategist has really made a job of his rethink of that chap Lind’s 4GW idea and come up with a really robust and supportable model that he has called ‘cohorts of war‘. Not to steal any of Peter’s well-deserved thunder, but for purposes of enlightenment a cohort is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:

  • an ancient Roman military unit
  • a band of warriors
  • persons banded or grouped together, esp. in a common cause

Works for me…I’m not so sure about the links to the Rand papers on swarming that are referred to in some of the comments but will, of course, withhold judgement until I have had a chance to read them…

I do feel though that the Fifth Cohort does need a little more polishing as I think that the key binding  relationship is one of profession, guild almost; and that, depending on their structure and motivation, insurgent groups can be fitted comfortably into one of the other cohorts. Still, well done that man, and I hope to see many references back to this model in the next months and years…

Still accounting…

…the novelty has well worn off and I am so glad that I decided to do anything BUT accounting when I left school. However the last few days have offered an interesting insight into the world of finance and how a maze of deception and confusion can be laid to conceal transactions and divert attention – and here it’s just by accident, not design!!!

Today’s thought on the generations of war discussion, is that generations of war is the wrong concept: we should be thinking in terms of generations of war fighters (not warriors, because not all war fighter may be warriors). If we accept this shift, then it becomes quite a simple thing for various generations of war fighters to co-exist in the same temporal or geographic plane.

If/when I get the accounts completed this weekend, I may expand some more on this idea…in the meantime, the cloud has been below house level all morning so my motivation has not been particularly high but now it’s off to feed animals and then back to the Cursed Accounts…

Get over it!

I’m pretty picky when I subscribe to Facebook pages – last thing I really need is a constant stream of trivia through my Live Feed. I prefer to use Facebook as a situational awareness tool and so my limited number of subscribed pages includes Steven Pressfield, my favourite bach and the Small Wars Journal (note: you need to be a Facebook member to see these pages). Last night, there was a post headed Afghan Corruption Concerns US Policy Planners linking to this Voice of America ‘news’ item about which I thought Please!!! Get over it!! Some places they do things different to how we would like – is the war on terror or to inflict the moral high ground on another nation’s culture and mores?.
The responses were pretty scary (names have been removed to protect the stupid):
  • On the contrary – the international community’s insistence that government leaders adhere to some basic level of anti-corruption standards is because terrorism is less likely to be a course of action undertaken. It’s not that “they” do differently than “we” would like; corruption is not a part of any culture’s mores, it’s pretty well established in every culture that stealing from one’s people never turns out well. What? Have you ever been anywhere in the world? Across the non-Western world, ‘wheel greasing’ in some shape mor formed is not just tolerated by accepted.
  • I’m also pretty convinced that the “moral high ground” offers as much tactical advantage as the physical terrain’s high ground. Yeah, perhaps, but not if you bring your own high ground from home…
  • Remember, when some Afghan cop steals $ 2.00, he’s taken someone’s wages for a day. And the Karzai family steal millions. You’re wrong, Simon, we’re not trying to ‘inflict’ our culture on them, as you so incorrectly phrased it, we’re trying to keep them from stealing every dollar the West sends them. Then stop sending money and do something useful instead – the same thing would happen in the US, UK and Europe if all of a sudden somebody began handing out great dollops of cash.
OK, so it’s only three responses (but that’s a lot for the SWJ Facebook page) but they are fairly consistent with the self-righteous tone of the original article on VOA. There’s also an interesting article on a similar theme on Coming Anarchy, questioning why corrupt officials from Equatorial Guinea are allowed to live in palatial estates – in Malibu. Apparently US law forbids the granting of visas to ‘corrupt’ officials. My question is: Whose corruption laws/values do you apply? Outside of the First World, such practices are pretty accepted – to any extent that argues that they are at least as successful and sustainable than the squeaky-clean-green moral high ground philosophy.

Do these people just not ‘get it’?  You cannot go to someone else’s country, say we’re going to make everything better but you’re going to have to do things our way from now on? Isn’t that what we are (apparently) fighting the Taliban to prevent. Haven’t we gone to war over this very principle? In fact, it would not be unfair to say that a goodly lot of the wars we have engaged in have been in opposition to someone throwing their weught around and trying to enforce ‘their’ ways on someone else…?

The simple sad fact is that most of the world, including a sizable chunk of western societies, thrive on ‘wheel-greasing’. When I was in the UK in October, the Attorney-General was being pressured to press corruption charges against BAe for ‘greasing the wheels’ in order to secure international contracts. As BAe pointed out in its defence, ‘…this is how the world spins: if we don’t do it someone else from France, Israel, Eastern Europe etc etc etc, will wing-in in our place; if we don’t do it, then we will be forced to shut down a number of UK plants due to lack of work – and, if you smack us with a £1billion fine, we will just be forced to shut down more…‘ When you think about it, if the UK was really into this moral high ground thing, it wouldn’t be letting BAe sell weapons across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Would they…?

COIN doctrine tells us a successful campaign needs to address the core issues behind the insurgency, ultimately giving the insurgents some or all of what they want but under controlled conditions.

Meanwhile, back at the Real World Ranch, The Strategist has developed his alternate generations of war model:

1GW: the mercenaries
Early 16th century to late 18th century.
Powerful monarchies, supported by increasingly efficient state bureaucracies, field “hybrid” armies of elite professional troops, mercenary contingents and transnational military specialists (such as siege engineers and artillerymen). In the 18th century, hybrid armies evolve into more homogeneous forces of cavalry, artillery, and infantry regiments of the line, recruited from the aristocracy and the rural poor within a state’s territory. These forces owe allegiance to the sovereign, not society.

2GW: the conscripts
1790s to 1970s.

Nation-states fight each other with large armies of conscripted citizen soldiers. The nation becomes synonymous with the army – “the people-in-arms”, as Clausewitz described it. Universal conscription is a rite of passage for generations of young Europeans, who are animated to serve by patriotism, national and racial identity, and warrior myths.  The apogee of the nation-in-arms occurs in the two world wars of the 20th century, when nations mobilize all their resources – human and material – for total war.

3GW: the volunteers
1980s to early 21st century.

Armies become all volunteer and professional forces of career soldiers who are relatively well-educated and highly trained. These forces recruit people from ethic minorities, immigrant groups, decaying industrial cities and hardscrabble rural regions. These people enlist because they see the army as a route to advancement and acceptance in society, not out of patriotism. Meanwhile, the scions of the wealthy elite and the prosperous middle class shun military service.

4GW: the champions

Emerging in the early 21st century.

Armies become caste-based – an increasingly distinct and detached element within society. They comprise highly skilled “champions”, specialists in esoteric skills such as counterinsurgency, special operations, and cyber-war, who owe primary allegiance to their castes and combat leaders. The distinction between armies and civilian agencies blurs. The state outsources military responsibilities to private military companies. These also safeguard the interests of powerful corporations and wealthy elites.

Peter, in a week, has probably applied more real intellectual effort to the GW construct than did the originator! I really like it although I would offer that his 4GW is actually 5GW with 1GW being the Braveheart style, every tribesman for himself, hope-it-all-works-out-on-the-day form of warfare that kept the trade alive for millenia before it all got organised.

In terms of applying the generational model across history and societies, it DOES work if you apply to individual societies/cultures instead of taking a global macro approach e.g. while the Romans make have been at 3GW, many of their adversaries may only have be 1 GW. The model works even better if you remove the time frame from under each heading.

The Judge Dredd approach to COIN

So it’s out. The super-uber COIN strategy for Afghanistan. If you blinked, you may have missed it. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much – kinda like finding you’ve fallen asleep in the car (as a passenger!) and missed Hamilton…we’re going to fortify the urban areas where the insurgents AREN’T, and only engage selectively in the rural areas where the insurgants ARE. I have visions of Afghanistan becoming a real word escapee from 2000AD: a few isolated Mega-Cities surrounded by the feral hordes of the Cursed Earth. Sylvester Stallone has already filmed in both locations: with some clever editing of Rambo 3 and Judge Dredd, we could have the movie out for Christmas…

John Dredd or Judge Rambo?

Seeking New Perspectives

We’ve all heard the line “those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, probably to the point of pain…but it as apt now as it ever has been. This is where William S. Lind and Co fall on their collective butts: in only taking those parts of history that suit their argument, they promote false learning and false learning is not learning. That’s what’s wrong with 4GW and the other models that purport to prove that what is now is new.

This blog caught my eye in the WordPress ‘Latest Updates’ list: a young (12 in ’89 so, yes, still young)  lady, Damiella, is publishing excerpts from her 80s diary, and offering a perspective from 20 years on in The Diary Project. Reading it, I was immediately taken back to my own Form 2 year and all the trials and tribulations of a 12 year old – that alone made the journey to this blog well worthwhile. On another level, it is interesting to see, through Damiella’s commentary, how those issues that seemed so mega then just raise a wry smile now.

Perhaps we might want to conduct this activity ourselves on both personal and historical levels to help give us a better handle on who we are now and the world we live in…how many would be prepared, even with a bit of judicious editing and pruning, to reveal their teen joys, angsts and trials to the world? Something to think about – it is possible that we learning from history can also apply at the personal level, that we can perhaps see that our issues were not ours alone and that, in fact, we might actually have been quite normal teens…

On a similar vein, we can not learn from history if we have no knowledge of history. UK commentator, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, has some thoughts on the apparent reinvigoration of history curriculums in the UK. Not only do we have to do it, we have to do it properly without bias and partiality. We need to be able to discuss the dark with the good, the heights and the troughs of human activity so that new generations will be armed to make better, more informed decisions and resist the myopic me, me, me siren call of the 21st Century.

More on the 4GW scam…

…I don’t think The Strategist is a fan either…he has run two articles already, with the promise of a third tomorrow, also critical on this scam:

Roots – the origin of “generations of war”

On the bullshit of “generations of war”

So it’s not just me, although maybe it is a Kiwi thing to pass comment on the Emperor’s new wardrobe?

Anyway, have a read of Peter’s posts and the follow-on comments and please contribute to the discussion regardless of where you sit on this charlatanism. For those who are unsure what the 4GW model is, this is direct from The Strategist:

  • 1st generation (1GW): the massing of musket-equipped troops on the battlefield, in line and column formations – essentially the way people fought at Austerlitz and Waterloo during the Napoleonic wars.
  • 2nd generation (2GW): the linear concentration of firepower (artillery, machine guns etc) against fixed defences and mass troop formations – essentially the way people fought at the Somme and Passchendaele during the First World War.
  • 3rd generation (3GW): the use of manoeuvre to break through weak points and collapse enemy defences from behind – exemplified by the German invasion of France and Belgium in May/June 1940.

I agree with Peter’s comments and personally far prefer the Toffler’s Wave model (no relation to JB’s Wave model!) which covers societies as opposed to forms of war. From memory, the waves are:

  • First Wave. Tribal, not much more than every man/group for themselves. Sound like any current theatres of war you may know?
  • Second Wave. Society organised into what we might now recognise as states.
  • Third Wave. The full harnessing of society to support national aims and objectives, industrialisation.
  • Fourth Wave. Nichism (no relation to dead German philosophers!). Society transforms into groups that adapt and evolve according to need and opportunity.

If that isn’t the Toffler Wave model or close to it, then it must be my model – please remember you saw it here first….

Unlike the Toffler Waves, which love ’em or hate ’em, are still the result of some pretty heavy duty intellectual effort, the Lind 4GW (I keep typing it as ‘$GW’ – is my subconscious trying to tell me something?) is based upon logic that would get tossed out of a Fifth Form History class (I enjoyed 5th Form History – it was so much more interesting than later classes even though I appreciate the exposure to pre-20C history as a foundation for later life). I suspect that the primary motivator for it was ‘publish or perish’.

I’ll wait for Peter’s third 4GW post tomorrow before commenting any further on Mr Lind’s little scam…I am sorry if I sound just a little wound up about this 4GW thing but Lind’s attempt to twist what happened at Ft Hood to support his weak hypothesis is sordid and cheap – oh, yes, and jack too…


A ‘jack’ is someone who makes sure that they are OK over anyone else. I believe the linkage originally comes from the 1959 Peter Sellers movie “I’m All Right, Jack“. This is one example of a jack:

Kirk the Jack 003

This is big dog Kirk. There are two bean bags because there are two dogs. Our other big dog, Lulu, likes to rest on a bean bag because she has a sore hip (hopefully not the dreaded displasia!!). Kirk knows this. Does he care? No, he’s alright. Kirk is a jack big dog.

Here’s another example of a jack: LIND ON 4GW AND THE FORT HOOD KILLINGS. I mean, it’s nice that William Lind shares with us on his visits to this planet but this time he really just needs to get a grip! The reason that I posted a link to John Birmingham’s commentary on the Ft Hood shootings, and probably the reason that JB’s commentary quoted in full the earlier commentary by Stephen Murphy, (sorry if that’s a bit cumbersome), is that the Murphy commentary is as insightful a one that you will find on this tragedy – AND that it cuts directly to the chase on the core issue.

MAJ Nidal Malik Hasan was simply an individual struggling within himself. An individual no different really than any of those other individuals who faced similar struggles and ultimately directed their frustrations on those around them. I don’t know if there is a single nation on this Earth that has not had at least one such incident. Even here in quiet little New Zealand, we have had at least five in the past twenty years : Aramoana, Masterton, Pukekohe, Raurimu and Dunedin. It is something that happens, regardless of the best or the worst mental health, intelligence and law enforcement systems. Any system so efficient as to keep such people at risk off our streets would be so draconian as to sacrifice the freedoms our societies hold dear.

The reason that Mr Lind is a jack is that he is making sure that HE is alright by capitalising on the Ft Hood tragedy so further justify and validate his own 4th (would $th be more accurate perhaps?) Generation Warfare, aka 4GW, model. Mr Lind would have us believe that what happened in Ft Hood was a result of 4GW and the harbinger of waves of similar attacks across the US, and that the only way to prevent such attacks is for America to shed its ‘Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free…’ heritage in favour of becoming a WASP state living by the moral minority’s own sharia law…

Not so, Mr Lind, not so, at all…if there is one thing we HAVE learned since 911, it is that our adversaries, individually and collectively,  in this war are very bit as intelligent, as skilled and as capable as we are: a gaping hole in the New York City skyline, hundreds of casualties in Madrid and Bali,  and 4000 flag-draped coffins out of Iraq are proof of that. Only in the UK have these forces been stymied to date – the one nation with decades of experience successfully facing a dedicated, vicious and evolving internal adversary. If MAJ Hasan’s attack in (not on) Ft Hood was what Mr Lind paints it as:

  • Would his tradecraft been so loose as to already be on the FBI’s and the military risk radar?
  • Would he really be overtly trying to contact known Al-Qaeda supporters?
  • Might he not have made better use of his access to Ft Hood to employ more lethal forces than a couple of pistols?
  • Would there not have been at least one simultaneous event somewhere else in the US, even one frustrated by circumstance or law enforcement?

Think about these things before blindly calling for the restriction or even expulsion of those with different belief structures. Remember what ‘Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free…” once meant. Do not under-estimate an enemy who is smarter than this. Be a leader, not a follower.

Because if we follow jacks like Mr Lind and his cronies, we become no better than those who preach a litany of hate from the safety of their religious status….