Jolly Green

via WordPress Daily Prompt Jolly

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

Jolly, especially at this time of year invaribaly invokes themes of red, usually a large gentleman with a flowing beard, red suit and a predilection for exotic pets…

A long time ago, in a country far far away, jolly was green, the Jolly Green Giant that came from afar to rescue downed airman, often deep into bad guy territory…


Evolving from the Jolly Grren Giant HH-3 to the Super Jolly Green Giant HH-53, and then into the SPECOPS MH-53 PAVE LOW


Heavily armed, but lightly armoured, relying heavily other aircraft to suppress enemy fire, Jolly Greens would push into unfriendly skies to locate and recover downed airman, many who were seriously wounded.

These operations would often involves dozens of aircraft….rescue helicopters, fighters and attack aircraft, tanker, command and control aircraft…and it was not unusual for one rescue to turn into another…

Leave no one behind…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea | The Daily Post


I was brought up in Oamaru, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island so I guess that the sea has always been a part of my life in one way or another…this is what Oamaru Harbour looked like around the end of the 80s. In the 60s and early 70s, it had been a busy little coastal port with (small) ships regularly coming in for loads of wool and other produce – my uncle was a truckie at the time and I remember how cool it was that he could park alongside the ship and dump his load of grain directly into its hold…


This is the feature known as Matanaka at the northern end of Waikouaiiti (keep up with the place name pronunciation, you foreigners!!) Beach – we had a bach about a mile inland on the main access road to this end of the beach and used to come here every summer in the 70s and would as often ride horses along it as play in the surf…

Matanaka as seen from Beach St in Waikouaiiti.

Cutting forward to the late 80s – I think that this is the beach at Kuantan on Malaysia’s east coast – we stopped over here for a night during the Great Thailand-Singapore Bike Ride…we arrived in Kuantan mid-afternoon and had a ball body surfing – right up to the point that we got back to out hotel and Dan Flan pointed out the big rip…uh-oh…
Thailand-Singapore Bike Ride 1988 032

I spent some time in Vietnam in the late 90s – this is the famous China Beach. At the time it was still many miles of unspoiled white beach and I have been afraid to go back in case it has been spoiled by commercialisation or industry. I used to sit here all day and read my one English book (on its 6th or 7th go round by this stage) and watch the MiGs and Hips fly in and out from the airbase by Da Nang…every couple of hours, I count count on a couple of local kids dragging a bucket of ice and Coke along the sand to keep me refreshed…Vietnam 22

Swimming with dolphins off Akaroa…sometimes it’s a bit or miss as to whether the dolphins will come out to play but that did this day – this is a must-do if you are in Akaroa…

Swimming with Dolphins - Akaroa Harbour 012

Crossing from Stewart Island back to the South Island – don’t know why I even bothered to invest in breakfast…

Crossing Foveaux Strait - not calm!! 011

Muri Beach in the Cook Islands, during our honeymoon…quite happy to spend the day just paddling around the lagoon…
Cook Islands Holiday 042

Taken from the Manhattan Beach Pier in LA on one of my stopover days on a business trip to the US…I catch the tram-bus to Manhattan beach for a donut breakfast and then spend the rest of the day shopping at the malls around El Segundo, my mission being to only have enough US cash left for a chili dinner at LAX before my flight home…I love these piers that let you stand behind but above the surf line and watch the waves roll by…
Day Out in LA 006

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea | The Daily Post.





Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable | The Daily Post

The WordPress Cue (via Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable | The Daily Post)

You might think “companion” refers to a person with whom you share experiences, but the definition is much broader:

A person who is frequently in the company of, associates with, or accompanies another.

A mate or match for something.

A handbook or guide.

A member of the lowest rank in an order of knighthood.


Well, yes, I must admit that my first thought on seeing this challenge was to fall back on some tried and trusted cute-az pet pix but then, I went on to read the instructions. This, in its own right, was something of a novel experience because, as most modellers know, the instructions are only really there to mix filler on and generally ignore until fully committed to a irrevocable and erroneous construction path…at this point, the instruction become the targets of rage and frustration because they are clearly WRONG WRONG WRONG and written by IDIOTS IDIOTS IDIOTS.

Anyway, the thought of a handbook as companionable set me off on another train of thought, one which arrived at it destination without derailment or other misadventure…


When I was in Vietnam in 1999, this Lonely Planet book was my constant companion. As a guide book it was off dubious value as I suspect that the author(s) had not actually visited many of the places that they wrote about. If they had, they must have hit Vietnam at its absolute worst as my experience was totally the opposite to the crime-rife doom-laden country that Lonely Planet described…

It was used however for its maps and its canned history (up to around WW2 – after that, lots of pinches of salt) of each region and major town and for providing a background to more contemporary current events i.e. since WW2. My experience then and I cannot speak for now, is that I had not problems finding interesting things to do and see the whole time I was there just by being polite and friendly and simply talking to people.

The LP book however was also useful in some instances where my natural charm was found lacking, for example, bashing bugs…


Another of my constant companions on that trip was my trusty Minolta 7000i 35mm camera which I lugged around the world for fifteen years before it was replaced by a less trusty Fuji S602Z in 2002. I say ‘less trusty’ because its off/on switch suffered a catastrophic failure in 2009 (after only seven years) and it would have cost more to repair than to replace. Although I paid $NZ2k for the Fuji new in 2002 (and that was well under the RRP!), its more capable (and much smaller) replacement in 2009 was only NZ$120.

I always like to travel with a camera – the current Fuji A220 is great as it fits easily into a pocket and is not as obtrusive as the 602 – as you never know when something photo-worthy may cross your path…Murphy’s Corollary to this, of course, is that truly photo-worthy events only occur when you left the camera in your other trousers…


And my third constant companion is a notebook and pen…the (a) pen not shown here but I think that I can safely leave this to your imagination; of course I suppose that I could have left the image of a notebook to your imagination as well but I’m not sure how far that would have flown in a photo challenge post…

As much as I would like to trust my memory, Murphy and cold hard experience have shown that if I do not write down cutting insightful thoughts as and when they occur, the original will be lost forever and anything reconstruction from threads of memory later will not be nearly as good as the original thought…so…I always carry a notebook wherever I can. Whether it is lined of blanked pages tends to vary, but looking back I think that this is more driven by availability than anything else – certainly I do not feel driven to stick to the lines on a lined page, although that may be more a comment on my handwriting style than anything else.

I also like to keep my old notebooks and this one dates from the turn of the last century (that will sound better and better as time goes on) and planning of the 1999 and  last of the Cotillion Balls in Wellington. I used to write in pencil so that I could erase any errors, typos, or changes of minds (mainly the first two) but as propelling/mechanical pencils became more popular, I tended to ‘lose’ them more often and regressed back to using whatever pen I could acquire from the most convenient source. So, getting back to my notebooks, I have a largish, totally unorganised pile of notebooks and legals pads with all sorts of notes and ideas and mental sketchings scrawled across their pages. If you are looking for the key to world peace (watched Miss Congeniality the other night), it is very well captured somewhere on this pages…

So, there you have it, my three ‘companions’….

The people that really count

What’s always puzzled me is that for all the bluster about these being population-centric wars, very few American reporters feel comfortable living with the people or listening to what they have to say.

These words were part of a comment by Carl Prine in response to the link posted up by Doctrine Man this morning  U.S. military to pass oversight of embedded reporters to Afghan security forces . My care factor over the subject of the article is fairly low – I think the whole embedded media idea is in need for a fairly severe overhaul to ensure that reporting is fair and truthful and that

a. isn’t simply a clumsy extension of the campaign information operations plan, and

b. protects the hosts from Mikey Yawn ‘biting the hands that fed them‘ or Paula Broadwell ‘I have ideas above my station‘ style embarrassments…

However, on the subject of population-centricity…


…the Hector’s Dolphin population is much like the populations of in COIN theatres, places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Malaya, France, etc. Like those populations, the poor old Hector’s Dolphin can do what it likes to ensure the survival of its way of life but all that is largely meaningless without the support of the population(s) supporting the intervention/COIN campaign

In fact, when you think about it, much the same applies to the insurgent forces as well…without the support of the populations caring, caring nations like North Vietnam, Great Britain, Iran or Pakistan (yes, there will be a test later on to match up supporters with supported!), many, and most, insurgent campaigns would fade away like a five year old’s ice cream in the sun…and conversely, with the support of the COIN/intervention force domestic population, the same will occur. Perhaps, the melted ice cream could become the 21st Century version of the classic COIN inkspot, one that transforms rapidly into a sticky spot of the map that just attracts flies?

ImageSo, when we talk about population-centric warfare, we are not referring to the population of the nation, province or other area where the insurgency is physically occurring – or we shouldn’t be if we have a good handle on this COIN thing – but instead we should be referring to the populations that support their nation’s participation in any given COIN campaign. When these populations stop caring, either by simply allowing apathy to run its course, or by actively opposing support, that nation’s effective contribution to the campaign is doomed…

Aviation Business: What are the best aviation books ever published?

There I was...the opening phrase of many a great aviation yarn…when I spotted…yep, same old tried and true formula…

…a link to this story ‘New Zealand training organisation develops UAV qualification‘ which in turn led me to the one I am ‘pressing’…Aviation Business: What are the best aviation books ever published?

I agree with the author that the published list looks just a little TOO British although top marks for slipping a Biggles tome in there and so, I thought, what would my top ten list look like? Or, hint, don’t come near one of my air power courses unless you’ve read at least half of them…

My number one would have to be the original 633 Squadron and I am just a little miffed that someone seems to have borrowed my very worn copy that dates back to the release of the movie…yes, I do have the four sequels by the same author but they are nowhere near in the same class as the original classic…


From this point on, I don’t really have a pecking order so here are the Top Nine…


Paul Brickhill’s The Dam Busters…a tale that STARTs with their most famous raid and tells the story from there through to the end of the war – the dams were just the opening act for this mob…


One of many books I added to the library while living in Singapore in the late 80s…a great pilot tells his story and that of a force that was built under a dark star…

old dog

Another Singapore acquisition…a great read for the dying days of the Cold War and, although we didn’t realise it at the time, a great insight into the myth of precision combat that’s dogged us across the last two decades…Dale Brown’s later works tend to succumb to the angst of a junior officer who aspired to chest-poke the generals but just didn’t quite get round to it before departing the forces but this would have to be his best work by a good country mile…I bought the game for my first PC when in came out in 1991 (yes, 21 years ago and we DID have computers back then!!) and I still play it when I have the time…one of these days I will get one of those tablet thingummies and be able to play it wherever I go…


I don’t remember when I first read Flight of the Intruder but the game was another early 90s acquisition and I remember that it came with the novel – at the time the game was one of the most realistic around, despite its 2D wireframe graphics…the book is based on the author’s experiences as an A-6 pilot during the Vietnam War, and its sequel, The Intruders is almost as good (but just misses out on my top 10 this week – maybe #11…)

north sar

Gerry Carroll wrote three aviation novels before his premature death: North SAR, Ghostrider One and No Place to Hide, all covering different facets of the Vietnam Air War. Each is very good but North SAR is my personal favourite.


Oh, yeah, baby..IF I was scaling my Top Ten, this would be #2 after 633 Squadron…I first read it as a Reader’s Digest abridgement in one of my Gran’s vast collection of Reader’s Digest bound volumes…if I thought the short version was great, I was blown away by the complete version when I found a copy in a book exchange when I was 12 or 13…This is one of a very few books that I would like to turn into a movie – maybe two because the story lends itself to various themes – I even started on a script once, before people started flying planes into buildings…


Another book exchange acquisition…yes, I know that Martin Caidin is now considered to not let reality stand in the way of telling a good story but that it no ways detracts from his telling of the early days of the Pacific Air War…rippingly good yarns…


I remember reading Thud Ridge on my first trip to the US in 1988 and great lead-in to a visit to the Pima Air Museum in Tucson…a great story of airmen at war by one of the leaders…

…and finally…

big show

…as long as I can remember we had a copy of The Big Show in our crib at Waikouaiiti…and would have read it at least once every summer…I’ve heard that some low-browed individuals have criticised Pierre Closterman in later life for boosting his number of enemy aircraft ‘kills’ but, really, who gives a fat rats? There is no dispute that he flew hundreds of combat missions and did shoot down over 20 enemy aircraft and this is a great story well told that takes the reader from those early dark days after Dunkirk through to the post D-Day march across Europe…

I enjoyed sifting through the library to make up this list – in these items when the focus has been so much on land warfare in an irregular environment, and where the myth of precision endures, it is all too easy to forget the true rigours and realities of real air war…

A man and his dog

REID, Piers Martin. CBE, DLitt(Hon), MDefStud, Reg.No.U30723, Major General, of Palmerston North.

Some sad news in the inbox last night as Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies announced…

It is with sadness that we advise that a friend, colleague and mentor to staff and to many students over the years, Major General Piers Reid, passed away at 21:00 (9.00pm) on 2 October 2012.

A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Piers served a double-tour in Vietnam, and then proceeded to advance to Chief of Army. He was with our Centre for more than a decade, including Director in the first half of the 2000s, after which he continued to lecture in defence studies and military history until this semester.

Some weeks ago, Piers was diagnosed with a serious illness (cancer). At his and his family’s request, this information was not distributed widely, and so we were not in a position to use Stream to advise people of his illness. Piers remained independent until the end, and his death was dignified and peaceful.

Friends are invited to attend a service for Piers at the Beauchamp Crematorium Chapel, 167 John F Kennedy Drive, Palmerston North on Monday October 8th 2012 at 2pm.

Piers Reid succeeded Tony Birks as Chief of General Staff just after I was commissioned. Almost his first act in the job was to scrub the previously approved  proposed new service dress for the Army which a. made my life as the new SO3 Clothing really interesting and b. was probably quite a good idea as I am not sure how how long the Zoot Suit Riot look would have remained in vogue before it just looked silly…the service dress that the Army wears today, more traditional in both style and colours, is the result of that decision.

Noting that nowhere in a general’s job description does it say anything about making a young lieutenant’s life easy, seeing the clothing projects through to completion  in his administration was not too burdensome and never dull nor boring.  Before anyone starts bleating about ‘loggie generals’ let’s not forget that this ‘loggie general’ signed off on an awful lot of good kit for soldiers including:

  • Decent combat boots
  • DPM combat clothing that didn’t change colour between batches or like like it was an end run from some third world banana republic army.
  • Mustang knee-length Goretex socks.
  • Running shoes  as an entitlement for all soldiers putting an end to the need for soldiers units with a higher requirement for physical fitness having to buy their own.
  • Reflex wet weather clothing designed by Kathmandu (apologies to all the self-appointed experts out there but at the time this was a better performer than Goretex.
  • Windproof Ventile smocks.
  • Nomex fleece fleece jackets that wouldn’t burst into flame as soon as a lit cigarette or Hexi cooker looked at them.

Not a bad legacy for just a ‘loggie general’….

He also brought back the classic peaked cap for officers – for a whole six months until his successor killed it off again…

In the course of these projects, I got to know Piers Reid quite well, learned of his time in Vietnam, a story not well known but probably not mine to tell…it turned out that we both loved military music and I recall one afternoon  chatting with him at the rehearsal for the Remembrance Day Service in Wellington Cathedral – the band struck up Scipio, the traditional slow march and , as the introductory drum roll ended we both smiled sheepishly as our right legs reflexively shot forward for the first step of the slow march – Scipio for those not in the know starts with two drum roles, the ned of the second being the cue for soldiers to commence marching, using just the beat of the drum to stay in step…

Even those I was never any drill maestro, we did have drill down to an art form in those days, often just working off cues in the music as commands and that memory from that day in the Cathedral is always the one that springs to mind first when I think of Piers.

I would see Piers from time to time when I was working at Massey and it always struck me how fit and well he looked and so it is all the more a shock to hear that he has passed away so quickly…

The Princess Leia Doctrine

(c) 2011 Graham Art Productions

Doctrine Man!’s Facebook page this morning links to a Politico article Robert Gates’s Final Act: Slow Afghan Drawdown

As his final act before leaving the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working to build support for what he is calling a “modest” drawdown in Afghanistan, even though a war-weary Capitol Hill wants more.

Gates, who retires June 30, is hoping that his 12th and final trip to Afghanistan will help steer the Washington debate subtly away from the number of troops that will come home next month — a figure that is almost certain to disappoint the growing number of Washington critics of the war.

I’m a big fan of Doctrine Man! – and not just because he is a ‘doctrine’ guy (clearly some very very bad karma in a previous life!!) – his ‘life on the staff’ cartoons are great,and  his FB output is not only prolific, but also spurs robust debate. Some of the comments on the Gates’ article include:

 I don’t think we are going to get a choice here. Politically these wars have been milked to death, and I think regular old Americans are actually pushing this. A collective “sick and tired of war” let’s bring them home has settled in. I remain on the fence as to whether it is good or not, but I count myself in the “sick and tired of war”. You know some idiot will start spouting about win/loss war, but we all know it’s just ego. Military did their job, state department failed miserably.

With other examples of leaders making some very negative comments on their way out the door, this is one that can be seen as very consistent with the profile of the man (who, by the way, warned against Libyan intervention). Good stuff.

 However brilliant one might think Gates is, you never hear any of this drawdown talk discussed in the same context with objectives. Either we are saying objectives are unachievable and we drawdown anyway, or we are drawing down for the pure political gain the appearance gives. Either way, the American people need to hear specifically what we are trying to achieve, in clear, unambiguous terms.

Of course, that comes on the heels of being asked (by a planner) what the difference was between tasks and objectives. For the third or fourth time. If deep-seated rage is a symptom of PTSD, then DM probably needs to get checked out.

It would help me be a little more positive about staying if I knew in measurable terms (a) what the desired end-state is, (b) how much that’s likely to cost in death, injury, and treasure, (c) how long it’s likely to take, and (d) where the money is going to come from.

To those who say “this is war, we can’t tell you these things,” I say that we do these kinds of multi-variable plans all the time in the civilian economy; now go back and get us some answers.

Failing those sorts of answers, I’d rather see us stick to the drawdown plan we have — or accelerate it. I don’t want to see one more American service member or NGO person come home in a box or on a gurney than is absolutely necessary and the thing that haunts me most is the memory of those who died in my war while Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were arguing the merits of round table vs. square table in Paris.

Re tasks and objectives, whatever happen to the Princess Leia doctrine “When you broke in here, did you have a plan for getting out?”

The last comment is, of course, mine…I have been a staunch proponent of the Leia doctrine for years and wonder  if, with the fall of Saigon only two years previous to the release of Star Wars, George Lucas was actually slipping in some very insightful commentary on recent history…some ammunition for pub trivia: Saigon fell on April 30 1975, Star Wars was released on an unsuspecting world on May 25, 1977.  His 1973 American Graffitti has clear parallels today of a nation in war but possibly not at war in Vietnam, as perhaps it is today with Afghanistan…

In conducting my typically superficial research for this article (Google is our friend, as is Wikipedia) I was caught by this paragraph from the Wikipedia item on the Fall of Saigon…

Among Vietnamese refugees in the United States and in many other countries, the week of April 30 is referred to as Black April and is used as a time of commemoration of the fall of Saigon. The event is approached from different perspectives, with arguments that the date was a sign of American abandonment, or as a memorial of the war and mass exodus as a whole.

No one can argue that South Vietnam was abandoned in 1975 but it is unfair and inaccurate to label this as solely ‘American abandonment‘ . America was not the only nation involved in Vietnam, nor the only one that walked away…let’s not forget that the only nation that was there to the very end was America…everyone else had just quietly drifted away…With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the application of US air power (like anyone else was going to ante up) in 1975 would only have prolonged the pain of and for Vietnam…

Abandonment is also the word that springs to mind when discussing drawdowns in Afghanistan…the true failure in Afghanistan has not been one of tactics or capability but quite simply one of having no clear idea what it’s all about. If there is only one lesson we learn from a decade (come November this year) in a nation that NO ONE have ever managed to pacify over millennia, it surely must be the Leia Doctrine…

Before you go in, have a plan for getting out.

This is such a fundamental of life, NOT just the military…as any teenage boy in his girlfriend’s room knows where he hears her father’s footsteps outside the door…how can it be that it has been purged from our doctrine and our thinking for so long? Of conflicts since the end of WW2, the 1982 Falklands War and DESERT SHIELD/ STORM in 1991 are the only two that I can remember  where the strategic objectives were clearly stated, adhered to and achieved…

And while contemporary planning doctrine may prattle on about metrics and measureables, it rarely if ever links these to decision points and from there to exit strategies. During one of my irregular warfare engagements in this trip, we used an analogy of the campaign plan as a freeway and each off-ramp along the journey being both a decision point and a potential exit…depending upon how well a driver understands where they are going and why, they will consider off-ramps along the way and opt to drive off or stay the course…

It also just struck me that the freeway analogy also works quite well as an analogy for unilateral, alliance and coalition warfare:

When you are the only driver on the freeway, it is quite easy to select your course, speed and direction.

When you are driving with habitual partners of which you normally only have a small number and who all generally sing off the same sheet of music, it’s much the same.

When you have a coalition, all driving with different national rules and customs, most if not all free to join and depart the coalition at will, and many for whom the use of indicators is totally alien, you have potential chaos, traffic jams and pile-ups..

That’s something I will explore further in another item…today’s takeaway is to promote and encourage adoption and application of the Leia Doctrine to hopefully avoid replays of this…

Never again?

The Odyssey Part 2

Only a week to go before I get home and having a bit of a vege day today to build up energy levels again…in my travels, I achieved a couple of personal goals in getting aboard a for-real battleship and visiting the USAF Museum at Dayton, Ohio…getting to also visit the Olympia was an expected bonus…so for train-spotters here are links to photos if they are of any interest…

USS Jersey from USS Olympia (click for slideshow)

Martin B-10 (click for Early Days and WW2 slideshow)

Douglas C-124 Globemaster Day 2 Part 1…(click for slideshow – mainly Vietnam, Cold War and Modern Halls)

Douglas C-133 Day 2 Part 2 (click for slideshow…mainly Vietnam, Cold War and Modern Halls = Missile Wing)

Fisher P-75 Day 3 (click for slideshow of R&D Hall)

The National Museum of the USAF (to give it its full title) is am impressive resource that takes at least two days to work through if you have any interest whatsoever in aircraft or aviation history…if you are not driving, then you will need to stay at the Comfort Suites Wright-Patterson as that is the only off-base accommodation that is within walking distance of the museum…foreign nationals will need their passport in order to get to the R&D and Presidential Halls, US citizens will need some official Government-issued ID and DoD employees may go directly there if they have their ID. The rest of the Museum is freely accessible.

A lesson learned on photography inside the Museum: the lighting is quite dim to protect the exhibits, many of which have considerable historical significance…unless you have a camera flash that resembles a small sun, the best way to go is to switch off your flash, set your camera to Auto and practice holding it real still…the only except is closeups of confined areas like undercarriage bays and jet pipes…because of this technique, some of the images are not as crisp as I would like but they are a big improvement on flash ‘assisted’ images…

I was really surprised by the natural metal finish on aircraft like the Fisher P-75 and Seversky P-35…it is actually very very shiny and modelling these on the shiny side of sheet tinfoil is actually truer to the original than the matt side…the XB-70 was the one aircraft that I really wanted to see in the flesh and so I was conflicted when I thought I might have to cut short my visit in order to go back DC for the CNAS conference on Thursday…’fortunately’ the cost of changing my travel proved prohibitive and I was able to get across to the R&D Hall on Wednesday. Because it is on the active part of the base, access is quite strictly controlled and visitors only have 50 minutes in which to cover both halls – don’t count on going back again the same day as often the trips book out early in the day – you also don’t want to run around the R&D Hall too quickly as most of the wings, pitot tubes and other nasty sticky-out bits are around eye-level…

And just for the lads at Hawkeye UAV

Douglas A-1E Skyraider in which MAJ Bernard Fisher won the Medal of Honor on 10 March 1966

Rapid Fire

3 cups of tea

Literally a storm in a teacup…I doubt there is anyone who ever published a book than was 100% honest in EVERY way and which did not lean towards one agenda or perspective or another in some way…

Greg Mortenson shot to worldwide fame with the book “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations … One School at a Time,” which describes his getting lost in an effort to climb K2, the world’s second-highest peak, being rescued by Pakistanis in the village of Korphe and vowing to return there to build a school for local girls.

Now it appears that it wasn’t quite as he says which is causing a little embarrassment around the traps for those who may have supported his initiatives financially or, like the US DoD, who may have extracted insights from Three Cups of Tea for use in COIN doctrine and TTPs…personally I agree with the headline, if not all of the content, of the Wired article on the subject Does It Matter If The Military’s Fave Do-Gooder Sells Three Cups of Snake Oil?  When an organisation like the military moves out of its comfort zone, in this case, of large very structured kinetic military operations like Grandad used to do, it has to cast its net wider for ideas…

Let’s not forget that the COIN effort in Iraq got off to a false start as too many people heralded the false zealots of COIN the Malaya way, the US in particular, picking the wrong time to listen to its vocal but fickle ally from the other side of the Atlantic…it was only the efforts of David Petraeus, David Kilcullen et al who turned the tide towards a COIN strategy that would (and did) work in Iraq, this being encapsulated in the December 2006 version of FM 3-24 CounterInsurgency (don’t knock it unless you have actually read it!!). But, however applicable that FM 3-24 might have been in the Iraq of 2006, it was less applicable to the almost-forgotten Afghan war which had been festering away since March 2003 and which, as a problem, bore little resemblance to Iraq.

So, more power to those who cast the net wide in their attempts to get a better handle on the specific of the Afghan problem…Jim Gant with his One Tribe at a Time paper was one; those promoting Three Cups of Tea were others…and so what if Mortenson streamlined his experiences or even made them up? Are we still so template-ridden from the Fulda Gap that we can not think for ourselves and extract the nuggets from the rough…it’s just slipped my mind but one of the tenets that I referred to often in my work in the late 90s came a from a source that I eventually tracked back to one of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner pulp paperbacks…someone that I was working with at the time was mortified that I might draw real world insights from such a ‘disreputable‘ source but so far as I was, and am, concerned, it is not who the source is that is of prime importance but what it is saying…One area in which this has become very apparent and implemented in SOPs is in the Lessons Learned world where collection teams will endeavour to draw observations, issues and lessons (OIL – yes, it’s still all about OIL!!) from as close to the horses mouth as they can get – the trick, of course, being to avoid the equine’s other end…

On failed states

Got the cue on this article from Michael Yon’s Facebook page…always a good source of links to interesting articles…as well written as it is, I think it’s all semantic smoke and mirrors…three decades ago our biggest threats came from established states like France, the Soviet Empire and Maoist China…once again we need to resist the temptation to slap a template on a nation and use that to determine their level of potential threat or risk or not…as above, we should be able to consider each form or threat and risk on its own merits or or lack of thereof and draw our own conclusions…this sort of pseudo-analytical, ‘Eureka!‘ style of writing really leaves me cold…

Kiwi Gunners

On a positive note, I came across this great written snapshot of a Kiwi gunner’s perspective on Vietnam and the New Zealand of the time, again drawing the cue from someone’s (sorry, can’t remember the source) Facebook page….it’s not that well known that our artillery was in Vietnam well before there was any infantry deployment…and especially topical when one remembers that yesterday was ANZAC Day…

Getting it right

In regard to Vietnam, it is too easy to focus on the perceptions of ultimate failure without understanding what the conflict was about from all protagonists’ points of view, and to ignore what actually worked which was an awful lot of it. Vietnam offers some great opportunities for ‘Yank-bashing’ but in reality, it was a learning experience for all the nations involved.

Did the air war over Vietnam suggest a ‘best practice’ for the employment of air power?

Yes and in so many areas. All of the following capabilities today owe their current ‘best practice’ to the Vietnam air war:

  • modern air-to-air combat;
  • Combat Search and Reascue (CSAR);
  • aerial casevac and AME;
  • fixed- and rotary-wing gunships;
  • use of maritime patrol aircraft overland;
  • fixed- and rotary-wing air mobility;
  • Suppression of Enemy Air defences (like we would want to suppress friendly air defences) SEAD;
  • airborne C2;
  • Close Air Support (CAS);
  • air-to-air refuelling;
  • aerial special operations and support to COIN;
  • Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR);
  • UAVs;
  • precision strike;
  • Air-Land Integration;
  • airfield ground defence.

I may have missed one or two minor capabilities but the development of best practice, which lies predominantly at the tactical and operational levels, is largely separate from the outcome of the conflict, certainly from victory. In fact, it might be said that the best catalyst for learning is a good punch in the nose.

Curtis Le May said he could have ended the Vietnam War inside two weeks. Do you think this was possible?

Without a doubt. Le May was a strategic thinker and it is unlikely that he was only thinking in terms of targeting only North Vietnam. The two key enablers for North Vietnam’s war effort were the Soviet Empire and China and Le May would have been considering what things they might hold more dear that sponsoring a sideshow conflict in Indochina. This is not to say that he would propose physical attack on either nation or its assets but certainly the big stick might have been waved in other geographic and political areas. This was the time of Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s nuclear brinkmanship over Matsu and Qemoy, Berlin and Cuba.

Having said that, there has never been any doubt that the USAF and USN could have shut down the flow of ALL military aid into North Vietnam in a week: North Vietnam only has a very small number of ports and railway links through which this aid travelled and these were always off-limits to the campaign that was conducted. Without the external war aid, ranging from AK-47s to SA-2s, coming in by ship and rail, North Vietnam would have had little more than moral support to provide its forces in the south.

What do you think are the essential conditions for an interdiction, denial campaign to be successful? – and – were they met in the Vietnam War?

There are four key conditions to a successful air interdiction campaign:

  • political will,
  • clearly defined objectives,
  • knowing what to strike,
  • having the means to strike.

Only the latter two were consistently present in Vietnam until the Easter ’72 invasion and LINEBACKER II campaign at the end of the same year. Note, please, that both campaigns were successful…go figure…

The interdiction campaign was at the operational level while along the Trail and in South Vietnam itself tactical actions were conducted daily to constrain the flow of reinforcements and supplies to anti-government forces. If the operational campaign was successful, then the tactical actions would have been less challenged. It may also have meant that it would have been less necessary to conduct airstrikes into Laos and Cambodia, especially since North Vietnam’s ability to influence and intimidate those governments would have been reduced by a successful campaign north of the DMZ.

In considering current events, the current sham of a campaign in Libya only meets one of the four criteria, that of being able to hit things with a hammer…

Is it true to say that the Vietnam experience represented a massive failure of air power?

As per my response to the first question, not even.

Not only were most aspects of airpower employed well, many were developed and taken to a much higher level throughout the war. To fixate on one aspect of the air war, a relatively small one in the timeline when the various bombing halts are taken into consideration, and based on that one aspect, declare the whole campaign a failure of air power is grossly over-simplistic.

Was air power unduly restricted by political considerations?

Yes and this has been well documented since the end of the war. This is not to say that a strong political will in the White House would have led to a victory for South Vietnam as there are no guarantees in war, and less so in the complex environment that was post-war Indochina.

Johnson was an internalist, not an internationalist like the four Presidents before him and Nixon after him. Like Barack Obama, another internalist, he inherited a war he neither started nor wanted or cared about. Surrounded by senior advisors who understood systems but not politics, and who personified Eisenhower’s warning against the ‘military-industrial complex’, Johnson took it upon himself to personally run the air war bypassing his air power professionals. Unfortunately, this is nature of the military beast in most western nations where the military is subordinate to civilian control. All we can do is educate…or go start a junta in South America someplace…ours not to question why…

We can see another example of political considerations affecting the application of air power in the way that the false lessons of DESERT STORM led to the false perception that a similar approach would bring the Serbs to heel; and again in Iraq and Afghanistan where SECDEF Rumsfeld favoured the use of air power over the use of ground forces.