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Armed Forces

27 Oct

Taken from DefenseTalk.

The armed forces of a state are its government sponsored defense and fighting forces and organizations. They exist to further the foreign and domestic policies of their governing body. In some countries paramilitary forces are included in a nations armed forces. Armed force is the use of armed forces to achieve political objectives.

The study of the use of Armed Forces is called military science. Broadly speaking, this involves considering offense and defense at three “levels”: strategy, operational art, and tactics. All of these areas study the application of the use of force in order to achieve a desired objective.

Organization
Armed forces may be organized as standing forces (e.g. regular army), which describes a professional army that is engaged in no other profession than preparing for and engaging in warfare. In contrast, there is the citizen army. A citizen army (also known as a militia or reserve army) is only mobilised as needed. Its advantage lies in the fact that it is dramatically less expensive (in terms of wealth, manpower, and opportunity cost) for the organizing society to support. The disadvantage is that such a “citizen’s army” is less well trained and organized.

A compromise between the two has a small cadre of professional NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and officers who act as a skeleton for a much larger force. When war comes, this skeleton is filled out with conscripts or reservists (former full-time soldiers who volunteer for a small stipend to occasionally train with the cadre to keep their military skills intact), who form the wartime unit. This balances the pros and cons of each basic organization, and allows the formation of huge armies (in terms of millions of combatants), necessary in modern large scale warfare.

CONTINUED

New US Humvee Burns 70% Less Fuel

24 Oct

The new vehicle, dubbed FED Alpha, will be on display this week in the Pentagon’s courtyard for an Energy and Sustainability Technology Fair. The vehicle has a solar panel on its back hatch to recharge its electrical systems, a custom engine and transmission along with several new features that will drastically increase its range and reliability over other models of Humvees. The new vehicle has all the toughness and survivability of the standard up-armored Humvee but burns 70% less fuel.

While the FED may not ever be mass-produced, it’s a valuable platform for testing the practical uses of environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies. The vehicle features a 200 horse-power 4 cylinder engine, a six speed automatic transmission and low-rolling resistance tires. The tires provide a 7% fuel reduction all by themselves. The savings from the tires alone are expected to save about $45 million annually if applied to the entire Humvee fleet. Their are several computer systems on board, such as one that informs the driver when they exceed the optimum fuel efficiency speed by causing the gas peddle to vibrate and giving resistance against more speed. However, if speed is essential to the mission, the driver just needs to push through the feedback.

Some other features of the FED are its high efficiency 28 volt integrated starter-generator that allows for extensive electronics to be installed, a light-weight aluminum structure except for the armored cab and v-shaped blast protection on the undercarriage. And finally, the FED has a much improved driveline specially designed to reduce friction.It’s been undergoing testing since July and another prototype design is under construction.

Interesting timeline of the vehicle in a PDF file here.

The End of the Aircraft Carrier

17 Oct

Since WW2, aircraft carriers have been the premier method of projecting power away from friendly shores. Bristling with weapons and boasting more planes than some countries have in their entire air forces, aircraft carriers can cost up to $15 billion to build and operate and are essentially massive floating fortresses. For decades the carrier has reigned as the undisputed master of the seas but now there are many factors that threaten it’s supremacy.

The first issue is the global financial crisis. Even though it seems like the worst is over, there is still a long recovery ahead before the world’s economic growth picks up. With austerity measures being put into place in several countries, defense spending is often the first expenditure on the chopping block. Carrier construction is a massive undertaking that is enough to bankrupt most countries and developed nations like the US, France, and the UK may soon have to decide between operating an expensive capital ship or paying bills.

The second issue is that no one country rules the seas anymore. The days of post-Cold War American dominance of the seas are almost at an end and new challengers are appearing. China, India, Russia, Brazil and others are in the process of constructing capable blue water navies, often employing advanced submarine fleets and missile ships, that may pose a serious danger to a lumbering carrier.

Another problem is that more effective counter-measures are being developed for the express purpose of limiting the effectiveness of carriers. The most notable counter-measure being China’s DF-21 missiles that can travel at low altitudes at supersonic speeds and can strike targets up to 900 miles away. This weapon was designed specifically for the purpose of checkmating American carrier groups in and around the East and South China Seas. As of now, there has yet be an effective way of combating the DF-21 and the US is check-mated for the time being. A $15 billion ship can be crippled or possibly even sunk by a missile that costs maybe $10 million at most.

What alternatives are there to hulking carriers? Simple. Less expensive helicopter carriers if you expect  a need for amphibious operations. A small carrier loaded up with cheaper helicopter gunships could prove devastating in engagements that allow short range aircraft. Combat drones have also proven their effectiveness on the battlefield. Mid-sized mother ships that dispense endless waves of attack drones seem much more frightening and practical than a carrier loaded with  a few dozen $120 million fighters. Sometimes sea-based aircraft aren’t even necessary. Look at Libya. Much of the naval force deployed was in the form of cruise missiles fired by submarines while sorties were flown from regional airbases with no real need for a carrier to be involved.

One could argue that the time of the carrier is not yet passed and that the numerous threats arising are just little bumps in the road. I agree that there will always be a need for a mobile platform that is able to provide an effective moving base of operations for aircraft but the risks of deploying these huge ships to unfriendly waters may soon outweigh the benefits. Unless counter-measures are found and implemented quickly and reliably as the new threats emerge then the fate of these titans of the sea remains murky.

Australia: Strength of a Middle Power

6 Oct

Australia has a relatively small but highly capable military in relation to its population size and economic strength. The Australian Defense Force’s abilities are augmented by its close ties with major powers like the US and the UK. In fact, Australia recently signed a defense pact with the US, putting it on the same level as the UK, which would give Australia access to America’s most advanced military technology and allow US forces almost unrestricted access to Australian bases. In addition to being designated as a major non-NATO ally, Australia also has other defensive pacts with New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Australia is widely believed to have the most capable air force and navy in the South-East Asian region and it has highly respected light infantry and frigate groups that are well suited to peacekeeping missions, however the small size of the army and aging equipment limit unaided participation in high intensity warfare far from Australia’s shores and relegates it to a support role during most international actions. Despite some limitations, the ADF is well suited for its role in domestic security and counter-terrorism efforts. It has also proven itself time and again to be a steady and true ally with tens of thousands of capable soldiers who have a proud history of service. See the links for some of Australia’s contributions.

Australia in:

World War 1, World War 2KoreaVietnam1st Gulf War

 

Active Duty Military: 59,000

Reserve Military: 22,000

Standby Reserves: 22,000

GROUND FORCES

  • Tanks: 59
  • APCs/IFVs: 1,861
  • Towed Artillery: 303
  • MLRSs: 36
  • Mortars: 1,000
  • AT Weapons: 500
  • AA Weapons: 100
  • Logistical Vehicles: 12, 495

AIR POWER

  • Total Aircraft: 374
  • Helicopters: 100

NAVAL FORCES

  • Merchant  Marine Vessels: 45
  • Submarines: 6
  • Frigates: 12
  • Patrol Craft: 14
  • Mine Warfare Craft: 6
  • Amphibious Assault Craft: 8

Reduction of the US Military

4 Oct

In March of 2012, the army is beginning a 5 year program in which it plans to cut at least 50,000 soldiers through the use of accession cuts, buyouts, retirements, fewer promotions and voluntary and, as a last resort, involuntary separation. 22,000 short-term positions that were created as part of the troop surge in Afghanistan will be the first on the chopping block, followed by 27,000 positions that were part of the Grow the Army campaign. These cuts will bring the number of active duty members of the army down to 520, 400 by Sept. 30 2016 if everything remains on schedule. However, as the military budget gets squeezed more and more, further manpower reductions will be increasingly necessary. Despite the reductions, army officials have stressed the need to retain as many experienced soldiers as possible to maintain acceptable levels of combat effectiveness.

The Marine Corps’ manpower will also be reduced from 200,000 down to approximately 186,000 and their much anticipated Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, plagued by missed deadlines and cost overruns, is likely to be canceled. Some cuts will likely face tough opposition in Congress. Among them include proposals to increase health-care premiums for military retirees, reduction in the use of contractors, cutting and consolidation of bloated intelligence networks with overlapping responsibilities, freezing of salaries of civilian Defense Department employees and reduction of 100 general officer positions. If cuts are deeper than expected then the number of F-35s on order may also need to be reduced and older Cold War era fighters like the F-15 and F-16 will have to remain in service longer, decreasing the effectiveness of American air power in future conflicts.

After the financial crisis hit, Robert Gates correctly assumed that the time of endless money for defense spending was over and encouraged the military to find cuts before they were imposed by the government. Even though the projected military budget for the 2012 fiscal year is $13 billion less than they anticipated, it’s still a 3% increase from the previous year and growth of the budget is not expected to flatten out until 2015. The 2012 budget is currently estimated to be $553 billion, not counting the hundreds of billions of dollars required for operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Pentagon has identified nearly $180 billion worth of cuts to be made over the next 5 years but only about $78 billion will go towards paying off the deficit while the rest will be “reinvested” into the services.

In my opinion, despite all its bluster, the military still doesn’t understand how dire the economic situation is. If the US defense budget returns to 2001 or 2002 levels, it will not be a death blow to the military like all these officials say it will. They are addicted to cash, whether they are willing to admit it or not. The government needs to get tough and make honest cuts in spending. Every dollar spent on the military is a dollar not being spent to pay the national debt, which is far more sinister and dangerous for the US than any jihadist.

Russia’s Rearmament

3 Oct

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic depression, Russia’s armed forces have been in a steady decline for the last two decades, plagued by poor training in their conscript-based  military, outdated equipment, corruption, lack of funding and international embarrassment by its poor performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. But the Kremlin is breathing new life into its army by giving it a bigger budget, investing in new technology, changes in training and a much needed restructuring. Despite some groundbreaking ideas, Russia’s rearmament has encountered many obstacles and there are many old guard generals and politicians voicing their opposition to the “westernization” of the armed forces. Even in the face of intense criticism and the global financial crisis, Russia is still pushing ahead.

Moscow’s leadership is currently planning to abolish the WW2 era “mobilization” army which was designed to produce soldiers as quickly and cheaply as possible to fight in the million-man battles of the Eastern Front. Troop levels are expected to fall from 1.2 million to around one million active duty soldiers with a sizable reserve force and the military will spend much more money per soldier to bring their standards in training and equipment into line with other major powers. Most of the soldiers being laid off are part of the bloated officer corps. 37,000 alone were fired in 2009 for failing to meet the new standards. Russia has a fascinating phenomena called “phantom” divisions, which are pretty much officers who have no soldiers to command and do no actual work but reap the benefits of a high ranking position. Despite the decrease in manpower they are not expected to close any far-flung facilities or dismantle unused weapons systems. Even with these manpower reforms, government officials have time and again reneged on their promises to end conscription, a major grievance of the civilian population.

Russia has long been a leading arms producer of the world and is currently developing several new weapons systems including a joint venture with India to produce the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA stealth fighter. With a projected $650 billion to spend on modernizing the military, Russia is currently planning on procuring at least 150 new ICBMs, an advanced early-warning radar network, a fleet of supersonic Tu-160 strategic bombers, 600 other warplanes, 1,000 helicopters, 35 corvettes, 15 frigates, 20 submarines (of which 8 will be of the new nuclear Bulava class), at least one aircraft carrier, 2 French-made helicopter carriers, drone aircraft, French FELIN infantry combat suits and foreign small arms among other things. Whether Russia can ensure the funds go to where they are supposed to go is another thing. And the vast majority of industries that supplied the Soviet Union’s military industrial capacity during the Cold War have long since closed down after the budget cuts of the early 1990’s so it remains to be seen if their economy is capable of supporting a growing war machine.

Russia has come quite far in recent years in regards to its modernization efforts but there is still much improvement that needs to be done in order to turn its military into a world-class fighting force. Here are just a few examples of internal issues they are currently facing:

  • Corruption within all aspects of Russia’s military establishment is a critical issue that must be addressed. The chief military prosecutor has claimed that 20% of Russia’s entire military budget is stolen every year. However auditors have put the actual number at 40%.
  • The hundreds of thousands of soldiers being laid off will likely have no other opportunity for work with unemployment at 10%. Many are concerned that, like after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the jobless soldiers will have no other choice but to join the infamous Russian Mafia.
  • Soldiering is an unpopular career for the most part and authorities often employ questionable tactics when recruiting.
  • Sexual abuse and forced prostitution of young recruits by older soldiers is also fairly common.
  • Conscripts who finish their time at a young age are often unable to continue their education and receive no help from the government which greatly diminishes their chances of earning a prosperous living.
  • Treatment of soldiers by their superiors is often brutal and inhumane. There was even a case of soldiers being fed dog food to save money.
  • Russia’s military industrial complex is spinning out of control, with weapons developers exercising considerable sway in determining national policy, causing many alarmed analysts to claim that the MIC problem in Russia is far more dangerous than in the US. Interesting report on Russian MIC here.

As we can see, there are many serious problems that, if go unresolved, will result in not only instability in the military but in the rest of the population. It’s in Russia’s best interest to take care of these things so the rest of the military modernization can move along as smoothly as possible. You can’t raise the ultimate warrior on Kibbles n’ Bits.

The Military Industrial Complex

21 Sep

Defense industries are gaining an alarming amount of sway in determining policies in the US and in other major arms producing countries. From pushing for “interventions” to determining what and where items will be produced and even effectively bribing officials. A notable example of this is Lockheed Martin having parts of the vaunted F-22 produced in nearly every US state so that efforts by the military to reduce the number of aircraft on order will hurt local economies and by extension endanger the political offices of officials trying to cut the program. There are numerous documentaries on the subject, my favorite of which is the 2006 film “Why We Fight.