Streetwise Professor

June 11, 2024

A Simulacrum Carrier Symbolic of a Simulacrum Military

Filed under: History,Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 5:52 pm

If Forbes’ David Axe is correct, Russia has finally given up on attempting to resurrect its lone aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov. Too bad! It’s been a source of material for me for years. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that I was a pioneer in mockery of the the ship, with posts going back almost 16 years. I was especially fond of pointing out that this naval colossus never left home–although it very seldom left home–without a salvage tug bobbing in its wake. (It only made seven–seven!-deployments in 33 years).

Old Smoky–or was it Old Brokey?–was hardly a big boy carrier even when it was brand spanking new. It used a jump ramp rather than catapults, which seriously limited the capability and carrying capacity of the aircraft it operated. And it operated relatively few aircraft–about 36, of which only 22 were attack/fighter types.

There has been no official announcement of Kuzentsov’s demise. Axe infers its fate from the fact that many of its special-built aircraft (MiG-22KRs) have been deployed to operate from land (including Crimea). But this could just be another manifestation of Russian materiel losses over Ukraine (and domestic accidents, such as yesterday’s crash of an Su-34) forcing it to resort to stopgap measures.

Although the ship is clearly useless, and a money pit, Russia has persisted in keeping it alive. All to give the impression that it is a serious naval power.

Just how pretentious this is is reflected in the current deployment of a Russian “flotilla” (in the words of the FT) to Havana. The “flotilla” consists of one nuke sub, one frigate (the Admiral Gorskov, displacement 5,400 tons), one oiler, and–wait for it!–one tugboat. I guess it could be worse: the FT could have called it an armada. (The media hyperventilating over this pipsqueak squadron has me rolling my eyes).

The Russian navy has been ravaged by a nation without a navy: the Black Sea Fleet has lost about one-third of its hulls, including several of its most capable, to Ukrainian drones (airborne and seaborne) and cruise missiles. It has all but abandoned its former home port of Sevastopol, and scampered to Novorossiysk, essentially abandoning the western Black Sea. And it is reported that yesterday one of its larger combatants suffered severe fire damage in the Barents Sea.

It is a simulacrum of a navy, perhaps intent on living up to the glory of Admiral Rozhestvensky’s Baltic Sea Fleet in 1905.

Not that Russian efforts on land are exemplary. Indeed, looking at the wreckage of the Russian campaign in Ukraine I am hard pressed to find in all of history a worse military performance on any level–tactical, operational, or strategic. Putin has achieved the triple crown of failure.

But he is apparently ebullient nonetheless. According to the Institute for the Study of War he “articulated a theory of victory” in which “Russian forces will be able to continue gradual creeping advances indefinitely, prevent Ukraine from conducting successful operationally significant counteroffensive operations, and win a war of attrition against Ukrainian forces.” Further:

Putin stated that Russian forces aim to “squeeze” Ukrainian forces out “of those territories that should be under Russian control” and therefore Russia does not need to conduct another mobilization wave. Putin asserted that Russian crypto-mobilization efforts are sufficient for this approach and that Russia has recruited 160,000 new personnel so far in 2024 (a figure consistent with reports that the Russian military recruits between 20,000-30,000 recruits per month).

In other words, Putin thinks that suffering 30,000 casualties per month (most of which are KIA or too badly wounded to return to combat) to gain a few kilometers here and a few kilometers there is not just sustainable, it’s the path to victory! (It is highly likely that the “crypto-mobilization” has basically created a steady state where the influx of recruits just balances casualties).

These force generation efforts do not just sweep up unfortunate Russian citizens (disproportionately from non-Russian republics), but also shanghai African students attracted to Russia by promises of a free education. They also attract impoverished Nepalese, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indian, etc., by dangling promises of lucrative pay–which if they live to collect (highly unlikely) may not receive it anyways. Russia also routinely reneges on promised payments to families of KIA–and even frequently fails to give the supposedly honored dead a decent grave.

And maybe saying “a few kilometers here and a few kilometers there” gives way too much credit. The vaunted Russian attack on Kharkiv initially gained a few kilometers in two mini-bulges, but was stopped after a few days, and in the past week Ukrainian counterattacks have ejected the Russians from most of those paltry gains achieved at disproportionate cost.

Falkenhayn and Pyrrhus stand aside before true greatness.

This is a truly twisted man, perfectly content to reinforce failure after failure, to sacrifice untold numbers, all to satisfy his grandiosity.

Meaning that Russia’s army is a simulacrum as well. There is much angst in Europe over the prospect of Putin launching an attack on some Nato countries, especially the Baltics or Poland. How? With what? To what end–other than an even more catastrophic defeat?

Yes, perhaps Putin is just delusional enough to do it. Or perhaps he will adopt Eisenhower’s advice: “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” But if he does, it will not solve his problem, except in the way that death solves all problems.

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May 27, 2024

Wounded in the Georgia Woods, 160 Years Ago Today

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 9:25 am

Today is Memorial Day. It is also the 160th anniversary of the grievous wounding of my maternal great-grandmother’s uncle, Eli Hatfield. Hatfield’s 46th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry was advancing as part of the 4th Division, XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee outside Dallas, Georgia when attacked by dismounted Confederate cavalry. (On this day the 46th was attached to the third brigade of that division, though it was part of the second brigade). Fighting without earthworks* the 46th suffered 1 killed and 10 wounded, including Eli.

The main Battle of Dallas occurred the next day. The 46th suffered heavier casualties repelling the assault of Bate’s division, including regimental commander Henry Giesy.

Eli’s wound was a bad one–a minie ball to the left arm just below the shoulder joint. Too close to the torso for amputation, the 46th’s surgeon resected the shattered bone, leaving Eli’s arm dangling at his side for the remainder of his life. (My great-grandmother said he was “Uncle Eli with the dead arm.”)

The survival rate from this surgery was very low, about 10 percent. In contrast, the survival rate from amputation was around 75 percent.

This wound was the culmination of a series of misfortunes. Eli did not have a good war. He was captured at Shiloh (where the 46th held the very right flank of the Federal army–not quite the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, but their stand was crucial). He spent several months in Cahaba (Alabama) Prison, which was not quite Andersonville but wasn’t Club Reb either. Paroled and exchanged, he returned home to Ohio but did not return to his unit, claiming that his imprisonment had rendered him unfit for service. Despite notes from his doctor (seriously–they are in his service file) the army disagreed, and Eli reported to the 46th in time to participate in the assault on Tunnel Hill at the Battle of Chattanooga. He survived the grueling (but unnecessary) march through appalling weather of the XV Corps to relieve Burnside at Knoxville, and a winter in camp at Chattanooga. He fought with the 46th at Resaca and during other skirmishes in the Atlanta Campaign, before his rendezvous with a bullet at Dallas 160 years ago today.

Eli returned to Ohio after a period of convalescence in Nashville. (Just imagine the agony of the jolting wagon or ambulance ride over rough Georgia roads to the Western and Atlantic Railway, and the subsequent train rides north over rickety rails to Nashville, and then home). He lived a long and productive life. He fathered four children (one born in November, 1865, a mere 18 months after his wounding), and died in 1899.

The 1880 Census lists his occupation as “engineer.” Of what I am trying to figure out. On a railroad? For a coal mine (one of his brothers and two of his nephews worked in the mines)? Given his rural upbringing, and the fact that virtually all his family were farmers or laborers, his profession is something of a surprise, and I am curious to learn how that came about.

He is buried in a small cemetery just east of Columbus:

Eli’s brother John also served in the 46th. John’s military records state that he was 18 when he enlisted. However, he was only 16. He enlisted a month after Eli, which combined with lying about his age suggests some parental resistance to his serving.

Unlike his brother John survived 4 years of war without a scratch, and apparently without serious illness: he is recorded as present every month for these four years–his service file is quite boring compared to Eli’s. Quite remarkable considering that his service included Shiloh, the Siege of Vicksburg (where disease was as deadly as bullets), the Second Battle of Jackson, Chattanooga, Resaca, Dallas, Noonday Creek, the assault on Kennesaw Mountain, the Battle of Atlanta (22 July), Ezra Church, Griswoldsville, the March to the Sea, the March Through the Carolinas, and Bentonville, as well as nearly continuous skirmishing during the Atlanta Campaign.

After muster out, life in Ohio was apparently unappealing to John, so he settled on a farm in Valley Falls, KS, where he died in 1915. He also fathered four children. His obituary in the Valley Falls New Era read:

Comrade Hatfield was well known in this community, took an active interest in church and G. A. R. Circles, liked to hear the bugle call and to the last enjoyed the camp fire stories, at all their gatherings and has a large circle of relatives and friends who will morn his departure. The G. A. R. Post took charge of the services at the grave.

Quoted in Find a Grave.

An old soldier who faded away, and who like many others considered his military service the high point of his life.** Eli’s feelings are unrecorded, or at least I have not found any record. Objectively it was the low point. But he survived and carried on with life.

Theirs are just two Civil War stories. I am glad to know them, and to be able to tell them.

*The report of the commander of the 46th records that the regiment dug shallow entrenchments after repelling this Confederate assault.

**A paternal ancestor corresponded nostalgically with comrades from the Bavarian Army (he was from the Palatinate, which was part of Bavaria at the time) long after he had emigrated to Chicago.

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May 25, 2024

Effing Around With Delta Force, and Finding Out With Extreme Prejudice

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:17 pm

A weird and disturbing story out of Carthage, North Carolina. A Chechen, living in Chicago (but an illegal immigrant–go figure!) was shot dead by a Delta Force colonel on the colonel’s property. (NB: there are very few colonels in Delta Force. In fact, there may only be one: 1st SFOD-D (D for Delta) commander is a colonel’s billet. So this may have been the commander of Delta Force).

The narrative–pushed by the dead guy’s family and various anti-American sources–is that the deceased Mr. Daraev was but a Dreamer, trying to start a new life in America, innocently and diligently doing his work, gunned down by a trigger happy American special operator.

To start with, yes, if a Delta Force guy pulls the trigger on you, you will almost certainly be dead. But they aren’t trigger happy. In fact, they are the most disciplined soldiers on the planet. If they pull the trigger on you it is because you need to be dead. Stat. Fuck around with them and find out. In the worst way possible.

There are so many absurdities in Dreamer Daraev’s cover story. He supposedly worked for a contractor for a utility company, and was photographing to document work he had completed on a power line adjacent to the DF guy’s property.

But:

Daraev did not have any utility equipment, utility clothing or identification during the time of the shooting. 

Moreover, the company he allegedly worked for was formed only in December, 2023. It is foreign-owned, but operates out of New Jersey. What North Carolina utility would hire a new company from out of state to bring down an illegal immigrant all the way from Chicago to work on its lines? Is this just another job Americans won’t do?  

But it gets better! The company is owned by a Moldovan (!) whose previous occupations include dishwasher, and a business that sold ice. In Alaska. (Whether to Eskimos the news reports don’t say).

Yeah. That’s who I’d turn to to work on my power lines in the southern pines.

Chechnya. Moldova. Is your Spider Sense tingling?

Journalists (including Jen Griffin at Fox) have contacted the company repeatedly, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked–shocked!–to learn that it didn’t answer the phone or respond to email.  Probably because Mr. Moldova ain’t around to answer it anymore. 

Uhm, has anybody contacted the utility to see whether it actually hired an out-of-state fly by night company to work for it?  With all the concerns about infrastructure security–including from Russian threats–it would be gob smacking if it did. Hell, it takes more than five months for companies to approve new contractors at all.  

Have no fear though! The government is on it:

The incident has been reported to the U.S. Department of Labor as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

This follows other incidents, including an attempt by two Jordanian illegal immigrants to access the Marine base at Quantico–something that the military tried to cover up–as well as numerous other attempted incursions on CONUS bases by Chinese nationals.

Chechens working for an almost certain Russian cutout stalking American special operators on American soil is extremely disturbing. Even more disturbing is the cone of silence over this event. It almost seems like the administration doesn’t want you to notice!

And you know it doesn’t because it signals a complete breakdown in security facilitated by a complete collapse of the national borders.

At least this story has a happy ending. The next one may not.

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May 18, 2024

The Tragedy of G. K. Warren

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 2:42 pm

Outside of relatively specialized Civil War publications (which are shrinking in number), one seldom sees reference to Major General Gouverneur K. Warren. Hence it was a pleasant surprise to see a rather lengthy article about him in The Epoch Times of all places.

G. K. Warren

The article ends with a discussion of Warren’s “Unjust Fall” during the Battle of Five Forks in April, 1865, when a furious Philip Sheridan unceremoniously relieved Warren of command of the V Corps, believing that Warren was too slow in attacking.

Warren’s relief–and particularly Sheridan’s refusal to reverse it, or apologize for it after the heat of battle had passed even though his victory was complete–was indeed unjust. The part of the V Corps under Warren’s direct observation advanced into a vacuum, rather than attacking Pickett’s Confederates directly as Sheridan wanted, because of the fog of war, and in particular unfamiliarity with the Confederate dispositions due in large part to the heavily wooded terrain. It was the kind of thing that happened numerous times during the war, and which happens in every war.

But although Warren’s fate was decided on in the smoky Virginia woods on 1 April 1865, it was written long before, and was in many ways emblematic of the history and culture of the Army of the Potomac and the clash between that culture and U.S. Grant and his coterie–which prominently included Phil Sheridan.

Philip Sheridan

Warren was an engineer by training. Indeed, his greatest service in the war was his direction of two brigades to the vacant Little Round Top at Gettysburg while serving as the AoP’s Chief Engineer. After Gettysburg, he became a corps commander, first in temporary command of II Corps after W. S. Hancock’s wounding at Gettysburg, then in permanent command (until Five Forks) of the V Corps. Warren brought an engineer’s mindset–precise, deliberate, and cautious–to corps command. This drew the ire of Grant and his circle, who during the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg Campaign were repeatedly frustrated by what they perceived as Warren’s lack of aggressive spirit.

In his defense, one could say that based on experience, especially at the Wilderness and after, caution in attack was prudent, and aggressiveness foolhardy. But Grant was not alone in his frustration with Warren. Even before Grant’s arrival in Virginia, AoP Commander George Gordon Meade had been furious with Warren for failing to attack as ordered at Mine Run (in November, 1863). Meade was also harshly critical of Warren’s caution at the Wilderness on 5-7 May 1864, and tension between Warren and Meade, not to mention Warren and Grant, was pronounced throughout the balance of 1864 and into 1865.

Warren also had a touchy personality, resented criticism, and argued with his superiors constantly–Meade in particular. The intense mental and psychological stress of the brutal Overland Campaign only aggravated Warren’s (and Meade’s) tempers and mutual dislike.

Thus, Warren was skating on very thin ice when Grant’s grand offensive against Lee commenced in March, 1865. His assignment to cooperate with and support Phil Sheridan made falling through it almost inevitable.

Sheridan was everything Warren was not, and vice versa. The former was blunt and hyper-aggressive, the later high strung and sensitive, and as noted above cautious rather than offensive-minded, especially after the 11 shattering months of combat in Virginia in 1864-5. Sheridan had come originally from the western theater (brought by Grant to command, though he had not served extensively with him and had not commanded large cavalry units), and from the start clashed with the AoP establishment which he found lacking in the will to do what was necessary to win the war. (Note his confrontation with Meade in over how to deploy the cavalry the immediate aftermath of the Wilderness, which led to Grant turning him loose to raid Richmond, resulting in the death of Jeb Stuart and little else).

Whereas Warren was something of an intellectual, by army standards (the engineers were, in general), Sheridan was anything but. He finished 34th (out of 55) in his West Point class: Warren was second in his. Sheridan had been suspended for a year for threatening to bayonet an upperclassman. Warren’s conduct record was exemplary.

Sheridan had won smashing victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September-October 1864, and had wreaked destruction in the Valley afterwards–a “hard war” policy that the AoP had shrunk from since its formation. Sheridan was viewed by the AoP as something of a barbarian.

Thus, Warren represented everything that Sheridan despised, and epitomized everything Sheridan found wrong with the AoP. Sheridan was looking for a chance to get rid of him, specifically asked Grant for the permission to do so (before Five Forks), and did it at the first opportunity on a flimsy pretext–even after Warren had extricated Sheridan and his cavalry from a difficult situation at Dinwiddie Court House on 31 March.

In the box of 1 April 1865, Sheridan was clearly in the wrong. But in the large, he was in the right. Men like Gouverneur Warren were not going to win the Civil War. Hard men, relentless men–men like Sheridan, Sherman, and Grant–were, and did.

Warren was thus a tragic figure, in a war chock full of them. He was a good man, but in the wrong position. You would almost certainly find Warren to be much preferable as a companion to the brusque, relentless, and blunt (“the only good Indian I ever saw was dead”) Sheridan, and you can genuinely pity his fate. But good companions are typically not cut out to be good commanders, especially in total wars. The sons of bitches are. And Phil Sheridan was one of the Civil War’s leading sons of bitches.

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May 16, 2024

Putin Doubling Down on the Same Bad Hand

Filed under: Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 12:52 pm

I’m back. A little play. A lot of work.

What to start back with? Russia, I guess.

The war in Ukraine grinds on. The supposed big news is Russia launching attacks near Kharkiv/Kharkov. Many interpret this as a sign of Ukraine’s impending doom. I disagree.

Yes, Russia did make some initial gains. There is some controversy regarding why. Initial reports were that Ukraine had not built fixed defenses in a 10 km wide region near the border with the Belgorod Oblast because engineers would have been too vulnerable to Russian artillery fire while attempting to perform the work. More recently, however, it has been claimed that defenses were planned–and paid for–but little or no work was done.

These explanatons are not mutually exclusive, of course: maybe the work was not completed due to the perceived vulnerability. However, a sadly realistic alternative explanation is that Ukraine’s endemic corruption is to blame, and that the contractors pocketed the money and did no work.

Whatever the reason for the relatively undefended border, Russia has still incurred heavy casualties to take a few slivers of territory, and their advances have slowed to a crawl after the initial gains.

Moreover, the threat from this attack to Kharkiv, let alone to Ukraine’s overall position, is limited. For one thing, the total Russian forces involved–an estimated 50,000 (including tail as well as tooth)–is hardly big enough to take a city as large as Kharkiv, especially if it is being attrited at the rate of 1,000 plus per day.

For another–and more importantly–as is occurring virtually everywhere else on the frontline, Russia is mounting infantry assaults, in company-size packets. Armor is used mainly to ferry troops from the rear and drop them off, before scurrying away. Or trying to scurry away: even then drones are inflicting substantial vehicle losses on the Russians both coming and going.

The infantry attacks are basically bum rushes offering no prospect for breakthrough and exploitation. As has been seen elsewhere on the front, at heavy cost they permit shoving back the front for a few kilometers at most, take considerable time to do even that, and culminate relatively quickly.

Moreover, with the prospect of receiving more artillery ammunition, Ukraine will be able to inflict even more devastation on these attacks without risking its own (scarce) infantry.

So why are the Russians doing this? Perhaps as an economy of force move to draw Ukrainian troops away from other locations. Perhaps in the thought that more progress is achievable here than where the main efforts have ground on for weeks. 10 kilometers here rather than 5 kilometers to the south.

Elsewhere on the front, for weeks Russia has been aiming at Chasiv Yar as a follow on for their glorious victory in Avdiivka. Putin had reportedly ordered Chasiv Yar to be taken by 9 May, Victory Day in Russia.

Well, it wasn’t. And even if it had been, it just shows what a simulacrum of military greatness Putin’s Russia represents. Whereas 9 May 1945 represented the conquest of Berlin–a massive city defended by a greatly diminished but still formidable opponent–a victory at Chasiv Yar on 9 May 2024 would have represented the taking of an obscure, modest town from a scraped together (but scrappy) military lacking pretty much everything.

Despite the absence of a crowning victory at Chasiv Yar (which even then would have only been a way station in a long campaign to come, rather than a war ending event like the taking of Berlin), the Victory Day Parade went on in Moscow nonetheless. But it was a shadow of its former self, with basically only Putin’s praetorian guard and a single tank–a WWII T-34 no les–showcasing military might (or lack thereof).

Sad.

The other big news has been Shoigu’s defenestration as defense minister, and his replacement by technocrat Andrei Belousov. Not just a technocrat, but an economist no less.

This is also being reported breathlessly. Yes, it may indeed represent a strong reflection of Putin’s intentions. Namely, that he is girding for a long war, which will require a substantial reinvigoration of Russia’s defense production. (Note that most of Shoigu’s recent public appearances were at defense plants, where he exhorted the employees about the need for greater efforts.) That is, that Belousov is intended to be a modern day Lloyd George, who drastically reformed Britain’s munitions manufacture in 1915-1916 by taking control away from a bureaucratic and overly traditional War Office.

Yet, intentions and results are worlds apart, and there is substantial reason to believe that Belousov faces a hopeless task.

Russian defense production and procurement is rife with corruption. Even if Belousov is not corrupt (and it is hard to believe that anyone who became a deputy prime minister in Russia is not corrupt), that doesn’t mean that he has the ability to root out the pervasive corruption that is present at every level of the Russian military establishment. Moreover, he is an outsider, and the Russian military does not respect outsiders, and is indeed deeply resentful of their interference.

In the coverage of Belousov’s appointment, I have not seen anyone mention Anatoly Serdyukov’s ill-starred tenure as Defense Minister. (Shoigu replaced Serdyukov 10 years ago.)

Like Belousov, Serdyukov was an economic official (Tax Minister) whom Putin appointed–wait for it–with “the main task of fighting corruption and inefficiency in the Russian armed forces” (in the words of Wikipedia, which are accurate). (Sound familiar?) Due to his former career as manager of a furniture manufacturer and merchandiser he was sneeringly referred to as the “furniture dealer” throughout the military, who fought him hammer and tong. After several years of conflict, he was eventually brought down by an allegation of corruption (for which Putin eventually granted amnesty).

Although Serdyukov achieved some reforms, they were superficial–as the experience of the war in Ukraine demonstrates. I do not expect Belousov will fare any better. This is a case of meet the new boss, same as the old old boss.

Moreover, Belousov faces structural problems that would greatly complicate his challenge even absent corruption and internal opposition. Labor shortages are acute. There is a fundamental tension between finding enough men to feed into the meat grinder and finding enough men to make the weapons they carry or ride into the meat grinder. And although sanctions have not been crippling, they have substantially impeded Russian weapons production, especially of more advanced equipment. The impending resupply of ammunition, anti-aircraft missiles, and the like to Ukraine will also increase the losses that the Russian factories have to make good.

There is also the question of the impact of this on Russian military command. Belousov is obviously not going to have a clue about operational matters. So does this mean that Putin will exercise even more control? Or will this give a freer hand to Gerasimov and the other generals, who have proven to be incompetent, callous bumblers? Regardless, there is certain to be a disconnect between the Defense Ministry and military operations.

One last note. The Defense Ministry reshuffle is not the only change at the top. Somewhat surprisingly, Nikolai Petrushev, former FSB head, Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, and all around dark dude suspected by some to be the real power behind the throne in Russia, was also removed from his post and designated for assignment–and days later the assignment has not been announced.

This is surprising, to me anyways. Petrushev’s son (sometimes mentioned as an eventual Putin successor) did receive a promotion from Agriculture Minister to Deputy Prime Minister, which suggests that Petrushev is not totally on the outs and destined for an accidental fall from a window. But this is Russia, so who knows?

In sum, all the “changes” of the past days–a new offensive, ministry shakeups–are highly unlikely to herald a major shift in the dreary drama playing out in Ukraine. A mini-offensive here, a cabinet reshuffle there, won’t alter the fundamental realities of the military situation. Yes, they signal that Putin is doubling down, but they don’t improve his hand in the slightest.

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April 13, 2024

Would You Believe . . . Ukraine Refinery Attack Edition

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 10:53 am

As I noted in a previous post, the Biden administration has tried to restrain Ukraine from attacking Russian oil refineries. The previous reason, as set forth by SecDef Lloyd “AWOL” Austin, was that these attacks would disrupt world energy markets.

Translation: these attacks would increase gasoline prices which scares the bejesus out of an inflation-battered administration in an election year.

But apparently the administration decided that wasn’t a very good look. Too obviously self-serving, and perhaps too dissonant with its the-war-in-Ukraine-is-a-vital-US-national-interest one.

So, would you believe, the administration is REALLY concerned on humanitarian, just war grounds:

Nah, we wouldn’t believe that, actually. Especially since this oh-so high minded critique of Ukrainian military tactics has heretofore been completely absent from American policy makers’ discourses. It’s obviously a lie to cover the election-obsessed administration’s true motivations. That is, AWOL Austin committed the Kinseyan gaffe of speaking the truth, and this gaffe had to be cleaned up.

This justification is also utterly ridiculous on myriad grounds. For one thing, as Rep. Scott pointed out, why should Ukraine fight asymmetrically, but in a bad way, taking blow after blow to its civilian targets but not striking back. For another, oil refineries are a legitimate military target, given (a) Russia’s armies in Ukraine run on the fuel they produce, (b) fuel exports are a material source of revenue for the Russian government, and (c) the Kremlin is clearly concerned about higher fuel prices, and the potential effect they would have on support for the war.

For yet another, in military conflicts in the modern age the United States has made attacking enemy energy assets a primary target. In WWII, the most effective element of the strategic bombing offensive (and one that probably should have been introduced earlier) was the attacks on Germany synthetic fuel production. (The attacks on the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania in 1943 less successful, but the April-August 1944 attacks did materially restrict fuel supplies to the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe). In Gulf War I, one of the first targets of American air strikes (after Iraqi air defenses were dismantled in the first wave) were Iraqi electric power plants, which were attacked with graphite bombs. Soon after, the US turned its attention to, yes, Iraqi oil refineries. In 1999 the US unleashed graphite bombs on Serbian power plants.

The US, in other words, has long recognized the strategic importance of enemy energy production, and has made it a priority target. So why shouldn’t Ukraine?

And note that given the previous history, Wallender is implicitly accusing the United States of violating the laws of armed conflict.

It’s actually quite disgusting that the administration covers its nakedly political motivations with high sounding blather about “the laws of armed conflict” and the “standards of European democracy.” Maxwell Smart was funny. These clowns are not.

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April 8, 2024

The U.S. Navy In Existential Crisis

Filed under: China,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 11:50 am

The United States Navy is broken. The 2010s saw numerous operational SNAFUs, ship collisions and the like. Those have abated somewhat, the most recent being the collision of the Seawolf Class submarine USS Connecticut with an undersea mountain about 2.5 years ago. But serious long term structural problems are metastasizing. And these are much more difficult to address than reprioritizing seamanship.

The Navy desperately needs to be recapitalized. Major ship classes are reaching retirement. These include Ticonderga Class cruisers, and Ohio Class SSBNs (nuclear missile submarines) and SSGNs (guided missile submarines). Ship numbers have plummeted, and most troubling, replacement ships have either proven to be failures (LCS), wildly expensive without a coherent mission (Zumwalt), or pathetically behind schedule.

The Ohio replacements–Columbia Class SSBNs–are the least pathetic, being only a year behind. (Allegedly. I predict that number will slip.) Ford Class carriers (CVN) are 2-3 years behind. Virginia Class SSNs (arguably the single-most important ship type) are 3 years behind. The reasonable replacement for the hapless LCS–Constellation Class frigates–is 3 years behind.

When I was at the Naval Academy, the only acceptable answer to the question “Why did you f-up?” was “no excuse, sir!” Now, the Navy is nothing but excuses. Covid (natch), “supply chain woes” (natch), retirement of experienced labor at shipyards (euphemistically called “greening of the labor force”). (Though now the Navy has apparently stopped making excuses. It’s decided to take the 5th instead–which is denying a problem rather than admitting it.)

Which all brings to mind another old Naval adage: PPPPPP, i.e., “Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.” Covid excepted, the other supposed problems were predictable and observable, and should have been anticipated, recognized, and addressed before they mushroomed into full-blown disasters.

And it is essential to emphasize that “Covid” was not the problem: the problem was catastrophic government policies justified by Covid. And in these, the Navy–and the military generally–was an eager participant. It exacerbated the military’s other ongoing crisis (in recruiting and force retention) through its draconian vaccine policies. Moreover, it is clear that significant resources were diverted from doing with the Navy should do to managing idiotic Covid policies.

Case in point. When I went to my USNA class reunion in 2021, at the Superintendent’s Call the Supe spent a good portion of the time bragging about all the efforts necessary to keep the academy running during Covid (e.g., arranging for the handling of the massive increase in trash caused by having meals served in Mids’ rooms–truly a national defense priority!). That type of diversion of leadership time was no doubt the rule, rather than the exception.

(The other biggest subject of the Supe’s talk was related to DEI efforts–another subject, but also symptomatic of the diversion of the Navy/military resources and leadership time into non-mission-critical matters.)

Pace JFK, failure is not an orphan. The Navy’s failure has many fathers (and mothers, nowadays). Service leadership is at the head, of course. Civilian “leadership” at the Pentagon is also greatly culpable. The procurement process is utterly broken. Resources are diverted to chasing chimeras, the aforementioned DEI being one, but climate change being another. And Congress bears considerable blame, most notably for the non-budgeting process which has resulted in year after year of continuing resolutions that (rather than budgets) that make long-term planning and management and procurement extremely difficult. Congress is also largely responsible for prioritizing the chimeras.

The Navy and the Air Force are the most vital branches in any prospective conflict with China in the Pacific. The Navy’s complete dysfunction is therefore a grave national security issue. The most grave of all, in fact.

So what is to be done? The problems are so deep and so structurally embedded that easy fixes are off the table. Congress’ dysfunction is unlikely to change, absent some sort of miracle in November (but even there truth be told the Republicans bear considerable culpability for the existing problems). Similarly, a change of administration is a necessary but not sufficient condition: Trump’s record at appointing civilian Pentagon leadership was appalling, and the dysfunction continued and arguably accelerated on his watch. Given the inertia of the massive Pentagon bureaucracy and its hostility to Trump, moreover, it is doubtful whether he can clean the Augean Stables on the Potomac, even if he has the urge to try (also doubtful). The current flag ranks and those in line to succeed them are the products of a politicized military produced primarily by 8 years under Obama.

An Admiral Byng approach is tempting, but it will take more than one firing squad “pour encourager les autres.” Many more.

I wish I could offer solutions, or even suggestions. But in order to get those responsible (but apparently unaccountable, alas) focused on getting the ship back on course it is necessary to alert them to the looming iceberg ahead. So the best I can do is sound the crash alarm and hope that it is heeded before it is too late.

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February 27, 2024

If It’s Boeing, You’re Going . . . to Corporate Hell.

Filed under: Economics,Military — cpirrong @ 11:43 am

There’s an old expression: “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.” Well, nowadays the only place you are going on a Boeing is to corporate hell.

Of course the severe problems with its civil aviation operation–specifically, the 737 Max and before that the 787 Dreamliner–are the current focus of attention. But Boeing is a full spectrum failure.

The KC-46 tanker program has been a disaster since day 1. The program was delayed for years, and was catastrophically over budget. Problems included a FOD (“foreign object debris”) issue, in which tools and random metal stuff was littered throughout the aircraft–indications that quality control problems are chronic at Boeing, and hence the 737 issues are not surprising. Another problem was faulty cargo locks–which meant that the aircraft could not carry cargo until it was fixed. Then there was a toilet problem. These are not complicated things.

The most mission-critical problem was with the supposedly advanced refueling boom system, which is operated by wire and a crewman located forward in the aircraft viewing the boom through a camera (not dissimilar from a rear view camera now nearly ubiquitous in automobiles) rather than by someone stationed in the tail with eyes on the boom and the approaching aircraft. However, the accuracy of this system leaves much to be desired, and resulted in some mishaps. The tanker can still refuel aircraft, but the accuracy issue has slowed down refueling operations, which is kind of a big deal because it effectively reduces the refueling capacity of the aircraft.

The company has supposedly lost around $5 billion on the program. And the Air Force is now looking to add KC-45 planes–built by Airbus.

Ironically, maybe if the engineers had retained more control of the company the problems that have the bean counters lamenting winning the tanker contract might never have occurred, or at least wouldn’t have been as bad.

The replacement for Air Force One is also way behind schedule and way over budget.

As was the CST-100 Starliner reusable space capsule. It’s satellite programs have also been plagued by problems.

Those who have paid attention as the company spiraled downward recognized that the engineers had lost out to the bean counters. A recent article in The Atlantic tells the sad story in some detail.

This is correct as far as it goes, but begs the question of how this slow motion plane crash could proceed in plain sight without anyone pulling the company out of its dive. The likely underlying cause is a severe lack of competitive discipline.

The civilian passenger aircraft industry is a duopoly. Customers dissatisfied with Boeing in theory have an option to switch to Airbus, but even in the medium term the ability to do so is limited. For one thing, it would take some time for Airbus to expand capacity to accommodate a large switch of Boeing customers. And given the fixed and sunk nature of capacity costs, it was/is willing to do so only given a high degree of confidence that many Boeing customers would switch–which creates something of a chicken-egg problem. Moreover, switching costs are important. Airlines have made investments in everything from maintenance to pilot training that are manufacturer specific. The cost of a substantial switchover from one manufacturer to another involves more than the cost of the aircraft themselves.

Southwest is an extreme example. A key to its low cost operation was utilizing a single basic aircraft type (737). Adding any Airbus planes to its fleet would disrupt its entire operating model.

With respect to military contracting, the situation is even more extreme. Not only did the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger bring over the poisonous management documented in The Atlantic piece: it resulted in the combination of the two manufacturers of multi-engine jets adaptable to military use, most notably refueling planes.

Until recently, competition from Airbus for this business has been even more muted than for civilian aircraft due to the inherently political nature of defense procurement, and the understandable desire to keep this production capacity onshore.

All meaning that Boeing has had a lot of room for chronic performance problems because the lack of serious competitive threats mean that those problems don’t translate into the risk of severe top line losses even in the medium, and to some degree the long, terms.

In the late-90s I was offered the Admiral Crowe Chair at the Naval Academy. The Chair was a research position, with a focus on defense economics issues, and defense industrial base issues in particular. It was a time of an imagined “peace dividend,” and a downsizing of the defense industry. A major part of this downsizing was achieved by industry consolidation. Boeing-MD was just one part of that.

The pitch that got me the job (which I turned down for a mixture of professional and personal reasons) was that I would study the effects of this consolidation, and in particular the effects of declining competition. In the subsequent years I have watched the serial procurement nightmares that have plagued the US military which have largely borne out the concerns that I raised when interviewing for the USNA position.

Lack of competitive discipline enables dysfunctional management. That’s the underlying problem at both the civilian and military sides of Boeing. And it’s not a problem that is addressed easily.

During WWII, management dysfunction at Ford Motor Company (still ruled by the iron hand of Henry Ford and his henchman Harry Bennett) posed a serious threat to the U.S. war effort. The government intervened, and essentially forced out Henry I and Harry, and installed Henry II (“Henry the Deuce”) to straighten out the company. After the war, the Deuce brought in the “Whiz Kids” to drag it kicking and screaming out of the Henry I cult of personality. (My dad was a very junior Whiz Kid, hence my living in West Wayne and Dearborn in my early years.). That brought on its own problems, of course, but it was likely necessary to save Ford Motor.

The situation at Boeing isn’t exactly the same, but it rhymes. So who is going to carry out the necessary intervention? Hard to see who that would be. And the same fundamental market factors that have allowed Boeing to be mismanaged for years will exist even if there is a complete turnover in the top management and the board room. Meaning that since the underlying causes of Boeing’s fall are structural, it’s hard to be optimistic about things turning around anytime soon.

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February 20, 2024

Alexei Navalny: Voluntary Martyr

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 3:29 pm

The most stunning news from Russia in recent days–months or maybe years, for that matter–is the death of Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison.

This was murder, if not by poisoning, strangulation, suffocation, beating, shooting, stabbing or what have you, then by incarceration in a 21st century gulag. (You wonder why so many Russian convicts “agreed” to fight in Ukraine for a promise–since reneged upon in some cases–of release upon completion of military service? You shouldn’t. And the prison to which Navalny was confined–often in solitary–was the worst of the worst.)

Navalny was obviously a brave man. Insanely so. He volunteered for martyrdom by returning to Russia after a failed poisoning attempt (in which he brilliantly proved state involvement by punking one of the perps in a prank phone call). And martyred he was.

And like many martyrs, he and his story are far more complex and ambiguous than the hagiography would lead you to believe. In particular, Navalny was no liberal, classical or otherwise, in the Western sense. He was, in fact, a Russian chauvinist and nationalist. He in fact supported the annexation of Crimea for a long time, and his rhetoric about Ukrainians was not all that different from Putin’s.

Indeed, it is plausible that the special enmity that Putin and his clique directed at Navalny, as opposed to other opposition figures, is attributable to the fact that he had the potential to appeal to their base (Russo-chauvinists) far more effectively than anyone else.

Those who have been following Russia for some time surely remember La Russophobe, whose virulent hatred for Putin was second to none. Yet she also held Navalny in disdain, precisely because he was a Russian nationalist. (La Russophobe went silent years ago–more than a decade if memory serves–because she saw the futility of raging against Putin, in part because Navalny was the only apparent alternative.). Not endorsing her. Just pointing out that anti-Putin definitely does not imply pro-liberal.

Yes, the Russian siloviki–of whom Putin is the front man, but not necessarily the head man (with Patrushev being the most likely eminence grise)–have killed many who have threatened them. But Navalny is not Progozhin is not Politkovskaya. They are all different, except in that they were perceived threats to the siloviki.

Navalny’s death is being used in the West generally, and the United States in particular, to resuscitate popular anti-Putin sentiment to facilitate the flow of further aid to Ukraine. As if we needed further proof of Putin’s–and the siloviki’s–ruthlessness and depravity.

The case for aid to Ukraine–and in what form and what amount–should not be based on Mr. Mackey-esque “Putin is bad, so don’t do Putin, uhm-kay” rhetoric.

Instead, it should be based on a sober appraisal of national interest.

Which brings me to the most recent battlefield development–the Russian capture of Avdiivka. This too is being used to make the case for continued (and lavish) American support.

But here’s the dirty little secret: Ukraine lost Avdiivka because of a shell shortage, period, and additional supplies from the US or Europe in the quantities needed are not forthcoming. The cupboard is bare. The US could pass a $1 trillion military aid package for Ukraine, and it would not make one iota of difference on the battlefield for months, because shell production is maxed out already, and US stocks have been reduced to dangerous levels.

Only shells matter. (Something I pointed out in March 2022.). Yes, more Patriots or HIMARs would help, but without copious artillery Ukraine is on the back foot. And shells are not forthcoming not because the US (and Europe) won’t supply them in the numbers needed, but because they can’t.

Militarily, the capture of Avdiivka is irrelevant. As I have written before, it was merely a salient in the front line, and even after collapsing it Russia does not have the capability of exploiting and breaking out. Ukraine will just withdraw to (belatedly) prepared lines to the west, and the stalemate will resume.

Indeed, Russia doesn’t even appear to be attempting to exploit its “victory.” Reports suggest that they are redeploying troops from Avdiivka to other points along the contact line, where they will pinch a salient here or there–at best.

And the cost that Russia has paid to gain a few square kilometers of blasted ground has been appalling. One must discount casualty reports, but sifting through both Ukrainian and Russian accounts it appears that Russia prevailed in Avdiivka by deploying disproportionate numbers of troops–and suffering disproportionate losses.

All so Vlad can squat over another blasted shithole and claim battlefield success as a reason to vote for him in a sham election from which he has banned any viable opponent. Or killed them, as in the case of Navalny.

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February 3, 2024

The Groundhog Day War

Filed under: History,Military,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 4:44 pm

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and the classic movie by that name is an apt metaphor for the war in Ukraine. Different day, same bad shit, day after day after day.

Defense Minister and all around shlub Sergei Shoigu proudly claims that Russia has the initiative. Yeah, I guess you could say that, because they are the ones attacking repeatedly all along the front. But seizing the initiative yields them nothing but piles of corpses (disproportionately Russian) and masses of demolished tanks and AFVs (almost all Russian). It certainly does not yield them gains on the ground, at least not gains measured in more than meters, and a tree line or field here or there.

Russian tactics, such as they are, beggar description. Day after day they send penny packets of armored vehicles in strung out along some muddy track, only to see them centimated (decimated means losing one out of ten, so I made up a more accurate word). The armor seldom makes contact before it is blown up. What progress the Russians do make is with bloody infantry assaults that take slivers of ground, often because the Ukrainians run out of ammunition. Sometimes those slivers are taken away in counterattacks.

Decisive action by armor requires it to be deployed in mass. Sending a platoon here and a platoon there is idiotic and cannot achieve anything, let alone a decisive breakthrough.

To give an idea of how farcical this all is, in a rare Russian advance measuring more than a kilometer (in southern Avdiivka) they tunneled under a Ukrainian strongpoint, popped out of the ground, and seized it. As a result, Russia obtained a long finger of territory, under fire control and at constant threat of attack on either or both sides of the bulge.

What, is Russia going to tunnel its way to Kiev, let alone Lviv or Odessa?

Most of the Russian vehicle casualties are now caused by drones, especially First Person Video (FPV) drones (you don’t hear much about Bayraktars anymore), rather than artillery. That’s because the Ukrainians are suffering from a severe shell shortage. Western stocks and production cannot keep pace with the prodigious consumption of ammunition in a static battle.

Videos tell the tale. Back in the summer many videos (taken from drones) depicted Russians being plastered with artillery, and cluster munitions in particular. One seldom sees those now. Instead, it is video after video of FPVs smashing into Russian armor: some from the attacking FPVs themselves, some from recon drones loitering overhead.

Ukraine’s vaunted summer offensive, which was worse than a damp squib, was stymied primarily as a result of deep Russian prepared defense lines, including dense mine belts. Apparently after eschewing constructing such defenses themselves, Ukraine is belatedly doing so. (The fraught situation around Avdiivka largely reflects the lack of prepared defenses in that salient.)

Ukraine apparently took a similar attitude to the French and British in WWI, whereas the Russians adopted the German approach. The Germans built massive, semi-permanent fortifications in the lands they captured in France and Belgium: one of the few interesting parts of the otherwise vastly overrated film 1917 was the depiction of the elaborate German trenches and bunkers that they abandoned when withdrawing to the Hindenberg Line, and which amazed the Tommys who stumbled into them. The Tommys were amazed because their trenches (and French ones too) were much less elaborate, and much more in the nature of temporary field fortifications than permanent positions (like the Germans’). This was a conscious choice by the Allies, and in particular the French, who reasoned (if you can use that word here) that building more permanent defenses would be seen as a concession to German occupation of French lands, demarcating a new border. The trenches were just launching points for offensives–that failed.

Ukraine’s failure to build up lines analogous to the Russian Sorovikin Lines (three deep) is evidently due to the same “reasoning.” Building them would establish a de facto border.

The reconsideration of more elaborate defensive lines is just one reflection of a command crisis in Ukraine. The failed offensive and the recognition that the war is likely to drag on for years is creating consternation in Kiev, and one manifestation of this is the falling out between Zelensky and Ukrainian military chief Valery Zaluzhny. Zelensky is trying to push Zaluzhny out, but the general says: I won’t quit, you have to fire me. Given Zaluzhny’s popularity, that’s risky for Zelensky to do–although truth be told Zaluzhny’s popularity is probably the main reason Zelensky wants him gone.

Zaluzhny’s fate was sealed last year in articles quoting him criticizing Zelensky and the Ukrainian strategy overall. Doubling down, yesterday he released an article calling for a complete revision of Ukrainian strategy.

So all is not happy in Kiev, but it shouldn’t be smiles and giggles in Moscow either because if anything Putin’s strategy and tactics are failing even worse than Ukraine’s. But Vlad appears drunk on delusions, this week saying that his objective was to advance the front sufficiently to put Russian-occupied territory out of range of Western-supplied long range weaponry. Beyond the fact that this logic implies that Russia would have to occupy all of western Europe (including the UK!) because more territory would be required to create a buffer for the new territory (wash, rinse, repeat), this reflects a complete failure to recognize the realities on the ground, where Russians cannot take and hold meters here and there, let alone tens or hundreds of kilometers along a 1000 kilometer front.

The one area in which Ukraine has achieved some success is in deep strikes by drones and Western weapons (e.g., Scalp missiles, HIMARs). And by deep, I mean well inside Russia, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities. These strikes have hit air bases and economic targets, most notably arms manufacturing facilities, ports, and oil assets.

Crimea has been hit the hardest. The Black Sea Fleet has been driven away to Novorossiysk after losing several ships in Sevastopol. Russian air bases and command centers on the peninsula have also been hammered.

Fascinatingly, high ranking Russians, including the commander of the Black Sea Fleet and even the head of the Stavka, Valery Gerasimov, have not bee seen since attacks on Sevastopol, leading to suspicions that they were killed or badly wounded in the strikes. Hell, Lloyd Austin reappeared after a couple of weeks. Gerasimov has been MIA for 35 days. Where’s Valery?

The success of these strikes lays bare the Potemkin nature of Russian air defenses, including their vaunted S-400 systems. Indeed, the Ukrainians have taken out many of these systems: SAMs, defend thyself!

The Russians claim to shoot down everything shot at them. I mean everything. So why the explosions and destruction of valuable assets? Well, you see, the missiles and drones their valiant air defenses down hit the targets while plummeting to earth. Like this one that started massive fires at a Lukoil facility:

Dizzy with success! Or should it be on fire with success?

The failure of Russian air defenses should not be surprise. Soviet and Russian built AA systems have been shredded every time they have been confronted since their initial successes (due largely to surprise) in North Vietnam in the late-60s and early-70s, and Egypt (in 1973). After the shock of their losses to these systems in those wars, the Americans and Israelis designed and implemented comprehensive suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD–which really means DEAD, for destruction of enemy air defenses) operations. Dismantling of Russian air defenses is therefore not unexpected, although it is shocking to see how Ukraine has been able to extemporize a successful SEAD strategy with such scant resources, especially as compared to the US and Israel.

The chain reaction effects have been fascinating to watch. Ukrainian destruction of Russian ground based radars required them to fly their version of AWACs (the A-50) close to the shores of the Sea of Azov–which happened to be in range of Ukrainian operated Patriots, which destroyed the A-50 and seriously damaged its companion aircraft, an IL-22 (poor man’s version of an RC-135 Rivet Joint).

These deep strikes are damaging, and embarrassing to Russia. (Assuming Putin is capable of embarrassment, which on the basis of the record is a dubious proposition.) But they are not war winning.

Instead, they are just another vignette in Groundhog War.

I haven’t written much about this war because there’s seldom little new to say. I have every expectation that there will be another long hiatus, because there’s nothing in prospect that will decisively alter the situation.

So here we are, and here we will stay.

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