Tuesday, May 27, 2003

How effective was "shock and awe"?

Slate's Fred Kaplan asks some pretty tough questions in his War Stories column today about the conduct of America's second war on Iraq. Specifically, he focuses on the recently released statistics by the Air Force on sorties flown, bombs dropped, targets hit, etc. The numbers will make even a seasoned analyst's head spin. But Kaplan does a good job of putting them together in a larger picture of what really happened. Here's a sampling:
How smart were the smart bombs? During the war, most analysts assumed the majority of bombs were smart bombs and the majority of smart bombs were the new, cheap Joint Defense Attack Munitions or JDAMs. The old smart bombs, the ones used in Desert Storm, were laser-guided. In other words, a crew member would shine a laser on the target; the bomb would follow the beam. However, the beam could be deflected by dust, smoke, rain, even humidity. And the laser-guided bombs were expensive—around $100,000 apiece. JDAMs are guided by Global Positioning Satellites. The pilot punches the target's coordinates into the bomb's GPS receiver andthe bomb homes in on the spot; environmental conditions aren't a factor. And they're cheap—a JDAM kit can be strapped onto an old-fashioned "dumb bomb" for $18,000.

However, it turns out that of the 19,948 smart munitions fired during Gulf War II, 8,716—two-fifths—were the '90s-era laser-guided bombs. Substantially fewer, 6,642, were JDAMs. The other 4,590 smart weapons were GPS-guided but much more expensive models than the JDAM.

More surprising, another 9,251 bombs—or one-third of all the bombs dropped during this war—were unguided, unmodified dumb bombs. It would be good to know where these dumb bombs—and the less-reliable laser-guided bombs—were dropped: on the battlefield, in cities? In other words, was "collateral damage" a greater problem than our vision of a JDAM-dominating war suggested?

In this regard, Operation Iraqi Freedom was still far different from Operation Desert Storm, when just 9 percent of the bombs were smart and none of those were guided by GPS. Still, the picture has not advanced quite as far as we had been led to assume.

Iraq -- the most likely place for Al Qaeda's next attack

The Associated Press and others report that two American soldiers died today in an attack on a U.S. Army checkpoint in Fallouja. Two Iraqis reportedly emerged from their cars, automatic weapons drawn, and started firing on American soldiers manning a checkpoint. They killed two and wounded nine. Also today, in Baghdad, a rocket-propelled grenade wounded two Army MP officers working out of a Baghdad police station. In describing the attacks, 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III said they were seeing "very small groups — one or two people — in isolated attacks against our soldiers." Yesterday, an American soldier died in a convoy ambush in Northern Iraq. On Sunday, Iraqi guerillas ambushed an American HMMWV driving in Baghdad, detonating it as the vehicle drove past. Two other incidents targeted American soldiers on Sunday, but inflicted no casualties. The New York Times reports that anti-American attitudes and violent tendencies have become commonplace among Iraq's young male population:
As American troops keep flowing into Iraq to provide greater security and departures of other troops are delayed to strengthen police functions, military commanders continue to express private concerns about whether they have sufficient forces to re-establish a stable postwar environment.

L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator of the occupation authority, said Monday that the allies would issue food ration cards on June 1 and restart the food distribution channels used by the Hussein government.

"In the long run, we would like to get out of the situation where 60 percent of the people are dependent on the government for their food," he said.

Tonight, Falluja remained tense as American troops stood guard in static positions in command posts protected by razor wire and Bradley fighting vehicles. Other troops positioned themselves at roadblocks.

"All the people are very happy with this operation," said one resident of the town, referring to the attack on the American soldiers. He identified himself as Barakal Jassim al-Zobai, a brigadier in the disbanded Iraqi Republican Guard.

"We want to revenge all of the martyrs that Falluja gave and we will not allow American forces to occupy Iraq," he said. Mr. Zobai said guerrilla teams had been formed to exact revenge on American forces.

The episodes of violence here have radicalized some residents who have vowed revenge, residents said.

"We are tribal people and we won't allow anyone to intrude in our lives," said a 27-year-old farmer who witnessed the attack early this morning. He refused to give his full name and called himself Abu Muhammad. "The Americans have really hurt us," he said. "They didn't come here to give us liberty, or free us. They came here to invade us."
Analysis: Clearly, we are seeing an upswing in the level of insurgent activity in Iraq. Without access to the raw intelligence I might have in the field, I can't do any kind of reasonable trend analysis or predictive analysis. However, I can read the tea leaves from here somewhat. American units are seeing what appear to be frequent, widespread, pre-planned, deadly acts of violence. It's more likely than not that these are coordinated attacks -- possibly part of a larger anti-American strategy. It's impossible to tell (without better intel) who might be behind these attacks, or why they might be happening. I can speculate that Shiite factions are instigating the attacks as a way of destabilizing the American presence and hastening our departure. I could also speculate that the attacks come from Saddam Hussein's loyalists who retained their weapons from their military service.

But I'd like to suggest a more sinister possibility that must at least be considered by America's security and intelligence communities: Al Qaeda action in Iraq. It appears from a number of reports that Al Qaeda has been hobbled to some degree. The global terror network retains the ability to operate, but it has been constrained by America's war in Afghanistan and efforts elsewhere. Our military, financial, law enforcement, and prosecutorial efforts may have crippled the network's ability to act inside the United States -- it's hard to tell (see this Newsweek report). But one place where we have barely made a dent is in Al Qaeda's ability to operate in the Arab world. This month's attack on the American housing complex in Saudi Arabia are the best evidence of this, along with recent reports indicating the presence of an Al Qaeda cell in Iran. This is an organization that retains the ability to move men, materiel and money around the Arab world, at least, and retains the ability to plan and execute terrorist operations. In short, Al Qaeda remains a potent threat.

Why do I think they'll hit us in Iraq? First, Al Qaeda's stated goal is to remove American soldiers from the Saudi peninsula, and by extension, the Arab world. Osama Bin Laden deeply resents America's influence on Islam, and especially our efforts to build rapport with secular, moderate and fundamentalist governments in the region. Their doctrine cannot allow us to maintain a presence in Iraq, and it cannot allow us to successfully install a Western-oriented government in Iraq that disdains Islamic law in favor of democracy, capitalism, and individual liberty. (It may be possible for these things to live together, but at least for now, no one has figured out how to do that.)

Second, Bin Laden deeply hates American military imperialism, which is almost certainly how he sees our attack on Iraq in this second Gulf War. He has deliberately targeted our military deployments before (e.g. Somalia and the USS Cole), and it makes sense that he will do it again. Al Qaeda stands against a lot of things, but few institutions have inflicted as much pain on Al Qaeda as the American military. I think that Bin Laden has a blood debt to settle with the American military after Afghanistan, and he will attack American soldiers wherever he can (Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan) to settle the score.

Third, the opportunities abound in Iraq for a terrorist -- particularly a terrorist who seeks to wage war through proxies. Large numbers of Iraqi soldiers melted away in the face of American firepower, and they took a lot of their weaponry with them. Those men would make great recruits for a terrorist sponsor. There's a lot of ordnance, weaponry, and stuff on the street in Iraq for a terrorist to buy. He wouldn't have to smuggle stuff in; he could probably buy it on the black market. On top of that, there's an abundance of American targets -- from well-protected American military bases to less-well protected contractors and relief organizations. Hitting Bechtel or Halliburton may not seem as sporting as hitting the 4th Infantry Division, but this enemy has never been one for chivalry.

The biggest reasons, however, are the large numbers of reporters inside Iraq and the amount of coverage that any such attack would receive. Nearly 30 years ago, terrorism expert Brian Jenkins wrote that "terrorism is theater." Without an audience, terrorism is mere violence perpetrated in the name of a cause -- but without an effect to justify the effort. The violent act is a mere precursor to the act's effect on society at large. Media coverage gives terrorism its audience, and most contemporary terrorism is scripted with the media in mind. It's possible that Al Qaeda might hit American soldiers in another part of the world -- the motive, means and opportunity certainly exist. But the presence of the media in Iraq all but guarantees that such an attack will happen there.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Gobble gobble

That's not the sound of a turkey -- it's the sound of large defense contractors gobbling up smaller tech firms and defense-related start-ups, according to this report in Monday's Washington Post. After a wave of consolidation during the 1990s in the defense industry, large conglomerate firms like Northrop-Grumman and General Dynamics have been semi-covertly buying up small firms that provide critical pieces of hardware and software for the large ships, tanks and planes they already build. The result is that the industry has become more consolidated than ever, with just a few large contractors (GD, Northrop-Grumman, Boeing) owning most of the business.
The buying spree is contributing to a fundamental change in the structure of the defense industry as the top players move away from their roles as mere weapons makers and increasingly cast themselves as "systems integrators" that produce high-tech networks for the battlefield. In the past three years, contractors have swept up about 180 small tech firms, mostly in Northern Virginia, a 25 percent increase from the previous three-year span.

In one recent high-profile case, General Dynamics Corp., which makes M1 tanks, bought Herndon-based Creative Technology Inc., which designs computer networks that transmit classified information.

The Pentagon has pushed in recent years for a more intensive role for war technology, but the pace has accelerated with the proven high-tech successes in Afghanistan and Iraq and the demands of fighting terrorism. The rush to grab the premier small companies is sparking bidding wars and redesigning the landscape of the local tech industry -- a cornerstone of the region's business community that blossomed in the shadow of the dot-com revolution.

Underlying the consolidation is the sharp competition among the big defense companies to secure a lucrative role in the transformation of the military envisioned by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and backed by a growing Pentagon budget. Some industry observers worry, however, that the absorption of the small tech firms into the giant contractors could crimp innovation in a field that thrives on swift advances.

The companies attracting attention often work quietly behind the scenes, producing the technology essential to the new ways of war. Among the firms recently acquired are Alexandria-based Adroit Systems Inc., which writes software that instructs hovering drones to transmit surveillance photos to fighter jets, ships and ground stations; Chantilly-based Integrated Data Systems Corp., which develops software that allows the Pentagon to share classified information with other agencies on a secure network; Premier Technology Group Inc., a Fairfax firm that analyzes and disseminates intelligence for the Army; and Conquest Inc. of Annapolis Junction, Md., which specializes in managing information networks for the intelligence community.

"Just 20 or 30 years ago, the airplane was the thing or the ship was the thing," said Stuart McCutchan, publisher of Defense Mergers & Acquisitions, an industry newsletter. "Now those things are just nodes in the network, and the network is the thing."
Analysis: I think the jury's still out as to whether this is a good or bad thing for America and its military. In theory, larger contractors can achieve economies of scale across the vertical and horizontal dimension. However, they can also act like a monopolist. Ultimately, I think what matters is getting the best rifle, ship, plane or tank into the hands of the warfighter. So far, they appear to be doing well, but it's hard to know whether a less consolidated industry might do better.
A chaplain's story of war

Chaplains play an important and unique role in the American military. Constrained by our First Amendment and tradition of separating church and state, they serve as part-adviser, part-chaplain, part-sage for battalions of soldiers in war and peace. John W. Brinsfield, who retired as a colonel in the Army's chaplain corps, has a thoughtful essay in Monday's New York Times on the meaning of war and remembrance -- from his perspective as a military chaplain.
In the 1991 Persian Gulf war, I was a senior chaplain assigned to the headquarters of Army Central Command in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My mission was to help place 568 Army chaplains of all denominations throughout the combat zone so that our troops would always have one nearby. My ministry involved visiting hospitals, counseling the lonely and the fatigued, dodging Scud missiles, conducting worship services under the sky, and later, holding memorial services for the dead.
* * *
After months of waiting, combat came quickly in this war. At first, the operation seemed familiar — business as usual. But then came the dreaded urban warfare. No matter how much you've trained, you are never prepared for the sight of homes turned to rubble or the smell of burned flesh or the sound of a mother wailing among the debris, searching for her missing child. And of course, there's no military manual to prepare you for the pain of seeing your buddy die because you couldn't seal off his sucking chest wound, or the shock associated with having to fire on a civilian vehicle that would not stop for a checkpoint, or seeing two women, an old man and a child lying dead along the road.

And then there's the morning after a particularly fierce battle when the captain, just a few years out of West Point, told his troops to look for drums, containers, anything that looked like a weapon of mass destruction. You searched all day, but nothing turned up.

And now some of the troops are starting to come home, looking forward to much-needed sleep and dreaming of Big Macs and Taco Bell menus. They remember the guy who bled to death and wish like hell they had been able to stop the bleeding. They almost cry, but stop just in time. They think of the children with stumps for arms, or those lying face down in the dust in some village with no name. Was it an air strike that took them out, or was it me? Not knowing is the only salvation.

They'll talk of this only to other soldiers. Years later, at barbecue reunions with medals and overseas caps they'll hear of someone who was in the gulf, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. "Where were you?" is the first question. That means, if you were with me, in my unit, in the same fight, maybe, after a few beers, we'll talk.
Definitely worth a read... Ironically, the piece is juxtaposed in the same day's paper as this report from San Luis Obispo. There, it appears that fire department chaplains are making a bad name for themselves and their department, according to allegations of six firefighters who are suing over their quasi-official use of religion.
The middle-level officers brought the lawsuit earlier this year, saying that the chaplain's corps, run by an evangelical minister who is also a senior official of the department, was almost exclusively Christian and had improperly injected religious faith into a government organization.

The department created the corps two years ago, replacing a peer-counseling program that had existed for years. Of the first 52 people to join the chaplain's corps, all but two are Christians and wear crosses on their firefighting uniforms, according to the lawsuit. The program has since added a Buddhist and a Jew.

The complaining officers, who sardonically call themselves the Satanic Six, object to the chaplains' wearing religious insignia while on duty and say it is only a short step from counseling fellow firefighters to proselytizing them.

The plaintiffs include a Baptist, an Episcopalian, a Christian Scientist, a Jew and a self-described "rationalist agnostic."

Their suit asks that the official chaplain's corps be disbanded and replaced with a nonuniformed, volunteer group of religious counselors. It also asks that no state money be spent for the training or services of chaplains, and that no explicitly religious language be used at public ceremonies, like fire academy graduations.
I can't speak for how the chaplains behave in the San Luis Obispo fire department, nor can I really speak with any authority about this case since I'm just an acolyte to First Amendment law. This case in SLO is not unique. In recent months, lawsuits have challenged their ability to function, and the military's ability to include prayer and religion in certain aspects of life like the meals at the Naval Academy.

While I support the Constitution and its intent to separate church and state, I do think these movements can go too far. There are times in the military when a little religion can be helpful -- regardless of which faith it comes from. America's military certainly embraces Christianity more than Judaism, Islam, or any other religion, somewhat to the detriment to whose who serve (like me) from those other faiths. However, the military chaplains I knew were especially aware of this fact, and they did everything they could to take care of my needs too. Whether they're checking on soldier morale, helping to run the casualty collection point, or providing religious support, chaplains play a key role in our fighting units. Ultimately, I hope that judges balance the interests on both sides to find a Solomon-like answer to the problem of religion in the ranks.
A short note on the meaning of Memorial Day

Veterans Day was established after World War I on the day of the Treaty of Versailles. After World War II, Congress passed a resolution extending the holiday's meaning to honor the veterans of that war. After Korea, Congress passed a third resolution, this time extending the holiday to "honor American veterans of all wars." Over the years since, Congress has updated its resolutions on Veterans Day, made it a federal holiday, and pushed the states to accept it as a holiday too. Veterans Day is properly celebrated on Nov. 11, to mark the day the treaty ending WWI was signed, but is usually observed on the first or second Monday in November.

Memorial Day has an older lineage, which traces back to the Civil War. Unlike Veterans Day, which commemorates living veterans, Memorial Day is expressly intended as a day to memorialize the sacrifice of men and women who have given their lives in uniform. General John Logan, national commander of the Union Army, published an order in 1868 which established Memorial Day. His soldiers placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. New York recognized the holiday in 1873, and most northern states followed by 1890. Southern states were somewhat recalcitrant, and some even maintained a separate holiday to honor Confederate war dead. After WWI, Congress extended the holiday to honor American soldiers who died in all wars, not just the Civil War, and this tradition has endured until today. On Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment continue to place flowers on every grave in Arlington, honoring those who rest there.

It's not my goal to take anything away from the millions of Americans who celebrate this holiday more as a 3-day weekend and the start of summer. Our soldiers gave their lives in part for the American way of life, so such a tribute is fitting. However, we should all enjoy this holiday with the knowledge of what it's about, and at least take some time to think about those who have given their lives in our name.