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Cyber ABM

[ 33 ] March 6, 2017 |
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 9, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) meeting with the scientists and technicians in the field of researches into nuclear weapons and guiding the work for boosting the nuclear arsenal at an undisclosed location. / AFP / KCNA / KCNAKCNA/AFP/Getty Images

(KCNA) March 9, 2016.  Kim Jong-Un (C) meeting with the scientists and technicians in the field of researches into nuclear weapons and guiding the work for boosting the nuclear arsenal at an undisclosed location. / AFP / KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

Absolutely fascinating:

Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach, arguing that manufacturing errors, disgruntled insiders and sheer incompetence can also send missiles awry. Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, now claims his country is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of his intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.

Still digesting, but it’s very interesting stuff. I saw some speculation that we’re hearing about this now because it’s been impossible for briefers to get Trump’s attention. Guessing that situation won’t be improving soon…



[ 82 ] March 6, 2017 |
Rafale - RIAT 2009 (3751416421).jpg

By Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) – Rafale – RIAT 2009, CC BY-SA 2.0

Oh hey EU nukes!

An idea, once unthinkable, is gaining attention in European policy circles: a European Union nuclear weapons program.

Under such a plan, France’s arsenal would be repurposed to protect the rest of Europe and would be put under a common European command, funding plan, defense doctrine, or some combination of the three. It would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection.

Fisher runs through all of the complications, which are immense. The strategic aspect is fairly interesting, though. At the moment, the EU (such that it remains) has sufficient latent conventional military power to squash any conceivable opponent, other than the United States. Germany on its own has a GDP more than double that of Russia, and France and Italy aren’t far behind.  This is not 1945, with the gigantic Red Army menacing a prostrate Europe.  Granted that the Russia still poses a serious threat to the Baltics (with the exception of the 1990s, it has always been the case that Russia/USSR could penetrate the outer shell of NATO), even the extant EU capabilities that everyone whines about aren’t that shabby.

If 1) NATO disintegrates and the US commitment to European defense disappears, and 2) the EU survives as a political and economic unit, then we would expect that Berlin, Paris, Rome, Warsaw, etc. would increase investment in conventional capabilities, at least at the margins. It would take a while to fill in all of the gaps that the US has historically provided, but then it’s not as if the Russian military is flawless, either.  In the medium-to-long term there is no way that Russia can compete in conventional military terms with an even mildly acerbic EU.  Russia’s major advantages come from a) political disunity within the EU, and b) nuclear weapons.  French nukes solve part of the second problem, insofar as they provide deterrence against Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal. But Russia also has a vast arsenal of tactical nukes, and Russian doctrine can incorporate those weapons into conventional warfighting scenarios.  The question would then become whether France, Germany et al would decide to get competitive on the tactical side of the ledger.

Here’s an idea: Let’s not find out.


Book Review: Flotilla

[ 11 ] March 5, 2017 |

[Ed. note: This was originally published on September 27, 2009 at Information Dissemination.  The ID archives were down for a while, but are back up now, along with new content (read!).  Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure that this was available at LGM…]







I recently finished Donald Shomette’s Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812. The United States initiated the War of 1812 in response to the activity of the Royal Navy, including the impressment of US sailors and the restriction of US freedom of trade. Territorial aggrandizement was also a goal; although opinions differ on how serious the US was about the annexation of Canada, the elimination of British influence along the frontier was understood as necessary to further US settlement and expansion. In spite of US growth since the Revolution, Great Britain remained militarily dominant by any metric. It was hoped, however, that the British would be too distracted by the war against Napoleon to devote their full attention to North America. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Royal Navy had largely eliminated the French Navy as a major threat, and was able to devote serious attention to the United States from the beginning of the war. The US coastline was virtually unprotected, leaving American vulnerable to trade blockade and to raids. The Royal Navy decided to concentrate its activity in the Chesapeake Bay area, home of the new US capitol and of the major port of Baltimore.

In response to the overwhelming dominance of the Royal Navy, Revolutionary War veteran Joshua Barney proposed to the Secretary of War a new set of tactics. In order to carry out their raiding operations, large, deep draft Royal Navy vessels had to accept some vulnerability, and had to employ launches in order to deliver and recover troops. Barney reasoned that a flotilla of shallow draft barges could sufficiently harass Royal Navy raiding parties to make the operations too costly and dangerous to carry out. Barney received approval from Washington to build a flotilla and recruit a corps of sailors necessary to carry out this effort; for his pains, he was made Commodore of the flotilla. The organization was distinct from the USN, and was viewed with some hostility by military professionals. Nevertheless, it represented the only chance to break the hold of the Royal Navy over the Chesapeake, a hold that was becoming increasingly intolerable as escaped slaves began to flock to the British flag.

Barney was able to put together his flotilla, but he was unable to stop Royal Navy depredation. The British took the flotilla seriously, and treated it as the major threat in the Chesapeake. They responded by bottling the flotilla up and blockading it on the Patuxent River. This utilized some Royal Navy resources, and the Americans were able to score some minor victories, but no major British vessels were lost, and British raiding activity continued. Local militia had no interest in fighting the British, and typically fled at the first shot. Because of the large number of pro-British slaves (male slaves of age were trained to fight, while the rest were freed and sent either to Canada or British Caribbean possessions), the Royal Marines typically had excellent intelligence as to American capabilities and dispositions.

The Chesapeake campaign resulted in an almost complete victory for the Royal Navy. Atlhough the British were unable to secure and burn the city of Baltimore, they managed to burn and loot much of the rest of the region, including the city of Washington. The British looted an enormous quantity of tobacco, ground regional commerce to a halt, and freed a substantial number of American slaves. Barney’s flotilla was scuttled to prevent capture, although his men served heroically at the Battle of Bladensburg and at Fort McHenry. British victory depended not only on vast material superiority, but also on exceptional skill on sea and on land. American militia and regular Army were simply inadequate to the task of fighting the battle-hardened British on anything approaching equal circumstances. It didn’t help that the very best American forces were deployed to the Canadian border. Moreover, the outcome of the Chesapeake campaign should have been essentially foreseeable to American policymakers. While Americans lacked the capacity to challenge the Royal Navy in anything but single-ship battles, it was obvious that the British would use their superiority at sea to devastate American coastal areas. The presence of the French and Spanish navies had limited the damage during the Revolution, but neither were a factor in the War of 1812. I think it can be plausibly argued that the War of 1812 represents the biggest “mistake war” in American history; regardless of whether sufficient cassus belli existed, the United States was simply not up to the task of launching and winning a war against Great Britain.

The American strategy in the Chesapeake campaign represents the same kind of asymmetric, small boat strategy that gave the USN fits in the first half of this decade. To be sure, the Americans also employed other asymmetric strategies, most notably a commerce raiding campaign that depended both on USN frigates and on privateers. Nevertheless, as the points of comparison between the Royal Navy of 1814 and the USN of 2009 are obvious, it’s not surprising that opponents adopt broadly similar methods. The small boat strategy is not, apparently, dependent upon a particular constellation of technologies. Small boats can always provide some threat to large ships in littoral areas, although I think it could be argued that the development of the torpedo increased small boat lethality. German torpedo boats significantly reduced Allied freedom of action off the French coast in World War II, for example. Indeed, there’s nothing new about the idea of blowing up a small boat next to a big ship, although the suicide element is reasonably novel. Of course, small boats can and have also been utilized as part of a larger symmetrical strategy of warfare; the USN PT-Boat campaign of World War II caused the Japanese no end of difficulty.

The experience of Barney’s flotilla also brings up some interesting issues regarding the behavior of military organizations. Barney was forced to essentially invent the flotilla, without significant support (and indeed against opposition) from the United States Navy. Barney did his own recruiting, designed his own ships, and procured his own artillery, provisions, and ordnance. To be sure, he didn’t do this from his own funds; both the US government and the State of Maryland gave him some support. Also, even a regular naval commander of the Napoleonic Era had to play the role of independent contractor on many occasions, as readers of Patrick ‘Brian will be well aware. Nevertheless, the organizational environment that he created is quite distinct from that which exists in any modern military organization. I suspect that it would be nearly impossible to create such an organization today in a modern state; the institutional and legal barriers would be insurmountable. The exception that proves the rule might be Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has managed to create naval forces independent of the main naval organizations of the Islamic Republic. The Revolutionary Guard, however, enjoys a level of political and organizational independence that is extremely rare in a modern state, and that depends on the peculiar institutions of modern Iran.

Archaeologists excavate wreck of sloop USS Scorpion. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth G. Takada/Released)

Archaeologists excavate wreck of sloop USS Scorpion. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth G. Takada/Released)

Barney’s task was undoubtedly made easier by the fact that he could draw upon a population that was familiar with the sea and with boats. This substantially increased the recruiting pool, the interest level (people who depended on the sea were particularly vulnerable to the British), and the skill level of the recruits. I found this interesting in that it supported Mahan’s contention that one of the pillars of naval power is a population that is familiar with and interested in maritime life. I have always had some doubt that this is the case in the industrial era; I don’t, for example, believe that a serving officer born and raised in Nebraska is any less capable than an officer raised in Maryland or Massachusetts. This is because the tasks of modern naval life are sufficiently distant from the tasks of civilian maritime experience to make any initial differences disappear beneath professional military training. I have no doubt, however, that a population oriented around maritime activities was critical to naval power in the Age of Sail and before. I’m also inclined now to think that the success of irregular naval forces (of which Barney’s flotilla is an example) is much more sensitive to the maritime capabilities of a given population than is that of a professional naval organization.

It’s odd that the small boat strategy always seems somewhat surprising to established navies, especially given the recurrence of such strategies over the years. One reason might be that navies are organizationally inclined to think about threats that are symmetrical. A Mahanian naval stance requires modern shipbuilding capabilities and a long organizational tail. A commerce raiding or cruiser strategy requires much the same thing, if on a different scale. A small boat strategy, however, can be conducted by organizations utterly unlike a modern Navy. In its relatively ad hoc approach to construction, procurement, and recruitment, Barney’s flotillas shares some characteristics with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the pre-independence Israeli naval forces, the Tamil Tigers, and even Al Qaeda. In combination with the above observation regarding the importance of “people of the sea” to irregular naval forces, there’s undoubtedly some interesting work to be done regarding the prospects for Al Qaeda penetration into various maritime-oriented tribal networks in SE Asia. I suspect that there are also some interesting observations to be made regarding population, professionalism, and the effectiveness of small boat strategies.

In any case, Flotilla is valuable both to those interested in naval history, and to those focusing on small boat and irregular warfare strategies. I highly recommend it.

Multi-Domain Battle

[ 14 ] March 3, 2017 |
Patriot missile launch b.jpg

Patriot SAM System

What is “Multi-Domain Battle?”

Admiral Harris’ comments accord with the concept of Multi-Domain Battle, which the Army and Marine Corps have pushed over the last year as an answer to concerns over their ability to contribute to a high intensity war in the Western Pacific. At its core, Multi-Domain Battle hopes to enable the U.S. military to do what China’s PLA has already done; integrate land-based assets into an A2/AD battle in which sea and air assets predominate. The United States has enough bases in the Western Pacific to usefully employ long-range missiles, sensors, and other assets in an A2/AD fight; it requires an operational concept, an organizational commitment, and a forward looking procurement strategy to turn the Army’s potential contribution into a reality.

There’s nothing at all wrong with multi-domain battle; the U.S. military should attempt to leverage every capability it has in the Western Pacific, and can certainly benefit from integrating Army assets into the broader plan, even if the Army’s plan carries the whiff of inter-service struggle. And this, at its core is the problem; the extant structure of the U.S. military weighs heavily against long-term efforts at creating a multi-domain battle capability.

Trump, China, and IP

[ 15 ] March 2, 2017 |


Some thoughts on Trump’s approach to intellectual property issues…

We don’t yet have a full sense of how the Trump administration will manage intellectual property disputes with China, but we do know that Trump just won a big IP victory for himself. After years of effort, Trump managed to acquire a trademark for building construction services, after China’s trademark office invalidated the claim of an acknowledged squatter. Dozens of other trademarks claimed by Trump remain in dispute, and could also come under his control in the near future.

There are unquestionably serious conflict of interest issues associated with Trump’s recovery of his trademark rights in China. The trademark cases give the Chinese government an almost unique ability to signal approval or disapproval of Trump; by fiat, the Trademark Office can determine the financial value of his name in China.


[ 92 ] February 27, 2017 |

So that was crazy.

In other news:


Friday Links

[ 126 ] February 24, 2017 |
Warren Zevon 1978 press photo.jpg

Some Guy.

We open with a Letter to the Editor:

You have stolen a fantastic song by the brilliant Warren Zevon and turned it into a confusing political nonsensical rant.  Worse, you don’t even acknowledge Zevon or his inspiration H.S. Thompson.

Hunter and Zev will long be remembered by their artistic genius.   You, on the other hand,  will go down in history for vulgar plagiarism, or more likely,  be forgotten altogether.

Moving on…



[ 76 ] February 21, 2017 |

Folks seem generally pleased with the choice of H.R. McMaster as NSA, and it’s hard for me to disagree; McMaster is almost universally well-respected in the national security community, both among soldiers and civilians. He brings a fine analytical mind, a wealth of experience, and a scholarly understanding of national security problems to the NSA position. Here’s his account of the Battle of 73 Easting; here’s a summary of one of his talks on the Revolution in Military Affairs.

The biggest questions going forward will be:

  1. How much control does he have over his own staff?
  2. How much authority will he have relative to more political actors such as Steve Bannon?
  3. Will Trump actually listen to him?

The main job of the NSA is to coordinate all of the departments and agencies that manage US national security. McMaster’s reputation as a strong thinker should help, at least initially. On the other hand, some have suggested that his reluctance to suffer fools gladly has, at times, slowed his professional progress. I’m sure that problem will never come up in the Trump White House.  Others have suggested that McMaster’s active duty status will make it more difficult for him to say “No” to the President.  Fortunately, he literally wrote the book on the responsibilities of the uniformed military for giving good advice to civilians.

And on a personal note; H.R. McMaster was kind enough to speak by Skype with my counter-insurgency class back in the spring of 2011.  Longtime readers will recall that I was denounced as a Communist for teaching this class, way back when Donalde was the only Donald in town.  Good times.

The Pence Gambit

[ 93 ] February 18, 2017 |

By Henry Fuseli – The Yorck Project.

Some thoughts on Mike Pence; note from the start that this is far from a “Mike Pence and the GOP must save us from Donald Trump” kind of post…

There are currently 290 serving Republicans in the US Congress, and probably 270 would prefer President Pence to President Trump. This is not to overstate GOP opposition to Trump, or to suggest that Republican legislators will serve as a meaningful impediment to his agenda, or to imply that they won’t be happy to use the Trump presidency to accomplish their policy ends. It simply means that we are in the genuinely unusual position of having a majority Congress in which the strong majority of members would prefer the Vice President over the President.

Obviously, this makes impeachment more likely, which is different than saying it makes impeachment likely.

Of all the avenues by which we can imagine Trump getting impeached, I think that the Russia investigations hold the greatest danger. There may yet be some very interesting stuff; notwithstanding the new admiration for Putin in the rank and file, Russian electoral interference remains generally unpopular; Trump’s position on Russia is not widely held within the GOP legislative cohort.

Depending on your perspective, Mike Pence either took one for the team when he agreed to serve as Trump’s running mate, or made a high-odds gamble on success of the campaign. Thus, he’s essentially playing with house money. In the first weeks of the administration, Mike Pence has taken strong, visible steps to distance himself from the Russia Problem. He has repeatedly made speeches about Russia that hew much closer to the traditional GOP line on Moscow than to Trump’s accommodationist approach. He was apparently critical to the execution of Mike Flynn, and in the best possible way; he demonstrated that he had been cut out of the distribution circle and decision-making process regarding Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Right now, Pence is a hefty insurance policy on a mobbed-up, fire-prone restaurant. The GOP appreciates the dangers associated with burning the restaurant down, and will avoid doing so unless pressed. But the insurance policy is very nice indeed, and if push comes to shove, nobody will have to shove all that hard to get a sufficient number of GOP legislators to think about impeachment. The content of the shove would involve collapsing Presidential approval ratings, poor performance in special elections, and anything particular explosive coming out of the various Russia investigations. Because of the role that Congress plays in the investigative process, the former two make the latter more likely.

Impeaching Trump is only possible if the GOP is in trouble, and by itself will not save the Republicans, although it may help. Presidential approval ratings went from 24 to 71 in a day when Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon.  Polarization, and the fact that Pence is more identified with Trump than Ford was with Nixon, will make such improvement impossible, but there would still likely be some increase. Such a move might do significant damage to the party, in so far as it would alienate Trump’s hardcore supporters (and unless he goes to prison*, Trump will presumably be vocal and angry about his dismissal).

The incentives for Pence at this point are clear.  He needs to stay as far away as he can from Trump on Russia.  This means continuing to hold to the traditional GOP line, but also making sure that the flow of information is under strict control.  I do not doubt that Pence’s staffers have already been instructed to be extremely careful about the kind of information on Russia that crosses the VP’s desk. If Pence can plausibly depict himself as out of the loop, it makes it very hard to implicate him in the scandal (see also George H.W. Bush and Iran-Contra).  Note that this also means that anyone in the administration fighting against the Trump-Bannon line on Russia will not be able to count on Pence as a reliable ally, as it’s likely that Pence will simply distance himself, rather than engage.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s good or bad if the GOP decides to impeach Trump in favor of Pence. At this point, I’m genuinely more frightened of the damage that Trump could cause than the damage I’m sure Pence would cause, and so I’d “welcome” the ascension of the latter. But a Pence administration is likely to restore a degree of popularity to the GOP (at least in the short term), and it’s almost certain that Pence will be more effective in formulating an agenda and in working with Congress than Trump.  Rock and a hard place, hell or high water, Trump or Pence…

*Do not ever take seriously a story that uses, as its main source, the tweets of John Schindler.


Saturday Links

[ 20 ] February 18, 2017 |

Battleship Roma.jpeg

RN Roma

Some links for your Saturday afternoon…

In other news, the National Interest is publishing some updated and revised versions of entries from The Battleship Book.  Thus far…

Enemy of the American People!

[ 111 ] February 17, 2017 |

Hey so LGM isn’t included so I guess we’re okay?

Bernie on Trump and Russia

[ 28 ] February 16, 2017 |

Senator Sanders is making sense:

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