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Category: Robert Farley

Not to Defend Brian Williams, But…

[ 52 ] February 5, 2015 |

This criticism of Williams makes no sense to me:

That’s partly because his fake anecdotes made it seem like he was trying to claim the bravery of other people who really did come under fire. After all, one of the Chinooks did get hit by an RPG. The story Williams told was theirs, not his.

Lance Reynolds, who was the flight engineer on the helicopter that got hit with the RPG, told Stars and Stripes, “It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it.” For Reynolds, the incident was “a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”

If two aircraft took ground fire and two didn’t, the reason for the variance likely has very little to do with the personal bravery of any of the pilots or occupants. Everyone involved was lucky to survive; the occupants of the helicopter that got hit, but also the occupants of the helicopters that didn’t take direct fire despite being in the same formation or on the same flight path. In other words, everyone was a “participant,” whether their helicopters were hit or not.


Air Attack!

[ 67 ] February 3, 2015 |

I turned my listicle-sense to attack aircraft last week:

Is the dedicated attack aircraft a dying breed? Few air forces are developing new attack aircraft, preferring to rely on fighter-bombers carrying precision-guided munitions to do the dirty work of close air support and battlefield interdiction. But then it has always been such; tactical attack has long been shunted to the side by air forces more interested in fast fighters and majestic bombers. Many of the attack aircraft used in World War II began design life as fighters, only becoming attack planes when they “failed.” And yet these attack aircraft have, over the years, ably performed one of the most critical airpower missions—the destruction of the fielded forces of the enemy, and the support of friendly ground troops.

Do not read the comments!

The Curse of Chuckie

[ 63 ] January 31, 2015 |

And the Krauthammer Award for Lazy Mendacity goes to… Charles Krauthammer. In the process of using the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to shill for war against Iran, Chuckie writes:

Didn’t it [deterrence] work against the Soviets? Well, just 17 years into the atomic age,we came harrowingly close to deterrence failure and all-out nuclear war. Moreover, godless communists anticipate no reward in heaven. Atheists calculate differently from jihadists with their cult of death. Name one Soviet suicide bomber.

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a moderate, once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.

As Krauthammer undoubtedly knows, Cold War hawks regularly invoked the atheism of Soviet and Chinese leaders as justification for concern about Communist nuclear programs. Atheists, with no fear of eternal punishment and no hope of heavenly reward, could not be trusted to value life. In addition to providing a useful explanation for genocidal Soviet policies in Ukraine, the Stalinist purges, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, the Communist-as-indifferent-to-life trope helped justify attacks on deterrence theory. If Mao and Stalin cared so little about human life that they were willing to kill tens of millions of their own people, then it made no sense to trust their rationality with respect to pushing the button.

And, as Krauthammer is surely aware, there were Soviet suicide bombers. On June 26, 1941 (at least in Soviet propaganda; the reality is murkier) a Soviet pilot named Nikolai Gastello plunged his bomber into a column of German tanks. Suicidal ramming was not an uncommon tactics by Soviet pilots early in the war, the official atheism of the Soviet state notwithstanding. And while I can certainly sympathize with (and even admire) the willingness of Soviet pilots to engage in suicidal self-sacrifice while fighting the Nazis, the question that Krauthammer poses is whether godless communists, who anticipate no reward in heaven, can nevertheless be motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks.  The answer is yes.  The answer is also “yes” for Vietnamese Communists, who were sufficiently motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks in several instances.

With respect to Rafsanji, I can only assume that Krauthammer appreciates that rhetorical invocations of an Islamic community aside, Iran has behaved far more like a nation-state than an apocalyptic death cult. Indeed, the Islamic Republic has, thus far, demonstrated remarkably little interest in committing national suicide in the service of “vindicating” Islam.  And as Middle East watchers have long noted, while Iran isn’t shy about rhetorically embracing the tactic of suicide bombing (and supporting such tactics in proxies), actually instances of Iranians engaging in suicide attacks are quite rare.

At this point, I find the lazy almost more irritating than the mendacity.  Krauthammer is a rhetorician, largely indifferent to the accuracy of the claims that he makes, but in the past he’s made at least a middling effort to distance himself from the rabble by striking an erudite pose.  In his old age, this seems to be slipping. One would hope that the editors of the Washington Post would expect more from one of their front line columnists, but alas…

Defense Innovation in China

[ 0 ] January 29, 2015 |

The Diplomat: APAC (one of my employers), recently introduced a new app. The app has a magazine format, and I have an article on defense innovation in the Chinese military-industrial complex in the third issue.

Yet for all of this success, serious questions persist. China remains dependent on access to foreign technology, with many of its most important systems stemming from Russian and Western designs. More importantly, however, China must figure out a way to manage the growing divide between its military and civilian economies. The United States and Europe have struggled mightily to harness their military-industrial complexes (MICs) to private industry, particular in the information technology sector. China’s MIC will soon face the same problems, and how it manages this obstacle will matter much more than questions about how much technology it can steal from the West.

I highly recommend both the article, and the app.

I believe that LGM will not merely endure: We will prevail

[ 205 ] January 28, 2015 |

One more obstacle falls in LGM’s ruthless, albeit leisurely paced, march to the top of the blogosphere.


[ 119 ] January 27, 2015 |

Last Tuesday, my daughter Miriam complained at breakfast of itchy skin. Miriam complains about a great many things (she’s generally quite insistent that most maladies, from stubbed toe to mild fever, require a trip to the emergency room), and so I didn’t initially take the complaint all that seriously. That afternoon, she complained to her mother, who noticed that a small rash had broken out on her arm. Miriam also had a couple of minor blisters on her legs, and so despite the lack of fever, we resolved to take her in the next morning.

On Wednesday, the doctor diagnosed Miriam with chicken pox. No fever, no nausea, few pox, but chicken pox nonetheless. We mentioned that Miriam had been vaccinated, and our pediatrician noted that she sees about one case a year of a kid who’s been vaccinated by nevertheless gets the disease. It apparently has a transmission rate of roughly 10%, and the cases are 10% as severe for a vaccinated kid as for an unvaccinated.

I got the chicken pox when I was 14. It was hell; constant itching, lethargy, deep unpleasantness all around. I missed two weeks of school. Miriam, the child who complains relentlessly (and eloquently, for a five year old) about every illness or injury, real and imagined, barely raised a peep about her rash, and missed only two days of school. Oh, and her twin sister Elisha has yet to develop the pox.

Dayenu, varicella vaccine. Dayenu.

Air Forces All Over the Place!

[ 4 ] January 27, 2015 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at the three most effective air forces flown by Asian countries:

ut effective air forces need more than flashy fighters. They need transport aircraft that can provide strategic and tactical airlift, and Aerial Early Warning (AEW) planes that can maintain surveillance and control of the sky. They need a defense-industrial base that can keep the warplanes in the air. This article looks at the three most effective air forces in Asia, in the context of their ability to put planes in the sky, to make sure those planes are well flown, and maintain a reliable supply and procurement base.

GoT at ISA

[ 3 ] January 25, 2015 |

This, by LGM alumna Charli Carpenter, is very well done:

Tragically, Alex and I won’t make the panel because of unforeseen new commitments. Nevertheless, if you’re at the ISA conference I can’t imagine a more interesting Wednesday afternoon panel.

As China Pushes Forward…

[ 6 ] January 24, 2015 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at five areas the Chinese military may want to improve:

What weapons should China be developing and building right now?   There’s an inherent tension between defense procurement and innovation.  On the one hand, the Chinese military needs platforms now in order to fulfill the increasing scope of its responsibilities.  On the other hand, funds committed to production and operations don’t go into innovation, or to the integration of new weapon systems.

With this trade-off in mind, this article takes a look at five kinds of weapon that China can develop in the short, medium, and long terms.  China needs systems to secure its borders, ensure the defense of its trade routes, and potentially challenge the United States in the Western Pacific. The list concentrates on systems that enable these missions, with a focus on weapons that other countries either already have or are developing.


Travails of a Starter Carrier

[ 15 ] January 23, 2015 |

The South China Morning Post has a very interesting series on the purchase of the Ukrainian Varyag, the half-constructed aircraft carrier hulk that eventually became Liaoning, China’s first operational carrier. Some thoughts up at the Diplomat:

China’s acquisition of Varyag was contingent on a series of often improbable events. How would China’s carrier program have worked out differently if Ukraine has rejected the purchase, or the Turks had refused transit of the ship, or if the hulk had sunk along the way (a real possibility at the time)?

The Problem is Structural

[ 58 ] January 22, 2015 |

An update on Major General Post:

A prominent lawmaker is calling for an investigation of a major general’s reported comments blasting officers as treasonous if they work with Congress against Air Force plans to retire the A-10.

Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, reportedly told officers at a recent meeting of the Tactics Review Board at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that they were not to speak with Congress about the service’s attempt to retire the attack jet.

“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post is quoted by former airman and blogger Tony Carr as saying.

Post reportedly prefaced his comments by saying “if anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it,” according to Carr’s “John Q. Public” blog.

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who wants to keep the A-10 in service, has called on Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to investigate the reported comments, McCain spokesman Dustin Walker told Air Force Times.

A-4 McCain is right on the particulars, but the problem isn’t with any one individual. Post voiced (in clumsy terms) what the vast bulk of the Air Force hierarchy is thinking about the A-10. The USAF has made its case on the Warthog openly, and strictly on the merits it’s not that awful of a case; the A-10 has a limited future because of its inability to survive in contested airspace. Hell, if any of the Strelas that ISIS fired at A-10s a few days ago had found their mark, the entire fleet would likely have been withdrawn from action.

The problem is that the A-10 represents the only palpable commitment that the USAF has to the close air support mission, and that no one trusts the USAF to pay much attention to the mission when the A-10 is gone. And that problem stems from the fact that we’ve badly misorganized our military forces around the idea that one service should control stuff that flies (as long as it has fixed wings and doesn’t fly off aircraft carriers), regardless of what those planes are supposed to do. And senior officers have every incentive to focus on the parochial needs of the service, rather than on the contribution the service makes to the joint mission.

And, I should hasten to add, there’s a solution…

If You Have a Nickel to Spare…

[ 2 ] January 21, 2015 |

drop it over at Lance’s place. I like to think of Lance as LGM’s Ozzie Altobello.

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