Archive for the 'Aviation' Category
Last week, I read one of those books that is impossible to put down. I read it—devoured it is more like it—in about a night-and-a-half of reading instead of sleeping. That’s something I don’t do these days, but I had to finish it.
It was weirdly familiar and hard to read, and in many ways it resonated. It’s called After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey, and it was written by Dan Sheehan, a fellow Cobra pilot. It’s—sort of—a recall/analysis of his time in Iraq in the early days of OIF and a discussion of the aftermath. I haven’t flown since 2010, but while reading his book, it felt like yesterday. I could smell the cockpit like the blades had just stopped turning, could feel the switches and gauges under my fingertips again, and remember well the post-mission stupor exacerbated by the dull, strong whomp-whomp of the blades echoing up my back.
Dan is an acquaintance; we both served as instructors at the Fleet Replacement Squadron right before we each left active duty. I don’t know him incredibly well, but he’s got a stellar reputation and was exceedingly competent. But that’s not why I hope people read his book.
I hope people read it because what he writes about is important. Yes, flying is interesting, and he describes what that’s like so expertly and eloquently that it made me physically miss it (as if I didn’t miss it enough already). So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fly and fight a Cobra, he’ll tell you. But the beauty in this book—if I dare use that word to describe the critical part of his story—is his ability and willingness to stand up and put a face to what so many veterans have experienced and continue to experience.
It’s a book that may not get a huge following, as it’s kind of in its own category. But if it doesn’t get widely read, then it’s a crying shame. Despite the fact that we’ve been at war for over a decade, less than 1% of Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan (yet many of those endured multiple deployments), and I find myself repeatedly surprised by how few citizens have a real awareness of just what has been happening since 2001. I want people to read Dan’s book, both those who have served and those who have not. Those who have might see traces of themselves in his story, and those who have not served need the perspective. Thank you, Shoe. Keep writing.
Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation… Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Innovation is back! There is an undeniable renewal of interest and forward momentum in innovative thought in the United States Navy today. Why is this? What is driving the renewed attention to innovation?
Several factors influence innovation in both a positive and a negative way. Stephen Rosen discusses many of these factors in his book, “Winning the Next War: Innovation in the Modern Military.” Rosen talks about “technology push,” which occurs when new and disruptive technologies are discovered and sometimes reluctantly incorporated into our warfighting platforms. Though not immediately embraced, over time these technologies can – and often do – revolutionize how we fight. The triumph of steam over sail in the United States Navy is a good example, but one that was hard fought to incorporate or inculcate into the minds of naval officers of that era. Likewise, Rosen’s “demand pull” (or mission pull) stimulates innovation when there is a critical warfighting need and no platform or technology currently available to meet that need. Brave men fought the first and second Battle of the Atlantic in diesel submarines that were cold, cramped, noisy and vulnerable. The need to remain submerged and undetected for long periods of time created a mission pull for nuclear propulsion which contributed to our modern day fleet of highly capable nuclear powered submarines.
While we would have eventually figured out how to put an atomic pile inside a submarine, I think it is fair to say it would not have happened as fast without the contribution of a “maverick” like Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. He drove this process relentlessly and against much opposition, eventually putting to sea the modern SSN. Rickover was unconventional in his methods but he got results. Nowadays, mavericks must learn to work within an even more complex rule set and hierarchy which can stifle innovation. Today’s acquisition process is rather burdensome and although we make the best weapon systems in the world, we must be more responsive in pacing or better yet, exceeding adversary threat capabilities. This of course puts incredible pressure on traditional timelines in research, development and acquisition. Our ongoing efforts to introduce agility and speed into this process must continue if we are to remain a dominant power.
Beyond traditional red-tape, another factor driving – or inhibiting – innovation is money. With competing priorities in the President’s budget, some savings have been realized through reductions in defense spending. Budget reductions and periods of fiscal austerity invariably serve to stimulate critical thought and innovative ways of warfighting. Admiral Jim Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), often quotes a well-known figure in the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher who said at the beginning of the twentieth century, “Now that the money has run out we must start to think!” SACEUR’s reference is poignant, as Fisher is primarily celebrated as an innovator, strategist and developer of the Royal Navy of the First World War era. When appointed First Sea Lord in 1904, he recapitalized older vessels still in active service but no longer useful and set about constructing modern replacements. Fisher is rightly credited with creating a battle fleet well prepared to fight Germany at sea during World War I.
By any account, our Navy budget is not insignificant, but we must continue to adapt to potential changes. Following Fisher’s suggestion to “think” may provide the catalyst to innovating our way past many of the challenges we face today. This may seem too obvious, for how else does one find an answer, except to think. But how frequently do any of us commit to the type of thinking required to fully understand issues and then devise possible solutions? Rear Admiral Terry Kraft, Commander of the Naval Warfare Development Center (NWDC) recently published The Innovators Guide which dedicates a full four pages to creative thought and generation of ideas. Thinking may not be as simple as it sounds, but we must commit to it in order to find the right solutions.
Recognizing these constraints, the CNO has challenged us to facilitate innovation across the Navy, and several organizations have taken great strides towards this end. The NWDC is a key stakeholder, and its mission is to “link tomorrow’s ideas to today’s warfighter through the rapid generation and development of innovative solutions to operational challenges.” This is done by operating at the speed of the Fleet and maintaining a focus on non-material solutions for the future. In this way, the NWDC serves as a “think tank” for how we fight tomorrow’s battles.
So why NWDC? I would offer that there are many lessons we must learn from history, and one of my favorites is examined by Barry Posen in The Sources of Military Doctrine, in his study of the German doctrine. He notes that Germany “won the battle of France and lost the Battle of Britain. She won the battle for which she had prepared and lost the one for which she had not. Her military doctrine had long envisioned major land campaigns on the European continent. Operations beyond its shores had been given little thought.” The doctrine worked well, until the context of the battle changed to exceed its design. In operating at the “speed of the Fleet”, the NWDC is positioned to look forward and adapt to the changing battlefield and its dynamic conditions.
I recently read RADM Kraft’s NWDC post entitled “Naval Innovation Reboot”, which provides thought-provoking messages about the rapid pace of communications facilitated by social networks where ideas are transformed into reality at a very high rate. He argues that the Navy has yet to capitalize on the benefits of these advancements, and suggests that we better empower our Sailors – already more than comfortable with this technology – to use it to our advantage. To more directly engage these junior leaders, last summer, the NWDC hosted a “Junior Leader Innovation Symposium.” The symposium was designed to educate these leaders on the importance of innovation, empower them to contribute new ideas, facilitate connected discussion and start to harvest their ideas. In keeping with their broad-based approach, NWDC also brings together leadership from industry, military and academia to ensure an awareness and openness to innovative solutions and ideas. In other words, Kraft knows that the water’s edge for innovation is NOT at the water’s edge.
One of the most recent efforts from NWDC examines the establishment of a Rapid Innovation Cell. In broad terms, the cell is envisioned as a mechanism to transform disruptive ideas into solutions and as an alternative path to fielding solutions.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is another highly-valuable player in this endeavor. As the Department of the Navy’s Science and Technology (S&T) provider, ONR leads the cutting edge of S&T solutions to address Navy and Marine Corps needs. This effort is developed within and among three directorates, one of which is committed to innovation. ONR’s Directorate of Innovation “cultivates innovative science and technology approaches that support the Department of the Navy and facilitate rapid and agile responses to our changing national security environment.”
Armed with state-of-the-art test facilities and a team of world-class scientists and engineers from a variety of fields, they are well-equipped to advance innovative solutions for the most challenging issues. ONR supports a number of programs aimed to streamline the fielding of technology to the Fleet and Forces. When urgent needs are identified through the Urgent Operational Needs Statement (UONS), Joint UONS (JUONS) and Joint Emergent Operational Needs (JEONs) programs, ONR experts are called upon to ensure available technologies are leveraged in solutions for the fleet. As a complementary process ONR also manages CNO’s Speed to Fleet program, which aims to provide quick-reaction mature and new technologies to deliver working prototypes to warfighters in high-risk or high-threat areas within 12-24 months.
Also within ONR’s quick-reaction S&T portfolio, the Tech Solutions program is a transformational business process created by the Chief of Naval Research to provide Sailors and Marines with a web-based tool for bringing warfighter needs to the Naval Research Enterprise for rapid response and delivery. The program accepts recommendations and suggestions, via an on-line submission form, from Navy and Marine Corps personnel working at the ground level on ways to improve mission effectiveness through the application of technology. It is solely focused on delivering needed technology to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, within 12-18 months, and moving the sea services toward more effective and efficient use of personnel. The program has a proven track record too, resulting in technology to the fleet including a Catapult Capacity Selector Valve Calculator (CSV) – a hand-held Flight Deck Ops Assistant which eliminates a laborious process of referencing paper manuals to determine catapult settings.
With NWDC and ONR working as partners, the Navy has an infrastructure which is well-postured to support innovation. Just a thought before I move on… One of our S&T scientists recently e-mailed me a link to the U.S. Coast Guard Innovation Program. It’s a five-page document which formally establishes the Coast Guard Innovation Program. There may be a risk of institutionalizing innovation, but we might also benefit from having a written plan which supports innovative thought. The Coast Guard has an Innovation Council not unlike the current effort undertaken by NWDC. It also recognizes innovation in the ranks with an annual award and incentive program and sponsors an annual USCG Innovation Expo in partnership with industry. Perhaps we should follow suit?
Innovation has been described as having several forms. These range from technological to strategic, and I’ll give a more detailed outline of my thoughts on some of these later, but we suggest we must also contemplate the nature of innovation we aim to achieve.
In a recent Proceedings article entitled Payloads over Platforms, the CNO calls for the “decoupling of payload development from platform development (to) take advantage of a set of emerging trends in precision weapons, stealth, ship and aircraft construction, economics, and warfare.” By tracing a timeline of successful payload shifts across the service of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), his article illustrates some innovative success the Navy has enjoyed, but these successes were a result of coincidence, and perhaps a dose of good luck, rather than initial design. And, even if the blueprints were drawn up to facilitate payload changes, this approach to design is not pervasive enough to support the CNO’s goals. NWDC and ONR have both adopted or structured approaches to facilitate significant changes like this. If we can successfully tap the ideas of our junior leaders on the deck plates, I believe we are well-suited to develop solutions to propel us in the direction the CNO is pointing.
We face difficult challenges, and innovation provides us one path to solving many of them. I encourage all of our Sailors to discuss ideas and contribute thoughts to this blog or any others I have referenced. We need solutions, and we must be open in our search for them. Is the Navy, as an institution best optimized to innovate? How can we do better? I yield to the “wisdom of the crowd” on this matter, and I am confident that many of you have outstanding ideas that we haven’t yet heard. Get ‘em out there!
The passing of Neil Armstrong, an American treasure and icon, seems lost in the steady drumbeat of electoral rhetoric and the 24-hour news cycle. How unfortunate, since he serves as a standard-bearer for what has been so good and right about America. The accomplishment that he represents, the once inconceivable act of landing a man on the moon, demonstrates that even during a period of international tension and national despair we can still rise to meet the greatest of challenges. In so doing, Armstrong personified two incredible ideals: A nation’s ability to unite for the accomplishment of a grand achievement and an individual who remains selfless, putting service to one’s country before personal gains.
Yesterday’s memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral was a fitting send off for one of our Nation’s finest, a naval aviator and true patriot who proudly served his country. The tone was set from the very start, with the playback of President Kennedy’s 1962 address at Rice University in which he committed the Nation to landing a man on the moon. President Kennedy’s speech recalled the monumental challenges that existed in going to the moon but, as he so famously put it, that we choose to do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Technical hurdles were only one part of the problem, as the Nation would require individuals with a truly unique skill set to go safely to the moon and back. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Astronaut Gene Cernan both pointed out that while many were capable of landing on the moon, in retrospect only Armstrong could carry the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of a Nation on his shoulders and then, having accomplished such a lofty endeavor, could portray himself as simply an ambassador who represented the hard work and dedication of others.
During the service my thoughts drifted back to elementary school, when teachers would wheel TVs on roller carts into the cafeteria so that students could watch the space shuttle launch. I’ll never forget the palpable silence in the room as everyone collectively held their breath when the last few seconds of the countdown started, only to be broken by the thunderous applause of hundreds of children clapping and cheering with a successful ignition of the booster rockets. These moments resonated around the world. A friend and fellow aviator who attended the service, but who grew up Asia, recounted how his school in Taiwan played a tape of Neil Armstrong’s first footsteps on the moon as an example of a historic achievement for the world. These were the events that assured so many of us that great achievements were possible. He, like I, learned to dream just a little bit bigger because of Neil Armstrong.
In a time of self-promotion, when our Nation’s youth look to rock stars and celebrities for role models, we should not pass up this opportunity to champion an American Hero who always declined to champion himself.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a change of office ceremony for the Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) in the “Sail Loft” of the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast Washington, D.C. It was a gala event, that paid tribute to the incredible work ethic, energy and achievements of RDML Denny Moynihan during his four and a half-years on the job. RDML Moynihan was relieved by RDML John Kirby, another super-charged officer who is highly regarded in the Navy and the Navy Public Affairs community for his support of Admiral Mike Mullen as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and most recently, as the military spokesman for Secretary Leon Panetta in OSD Public Affairs.
By nature of his position as CHINFO, which supports the Office of the Secretary of the Navy and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, RDML Kirby will have a direct impact on the Navy and Navy programs and people every day. He has myriad responsibilities that he will want to prioritize, but in many cases, the 24 hour news cycle will modulate and modify his priorities as current events involving U.S. Naval Forces unfold around the globe. As CHINFO, he will be one of the most important architects of the Navy’s Strategic Communications strategy.
Accordingly, he may want to examine our current “brand.” In enterprise terms, Strategic Communicators employ the marketing strategy of “branding” to focus on the objectives achievable with the goods and services that the company can offer its clientele. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) definition of a “brand” is a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
Sounds very business-like doesn’t it? But, let’s agree that the Navy has achieved some incredible efficiencies by adapting industry best practices to streamline support to the warfighter-Lean Six Sigma for example. So it follows that we might embrace “branding” as a method of unifying our strategic message to a target audience.
Since I joined the Service, we’ve adopted many different brands, even before the term and the enterprise approach became popular. Do you recall:
“It’s Not Just a Job… It’s an Adventure!”
“Let the Journey Begin!”
“Navy, Accelerate Your Life!”
And our current brand. “Navy. A Global Force for Good!”
Defining the target audience is part of the discovery process in adopting a brand. Those in the Human Resources aspect of what we do tell me that the target audience is the quality young men and women that we recruit annually to join our Service. We want the best and brightest from the pool of eligible young Americans. With an all-volunteer force, opportunities to learn new skills and be assured of job security, although necessary, are not enough – you need an appealing tagline! Human Resource specialists tell me that our current brand sells well with the Millennial Generation. Those joining our ranks today want job skills and a career, but they also want to make a difference-to be a part of a global team that has a raison d’etre- i.e. to make the world a better place. Recruiting, however, is normally tied to the economy and right now, our recruiting and retention statistics are pretty good. That could all change in a heartbeat with a major change in our economy, so it makes sense to keep a regular drumbeat on the theme of recruiting. Our brand is intended to attract and retain the very best, our challenge is to identify the Navy as a choice worth considering in the minds of those choosing and the minds of those providing advice and counsel.
I wonder however, if new recruits are the only audience? Shouldn’t our brand also appeal to the American taxpayers and their direct representatives on Capitol Hill? To the teachers, counselors, parents and coaches—those figures America’s youth look to when trying to figure out their personal way ahead? The point is that the “brand” has to appeal to a broad audience, with different levels of experience and different perspectives. The challenge is to reach and appeal to this wide audience with a clear and concise message of who we are.
In the marketplace, brands appeal to consumers and stifle the competition. Consumers of our brand are the American people, who want a safe and secure environment with conflicts resolved far from our shores. Our competition in the market of national security could be a peer competitor, a downright enemy of the state, or worst case – apathy and the belief that national security is someone else’s job. So, how will our brand keep us moving forward and deter our adversaries? This is an important question, if in fact you subscribe to the theory that our brand has multiple target audiences. Could we or should we change our brand to send a different message or a message to a different audience. I don’t have a good answer to these questions, so I thought we might benefit from the wisdom of the crowd–hence the reason for this blogging effort?
The CNO has given us three simple tenets and only six words on which to base our day-to-day fulfillment of our duties: Warfighting First! Operate Forward! Be Ready! Does our brand convey these three tenets? Do we need more than one brand for more than one audience? Do we need a brand at all?
I always liked the poster of the Aircraft Carrier that you see in many Navy Facilities-”90,000 tons of diplomacy.” A picture is often worth a thousand words, but that picture combined with that caption conveys many things about our Navy and our great country. It champions our industrial base and the United States’ ability to construct and operate not one but eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers. It illustrates our ability to operate from our sovereign territory—the flight deck of the carrier—anytime and anyplace where our national interests may be threatened or where a helping hand may be needed. It epitomizes our ability to take the fight to the enemy far away from our shores. Finally, it sends the message that when diplomacy or deterrence fails, standby! American resolve and wherewithal will be there, ready to act if called upon. Perhaps we should adopt a brand that does all that?
We have lost a truly great one. Military Historian and analyst Sir John Keegan, OBE, has died at the age of 78.
The Telegraph announced the death of this nonpareil author and military historian. No serious student of the Profession of Arms should fail to read Keegan’s seminal work, The Face of Battle, nor many of his other numerous and superlative works, including The First World War, The Second World War, Six Armies at Normandy, and The Price of Admiralty.
Keegan’s genius in explaining the incomprehensible, warfare, at all its levels, was simply remarkable. His was a once-in-a-century intellect, and he shall be missed.
Russia has been increasing the reach of its navy in recent years, sending warships further afield as part of an effort to restore pride project power in a world dominated by the U.S. military.
That throws a wrench in our Maritime Strategy, it would seem. Or does it? What should our reaction be, militarily? And what, diplomatically? Should there be any?
This post is part of a group covering a Lockheed Martin media event for the F-35 Lightning II. For an analysis of the fighter’s potential as an unmanned aircraft, visit news.usni.org. For my discussion of the Joint Strike Fighter as an international acquisitions program, visit the NextWar blog at the Center for International Maritime Security.
The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, has seemed to be the third rail of defense acquisitions. The aircraft program’s costs and operational role have been thoroughly discussed both here and elsewhere. When USNI kindly offered me the opportunity to represent them at a Lockheed Martin event, I felt daunted by the volumes of ink spilled to date on the subject. But, I think the JSF program as suffered from polemic coverage and needs some measured commentary. I learned a lot and hope this knowledge serves as an antidote to the vitriol surrounding this aircraft:
- Whatever its costs and however well the F-35 does or does not fit American strategic and operational interests, nobody says it isn’t an impressive aircraft in its own right. This is a point worth saying out loud. At one point, we were shown infrared video from a test flight. We could see on the camera an outline of a Joint Strike Fighter on the tarmac – that was the place where the aircraft was parked 45 minutes before. The F-35 could sense the difference in solar heating of the runway caused by the aircraft’s shadow after that amount of time – incredible! While I think President Eisenhower’s statements on the military-industrial complex are worth heeding, America and its partners are pioneering impressive new technologies to increase our military capabilities. The bottom line: how can we best leverage the capabilities of the F-35 in a continually evolving threat environment? And how can we use technologies pioneered in this program to support other platforms? Answering these questions would allow the United States to recoup more of its significant investments in this program.
- Lockheed was open to discussing the different cost estimates of the program. I was expecting to have a certain figure placed in front of me. But Sam Grizzle, Lockheed’s Director of Communications for Aviation, admitted on the subject of costs that “other folks may come up with a different number.” This transparency impressed me. Further, Lockheed employed an interesting defense of the JSF program’s cost. We often compare the JSF to other acquisition programs in the present or to similar ones of the past. Essentially, they argued that you would have to compare the JSF program to whatever alternative DoD would have pursued (each service independently pursuing different strike fighters, for example). It’s difficult to prove a negative – so we ultimately can’t know whether a different program might have been a better alternative. I can think of many counter-arguments to this line of reasoning, but they only made my head hurt. Ultimately, people with differing views on the cost of the program will continue to circle each other in a rhetorical dogfight, but the aircraft is in production and so I think that discussion is moot for those in uniform. Our civilian government will make financial choices to meet our national priorities. A very interesting dialogue does remain, however, on how the aircraft will be employed, and this is where we as a community can contribute – Galrahn has some interesting thoughts on the JSF as a command and control platform and I wrote a piece on unmanned JSF’s for news.usni.org.
- Many have noted that the Navy’s F-35C has a single engine like all other variants – at first blush, this lack of redundancy would give me pause if I were alone over the ocean at night. But the F-35’s engine is shrouded as a stealth measure. I asked Lockheed officials whether this might mitigate foreign-object damage and increase the engine’s resiliency. They said, “That’s an interesting question.” I was surprised that they hadn’t studied this in detail. The bottom line: is the F-35’s single engine more reliable and survivable compared to past engines? Claiming that two engines are better because that’s how we’ve done it in the past is flawed reasoning. It’s also neglects our history, as many of the retired fighter pilots in the room reminded me. In 1958, the Navy was deciding between the single-engine Vought F8U-3 and the twin-engine McDonnell F4H. The safety record of twin versus single-engine airplanes was examined and determined to not be a deciding factor. The only twin-engine airplane at the time was the A3D Skywarrior, which had two engines because it was too big to be powered by only one. At 40,000 lbs. of thrust, the JSF doesn’t need two engines by this measure. Also, looked at from a different side, having two engines simply doubles the chance that one fails. There are control and stability issues on one engine and it’s unclear whether a dual-engined JSF could reasonably make a carrier landing on a single engine. Personally, I’d like to see more data – and anyone wanting to have a reasoned discussion of this issue should as well.
- I learned a lot about the international program, which I’ll cover extensively at the other blog I contribute to, CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.One interesting note: the event showed USNI’s influence in stark relief. Once the floor was open for questions, the first two focused on the Chief of Naval Operations’ recent Proceedings article “Payloads over Platforms.” These questions weren’t from me, but from bloggers from other venues. It was a moment that underscored how much the Naval Institute frames the discourse on maritime security.
Lockheed was reluctant to discuss the piece, at one point Lockheed’s Bob Rubino joked “CNO’s article? Didn’t see that…” Many have taken the CNO’s piece – especially his discussion on the limitations of stealth – as an indictment of the F-35 program. But if you read the piece closely, I think a better summary would be that stealth is important, but isn’t the sole determinant of a successful aircraft.
The Joint Strike Fighter inspires strong feelings in both supporters and detractors, and so it’s difficult to have a measured discussion of the program. What’s clear is that the Navy, the United States, and many allies and partners are counting on the program’s success. After today, any discussion of the program that isn’t constructive towards that end holds little interest for me.
Those were Adolf Hitler’s words in December of 1940, as he revealed to his senior Wehrmacht Field Marshals and Generals his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
At a few minutes past 0300 on the morning of 22 June 1941, the rumble of 8,000 artillery pieces shook the western positions of the Red Army, all along the new borders of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, more than 3,300 aircraft roared overhead on their way to attack Soviet airfields, troop concentrations, command posts, and artillery positions. The most fateful day of the Twentieth Century had begun.
In the west, the Wehrmacht of Hitler’s Third Reich consisted of 2.5 million men and more than 4,000 tanks comprising 180 divisions, organized into three massive Army Groups, which were poised to smash their ideological and political enemies, the Bolshevik dictatorship of Stalin’s Soviet Russia.
Opposing the German onslaught was more than 3 million soldiers of Stalin’s Red Army. Numerically superior to its German opponent in men, aircraft (4,000), and tanks (more than 7,000), the armies on the Soviet western boundary were nonetheless abysmally led and poorly trained. Still reeling from Stalin’s 1937-39 purges of most of its officer corps, and from the bloody humiliation of the disastrous “Winter War” with Finland in the winter of 1939-40, the Red Army was ill-prepared for war against a modern western foe.
The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, was a finely tuned weapon of mechanized warfare, having conquered Poland two years earlier, and overrun France in less than six weeks in 1940. Superbly trained and equipped with modern armor and the most advanced combat aircraft, the three German Army Groups shattered the Soviet forces opposite them. The Luftwaffe swept the Red Air Force, the VVS, from the skies and smashed it on the ground. By the end of the second day, more than 2,300 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed. The Red Army was already being shattered and destroyed piecemeal, in what would be the “great battles of encirclement” of that summer and autumn of 1941, from which few escaped death or captivity. The eradication of the VVS was nearly complete. Nearly. The Red Army almost bled to death. Almost. Yet, somehow, they held on.
Operation BARBAROSSA, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, more than any other, was Hitler’s war. It was the war of Mein Kampf, the war for Lebensraum in the East, whose purpose was to open the great steppes for colonization by the Aryan race. It was a war not just of conquest but of subjugation and annihilation, fought with a brutality that had not been seen in Europe since the Tatar conquests of seven centuries before. It was a war of unspeakable horror and unimaginable suffering, by soldier and civilian alike. Prisoners on both sides died by the millions, worked to death as slave labor, starved, or simply shot or hanged out of hand. But it was also a war of grim and fatalistic heroism on both sides. The German-Soviet conflict, when it ended in the rubble of Berlin nearly four years later, would take the lives of almost twenty-three million souls.
Some of the most enduring images of the Eastern Front, and for the Soviets the Great Patriotic War, are of columns of Russian and German prisoners forlornly marching to their fates (the Russians seemingly always in the dust of the summer, the Germans in the bitter cold of winter). And of grainy images of executions and hangings by the German SS Einsatzgruppen, and far less publicized, of the execution of suspected Russian collaborators by field units of the NKVD, the terror apparatus of Stalin’s brutal regime.
There are lessons and cautions abundant in examining this titanic struggle. Cautions about underestimating one’s enemy, his will to fight for family and homeland. The Russian soldier, deemed racially inferior and incapable of waging modern war, proved individually tough, able to endure hardship and privation in startling measure. He was also fanatical in the defense, fierce in the attack, and bore a hatred of the “blue-eyed oaf” that would be carried across the borders of Prussia with terrible effect.
The Russian was also capable of producing simple but highly effective weaponry, and of mastering its employment. The T-34 and KV-1 tanks that began to appear in the autumn of 1941 were superior to any German design. Soviet aircraft began to close the technology gap with the Luftwaffe far faster than anticipated. Soviet artillery, superior to the Germans even in June of 1941, would dominate the battlefield as the Red Army’s “God of War”. All these would surprise and confound the German commanders who were told to expect an enemy of limited intellect and poor character.
There are also many myths and misconceptions surrounding the struggle between these oppressive dictatorships. Here are two:
- The Wehrmacht was not capable of winning a short (ten-week) war against the Soviet Union.
Because the Germans did not win does not mean they were not capable of winning, or the Soviets capable of losing. Had the Ostheer kept its focus on Moscow as the main objective (the plan was to surround, not enter the city), and had Hoth’s Panzers been unleashed in the first week of August, rather than frittered away in other operations until October, the capture of the European capital of the Soviet Union was within its capabilities. Perhaps even more important than the purely political prize was the massive Soviet war industry that occupied the so-called “Moscow-Gorky Space”. Siberian forces did not begin to arrive to defend the city and its immediate area in significant numbers until late September, 1941. The capture of the Soviet war industry, which included the massive tank works at Gorky itself, and the aircraft engine factory at Kuibyshev, would have deprived the Soviet Union of its most valuable asset, the ability to replace the massive combat losses with more modern and capable equipment. Had those factories been destroyed or fallen into German hands, there would have been no MiG or Yak fighters, no Il-2 Sturmoviks, no PE-2s, or any of the other increasingly modern aircraft that would eventually sweep the Luftwaffe from the sky. There would have been no replacement divisions of T-34/76 and /85 tanks, no self-propelled guns, no artillery pieces to replace those lost in the massive battles or worn out in extensive combat. Without those factories and the hardware they produced, there would have been no rehabilitation of the VVS or of the Red Army into the juggernaut that crushed Army Group Vistula into bits and eventually subsume eastern Germany.
- The Soviet Union was capable of defeating Nazi Germany without Allied assistance.
While it is true that the Soviet Union bore the unquestioned preponderance of the weight of German arms (at various times, 80% of German combat power was employed in the East, and nearly 80% of all German losses were inflicted by the Soviets), and the suffering and casualties of the Soviet military and civilian population exceeded the rest of the Allies combined by a wide margin, Stalin’s Russia could not have won the war without Allied, and particularly American, assistance. While many are familiar with pictures of some of the 9,000 US and British tanks shipped to the Soviets under Lend-Lease, these represented only about 20% of Soviet tank production during the war. There is little question upon any examination, however, that there were two absolutely critical areas of direct assistance were the linchpins of the survival of the Soviet Union in the dark days of 1941-43, and their drive to ultimate victory in 1944-45. The first of these areas was in food production. The United States shipped more than seventeen MILLION tons of food, wheat and canned goods, to the Soviet Union whose agricultural bread basket was under German occupation. That food sustained the Red Army and Russian war industry workers when none other was available. Without it, the prospects for Soviet victory would have been slim indeed. The second item so critical to the Soviet war effort was the supply of more than half a million American trucks. Tough, six-wheel drive vehicles which carried logistical supplies from the rear areas to the front, and which mounted the famous 122mm Katyusha rocket launchers by the tens of thousands, allowed the Red Army to supply itself on the battlefield in the defensive struggles of 1942 and carried that Army to the great offensive drives that eventually smashed the German Ostheer. Those trucks represent more than 70% of total Soviet vehicle production, freeing their industries to produce the war weapons, tanks, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles that equipped the Red Army.
The final victory of the Soviet Union is, however, a testament to the tough, fierce, and brave Russian soldier. His image, the hardened veteran soldier sitting atop a T-34 with PPSh in hand, scanning for a glimpse of the hated enemy, his mustard-colored quilt uniform covered with dust and snow, will endure for centuries in the collective consciousness of the Russian people.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union has never been comprehensively treated. The subject is far too large. It is too complex and incapable of being understood, except gradually, within the context of its salient events, and those of the rest of the world during and since. A thousand volume work on the subject would still require an explanation and a qualification that such a work was by no means all-inclusive. Yet, it remains one of the most compelling subjects for historians, social and military, because of the world-altering impact of the events themselves and their decades-long aftermath. The magnitude of the struggle defies modern understanding. As does the agony of the armies and the peoples locked in the grips of that mortal struggle.
And so it is likely to remain. And it began with the flash of cannon and the roar of engines, in the morning darkness, seventy-one years ago today.
(Cr0ss-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)
* Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace The Bad Old Days
Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails
And movie stars you thought were alone then
Now are framed beside your bed
Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
- Peter Allen, ‘Everything Old is New Again
There was a point, a decade or so ago (OK, maybe two decades back), when I thought some of my bete noirs, like medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missile-armed supersonic bombers were going to go skulking off into that not-so-gentle night. Alas, it appears not so:
A move by Russia to sell its production line of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to China for US$1.5 billion to China was confirmed by the US-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission two years ago and the bomber’s name will be changed to the Hong-10, reports the state-run China News Service … The Hong-10, whose components will all be produced in China with the exception of the engine, is expected to fly in the second half of next year, and the country will produce 36 aircraft in the first batch to be delivered to the air force. One of world’s fastest long-range bombers which can also carry atomic weapons, the plane can cover the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the western Pacific. Sources here and here.
So now, along with pondering MRBMs that may be the Pershing II re-incarnated, alongside bulked up Badgers, we have the prospect of the Backfire being introduced into the increasingly volatile mix that constitutes the Far East Theater. Mah-velous. Previously rebuffed in the late 80′s/early 90′s by the Russians who didn’t want to upset the balance of forces in theater, the Chinese evidently closed the deal in 2010 to domestically produce up to 36 Tu-22M3 Backfires (Domestic designation: H-10) with the engines to be supplied by Russia – an agreement all the more curious because of the very real anger the Russians have (had?) over the Chinese knock-off production of the Su-27SK that formed the basis of the J-11 family and the navalized J-15 without paying the attending license-fees.
While it is easy to wave the “game changer” flag, the appearance of the H-10 in the region, especially in terms of coverage in the SCS and as a possible LACM platform for strikes against Guam, will be cause for more concern and an additional complication in the “Pacific pivot.” Already, H-6′s and H-6K’s running around the region with a variety of sub- and supersonic cruise missiles are cause for concern, and now, just as in the ‘Good/Bad Old Days’ the appearance of the Backfire on the stage once again places a premium on our ability to reach out and touch at long ranges, the archer before he has the option to shoot his arrows – rebuilding the Outer Air Battle as it were, but in an updated form to handle an updated threat and under conditions we didn’t necessarily have to face in the Cold War. It also means stepping up our training and putting renewed emphasis on countering the reconnaissance-strike complex that would support the H-6/H-10 (and ASBMs for that matter) – time to get serious about OPDEC, EMCON and a host of other TTPs we became very practiced with during the 80′s but have let atrophy over the years. Oh, and did I mention the need for some really, really good AEW?
And do-on’t throw the past away
You might need it some other rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
When everything old i-is new-ew a-again
Crossposted at steeljawscribe.com
Over at OpFor, old comrade LTCOL P asks some thought-provoking questions as he links to an article by AOLDefense’s Sydney Freedberg. The article covers the happenings at UNIFIED QUEST, the United States Army’s Title 10 Wargame being held at The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.
Go there. Ponder his questions, and read the article. Well worth your time.
UNIFIED QUEST is usually a pretty illuminating event, a “futures game” which posits the incorporation of as-yet unfielded technology or force structure, and the effects of that technology or structure on tactics and doctrine. Occasional bits of self-delusion occur (tactical “offensive cyber” being launched at a Bn Commander’s say-so with a server dropped into a remote airfield comes to mind), but overall, the game is well conducted and has had (in my years of participation at least) a very sharp and aggressive “Red Team”. This year appears to be no different.
What stands out in the AOLDefense article, fairly leaps from the page, is this exchange:
“You needed ports, [the enemy] knew you needed ports,” he said. “They were ready for you.” While the US-led task force maneuvered elaborately by sea and air to deceive the enemy commanders where they would land, ultimately the coalition had no way to bring in the supplies its own forces needed, let alone humanitarian aid, without controlling a handful of major seaports. So the enemy commanders ignored the feints — their militiamen lacked the kind of mobile reserve force that would have been needed to try to counter them anyway — and simply dug in where they knew the US would eventually have to come to them.
“We had to go here; we’re very predictable,” sighed one US Army officer later in the briefing. The military has invested in the capability to bring forces ashore where there is no port — formally called JLOTS, Joint Logistics Over The Shore — but the Army and Navy together only have enough such assets to move supplies for one reinforced Army brigade, while the Marines can land another brigade-plus. That’s only a fraction of the force required in this scenario. While the the resulting dependence on established infrastructure — seaports, airfields, bases in friendly countries — is often thought of as a purely logistical problem, in this kind of conflict it can have bloody tactical consequences.
We have spent a decade and a half (or more) talking about seizure of ports as the cheap and easy alternative to landing over a beach. Time and again, the refrain that port seizure was the far preferable alternative to coming ashore at the surf line was drummed into our ears. “Ports are smart, beaches are dumb” was how one senior Navy Officer explained it, somewhat condescendingly. Problem is, seizing a port which is surrounded by built-up area, under the noses of an enemy that knows you need it and knows it is, in fact, your critical vulnerability, never was going to be as easy as those port seizure advocates assumed it would be. (I did happen to notice none of them ever seemed to be infantrymen.)
Urban combat is never easy in the best of circumstances, but becomes especially challenging when you have a limited ability to transition forces from afloat to ashore without securing the very objective you are fighting for. Even an unsophisticated and largely immobile adversary can defend effectively if he knows where you are going and why. Cherbourg was destroyed by second-rate German garrison troops in June of 1944, even as US forces drove into the Cotentin Peninsula. The loss of that port affected the Allied drive across Europe into 1945.
One other point worth mentioning: The aforementioned JLOTS is not a system that can be used in an assault echelon. The loading of the ships and craft are not according to the Commander of the Landing Force’s (CLF) Landing Plan. JLOTS is a national asset which requires a secure beach over which to transit. The brigade coming ashore isn’t doing so in fighting trim. Very effective for bringing in follow-on assets, but not for forcing an entry.
So once again the value of landing combat-ready forces over a beach is highlighted. As is the paucity of current capacity to do so, which includes the near non-existent Naval Gunfire capability of the United States Navy.
Kudos to the Red Team at UNIFIED QUEST. Their job is to poke holes through the invalid assumptions in Blue Forces’ planning and execution, and they have done so here in a major way. Our assumptions regarding port seizures are at the top of this year’s list.
With a “Strategic Pivot” toward the Pacific, let’s hope those who read the Lessons Learned from UQ 12 are paying attention.
- Beyond the Straits
- Sea Control 30 – Australian Submarines
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #54: Shell Fragment from the USS Massachusetts (BB-59)
- Midrats 13 April 14 Episode 223: 12 Carriers and 3 Hubs with Bryan McGrath
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #53: Handmade Seabee Photo Album From Guadalcanal