Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spooks on the Ground

Yesterday, we predicted a little revelation regarding our involvement in the Libyan conflict. Within a few days, we estimated, U.S. officials would acknowledge that our special forces (or CIA operatives) are "in country," and aiding rebel forces.

"...Any bets as to when we'll finally admit there are American boots on the ground in Libya? We're guessing by week's end, barring some sort of preemptive leak."

Turns out, we were off by a few days> As you might have heard, that information was disclosed late this afternoon, to The New York Times:

The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col.Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials. While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.

The Times also reports that British operatives and special forces are also on the ground, gathering intelligence and directing air strikes by RAF fighters. So, between the CIA and British contingents, there are plenty of qualified personnel to provide control for Air Force A-10s and AC-130s that joined the battle earlier this week. Unfortunately, the spooks are playing catch-up.

The Commander of U.S. Africa Command (who was running the operation before NATO took control today) admitted earlier this week that his staff "didn't have great data" to plan and launch the operation. In an e-mail, General Carter Ham admitted that "we haven't focused much on Libya in recent years."

More disturbing, the Times also reports that some of our spooks in the ground were previously assigned to the CIA station in Tripoli. In other words, the operatives who've had difficulty in generating actionable intelligence on Qadhafi and his military are the local experts (emphasis ours). Actually, many of the CIA agents controlling our aircraft are paramilitary operatives, who probably entered Libya after the fighting began. But it's painfully evident that Libya also represents an intelligence failure, not on the scale of WMD in Iraq, but a failure nontheless.

Meanwhile, the tactical situation on the ground continues to erode. Forces loyal to Qadhafi are continuing their advance, pushing the rebels back towards Benghazi. Various media outlets have reported that insurgent recruits are entering combat with only minimal training. One rebel, interviewed by Fox News, admitted that he was carrying an AK-47 for the first time. Even against Qadhafi's incompetent military, the insurgents have virtually no chance. Chris McGreal of the U.K. Guardian did an excellent job of describing the rag-tag faction that is battling the dictator's army. If President Obama, Nicholas Sarkozy and David Cameron are betting on these guys, they might want to reconsider.

With the war going badly, Mr. Obama and his allies are facing pivotal decisions. Ramp up the air war (in hopes) of stopping Qadhafi's advance, while finding some way to prop up rebel ground forces. Obviously, you can't build an army overnight, and there aren't enough SAS and CIA operatives to handle the job. Against the backdrop, the NATO alliance (led by the U.S.) must quickly weigh the option of sending in ground forces. Without them, the rebels are heading for defeat--and so is NATO.


ADDENDUM: With the alliance now running the show, we're not sure who's in charge of the air operation. But prior to the hand-off, the officer running the air war was Air Force Major General Margaret Woodward, the first woman to lead an air campaign. As Commander of 17th Air Force (based in Germany), General Woodward is in charge of the air element of U.S. Africa Command, which led our initial strikes in Libya.

General Woodward is a career airlift and tanker pilot, which means she has the right background for support and humanitarian missions. However, her qualifications for kinetic operations are a bit vague. As the air war enters a critical phase, General Woodward and her NATO colleagues must find a way to stop Qadhafi's forces--or develop plans for getting CIA personnel and British operatives out of Libya.

Cartoon of the Day

Dilbert on our "Green Energy" future...BTW, didn't President Obama mention this one during his Georgetown speech?

H/T: Powerline.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Boots on the Ground?

An Air Force A-10 launches a Maverick missile. The Pentagon has confirmed that A-10s, along with AC-130 gunships, are now flying combat missions over Libya. Their presence suggests that U.S. "kinetic" operations will continue for some time, and these platforms may be working with American or NATO ground controllers (USAF photo).

During his various public pronouncements on Libya, President Obama has tried to assure leery Americans that our military involvement will be limited, and aimed at preventing a humanitarian disaster. He offered similar words last night, in a prime-time speech delivered at the National Defense University. As the AP reports:

"We have intervened to stop a massacre," Obama said.

Ten days into a conflict many Americans say they do not understand, Obama laid out a moral imperative for intervening against a murderous tyrant, and doing so without the lengthy international dithering that allowed so much blood to be spilled in Bosnia. His address at the National Defense University echoed campaign rhetoric about restoring U.S. moral pride of place after squandering it in Iraq.

"Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges," Obama said. "But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."

Gadhafi's forces have been largely pinned down and unable to mount a massacre since the first hours of the war, while U.S. and NATO warplanes have become an unacknowledged aerial arm of the rebels. Obama said the United States will help the opposition, an oblique reference to the rebels.

And remarkably enough, the wire service seems unimpressed with Mr. Obama's justification. The danger of a massacre in Benghazi largely evaporated with NATO fighter jets entered the fray, blasting Gadhafi's armored columns and effectively grounding his air force.

Meanwhile, Libyan rebels promptly went on the offensive and are now advancing westward towards Sirte, Gadhafi's home town. That begs a rather obvious question: what happens when the insurgents reach that city and (presumably) begin tracking down Gadhafi loyalists? Given the humanitarian "nature" of our mission, is the U.S. prepared to stop the potential slaughter of civilians in Sirte and other regime strongholds? It's rather remarkable that such questions are being asked not just by Mr. Obama's political opponents, but even by the AP, which has long been a cheerleader for administration policies.

Then, there's the matter of our ties to the Libyan rebels, who have their own, disturbing connections to Al Qaida. Senior U.S. military officials have told Congress (and the public) that there is no direct coordination between our forces and the Libyan opposition. But this item caught our eye, underscoring the gap between administration rhetoric and the reality on the ground. And don't take our word for it; in her analysis of the president's speech, AP National Security writer Anne Gearan said Mr. Obama's description "doesn't match" the conflict we're in.

You see, it's more than a matter of semantics. True, President Obama never mentioned the Libyan rebels by name, or even used the "w" word (war) in describing our military campaign. Looking at some of the American assets now entering the fight, it's clear the Commander-in-Chief has signed off on a much more active role for our military forces, utilizing the "unique capabilities" cited in his address.

While that phrase is aimed at conjuring up images of support aircraft--like the RC-135 Rivet Joint SIGINT aircraft, or long-range UAVs like Global Hawk--the U.S. is also contributing platforms aimed at eliminating Gadhafi's ability to resist. On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that A-10 attack aircraft and AC-130 gunships have entered the fray, putting even more firepower on the side of the rebels.

Even military novices know that the A-10 is the premier tank-busting aircraft in the world. With its heavy weaponry and ability to loiter in the target area, a handful of A-10s can make short work of Gadhafi's armored forces, particularly with his air defenses all-but-eliminated.

The AC-130 is a precision platform that operates almost exclusively at night. Armed with a 25mm chain gun, a 40 mm cannon and a 105 mm howitzer, the "Spectre" can provide devastating fire against targets in close proximity to friendly troops. Gunship tactics call for neutralization of a target in two minutes--or less--offering some idea of just how effective the aircraft can be. In Iraq, the AC-130 became a star in urban operations, providing withering fire on point targets, with minimum damage to nearby buildings or other facilities.

It's also worth noting that A-10s and AC-130s are most effective when working with ground spotters--someone to direct them onto the target and provide immediate feedback on the results. While Warthog pilots and gunship crews are certainly capable of identifying (and engaging) targets on their own, introduction of these assets raises questions about who might be working with them on the ground (we'll assume that none of the Libyan rebels are qualified in tactical air control). To be sure, there are a variety of assets that could be directing the airstrikes, including U.S. and British special forces; CIA paramilitary personnel, and even NATO tactical air control parties (TACPs).

To be fair, much of the current fighting is taking place in the open desert. In that environment, the A-10s and AC-130s can operate with a fair degree of independence. Just create kill boxes and tell the rebels to stay outside those areas; anything inside the box that looks like a military target gets whacked. It's literally that simple.

Still, there are potential dangers with that sort of operation, as we discovered in Kosovo. In one highly-publicized incident, NATO aircraft engaged what was believed to be a Serbian military convoy. It turned out to be a column of refugees. Without direction from the ground, it's sometimes impossible to separate the "good guys" from the "bad guys" (and we use those terms advisedly in describing combatants in the Balkans).

So far, air operations in Libya have been remarkably free of claims of collateral damage, despite the fluid tactical environment. In fact, the only case of "friendly fire" came during the rescue of a downed F-15 crew in the early hours of NATO air operations. A Marine Corps CV-22 Osprey, dispatched to rescue the airmen, opened fire on Libyan villagers who were also trying to provide assistance. The absence of friendly fire or collateral damage reports since then suggests that our pilots are getting help from the ground, most likely in the form of special forces teams.

The presence of those A-10s and AC-130s (and the possible deployment of special ops personnel) suggests the U.S. will use its unique capabilities to completely defeat Gadhafi's forces, even when the rebels move into Tripoli. There's nothing wrong with that; afterall, Mr. Obama has said publicly that the Libyan dictator "must go." It's his job to set policy.

Still, it would be nice if the Commander-in-Chief would describe his operation in realistic and honest terms. The "massacre" of Libyan rebels that prompted our intervention is no longer a serious possibility. And despite claims about turning the "kinetic operation" over to our NATO partners, it's very clear the U.S. is up to its eyeballs in the fighting, and we won't leave the battle anytime soon.

Fact is, the coalition needs our "unique capabilities" to fight this war (even if the White House runs away from that term), and those may include individuals providing a "nine-line" brief to A-10 pilots and AC-130 crews. Whatever happened to transparency--you know, that quality that was supposed to be a cornerstone of the Obama Administration?

Any bets as to when we'll finally admit there are American boots on the ground in Libya? We're guessing by week's end, barring some sort of preemptive leak.


ADDENDUM: Need more proof that Libya may devolve into a "long, hard slog?" Consider this recent dispatch from the AP's Ryan Lucas, with rebel forces near Ras Lanouf. Pro-Gadhafi forces hammered the insurgents in that area today, minus the protection of NATO aircover. Without the support of A-10s, F-15Es, F-16s, Tornados, Rafales et al., the rebels are little more than a rag-tag force--a fact not lost on the Libyan dictator. Look for some sort of "mass casualty" collateral damage incident in the coming days, to weaken NATO resolve, force a possible pause in the bombing, and give his own forces an opportunity to regain more territory.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Buh-Bye Katie

Five years after it began with much fanfare and anticipation, the Katie Couric era at CBS is drawing to a close.

Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast reported yesterday that Ms. Couric is "almost certain" to leave the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News in June. Meanwhile, the search for her replacement is already underway, while The Perky One contemplates her future plans, including a possible foray into daytime TV.

News of Couric's departure came as a bit of a surprise. Reports in recent weeks suggested that CBS wanted to extend her contract, keeping her on the Evening News through the 2012 political season. If Howard Kurtz is correct--and no one at CBS has disputed his report--the network is bringing the Couric experiment to a close, after an investment of four years, and more than $60 million in compensation alone.

What did The House that Murrow Built get for its money? Lousy ratings, a bit of publicity, and that's about it. With Couric in the anchor chair, the Evening News remained mired in third place, well behind front-runner NBC and second-place ABC. CBS executives liked to brag about the awards won by the Evening News with Couric as anchor, but they added nothing to the bottom line. Meanwhile, affiliates complained Couric's low ratings left them at a disadvantage with competitors, particularly in markets where the Evening News airs before local news broadcasts.

Indeed, the CBS broadcast generates less revenue (and profits) than NBC Nightly News or ABC's World News, with no signs of improvement. That alone made it impossible to keep Couric at her current salary. Even pundits who predicted Couric would stay at CBS admitted that any new deal would include a significant salary cut. Why pay $15 million a year for a last-place anchor when you could put someone else in the chair--at less than half her salary--and generate similar ratings?

Early speculation about a successor is focused on Scott Pelley, the former CBS White House Correspondent who now serves as a co-anchor for 60 Minutes. While no one disputes his hard news credentials, his live anchoring experience is limited. One CBS insider noted that Pelley was rejected in the past for the morning, evening and weekend anchor slots before landing on the network's flagship news program. His problem? A perceived lack of personality and charisma, based on previous focus group testing. Those traits were viewed as less of a liability on 60 Minutes, which plays to his strengths as a reporter and interviewer.

But Pelley isn't the only candidate. The new Chairman of CBS News (Jeff Fager) and his division president, David Rhodes, are reportedly looking at other possibilities. Mr. Fager, who doubles as executive producer of 60 Minutes is a long-time fixture at CBS, but David Rhodes cut his teeth at Fox News Channel, where he climbed the ranks from the assignment desk to the executive suite. Mr. Rhodes was instrumental in the rise of FNC and he was clearly influenced by Ailes's bold, take-no-prisoners style. How that will work at CBS is anyone's guess, but some have suggested that Rhodes might favor an outsider for the anchor chair, someone like his former FNC colleague, Shepard Smith.

Ol' Shep in the anchor chair once occupied by Uncle Walter? Yeah, it's a stretch, but times have changed. Smith is one of the few anchors who's managed to build and hold an audience over the past decade, though he clearly benefited from the rise of FNC as the dominant force in cable news. But even before Fox became #1, Smith was trouncing Brian Williams in the cable ratings, a fact not lost on those searching for Couric's replacement. Smith currently makes an estimated $8 million a year at FNC; even with a "raise" from CBS, he'd still be cheaper than Couric, and there's some belief that he would attract a younger audience than the current Evening News anchor.

On the other hand, Smith's skills as a foreign correspondent and political reporter are considered weak. He doesn't anchor FNC's election coverage (a task handled by Bret Baier) and his overseas reporting has been limited to coverage of the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and in recent weeks, the disaster in Japan. However, Smith is a master at ad-libbing and extended live coverage of breaking news--essential skills for any network anchor.

If we had to venture a guess, we'd say that CBS will ultimately select someone like Scott Pelley or former morning show anchor Harry Smith, proven commodities who are far less expensive than Ms. Couric. Not that it really matters; it takes years for a network newscast to show any movement in the ratings, and viewers are deserting the "dinner hour" broadcasts in droves. As we noted years ago, Tom Brokaw had a larger audience anchoring a third place Nightly News in the 1980s than he did with a #1 broadcast in 2004. Whoever winds up in the CBS chair may very well be the last anchor of the Evening News.

As for Ms. Couric, she's apparently angling to be the next Oprah. With Winfrey departing daytime TV for her struggling cable network, the field for new talk shows is wide open. But Katie will discover that the world of syndicated TV is even more cutthroat than the evening news wars.

True, daytime TV can be exceptionally lucrative. Through salary, syndication fees and profit-sharing Couric can make a fortune (the reigning queen of daytime TV, Judge Judy, earns $48 million a year), but only if she delivers. Local stations won't stick with a talk show that fails to attract an audience, particularly if it serves as a lead-in for their all-important local news. Katie and her program will have about a year to establish themselves, or the affiliates will move on to something else. Given that reality, Couric could find herself "permanently retired" from the business in another two years, wishing she'd never left that comfortable couch on the "Today Show."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Missing in Action

Since Odyssey Dawn kicked off almost a week ago, at least one vaunted aircraft has been missing from the campaign to kill Qaddafi; err...protect civilians...conduct kinetic operations, or whatever it is that we're trying to accomplish in Libya.

The absent aircraft? None other than the Air Force's F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Days into the Libya operation, the most lethal aircraft in the world has yet to fly a single sort over Qaddafi's territory.

Officially, the reason for the Raptor's absence is "incompatibility" with other aircraft and existing command-and-control systems. From Air Force Times:

“The designers of the F-22 had a dilemma, which is whether to have the connectivity that would allow versatility or to have the radio silence that would facilitate stealthiness. What they opted for was a limited set of tactical data links,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst and chief operating office at the Lexington Institute, Arlington Va.

The F-22 can only connect with other F-22s via an intraflight data link, and can only receive, but not transmit, over the standard Link-16 data link found on most allied aircraft.

Radio emissions from various data links could potentially give away the aircraft’s position, Thompson said.

As such, while the Raptor is the stealthiest operational aircraft in the world, it lacks much of the connectivity found on other warplanes, he said.

Analyst also note that the F-22 has only a modest air-to-surface capability. Currently, the fifth-generation fighter can carry only two, 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), which are GPS-guided. By comparison, the F-15E Strike Eagle can drop twelve times as much ordnance, including the new small diameter bomb, favored for engagements in urban areas, or in proximity to friendly forces or civilians on the ground.

While the F-22 will eventually gain similar capabilities, they will come in modest increments, as AFT reports:

"...It [the F-22) does not yet have the ability to carry the 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) or to create synthetic aperture radar maps, which are black and white photo-quality images of the Earth’s surface, needed to select its own ground targets...Those capabilities will be available once the Increment 3.1 hardware and software upgrade is fielded into the operational Raptor fleet later this year. However, even with Increment 3.1 installed, the F-22 will only be able to designate two targets in total for the eight SDBs it would be able to carry. The operational test force has been putting Increment 3.1 through its paces at Nellis AFB, Nev., since November."

However, the addition of Increment 3.1 will not resolve the Raptor’s basic inability to connect with other aircraft, nor has the Air Force articulated a clear plan for the F-22 to do so. A future upgrade called Increment 3.2 was to have included the Multifunction Advanced Data-link (MADL) found on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, however, the Air Force deleted funding for that data link last year.

Air Force doctrine calls for the Raptor to escort B-2 stealth bombers into hostile territory, "kicking down the door" of an adversary's air defense network. But in reality, the F-22 really wasn't required for the Libya mission. Three B-2s from Whiteman AFB, Missouri flew unescorted missions over Libya on 20 March, just as they did in Serbia and Iraq. Against a dated air defense system (like the one protecting Qaddafi), the B-2 can easily go it alone. Older aircraft also face little threat from Libya's surface-to-air missiles and AAA guns. So far, coalition forces have lost only one aircraft, an F-15E that went down after suffering a mechanical problem. The jet's two-man crew was rescued.

Another reason for the F-22's absence is the seemingly ad hoc nature of the air operation. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters earlier this week that we're literally "making it up on the fly." That may explain why U.S. officials were telling reporters last weekend that Qaddafi wasn't a target--as French jets were targeting the Libyan leader's compound. Against that backdrop, it would be more difficult to integrate the F-22 into the operation.

And, there's some concern about who would be monitoring the Raptors over Libya. Truth be told, we're not very concerned about the Libyans monitoring radio emissions from the F-22; their ability to translate that information into a shoot down is less-than-marginal. On the other hand, the Russians and Chinese could gain valuable information about Raptor operations that would better prepare an advanced IADS for dealing with the aircraft.

Still, isn't that what the F-22 is supposed to do? Utilize is speed and stealth to dominate airspace protected by the SA-20 and other advanced SAM systems? Besides, Moscow and Beijing have systems capable of monitoring the Raptor at home station and on training ranges where its electronic systems are utilized. Presumably, they know a fair amount about its signature and capabilities already. Given that fact, how much of the F-22 playbook are we really trying to protect?

Equally puzzling is deletion of the funding line for MADL, which would link the F-22, B-2 and F-35 in the future. If discrete communications is an issue for our stealth jet community, you'd think that program would be a higher priority.

Unless it was moved into the black world. We can only hope that's where the MADL budget now resides.

Pardon the Interruption...

While Libya has become a shooting gallery for cruise missiles and NATO aircraft, we've been sidelined by the demands of travel and our day jobs. We'll be back in action shortly, with some thoughts on military actions "on the fly" and a platform that's been "missing in action" in the skies over Libya.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

France Takes the Lead

UPDATE//7:30 pm EDT, 19 March// The U.S. portion of "kinetic operations" against Libya began a few hours earlier than the previously announced Sunday start. Officials at the Pentagon announced that American and British naval units, including at least one attack submarine, unleashed a barrage of at least 110 cruise missiles against Qaddafi's air defense and command-and-control nodes late Saturday evening (local time). The strike was aimed at neutralizing Libyan defenses, making it easier for allied warplanes to enforce a no-fly zone over much of the country.

Previously, U.S. military officials said that American jets would not commence their operations until Sunday at the earliest, although they gave no timetable for the expected cruise missile strike. Among the Libyan installations hit by the missiles were long-range SA-5 SAM batterys and surveillance radars.


File this under "sights we never thought we'd see."

French military resolve and tenacity are often the butt of international jokes, but not this time around. While the U.S. and NATO work out the details of the Libyan No-Fly Zone, French combat aircraft are already enforcing the mandate, approved yesterday by the United Nations.

According to various media accounts, French fighters are conducting combat air patrols over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and may expand their operations later today, by conducting strikes on forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Libyan tanks and other armored vehicles are reportedly advancing towards Benghazi and the rebels may not be able to halt their attack without air support. From the Associated Press:

Mirage and Rafale fighter jets are flying over Benghazi and could strike Gadhafi’s tanks later Saturday, a senior French official told The Associated Press.

The official said the jets are flying over the opposition stronghold and its surroundings. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.


Meanwhile, the cease-fire announced by the Libyan government on Friday proved to be nothing more than a head fake, as Fox News reported:

Libyan forces struck Saturday at the heart of the rebellion against Muammar al-Qaddafi, shelling the outskirts of the rebel capital and launching airstrikes in defiance of international demands for a halt to the fighting.

The fighting galvanized the people of Benghazi, with young men collecting bottles to make Molotov cocktails. Some residents dragged bed frames and metal scraps into the streets to make roadblocks.

As of early Saturday afternoon (EDT), U.S. military forces were not yet participating in combat operations over Libya. Indeed, some early reports suggested American forces would play only a supporting role, providing logistical support and additional E-3 AWACS aircraft to the coalition effort.

But, as the French began air patrols over Benghazi, the outline of U.S. support began to change. Officials in Washington said that Air Force F-16s from Aviano AB, Italy would be ready to join the enforcement effort by Sunday. Sources also told Fox News that U.S. Navy vessels in the Mediterranean were planning a cruise missile strike against Libyan air defense and command-and-control nodes. There were suggestions that initial American involvement would be limited to reduce chances of a "friendly-fire" incident with French aircraft already operating over Libya.

But such claims seemed to be little more than a smokescreen. Truth be told, prospects for a "blue-on-blue" engagement were decidedly slim. As we've noted in the past, the number of Libyan fixed-wing aircraft sorties against the rebels has been low, and there were no reports of Qaddafi's jets leaving the ground after one was shot down by opposition forces on Saturday afternoon (it was later confirmed that the fighter, a MiG-23 Flogger, belonged to the rebels and not the Libyan Air Force). That event, coupled with the arrival of French jets, was enough to keep the Libyan Air Force on the ground. As of this writing, the only combat aircraft flying over Libya belong to the French, not Qaddafi's regime.

Additionally, there were no reports of the Rafales and Mirages being engaged by Libya's ground-based air defenses, raising some questions about the need for a massive cruise missile strike. Most of Qaddafi's radars and surface-to-air missiles are systems dating from the 1960s and 70s, easily countered by aircraft jamming pods and anti-radiation missiles. If the French are flying with impunity over Libya, it's a safe bet that Qaddafi's air defense crews are unwilling to illuminate their radars, and risk an early meeting with Allah.

Truth be told, it's painfully apparent that the U.S. is following--not leading--in Libya. Less than two weeks ago, American officials warned about the complexities of establishing and sustaining a no-fly zone. Never mind the fact that our military has decades of experience in running those operations over Iraq and Bosnia, and the need for American support platforms (read: ISR and tankers) to maintain a no-fly zone for any length of time. Apparently, the French weren't bothered by our initial reluctance and Nicholas Sarkozy sent his jets into action just hours after the U.N. approved no-fly operations. That statement alone speaks volumes about the current state of U.S. foreign policy and its architect-in-chief, Barack Obama.

To be fair, a No-Fly Zone is no substitute for a final diplomatic or military solution. Saddam Hussein remained in power during a decade of no-fly operations over Iraq, and in the Balkans, countless atrocities were committed on the ground while NATO jets loitered at 30,000 feet.

Speaking from personal experience, I can testify that the No-Fly Zone over Bosnia was almost worthless in many respects. With rare exceptions, Serb aircraft remained on the ground and the approval process for strikes against ground targets was almost comical. It went something like this: the request from air support went from a tactical air control party (TACP) on the ground, to an airborne command element on AWACS or ABCCC. From there, it was relayed to the allied tactical air force headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, then on to the U.N.'s senior diplomat in Zagreb, Croatia. After he mulled it over, the airstrike request went on to New York for final approval, then back down the chain for execution. On a good day, you could get a response in 45 minutes; on a bad day, it took hours. In the interim, you could imagine what was happening on the ground.

But when NATO began a systematic targeting of Serb ground assets in 1995, the No-Fly operation took on a new dimension, and the air operation became much more effective. Based on early French actions in Libya, it appears that Paris has learned the lessons from Bosnia and their jets are going after the real threat--Qaddafi's tanks and artillery on the ground. And, as the ground attacks begin, readers should remember there are two basic schemes for conducting air strikes. You can establish a "kill box" around enemy forces and anything inside that zone is fair game.

The other option is putting a TACP or special forces team on the ground, to "call in" air strikes and brief pilots on their targets. Obviously, there are advantages to this latter approach, particularly in a situation like Libya where government and rebel forces are operating the same types of tanks and armored personnel carriers. We're guessing that French commandos are already on the ground, and directing strikes on Qaddafi's forces.

It will take several weeks to determine the effectiveness of allied military action in Libya. But
the French credit, along with their British allies (after all, Prime Minister David Cameron was one of the early advocates for a No-Fly Zone). In the absence of American leadership, they filled the void and spurred the vaunted "international community" into action.

Too bad we can't say the same thing for the supposed Leader of the Free World.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Saturday Skedaddle

UPDATE//19 March//The U.S. Navy is denying that our 5th Fleet has departed Bahrain. But western diplomatic sources the the World Tribune that only a "skeleton staff" remains at fleet headquarters in Manama. Likewise, those sources also confirm our assessment: the U.S. has written off the current government in Bahrain, and is preparing for its near-term collapse. We should also note that the USS Enterprise carrier battle group remains in the Red Sea, despite the start of No-Fly Zone operations over Libya.

The presence of the Enterprise in that area suggests that Washington is focused on the situation in Yemen and Bahrain. If the governments in those countries collapse, the U.S. would need the "Big E" to support evacuation operations in one (or both) locations. Put another way, you don't keep a fleet carrier (with dozens of fighter aircraft) out of the Libya operation unless you're worried about other contingencies.

Almost without notice, ships of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain slipped from their berths and headed into the Persian Gulf early Saturday. An "extended" exercise with Oman was the official reason given, but few believe it. As the security situation in the Manama continues to deteriorate, the Navy cannot afford to have even a single vessel--and its crew--in a port that may be hostile in a few days (or less).

Radio talk show host John Batchelor was among the first to report the news. Experts he spoke with said our relations with key Middle East allies have reached the breaking point:

The news from Manama, the capital of the small island state of Bahrain, is that the Fifth Fleet HQ has gone on maneuvers to Oman for an indefinite time frame. In sum, bug-out from the proxy war in Bahrain between Riyadh and Tehran. Am told that the IRGC has staffed and funded the so-called protesters. The social media messaging that now floods the web, #bahrain, is suspect of being an IRGC disinformation campaign. Of most significance, am told the Bahrain confrontation marks the breakdown of the 65-year-long alliance between Washington and Riyadh. The Kingdom has now turned away. China through the Pakistan connection looks like the choice to replace the US. Spoke Barry Rubin, GLORIA, to learn that Egypt is also tumbling away from the US. Pat Lang, Sic Semper Tyrannis, said that Cairo is looking for another sponsor. What has caused this break between Washington and its allies in the Middle East? Am told that the White House is deaf to experienced diplomats in the region. That the White House is piously ideological in supporting so-called democratic-leaning youth protesters despite the evidence that the "yuppie bloggers" are either naive ideologues themselves, without experience in governance or diplomacy, or else they are tools of the anarchists, Islamists and Twelvers. Asked Barry Rubin if the US is on the brink of losing Egypt. Answer: over the brink. Asked Pat Lang if there was any repairing break with Riyadh. Answer: no.

We should point out that both Lang and Rubin represent the minority viewpoint in these matters, but they are not alone in their thinking by any means. With American vacillation and weakness on display throughout the Middle East, long-time allies are maneuvering for their own survival, and looking for anyone (read: not Iran) who can guarantee their security.

Also of interest is the claim that Tehran is fomenting the unrest, through its IRGC. Before readers dismiss that as a conspiracy theory or crazy talk, remember: Hillary Clinton said essentially the same thing during Congressional testimony last week. Oddly enough, the MSM has yet to follow up on Mrs. Clinton's claim.

Given our retreat across the region, moving ships U.S. Navy vessels (and their crews) of Manama was the prudent thing to do. Now, the speculation is over when they might return. At the moment, the optimistic answer is "no time soon." The worst-case scenario is "never."

We're waiting to hear if the 5th Fleet Commander has shifted his flag to sea. That move, along with the sudden departure of our ships, suggests we have no confidence in the ability of security forces to contain the unrest, and we're preparing for a likely collapse of the Bahrain government.

Meanwhile, our commander-in-chief is reportedly having a swell time in Rio.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Idiot of the Week

Gilbert Gottfried and his meal ticket, in happier times.

It's been quite a while since we bestowed this honor--about seven months to be exact--but this opportunity was simply too good to pass up.

We refer to the firing of "comedian" Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of the AFLAC Duck. For years, Mr. Gottfried has earned a six-figure income for very little work, screaming "A-F-L-A-C" for the company's feathered mascot at the appropriate point in each commercial. Even Gottfried expressed wonderment at his good fortune. During one interview, he wondered why insurance firm simply didn't archive his recordings, and pick out the right "AFLAC" for new spots. But the company insisted on a new recording session for each commercial, so Gottfried's little gravy train kept chugging down the track.

Until today, that is.

Apparently, AFLAC management became aware of a couple of tasteless Tweets issued by Gilbert Gottfried, in response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In case you missed them, here they are, in all their tackiness:

"I just split up with my girlfriend, but as the Japanese say, They'll be another one floating by any minute now."


"The Japanese are really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them."

Not only does Mr. Gottfried get an "F" for attempted humor, he also fails the common sense test. During all those years of cashing checks from AFLAC and its ad agency, the "comedian" apparently never bothered to learn where insurance giant makes much of its money.

Turns out that 90% of all companies in Japan offer AFLAC as part of their employee benefits and the firm provides health or life insurance to about 25% of Japanese families. All told, the Columbus, Georgia-based company does about 75% of its business in Japan--one reason that Gottfried got the axe so quickly.

We're waiting for the Free Speech Police to jump to the comedian's defense. True, he has every right to make tasteless "jokes" about a natural disaster of Biblical proportions. But then again, his employer has every right to fire him for posting those same, humorless comments--particularly when they threaten a critical market like Japan.

As for Gilbert Gottfried, the one-time cast member of "Saturday Night Live" (he was fired from that show as well) is a worthy recipient of "Idiot of the Week." Not only did he lose one of the sweetest voice-over gigs in the business, Gottfried made himself unemployable for years to come. Can you imagine the reaction from various Asian-American activist groups the next time Gottfried's up for a major TV or movie role?

Indeed, some find it surprising that Gottfried has lasted this long, given his humor preferences. At a Friar's Club Roast in 2001, he complained about being late for the festivities because he couldn't find a plane with a "direct connection to the Empire State Building" (a line he delivered just three weeks after 9-11). Met with a mixture of groans, boos and cries of "too soon," Gottfried segued to a rendition of "The Aristocrats," (arguably the dirtiest joke of all time) and saved his set.

Assuming Mr. Gottfried works again in the next five years, it's a sure bet he'll stick to safer targets--like Republicans.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Too Many White Guys

The U.S. military has a problem, according to a DoD advisory panel.

And no, we're not referring to the demands of two on-going wars (and the toll on those who serve); escalating personnel costs, a shrinking fleet, aging nuclear forces and combat aircraft that are equally long-in-the tooth. The group wasn't asked to address those pressing concerns.

Instead, the panel was asked by Congress to look at diversity in our military. In fact, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission spent two years looking at the issue and released their final report earlier this week. You can probably predict their findings without reading this Associated Press article. A few excerpts:

The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress said Monday.

Seventy-seven percent of senior officers in the active-duty military are white, while only 8 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 16 percent are women, the report by an independent panel said, quoting data from September 2008.


Efforts over the years to develop a more equal opportunity military have increased the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the ranks of leadership. But, the report said, “despite undeniable successes ... the armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve.”

“This problem will only become more acute as the racial, ethnic and cultural makeup of the United States continues to change,” said the report from the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, whose more than two dozen members included current and former military personnel as well as businessmen and other civilians.

It's tempting to dismiss the report as little more than PC drivel. But the commission's chairman, retired Air Force General Lester Lyles, has a reputation as a straight-shooter and an outstanding leader. It's hard to imagine that he would simply compile the usual rot and sign off on it. If General Lyles is willing to stake his reputation on the report, then it's probably worth a look.

Based on our first read, the panel's findings appear to be a mixed bag. While General Lyles and his group offer some excellent ideas (for example, coordinating enlisted and officer recruiting, to identify candidates for commissioning programs at the earliest opportunity), there are also a few clunkers. When the commission suggests some sort of mechanism (and metrics) for tracking progress in creating a more "diverse" leadership corps, it sounds a lot like a quota system.

And quite frankly, that's the last thing our military needs. The armed forces need to train and promote the best and brightest, regardless of their ethnic background or gender. The advancement of minority and female officers has been slow, but no one can dispute that more members of those groups are reaching senior ranks in the U.S. military.

Which leads us to another point: the commission (and elected officials) say they want an officer corps that reflects America. That's a worthy goal, but are you willing to trade mission effectiveness to achieve it? Among its various recommendations, the panel urges DoD to "open additional career fields and units involved in 'direct ground combat' to qualified women." Trouble is, the vast majority of military women will never qualify to serve in such positions, the result of physiology--not discrimination.

Almost 20 years ago, columnist Fred Reed published results of an Army study, comparing fitness levels among male and female soldiers. The data reaffirms that most women simply lack the upper body strength and endurance required by an Army infantryman, a Marine rifleman, or most special forces MOS's.

The average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle, and 5.7 more pounds of fat than the average male recruit. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength... An Army study of 124 men and 186 women done in 1988 found that women are more than twice as likely to suffer leg injuries and nearly five times as likely to suffer fractures as men.

The Commission heard an abundance of expert testimony about the physical differences between men and women that can be summarized as follows:

Women's aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.

In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median. The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man.

The same report also cited a West Point study from the early 90s which discovered that, in terms of fitness, the upper quintile of female cadets achieved scores equal to the lowest quintile of their male counterparts (emphasis ours).

So, what's a chief diversity officer supposed to do (don't laugh--the commission recommends creation of that very post, reporting directly to the SecDef). Water down the standards so more women will qualify for combat service, removing that "barrier" to reaching the flag ranks? Or create some sort of double-standard, allowing females to punch their resumes in the right places and continue their climb to the stars. Either approach is unacceptable, yet some sort of "modification" is inevitable, to open up more combat billets to women.

As for minorities, their under-representation in the ranks of generals and admirals reflects another set of problems. For starters, there's our failing education system which impacts blacks and Hispanics more than the general population. Because many young men and women in those groups receive an inferior education, they tend to score lower on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery ASVAB, which sets the cognitive baseline for military service, and what jobs will be open to recruits who achieve a passing score.

For many minority candidates, the ASVAB has become a barrier to military service. We noted last December that, according to a recent study, 29% of Hispanics and 39% of African-Americans failed to achieve the minimum score (31) to enter the U.S. Army. In other words, more than 25% of young Hispanics and almost 40% of their African-American counterparts couldn't score high enough to enlist in the Army, which has the lowest qualifying score of any branch of the armed services. Obviously, if a young man or woman (regardless of their ethnic background) can't pass the enlistment test, they have no chance of becoming an officer and reaching the highest military ranks.

The Lyles' report also suggests that minorities who serve would do well to broaden their horizons. Past studies indicate that many non-whites in the military select jobs that have applicability in the civilian world. Nothing wrong with that, but such choices also exclude many minority NCOs and officers from combat jobs that would enhance their promotion prospects. In fact, one assessment cited in the study found that some minorities believe that individuals in certain military jobs hold "racist" attitudes.

For example some racial/ethnic minority service members interviewed by researchers said Special Forces "A" Teams and Ranger Regiments were viewed as "white-only" organizations with racist views. Of course, there isn't one shred of evidence to support that contention, and it must come as a shock to the scores of African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities who have completed Ranger training, or served in special forces. The Lyles commission believes the military needs to do a better job of mentoring to help overcome these barriers.

Did we mention that the armed services already spend a lot of time and money on mentoring? And they devote considerable effort towards recruiting minority candidates, particularly for officer training programs. Years ago, while serving as an Air Force ROTC instructor, I spoke with a member of our headquarters staff, who lamented the high wash-out rates for minority pilot and navigator candidates who graduated from historically black colleges and universities.

But despite that trend, the service remains committed to those institutions, which have produced leaders like General Lyles (who graduated of Howard University) and General Lloyd "Fig" Newton, a product of Tennessee State). Abandoning those schools would deprive the military of future leaders of that caliber, something we simply cannot afford. In that regard, the armed services are going above and beyond in their search for outstanding minority officers.

Still, even that sort of partnership can be carried to the point of exaggeration. On page 58 of the Lyles' report has a graphic that shows the location of Air Force ROTC detachments, in relation to large populations of black and Hispanic students. The study notes three "potentially rich markets" in Texas, Southern California and the Mid-Atlantic Region that are under-served, suggesting the Pentagon create a BRAC-style commission to decide which ROTC units should be closed and detachments that should be moved, in order to produce more minority officers.

Looking at the same graphic we noted our own trend: the wholesale lack of Air Force ROTC detachments in Montana. Using the logic behind the Lyles report, white and Native American students in that state are a less important recruiting target for the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Besides, if they really want to participate in Air Force ROTC, they can always move to Idaho, Wyoming or Utah.

And that example truly illustrates the folly of the commission's report. When you start developing independent commissions to move ROTC programs to generate more minority participation and mandate annual "barrier analysis" (to see how many obstacles still remain), you're losing focus on the military mission. To be fair, General Lyles insists that military performance and effectiveness remain the real bottom line, but if the commission's recommendations are fully implementing, the armed forces will be walking a very fine line.

No one disputes the benefits of more flag officers who are women or members of minority groups. But the real emphasis should be on demanding excellence from all who aspire to flag rank, and promoting those who meet--and exceed--a very high bar. Some of the "remedies" outlined in the Lyles report seem closer to social engineering, particularly when you introduce the notions of "measurement" and "metrics."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Final Slight

Frank Buckles died more than a week ago, but he still hasn't been laid to rest. Instead, the remains of America's last World War I veteran are at the center of a political controversy that speaks to greater issues, including our collective remembrance of those who serve.

Mr. Buckles passed away on 27 February at the age of 110. His death came more than 90 years after he left the Army and 93 years since he enlisted as a 16-year-old Missouri farm boy. As with others who volunteered during World War I, Buckles lied about his age to enter the military. He never saw combat, but served as an ambulance driver in England and France, and later, escorted enemy POWs back to Germany after the Armistice.

Following his discharge in 1920, Mr. Buckles led an adventurous, but largely anonymous life. He spent years working abroad as a representative for various steamship lines; in December 1941, was in Manila when the Japanese attacked the Philippines. Captured a few months later, Buckles spent the rest of the war in Japanese prison camps before being liberated in 1945. He retired from the shipping business in the early 1950s, purchasing a 300-acre cattle farm in West Virginia where lived with his life and daughter.

In fact, Frank Buckles didn't gain a measure of fame until the last decade of his remarkable life, when he was identified as one of the last surviving U.S. veterans of World War I. With the death of Harry Richard Landis in February 2008, Buckles became our final, living link to the nearly five million Americans who served in the Great War. He was featured in a segment on NBC Nightly News on Memorial Day 2007; he met with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office a few months later and was featured in a Pentagon photo exhibition on America's last World War I veterans. He testified before Congress in 2009, pressing lawmakers for a national memorial to honor Americans who served in the First World War.

At the time of his passing on 27 February, Mr. Buckles was a national icon. So, it was hardly surprising when West Virginia Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin proposed that Buckles's coffin be placed in the Capitol rotunda--an honor granted to other American heroes, ranging from civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, to former Presidents Ronald Reagan.

But House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid turned down the request, proposing instead that Buckles be honored with a ceremony at the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetary (where he will be buried) and a separate tribute at the Capitol. While Democrats have blamed Boehner for the decision, both the speaker and the majority leader determine who will be allowed to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Call it a bi-partisan snub.

And, to some degree, their decision is justified. Mr. Buckles's status as the last doughboy was the product of good genes and a strong constitution. His military service was honorable, but unheroic. In fact, Frank Buckles's brief Army career did not qualify him for burial at Arlington. He received a waiver through the intervention of Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, an Annapolis graduate and tireless advocate for veterans.

Still, we think Mr. Boehner and Mr. Reid got it wrong. Allowing Frank Buckles to lie in state in the Capitol would be a symbolic step towards righting a generational slight. When Buckles and other veterans came home from World War I, there were a few speeches and parades, and that was about it. There was no G.I. Bill with generous education benefits and home loan programs; no guarantee for life-time health care through the Veterans Administration, and no memorial honoring those who served.

Evidence of the nation's collective indifference can be found on the National Mall in Washington. You'll find a memorial for the wars in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. But there is no national monument honoring the millions who wore the uniform in the "War to End All Wars." There is a local memorial, erected in tribute to residents of Washington D.C. who served in the conflict. After decades of neglect, the monument is finally getting an over-due face lift. But the re-dedication of that memorial--and the construction of any national monument--will come too late to honor those who actually served.

So, in that respect, it is fitting that Mr. Buckles lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, symbolizing a nation's belated acknowledgement to all those who served in World War I. He would be the first "ordinary" service member from that conflict to lie in state since 1921, when the Unknown Soldier from the from the war was afforded the honor, prior to final entombment at Arlington.

Without the support of the House Speaker or the Senate Majority Leader, Frank Buckles will not lie in state in the Capitol. If nothing else, Mr. Boehner and Mr. Reid deserve points for consistency; since that day in 1921 when the Unknown Soldier from the First World War was honored with a state funeral, official Washington has been largely indifferent to the men (and a few women) who served "over there."
ADDENDUM: The Buckles kerfuffle erupted about the same time the Washington Post published a superb article on Marine Corps Lieutenant General John F. Kelly, who lost a son in Afghanistan last November. General Kelly believes--and we certainly agree--that most Americans are oblivious to the sacrifices of military members and their families. Our treatment of World War I veterans, culminating in the slight of the late Frank Buckles, is a sad reminder that some things never change.

An Answer for the AN-2

Boeing's latest airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, mounted on an 737 airframe. Later this year, the South Korean Air Force (ROKAF) will become the third customer for the platform, taking delivery of the first of four aircraft. Acquisition of an AWACS capability will improve the detection of low-altitude threats, particularly North Korean AN-2 SOF insertion aircraft (Boeing photo via the Chosun Ilbo)

For years, one of the most vexing problems posed by North Korea has been an airplane that dates from the 1940s, and has a top speed of less than 120 knots. We refer to the AN-2 Colt, a Soviet design that dates back more than seven decades, but it remains a key insertion platform for Pyongyang's special forces.

Why is the AN-2 such a challenge. For starters, the bi-plane is built mostly from wood and fabric; the engine represents the only significant portion of the aircraft made from metal. So, the Colt has a very small radar signature, and detection is further complicated by its slow speed and low altitude flight profile.

Even against modern, 3-D air defense radars (like those in South Korea), the AN-2 can often avoid detection by dropping to low level and blending in with ground terrain) while keeping their airspeed below 120 knots. That puts them below the "velocity gates" of many ground-based and airborne radar systems, meaning they won't show up on the scope. Adjusting the velocity gate improves detection prospects, but it also introduces more clutter into the system, which also works to the AN-2's advantage.

Realizing that, North Korea has more than 200 AN-2's in its inventory. By some estimates, Pyongyang's Colt fleet could insert more than 2,000 commandos into South Korea for a preliminary attack, dropping them over allied airfields, C2 nodes, air defense sites and other priority targets.

But South Korea's defenses against the AN-2 (and other airborne threats) will soon receive a major upgrade. In June, the ROKAF will take delivery of South Korea's first AWACS aircraft, the Boeing E-737. Eventually, the South Koreans will receive a total of four 737 AWACS, enough to provide round-the-clock coverage--assuming high mission-capability rates and operations that don't last more than a few weeks.

South Korea will be the third nation (after Turkey and Australia) with an AWACS system mounted on a 737 airframe, instead of the 707s used by the United States and NATO, and the 767 jets used for Japan's AWACS. The migration towards smaller airframes is the result of several factors; first, with the primary threat in close proximity to its borders, South Korea doesn't need a long-haul jet that must cruise for several hours to reach its orbit area. Operating from airfields anywhere on the peninsula, the Korean AWACS will be on station in a matter of minutes after takeoff, so a larger airframe (with more fuel capacity) made little sense.

Additionally, the ROKAF is very aware that the 707 production line shut down years ago and the 767 will close after the U.S. Air Force acquires its next-generation tanker. After an aircraft goes out of production, parts become more scarce and maintenance becomes more difficult. Meanwhile, the Boeing 737 has been rolling off the assembly line for more than 40 years, and the airframe will remain in production for decades to come, ensuring the ready availability of spare parts, at affordable prices.

Use of the 737 also reflects the evolution of AWACS technology. The Northrop-Grumman Multi-mode Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar is smaller and doesn't require the larger, rotating rotodome found on earlier AWACS. Instead, the radar signal is transmitted (and received) through a fixed, vertical antenna mounted on the top of the 737. Additionally, the computer processors and related hardware are smaller (but more powerful) than on previous models, allowing them to fit easily inside the 737 airframe.

With advanced signal processing and a detection range of up to 500km. the E-737 will give the ROKAF a powerful tool for detecting the AN-2 and other low altitude threats. Of course, the new jet is also useful in a variety of other roles, ranging from maritime surveillance to the direction of air defense strike aircraft. Equipped with secure datalinks, the E-737 can share information with both ROKAF and allied aircraft.

In response to the E-737, North Korea may dust off its intercept tactics for high-value airborne assets (HVAAs) and ramp-up activity at its near-dormant SA-5 SAM sites. Optimized for engaging stand-off platforms (including tankers and battle management platforms), the DPRK's two SA-5 sites could force the E-737--and other aircraft--to orbit well south of the DMZ, decreasing their coverage of the battlespace.

Still, it would take the north a minimum of several months to beef up their SA-5 coverage; in recent years, analysts have rarely observed more than a single launcher-mounted missile at both sites, and radar tracking activity in those locations has been sporadic at best. As for the airborne intercept of the E-737, Pyongyang has that capability (they managed to surprise a USAF RC-135 over the Sea of Japan a few years ago), but the NKAF needs more practice--and there's little guarantee they would get past the Patriot belt and HVAA cap to actually complete their mission.

Meanwhile, we're guessing that North Korea will closely study the training patterns and orbit areas of the E-737 once it joins the ROKAF inventory. Such information can be used to alter the ingress routes and operational tactics of the AN-2, trying to take advantage of perceived coverage gaps and technical limitations. The Colt remains a serious threat on the Korean peninsula, but with introduction of the ROK AWACS, the bi-plane's will lose some of its vaunted "stealthiness."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

About Fred's Departure

When former Congressman (and "Love Boat") star Fred Grandy recently resigned as morning drive host at WMAL radio in Washington, he was instantly cast as a victim of political correctness. Mr. Grandy routinely discussed the rising influence of Sharia law in America on his program, often during Friday morning segments with his wife, former Entertainment Tonight reporter Catherine Mann. That raised the ire of various Muslim groups.

And lest we forget, WMAL is the same station that dismissed talk show host Michael Graham back in 2005, under pressure from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). So, when Mr. Grandy announced Wednesday morning that he could no longer discuss "radical Islamic topics" on the air--and when he stepped down a few hours later--many saw the heavy hand of CAIR at work.

But in reality, Mr. Grandy's departure is more about money, politics and the radio business. It's a particularly toxic combination, particularly when the numbers are aligned against you.

Let's start with the radio business. Once upon a time, WMAL dominated the radio ratings in Washington. The station's morning team of Frank Harden and the late Jackson Weaver ruled the roost for more than 20 years, and the rest of WMAL's line-up pulled strong ratings as well. For the better part of three decades, WMAL was a veritable cash machine, one reason that ABC shelled out $16 million for the station--then a record for a broadcast property--in 1976.

But over the years, WMAL began to lose much of its audience. The rising popularity of FM stations was part of the problem. So was the departure of many WMAL personalities. Legendary evening jazz DJ Felix Grant left in the mid-80s and Jackson Weaver passed away in 1992. Other long-time personalities either retired or were forced out, and the station began losing some of its cachet. Frank Harden soldiered on with new co-hosts in the morning slot until 1998, but it was never quite the same.

More recently, WMAL has become a conservative talk station, featuring nationally-syndicated hosts like Rush, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. Fred Grandy joined the station in 2003, co-anchoring the morning show with WMAL veteran Andy Parks, who began as Harden and Weaver's traffic reporter.

But the combination never really clicked with listeners. Between the two of them, "Grandy and Andy" earned over $500,000 a year (Fred's contract along was reportedly worth more than $300,000 annually), but their show barely cracked the top 10 in morning drive--prime time for radio. In other words, WMAL and its corporate parent, Citadel Communications, weren't maximizing their profits in the most important time slot of the day. In response, Andy Parks was forced out last year, after 25 years at the station. Grandy continued, but there were rumors that his days were numbered as well.

Andy Parks's departure was engineered by Drew Hayes, program director of WLS, the Citadel-owned talk station in Chicago. With WLS on solid ground, Hayes also began supervising WMAL, with an eye towards making changes. When he ordered Grandy to tone down the talk about Islamic radicalism, WMAL was mired in 14th place in the market, and the morning show wasn't doing much better.

With his edict, Mr. Hayes created conditions he knew Grandy would find intolerable, setting the stage for Fred's departure. Hayes clearly believes the morning show can achieve similar--or even better--results without Grandy's expensive contract, and improve the station's bottom line. Did we mention that Citadel, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year, is in merger talks with rival Cumulus and solving a "problem" at a key station can help sweeten the pot, even a little bit?

Besides, those Friday morning rants of Grandy and his wife pale in comparison to those of mid-morning host Chris Plante, who favors a no-holds-barred approach in discussing the threat of radical Islam. Plante was fired once before by WMAL, but he returned to the airwaves after Joe Scarborough's syndicated show bombed. Some DC radio insiders believe that Mr. Plante, the son of CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante, will eventually inherit the morning show on WMAL. Even with a raise for the morning show, his salary will still be well below what Fred Grandy was paid.

And don't feel too sorry for the former Congressman. In an interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb more than a year ago, Mr. Grandy expressed interest in a "later" time slot, allowing him to escape the grind of early-morning radio. Other reports suggested that Grandy wanted out of his contract sometime this year, perhaps in preparation for another run for political office in his home state of Iowa. With WMAL behind him, his political options are open once again.

So, you might say that everyone in this sordid affair got what they wanted. Fred Grandy found an exit from WMAL, while the station jettisoned a very expensive talent that wasn't adding much to the bottom line. In a few weeks, Citadel management will announce a new a.m. drive host, and the cycle will begin anew. Fact is, WMAL has been looking for a winning morning combination since Jackson Weaver died almost 20 years ago. That search continues, while a legendary station slides a little closer to irrelevance.
ADDENDUM: Some have suggested that D.C. is a tough market for conservative talk radio, given the region's heavily-liberal population. But Rush Limbaugh's program is often #4 or #5 in its time slot, quite remarkable given the middling lead-in he gets on WMAL. Meanwhile Sean Hannity's program (which airs from 3-6 pm) is another laggard, often ranking 15th in afternoon drive. Rush's success proves that conservative hosts can attract an audience on the D.C. airwaves--provided you program the right ones. Hannity's poor ratings suggest that Mr. Hayes will be making more changes in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cleaning House on the Stout

USS Stout (DDG-55). The Navy has relieved the destroyer's skipper and command master chief after "losing confidence" in their ability to lead. Their dismissal followed misconduct by members of the Stout's crew during recent port visits in Scotland and the Mediterranean (U.S. Navy photo).

When revolution erupted in Libya, the U.S. Navy had only one surface combatant, the USS Stout, in the Mediterranean Sea (the other vessel, the USS Mount Whitney, is a command-and-control platform).

Despite the lack of naval assets, many wondered why the U.S. didn't follow the lead of Britain (and other countries) by sending an available warship to evacuate Americans from Libya.

Now, we may have the answer to that question. From the AP, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Navy fired a destroyer commander and a top aide and removed eight sailors from their ship in the Mediterranean after misbehavior by the crew in overseas ports that included drunk and disorderly conduct.

The U.S. 6th Fleet said Cmdr. Nathan Borchers was relieved from the USS Stout on Tuesday.

The Navy said it had lost confidence in Borchers' ability to address what it called a pattern of unprofessional behavior by his crew that included fraternization, orders violations and disregard for naval standards.

According to the AP, the "top aide" who was fired (along with Commander Borchers) was the ship's top enlisted sailor, Command Master Chief Susan Bruce-Ross.

Borchers is being replaced by Commander Sylvester Steele, the former executive officer of the USS Ramage, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The Navy has also selected Commander Master Chief Anthony Cole to replace Bruce-Ross. CMC Cole was most recently assigned at Naval Surface Force Atlantic HQ in Norfolk.

A Navy spokesman said Borchers and his command chief were relieved after an investigation revealed a "substandard command climate" aboard the Stout. The probe began following a series of drunken incidents involving Stout sailors during port visits in foreign nations. While those locations were not disclosed, the ship's blog said the guided missile destroyer visited Palermo, Sicily, Haifa, Israel and the Greek island of Crete this year, and Faslane, Scotland last year.

A 6th Fleet spokesman emphasized that neither Borchers nor Bruce-Ross were involved in the misconduct ashore. However, the Navy has removed one officer, five chiefs and one petty officer from the Stout in connection with the incidents.

The announcement of the command change on the Stout may explain why the vessel wasn't ordered into a Libyan port to evacuate Americans. With Borchers' leadership in question--and an investigation nearing completion--the 6th Fleet wasn't about to send the destroyer on a sensitive mission to a port city in the throes of revolution--and without key members of its "middle management" (the officer and chiefs removed from the ship). Instead, the Stout was relegated to escorting the civilian ferry hired to transport U.S. citizens from Libya to Malta.

With Commander Steele coming aboard later this week, tasking for the destroyer may quickly change. We're guessing the new skipper of the Stout won't get much time to turn his ship around, and get her ready for more assignments off Libya.


ADDENDUM: Various Navy blogs report that Borchers assumed command of the Stout just three months ago. He apparently inherited a troubled ship, but was unable to fix the problems in his command. Under another skipper, the Stout failed a major inspection three years ago, leaving it "unfit for sustained combat operations." Since then, the DDG has passed 13 major evaluations but those recent incidents ashore (and the poor command climate) prompted the firing of Borchers, along with his command chief.

Today's Reading Assignment

..Mark Helprin, writing in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, on the continued decline of our Navy--and the potential consequences. Among his observations:

With the loss of a large number of important bases world-wide, if and when the U.S. projects military power it must do so most of the time from its own territory or the sea. Immune to political cross-currents, economically able to cover multiple areas, hypoallergenic to restive populations and safe from insurgencies, fleets are instruments of undeniable utility in support of allies and response to aggression. Forty percent of the world's population lives within range of modern naval gunfire, and more than two-thirds within easy reach of carrier aircraft. Nothing is better or safer than naval power and presence to preserve the often fragile reticence among nations, to protect American interests and those of our allies, and to prevent the wars attendant to imbalances of power and unrestrained adventurism.

And yet the fleet has been made to wither even in time of war. We have the smallest navy in almost a century, declining in the past 50 years to 286 from 1,000 principal combatants. Apologists may cite typical postwar diminutions, but the ongoing 17% reduction from 1998 to the present applies to a navy that unlike its wartime predecessors was not previously built up. These are reductions upon reductions. Nor can there be comfort in the fact that modern ships are more capable, for so are the ships of potential opponents. And even if the capacity of a whole navy could be packed into a small number of super ships, they could be in only a limited number of places at a time, and the loss of just a few of them would be catastrophic.


As China's navy rises and ours declines, not that far in the future the trajectories will cross. Rather than face this, we seduce ourselves with redefinitions such as the vogue concept that we can block with relative ease the straits through which the strategic materials upon which China depends must transit. But in one blink this would move us from the canonical British/American control of the sea to the insurgent model of lesser navies such as Germany's in World Wars I and II and the Soviet Union's in the Cold War. If we cast ourselves as insurgents, China will be driven even faster to construct a navy that can dominate the oceans, a complete reversal of fortune.

As we noted in a previous post, signs of our naval decline were on display in recent weeks, as the Libyan crisis began to unfold. Instead of sending a warship to rescue American citizens from that country (as the British did), the U.S. hired a commercial ferry. One reason: there was only one U.S. warship in the Mediterranean at the time, although a carrier battle group and an amphibious group were only three days away, in the Red Sea. Those assets have since re-deployed to the Med.

We neglect our Navy at our own peril. A few years back, the Royal Navy, which ruled the waves for centuries, held a review of the fleet. The Queen was there, along with most of Britain's senior defense officials. Wags said the only no-show was the British fleet; the largest vessel that passed in review that day as an oiler.

America's Navy hasn't reached that point--yet. But in an era when federal spending must be reduced, it is very easy to say we have "no peer competitors" (to use Dr. Gates's phrase) and use that as an excuse to downsize the military. A modern Navy is expensive to build and expensive to operate. Yet, it represents an essential investment, not only for the United States but for the west as a whole.

Did we mention that China is currently building five fleet carriers which will join the PLAN by 2020? Beijing is building a Navy for the future, while ours continues to decline. We've been down this road before (think Japan in the 1930s) and paid dearly for our mistakes. The next time, we may not be as lucky.