Monday, March 21, 2016

Sound Familiar?

ComNavOps has been reading the book, Boyd (1), and was struck by a passage that could have been written today.  See if this doesn’t sound overwhelmingly familiar.

“By 1978, both officers and enlisted personnel were leaving the military services in large numbers.  They left not because of pay, as military leaders had said for the past few years, but because they were displeased with what they saw as a lack of integrity among their leaders.  They thought careerism inhibited professionalism in the officer corps.  The military also was having readiness problems;  expensive and highly complex weapons systems were fielded before being fully tested.  These systems were not only expensive to buy but expensive to maintain, and they rarely performed as advertised.  Stories began to appear in the media of America’s “hollow military”.

The military’s answer was to place more emphasis on what it called the “electronic battlefield” by buying even more expensive and more high-tech weapons.  Somewhere in the military there must have been those who sensed the system was headed toward a meltdown.  If so, no stepped forward to change it.”

Lack of integrity in leadership, officers more interested in career than profession, readiness issues, untested weapons, budget problems, hollow forces …   This could be a summary of the posts on this blog!

The military experienced a resurgence in the 1980’s but instead of maintaining and building on that surge, allowed themselves to regress back to the same problems.  This is serious condemnation of leadership, both civilian and uniformed, but it also offers the hope that we can pull out of these problems, as we did before.  Recovery and resurgence starts with recognizing the problems which is what I try to do on these pages.  If recognition can occur, recovery can begin.

(1)Boyd, Robert Coram, Back Bay Books, NY, 2002


  1. I remember reading a bit from Schwarzkopf about his post Vietnam army experience; how they had a hard time retaining talent. They realized a culture change needed to happen; and for the most part it did.

    I don't know that I buy the over complex weapons systems though. The 80's build up was made on weapons systems that were being designed at this point. The Tomcat and the F-15 were both starting to trickle into place by this point. The Abrams was just on the way, along with the other 4 of the Big 5. They did have teething problems, and aren't perfect, but they did their jobs very well overall when you look at W/L ratios in the conflicts that they had, and when you look at the fight they were designed to handle.

    You can focus on the issues with Bradley development and what not, but according to Desert Storm, and the guys I knew who actually used them, they just worked. Ditto the Abrams. The guys I knew who were in Europe at the time LOVED the Abrams over the Patton.

    To me, the difference between then and now was that the weapons systems were more focused. And they filled in gaps that the existing, working equipment couldn't. The Tomcat was a fleet defender. The F-15 was an air dominance platform. The Abrams was designed to meet hordes of soviet tanks in Europe as part of a combined arms team. The A-10 was designed to help in that role. The Perry's were long range ASW/DE type escort.

    The mission purity allowed those platforms to be super robust as needs changed over the years.

    Most had teething problems, and most were simplified versions of over complex predecessors (F-14 vs. F-111; Abrams vs. MBT-70).

    But I remember a magazine saying that going with the Abrams was a folly, that we should instead just upgrade the M-60 again.

    In retrospect I think that would have been penny wise and pound foolish.

    1. I'd have to strongly disagree on the Abrams tank.

      It has very serious problems that would reveal themselves quite quickly against a peer opponent. The gas turbine engine has a very high fuel consumption and a very high infrared signature. It is also difficult to maintain.

      The problem is that successful battles against a weak opponent gives a false sense of complacency.

    2. I'm not a ground combat expert by any means, so I can't debate tanks. However, every tank ever build has weaknesses and is a compromise of design capabilities. The same holds for aircraft or ships. To pick out isolated features and condemn the class fails to look at the competitors in a an objective manner.

      An assessment of the Abrams also depends on factoring in how it is used, tactically and operationally. If it's weaknesses are compensated by other aspects of the overall force then the weaknesses are acceptable. For example, no other military force has the proven logistical ability of the US so the fuel consumption, while perhaps undesirable, is manageable. The same applies for maintenance.

      Now, if you want to offer a reasoned assessment of tanks, include a critique of Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and N.Korean tanks and point out the strengths and weaknesses of all of them relative to the Abrams. To do less is to criticize out of context.

      Of course, this is a Navy blog and tank discussions are probably better received on other blogs!

    3. The Russian T-90 series, the Chinese Type 99, and all comparable Western tank designs all use diesel engines, not gas turbines.

      The Russians tried on the T-80 series. They quickly abandoned them.

      Actually, as even Iraq has demonstrated, the fuel consumption has been a serious weakness for the M1. During the Gulf War, a combination of poor leadership and the fuel consumption allowed Saddam's Republican Guard to get away. In the 2003 invasion and the ensuing aftermath, fuel trucks have become a very tempting target for insurgents.

      A serious question becomes, can the Abrams carry out a Blitzkrieg style advance against a competent enemy? The fuel consumption would be a huge chain holding the tank back, as would the maintenance of the gas turbine. This is a huge vulnerability as the tank can easily be attacked while under maintenance.

      The other problem is that IR guided ATGMs would be much more effective against such a tank and that it would be much easier to locate.

      To its credit, the US Army has at least a pilot project for an M1 diesel engine, but it has not been implemented yet. I remember reading the decision to use a diesel was political rather than based on serious military considerations.

      I would argue that comparable Western tanks like the Leopard 2 and the Merkava are superior tanks.

    4. Let's be very clear, any Iraqi forces that "got away" were ALLOWED to as the result of political decisions (I won't debate the wisdom of those decisions, here). The fuel state of the tanks had nothing to do with it.

      The Abrams did carry out rapid and long advances in the Gulf War and the fuel logistics, by and large, kept up. I'm sure there were isolated shortages but nothing that impacted the overall war effort to any significant degree. If you have evidence to the contrary, please share it because none of the extensive books on the subject indicate any such problem. This goes back to my comment that the "weaknesses" of a tank need to be evaluated within the context of the overall force (including logistics), operations, and tactics.

      I have absolutely no idea about IR susceptibility but I am curious. Do you have an authoritative reference?

      Calling any comparable tank superior depends on many factors including what the tank is intended to do. The Merkava, for example, is not really intended as a pure main battle tank. It is optimized for urban warfare and is used as an IFV to some extent, having a rear exit for a group of transports. I know nothing about the Leopard.

      I'm not arguing in favor of the M1, only arguing against cherry picking a weakness out of context and then making a sweeping statement of condemnation.

    5. The abrams take diesel, jp8.

    6. Ignore that, Misinterpreted.

    7. Remember the word Synchronization as you read the Boyd book, you will hear the reason they got away.

      Then check up on HR McMaster's Career to confirm what happened.

    8. "I'd have to strongly disagree on the Abrams tank.

      It has very serious problems that would reveal themselves quite quickly against a peer opponent. The gas turbine engine has a very high fuel consumption and a very high infrared signature. It is also difficult to maintain. "

      I think we'll have to agree to disagree. The logistics claim is valid... to a point. It sounds like you're comparing apples to oranges. My point was the Big 5 in relation to their time; not how they are now vs. a T-90.

      The role of the Abrams, the job for which it was designed, was to defend the line for the central army group in Europe.

      It was mainly arrayed against T-62's to T-72's. It had excellent fire control for the era (though admittedly inferior thermal sites to the Patton) and its Chobham armor was a leap ahead against its biggest threats to tanks at that time.

      In its role it was going to be defending key points, and most likely falling back on its logistics. No one does logistics better than the US, at least at the time. Further, the speed given to it allowed it great tactical flexibility in being able to literally be rushed to weak points in the line.

      The thermal issue is a big one... but it was also supposed to be fighting combined arms; and the mech inf. side was supposed to help suppress the IR missiles.

      It was a tactical decision; but in the environment from which it was supposed to fight, I think it would have done very well; especially when you compare it to the soviet equipment on the line at the time.

      "A serious question becomes, can the Abrams carry out a Blitzkrieg style advance against a competent enemy?"

      It was never intended to be a Blitzkrieg type advancing weapon. Dear God the Soviets had a huge armor advantage. The Central Army Group performing a blitz krieg in that area would have been suicide.

      Local counter attacks were certainly possible, but those opprotunities would be fluid, and might only be able to be taken advantage of by the Abrams and its speed.

      As to maintanance of the power pack, I've spoken to a bunch of tankers who were in Europe when it was there. You didn't fix the gas turbine. You popped it out and replaced it. In some cases it was faster than wrenching on the diesel of the patton. Does that make sustainability sense in an insurgency? Probably not. Does it make sense when you are trying to stop the 11th Guards army and you need the tank back in place really quickly? Yes.

      In the modern day? I'd love to see a Diesel Abrams. And when you have that you get rid of its two biggest weaknesses; fuel consumption and heat signature. And nowadays diesel power plant power is right up there with the gas turbines.

      But the Abrams isn't a 2nd or 3rd tier tank because of those weaknesses. The gun, fire control, speed, and armor all make it quite deadly.

      The leapord and Merkava are outstanding tanks as well. But if you have Abrams attacking a fixed line of them, or them attacking a fixed line of abrams, both sides are going to take horrific damages.

    9. "Remember the word Synchronization as you read the Boyd book, you will hear the reason they got away.

      Then check up on HR McMaster's Career to confirm what happened."

      While I appreciate your suggestions, I have my own agenda.

    10. This is false history, promoted by the Pentagon:

      Let's be very clear, any Iraqi forces that "got away" were ALLOWED to as the result of political decisions.

      In all wars, victories are usually overstated. Most Americans know the US military crushed Iraq's "million-man army". Disputes after the war led the House Armed Services Committee to investigate the true numbers of Iraqi troops. After reviewing US military reports, captured Iraqi documents, and interviews with Iraqi prisoners, they concluded the half-million allied troops faced only 183,000 Iraqi soldiers during the ground assault, not the 547,000 claimed by the Pentagon. Most of this discrepancy was caused by undermanned Iraqi units and the desertion of 153,000 Iraqis. The investigation estimated that 9000 Iraqis were killed in action, 17,000 were wounded, 63,000 were captured, and around 120,000 managed to retreat back into Iraq.

      Few Americans know that Saddam Hussein had finally agreed to demands and ordered his troops to withdraw two days prior to the deadline set by President Bush. As a result, the US military attacked a day sooner and raced to encircle the fleeing Iraqis. Despite the heroic media image of "Screaming" Norman Schwarzkopf, his tirades encouraged his field Generals to lie about their forward progress. This seemed harmless until Schwarzkopf assured President Bush that Iraq's Republican Guard was trapped. This led to a premature ceasefire which allowed thousands of Iraqis to march home through a 100-mile gap.

      Two days after after a ceasefire was declared, Major General Barry McCaffrey, a two-star in charge of the 24th Infantry Division, launched a full-scale surprise attack on columns of Iraqi troops peacefully leaving Kuwait. It remains unclear if McCaffrey did this for his own promotion, or because of directions from higher levels. The Army investigated this "battle" after complaints from many soldiers, but took no action. Afterwards, McCaffrey was quickly promoted and retired as a four-star General. Details are available from the book "Lucky War", published by the Army historical center at Fort Leavenworth.

    11. This is an old link, but it notes the gas turbine produces four times more heat, so much that troops cannot follow behind. I've always thought that a sidewinder IR air-to-air missile could wallop an M-1.

      And has this:

      The Army's response to this idea of tripling the gas mileage for its tanks was to ignore it, and has now proposed gas turbine engines for its Crusader artillery gun. I just found a March 31, 2000 press release from General Dynamics about its tests of an M1A2 tank operating a diesel engine. They want to sell M1A2 tanks to the Turks, but they are too smart to want the gas turbine engines. General Dynamics found the tests successful, and proclaimed: "The tank moves as well as the standard turbine-powered tank with no difference in target detection, identification or main gun accuracy. The testing confirms that the tank's performance is not changed by the diesel engine and that it has a significantly lower operating cost".

      A May 2001 study by the Defense Science Board "More Capable Warfighting Through Reduced Fuel Burden" noted that fuel makes up 70% of the cargo tonnage needed to position the US Army in battle. The study said that if M1A1 tanks were 50% more fuel efficient , the Persian Gulf War buildup could have been 20% faster and ground forces ready to fight one month sooner. They noted that a fuel delivered by ocean tankers costs only around $1 a gallon at the port, but transporting it inland can drive the cost up to $50 a gallon.

    12. The Gulf War politics and ground actions are well outside the scope of this blog and won't be pursued.

    13. "This is an old link, but it notes the gas turbine produces four times more heat..."

      The article you reference clearly has an agenda (nothing wrong with that) and does not even pretend to consider the advantages of the turbine, and there are some. Likewise, you also ignore them. The article's comments offer several advantages that make the issue a good deal less cut and dry than you suggest.

      I just posted an article on credibility. Anyone who offers 100% criticism or 100% praise about anything is suspect. If you'd like to analyze the diesel vs turbine issue you need to objectively note the advantages and disadvantages. That said, this is a Navy blog although the issue is relevant to Marine tanks, assuming they opt to keep them!

    14. The article does say "The gas turbine engine provides unmatched acceleration" and includes comments that a diesel engine is larger and heavier.

      But since no one else on earth has adopted the gas turbine for tanks, maybe that was a mistake? The Army's proposed M-1 upgrade includes diesel. Yet another issue he does not mention is that jet fuel is explosive, whereas diesel is more like charcoal lighter fluid that catches fire but does not "erupt" like jet fuel. Most of the 100 plus American M-1s lost in Iraq burned up after a minor hit ruptured fuel lines causing the jet fuel to catch fire and burn so fiercely that it could not be put out.

      The Republican Guard escape was not politics, it was poor leadership, as explained in the book reference from the Army's historical center. Schwarzkopf was a loud screaming boss who demanded results, which resulted in his Generals telling lies about their progress. It is also about the Army's outdated pyramid command structure. Brigade reports go to Division HQ, then to Corps HQ, then to 3rd Army HQ, then to Centcom. Too many layers of command slowed key info and allowed it to be "improved" along the way.

      This was a major problem in Vietnam, with our senior Generals upset that first hand news reports from the field were wrong because they contradicted their official reports produced via the chain-of-command.

    15. @CNO

      Quick overview, but

      - Much lower fuel consumption
      - Lower maintenance downtime
      - More fuel efficient when idling amd able to travel for longer distances
      - Lower IR signature (simply put a gas turbine that uses 4x more gas will have an IR signature 4x larger)
      - Diesel fuel is less vulnerable to fires (although gas turbines and diesel can both use mixed fuels, albeit at the expense of efficiency)

      Gas turbine
      - Higher power density (so weighs a few tons less)
      - Acceleration is better
      - Quieter

      I believe it is a pretty cut and dried situation. Also, note that the Abrams also costs a lot more than a Leopard 2, despite not offering proportionately more capabilities.

    16. Since I'm coming late to this discussion, I just have a few notes to add (as a US Army Armor branch officer with a couple deployments):

      -It's certainly true that the gas turbine produces a lot more heat than a diesel (which can be pretty nice in the winter!), but I don't think I've ever seen that to be a MAJOR disadvantage. Frankly, it's not a good idea for infantry (aka dismounts or crunchies) to get within 5-6 feet of a running, let alone moving, tank, because of the risk of being crushed due to the crew's lack of situational awareness, and the GT exhaust is a narrow cone in the center of the tank's rear where that would extend to about 10 feet.

      -While the greater IR signature of the tank is certainly an issue for detection (in winter training, I remember spotting an Abrams totally in defilade by the exhaust plume visible through my thermal sites), I doubt that this would be a risk for the tank being targeted by IR ATGMs, simply because those aren't very common, especially among Russian/Chinese systems. Through the 90s, AFAIK the main threat ATGMs were the AT-4/5 series and their equivalents, which are SACLOS wire-guided, similar to the TOW series. More recently, it's the AT-14/15, which is laser-guided. The only IR guided ATGMs that I can think of are the PARS 3 LR and the Spike series, both of which pretty much entirely in friendly hands.

      -All that being said, I saw an Diesel Abrams testbed on display by General Dynamics at the AUSA expo a couple years ago and, assuming their test results about equivalent performance and greater range were accurate, I think it would make sense for the Army to incorporate the engine swap into the M1A3 spec (unfortunately it seems like that hasn't happened, probably due to budgets). The benefits would be the reduction of fuel consumption and thermal signature, especially when idling, which is what tanks spend a lot of their time doing, especially in COIN/stability ops, and also quicker startup/shutdown, which is still beneficial, even with an APU.

    17. Thanks Tierce.

      I would be all for a Diesel Abrams at this point. I wonder if they can retrofit one into the space for the GT?

      I do think that there was a significant difference in diesel power output in the late 70's vs. what the GT could put out at the same time. But that no longer seems to be the case.

    18. "Since I'm coming late to this discussion, I just have a few notes to add (as a US Army Armor branch officer with a couple deployments):"

      Always good to have the voice of experience add to the discussion! Many thanks!

      That reinforces my point that paper weaknesses (or strengths) need to be evaluated in the context of actual use.

    19. The problem I have with that is that against a modern enemy, they are likely to have IR sensors. That's not a problem the world has facing Islamic Fundamentalists (although granted Hezbollah was able to get the latest in Russian ATGMs during the Israeli attack in 2006 on Lebanon), but it could be someday.

      A modern nation state is also likely to have aircraft that double up as scouts, some of which with likely have some form of IR sensor.

      But the bigger problem remains - advancing rapidly. If your tank uses 3-4x as much fuel, then you need 3-4x as many fuel tankers per tank battalion. The other is the poor maintenance times needed, which also needs more spare parts sent to the front line.

      That leaves a point of vulnerability for enemies to attack and means a smaller tooth to tail ratio.

  2. While the bradley is good and it compares well with it peers, it has quite a few design choices that i personnally find questionable. Choices i feel that are meant to just raise the prices. It also had a very long development that stemmed from unclear requirements. Sorta like the F35 and LCS. But other then that, great vehicle. As for the culture issues, look up the results that toxic leadership, budget cuts, and downsizing have had on our nuclear deterrent branch.

  3. I remember reading once that Army leadership had a two pronged attack: A) increase and emphasize leadership, as a first and most important step, and B) Keep the Big 5 focused in terms of what they needed; go for the good, not the perfect. Hence the reason the Abrams originally deployed with the L7 gun.

    That said, its my understanding the Bradley was the worst at doing this, and had the most lack of focus during the design phase.

    Getting back to the point of the post, I think if the Navy were to do this today.... the first thing they need to do is show some leadership. After reading multiple blogs about how the Navy is struggling with retention I think they really need to focus on that.

    I'll admit it burns me to hear that pilots are leaving because they are having trust issues with senior leadership, then I read some Navy press release talking about lean-in circles.

    Now get ahold of a copy of Spinney's brief, you can buy it in book form.
    Then get and read (sorry you have to buy the books they are not electronic):

    Mind of War - Grant T. Hammond

    Pentagon Wars - James G. Burton (especially the appendix dealing with the A-12 Fiasco)

    The Pentagon Paradox - James P. Stevenson

    National Defense - James Fallows (the chapter on the M-16 should be taught as a case study on System Engineering and differing use models)

    The Dream Machine - Richard Whittle (the part where the USMC/Navy correctly restricted the rotor size to fit on existing ships is another case study - it lead to the delays and cost overruns)

  5. The Boyd book also describes lots of issues with Bradley testing such as water in fuel tanks to make it seem like it is more survivable. The Boyd crew had a huge fight to get DOT&E to actually test items instead of rush to buy things when Reagan increased the budget.

  6. One thing I do worry about, and CNO has commented on it ad infinitum here, is the lack of a mission definition.

    The people in the Army and Navy that were able to step up and start to pull us out had a very clear mission. Prepare to stop the soviets in Europe conventionally. Keep the sea lanes open against a concerted Warsaw Pact attempt to close them.

    I know its more involved than that, but we had a very clear idea of what we needed to do.

    I think that this generation, if they can pull us back from the brink, will first have to define *what* their mission is going to be. And I think that's alot harder nowadays.

    My supposition is that you pick the biggest potential threat on the block and prepare for that. Then you will be over-qualified for other missions.

    I also like the idea of more of a two tier system. You have OV-10's for anti insurgency and SuperHornets for peer/near peer.

    I know that's very simplified, but its just a thought.

  7. "I remember reading a bit from Schwarzkopf about his post Vietnam army experience; how they had a hard time retaining talent. They realized a culture change needed to happen; and for the most part it did."

    To a point, yes, but
    Zuckerberg is 31
    In the army, that would make him a mid level Captain suitable for commanding no more than 200men.

    In the current Army, not only would he be limited to such a tiny level of command, he wouldnt even have that, he would be micromanaged by a host of seniors, quite possibly all the way up to the POTUS, all of whom will throw him under the bus if he fails to comply with their orders, or if he complies, and those orders result in a hospital being blown up.

  8. I'm not sure why this has become a tank thread but the Abrams is 20% faster than the similar chally2 and the lightweight T72

    Given its job was to blitz the enemy forward line against a vastly numercally superior foe that seems pretty fair

  9. "Given its job was to blitz the enemy forward line against a vastly numercally superior foe that seems pretty fair"

    I could be way wrong, but that's not my understanding of what the Abrams was supposed to do at all.

    It was going to be defending; most likely retreating if necessary (and if you were in the 11th ACR, that likely would have been necessary as and after you bought time for the rest of the army group).

  10. Speaking of hollow fleet, serious question about the "cruiser modernization" layups -- how are they doing duty sections with a 45-person crew? For six-section duty, that is like 7ish people per section. That is not even enough to do in-port watches (much less any kind of rotation)-- and then you have to ask about firefighting, force protection, etc. Seems questionable....


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