Friday, April 17, 2015

Missing Man

The "Missing Man Table"--complete with the offending Bible--that was recently removed from the dining facility at Patrick AFB, FL (Photo by Lt Col Steve Hyle, Ret, and posted at the KLIX Radio website

A sad little kerfuffle has unfolded at Patrick AFB, Florida in recent weeks.

It's sad, because the controversy was totally preventable and completely unnecessary.  But in today's politically correct military, senior leaders scramble to avoid offending the smallest minority, lest that individual or group contact their Congressmen, the media--or both--and create a tempest that derails a commander's career.  Never mind that such efforts often anger the vast majority of military members and generate the same controversy the commander was hoping to avoid.

At Patrick, the sordid business began--of all places--at the base dining facility.

Like many military mess halls, the Riverside Dining Facility at Patrick proudly displayed a "POW-MIA Missing Man Table," honoring those held captive in the nation's wars, and those who went missing in action.  The tables are a long-honored military tradition; the display includes a white table cloth setting with an inverted glass, a plate with lemon and salt, a single rose, a candle and a Bible.

According to the National League of POW and MIA Families, each element is carefully selected for its significance.  The Bible "represents the strength gained through faith in our country, founded as one nation under God, to sustain those lost from our midst."

But someone at Patrick took offense to inclusion of the Bible, so the entire display was removed last month.  Bad move, because that caught the attention of airmen, retirees and other personnel who eat at Riverside.  They raised cain, and late last month, the "missing" POW-MIA table made the pages of Florida Today, the largest newspaper on the Space Coast.

Once the media came knocking, base "leadership" had a change of heart.  Here's a statement they released in late March, affirming their desire to honor POWs and those missing in action, and promising to restore the display:

“The 45th Space Wing deeply desires to honor America’s Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) personnel,” commanders said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the Bible’s presence or absence on the table at the Riverside Dining Facility ignited controversy and division, distracting from the table’s primary purpose of honoring POWs/MIAs. Consequently, we temporarily replaced the table with the POW/MIA flag in an effort to show our continued support of these heroes while seeking an acceptable solution to the controversy.”

“After consultation with several relevant organizations, we now intend to re-introduce the POW/MIA table in a manner inclusive of all POWs/MIAs as well as Americans everywhere.” the statement said.

So far, there has been no confirmation that the POW-MIA table is back on display at the dining facility.

The Patrick incident is merely the latest skirmish in the USAF's internal war over religion, which has been raging for almost two decades.  In the mid-1990s, the service began allowing Wiccans and other groups to use base chapel facilities, a move that brought complaints from Christian and Jewish airmen. Later, the Air Force became embroiled in a legal battle with a former JAG officer, Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, who claimed he was subjected to anti-Semitic comments and harassment as a cadet at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s, and his sons received similar treatment at the school three decades later.  

Weinstein's various lawsuits and threats of additional legal action put the Air Force on the defensive.  Other events, including the alleged "Koran flushing" incident at Guantanamo Bay--which never actually occurred--only heightened sensitivities to perceived slights and religious offenses.  Against that backdrop, it's no wonder commanders at Patrick folded like a cheap suit and removed the offending display, replete with the Holy Bible.

And that begs another question: would the POW-MIA table still be on display if it included a Koran, the vedas, or the Tipitaka?  And where were the base chaplains when this controversy erupted?  Did any of them take a stand in the name of the military's religious heritage, founded on Judeo-Christian principles?

 Chaplain (Major General) Robert Preston Taylor, in his final assignment as Chief of Chaplains for the USAF.  Taylor began his military career as an Army chaplain in the Philippines, where he was hailed as a hero for rescuing wounded soldiers on the battlefield, and ministering to fellow POWs after being captured by the Japanese (USAF photo)   

At times like these, we wish the Air Force still had clergy like Robert Preston Taylor, who eventually became the services Chief of Chaplains (with the rank of Major General ) before retiring in 1966.  Almost 20 years after his passing,  Taylor remains the exemplar for military chaplains, ministering under conditions that could, quite literally, be described as hell on earth.  

Chaplain Taylor's exploits are detailed in a pair of excellent books, Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides and Days of Anguish, Days of Hope, a biography first published in 1972.  Both describe a man of deep religious faith who never wavered from his beliefs or his duty during the darkest days of World War II.

When the U.S. entered the conflict, Taylor was a chaplain assigned to the Army's 31st Infantry Regiment, deployed on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.  As Taylor's superiors later observed, the young chaplain could often be found "at the point of greatest danger," ministering to his flock.  He won the Silver Star for rescuing wounded men on the battlefield, and volunteered to search for part of the regiment that went missing during the desperate campaign against Japanese invaders.  Taylor spent a week behind enemy lines before rejoining the regiment.  

With the surrender of U.S. forces in the Philippines in April 1942, Taylor became one of thousands of American POWs.  He endured the terrors of the Bataan Death March, watching scores of U.S. and Filipino troops being bayoneted when the collapsed from hunger, thirst, exhaustion or illness. 

The march ended at the Cabanatuan POW camp, which became the largest internment facility for Allied POWs in the Philippines.  Disease quickly took hold in the weakened population, and once again, Taylor put himself in personal jeopardy, working in the prison hospital.  With a dozen prisoners (or more) dying each day, Chaplain Taylor made contact with a local guerrilla network, smuggling badly needed food and medicine into the camp.  His actions literally saved the lives of scores of prisoners.  

Taylor's contact on the outside was an American woman named Claire Phillips, who ran a club in Manila frequented by Japanese officers.  Operating under the code name "High Pockets," Phillips provided a steady flow of rations and medical supplies to the POWs.  Unfortunately, the Japanese intercepted one of her shipments, which included a Greek New Testament inscribed to "Chap Bob," who the guards quickly identified as Robert Taylor.

As punishment, the Japanese tortured the chaplain and placed him in the "heat box," a suffocating, half-buried bamboo cell that was so small that prisoners could not stand erect.  Taylor emerged from the box in bad shape, but he eventually recovered and continued to assist his fellow prisoners.  

But Chaplain Taylor's ordeal was far from over.  With American forces poised to re-take the Philippines, Taylor was among those transferred to Japan on the notorious "hell ships;" hundreds of men crowed into the holds of old cargo vessels with little food, water, ventilation and no sanitary facilities.  Some of the ships were torpedoed by American submarines, unaware that their countrymen were onboard.  Others--including the vessel transporting Taylor--were attacked by our aircraft and scores of POWs died.

Taylor eventually made it to Manchuria, where he was forced to work in a coal mine until Soviet troops liberated him in August 1945.  He weighed barely 100 pounds at the time of his release.  Upon returning to the States, he learned his wife had married another man, after receiving a War Department telegram that listed him as "missing and believed dead" on Bataan.  

Chaplain Taylor would serve another 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, eventually becoming the service's senior cleric.  In his official photo, Taylor appears to be holding a copy of the Bible, with an Air Force logo on the cover.  Even as a flag officer, Taylor left no doubt about his convictions or his duties as a pastor.  

I wonder what Robert Preston Taylor would think about a Bible on a POW-MIA table, and the commanders at Patrick who pulled the display, lest the Holy Book offend someone.    



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Along the Border

For the second time in less than a year, there are reports of an ISIS presence along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The latest claims come from Judicial Watch, which cited information from a Mexican Army officer and a police inspector in an on-line report, stating that the terror group is operating a camp near Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso:

The exact location where the terrorist group has established its base is around eight miles from the U.S. border in an area known as “Anapra” situated just west of Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Another ISIS cell to the west of Ciudad Juárez, in Puerto Palomas, targets the New Mexico towns of Columbus and Deming for easy access to the United States, the same knowledgeable sources confirm.

During the course of a joint operation last week, Mexican Army and federal law enforcement officials discovered documents in Arabic and Urdu, as well as “plans” of Fort Bliss – the sprawling military installation that houses the US Army’s 1st Armored Division. Muslim prayer rugs were recovered with the documents during the operation.

Law enforcement and intelligence sources report the area around Anapra is dominated by the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Cartel (“Juárez Cartel”), La Línea (the enforcement arm of the cartel) and the Barrio Azteca (a gang originally formed in the jails of El Paso). Cartel control of the Anapra area make it an extremely dangerous and hostile operating environment for Mexican Army and Federal Police operations.

The same officials also claim that "coyotes"--working for the Mexican cartels--have been smuggling ISIS operatives across the border into southern New Mexico, and across the Rio Grande east of El Paso, establishing transit corridors in areas where drug smuggling typically goes unchecked. 

So far, there has been no confirmation of the Judicial Watch report.  But last August, the group issued similar warnings, citing a Texas law enforcement bulletin which claimed Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers were eying the southern border as a possible infiltration route.  At the time, federal officials said they were "unaware" of any "specific, credible threat to the homeland" from the Islamic State.  

But local actions suggested otherwise.  The sheriff of Midland County, Texas told Fox News late last summer that local authorities had been told to "keep a lookout" for ISIS terrorists coming across the Mexican border.  

And, during that same period, there was a flurry of security activity at Fort Bliss, the sprawling Army post in El Paso that lies less than 30 miles from the reported ISIS camp.  As we reported last fall:

Major General Stephen Twitty took command of the post and its largest unit (the 1st Armored Division) in August, and has devoted much of his time to improving post security.  While General Twitty said there was no indication of an immediate ISIS threat, he also promised changes in base security procedures:

When it comes to security measures at Fort Bliss gates, everyone should “expect the unexpected,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general, at a press conference Tuesday.

“If you come here every week, you’re going to see something different, because that’s just the way I am,” Twitty said before 16 media representatives at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center. “I like mixing it up.”


Twitty said he knew when he started his job that the installation, due to the large expansion beginning in 2006, had outgrown its access control points, and that they needed to be brought into Army and Department of Defense compliance in some areas.

A week after he took command, assessment teams from the Army and the DOD visited Fort Bliss, and members of those teams noted needed improvements, Twitty said.

For example, the installation is out of compliance at Cassidy gate, because there are not prescribed lanes for civilian traffic and for performing searches, Twitty said.     

There was a certain irony in General Twitty's actions.  He served a previous tour as Deputy Commanding General at Fort Bliss before moving (briefly) to a Pentagon post, then returning to El Paso.  During his previous tour, Twitty certainly had the ear of his CG, but there's no evidence he pushed for a heightened security posture. And, given the billions poured into Fort Bliss over the past decade, there was plenty of money to upgrade entry checkpoints and other security measures.  Yet, there appeared to be little interest in making those improvements until last year.

What changed?  The answer apparently lies along the border.  We can't say definitively that ISIS is operating in the El Paso region, but that possibility cannot be ruled out.  General Twitty did the right thing when he beefed up security at Fort Bliss.  If only the same thing could be said for the rest of our southern border. 

The Texas Department of Public Safety has rebuked claims of the ISIS camp near El Paso, saying it has "no credible evidence" that such a facility exists.  But there seems to be little doubt about the terrorist group's apparent interest in our southern border, and the renewed emphasis on security at Fort Bliss.  

And, barely 24 hours after the Texas DPS tried to assure everyone that Islamic terrorists are not operating in the El Paso region, Judicial Watch posted a new report, which ups the ante a bit more.  According to the watchdog group, the FBI held a meeting at the U.S. consulate in Juarez early in the week, shortly after the new Judicial Watch report appeared.  An intelligence source tells the group the meeting was convened to develop a press strategy to counter claims of an ISIS camp near El Paso.  Oddly enough, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security were not invited to attend, suggesting the FBI believes DHS agents are providing information to Judicial Watch.  Stay tuned.            


Sealing the Deal

The expected deal between Iran and the U.S. has been widely condemned as "paving the road" for Tehran to get the bomb.  And rightfully so.  Talks that began years ago with the goal of preventing the mullahs from enriching uranium will conclude with an "agreement" that makes Iran a nuclear threshold state, never more than a year away from the bomb--but only for the first decade of the agreement.  After that, as President Obama told NPR, breakout times "would have shrunk to almost zero."

In other words, Tehran's membership in the nuclear club is inevitable.  At some point, the Iranian regime will find a convenient reason to scrap the pending agreement and quickly build a bomb.  And that assumes that Iran will actually abide by a diplomatic agreement for at least a few years--something it has never done in the past.

It also presumes that Tehran does not have a covert development effort--a very real possibility--that could produce weapons while its leaders perpetuate the fiction of compliance.  Lest we forget, a half-dozen previously undisclosed sites have been uncovered in Iran since 2000.  Virtually all were revealed by Iranian opposition groups and not western intelligence agencies.  Their ability to ensure Iranian compliance is suspect at best.  The same can be said for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But history may ultimately judge that the final step in Tehran's nuclear march wasn't the diplomatic agreement; the move that ultimately sealed the deal came just a few days later, when Russia lifted its long-standing ban on selling the S-300 air defense system to the Iranians.

Actually, Vladimir Putin didn't need much arm-twisting to renew the contract; Moscow has been chomping at the bit to provide the S-300 to Iran, and the system may be delivered very quickly.  Iranian officials have stated they believe the advanced air defense system could be operational in their country by the end of this year--and possibly, even sooner.  Tehran could arrange to have S-300 radars, missile launchers, C2 units and support equipment flown in from Russia and manned (initially) by Russian crews.  That means Iran could have an initial S-300 capability in a matter of weeks, rather than a matter of months.

As we've written before, deployment of the S-300 in Iran represents a game-changer, particularly in terms of a potential Israeli air strike.  The S-300 (or, if you prefer the NATO designation, SA-20) is one of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems in the world, with excellent capabilities against both aircraft and ballistic missiles, with a maximum range between 120-250 NM, depending on which interceptor missile variant is employed.  Think of the S-300 as an advanced version of the U.S. Patriot and you've got the right idea; it's a state-of-the-art system that can provide overlapping coverage of Iranian nuclear facilities, from a variety of threats.

The S-300 is not invincible, but suppressing that type of system requires significant investments in resources and time.  The U.S., for example, would employ salvos of cruise missiles to eliminate deployed SAM batteries and eliminate support infrastructure.  Cyber attacks would be employed against the early warning and command-and-control networks that support the S-300, in an effort to reduce situational awareness and force individual batteries into autonomous or semi-autonomous operations.  As the S-300 network becomes increasingly fragmented, stealth platforms like the F-22 would lead missions aimed at eliminating most of the remaining launchers and radars, providing support and cover for E/F-18 Growlers (providing jamming support) and F-16CJs in the Wild Weasel role.

At a minimum, this effort would take dozens of cruise missile strikes and scores of sorties over a period of several days.  And that's a luxury that Israel doesn't have.  Even with forward basing in places like Azerbaijan, or access through Saudi airspace, the Israeli Air Force would be looking at complex, long-range missions and they would be asset-limited by their small tanker fleet.  Most estimates of an IAF first strike against Iranian nuclear targets put the number of tactical aircraft at somewhere between 24-36, roughly the maximum number that could be refueled by six or seven Israeli tankers.

That is not to say Israel is without options.  With accurate intelligence, they could take out the missiles shortly after delivery--as they did in Syria during the fall of 2013.  But getting to southern Syria is a much easier proposition than flying all the way to Iran and back.  And, if the Russians opted for multiple deliveries (by air) to several different locations, the IAF's targeting problems would be infinitely more complex.

This much is certain: Israel's "window" for eliminating the S-300 threat (and bombing Iranian nuclear sites) is growing quite narrow.  Russia and Iran won't rest until the air defense system is operational, and Tehran always has the option of ratcheting up covert development efforts, in facilities unknown to both the U.S. and Israel.  The Iranians know the IAF has only a limited ability to sustain a long-distance air campaign against targets in their country, and arrival of the S-300 will force the Israelis to rethink their options.  Meanwhile, the world power capable of sustaining an air campaign against Iran (the United States) is firmly wedded to a "diplomatic solution" that effectively gives Tehran the bomb.

Put another way: Iran is no longer worried about a U.S. attack, and they view the advanced SAM system as an effective insurance policy against an Israeli strike.  You might say Iran's status as a nuclear power will be secured by those first FLAP LID emissions and battery deployments inside the Islamic Republic. 

ADDENDUM:  If you need further proof that Iran isn't worried about American military action, consider President Obama's comments about the S-300 deal.  According to Channel 10 in Israel, Mr. Obama said he was surprised that Russia's suspension of the missile sale "held this long," since Moscow was not barred from selling those "defensive" weapons.

Translated, Obama is privately pleased that Russia is going ahead with the sale.  He figures it will discourage an Israeli military strike, and force everyone to go along with the so-called framework, recently worked out in Switzerland.  Meanwhile, Iran will remain on the cusp of getting a nuclear weapon, with a greatly reduced threat to its nuclear facilities, thanks to pending deployments of the S-300.                        


Monday, April 13, 2015

What's Wrong With this Picture, Redux

Go to Bing, type "Russian jet US plane" into the browser, then look at what your search reveals.

At the top of the page, above the caption "U.S. plane intercepted," you could see this picture (at least for a while), selected by the bright boys and girls at Microsoft.  It's an introduction, of sorts, for articles on a recent, dangerous intercept of an American RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft by a Russian SU-27 fighter.  But the RC-135 is not in the photo posted by the folks at Bing.  Instead, they chose this one:


The B-36 at sunset, back in the late 1940s or early 50s.  

Yes, that plane was probably intercepted by the Russians--about 60 years ago.  

The aircraft in question is the B-36 "Peacemaker," built by Convair and in service with the U.S. Air Force from 1949-1959.  At 230 feet, it had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft in history, and was the largest piston-engine aircraft ever built.  It was the nation's primary nuclear bomber from the early years of the Cold War until the late 1950s, when the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress began to replace the Peacemaker.

In many ways, the B-36 was a remarkable aircraft.  It carried four times the payload of a B-29 and with forward basing or intermediate refueling on the ground, it could reach targets in the Soviet Union without support from aerial tankers--an important consideration in an era when Strategic Air Command relied on KC-97s (modified B-29s) for the in-flight refueling mission.  The B-36 had a crew of 15 and could stay aloft for up to 40 hours.  Crew members traveled from the nose to the tail of the bomber through a pressurized tunnel, pulling themselves along on a wheeled trolley.

Early models of the B-36 had six radial propeller engines, but when the B-36D was introduced, four jet engines were added, increasing its speed and raising its combat ceiling above 40,000 feet.  With the piston-and-jet engine configuration Peacemaker crews often reported they had "six-a-turnin' and four burnin.'  But in most cases, the jet engines were only used during takeoff, or during sprints towards a simulated target.  If the GE J47 turbojets had remained operating throughout flight, the B-36's range would have been significantly reduced.

The Peacemaker was capable of dropping the largest nuclear gravity bombs ever produced by the U.S., and crews feared blast effects more than enemy air defenses.  With a relatively slow cruising speed, B-36 crews worried about their ability to exit the target area before the bomb detonated.

While its primary mission was nuclear deterrence, the Air Force also developed a strategic recce version that probed Soviet defenses in the Arctic in the 1950s.  The advent of jet interceptors in the Russian Air Force increased the Peacemaker's vulnerability, and those missions were discontinued, and the B-36 was phased out in favor of all-jet designs like the B-52 and to a lesser degree, the B-47.   

But the giant bomber served its purpose.  It never fired a shot in anger, and the last Peacekeeper was retired in 1959, as the B-52 entered wide service and the nation's first ICBMs and medium-range ballistic missiles came on line.  Maybe the photo editors at Bing can dig up a shot of a Jupiter or Atlas  the next time we conducted a missile test from Vandenburg.
ADDENDUM:  The B-36 photo has since been removed by Bing.  Wonder how many complaints they received about using a picture of a long-retired bomber to illustrate their story on the Russian intercept.   


Buh-Bye Bob

CBS's Bob Schieffer is starting his (abbreviated) victory lap, after announcing his retirement from the network last week.

And there's little doubt he is closing out his 50-year career in journalism on a high note.  "Face the Nation," the Sunday morning public affairs program that he has anchored for more than two decades, is currently #1 in the ratings, well ahead of NBC's "Meet the Press."  Schieffer also anchored almost every other news broadcast at CBS during his tenure at the network, including the network's evening newscast, during the rocky period between Dan Rather's dismissal and the hiring of Katie Couric. Schieffer is widely credited for restoring stability to the broadcast, and given Couric's dismal performance, many believe he would have been a far better choice to permanently fill the chair. 

Mr. Schieffer announced he was stepping down last Wednesday at his alma mater, Texas Christian University.  He revealed his retirement plans during the annual news symposium which bears his name, at the school's college of communications, which is also named for Schieffer.  Anyone see a pattern here?

But TCU's lionization of its famous graduate almost pales compared to the effusive praise Schieffer received from fellow journalists.  A sampling of tweets collected by hailed the retiring anchor as a "stalwart" and "trusted by both sides."

However, in the interest of fairness, we offer the "other" Bob Schieffer, a collection of his greatest hits (compiled by the Media Research Center) that highlight the CBS anchor's obvious left-wing bias.  Consider this summation of Barack Obama's eminently forgettable State of the Union speech in 2013:

"This was a speech that had some music to it, as they used to say.  He coined a few phrases in there, talked about the 'unfinished task before us,' sort of reminiscent of what Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address.  

Or this lecture to Herman Cain in 2011:

"Mr. Cain, I have to ask you, what is the point of that..having a man smoke a cigarette in a television commercial for you?  Well let me just tell you it's not funny to me.  I am a cancer survivor like you.  I had cancer that was smoking related.  I don't think it serves the country well and this is an editorial opinion here, to be showing someone smoking a cigarette.  You're the frontrunner now and it seems to me as the frontrunner you have a responsibility not to take that kind of tone in a campaign..why don't you take it off the internet?  

We should also note that Mr. Schieffer's folksy, on-air demeanor has concealed a petty, vindictive streak that was sometimes directed at colleagues.  During the late 70s and early 80s, Schieffer anchored the CBS Morning News, which never gained any traction against NBC's "Today" or "Good Morning America" on ABC.  At one point, CBS decided to hire network TV's first female meteorologist, Valerie Voss, to handle the forecasting duties.  For some reason, Schieffer disliked his new colleague, and never spoke to Voss on the set.  She went on to a long career as a senior meteorologist at CNN.

Likewise, Schieffer had low regard for Bill Kurtis, the man who eventually replaced him on the Morning News.  Never mind that Kurtis had a CBS News correspondent in Los Angeles; a spectacularly successful anchor for the network's owned-and-operated station in Chicago (WBBM), and the recipient of numerous journalism awards.  In one of his books, Schieffer simply refers to his successor as the "deep-voiced announcer" for the CBS station in Chicago.  

It's also a fair bet that Bill O'Reilly of Fox News won't be on the invite list for Schieffer's going away party in Washington.  Schieffer was the senior CBS correspondent who was dispatched to Argentina to cover the Falklands War, reducing air time for O'Reilly, who was a newcomer at the network.  O'Reilly exacted a measure of revenge by (reportedly) using Schieffer as a model for the lecherous White House correspondent murdered in the first chapter of "Those Who Tresspass," a novel published by the Fox News host in 2004.  

To be fair, no one works in broadcasting for more than 40 years without making a few enemies, and that appears to be the case with Mr. Schieffer.  But in the examples cited above, it appears his spite was reserved for colleagues with little power, or those who had the temerity to replace him in a high-visibility gig.  For all his courtly manners, Bob Schieffer could be vicious and mean-spirited and that's part of his media legacy as well. 

“Mr. Cain, I have to ask you what is the point of that? Having a man smoke a cigarette in a television commercial for you?...Well, let me just tell you, it’s not funny to me. I am a cancer survivor like you. I had cancer that was smoking related. I don’t think it serves the country well, and this is an editorial opinion here, to be showing someone smoking a cigarette. You’re the frontrunner now and it seems to me as frontrunner you would have a responsibility not to take that kind of a tone in this campaign....Why don’t you take it off the Internet?” - See more at:

“This was a speech that had some music to it, as they used to say. He coined a few phrases in there, talked about the ‘unfinished task before us,’ sort of reminiscent of what Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address.” - See more at:
“This was a speech that had some music to it, as they used to say. He coined a few phrases in there, talked about the ‘unfinished task before us,’ sort of reminiscent of what Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address.” - See more at:

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Being Curt

The man with the toughest job in the USAF: General Robin Rand, recently nominated to be the first four-star commander of Air Force Global Strike Command and fix problems in the service's nuclear enterprise (USAF photo). 

The Air Force is taking another step towards fixing its troubled nuclear enterprise, by naming General Robin Rand to head Global Strike Command.  Pending Senate confirmation, Rand will become the first four-star to head the organization, which is responsible for the service's ICBMs and nuclear-capable bombers.  Plans to elevate the AFGSC commander's billet from a three-star position were unveiled last November by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said it was "essential" to "change the cultural prestige of the nuclear mission" and make it commensurate with other operational areas.

Mr. Hagel's statement was merely the latest acknowledgment that the Air Force's nuclear units had suffered from years of neglect, resulting in a string of embarrassments, beginning with the inadvertent "transfer" of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from North Dakota to Louisiana in 2007.  Despite promises to fix issues with training, security, personnel retention and other issues, the cruise missile debacle was followed by more problems, ranging from failed nuclear inspections to drug use and a cheating scandal among missile crew members.

Creation of AFGSC was supposed to bring a new measure of focus and accountability to the nuclear mission, and it appeared to be a step in the right direction.  Indeed, the alignment of the service's strategic forces under a single command was a tacit admission that the Air Force made a major mistake when Strategic Air Command was inactivated in the early 1990s.

Throughout the Cold War, SAC was responsible for the nation's strategic bomber force, aerial tanker fleet, land-based ICBMs and key strategic reconnaissance assets.  SAC training and performance standards were the stuff of legend; if the Air Force regulation for a particular program or function covered 20 pages, the Strategic Air Command "supplement" was often four or five times longer.  One thing was certain: anyone assigned to the command never lacked for guidance, and with SAC's exacting inspection programs, problems were ruthlessly identified and fixed.

Indeed, the current Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, has admitted the service made a big mistake in getting rid of SAC.  Give him credit for honesty.  For decades, his predecessors insisted the days of SAC were past, and the bomber force was better off as a part of Air Combat Command (which is dominated by fighter pilots) and missiles were a natural fit for Air Force Space Command.  In both cases, assets that were at the forefront of SAC's warfighting capabilities took a back seat in their new commands.  Expertise in the nuclear mission began to deteriorate, as older hands retired and younger airmen sought escape from career fields viewed as a dead end.

For his marching orders, General Welsh has instructed General Rand to "go become the next Curt LeMay," a reference to the legendary general (and later, Air Force Chief of Staff) who transformed SAC from a hodgepodge of poorly trained units into the nation's preeminent strike force.  Through much of the 1950s, the bulk of the nation's nuclear deterrent rested with SAC, and there was no doubt the command and its aggressive leader were up to the task.

Almost 70 years later, Rand's personal charisma and dynamic leadership style made him a good choice to lead Global Strike Command.  But is he another Curtis LeMay?  The obvious answer is "no," since no one Air Force leader--before or since--has equaled LeMay's blend of courage, persistence, determination and vision.  General LeMay's mission was to transform SAC from an operational backwater into the nation's nuclear shield and he succeeded brilliantly, through his knowledge of strategic operations, an almost-unlimited budget and sheer force of personality.

By those criteria, General Rand faces an uphill battle.  Since graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1979, Rand has spent most of his time as a fighter pilot, including three consecutive tours as a fighter wing commander between 2003 and 2007.  General Rand clearly has exemplary leadership skills, but he'll need a little time to get up to speed on the mission of AFGSC and the particular needs of his bomber and missile crews.

There is also the matter of perception.  Rand is replacing a career bomber pilot (Lieutenant General Stephen Wilson) at Barksdale and don't think that transition isn't lost on the men and women of Global Strike Command.  For officers and NCOs who have spent their careers around Buffs, B-2s or the Minuteman III system, Rand's appointment could be perceived as the "fighter mafia" simply reasserting its control.  While that assessment is probably unfair, it is something Rand will have to contend with as he takes command.

In terms of resources, General Rand will inherit a force that is a fraction of what SAC once was, and long in the tooth, to boot.  The "newest" B-52 rolled off the Boeing assembly line more than 50 years ago; the Minuteman IIIs of our ICBM force date from the 1970s and even the relatively youthful B-2 stealth bombers are in their third decade of service.  And unlike the early 50s, Rand will not have a good chunk of the defense budget to fund upgrades and expansion.  Air Force leadership has promised more money for infrastructure improvements, personnel programs and limited aircraft upgrades, but it's a trickle of what is actually required.

As Air Force Magazine (subscription required) recently observed, the nation's nuclear deterrent has been underfunded and under-prioritized for more than 20 years.  The consequences of these decisions are now on display around the world; North Korea joined the nuclear club almost a decade ago, and Iran's entry is just a matter of time, even with the "deal" recently reached between Tehran and the Obama Administration.  A revitalized American deterrent force could be a stabilizing force in a dangerous world, but that won't happen with Mr. Obama in the White House.

That's why General Rand faces an even tougher job that the one given to Curt LeMay in the late 1940s. Not only is he on new ground in terms of mission responsibilities, Rand must also find a way to revitalize our land-based nuclear forces in an era of sequestration, and under a commander-in-chief who would gladly eliminate our entire nuclear arsenal if he could only find a way.

Saying the new leader of AFGSC faces a hard slog would be a monumental understatement.  His prospects for success are decidedly slim, and the margin for error is approximately zero.

Good luck, General Rand.  You'll need it.                       



Friday, April 03, 2015

Video of the Day

...courtesy of Steven Crowder, comedian, pundit and a part-time host at WAAM radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Mr. Crowder actually investigated a scenario we've been wondering about: while the mainstream media searches high and low for homophobic Christians who refuse to cater gay weddings, what would happen if you made the same request of Muslim-run establishments? 

So, Mr. Crowder sent one of his associates to a Muslim bakery in Dearborn, Michigan, where he tried to order a cake for gay wedding reception.  The results were predictable; the Koran is very clear in its position on homosexuality and apparently the bakers contacted by Crowder's colleague are observant Muslims: all refused to sell a cake for a gay wedding.

Where's the outrage?  Where are the denunciations of bigotry and homophobia?  And for that matter, where are the local stations in Detroit?  Southeastern Michigan is home to America's largest Muslim community, and with controversy swirling over the religious freedom law in neighboring Indiana, you'd think that WDIV, WXYZ, WJBK or WWJ-TV might be interested.  Ditto for the Free Press and the Detroit News.

Mr. Crowder thought so, too.  He notified the local media about the video he recorded, with a Muslim establishment clearly refusing to render services for a gay wedding, based on religious objections.  Their response?  A collective yawn.     

Just more affirmation that the current kerfuffle in Indiana isn't about gay rights or religious bigotry.  It's merely the latest attempt to force an agenda on the American public, and bully anyone who doesn't go along.  It also confirms that the left is deathly afraid of the Muslim community because they play the discrimination card as well, and know how to push back.

So, don't look for the Action News team or their counterparts at the network to barge into Dearborn, and ask a Muslim baker or photographer to justify their refusal to serve gay couples.  That sort of journalistic ambush is reserved for business owners who identify themselves as Christians.   Like the Indiana family that runs Memories Pizza.

Go figure.       


Monday, March 30, 2015

Death by Moonlight

RAF Squadron Leader Peter Hill briefs bomber crews from Number 51 Squadron before the planned mission against Nuremberg, Germany on the evening on 30/31 March 1944.  Hill was among more than 700 crew members lost on the raid, the bloodiest night in Bomber Command history (Imperial War Museum Collection)    

Seventy-one years ago tonight, hundreds of RAF bombers thundered aloft from bases across Great Britain.  Their target was Nuremberg, an industrial city in Bavaria that Hitler once described as "the most important in Germany."  Nuremberg had been the site of huge Nazi Party rallies during the late 1930s, so Bomber Command saw an opportunity to strike both a psychological and economic blow against the Third Reich.

The raid also represented something of a turning point in the RAF's long bombing campaign against Germany.  While the crews that gathered for the mission briefing that night didn't know it, the raid against Nuremberg would be the last salvo in the so-called Battle of Berlin, a series of 16 raids against the German capital and other key targets that began in November 1943.  Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Bomber Command's determined Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, viewed the campaign as an opportunity to break German resistance, once-and-for-all.  "It will cost us between 400-500 bombers," he observed.  "It will cost Germany the war."

But Harris's calculus proved flawed.  While Bomber Command crews inflicted heavy damage on a number of enemy targets, they did not crush German morale and losses were much higher than expected.  A total of 952 RAF bombers had been lost on earlier raids in the Battle of Berlin (along with more than 7000 aircrew).

If Harris and his planners viewed Nuremberg as a chance to strike deep inside the Reich, crews were more concerned about survival.  Overall, loss rates during the campaign were above the five percent considered "sustainable" and some units suffered high casualty rates. Number 460 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force was essentially "wiped out" during Berlin raids in December 1943 and January 1944, losing a total of 25 aircraft and crews.

Despite this high cost, Bomber Command remained a potent force, capable of generating 800-plane raids against German targets on a near-nightly basis.  And with improved navigational aids like Gee and H2S, accuracy had greatly improved over the early days of the war, when most bombers dropped their bombs miles away from the intended target.  Two of the earlier raids in the campaign (22/23 November and 17 December) were among the most effective of the war, so Harris had reason to believe the Nuremberg mission could be successful as well.  He also realized that Bomber Command's operational focus would shift to France in the months ahead, as preparations for the Normandy invasion shifted into high gear.  Harris clearly wanted the Berlin campaign to end on a high note, and Nuremberg would provide that opportunity.

Unfortunately, Harris and his staff failed to account for several key factors, and hundreds of aircrew would pay with their lives.  First, RAF commanders and intelligence officers had discounted the employment of upward-firing cannons and machine guns on German night fighters.  These devices, nicknamed Schrage Musik (or "crooked music"), allowed them to attack British bombers from below.

Luftwaffe squadrons began deploying Schrage Musik-equipped aircraft about the time of the RAF raid on the Peenemunde missile complex in mid-1943; as the Berlin campaign reached its zenith, almost one-third of Germany's night fighters had been outfitted with up-ward firing cannons.  Bomber losses began to climb; five weeks before the Nuremberg operation, the RAF lost 78 of 823 aircraft dispatched against Leipzig.

A Schrage Musik attack was pure terror; in most cases, crews had no advance warning, just a sudden burst of cannon fire and their bomber exploded, or if they were lucky, it began to fall apart, giving some crew members a chance to bail out.  Freeman Dyson, the eminent British physicist who worked as an operations analyst for Bomber Command, described the failure to recognize the Schrage Musik threat as one of the greatest intelligence debacles of the war.  Making matters worse, Harris had little confidence in his analytical team and never seriously considered tactics and modifications that might have reduced loss rates, such as mixing more Mosquito night fighters into the bomber stream, or removing gun turrets that increased drag, but did little to improve a bomber's defensive capabilities.

Nuremberg's second major failure was in the operational plan.  As crews settled in for their briefing, they were stunned to see a "straight-in" flight route to the target.  After reaching a turn point over the continent, the bomber stream would fly 265 miles on a direct heading to Nuremberg.  No zig-zagging, and the diversionary forces were small.  The Germans quickly surmised the main effort would be directed at Nuremberg and marshaled their defenses accordingly.

And the Luftwaffe had another ally on that fateful night: the weather.  There was a full moon above Germany that evening, and no cloud cover on that long navigation leg to the target.  Contrails from the 70-mile long bomber stream stretched across the sky, making it even easier for enemy fighters to locate their prey.

It was, in the words of a surviving Lancaster tail gunner, "a disaster."  More than 200 German night fighters mauled the formation; dozens of heavy bombers began falling from the skies along the route to Nuremberg, their end marked by a massive explosion, or a fiery plunge to the earth below.  At least 60 RAF bombers were lost during the ingress to their target; another 35 were downed on the way home, and 11 more crashed on British soil.  In one single, bloody mission, the RAF lost more crew members than during the entire Battle of Britain.

And for that heavy price, Bomber Command inflicted little in the way of damage or German casualties.  When the formation arrived over Nuremberg, they found the target obscured by clouds, and many of the surviving bombers dropped miles from their intended target.  More than 100 bombers hit Schweinfurt by mistake (more than 60 miles away).  No significant military targets were hit and total German casualties--military and civilian--were a fraction of the RAF losses.

In hindsight, the lessons seem clear enough.  By the end of March 1944, it was apparent that the Battle of Berlin had not achieved desired results.  Harris should have hedged his bets and cancelled the Nuremberg raid, particularly when weather conditions began to tilt in favor of the defenders.  It is equally obvious that RAF intelligence officers, operations analysts and commanders should have paid more attention to reports of night fighters attacking from below, with upward firing guns.

A better assessment of that threat might have resulted in better counter-measures, saving the lives of thousands of aircrew members.  Freeman Dyson believes that removing ineffective gun turrets might have added another 50 knots of airspeed to a Lancaster or Halifax, meaning that bomber crews would spend less time over enemy territory, and night fighter crews would find it more difficult to intercept a faster foe.     

Unfortunately, the history of warfare is littered with examples of faulty (or disregarded) intelligence information, blended together with a poor operational plan, under less-than-ideal environmental conditions.  All of those elements came together in the skies over Germany, on a moon-lit March night eight decades ago, and hundreds of brave men paid the ultimate price.

ADDENDUM:  The Nuremberg Raid has inspired at least two excellent books, including a very detailed account by noted military historian Martin Middlebrook that was published in 1986 and a newer narrative by John Nichol that appeared two years ago.  Mr. Nichol is a former RAF navigator who was captured by Iraq when his Tornado fighter-bomber was shot down during the first Gulf War.

A more controversial reference is Brian McKenna's 1991 documentary that bears the same title as this post.  The film looks at the thousands of Canadian crew members who served in Bomber Command during World War II and bore the same sacrifices.  However, a number of Canadian veterans (and their families) have excoriated McKenna's film, claiming it depicts bomber command crews as robots who mindlessly carried out orders to exterminate civilians.  The ombudsman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which originally aired the film, later determined that the film had serious problems with accuracy, but historians who re-examined military records claimed McKenna's documentary is accurate.           

Various accounts of the Nuremberg raid have touched on a conspiratorial element--a belief that the heavy losses stemmed from an intelligence set-up.  Put another way: some believe that the Germans knew that Nuremberg would be targeted in advance, allowing them to decimate the bomber stream.  According to this theory--which has never been completely substantiated--the location of the main RAF target on 30/31 March was fed to the Germans through a double agent, who was later used to transmit false information about the Normandy invasion.  To establish his credibility, the Allied high command decided to give him accurate information about the Nuremberg raid, a decision that (if it actually occurred) signed the death warrant for scores of aircrew members.

On the other hand, there is compelling evidence that valuable intelligence information--much of it derived from ULTRA intercepts--was withheld from Bomber Command during World War II.  Former RAF Wing Commander John Stubbington's book Kept in the Dark (2010) presents a convincing case that Harris and his staff were denied the best intelligence because of in-fighting within various intelligence organizations and political battles at the highest levels of the Allied high command.        


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Kingdom's Nukes

By some accounts, the "crowning achievement" of the Obama Administration's foreign policy may be just hours away.

According to Reuters (and other media outlets), the U.S. and key European allies, along with Russia and China, are closing in on a "2 or 3 page agreement" that would form the basis for a nuclear accord with Iran

While negotiators on both sides stress that "success is still uncertain" (and we can only hope that assessment is correct), many observers believe that an agreement will be reached before the 31 March deadline.  In the rush to secure an accord, Secretary of State John Kerry--with the full support of President Obama--has reportedly caved on a number of Iranian demands.  Details from the AP and Fox News:

"Details of the emerging deal include a possible trade-off which would allow Iran to run several hundred centrifuges in a once-top secret, fortified bunker site at Fordo, in exchange for limits on enrichment and nuclear research and development at other sites -- in particular, Iran's main facility at Natanz.
The terms of the agreement have not been confirmed and were shared with The Associated Press by officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  

According to the AP report, no centrifuges at Fordo would be used to enrich uranium, but would be fed elements like zinc, xenon and germanium for separating out isotopes for medicine, industry or science. 
Initially, the P5+1 partners, which include the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, China and Germany, had wanted all centrifuges stripped away from the Fordo facility. However, under this reported deal, Iranian scientists would be prohibited from working on any nuclear research or development program there, and the number of centrifuges allowed would not be enough to produce the amount of uranium it takes to make a bomb within a year anyway, according to the officials.  

The site also would be subject to international inspections."

But the list of American concessions doesn't end there.  As the Washington Free Beacon reported on Thursday, the U.S. is backing away from "essential" demands that Iran account for its past nuclear activities:

“Once again, in the face of Iran’s intransigence, the U.S. is leading an effort to cave even more toward Iran—this time by whitewashing Tehran’s decades of lying about nuclear weapons work and current lack of cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy Agency],” said one Western source briefed on the talks but who was not permitted to speak on record.

With the White House pressing to finalize a deal, U.S. diplomats have moved further away from their demands that Iran be subjected to oversight over its nuclear infrastructure.

“Instead of ensuring that Iran answers all the outstanding questions about the past and current military dimensions of their nuclear work in order to obtain sanctions relief, the U.S. is now revising down what they need to do,” said the source.  “That is a terrible mistake—if we don’t have a baseline to judge their past work, we can’t tell if they are cheating in the future, and if they won’t answer now, before getting rewarded, why would they come clean in the future?”

Yet, as hard as it is to fathom, the emerging nuclear deal may not represent the ultimate debacle of Mr. Obama's foreign policy.  Amid his long list of failures of Middle East failures--Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan--the worst may be yet to come.  In his rush to conclude a deal with Iran, President Obama and his minions may be triggering a nuclear arms race in the region, something the U.S. has successfully prevented for more than 50 years.

Consider the case of Saudi Arabia.  For decades, the kingdom has relied on U.S. leadership--and our military presence--to maintain stability in the world's most volatile region.  Now, with Washington leading from behind (and busily cutting its military power), the Saudis realize they can no longer count on their long-time ally.  It's a conclusion that other partners in the Middle East have also arrived at, including Egypt, Oman, Qatar, the Emirates and Jordan.  Their dwindling confidence in Mr. Obama is one reason that Egypt launched strikes against ISIS in Libya without notifying the U.S.  And just this week, Saudi forces initiated military operations against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.  There was no consultation with the U.S. before the first air strikes.    

From Riyadh's perspective, there was no reason.  Over the past few months, the Saudis have watched the Obama Administration enter into a de facto with Iran against ISIS in Iraq.  Thousands of Shia fighters and members of Iran's Quds force are now fighting ISIS terrorists across Iraq, raising fears that Tehran (and its proxies) will eventually turn their sights on Saudi Arabia.  These concerns escalated in recent weeks, with the sudden American pull-out from Yemen, and the Houthi triumph.  With Iranian-backed factions near its northern and southern borders, the Saudis feel they have no other option that unilateral military action.

But the House of Saud has greater fears.  The Saudi Royal Family--and their government--has been positively stunned by the "progress" of nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran.  In Riyadh, there is little doubt the expected accord will allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.  And if the kingdom can no longer count on the Americans for protection, then Saudi Arabia will obtain its own nuclear deterrent.

The timeline for this acquisition will be measured in weeks and months--not years.  According to the U.K. Guardian, the Saudis bankrolled up to 60% of the development costs associated with Pakistan's nuclear program.  In return, Islamabad agreed to provide nuclear warheads to Saudi Arabia on short notice.  Not the technology needed to build warheads, but the actual, finished weapons, ready to mount on a suitable delivery platform.

And Riyadh has been busy on that front as well.  Newsweek reported last year that Saudi Arabia bought a "turn-key" ballistic missile system from China (with tacit U.S. approval) in 2003.  The solid-fuel CSS-5 East Wind is a marked improvement over the older DF-3s the Saudis purchased from Beijing in the late 1980s.  Envisioned as a counter-weight to Saddam's growing Scud force, Saudi Arabia elected not to use them during the first Gulf War, when dozens of Iraqi missiles were fired at allied targets in the kingdom.  According to some analysts, the DF-3s were too inaccurate; Saudi leaders feared collateral damage and heavy civilian casualties if the older Chinese missiles had been used in that conflict.

By comparison, the DF-21/CSS-5 is a medium-range system that is much more accurate and could be used against targets like the compounds used by Iranian leaders, or larger military bases.  The U.S. government allowed the sale, after determining the CSS-5s shipped to Saudi Arabia were not nuclear-capable.  But other accounts suggest the newer missiles have been subsequently modified to carry nuclear warheads, weapons that would be (presumably) supplied by Pakistan.

Riyadh certainly has the financial resources and political connections to make it happen.  For years, Chinese technicians have supplied the technical expertise needed to maintain and operate Saudi Arabia's ballistic missile forces.  Many of those experts hare housed in special quarters in the Saudi capital, or King Khalid Military City.  Vehicles carrying Chinese technicians are frequently seen near bases involved with the Saudi missile program.  

Unlike technologically advanced countries that could rapidly build their own nuclear weapons (including Japan and Taiwan), the Saudis must only modify existing deals and call in a few markers.  With Iran on the verge of joining the nuclear club--and the expected treaty paving the way for that capability--Riyadh is taking no chances.  Indeed, there is actually a chance that Saudi Arabia could obtain a rudimentary nuclear capability before Tehran, with a handful of nuclear-tipped CSS-5s (and more to follow).  The same holds true for other nations around the Persian Gulf, who could also buy from Pakistan, or obtain their weapons through the Saudis. 

When word of a U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal is announced in a few days, the White House will describe it as a "breakthrough" and a diplomatic landmark.  It is, of course, nothing of the sort.  And what's worse, that agreement will mark the start of an inevitable nuclear arms race in the Middle East.  And we all know how that will turn out.