Tag Archives: Military

Professional army birthing pains in Sweden

The Swedish military has just (as of July 1st) converted from a conscript to all-volunteer force.  The planning and implementation seemed rather quick and there seem to be some kinks that need to be worked out.

Case in point:  overseas deployments.  In the old system, deployments were voluntary but in the new system, the government wants to make all service people liable for duty overseas.  Seems reasonable, right?  After all, everyone will have volunteered to be in the Swedish military and Sweden has a long standing commitment to international deployments.  So this sort of thing shouldn’t really come as a shock.

But, the four (FOUR?!) unions that represent military personnel object to the new rule, according to the Local.  Soldiers that refuse to serve under those conditions risk being fired.

In other Swedish military news the Defense minister has proposed a new organizational structure.  The assumptions which underlie the policy include:

A concerted, direct military attack on Sweden remains unlikely in the foreseeable future. However, crises or incidents in our region involving the use of military force cannot be ruled out. Nor, in the longer run, can the threat of a military attack. Meeting these challenges requires relevant, up-to-date crisis and contingency planning, particularly with respect to strategically important areas and vital public services.

A military conflict in our immediate region in which one country alone is affected is virtually inconceivable. Sweden will not take a passive stance should another EU member state or Nordic country suffer a disaster or come under attack. We expect these countries to act in the same way if Sweden is similarly affected. Sweden should thus both extend and receive military support.

Sweden’s increased commitment to peace-support operations under UN and Nato command should continue. Continued participation in training activities and exercises under EU and Nato command, or as part of other bi- and multilateral operations, are important to the development of our operational capability.

Worthwhile points to note:

  • The present distinction between a national operational organisation and a special task force for foreign missions should be ended.
  • Although sustainability must remain a feature of Sweden’s defence, accessibility must take priority. Our defence forces need units which are immediately available to safegu
  • Mission specific, predefined battalion combat groups will make up the Army’s main operational units.  A battalion combat group is assembled around a tactical operations battalion equipped with reinforcement resources from usable units such as tank, air defence, engineer, logistical and intelligence units.
  • An increase from three available manoeuvre battalions today, to eight tomorrow. This means more than twice as much availability.
  • Twice as much capability for peace-support operations. It will be possible to keep 1 700 people in continuous engagement in international operations.

Clearly, the Swedes are going to try to continue to be major players in UN/EU sponsored operations.  It may be a very good time for them to make this move and try to gain more influence than a nation their size would normally be expected to have.  It’s likely that the U.S. and U.K. will be less inclined to get involved in international missions after getting their fill in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Sweden might be well positioned to fill any gap created by isolationist leaning policies by nations with larger militaries.

I also find it interesting that the only conflict they mention by name is the 2008 Georgian war.  I suspect that conflict had an impact in the region that doesn’t really resonate with most here in the U.S.

Today’s threats against Sweden cannot be dealt with by yesterday’s defence. The war in Georgia, for example, shows that developments can occur rapidly. This war went on for five days and was determined in two. Not many Russian soldiers were deployed to the area, but they came very quickly.

And now, time for some gratuitous Gripen footage:


    Robot uprising Wednesday!

    Oh…this won’t turn out good.  The Brits have announced that they’re developing a pilotless fighter plane.  That’s not particularly shocking but look at the picture of the thing:

    Ok, I’m not a huge Battlestar Galactica fan, but this thing looks a little too much like a cylon for me.  The thing has a giant red eye for chrissakes!  Don’t the engineers know that robotic creatures with red eyes are always evil?  Didn’t these guys learn from Cyberdyne Systems?  Oh, wait.  I guess they couldn’t have learned from them since the robot uprising hasn’t happened yet.

    Here’s the boilerplate ‘don’t worry…nothing can go wrong statement’.

    The MoD also stressed that all weaponised UAVs were under human control.

    “Should such systems enter into service, they will at all times be under the control of highly trained military crews on the ground,” it said in a statement.

    Yeah, until the computer system acquires self awareness, disengages the self-destruct system and nukes the nearest megalopolis.

    Law Enforcement / Counterinsurgency Intelligence Mashup Part 3

    So, last time I made the point that military intelligence could probably realize some gains by looking to law enforcement for ideas of how to improve their intelligence capabilities in COIN environments.  Specifically, I think improvements in the collation and dissemination parts of the intelligence cycle could be ways in which the military could better imitate the ways in which a local law enforcement agency develops a deep understanding of its operating environment.

    Now the way things generally occur now (at least as it went back in 2003 and I assume it hasn’t changed that much since) is that when a unit is ordered to deploy (let’s say to Afghanistan), they should be given some contact information for the unit they’ll be replacing.  This allows the two commands to talk and begin to exchange information.  Perhaps a small group will be allowed to act as an ‘advance party’ and go to Afghanistan early to smooth the way for the incoming unit and pick up more information.  Finally, when a unit arrives in theater they should operate in tandem with the unit they’re replacing (called ‘left seat/right seat’)  to get a handle on the routine of things.

    That’s about the extent of how institutional knowledge transfers from one deployment to another.  It’s important to know that as a unit is transferring into theater the staff is concerned about a whole host of issues and, I suspect, intelligence isn’t always at the top of the list.  Even if it is, however, this system isn’t really geared for transmitting knowledge in any sort of comprehensive or systematic way.  Rather, you’re most likely to get is a pretty good overview of what’s hot and current and issues that aren’t the current focus of attention of the staff will be minimized.

    Further, it means that your historical perspective will be limited.  You might get a decent understanding of what’s happened during the tour of your immediate predecessor, maybe (but I doubt it) something from the operation before that and not much other than perhaps some legends and myths from earlier tours.  This is one reason why some have said that Afghanistan isn’t a nine year war but rather 9 one year wars.  But in population centric operations you HAVE to have that historical context or you’re going to keep fighting your war one year at time…over and over again.

    War story:  Shortly after we arrived in Afghanistan and the unit we replaced had left a local commander had come and asked for something (I don’t remember what know but it was for some special consideration – unfettered access to the base, a development project, a competition free contract, something).  When we balked the commander said that our predecessor had always afforded that courtesy and reluctance to continue would jeopardize our relationship and future cooperation.

    Was there such an arrangement?  Who knows?  With all of the ‘important’ issues that the hand over was concerned with information about local commanders was limited to one or two meetings and some briefings but let’s face it.  There’s simply no way you’re going get a meaningful, detailed summery of a one year relationship with a local official who comes from a different cultural background, has a different language in an unfamiliar environment on issues that no one has much training with in a few PowerPoint briefings.  Now, magnify the difficulty of doing that by realizing that you don’t have the luxury of only having to worry abut one person but rather you’ve got to get that level of familiarity with several (many?) different actors and not only have to understand how you interact with them but also how your actions might impact the relations between them and if that will help or hinder your overall mission.

    What’s needed is a way to capture that information as it’s collected, absorbed and analyzed and made accessible to future units.

    Currently, the military has products and processes to collect and report information in a systematic way but it remains based on a system that’s more suited to a fast paced conventional war rather than a long term one.  Information is produced and sent up or down the chain but the important questions now should be how is stored, collated with other information products and retrieved?  We want to avoid a situation where every unit that occupies district X asks the same questions because it’s easier than digging through tons of old reports to find the answer.

    Of course, that’s not the only obstacle.  Our system of classification can create problems as well.  My understanding is that sharing information with coalition partners has gotten better than during my time there but I suspect there still remain difficulties in sharing information due to classification, or even language barriers.   The fetish of classified information, I suspect, continues as does the reluctance to embrace outside information (that is, information developed outside the military collection system).

    In my last post I said I thought the recommendations to improve intelligence thus far collation and dissemination.  Collation is defined as “the assembly of written information into a standard order”.  The information isn’t just ordered but it’s formatted in a way that it can be used by customers.  You might have all of Shakespeare’s works summarized in note cards but if I want to do a text search or some sort of analysis on theme I’m going to have problems.  I’d need you to digitize those cards in such a way that my text analysis program could read them.  Then, it’s collated.

    And here’s where I think Gen. Flynn doesn’t take the bull by the horns.  He advocates better collection and analysis but his solution then is to produce the same old hard copy reports and tell commanders that they’re just going to have to find the time to read and digest lengthy written documents.  I’m just not sure that’s the most practical or efficient thing to do with intelligence products because it’s not just the commanders that are going to need this information.  If we’re going to buy into the idea of the ‘strategic corporal’ then we need to accept that everyone up and down the chain is going to need more information.  The sergeant may not need as much (maybe, however, it’s a matter of focus rather than volume) information as a general but he’s still going to need more information than his counterpart of 20 or 30 years ago was expected to need.  Apart from that, do we really expect commanders (and their staffs) to cram time in to regularly read lengthy analysis?  Do they have that much extra time?

    But let’s say they do.  As a new unit is rotating in to the command, what are they to do?  Go through every previous report?  Even if you could present the reports as some sort of coherent whole (through editing the old reports into some sort of ‘super summary’) that’s hardly a long term solution since such work would require a great deal of time and effort and have to be repeated for every new incoming unit.

    Nope.  Altering the way we do collection and analysis may produce better products but alone they aren’t going to solve the deeper problems forces have in understanding the operating environment and passing along that knowledge in a way that minimizes disruptions when new units come into the area.

    Next time:  Part 4

    COIN ain’t going anywhere…

    Interesting news with the selection of General Petraeus to replace the newly unemployed General McChrystal. Quick thoughts:

    COIN strategy isn’t going anywhere. You really couldn’t send a stronger message by putting the guy who wrote the book in charge of the war. Obama had a chance to put in a different commander and could have used the whole event to begin to pivot into a different strategy. Instead, he’s taking the Central Command commander and essentially moving him down a notch to focus on events in Afghanistan. I’m not sure if they’re going to expect Petraeus to continue his role as CENTCOM commander or how he’ll fit into the overall command structure.

    Don’t hold your breath for a July 2011 withdrawal of troops. Given that Petraeus was just talking about the need to evaluate the situation in July 2011 and walking back any definitive commitment to troop withdrawals I expect this question to remain open. As the man said:

    Petraeus, who described the planned date as “the beginning of a process,” said it “is not a date where we race for the exits. It is the date where we, having done an assessment, begin a transition.”

    At this point I might even say that an extended operation is more likely now. People who don’t like the July ’11 date can point to this incident as interfering with the war and needing more time now that we have a new commander. Petraeus, who now will acquire near-mythic status as the white knight who ‘saved’ Iraq and was called in to do the same in Afghanistan (Gaius Marius, anyone?) is going to be hard to defy if he says we need more troops or time. Obama may have made a deal with the devil here. A quick shot in the arm of confidence by naming Petraeus at the cost of the ability to override the Afghan commander later.

    Politically this probably won’t be a bad move. Does anyone believe Republicans will run against a war in 2012? And who else will the anti-war left have to turn to? It remains to be seen if its a bad move militarily.

    Tactical restrictions will remain in place. For those grumbling about the need for troops to accept more tactical risk in order to secure long term gains this isn’t going to be good news. There’s no reason to believe that Petraeus will be more permissive of the use of lethal force. Hopefully, he’ll do a better job at translating his intent down to lower levels.

    Whoa…Stan steps in it

    What the heck was he thinking?  I’m sure you already know this but Gen. Stanley McChrystal decided to disconnect the shut off valve between his brain and his mouth to in an interview with Rolling Stone (you can apparently find a copy of the article here).

    Assuming that link is to an accurate copy of the article one can only be left in shock at the complete…hubris?…lack of awareness?…incompetence? of McChrystal and his staff on this one.  To cross the boundary of acceptable military behavior in terms of speaking publicly and to be so indiscreet really boggles the mind.

    I have no idea if the little details in the article are true or in the proper context.  Although if true, one has to wonder at the frat boy outlook of some of his staff.  With McChrystal going to talk to a French minister in an attempt to keep that country in the coalition, one of McChrystal’s aides can only say:  “It’s fucking gay.”  Really?  What, is he 12 or something?

    Andrew Sullivan pulls out another part I thought was interesting

    “Bottom line?” says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers’ lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing.”

    “Every real soldier.” You see: there are real Americans and fake Americans; and there are real soldiers and fake ones. Let’s just put it this way about the legacy of McChrystal’s JSOC: you cannot imagine a soldier who had worked for Petraeus for a long time saying such a thing.

    Abu Muqawama has a nice roundup of the article and it’s potential implications.

    In a weird way, Hastings is making the argument to readers of Rolling Stone (Rolling Stone!) that counterinsurgency sucks because it doesn’t allow our soldiers to kill enough people. What, pray tell, is Hastings’ alternative to counterinsurgency? Disengagement from Afghanistan? Okay, but what would the costs and benefits of that disengagement be? I am frustrated by the reluctance of the legions of counterinsurgency skeptics to be honest about — or even discuss — the costs and benefits of alternatives. Some do, but not many.

    And Ackerman:

    In fact, you have to go deep in the piece to find soldiers and officers offering actual critiques — and what they offer is criticism of McChrystal for being insufficiently brutal. Everyone of them quoted here is a mini-Ralph Peters, upset because McChrystal won’t let them “get our fucking gun on,” as one puts it. I have a lot of respect for Michael Hastings, the author of the profile, but there are many greyer shades of on-the-ground military perspective than that, and I’ve seen them up close.

    This is why I disagree with those who say that the troops ‘get it’ when it comes to COIN.  I don’t think we’ve done the proper integration of the doctrine into our training and operations.  As the article points out, that lack of understanding means that COIN theory from on high ends up getting distorted into exercises in CYA or just  plain misunderstandings of what the doctrine is.

    This has bad mojo written all over it and, I fear, may have serious consequences for the whole project.  McChrystal probably has to go and whoever replaces him is going to have to reestablish confidence in the whole effort quickly (an almost impossible task).

    I find the timing of the article interesting given we’ve just seen some tussling over the July 2011 draw down date.  The military was just starting to seriously push back publicly about a firm date to begin withdrawing and this may end that discussion.  After all, we’ll be seeing the quote “I was selling an unsellable position.” any time someone advocates putting more resources into Afghanistan.

    For many months now I’ve avoided stating an opinion about our larger effort in Afghanistan because I’ve felt I was too close personally to the conflict.  I’m going to continue that and wait a bit to see how this shakes out.  I am, however, finding it increasingly difficult to not see that light at the end of the tunnel as an oncoming train.

    Talking counterinsurgency

    Abu Maqawama has a most excellent (yet depressing) post restating the assumptions of our campaign in Afghanistan.  Here they are, in brief.  Read his post to see them in their gloomy and realistic glory.

    1. “The United States and its allies will devote the time, money, and troops to execute a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan”. Probably False.
    2. “The United States and its allies have vital interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Probably True.
    3. “Afghanistan is a binary conflict between the government and the insurgents”.* Certainly False.
    4. “The provision of social services leads to a reduction of violence”. Mostly false.
    5. “What we do is what matters”.** Mostly false.
    6. “Population-centric counterinsurgency is appropriate for Afghanistan”. Mostly true but perhaps false in one key way.

    Spencer Ackerman riffs off that and raises a very important point:

    …the American public has never debated, in a rigorous and bloodless way, just how proportional it is to confront a network of a few thousand extremists… through a commitment of something upwards of $300 billion to date and roughly 100,000 troops. The damage that extremist network can export is real. But it’s increasingly insubstantial. If Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the perpetrator of the most sophisticated al-Qaeda plot in years, had succeeded, he would have killed an order of magnitude fewer people than on 9/11 — 300 people. Out of a nation of 300 million. And that is ultimately how asymmetrical warfare succeeds: what bin Laden calls “Bleed to Bankruptcy.”

    I mean geez…I’m still waiting for the honest debate about our strategy now that the Soviet Union has collapsed.

    Here’s a video of David Killcullen talking COIN at Google last year.

    Definitely worth watching if you’re interested in the mindset behind our current counterinsurgency policy.

    (h/t from Permissible Arms)

    I’ve said for awhile now that I’m too close to Afghanistan to make an objective call (or anything that could even be mistaken for one) on the mission there but it’s getting hard to ignore the fact that I don’t really see a good way out of this thing.

    From conscription to all volunteer

    A few months ago I wrote about the incredibly lame Swedish recruitment ad for the Nordic Battle Group.  Well, facing the prospect of having to fill their personnel requirements by having to recruitment them rather than having recruits just show up like clockwork (conscription ends for Sweden on June 30th) the Swedish military is rolling out some new recruitment videos.  They’re definitely a step up although the endings are a bit strange.  The spots build up tension through a variety of scenarios and then the action stops and the following catch phrase appears on the screen:

    “We are waiting for your opinion on our work, if you have what it takes to have one”.

    Mrs. TwShiloh didn’t understand it in Swedish or English so its clumsiness doesn’t appear to be one of translation.  It’s not a “The Few, The Proud, The Marines” or “Be all you can be” or even “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” but hey, they’re new at this.  I’ll cut ’em some slack. Overall, a good first effort (or, at least better than previous ones…wait, if there were previous ones how could this be a ‘first effort’?  Ah…sloppy writing strikes again!).