Mao’s Methods in Korea

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Within a year of the end of the Chinese Civil War, the Americans severely tested Mao’s methods in Korea:

During the early days of the Chinese intervention — beginning in October 1950 — the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) badly misjudged the killing effect of American artillery and tactical air power. Pushed too quickly into maneuver warfare, the Chinese massed in the open, often in daylight, to expand their control over the northern portions of the Korean Peninsula. They extended their narrow lines of communication farther down the mountainous spine of Korea as they advanced. But they soon found their logistic support exposed to the terrible effects of American air power. The Chinese paid a horrific price for their haste. Their spring 1951 offensive sputtered to a halt as U.S. artillery and aerial firepower slaughtered Chinese soldiers in masses, while air interdiction cut their supply lines and forced a retreat back across the Han.

Brutal experiences led quickly to sober lessons relearned from the Chinese Civil War. As a highly skilled complex adaptive system the Chinese Army quickly adjusted to the actual conditions of this new war. Over the next two years, subsequent Chinese attacks remained limited and controlled. The Chinese high command learned to hold most key logistic facilities north of the Yalu River well out of reach of U.S. air attacks. South of the river the Chinese dispersed and hid their forces while they massed only in the period immediately before launching an attack. Because their forces were so difficult to locate and so easy to transport, mortars became the Chinese weapon of choice. PLA soldiers moved at night and chiseled their front lines of resistance deep into hard, granite mountains. American casualties soon mounted, while the Chinese stabilized their casualties at a rate acceptable to their political leadership. Far more Americans died in combat during this “stability phase” of the war than during the earlier period of fluid warfare. A cost acceptable to the Chinese became too costly to the Americans. The result was an operational and strategic stalemate. To the Chinese, stalemate equaled victory.

Breaking Free of the Railhead

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The secret of the dominance of the offensive in the second cycle was not to be found in the tanks, personnel carriers, and self-propelled artillery of blitzkrieg armies:

The secret lay, instead, in the ability of a portion of the maneuver force — in the case of the Wehrmacht, just 10 of 117 divisions — to break free of the railhead long enough to reach deep into an enemy’s rear with enough sustaining strength to collapse his psychological center of gravity and hold it down long enough for following forces to solidify the victory.

Today the railhead has been replaced by an equally cumbersome and constrictive logistical umbilical cord.

I have my doubts about the information revolution solving our modern logistical problems:

Information technologies will allow us to deposit outside the close combat zone all but those forces necessary to move, observe, and kill. Detailed knowledge of the enemy’s strength will free us from our traditional fixation on stockpiling and “worst casing” so that we will be able to carry with us into the close combat zone only what we need when we need it. In effect, we will know enough to know what to leave behind.

Firing Slowly Is Useless

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Lars Andersen’s latest archery video led Lynn C. Rees to cite the Strategikon‘s admonition that even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless:

For tribesmen native to the Eurasian steppe stretching from Hungary to the Pacific, constant archery practice was a logical extension of daily life: bow work was essential to routine tasks like hunting or raiding the neighbors. For a hybrid settled/nomadic state like Parthia and its Sassanid successor, balancing the interests of your nomads out east with your farmers out west produced sharp tensions but often found a way to field archers without breaking the farmers or the treasury. For an wholly agricultural state like Rome in the sixth century, raising and training archers was an expensive strain.

Rome’s traditional strategy, crushing enemies under the weight of infantry mass, was hampered by population decline in the empire, bruising face-offs with new horse riding archers like the Huns, and an inability or disinclination to raise many soldiers from its own peasants. Rome turned toward smaller armies composed of horsemen, some drawn from native Romans, some mercenaries drawn from nomadic tribes like the Heruli. These armies were, man for man, better trained than prior Roman armies. They could check and even defeat opposing cavalry armies like the Persians.

But they were expensive. Roman finances groaned under the costs of supporting its armies. Their cost made it hard to maintain enough forces to cover all of the Roman’s territory. The Balkans were frequently abandoned to non-stop nomad raids because most forces were needed against the Persians in Armenia and Syria. Roman armies of the sixth century were politically fickle, prone to rebel if payment didn’t show up on time and sometimes prone to rebel even when pay arrived on time.

And they were brittle: like World War I-era dreadnoughts, they were too expensive to use. They couldn’t be replaced overnight like Rome replaced armies during the Second Punic War. Equivalent forces required time and capital to raise and train to proficiency. Native Romans had to be taught how to fight like steppe nomads at state expense. Nomadic mercenaries who had the needed skills from childhood were often unreliable. This made sixth-century Roman leaders as unwilling to risk battle as earlier Romans were eager to force battle.

Caution was justified. Destruction of just one of these armies, capital intensive transplants from their natural habitat on the steppes to the more foreign but pricey fleshpots of Thrace, Anatolia, Syria, Carthage, or Egypt, were not only catastrophic but world-changing. The military bench was left so thin that there was little left to resist a victor who succeeded in annihilating a sixth century Roman army.

Defeats by the Persians and civil war after the fussy Balkan army mutinied and overthrew Mauricius over discontent with their employment benefits and uncomfortable winter accommodations reduced Rome to precisely one army. If the Persians destroyed that one army, led in person by the Emperor Flavius Heraclius, that was the end of Rome. Heraclius came back from far behind, skillfully using that one army to defeat the Persians, though it meant leaving his capital reliant on only the Theodosian Walls and the remnants of the Roman navy to fight off an Avar-Persian siege. Turns out those were good odds against the Avars and Persians, though it left the Balkans open to permanent Slavic occupation.

But Heraclius only had that one army. When he sent it against a surprisingly persistent army of desert raiders six years after his victory over the Persians, he ended up with the equally surprising loss of that entire gold-plated army to those raiders. Destruction of that one Roman army was world changing. It’s why today’s Middle East and North Africa are Moslem instead of Christian.

Will to Resist

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Victory is rarely defined by killing everyone on the other side but rather by breaking the enemy’s will to resist:

Therefore, our object in applying firepower must be to exploit its substantial paralytic effects to gain advantage.

Unfortunately, recent experiments in the laboratory of real war substantiates the view that the paralytic effects of firepower erode quickly over time. Soldiers become inured to hardships and danger. Firepower that might break an enemy formation early in a conflict eventually becomes merely a nuisance once soldiers accustom themselves to firepower’s pyrotechnic drama and devise effective means to deflect, deceive, dissipate, and protect themselves from firepower’s killing effects.

To win quickly and decisively at low cost in the future, we must have the means to conduct the battle quickly and to end it cleanly, preferably at the moment when the paralytic effect of firepower is greatest. To delay beyond that moment only increases the killing and makes the enemy more effective by stiffening his will to resist and by allowing him to reconstitute. Decision is best guaranteed through maneuver of forces on the ground. Psychological collapse — the breaking of an enemy’s will to resist — comes when an opponent finds himself challenged and blocked wherever he turns. He admits defeat when further pursuit of his political objective is not worth the cost or when his centers of gravity are threatened, controlled, or occupied and he has no remaining options for restoring them.

So, within the Army War College, in the year 2000, it was well understood that Shock and Awe was an extremely temporary effect.

Institutions Beat Genius

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Carthage had Hannibal, but Rome had its institutions:

It was simply improbable that Carthage could win a military conflict with Rome over the long run because the Roman system conferred upon the Roman state material and ideological advantages which could not be overcome by military victories, even by a general as creative and competent as Hannibal. The Hellenistic king Pyrrhus learned this, and gave us the term “pyrrhic victory”. In ideological terms Goldsworthy argues that the Roman mindset was one where conflicts were viewed as wars of attrition, where only the victors were left standing. In contrast Carthage, like the Hellenistic states, operated in a more classical Westphalian framework where victory and defeat were never final, but simply instances of a continuous game between elites of distinct polities. But, if it was not for the material advantages of the Roman system its ideological orientation would have been suicidal, because wars of attrition can only be maintained when there are resources to feed them. The Romans relied upon conscript armies of free peasantry, committed to the idea of their republic as an expression of collective will, as well as Italian allies of long standing. Goldsworthy notes that no individual of the Roman elite betrayed their city, nor did any of the Latin allies (the cities who went over to Hannibal during his years in Italy tended to be culturally distant from Rome, whether non-Latin Italian or Greek). And, the citizen base of Rome was notoriously broad, because the Roman system was expansive, assimilating allies and elites of foreign polities over time. This is an ancient feature of Roman society, as at least half of the major patrician lineages are not Latin, but Sabine. This is in contrast to organization of Hellenistic or Carthaginian polities, which were not assimilative, but multicultural and cosmopolitan in a manner more resembling the later Roman system of the imperial period, or empires more generally.* The armies of Carthage and the Hellenistic kingdoms were not manned by citizens, but professionals, whether a standing army, or mercenaries and subject peoples. The army deployed by Hannibal consisted of Libyans, Spaniards, and assorted Italian peoples inimical to the Romans (e.g., the Gauls of the Po valley). Until the last of the conflicts between Rome and Carthage, which took place in the immediate environs of Carthage, Roman amateur soldiers lined up against armies in the service of Carthage, not armies of Carthaginians.

The robustness of the Roman system to defeat can be put down to the fact that like the armies of the French Revolution Rome threw its citizenry against its enemies to complete a broad mission, while its contemporaries purchased smaller professional armies to achieve specific tasks. In many circumstances these professionals could obtain victory, but the gains did not have the depth to force the concession of the Roman state, because the state was an expression of the populace, which remained defiant.

Cycles of War

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

I was not impressed with Bob Scales’ attack on the AR, but I decided to go back to his Future Warfare Anthology, from when he was Commandant of the Army War College back in 2000. In the second chapter, he looks at cycles of war:

Signs foretelling how the defensive’s return to dominance might turn the cycles of war a third time began to appear as early as the closing days in Vietnam. A few laser-guided bombs destroyed targets that had previously required hundreds of unguided dumb bombs. In World War II, an average of 18 rounds was needed to kill a tank at a range of 800 yards. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the average was two rounds at 1,200 yards, and by Desert Storm one round at 2,400 yards.

The ability to see and strike deep using ground and aerial platforms served to expand the battlefield by orders of magnitude. What was once a theater area for a field army now became the area of operations for a division or a corps. Just as an army moving at two miles per hour could not cross a killing zone dominated by long-range, rapid-firing, rifled weapons in 1914, the precision revolution made it prohibitively expensive for an army moving at seven times that speed to cross an infinitely more lethal space a hundred times as large. Thus, in a conflict involving two roughly equal — or symmetrical — forces, evidence seems to show convincingly that the advantage goes to the defender.

Lars Andersen

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Danish archer Lars Andersen has rediscovered the skills of combat archery:

The video has gone viral, but I can say I mentioned Andersen’s archery a couple years ago.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

Why we fear and admire the military sniper

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Snipers are both feared and admired:

“Back in Vietnam, our own people called us ‘Murder Inc.,’” says Jack Coughlin, a retired Marine sniper and author of “Shock Factor: American Snipers in the War on Terror.” “They thought we were psychopathic killers. But the whole point of our existence is to be there on overwatch to minimize the threat to our own men.”

Snipers for the United States military are, without question, exceptionally efficient killers. According to one estimate, in Vietnam it took an ordinary infantryman 25,000 rounds per confirmed enemy kill. Snipers killed once every 1.3 rounds. A recent report from Afghanistan claimed that two US Special Forces soldiers killed 75 Taliban with 77 rounds. Exceptional snipers count their victims in the hundreds—the Finnish World War II sniper Simo Häyhä registered over 500, the most ever—whereas in most wars, ordinary soldiers often kill no one at all, and in many cases never even fire their weapons.


In addition to natural human revulsion at killing, snipers have had to overcome social conventions that stigmatize attacking people by surprise. The military historian Martin Pegler traces this attitude to a more gentlemanly age of war: “It was an officer-class attitude,” he says. “The British thought shooting an enemy from great distance in cold blood was unacceptable, in a way that blasting them to pieces with artillery was not.” Snipers, who were generally enlisted men, tended to aim for officers, which compounded the feeling of unfairness; killing above one’s class rankled some of the more status-minded soldiers. Pegler says snipers in one British Army unit in the 1980s were called “The Leper Colony” because of their colleagues’ aversion to socializing with them.

The reluctance to snipe goes back to the earliest days of sniping, in the late 18th-century. (It was about this time when the specialty got its name, after the game-bird known as the snipe, which required expert marksmanship to hit.) During the American Revolutionary War, a Scottish marksman named Patrick Ferguson spotted an American officer on horseback and reckoned he could shoot the man half a dozen times. He decided not to, he later said, because “it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty.” That individual was George Washington, and Ferguson acknowledged that he did not regret letting the enemy commander get away.

Up through World War II, snipers were so loathed that they were generally executed on sight, rather than taken captive. Only in the last two decades, experts say, have snipers’ reputations turned from reviled to heroic.

Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Bushwick, Brooklyn has changed over the years:

Guntry Clubs

Monday, January 19th, 2015

The trend in shooting ranges is toward high-end guntry clubs:

The high-end ranges come as the $15 billion gun industry’s sales have more than doubled since 2005. Fears of regulations with a Democrat in the Oval Office have juiced much of that growth, which is now leveling out. But experts also say an industry shift away from hunting culture has helped spawn a new generation of firearms enthusiasts buying up sleekly designed handguns and AR-15 rifles for tactical shooting practice.

The average age of new target shooters is 33, while 47 percent live in urban or suburban areas, and 37 percent are female, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry. Shooters spend $10 billion a year on target shooting, including the cost of firearms, ammunition and range fees.

Those demographics and economics are attracting investors without firearms industry backgrounds; they see ranges as a new place to employ their cash. Elite Shooting Sports, a nearly $14 million project, has investors from the electronics industry. Real estate, finance, hotel and auto industry executives have backed other new ranges.

The Man in the High Castle

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Amazon has released the pilot of their proposed Man in the High Castle series, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, in which Hitler has won, and America has been split between German and Japanese overlords.

The subject matter lends itself to visual storytelling. (I’d love to see Atlantropa.)

TechCrunch on TrackingPoint

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Techcrunch tries out the TrackingPoint rifle:

It was a location that was straight out of the opening scene of Iron Man. Sitting there was an AR-15 overlooking the endless desert expanse.

The targets sat 300 and 500 yards away and I was supposed to be able to hit them with the TrackingPoint Precision-guided Semi-Auto 5.56.

The company’s spokesperson, Anson Gordon, gave me the run-down, highlighting the basics of the system. It seemed easy enough. Designate the target with the red button, pull the trigger and find that dot again to fire the gun.

TrackingPoint Precision-guided Semi-Auto 5.56

It was that easy. I hit my mark on the first try. The system works as advertised.

Gordon explained the system that consists of four parts. Housed inside the scoop are the brains of the operation. It features a laser rangefinder, gyroscopes, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer. The shooter targets on an LCD screen. This system is linked to a custom trigger system, which also consists of the target designation button and zoom buttons housed on the trigger guard. Everything is powered from batteries housed in the stock and TrackingPoint encourages its shooters to use ammo loaded specifically for their guns.

The technology works like this: A shooter designates a target using a small button on the rifle’s trigger guide. This target can be moving up to 30 mph. Once the target is mapped, a Linux-based system housed in the optics casing calculates all the variables needed to hit that mark. When the shooter is ready to fire, they pull the trigger all the way back, yet the gun fires only when they line the crosshairs up with designated mark one more time. The system assesses the effects of gravity and Coriolis force. When the bullet leaves the barrel it always hits its mark. The shooter cannot miss.

Everything seen by the optics can be streamed live to a smartphone, tablet or even online. Either for coaching or sharing the hunting experience, TrackingPoint built a social shooting system.

This wasn’t cobbled together by hobbyists:

Founder John McHale sold his first company to Compaq in 1995 for $372 million. The deal netted McHale $24 million. In the following years McHale went on to found and sell companies to Cisco and 3Com. TrackingPoint is familiar ground for the serial entrepreneur.

Backed by $33 million in financing in part from McHale himself, the young Texas-based company released its first product in 2013. It cost $22,000 to $27,000. This model didn’t hit its mark. Early testers reported inconstant performance, yet videos demonstrating the smart gun went viral. While not perfect, this first model put the company on the board.

McHale recruited impressive talent to build the products. He stole engineers and executives from Remington, Amazon and enlisted the help of a design firm that had built software for Siemens and Motorola. Yet after the early unreliable reports, the CEO, Jason Schauble, previously a Remington vice president, was replaced by John Lupher who had led the development of the first gun.

The first product was clearly priced too high for average hunter or gun enthusiast. The company demonstrated the system to the US Military and later the Canadian military. Gordon told me that the U.S. Military has ordered six units and the Canadians five.

Yet the company kept developing the system and driving down the price. The system I tried, a modified AR-15, only cost $7500. This model has a range of a third of a mile and can track an object moving up to 10 miles an hour. Spend more money to net additional range, stopping power and the ability to hit faster moving targets.

TrackingPoint is about to introduce a .338TP called the Mile Maker, and as the name suggests, it can hit a target a mile away. Think about that. A person, with very little skill or training, will soon be able to accurately hit a target a mile away.

Charlie Hebdo Simulation

Friday, January 16th, 2015

What happens when you run an office-shooting simulation, with two tactical trainers, armed with ARs, as the shooters, and random volunteers as the victims? Watch the (NSFW) video:

In a previous simulation of a school shooting, they found that an armed defender was almost always able to either kill the attacker or to prevent them from entering the classroom and killing more students.

In this case, not so much. Two trained attackers, operating as a team, are more than a match for one untrained defender with a handgun — most of the time:

In one of the early scenarios, a relatively new shooter decided that instead of trying to confront the armed terrorists she would use her gun to cover her retreat and give her co-workers time to escape. This plan worked perfectly, and she was able to escape from the room while returning fire towards the attackers, allowing nearly everyone in the room to escape before she too turned tail and ran.

In the face of overwhelming numbers and firepower, it appears that this tactic using the firearm as a means to give everyone else time to escape is extremely effective. There was only one person who used this tactic, but they used it to great effect.

Protester Running through Police Simulation

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Reverend Jarett Maupin, who led protests against a police shooting of an unarmed man in Phoenix, was invited to participate in a use of force simulation. This is the video from a GoPro camera attached to Maupin’s vest.

The Amazons

Friday, January 16th, 2015

The Amazons of Greek myth may have been real steppe warriors — who did not live without men:

Around a quarter of the ancient female bodies unearthed from the steppes are equipped as warriors.

Advances in osteological analysis (the study of bones) have allowed old evidence to be reconsidered and suggests that the numbers may have been even higher. For instance, two fourth-century B.C. burial mounds discovered in Romania (1931) and Bulgaria (1965), containing skeletons of both humans and horses as well as magnificent weapons and treasure, were originally assumed to be the resting places of ancient male warriors with their wives. It turns out that all the bodies in these graves are female.

One might well wonder why the peoples of the steppes should have been so much more open to having women play an active part in society than ancient Greece or Rome. Ms. Mayor has a simple but appealing answer: It was all about horses and arrows. In Greek and Roman warfare, women were at an obvious disadvantage, since they are (on average) smaller and less capable of marching into battle on foot clad in heavy armor and carrying a heavy shield, spear and sword. Women also have a physical disadvantage in societies based on agriculture. But they can be the equals of men in riding and controlling horses and in shooting arrows (including the nomad’s specialty, the Parthian shot, in which the rider fires arrows back over her shoulder while galloping away from the enemy).

Moreover, life in the barren landscapes of the steppes was difficult; these societies could not afford the waste of having half the population (or at least half the elite population) take little part in the gathering of food. Amazons are depicted as hunters in ancient Greek vase paintings, and the archaeological evidence seems to confirm that women as well as men rode on horses, with hunting dogs and trained birds to catch game for the tribe.

Ms. Mayor gives a fascinatingly detailed account of the physical conditions of these peoples’ lives. They dressed in clothes that would be practical for the cold weather and for long hours of riding: The people of these cultures, both women and men, may have been the first in the world to wear pants — a practice that the Greeks found both shocking and effeminate. They tattooed themselves with elaborate designs: Archaeologists have found the remains of mummified bodies in which inked patterns depicting animals such as deer, horses, leopards and tigers can be precisely reconstructed under infrared light. They may have been at least semi-literate; they made use of runes and “tamgas,” symbols used to mark an individual’s property. They ate food they could hunt or gather, and they drank the milk of their mares, fermented into a slightly alcoholic drink called koumiss, which can be stored unrefrigerated for longer than regular milk. Koumiss is still made by modern people in this region. They smoked cannabis: Herodotus writes of the Scythians burning this (to him entirely alien) “fruit” over a brazier, inhaling the smoke, and jumping up to dance and sing around the fire. Archaeologists have discovered little burners for smoking buried along with other daily possessions.

That’s from a review of Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World.