The notion of integrating stand-off weapons (SOWs) on the A-10 was first hatched 10 years ago

Saturday, June 11th, 2022

There is a joke that discussions of getting rid of the A-10 started 2.5 minutes after the last one rolled off the Fairchild-Republic assembly line in 1984. How does a jet under constant threat of divestment adapt and evolve to support the ever-changing mission?

The notion of integrating stand-off weapons (SOWs) on the A-10 was first hatched 10 years ago, but never gained traction due to the threat of divestment. […] The first proposal was the ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, also known as MALD. Carried by the F-16 and B-52, the MALD is a low-cost combat capability that offers mission and combatant commanders the opportunity to saturate an air defense picture and increase the survivability of our 5th-gen assets. When planned and utilized properly, a few dozen decoys can wreak havoc on the defenses of a sophisticated potential enemy like Russia or China.

The A-10C has up to 10 weapons stations available. In today’s Air Force, where new fighters have fewer weapons stations in order to prioritize internal carriage and stealth, the A-10’s sheer volume of available weapons stations is a force multiplier. The MALD weighs about 300 pounds and has a range of approximately 500 miles. It is programmable and aims to duplicate the signatures and flight profiles of combat aircraft, inducing confusion and noise into the enemy air defense picture and complicating their tactical decision-making. A single MALD can be loaded directly onto a station, or two MALD can be loaded on a triple-ejector rack. This enables a single A-10 to carry up to 16 MALD, which is as many as a B-52 can hold and 12 more than an F-16 can. To further break it down, a four-ship formation of A-10s could bring up to 64 MALD to a fight. The A-10’s robust, agile combat employment capabilities (low maintenance footprint and ability to operate from unimproved or makeshift runway surfaces) combined with the ability to carry 16 MALD per aircraft, provides combatant commanders the ability to create multi-axis problems, target saturation, and horizontal escalation options for adversaries. No software integration with the jet’s central computer is required. Carriage and separation testing is the only cost to consider.


The second proposal, the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or JASSM, is the next step in the A-10’s evolution of mission support. The JASSM is a low-observable, air-launched cruise missile, which has become so strategically important to combatant commanders, that it has been integrated onto the F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, F-35, B-1, B-52, and even the B-2. Initial assessments and theorizing suggests that the A-10 could potentially carry four to five of the missiles. For comparison, the F-15E is the only fighter that can carry more than two JASSM (the Strike Eagle can carry up to five JASSM), while the bomber fleet can carry between 12 and 24 of the munitions, depending on the platform. Although this may not have the same sticker shock associated with the MALD, the A-10 can offer combatant commanders an additional four to five JASSM per sortie, and leverage integrated combat turns (ICTs) to increase sortie production. Risk mitigation demands more SOWs employment, and the carriage capacity combined with the quick-turn capability of the A-10C should be considered as a means to increase the Mass the USAF can provide to a combatant commander. This is not about taking the JASSM away from bombers and other fighters. This is about bringing more weapons to bear in a shorter span of time, which is a critical component of massing fires.


Imagine a rapidly-deployable force of non-nuclear fighters that can operate from the most austere locations with a minimal footprint while providing long range fires, decoys, electronic attack, and mission support. That vision is achievable at minimal cost by using assets and capabilities that the Air Force already has, but simply needs to integrate. That is what stand-off weapon integration on the A-10 can provide to combatant commanders.

Experts have been writing the aircraft carrier’s obituary for a century

Friday, June 10th, 2022

China already has a variety of ground-based radars, airborne sensors, and satellites that have made U.S. military planners apprehensive about sending aircraft carriers anywhere near Taiwan, but now, the South China Morning Post reports, a Chinese satellite equipped with artificial intelligence detected the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman during naval exercises off the coast of Long Island, New York, allowing China’s military to follow the ship’s movements:

Retired Navy. Capt. Jerry Hendrix said he has been worried about how U.S. aircraft carriers can be detected from space. Hendrix is a Navy expert who spent 26 years on active duty, during which he served on aircraft carriers and as a strategist on the Chief of Naval Operations staff.

Hendrix recounted to Task & Purpose how he read a news story years ago about an astronaut who spotted his former carrier while he was serving on a space station. From far above the Earth, the astronaut was still able to see the ship’s hull number through one of the station’s telescopes.

“It occurred to me that if a human astronaut in the space station was able to do this, that it probably is not that hard to look for aircraft carriers,” Hendrix said.

Indeed, there are not that many ships in the world that are as large, as fast, or that displace as much water as U.S. aircraft carriers, so Chinese satellites have plenty of clues to look for, Hendrix said. Even though super tankers are larger than aircraft carriers, they do not turn into the wind to launch aircraft.

“If you’re programming in through AI-specific attributes of an aircraft carrier that an aircraft carrier would do but a merchant ship of a similar size would not, then you’re able to make that detection from overhead imagery more quickly,” Hendrix said.

Artificial intelligence would also allow Chinese satellites to quickly distinguish an aircraft carrier’s electronic signature from background noise on the electromagnetic spectrum, he said.


There’s no doubt that threats against aircraft carriers are growing, but it’s also worth noting that experts have been writing the aircraft carrier’s obituary for a century. Indeed, the U.S. Naval Institute has compiled a list of articles from its “Proceedings” magazine going back to 1922 that debate the carrier’s worth.

One naysayer argued in 1925 that the Navy should use large dirigibles instead of ships to carry aircraft because airships can fly over both sea and land. A 1959 commentary questioned whether the Navy would get better use out of its money if it built more submarines instead of carrier strike groups. And one author wrote in 1999 that the cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda in Sudan and Afghanistan the previous year marked the beginning of the end for aircraft carriers.

Participants lost one-fifth of their body weight

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

In a 72-week trial in participants with obesity, tirzepatide — a novel glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide and glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist — provided substantial and sustained reductions in body weight. Participants lost one-fifth of their body weight.

The America of the 2020s is not the America of the 1970s

Monday, June 6th, 2022

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, by Rick Perlstein, is the sequel to Nixonland:

Where Nixonland roughly covered 1964-1972, The Invisible Bridge covers 1973-1976. It starts with Watergate, progresses through the bumbling missteps of the Ford administration, and ends with Ford’s narrow defeat of a right-wing insurgency by Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP primary.

There’s no throughline at all to this book — no coherent plot. Where Nixonland was a tight, coherent story about liberal rage and right-wing reaction, The Invisible Bridge is a chaotic, meandering tale of exhaustion, confusion, oddity and pointlessness. Which means it’s a book about the 70s. It’s a portrait of a grumpy, bitter country traumatized by social conflict but not yet ready to heal. And as such, it reminds me very much of 2021 and 2022.

Did you know that in 1976, there were two separate assassination attempts against President Gerald Ford in the space of three weeks, both by leftist radicals in northern California? I think I had heard that, but the bizarre reality of those episodes really stands out as the centerpiece of the book. Two wacky lefties tried to kill the President, one after another, and the country basically just shrugged and went on.

Anyway, as in Nixonland, the parallels to the modern day are not exact, but eerie nonetheless. Watergate feels a lot like the coup attempt of January 6, 2021 — an event that horrified people, and kept them glued to their screens for weeks, but where all the action ultimately remained confined to the ranks of the elite. The President being revealed as a crook — and then trying to cover up his criminality by claiming quasi-dictatorial powers, only to be rebuffed by resilient institutions — produced no riots, no mass wave of unrest, no repeat of 1968. Exhaustion had set in by 1973, and people were just kind of relieved to see Nixon go.

Reading this book, it’s possible to see the bumbling, nonthreatening Ford administration as the beginning of a sort of healing process. With a friendly old man in the White House, people could finally afford to tune out politics a little. The lefty radicals were still doing their thing, but they were getting fewer in number and their increasing extremism was turning off more and more Americans. Liberal Dems cruised to a huge midterm victory in 1974 off of Watergate backlash, but managed few legislative victories and ultimately saw their moment pass. Meanwhile, the angry White backlash that had powered Nixon to victory was also losing some of its energy, as White Americans fled the cities for burgeoning suburbs.

There was one group of Americans, however, who felt no exhaustion, and whose activism was just getting started — social conservatives. They wove together a slow-building backlash against libertine sex culture with the remnants of racial resentment, and turned it against abortion and gays. This story really reaches its apotheosis in Perlstein’s next book, Reaganland, but you can see it get its start in The Invisible Bridge. And the Reagan of this book is far from the cuddly, pro-immigration Reagan of the 80s — he’s seen as a genuinely dangerous right-wing radical.

The Invisible Bridge doesn’t tell a coherent story, but it teaches some important lessons about American politics. It suggests that episodes of lefty rage — where progressives expect a better world, don’t get it, and resolve to tear everything down — burn bright and hot but burn out fast. It was only 11 years from the Watts riots to Squeaky Fromme. Meanwhile, conservative America is slower to rouse, but has the stamina to secure gains when everyone else is exhausted.

The America of the 2020s is not the America of the 1970s; much will be different this time around. But many of the fundamental processes at work in that era are still at work today, and understanding them can help shine light on the stuff we see in the news.

Dashed expectations turned to anger

Sunday, June 5th, 2022

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, by Rick Perlstein, is as authoritative a volume as you’re likely to find on the history of how the unrest of the 1960s began, and how America reacted to it, Noah Smith says:

Perlstein leaves no ambiguity about what touched off the unrest: It was the Watts Riot of August 1965. That event set the stage for the big explosions of rioting in the summer of 1967 and after MLK’s assassination in 1968, both of which saw over a hundred American cities burn.

But the riots didn’t cause the 60s. Instead, Perlstein’s tale makes it clear that the unrest resulted from the confluence of several interrelated trends:

  • Black anger over ghetto conditions in American cities, liberal politicians’ attempts to solve the problem, and rightist backlash against those solutions
  • Cultural liberalization, especially the sexual revolution, among the middle class
  • The Vietnam War and the protests against it

The parallels between then and now are striking and immediately apparent. The widespread hope that the Kennedy/Johnson administration heralded a new era of liberalism in America outpaced reality, much like hope that Obama heralded a post-racial era outpaced reality — even though LBJ pushed through more substantive liberal policy than anyone except FDR, there was just no way even the famed “master of the Senate” could keep up with the wild expectations of the early 60s. And those dashed expectations turned to anger — anger over Vietnam, anger at the police, anger over ghetto conditions, anger at the dominant culture. Much as in the 2010s, dashed liberal expectations turned to anger in the form of BLM protests and riots. 2014 was our 1965, and 2020 was our 1968.

And what’s even more striking is how much the conservative reaction to 1960s liberal rage resembled the Trump era. Conservatives rallied around a leader they felt was reactionary, who would clamp down on urban Black unrest and antiwar hippies alike. Especially striking are Perlstein’s anecdotes about how right-wing counter-protesters felt they were standing up for Nixon personally — similar to the protectiveness MAGA people developed around Trump. (The irony, of course, is that in many regards Nixon governed as a liberal president, creating the EPA and OSHA and proposing universal health care and basic income! The only real similarity with Trump was in his authoritarian, paranoid personality.)

Nixon is, of course, the narrative throughline of this book, but in many ways he was just a symbol for a broader reactionary outpouring that eventually became the conservative movement of the 70s and 80s. That counterrevolution, which Perlstein has made it his life’s work to study, was far more violent, passionate, and downright scary than people realize. Americans were rightfully aghast when they saw Nazi symbols displayed openly at Charlottesville, but few realize how common those same symbols were at right-wing demonstrations in the 60s. People know about the MLK assassination riots, but few today have heard of the Hard Hat Riot. The counterrevolution was not televised.

And of course the culture war that started in the 60s is still with us today. That’s the thesis of Nixonland — which makes it all the more remarkable that the book was published in 2008, before Obama was even elected or Trump was on anyone’s radar.

Americans often say they want community policing

Saturday, June 4th, 2022

Recent events remind us of Americans’ deep ambivalence and internal contradictions about policing:

Americans often say they want community policing, emphasizing de-escalation and outreach over proactive crime reduction and assertive policing. Many also oppose what they see as the “militarization” of police, rejecting the notion that American law enforcement should procure and train with tools such as sniper rifles and bullet-proof vests, let alone other more specialized equipment.

America in recent years has suffered a wave of anti-policing rhetoric, with the “Ferguson effect” beginning in 2014 and reaching a crescendo in the riots of 2020. Some radicals seek to defund them altogether.

But when an incident like Uvalde occurs, the public expects members of law enforcement to conduct what even America’s most elite special operations forces consider among the most challenging tactical tasks: a solo dynamic entry, room clearance, and structure search against a heavily armed perpetrator or perpetrators.

And the public is right to ask for this.

But few agencies select officers based on ability and willingness to perform this extremely high-impact/low-probability mission. Few agencies train officers to the high levels of proficiency required. The reality is that most law enforcement agencies require only the minimally mandated firearms qualifications, and at standards that are insufficient to meet the level of the challenge, in the event the worst should happen. Only a select few officers seek outside training and acquire the right tools, often at their own expense, to make themselves ready, lest they be called and found wanting.

Beyond bureaucratic training requirements, the task requires a certain mindset, a comfort with aggression, and a drive not doled out to all people in equal measure.

There are around 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States. As much as it may pain us to admit it, not all of them will be warriors, a word that is overused in certain circles but nevertheless remains apt. And, of course, police work requires many other interpersonal skills and training, some of which are 180-degree opposite from the psychological traits required to storm into a room alone against a determined and heavily armed gunman.

As historian Victor Davis Hanson eloquently writes, America possesses a deep discomfort with those who truly epitomize the combat virtues. While America loves the action hero, we breathe a sigh of relief at the movie’s end not only because the villain has been dispatched, but also because the hero rides away.

If we are honest with ourselves, most Americans don’t want this type of highly capable and dangerous man (and most of them will be men) doing our policing. Not on the good days, when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping.

They were Twentysomethings with a lot of time on their hands and nothing better to do

Friday, June 3rd, 2022

An interesting pattern recurs across the careers of great scientists, Dwarkesh Patel notes, an annus mirabilis (miracle year) in which they make multiple, seemingly independent breakthroughs in the span of a single year or two:

Einstein had his annus mirabilis in 1905. While he was still a patent clerk, he wrote four papers that revolutionized our understanding of the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, and special relativity.

Newton’s annus mirabilis came to him between 1665 and 1666, when Cambridge responded to the Bubonic plague by sending its students home to quarantine. During that time, Newton, aged 22, developed the theory of gravity along with the language of calculus required to express it.


Many other great scientists — Copernicus, Darwin, von Neumann, and Gauss — also seem to have had an annus mirabilis.

Miracle years happen outside of pure science too. In his memoir, Linus Torvalds talks about how he spent the summer before turning 21 reading an operating systems textbook cover to cover, how later that year he built a terminal emulation program just for fun, and how he spent all his time working on this program until pretty soon it morphed into a full operating system called Linux. That was his annus mirabilis.

Even writers have miracle years. Just recently, the popular fantasy author Brandon Sanderson announced that in the year or two since the pandemic began, he has secretly written five extra novels in addition to the ones his fans knew he was writing.

Perhaps, he suggests, there’s a brief window in a person’s life where he has the intelligence, curiosity, and freedom of youth but also the skills and knowledge of age:

These conditions only coincide at some point in a person’s twenties. It wouldn’t be surprising if the combination of fluid intelligence (which declines steeply after your 20s) and crystalized intelligence (which accumulates slowly up till your 50s and 60s) is highest during this time. Stephan and Levine (1993) find that most Nobel laureates do their prize winning work in their late 20s or early 30s.

During his miracle year, Einstein was a patent clerk, Newton was a college student dismissed for quarantine, and Darwin was a trust fund kid who had just finished a long voyage aboard the HMS Beagle and still didn’t know what to do with his life. They had no obligations to research some old professor’s hobby horse using his particular technique or paradigm.

Given how many of the great scientific discoveries have come about during miracle years, he argues, we should do everything we can to help smart Twentysomethings have an annus mirabilis:

We should free them from rote menial work, prevent them from being overexposed to the current paradigm, and give them the freedom to explore far-fetched ideas without arbitrary deadlines or time-draining obligations.

It’s depressing that I have just described the opposite of a modern PhD program.

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan

Wednesday, June 1st, 2022

The insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu preferred using “pythons and cobras…fungi and [his] tiny allies, the bacilli…[his] black spiders” and other peculiar animals or natural chemical weapons to kill his enemies:

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan,… Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present… Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the Yellow Peril incarnate in one man.

Sax Rohmer, the novelist who created the character, died after succumbing to Asian flu in 1959.