Category Archives: asymmetric warfare

“We won’t forget about Irregular Warfare, we promise”

The DOD last week made a big deal of putting out a 12-page summary of the “Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy.”

The IW Annex details that irregular warfare endures, even as the military pivots from two decades of counter-insurgency and nation (re)building to near-peer Great Power Competition, and that the Pentagon will keep IW skills sharp as “an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the U.S. Department of Defense.”

The paper goes on to detail that the American way of war in the past was to build COIN skills and asymmetric warfare assets when we needed it (see Seminole Wars, Plains Wars, Philippine pacification, Banana Wars, Vietnam, El Salvador/Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Iraq), then put it aside and essentially throw away the manual when we didn’t need it on a daily basis any longer, requiring the military to start from scratch the next time. In each case, the lost muscle memory had to be regained with blood.

“In short, the IW Annex is a road map for deterrence and provides off-ramps for the U.S. in options short of kinetic warfare,” said a DOD official in firm language via a related press release.

No, really guys, we mean it this time

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Hendrick (left), Asymmetric Warfare Group Adviser, explains specifics of the blast radius of the man-portable line charge system during a training exercise just outside of Forward Operating Base Zangabad, Afghanistan, Oct. 20, 2013. (U.S Army photo by Cpl. Alex Flynn)

And in pure DOD logic, the word also surfaced last week that the Army will be disbanding both the Asymmetric Warfare Group and the Rapid Equipping Force as it transitions from counterinsurgency operations to better concentrate on “multi-domain and large-scale combat operations.”

AWG, for those following along at home, was founded in 2006 to help the Army gain an edge in low-key COIN and hearts-and-minds type operations through learning lessons that could be applied quickly to simultaneously save Joes and ghost Tangos. Similarly, REF– formed in 2002 as the Desert Storm/38th Parallel-oriented Army was faced with a new war of movement against fast-moving groups of guys armed with nothing more advanced than AK47s, IEDs, and cell phones– was designed to get urgently needed capabilities such as UAV jammers and MRAPs into the field in 180 days or less.

Insert Benny Hill chase scene, here.

Vale, Capt. Groom

He may have been born in D.C. but Winston Francis Groom Jr. was a true “Son of the South,” having graduated from UMS-Wright Military Academy and then the University of Alabama before spending much of his life as a Mobile Bay fixture. Commissioned through the Crimson Tide’s ROTC program, he served with the 245th PSYOP Company as a PSYOP Team Leader supporting the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.

Groom in Vietnam

“My age and lowly rank notwithstanding, my impression was that I was headed for some exalted position worthy of a John le Carré novel,” Groom later wrote of his time as a “dirty trickster” in Vietnam.

Following four years on active duty and an honorable discharge, he spent eight years as a reporter and columnist for the Washington Star newspaper before, with the encouragement of Willie Morris, a literal Good Old Boy from Mississippi, he resigned and began making pages of his own.

In the end, Groom finished some 20 books, many of them excellent military non-fiction works such as Shiloh 1862, Vicksburg 1864, 1942, and his Aviators/Generals/Allies trilogy of WWII. He was a Pulitzer finalist for Conversations with the Enemy: the story of P.F.C. Robert Garwood.

He also dabbled in fiction, with the main characters often having a connection to both Vietnam and Alabama. Write what you know, they say…

A natural raconteur in that most Southern of ways, I saw Capt. Groom speak on two occasions and was all the better for it.

He passed last week, aged 77. He will certainly be missed.

As noted in his obit: 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the University of Alabama Libraries Special Collection, Post Office Box 870266, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487, or the Gary Sinise Foundation, Post Office Box 368, Woodland Hills, California, 91365. A graveside service will be held Wednesday, September 23, at 11:00 am at Pine Crest Cemetery, 1939 Dauphin Island Parkway, Mobile, Alabama 36605.

About Time, Fusiliers Marins edition

Earlier this month, the Chief of Staff of the French Navy, Admiral Christophe Prazuck announced the that the names of the nine French Marine units, the Fusiliers Marins et Commandos Marins, will moving forward be tied to historic officers of the names of key heroes from the Free French 1er BFM/BFMC (aka Commando Kieffer) and 1er RFM (Régiment de Fusiliers Marins).

Raised from volunteers abroad and members of the French Navy who ended their 1940 war in British ports– many from the old battleships Paris and Courbet— the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle formed these commandos along British lines.

Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, they landed in force at D-Day and continued on to the Alps, earning more than 200 Croix de Guerre and 32 Légion d’Honneur.

While elite frogmen units such as Commando Hubert have the names of famous (posthumously) officers who have led them, up until this month, the modern French marines had unit names such as the uninspired but descriptive details such as the Groupe des Marines de l’Atlantique (Atlantic Marines Group). Now, the Groupe des Marines de l’Atlantique, for example, is the Amyot d’Inville Marines Battalion, named after French navy CDR Amyot D’Inville who commanded the Free French Marines at Bir Hakeim and was killed on the Continent in 1944.

More here. 

Meet Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne, MOH

From the DOD & the White House: On September 11, 2020, President Donald J. Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry while deployed five years ago as an assistant team leader in Iraq as part of a Special Operations Joint Task Force in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas “Patrick” Payne on Oct. 22, 2015, was part of a force given a mission to rescue over 70 Iraqi hostages being held by ISIS in a prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

The rescue footage:

 

His story in his own words:

G-car?

Spotted this bad boy the other day while out an about, without explanations: a banana yellow Fiat with the profile of an Aérospatiale SA.313 Alouette II on the side.

When it comes to that chopper, I think any student of military history thinks of the African conflict K-car and G-cars of the 1970s which saw only slightly larger Alouette IIIs stripped down and carrying either twin MG151 20mm cannons in the “Killer” version or four very lightly equipped RLI scouts in its G-car fire force troopship variant.

I don’t know that you could get six guys in a Fiat, though. Maybe without the doors and seats.

The last surface action of World War II

While the daring overnight anti-shipping raid in July 1945 by the nine American destroyers of DesRon 61in Tokyo Bay, an action remembered today as the Battle of Sagami Bay, is largely seen as the last fleet combat involving commissioned warships in WWII as they tied up with a Japanese minesweeper and submarine chaser, it was not the last surface action.

No, that claim goes to a scrap between (sail-powered) gunned-up junks off the coast of China 75 years ago today, a full week after VJ Day. Ironically, by American military personnel who were previously training pirates to fight to the common enemy.

A junk in Chinese waters, prior to World War I. A U.S. Navy armored cruiser is in the background. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1973. NHHC Catalog #: NH 77414

A force of two Ningpo junks with Chinese fishermen crews under the command of one LT Livingston “Swede” Swentzel, Jr., USNR manned by six other Americans along with 20 Chinese guerrillas, were set upon by a heavily-armed Japanese junk– carrying a crew of 83 as well as a 75mm pack gun– while at sea between Haimen and Shanghai, China.

From Swentzel’s citation:

The first round from the 75-mm. howitzer struck Swentzel’s junk shearing off the foremast. The Chinese crew left their posts and Swentzel took over the helm. Meanwhile, he established contact by means of handy talkie with his second junk and gave orders to close with the enemy. He also ran up the American Flag…

The ensuing 45-minute action saw the Americans fight it out with everything from bazookas and Thompson submachine guns to carefully tossed grenades. When the smoke cleared, the Allied junk force counted 10 casualties across their two vessels while the Japanese craft, boarded by a prize crew while dead in the water and smoking, held 45 dead and another 35 injured.

Not a lot of ballistic protection in a junk, it would seem.

The story ran in the October 5 Stars & Stripes (CBI Edition) and was picked up by papers stateside. 

Both Swentzel and Gunner’s Mate Third Class James Ralph Reid, Jr., USNR each received the Navy Cross in February 1946 from Commander Naval Group China, “in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” They were the last two Navy Crosses issued in WWII.

The Pirate Connection

The reason why Swentzel and Company were in China was that they were assigned to the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), working at Camp Eight training local forces against the Japanese, with their first clients being the rather infamous Chang Kwei Fong’s pirate group, the “Green Circle Brotherhood.” 

It would seem that Swentzel and his boys learned a little bit from the pirates as well.

Of course, it would not be the last time the U.S. Navy fought from junks– with Tommy guns.

Tommy guns, aviators, and khakis! “Ensign Caldwell of Houlton, Maine, stands guard in a motor whaleboat with a .45 caliber submachine gun M1928AL (it is actually an M1A1) off the coast of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese men wait as their junk is searched by USS FORSTER (DER-334) crewmembers, 15 April 1966.” Catalog #: K-31208. Copyright Owner: National Archives Original Creator: Photographer, Chief Journalist Robert D. Moeser

Radio Free Europe, Belarusian edition

In a sign of the times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is going back to medium waves (MW, AM) to provide Belarusians with independent (Western) news coverage on the radio waves as the state-funded media is in full Baghdad Bob mode while protestors are in the streets over the recent landslide election results.

RFERL Belarusian will be accessible on frequency 1386kHz from 21:00 to 22:00 and from 23:00 to 0:00

Ukrainian AR love

Over the past several years, one of the most active units in the on-again/off-again asymmetric war with Russian proxies for the Donbas and Crimea has been the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine (DPSU). Currently some 42,000-strong, they are fundamentally set up as light infantry equipped on the lines of Warsaw Pact foot soldiers from the 1980s, complete with AKs.

Note the AKMS, complete with wooden furniture, and the Ukrainian flash on his sleeve. The traditional “opolcheniye cross” DPSU insignia dates back to the 1800s (Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine)

However, their new look is very western:

Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

The DPSU reported earlier this month that the first units, the Dozor rapid-reaction teams, have moved to the new select-fire 5.56mm NATO caliber UAR-15 carbines and the whole force is expected to soon make the transition. The change is reportedly to make the service more compatible with EU and NATO standards. Best yet, the guns are made in Ukraine, with a little help from some household U.S. names.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Sun’s out, guns out

Resistance fighters with the French Forces of the Interior armbands meet up with curious recently arrived American troops on the beach in the Saint Tropez area during Operation Dragoon landings along the French Riviera, 15 August 1944. The irregulars of the FFI numbered an estimated 400,000 by this stage of the war and were no longer underground.

Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-212383 via NARA

The Resistance members all seem to have pistols stuck in their waist-band, channeling Dan Tanna long before the 1970s.

Inset of 111-SC-212383

The fella to the left has a Colt M1908 Hammerless stuck in his belt while his buddy with the short (German surplus?) wool jacket has what appears to be an Astra 400 grip just showing. The stabby guy with the bandana has what looks like a 6.35mm pocket pistol such as a Browning Baby or Colt Vest model in addition to his steel-handled sheath knife.

As for the GIs, the older Soldier on the right has the distinctive seahorse patch of the 36th Engineer Regiment.

The 36th Engineers were everywhere in the ETO, earning campaign streamers for Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, and Rome-Arno in the 22 months prior to the Dragoon landings. They would go on to prove essential in the push through Northwest Europe through Alsace and the Rhineland. An active-duty unit, after WWII they went on to serve in Korea, where they remained for 20 years. Reformed as the 36th Engineer Group in 1973 and as the 36th Engineer Group in 2006, they have continued to deploy downrange across the sandbox extensively over the past three decades.

There are now 40 154-foot patrol craft in the USCG

The new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) has been termed an operational “game-changer,” according to senior Coast Guard officials. Based on the Dutch Damen Stan 4708 platform with some mods for U.S. use, Louisiana’s Bollinger Shipyards won a contract for the first unit, USCGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101), in 2008 and has been plowing right along ever since.

A couple weeks ago, the yard delivered the 40th FRC to the Coast Guard, not a bad job in just 12 years.

USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140), note her 25mm gun has not been installed. Photo via Bollinger. 

The newest vessel, USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140), was placed in commission, special status, on 30 July and will remain in Florida while the crew completes pre-commissioning trials and maintenance. The cutter is scheduled to arrive in Santa Rita, Guam, later in 2020, and will be the second of three planned FRCs stationed in Guam, an important upgrade to sea surveillance and patrol capabilities in America’s forward-deployed territorial bastion.

“The Fast Response Cutters are a real game-changer here in the Pacific for the Coast Guard,” said LCDR Jessica Conway, the Coast Guard 14th District’s patrol boat manager. “Already the FRCs stationed here in Hawaii are conducting longer missions over greater distances than the older patrol boats they are replacing.”

FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, a state of the art C4ISR suite, a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat, and a combat suite that includes a remote-operated Mk38 25mm chain gun and four crew-served M2 .50 cals.

Note the 25mm gun forward. Unlike older models, it is the stabilized Mod 2 variant with a day/night electro-optical sight. The Mod 2 has shown to be 3x more likely to hit a target than the eyeball-trained and manually-slewed Mod 0/1 guns.  

While listed as having a range of ~2,500nm, FRCs have deployed on 4,400nm round-trip patrols to the Marshall Islands from Hawaii– completing two at-sea refuelings from a Coast Guard buoy tender– and have shown themselves particularly adept at expeditionary operations in devastated littorals in the aftermath of hurricanes. Further, the class has deployed to the coast of South America in joint Operations Tradewinds exercises for the past two years.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry staging out of San Diego headed to Oahu,  2,600-nm West on a solo trip. Not bad for a yacht-sized patrol boat

“Here in the Pacific one of our greatest challenges is distance,” said Conway. “With the FRCs boasting a larger crew size and greater endurance, they are able to complete missions both close to shore and over the horizon, aiding both the people of Guam and our partners in the region.”

In a hat tip to the fact they are so much more capable, the USCG uses the WPC hull designation, used last by the old “buck and a quarter” 125-foot cutters of the Prohibition-era with these crafts, rather than the WPB patrol boat designation of the ships they are replacing.

Most important, later in 2020, Bollinger will be delivering the first of a half-dozen FRCs to the USCG that will be home-ported in Manama, Bahrain, to replace the 1980s-vintage 110-foot Island Class Patrol Boats supporting Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the service’s largest unit outside of the United States. PATFORSWA is almost continually engaged with Iranian asymmetric forces in the Persian Gulf region.

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