Category Archives: asymmetric warfare

If you don’t think Drone Swarms are THE Threat of the 2020s, you are Mistaken

In the recent five-week Nagorno-Karabakh war, between Azerbaijan– supported by Syrian mercenaries and Turkey — and the so-called Republic of Artsakh together with Armenia (who had the low-key support of Moscow), cheap drones proved absolutely decisive. The Azerbaijani relied heavily on Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 and Israeli Harop/Orbiter/SkyStryker kamikaze drones to strike at the Armenian/Artsakh forces.

Besides tanks and APCs, the Azerbaijan Department of Defense said that several Osa, Strela-10, and S-300 air defense systems were also destroyed by TB2s. Azerbaijan also reportedly modified its slowpoke 1950s-era Antonov An-2 Colt biplanes with remote-control systems, flying them to the front lines to draw out Armenian air defenses. In short, SEAD by UAV, showing these craft as the modern Wild Weasels.

The Bayraktar TB2, with a max takeoff weight of just 1,400-pounds, isn’t fast, pedaling around at just 120 knots, roughly the same speed as a Great War biplane. However, it can carry four laser-guided smart munitions, each capable of zapping a tank. (Photo via wiki commons)

In all, the former Soviet republic had less than 200 drones of all kinds on hand, but they proved the key to battle.

The really scary part is how plug-and-play the Turkish drones were, only fielded by the Azerbaijanis less than six months before the conflict. 

From a CSIS report on the conflict:

Azerbaijani drones provided significant advantages in ISR as well as long-range strike capabilities. They enabled Azerbaijani forces to find, fix, track, and kill targets with precise strikes far beyond the front lines. UAVs were operationally integrated with fires from manned aircraft and land-based artillery but also frequently used their own ordinance to destroy various high-value military assets. Open-source reporting suggests that drones contributed to disabling a huge number of Armenian tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery units, and air defenses. Their penetration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s deep rear also weakened Armenian supply lines and logistics, facilitating later Azerbaijani success in battle.

So for cheap, UAVs stand to flip the battlespace in favor of low power states.

For instance, Iran, which has both reverse-engineered downed U.S. drones and acquired other designs as needed, has shown off hundreds of indigenous craft of late.

All of this means that it is no surprise that DOD just released their official 36-page Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy.

Expect far more counter-drone jammers and active defenses on the battlefield of the future, or else it is going to be very one-sided.

Goodbye RIVRONs, hello MESF

The Navy announced recently they have “officially changed the name and mission of the Coastal Riverine squadrons to reflect their role amid a new era of great power competition; they are now known as the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force.”

The prerequisite moto video, tying the new units to the old Brown Water PBR gang of Southeast Asia (although the SWCC guys of SBT22 will most likely dispute ownership of this lineage, as they carried the dim candle of the small boat shop at Rodman for decades):

“As we maintain a connection to our legacy we must honor those warriors that come before us and learn from their heroism,” said RADM Joseph DiGuardo, commander NECC, “we must continuously evolve to meet the needs of the Navy and the Nation for Great Power Competition, crisis, and conflict. The change to Maritime Expeditionary Security Force clearly articulates the mission of our sailors to reinforce lethality in the blue water and dominate in the littorals.”

The MESF now consists of two groups; one in San Diego and one in Virginia Beach. The force includes two expeditionary security detachments in Guam and Bahrain, seven Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadrons, and 31 Maritime Expeditionary Security Companies.

The original three Coastal Riverine squadrons of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (RIVRON 1, 2, and 3) were all formed in 2006-07, modeled after the Marines Small Craft Company (SCCO) of 2D MAR Div– then the only specialized small boat company in the Marines– which had been disbanded the year prior although that forgotten unit of Devil Dogs in tiny boats had been bloodied and proved their mandate in the marshes and reservoirs around Haditha, fighting the kind of war that was familiar to Vietnam. Their Riverine Assault Craft, zodiacs, and Raider boats were handed over to the Navy, although Big Blue soon bought lots of new go-fasts.

Marines from Small Craft Company tether their Riverine Assult Crafts together during a break in training. Marines from Small Craft Company, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, demonstrated their capabilities to Paraguayan Marines in the Joint Training Exercise Unitas. The exercise was conducted in Asuncion, Paraguay. USMC Photo by LCPL Tyler J. Mielke. 29/09/1999

“People think it’s money or manpower problems, but no one knows for sure why they’re getting rid of us,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brian Vinciguerra, who had spent 14 years with the SCCO, on the occasion of the unit’s disbandment in Feb. 2005. “The capabilities we provided to the Marine Corps, Special Forces, and Navy SEALS in Iraq are too big to be gone for long. We’re leaving an avenue of approach open for the enemy now,” he said. “I think Small Craft Company will be back in a few years when people realize what we brought to the fight.”

Now, after a similar 14-year run, the Navy’s trio of RIVRONs have a name change, and, notably, are moving to more 80+ foot platforms such as the MKVI. Not a lot of “river” about that.

Oh well, at least SBT22 and NAVSCIATTS are still around, keeping that lamp tended for the next time.

Now that’s a bass boat

In a former life, I spent a good bit of time in and out of Stennis Space Center in that great green buffer zone along Mississippi’s Pearl River back when I was doing a lot more federal contract firearms training and, besides all the NASA stuff and the Navy’s AGOR/METCOM guys, there is also another very low-key tenet DOD tenant on the huge complex– the river rats of Special Boat Team 22 and NAVSCIATTS.

The Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School dated back to the 1960s and was based at Rodman in the Canal Zone for decades, specializing in running a hands-on schoolhouse for teaching riverine warfare, mainly to students from Latin America. Basically the Navy’s version of the old Army’s School of the Americas.

These days, they have expanded their reach but still run regular courses for brown water navies and coast guards from not only down south but from points more Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as well. They recently posted some photos of AFRICOM students on a training ex in the muck of the Pearl River showing some interesting watercraft.

“NAVSCIATTS students from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of operations participate in a Patrol Craft Officer Riverine training exercise on the Pearl River near the John C. Stennis Space Center, Dec. 2, 2020. Our 21-1 semester consists of AFRICOM students from Chad, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierre Leon, and Togo. (Photos by Michael Williams)”

Note the twin M240 GPMGs. Now that’s a go-getter

While SBT22 runs 33-foot SOC-Rs (built here in Gulfport), the NAVSCIATTS schoolhouse seems to be using some pretty neat Gator-Tail aluminum skiffs. Made in Loreauville Louisiana, Gator-Tail is well-known (around here anyway) for their mud motor outboards, which are ideal in moving around in the swamp and bayou where traditional motors would get gummed up by vegetation and sediment every five feet.

Speaking of which, it is getting duck season.

Pushing the Coasties into the Western Pacific

Almost on cue in the past week, two maritime-focused events transpired which are obviously related.

First, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien announced a push to take on Red China’s “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and harassment of vessels operating in the exclusive economic zones of other countries in the Indo-Pacific,” with some muscle from the U.S. Coast Guard, using the force to protect both American sovereignty, “as well as the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbors.”

In an effort to bolster our capacity and presence in the Indo-Pacific region, in Fiscal Year 2021, the USCG plans to evaluate the feasibility of basing Fast Response Cutters in American Samoa. If the survey is favorable, the United States could further expand its presence in the South Pacific.

Of note, the U.S. is responsible for the defense of not only Samoa and the territories of Guam (where four FRCs are already to be based) as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, but also the American associated states of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia‎, and the Republic of Palau, covering the bulk of the old Trust Territories of the Pacific.

In other words, most of the real estate between Hawaii and Japan. All they are missing is Wake Island, French Frigate Shoals, and Midway. 

With that being said, the Hawaii-based Fast Response Cutter Oliver Berry (WPC 1124) just returned to Pearl Harbor following a 6-week nearly 10,000 nm patrol of many of those western islands in conjunction “with the governments of Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia strengthening maritime domain awareness and resource security within their Exclusive Economic Zones.”

Official caption: The crew of the Oliver Berry travel in a round-trip patrol from Sept. 12 to Oct. 27, 2020, from Hawaii to Guam, covering a distance of approximately 9,300 miles during their journey. The crew sought to combat illegal fishing and other maritime threats across the Pacific to protect the United States and our partner’s resource security and sovereignty. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of the CGC Oliver Berry)

As we have talked about extensively before, the 154-foot $27 million-per-unit FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, 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. The addition of other light armaments, such as MK-60 quadruple BGM-176B Griffin B missile launchers, MK19 40mm automatic bloopers, and MANPADs, would be simple if needed, provided the Navy wanted to hand it over.

It is thought the ultimate goal for the Coast Guard is to have at least 58 FRCs for domestic (ish) work– and six additional hulls for use in the Persian Gulf with the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, a regular front-facing buffer force with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The 41st FRC, USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC-1141), was delivered to the Coast Guard last week.  

Just frogmen doing frogmen stuff

140121-N-KB563-148 CORONADO, Calif. (Jan. 21, 2014) Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDs) students participate in Surf Passage at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf Passage is one of many physically demanding evolutions that are a part of the first phase of SEAL training. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell/Released)

In two separate incidents within the same week, quiet groups of maritime commandos were out getting it done.

From the U.S. Department of Defense:

Statement by Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in Northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation.

We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation.

The United States will continue to protect our people and our interests anywhere in the world.”

Word is the SEAL unit parachuted in from CV-22s, supported by a circling P-8A for comms and surveillance and an AC-130 gunship on standby if things went pear-shaped, then scratched six of seven kidnappers in short order.

One counterterrorism source told ABC News, “They were all dead before they knew what happened.”

Meanwhile, in the UK…

The SBS, the seagoing and much more low-profile nautical companion to the SAS, stormed the Greek-owned Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker Nave Andromeda off the Isle of Wight after seven Nigerian stowaways popped up and started threatening the merchant vessel’s 22-man crew, who retreated to a fortified compartment.

Ending a 10-hour standoff, 16 SBS operators boarded the ship, with some fast-roping from two Royal Navy Merlin helicopters and the others rappelling up the side from a rigid inflatable boat under the watchful eye of snipers in a Wildcat helicopter and the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond. Clearance divers were also on hand if there were EOD needs. 

The entire ship was secured in just seven minutes and all stowaways were accounted for. 

It was not the first time in recent memory that SBS had to get to work in home waters, having boarded an Italian cargo ship, Grande Tema, in the Thames Estuary in 2018 after it had been hijacked by four Nigerian nationals.

“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.

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