Category Archives: asymmetric warfare

Little Groups of Marines with Switchblades

One of the most inspiring, and telling in my opinion, modern battles was the morning-long scrap between LT Keith Mills and 22 of his Royal Marines against an Argentine force on remote South Georgia Island. Ordered to give the Argies a “bloody nose,” on 3rd April 1982 his sub-platoon-sized unit did better than that.

Mills’ Marauders

Outfitted only with small arms and man-portable anti-tank weapons (an 84mm Carl G recoilless rifle and 66mm LAWs), they downed an Argentine helicopter and mauled ARA Guerrico, a corvette that came in to the harbor to support the invasion of the British territory.

ARA Guerrico, showing one of her two 84mm holes at her waterline. The other destroyed her Exocet launcher whilst a 66mm round wrecked the elevation mechanism on her main gun. She also had been raked by over 1,200 rounds of 7.62mm. Only the Carl Gustav misfiring prevented more hits.

A great, and lengthy, interview with Mills was filmed earlier this year, as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Islands War. :

Let’s talk about Loitering Munitions

U.S. Marines with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, launch a [AeroVironment Switchblade] lethal miniature aerial missile system during an exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 2, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Forti)

Rapidly deployable loitering missile systems, designed as a “kamikaze” being able to crash into its target with an explosive warhead, are the “hot new thing.” However, as witnessed 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), they are a 21st Century game changer. In a nutshell, the Azerbaijanis claim to have smoked almost 400 high-value military vehicles– ranging from main battle tanks to SAM batteries– with such munitions, for zero lives traded.

The U.S. Army, Marines, and Naval Special Warfare Command have been experimenting with such systems over the past decade, such as the Switchblade shown above. The small (6-pound) Switchblade 300 and the larger 50-pound Switchblade 600 both use the same Ground Control Station (GCS) as other small UAVs in the military’s arsenal such as the Wasp, RQ-11 Raven, and RQ-20 Puma. Quiet, due to their electric motors, and capable of hitting a target with extreme accuracy out to 50 nm with a 100-knot closing speed in the case of the larger munition, they could easily target ship’s bridges or soft points with lots of flammable things such as hangars and small boat decks.

So where is this going?

As perfectly described by a panel consisting of CAPT Walker D. Mills, USMC, along with U.S. Navy LT Lieutenant Joseph Hanacek and LCDR Dylan Phillips-Levine in this month’s USNI Proceedings, possibly to a Pacific atoll near you. In short, while it is nice that the Marines are looking at long-range NMESIS coastal defense cruise missile (CDCM) systems, smaller munitions like Switchblade could prove an important tool when it comes to area denial in a littoral.

Introducing loitering munitions that the Marine Corps can use to strike warships creates combined-arms opportunities—a flight of loitering munitions autonomously launched from a small rocky outcropping could knock some of an enemy ship’s self-defense weapons offline, sending that ship home for repairs or setting conditions for a strike by larger CDCMs that deliver the coup de grace. Loitering munitions also can strike ships at close range—inside the minimum-engagement range for larger missiles. With smaller, cheaper, and more mobile loitering munitions, small units and teams operating as “stand-in forces” can contribute to sea denial and expand the threats the Marines pose to an enemy. The case for employing these weapons goes beyond speculation—loitering munitions have already been used with great effect in recent history and have proved their worth on the future battlefield.

More here.

Queen’s new Rangers Low Crawling to a Reality

In 1999, there were six regiments in the “Scottish Division” — the Royal Scots, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (RHF), the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), the Black Watch, The Highlanders, and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. These were all amalgamated, reduced, blended with several Lowland units, and eventually labeled as the *seven-battalion (*five active, two reserve) Royal Regiment of Scotland by 2006. However, this has been whittled down over the years, but we’ll get to that. 

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last week announced that The First Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Royal Scots Borderers (1 SCOTS), will be recast as the initial backbone of the British Army’s new Ranger Regiment, a force which will ultimately have four battalions when fleshed out. These will eventually be made up of the transferred 2nd Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (2 PWRR); the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 LANCS); and the 4th Battalion, The Rifles (4 RIFLES).

The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) march down the Royal Mile after accepting the Freedom of the city of Edinburgh on behalf of the Regiment. Sadly, the unit will lose its “Scottishness” when it becomes a Ranger unit. Photo by Mark Owens/HQScot. MOD/Crown copyright

Two of the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s other roughly 500-man battalions will continue to be based in Scotland, for now at least, with 2 SCOTS staying in Edinburgh and 3 SCOTS staying in Inverness until 2029 before moving to Leuchars – forming an integral part of a new Security Force Assistance Brigade. The Highlanders (4 SCOTS) are based in England at Bourlon Barracks as part of Catterick Garrison. This means, instead of the seven Scottish battalions that the RRS was founded with, it will be down to just three active, plus an independent company branded as a battalion (the famed Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, 5 SCOTS, was long ago cut down to company strength – branded the Balaklava Company in recognition to its “Thin Red Line” days – used for ceremonial duties in Scotland.) 6 SCOTS and 7 SCOTS are reserve units. However, the regiment will still have at least 10 bands left over after 1 SCOTS converts to the Rangers. 

Speaking of the Rangers, it is envisioned they would be a quick-deploying special operations-ish group, seemingly falling shy of SAS and about the same level as the Paras only without the chutes or the RM Commandos but without the amphibious skillset. Each battalion will consist of just 250 men– less than half the size of a U.S. Green Beret battalion/British Para battalion or a third the size of a battalion of the U.S. 75th Ranger Regiment. The smaller force will be chosen from the current soldiers after an eight-week, two-part assessment then undergoes a further eight months of additional training before the unit is rated ready. 

The British Army has also in the past week unveiled the cap badge of The Ranger Regiment, a Peregrine Falcon clasping a Ranger scroll. The badge will be worn on a gun-metal beret, augmented by the shoulder flash of the old WWII Special Service Brigade, two Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knives:

The Ranger Regiment is very proud of its new cap badge which takes inspiration and spirit from the Peregrine Falcon; fast, agile and fiercely loyal to its partner, it operates around the world in all environments including deserts, mountains and cities. It has been designed to demonstrate a new capability for the Army.

It follows a long history of birds being used as emblems and logos around the world. Peregrine derives from the medieval Latin word ‘peregrinus’ which means wanderer. It is the most geographically dispersed bird of prey and can be found on every continent, less Antarctica. The Peregrine Falcon is also the fastest bird on the planet, with a diving speed of over 200 miles per hour.

While many regiments have a cloth badge for officers and a metal badge for soldiers, everyone serving in the Ranger Regiment will wear a metal badge, irrespective of rank.

Of course, the badge is already drawing flak due to the fact that it looks a whole lot like the Osprey badge worn by the Rhodies of the old Selous Scouts, the controversial and oft-smeared Rhodesian Army irregulars that did all sorts of nastiness during the Bush Wars in the late 1970s.

Ranger Falcon. vs Rhodie Osprey

And the beat goes on…

Philippines flexing over demands they unreef their ancient LST

We’ve talked in the past about the 2,000-tons of tetanus shots that is the mighty BRP Sierra Madre (L-57), formerly the ex-USS Harnett County LST-821, which has been grounded on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) in the South China Sea since 1999, serving as a forward base for a squad-sized group of PI Marines and a Navy radioman. The move came as a counterstroke to China’s controversial, and likely unlawful, armed occupation of Mischief Reef— barely 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan– in 1995.

Well, in recent weeks, the Chinese have aggressively prevented resupply and rotation of the guard force on the Sierra Madre, warning off civilian vessels approaching the condemned LST with water cannons.

Finally, on 22 November, two civilian boats, Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 3, were able to tie up next to the Sierra Madre and unload, while a Chinese coast guard ship in the vicinity sent a RIB with three persons to closely shadow the effort, taking photos and videos, acts the Philipines described as “a form of intimidation and harassment.”

To this, China says Ayungin Shoal is “part of China’s Nansha Qundao (Spratly Islands)” and has told the PI to quit the reef and scrap the rusty outpost.

From Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana on China’s demand to remove BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal:

Ayungin Shoal lies within our EEZ where we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of. 

Furthermore, the 2016 Arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing.

With that, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, on Monday said that his leadership would ensure better living conditions of the troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre, refurbishing the vessel in place as a permanent government post. 

Mic drop.

Griffin it up

ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 05, 2021) The Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) fires a Griffin missile during a test and proficiency fire in the Arabian Gulf, Nov. 5, 2021. Firebolt, assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 55, is supporting maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Aleksander Fomin) 211105-A-PX137-0082

Technically the BGM-176B Griffin B, or the Sea Griffin, is the navalized ground-launched version of Raytheon’s low-cost (compared to more advanced missiles) 34-pound bunker/tank buster that was lighter than the Hellfire used by the Army was originally designed for use from helicopters, UAVs and Marine KC-130s/USAF MC-130s.

Originally pitched as an add-on for the LCS to enable it to zap especially rowdy pirates and asymmetric fast boat threats, the 13-pound warhead would only really be effective against a larger ship in the case of bridge shots and needs an operator with a semi-active laser to paint a target. With that, the Navy opted for a modified Longbow Hellfire– which can use the ship’s radar and be used against multiple targets at once– for the LCS, along with the Naval Strike Missile for heavy work.

However, adopted as the MK-60 Patrol Coastal Griffin Missile System (GMS), the chunky Griffin B has been getting it done on the 170-foot Cyclones, in twin four-cell topside mounts, since 2013. This gives each of these short boys eight decently powerful close-in (3-5nm) missiles, coupled with the ability to use the ship’s mast-mounted Bright Star EO/IR camera for targeting, which gives them a solid stand-off capability against Iranian Boghammars and similar threats. 

Personally, I’d like to see it installed on the Coast Guard’s very similar 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, at least for the six of the class intended to operate forward deployed with PATFORSWA in the Persian Gulf under CENTCOM. They could also likely be of use on the USCG’s increasingly WestPac units of the same class

Video of Firebolt’s recent test:

 

Operation Barkhane, France’s Afghanistan in Africa, just got weirder

The French have had thousands of troops deployed to the desert Sahel region of Mali and Chad (and to a lesser extent Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger) since Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the region in early 2012, going hand-in-hand with a Tuareg separatist uprising which gave the whole thing the aura of a civil war with jihadi undercurrents.

Who wouldn’t want to get involved with that, right?

While Paris has always had a smattering of European allies there (British, Canadians, Danes, and Swedes, mainly) they never contribute anything larger than a company-sized element, leaving the French to carry the fight largely alone. 

With that, France, as French-speaking Africa’s gendarmerie despite their pull back from the Continent in the 1960s following the end of the brutal war in Algeria, have seen lots of successes. For instance, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was “neutralized by French forces,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted two weeks ago.

Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi was on everyone’s list, and the French zapped him in the Sahel this month, reportedly droning him off his motorbike somewhere in Mali’s northern desert. A “tactical success.”

Meanwhile, France has spilled lots of blood there for those gains.

Army Chief Corporal Maxime Blasco, a veteran commando, killed 24 September, was the 52d Frenchman to die on Operation Barkane since 2013.

So now, the French are slowly leaving Mali.

The plan is to cut the force from 5,000 today to between 2,500 and 3,000 by 2023. Most will be leaving from the northern Mali bases at Kidal, Timbuctu, and Tessalit, which may or may not be consolidated– reports vary. 

However, the Mail government, which has an Etch-A-Sketch quality to it due to a recent coup, followed by a counter-coup with “plans for an election next year,” has denounced the French redeployment (let’s just call it a withdrawal) saying that the for-now regime in Bamako would seek other allies.

From Russia.

The plan by the Mali government is to bring in Wagner Group private military contractors to fill the gap. The Wagners aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty. They have a rough reputation for their work elsewhere in Africa– with allegations of field executions and assorted war crimes in blood diamond areas– and have seen lots of action in Syria, even famously coming up short against American artillery and close-air-support, which the Russians lacked.

In short, things are primed to get really interesting in the region.

And the beat goes on…

Now the Taliban faces an insurgency of its own

Although America’s longest war is over, the Taliban isn’t fully victorious in its now-liberated country. There are several groups still holding out against the resurgent regime. After all, it is a civil war there. 

Ahmad Massoud, 32, the well-spoken leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, is the son of the famed Soviet Afgha War-era mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in 2001 while heading of the Northern Alliance. A graduate of Kings College and the University of London, the younger Massoud last week published an op-ed in the WaPo pleading for help.

I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban. We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come.

Of course, although he is asking for arms and support from the West, the likelihood of it coming overtly is slim to none.

However, it should be noted that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is is funded almost exclusively by the American government, is running short reports highlighting his struggle. 

 

At the same time, Amrullah Saleh, one of the old republic’s vice presidents and former Intelligence chief, is still in the country and, along with former Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi (one of the elder Massoud’s better commanders in the Northern Alliance against the Soviets and a former Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army), are in the Panjshir with Massoud The Younger, where they are trying to form a larger resistance movement in line with a government in exile concept.
 
At least some are coming to the call. 
 
Massoud is being joined by “Hundreds of Tajiks from the southern town of Kulob” who  “say they’re prepared to join anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan. The Afghan fighters are based in the Panjshir Valley, a predominantly ethnic-Tajik region that has repelled Taliban incursions in the past.”
 
 
Other reports are not quite as glossy as the Taliban move in to put down the unruly valley, just 100 miles from Kabul. 
 
 
Still, if Massoud and the gang can make it to the end of the fighting season, 2022 could be a big year for them. 
 
Meanwhile, there is an Uzbek angle.
 
Another vice president and warlord-figure, the aging Abdul Rashid Dostum (who was marshal of the Afghan National Army and a senior officer of the Communist-era ANA) along with Atta Muhammad Nur, a well-known Tajik who served as a mujahideen resistance commander for the Jamiat-e Islami militia against the Soviets before joining the Northern Alliance back in the day, fled from their stronghold in Mazar-e-Sharif to Uzbekistan a couple of weeks ago, where they no doubt still have a myriad of contacts across the border. Whether or not they make inroads back into the country remains to be seen but, as they say, you can run the warlord out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the warlord.
 
The more things change…
 
 

Toughing it out Behind the Iron Curtain

Lithuanian resistance fighters (left to right) Klemensas Širvys-Sakalas, Juozas Lukša-Skirmantas, and Benediktas Trumpys-Rytis stand in the forest circa 1949. Note their civilian attire, augmented by American pineapple grenades and pistol belts, likely Lend-Lease supplied to Soviet troops, as well as a Czech Sa vz. 23/CZ 25 sub-gun of more recent vintage. (Photo courtesy of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania)

If the above image strikes an interest, check out the (free) newly published “Survival in the Russian Occupied Zone Command and Organization in Resistance Underground Operations,” by Col. Kevin D. Stringer, PhD, U.S. Army Reserve. 

Mirages over the Keys

This month, Textron subsidiary Airborne Tactical Advantage Company has been supporting F-35Cs from Eglin AFB’s 43rd Fighter Squadron during a deployment to Naval Air Station Key West to help sharpen their Dissimilar Air Combat Training skills.

Providing contract adversary air OPFOR airframes, ATAC brought Mirage F1s with them to the Keys, still wearing very nicely preserved French Armee de L’air camouflage.

The company bought 63 former French Air Force Mirage F1B, F1CT, and F1CR fighters; 6 million assorted spare parts, and 150 spare Atar 9K50 engines for a total value of €25 million in 2017. Last September, they pulled down a contract to use their aircraft as training assets against the USAF in seven locations.

An F-1 Mirage with Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) takes off from Boca Chica Field to provide adversary air support for training. 20 August 2021 U.S. Navy photo by Danette Baso Silvers

Running around in sometimes cranky obsolete high-performance jets can sometimes be hazardous. One of ATAC’s Mirages had an “incident” earlier this year at Tyndall.

They also do “red air” for the Navy.

Check out this trio of an ATAC Mk 58 Hunter, a former IDF Kfir C-2, and a Navy F-35C.

The Hunter dates to 1959 while the Kfir is a 1979 model. Meanwhile, the F-35C is Navy NJ-121 (BuNo 169160) of VFA-101 “Grim Reapers.” The Reapers were the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) based at Eglin until they shuttered the unit in May 2019, moving the mission to NAS Lemoore’s VFA-125.

Cowboy Guns as Brush Guns for Canadian Guerillas

As part of the general mass panic that came about all along the Pacific coast of North America after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which kicked into overdrive with the follow-on actions of Japanese submarines off Oregon and California and the seizure of windswept islands in the Aleutians within six months of that Infamy, a home guard force was formed in British Columbia.

Eventually christened the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, they eventually grew to some 15,000 members. With guns and training time for new types short, they were outfitted with old bolt-action rifles which dated to the previous World War– which grizzled old vets of the Rangers no doubt remembered– as well as almost 5,000 commercial rifles from Connecticut.

Lever action Marlins and Winchesters.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Ghost Army Halfway to Congressional Gold Medal

“Ghost Army” Insignia circa 1944.

The U.S. House passed H.R.707, Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act, on the 19th, sending it to the Senate.

The bipartisan (173 Dems, 126 Republicans as co-sponsors) resolution finds the following:

(1) The 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, comprised of the 23d Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops, the 603d Engineer Camouflage Battalion, the 406th Combat Engineer Company, the 3132d Signal Service Company and the Signal Company, Special, 23d Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company were top-secret units of the United States Army that served in Europe during World War II.

(2) The 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, was actively engaged in battlefield operations from June of 1944 through March of 1945. The 3133d Signal Service Company was engaged in operations in Italy in 1945.

(3) The deceptive activities of these units were integral to several Allied victories across Europe and reduced American casualties.

(4) In evaluating the performance of these units after the War, a U.S. Army analysis found that “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign.”.

(5) Many Ghost Army soldiers were citizen-soldiers recruited from art schools, advertising agencies, communications companies, and other creative and technical professions.

(6) The first four members of the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, landed on D-Day and two became casualties while creating false beach landing sites.

(7) The 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, secret deception operations commenced in France on June 14, 1944, when Task Force Mason, a 17-man detachment of the 23d led by First Lieutenant Bernard Mason, landed at Omaha Beach. Task Force Mason conducted Operation ELEPHANT between 1 and 4 July, 1944, to draw enemy fire and protect the 980th Field Artillery Battalion (VIII Corps) as part of the Normandy Campaign.

(8) Operation ELEPHANT was a prelude to 21 full-scale tactical deceptions completed by the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops.

(9) Often operating on or near the front lines, the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, used inflatable tanks, artillery, airplanes and other vehicles, advanced engineered soundtracks, and skillfully crafted radio trickery to create the illusion of sizable American forces where there were none and to draw the enemy away from Allied troops.

(10) The 3132d and the 3133d Signal Service Companies, activated in Pine Camp (now Fort Drum), New York, at the Army Experimental Station in March 1944, were the only two active duty “sonic deception” ground combat units in World War II.

(11) Soldiers of the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, impersonated other, larger Army units by sewing counterfeit patches onto their uniforms, painting false markings on their vehicles, and creating phony headquarters staffed by fake generals, all in an effort to feed false information to Axis spies.

(12) During the Battle of the Bulge, the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, created counterfeit radio traffic to mask the efforts of General George Patton’s Third Army as it mobilized to break through to the 101st Airborne and elements of 10th Armored Division in the besieged Belgian town of Bastogne.

(13) In its final mission, Operation VIERSEN, in March 1945, the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, conducted a tactical deception that drew German units down the Rhine River and away from the Ninth Army, allowing the Ninth Army to cross the Rhine into Germany. On this mission, the 1,100 men of the Ghost Army, with the assistance of other units, impersonated forty thousand men, or two complete divisions of American forces, by using fabricated radio networks, soundtracks of construction work and artillery fire, and more than 600 inflatable vehicles. According to a military intelligence officer of the 79th Infantry, “There is no doubt that Operation VIERSEN materially assisted in deceiving the enemy with regard to the real dispositions and intentions of this Army.”.

(14) Three soldiers of the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops, gave their lives and dozens were injured in carrying out their mission.

(15) In April 1945, the 3133d Signal Service Company conducted Operation CRAFTSMAN in support of Operation SECOND WIND, the successful allied effort to break through the German defensive position to the north of Florence, Italy, known as the Gothic Line. Along with an attached platoon of British engineers, who were inflatable decoy specialists, the 3133d Signal Service Company used sonic deception to misrepresent troop locations along this defensive line.

(16) The activities of the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company remained highly classified for more than forty years after the war and were never formally recognized. The extraordinary accomplishments of this unit are deserving of belated official recognition.

(17) The United States is eternally grateful to the soldiers of the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company for their proficient use of innovative tactics throughout World War II, which saved lives and made significant contributions to the defeat of the Axis powers.

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