Category Archives: asymmetric warfare

Marines’ Ship-Killing RC Truck Gets (Some) Funding

A Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System launcher deploys into position aboard Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Maj. Nick Mannweiler, released)

As spotted in last week’s DOD Contracts:

Oshkosh Defense LLC, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is awarded a $23,709,168 hybrid firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the procurement of Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires (ROGUE-Fires) carriers for use in the Navy/Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS). NMESIS is a land-based missile launcher platform that provides the Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket System battalions and operating forces with anti-ship capabilities. NMESIS integrates a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) launcher unit, capable of launching two NSMs, onto a ROGUE-Fires carrier. Work will be performed in Alexandria, Virginia (18%); Gaithersburg, Maryland (15%); and Oshkosh, Wisconsin (67%). Work is expected to be completed in November 2023. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Marine Corps) funds in the amount of $15,989,908 will be obligated and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This action is a follow-on production contract in accordance with 10 U.S. Code § 4022(f). Marine Corps Systems Command, Program Manager Long Range Fires, Quantico, Virginia, is the contracting activity (M67854-22-D-1002).

As covered previously on the blog, ROGUE Fires, a remote-control JLTV loaded with a containerized module that includes a two-pack of the Norwegian Kongsberg-developed 900-pound Naval Strike Missile, is set to be a big deal for Marine Littoral units. The current buy is set to field 14 new Marine expeditionary precision strike units with 252 launchers. These could be useful on anything from atolls and reefs to oil platforms and grounded old hulks. The concept was validated after it got some actual hits in during a SINKEX against a moored FFG last fall.

A Naval Strike Missile is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands during the sinking exercise. (U.S. Marine Corps/MC2 Lance Cpl. Dillon Buck)

The Marines are already theorizing about using their NMESIS batteries while underway on amphibious support ships if needed. The same concept could quickly arm ships taken from trade, such as old RO/ROs and tankers, giving the 1990’s Arsenal Ship theory an ersatz rebirth, at least for anti-ship purposes.

Suitcased-Sized Marine Eyeball and Targeting Teams

Earlier this summer, members of Task Force 61 Naval Amphibious Forces Europe/2d Marine Division (TF-61/2), operating under U.S. Sixth Fleet, joined their Estonian counterparts to kick off exercise Siil 22, also known in English as Exercise Hedgehog 22. While not a large force of Marines involved, TF-61/2 took advantage of the deployment to test out the new Commandant’s concept for Stand-in Forces (SIF) to generate small, highly versatile units that integrate Marine Corps and Navy forces and have “multi-domain reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance (RXR)” capabilities.

When talking of Maritime Awareness in 2022, the above references little groups of Marines– a team small enough to be inserted in a UH-1Y Venom which can only lift 8-10 combat-loaded men– equipped with back-packable/UTV-mountable Small Form Factor surface search radars, SATCOM, small UAS, and enhanced observation telescopes/binos to provide actionable intelligence and targeting data to upper headquarters.

Check out the highlight reel:

Highly mobile SATCOM on a UTV:

U.S. Marines with 2nd Marine Division test a Small Form Factor Satellite Communication (SATCOM) on the move (SOTM) device, while it’s attached to a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 10, 2019. The CopaSAT STORM is a replacement for the current Networking on the move (NOTM) system, which will allow Marines better communication services while stationary or forward deployed. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Q. Hamilton)

The Marines in the video are shown with Lockheed-Martin’s Stalker VXE Block 30 VTOL UAV, which can be shipped in three large pelican-style cases.

Another new tool is the Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, which allows the deployment of laser designation and target location at extended ranges, day and night, in a GPS-denied environment with high accuracy and “allows Marines to prosecute targets at increased standoff ranges.” 

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Marine peers through a prototype version of the Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, March 2021 at U.S. Army Garrison Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. The Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, is an innovative, man-portable targeting system allowing Marines to rapidly and accurately conduct target location and laser guidance during combat operations. Photo By: MCSC_OPAC

More on NGHTS: 
 
Years of market research, technology maturity and miniaturization resulted in NGHTS. The unit, lighter and less bulky than past targeting systems, includes a selective availability anti-spoofing module GPS, a celestial day and night compass, a digital magnetic compass, a laser designator and a laser range finder, all in a single handheld system weighing less than ten pounds.

The Marines have recently been fielding more AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (GATOR) systems, including one in Estonia but there may be something smaller at play here that was kept off-camera.

GATOR, for reference:

All in all, this all seems right on point for use across nameless Pacific atolls in addition to its already-interesting use in the Baltic.

SPSS Art

Dubbed either self-propelled semi-submersibles (SPSS) or low-profile vessels (LPVs), “narco subs” have gone from being a unicorn type of thing discussed only in Clive Cussler books to the real deal, especially when it comes to the Eastern Pacific, where they seem to be the vessel of choice running coke from South America to transshipment points in Central America.

Since they first started popping up in 2006, these craft have become an almost weekly thing in the past few years. The USCG and SOUTHCOM assets stopped almost 40 such boats in 2019, this number continued into 2020 where, across four days in mid-May Southcom stopped three narco submarines in the same week (remember the “Alto su barco” incident?), and showed no sign of stopping if you look at the typical patrols done by cutters throughout 2021-22.

Almost every recent EastPac patrol by the Coast Guard (or Fourth Fleet with a USCG LEDET aboard) shows off images of an LPV stopped with a gleaming white cutter in the background.

USCGC Northland (WMEC 904) interdicts a low-profile vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in August 2021. The Northland crew returned to Portsmouth Monday, following an 80-day patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of the Coast Guard Eleventh District and Joint Interagency Task Force South. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

This translates into a whole series of art produced as part of the U.S. Coast Guard Art Collection in the past few years on the subject:

Quiet Developments in 5th Fleet

It hasn’t gotten a lot of press, but CENTCOM has seen some interesting visitors and additions in recent days.

First up, the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11), commissioned on 17 November 2018, arrived at Manama, Bahrain on 25 June, marking the completion of a “historic” 10,000-mile journey from her homeport in Mayport, Florida, becoming the first LCS of either class to operate in the Middle East.

Littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11), arrives at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, on June 25. Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to help ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Terry Vongsouthi)

Of course, the Navy wants to decommission all nine Freedom-class ships currently in service, Sioux City included, but at least it shows they can reach overseas if needed. Maybe.

The day after Sioux City arrived, she operated with unmanned surface vessels and crewed ships in the Arabian Gulf, on June 26. The vessels included a 23-foot Saildrone Explorer, a 38-foot MARTAC Devil Ray T-38, the Island-class patrol cutter USCGC Baranof (WPB 1318), the new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142), and the aging (27 years young on a hull built for 15) Cyclone-class 170-foot patrol craft USS Thunderbolt (PC 12).

Of note, the Coast Guard is rapidly replacing the Islands with the Sentinels, as we have covered several times before, while the Navy is ridding itself of the Cyclones, leaving the 5th Fleet to be staffed largely just with six forward deployed Sentinels of Coast Guard PATFORSWA, and visiting Navy units.

Speaking of which, two of the Coast Guard’s newest Sentinels: USCGC Clarence Sutphin (WPC 1147) and USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146), departed CONUS last week en route to their new homeport in Bahrain alongside their trans-Atlantic escort, the 270-foot medium endurance cutter USCGC Mohawk (WMEC-913).

Of course, the Navy could always just forward deploy half of the Freedom-class LCSs there to take up the slack caused by the departure of the Cyclones and leave the other half stateside as training platforms, allowing crews to fly out and rotate.

Handoff? USS Sioux City Blue Crew (LCS 11) and Cyclone-class USS Thunderbolt PC-12 transit the Strait of Hormuz, June 24. For years the Navy wanted to get rid of the Cyclones and even loaned a couple to the Coast Guard. Then, after 2001, they saw the utility in forward deploying most of them to Bahrain as a standing FU force to the Iranian IRGCN.

The hulls could do good work in minesweeping and as drone mother ships, a job in which their iffy combining gear wouldn’t be a deal-breaker as they would serve largely as depot/station ships. I mean, they are littoral combat ships, right?

Maybe Sioux City could be a harbinger of a Plan B for her class.

KNIL KST, Ok?

As we have touched on in past articles, the Dutch East Indies had its own army, totally separate from the one based in Europe, that dated back to 1814– the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, or KNIL. Coming up on the losing side (among good company) against the Empire of Japan in 1942, the KNIL was rebuilt in exile with the “Free Dutch” forces that ran a clandestine infiltration and intelligence gathering campaign behind Japanese lines (see Korps Insulinde) and helped liberate Borneo in 1945. Post-war, it was tossed into the maelstrom (along with British Army– mostly Indian troops– and, curiously, recycled Japanese occupation forces) that was the four-year, often very bloody, conflict that is listed in the history books as the Indonesian War of Independence.

As the history books and any map of the globe will tell you, the Dutch politionele acties (“police actions”) in what is now Indonesia would ultimately fail, and a Sukarno-led independent country would emerge and enter the greater Soviet influence, but that is going past the point of this post.

No, what I want to highlight here is the special COIN unit set up by the KNIL to fight Sukarno and company, one whose model would be recycled throughout the Cold War to tackle insurgent guerillas in bush wars ranging from Malaysia to Mozambique and Bolivia. The company-sized (Depot Speciale Troepen) and later battalion-sized Korps Speciale Troepen, literally the Special Troops Corps, was formed from a mix of Dutch volunteers– including veterans of the disbanded British No. 2 (Dutch) Troop and the Korps Insulinde— along with Eurasians and native soldiers– often drawn heavily from minorities in the islands such as the Moluccans. The latter was a tactic used in Vietnam by the U.S. a decade later with the persecuted ethnic Degar, Bahnar, Hmong, Nung, Jarai, Khmer Krom, and Montagnards who made up the core of the Mike Force and CIDG units fighting the Viet Cong and NVA.

Led by such men as the infamous Capt. Raymond Westerling, aka “The Turk,” who had become so good in commando training with the Free Dutch in 1942 that Fairbairn had selected him to become an instructor, the KSK was sent to islands and regions where guerilla fighters held more sway than the Dutch government. To get to these remote regions, the Dutch established a local parachute school on Java, forming 1e Paracompagnie (1st Para Company), to augment amphibious operations.

Due to their lineage, they were equipped with a strange mix of American, Australian, British, and– sometimes– even Dutch kit. They often wore a green beret, a holdover from the old No. 2 (Dutch) Commando days of WWII. 

Photo dump ensues.

KST paratrooper in school at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea 1946-47. Note the Australian-made Owen submachine gun. NIMH AKL023561

A stick of 1e Parachutisten Compagnie troopers loaded in a Dakota on Operatie Ekster (Magpie) 12.29.49. Note the American chutes, British HSAT helmets and the SMLE .303 rifle. NIMH AKL023617

KST training paratrooper school, Hollandia (New Guinea) 1946-1947. Providing fire support. Note the Bren gun, centered, flanked by two Own SMGs, and American M1 helmets. AKL023560

Paratroopers from the KST gather in the field after a jump during an action or exercise. Dutch East Indies. 1948. One could easily imagine this photo captioned to be French paras in Dien Bien Phu. NIMH 2155_502065

KST Paratroopers are being prepared for an action 1948-50. Note the American frogskin “duck hunter” camo pants to the left, USMC HBT shirts, M1 Carbines, US-marked canteens and aid kits, and field knives, coupled with British HSAT para helmets. NIMH AKL023638

KST troops training in an old factory complex near the barracks, 1949. Dutch East Indies. This photo could almost pass for commando training in Scotland in 1945. NIMH AKL023619

Troop II of the 1st Para Company in action northeast of Krawang in West Java. 2.1948. Note the Owen gun in the foreground, sans magazine, and American M1 helmets

The advance of Dutch airborne troops from Magoewo airport to Djokjakarta at the start of the Second Police Action in Central Java. A Bren gunner positions his weapon at a signpost 4 km away from the city to be captured. 12.19.1948. NIMH AKL024567

Paratroopers of the Special Troops Corps walk at Magoewo airport near Djokjakarta to a number of (not visible) Dakotas. Note the PBY Catalina on the tarmac and slung SMLEs. NIMH AKL024539

Korps Speciale troepen Padalarang, West Java 11.29.1949. Note the skrim’d helmets and SMLEs

KST two man rubber rafts Padalarang, West Java 11.29.1949 AKL023586

KST assault boat with Bren gun Padalarang, West Java 11.29.1949 AKL023606

American paramarines, err, never mind, KST exercise, Batoedjadjar, Java, Dutch East Indies, 1949. NIMH

KST troops late in the conflict with locally-made Dutch camouflagekleding uniforms.

While we aren’t getting into the more controversial aspects of the KST such as its record of extrajudicial killings– the somewhat factually incorrect film The East (De Ost), which is currently available on Hulu, does plenty of that– the KST did go on to be the stepping stone that today’s professional Korps Commandotroepen of the Dutch Army counts in its linage.

Legion Etrangere, Ukraine edition

Borrowing an idea from the French and Spanish, and in an ode to the foreign volunteers who flocked to Finland to fight the Soviets in 1939, the Ukrainian government is being deadly serious about forming their own unit of foreign-born fighters as part of their military.

They even have a website with detailed information and a seven-step process. 

 

Of note, the French Foreign Legion is telling their members to stay put, that they (and their contract) are honor-bound to remain in the force, with their first loyalty not to any country (even France) but to the Legion. Of the elite force’s 9,500 members, some 710 are of Ukrainian origin of whom 210 have been naturalized, and there are some 450 Russian-born troops as well. General Alain Lardet, the Legion’s COMLE, issued a rare public video to the force explaining that, while the country will make allowances for an impacted member’s family to come, and two-weeks leaves for those from the warzone will be allowed, the Legionnaire himself needs to remain in his unit and honor their commitment.

The Legion has reported only 25 desertions by Ukrainian-born soldiers.

Ky’iv says some 18,000 foreign volunteers have arrived in Ukraine or have contacted overseas representatives. 

Reportedly, some 100 South Koreans including former ROK Navy SEAL Lieutenant, LT Ken Rhee, have left for Ukraine, risking a year in prison as Seoul has placed such travel off-limits.

From outside London’s Ukraine embassy, with a mix of experienced and inexperienced signing up, for better or worse: 

A more sober take from a British vet: 

One American combat Veteran, a former 82nd Airborne guy, has been living in Ukraine for the past year and has already signed up a month ago with the Georgian Foreign Legion, according to an interview.

Speaking of volunteers from Georgia– who have had their own run-ins with the Russians in recent years– dozens of men recently gathered outside Ukraine’s embassy in Tbilisi to sign up.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C. at least one eager volunteer was arrested by the local authorities with a gun near the Ukrainian embassy. While the Ukrainian military attaches are wanting volunteers to provide as much kit as possible, this does not extend to firearms apparently.

It seems those who have made it to Ky’iv already are able to arm up. 

Via Battles and Beers: War Stories, a blog that has been chronicling the conflict via emailed interviews with those on the ground, a warning sign that only those with lots of experience should even think about it and neophytes should not apply: 
 
*Professionals*
 
“Advice to volunteers: This isn’t a game. What we are witnessing is a scale of combat that’s unprecedented in modern times. I’m an infantry veteran of the battles of Fallujah and Ramadi and even I’m questioning my qualifications for this. If you aren’t a professional soldier, don’t get involved. 
 
Watching YouTube videos and receiving civilian level training just isn’t good enough. I’m sorry, I know you want to help, but it’s not good enough. You can help more by staying out of it. 
 
Your ignorance of conventional warfare will get yourself, or those around you killed. Light discipline. Crossing danger areas. Treating sucking chest wounds. Self-aid, buddy aid. Max effective ranges. How to dig a fighting position and not get your head shot off. I saw this in a comment on here and I’ll repeat it. I don’t walk into a bank robbery and pretend I’m a police officer. I don’t walk into a plane and pretend I’m a pilot. I don’t walk into a fire and pretend I’m a firefighter. To be a GOOD, USEFUL soldier takes at least two full years of active military training. 
 
Leave this to the professional soldiers and medics. You will seriously help MORE by staying HOME. Don’t get killed or get someone else killed because you want to brag about how you “were in the big one”. You had your chance to volunteer and receive professional training for the last 8 years. You missed it. Oh well. You wouldn’t hop in a fighter jet and try to fly it, why would you hop in a trench and try to be a soldier?”
 
– Former US Marine. Observer. Invasion of Ukraine, March 1st, 2022

Nick Gunar, Ukraine edition

The most current map, via the British MOD:

Tea leaves?

The minutes after the Russian offensive into Ukraine kicked off, RIA Novosti, which is owned and operated by the Russian federal government and is basically just a descendant of the old Sovinformburo, released a fairly wild piece by commentator Petr Akopov that, while it has been zapped from RIA’s website proper, still exists in web archives. 

So interesting, and mechanically translated, excerpts (with commentary added), basically painting the conflict as a civil war that is correcting the wrongs of 1918, when the old Russian Empire fell apart, and 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed:

A new world is being born before our eyes. Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has ushered in a new era – and in three dimensions at once. And of course, in the fourth, internal Russian.

Russia is restoring its unity – the tragedy of 1991, this terrible catastrophe in our history, its unnatural dislocation, has been overcome. Yes, at a great cost, yes, through the tragic events of a virtual civil war, because now brothers, separated by belonging to the Russian and Ukrainian armies, are still shooting at each other, but there will be no more Ukraine as anti-Russia. Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together – in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians (Ukrainians). If we had abandoned this, if we had allowed the temporary division to take hold for centuries, then we would not only betray the memory of our ancestors, but would also be cursed by our descendants for allowing the disintegration of the Russian land.

Vladimir Putin has assumed, without a drop of exaggeration, a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations.

Now this problem is gone – Ukraine has returned to Russia.

Did someone in the old European capitals, in Paris and Berlin, seriously believe that Moscow would give up Kiev?

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry has set up a Telegram channel with videos that it says show captured Russian soldiers– which the country says they have over 200– and in public statements say they were tricked or otherwise threatened to take part in the operation. These statements were replayed on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is of course paid for by the U.S. government.

These kinds of videos are extremely distasteful, no matter who puts them out, as EPOWs should never be made to release public statements while in enemy custody.

However, it does kind of point to the fact that the Russians seem to have pushed into Ukraine with their “B Team” of second-line units and recalled reservists outfitted with old equipment– the better to soak up Ukraine’s limited supply of expensive donated MANPADS and ATGMs (NLAW, Javelin, Stinger, Panzerfaust 3, etc).

Notably, when you see Russian vehicles and aircraft in videos and images from the conflict they are older models with none of the cutting edge types (e.g. Su-57 strike aircraft and T-14 Armata tanks) seen. Further, there are few divisional- or even brigade-size maneuvers, with the Russians sticking to battalion-sized elements, as well as a lack of significant night-time operations, another indicator of lower-trained, under-equipped troops. 

Now a half-week in motion, Russian troops seem to be facing growing morale and logistics issues, with videos circulating widely of tanks and AFVs parks on roadways out of fuel and with poor (no) perimeter security. As anyone who has been around tracks can vouch, armor is the Great White shark of the battlefield, always hungry, always looking to top off every day, whether on the move or not.

The Pentagon on Sunday acknowledged, “We believe that their advance was slowed both by resistance from the Ukrainians, who have been quite creative in finding ways to attack columns and, number two, by the fuel shortages and the sustainment issues that they have had.”

The British MOD had the same take on Saturday:

With the Russian lines of communications being very porous, and growing longer every day, the current Ukrainian bywords seem to be “Ласкаво просимо до пекла!,” or “Welcome to hell” with roadway signs defaced with the warning and official government ministries signing off their social media posts with the catchphrase.

Ironically, as far as I know, the most popular pop culture reference to this is in the tragically underrated popcorn action film Men of War (1994) in which Swedish strongman Dolph Lundgren, portraying former SF weaponsman Ameri-Swede Nick Gunar, uses it when taking on a group of mercs looking to carve off a random South Pacific island for its value in guano. Welding a CG-84, he also delivers a great “Spring, era jävlar” line, which is funny if you know Swedish.

The Ukrainians say the current tally (as with all “body counts” issued during war should be taken with a grain of salt) 60 hours into the war is:

Aircraft – 14 (including an Il-76 reportedly full of VDS)
Helicopters – 8
Tanks – 102
Combat armored vehicles – 536
Guns and howitzers – 15
SAM (Buk-М2) – 1

The war is also getting very asymmetric, with reported “Russian saboteur teams” engaging in wild gun battles in Kyiv and elsewhere. These units, dressed in Ukrainian police and military uniforms, and in Ukrainian-marked vehicles, are a throwback to Skorzeny’s Battle of the Bulge Operation Greif and need lots of pre-planning.

At the same time, the Western Europeans are getting more muscular with their support of Ukraine, mirroring roughly what was seen with the Finns and the Soviets in 1939.

As noted by the ISW:

The European Union announced direct military aid to Ukraine for the first time in EU history (€500 million worth) on February 27 while Germany announced a dramatic reorientation of its foreign policy to mitigate the threat that Russia poses to Germany and its allies. Germany will prioritize military spending and energy independence despite short-term economic costs.

Unexpected new allies such as Belgium, Sweden, and Germany are all sending Ukraine anti-armor weapons directly from their war stocks while France and Denmark have announced they will allow volunteers– including furloughed military personnel– to head to join a new “foreign legion” set up by Kyiv and recruited through the country’s embassies and consulates abroad. 

A number of Americans have been war tourists in Ukraine since 2014, sometimes paying for it with their lives, and I am 100 percent sure this next wave will be high and deep. I can vouch that some of my own acquaintances have messaged they will be taking an extended vacation in Eastern Europe starting as early as next week, a sticky proposition if captured, as they are on the Retired Reserve rolls.

While peace talks are reportedly on the horizon, there seems to be little hope of them yielding any results in the near future. I hate to say it is WWIII by proxy, so maybe let’s just call it the Winter War Part II. 

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.

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