Category Archives: Iraq

“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.

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:

30 Years Ago Today: Salamandre

Here we see “le Clem,” the French Navy’s Clemenceau (R98), the service’s first domestic-built fleet carrier, with her deck full of…Army trucks and helicopters as well as a handful of Bréguet 1050 Alizé ASW aircraft.

Photo: Marine Nationale

The reason? Saddam, of course.

Commissioned in 1961 as the first of a two-ship class to replace the WWII-era British Colossus-class light carrier Arromanches (R95) [ex-HMS Colossus] and the Independence-class light carriers LaFayette (R94) [ex-USS Langley] and Bois Belleau (R96) [ex-USS Belleau Wood], the Clemenceau-class ships were roughly comparable to an Essex-sized carrier with their 869-foot flight deck.

By the early 1990s, the airwing of Clemenceau and her sister ship Foch (R99) included a mix of 40 or so F-8 Crusader fighters, Super Etendard strike aircraft, Alize sub-busters, and Dauphin helicopters.

Beautiful French Navy Vought F8 Crusaders. The Aéronavale began fielding 42 modified F8s to replace downright elderly WWII-era F4U Corsairs in 1964, going on to operate them in combat off Djibouti (against Yemeni MiGs), Lebanon, Libya, Bosnia, and Kosovo. France saw their last Crusader flight in December 1999– the final country fielding them– and to their credit has over a dozen of these aircraft preserved in museums around the country. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

A Vought F-8 Crusader lines up for landing on the French aircraft carrier Foch (R99). Date and location unknown

With their 32-knot max speed, Clemenceau and Foch could also be used as a fast “commando carrier,” transporting French Army troops or Marines and an assortment of Puma, Super Frelon and Alouette helicopters to carry them ashore.

That’s what you kinda see in the top image.

As part of France’s early involvement in the First Gulf War, reacting to Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait, le Clem was ordered to land most of her traditional airwing (save for its Alize and Dauphins) and take on elements of the Force d’Action Rapide to include a reinforced company of the French Foreign Legion’s 1er Régiment, an anti-air detachment (11e RAMa), and a full Army heavy aviation regiment (5e R.H.C.) to include a dozen SA 330B Puma and 30 SA 341/342 Gazelle helicopters. Added to the mix were 80 assorted trucks and combat vehicles. In all, some 800 French troops were embarked.

With escort provided by the cruiser Colbert (C611) and support of the Durance-class replenishment ship Var (A608), the whole thing was put together in 72 hours from the green light and sailed from Toulon as Task Force 623 on 13 August– just 11 days after Saddam crossed the border.

Cruiser Colbert escorts Clemenceau, who is carrying 42 helicopters of the 5e RHC (Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat), during Opération Salamandre along with four Bréguet-Alizé ASW aircraft and two SA365 Dauphins of the Aéronavale. Note the big 11,000-ton cruiser’s double ramp ECAN Masurca surface-to-air missile launcher, comparable to the Mk26, on her stern. Photo: ECPAD

Clemenceau, Colbert, and Var during Opération Salamandre. Photo: ECPAD

The mission was dubbed Opération Salamandre.

Crossing into the Red Sea via the Suez, the force had a brief stopover in the French colony of Djibouti before making for the Strait of Hormuz, where Gazelles combat-loaded with HOT anti-tank missiles and 20mm cannon stood on alert while Marines with Mistrals kept an eye peeled.

Helicopters of 5e RHC (Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat) operate from Clemenceau during Salamandre. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

Ultimately, the helicopters and trucks were offloaded at Yanbu in Saudi Arabia and TF 623 remained in the Persian Gulf area until early October, handing over naval operations to the Opération Artimon task force of frigates, as the semi-armored Daguet Division was slowly being built ashore, preparing for action the next year when the Gulf War went from a Shield to a Storm. When Daguet went into action the next February, almost half of the Division’s aircraft had been carried to the theater by le Clem.

Ultimately, Clemenceau went on to have a more lively part in a shooting war with no less than five deployments off the former Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1996– which included having one of her Etendards take a SAM over Bosnia.

She would be decommissioned in 1997 and later partially stripped to provide spare parts for her sister, Foch, which was transferred to Brazil. Le Clem was scrapped in 2010. Salamandre mate Colbert followed in 2016 after spending almost two decades as a museum ship, while Var is still active.

A T-55 ‘Enigma’

Hanging out at the Bovington Tank Museum is a much-modded Russian (Soviet)-built T-55 tank that was used at one time by Poland during the Warsaw Pact days as it was upgraded to a T-55K command tank. Shipped to Iraq during Saddam’s-era, it has been converted with the addition of add-on armor up front and ballast blocks on the rear to balance it out.

Reportedly, it could survive Iranian TOW missiles and Milan strikes.

Apache Junction

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army SOAR Little Birds and OH-58s deploying from FFGs as well as two leased Brown & Root crane barges dubbed Mobile Sea Base Hercules and Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown 7. Set-up in the Northern Persian Gulf, the latter supported eight MkIII 65-foot patrol boats and an array of Army AH-64D Longbow Apaches, Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

An aerial view of the leased barge Hercules with three PB Mark III patrol boats and the tugboat Mister John H tied up alongside. The barge is part of Operation Prime Chance, supporting U.S. Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. 1 January 1989 Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Smith DNST8908773

Fast forward to 2020 and the concept is fully fleshed out some 30 years later with the 78,000-ton purposely-built expeditionary mobile base vessels of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) class.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. ESB 3 is able to carry at least four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Puller has a dozen weapon stations (think M2 .50 cals) to protect against small boats, and the ability to support at least four CH-53-sized helicopters and 300 mission crew.

Recently, Puller showcased Task Force Saber, an Army AH-64 unit, which caused a lot of interest from Iranian Revolutionary Guard guys last week.

Official caption: Soldiers of Task Force Saber conduct rotary-wing deck landing operations with the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller in the Persian Gulf April 15-16, 2020. Task Force Saber utilized the USS Puller as a maritime base to practice launching rotary-wing assets. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Trevor Cullen):

Devils and Devils rushed to the Sandbox

In response to unrest at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on 27 December following a series of CENTCOM strikes on Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) bases, a group of 100 Marines from 2/7 attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (catchily abbreviated to just “SPMAFTF-CR-CC”) 19.2, rushed from Kuwait to beef up the MSG and State Department DS contingents on New Year’s Eve. They arrived via MV-22 Osprey, as shown in the below USMC videos by Sgt. Robert Gavaldon & Sgt. David Bickel.

Of interest, 2/7 recently filmed this short where they talk about training to do more expeditionary stuff of a ship-to-shore nature.

They were quickly backfilled in the region by a reinforced battalion of the 82nd Airborne (All Americans), which were airmailed over the New Year’s holiday from Fort Bragg to Kuwait. The unit on IRF rotation was the famed 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR. The 504th since 1944 has carried the nickname “The Devils in Baggy Pants,” taken from a comment by a Wehrmacht officer at Anzio.

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, deploy from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, Jan. 1, 2020. Elements of the Immediate Response Force mobilized for deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities. The IRF and the All American Division remain postured and ready to deploy in support of the National Command Authority. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Robyn J. Haake)

In a statement from SECDEF Dr. Mark T. Esper

At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq.

Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days.

This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today. The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.

Meanwhile, the “haze gray stabilizers” of Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG-8), built around USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), are now reporting to the 5th Fleet. 

Further, the U.S. upped the ante on Friday by dusting Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who had almost cult hero status within IRGC and Quds Force Shia militias in the region, with many referring to him as the real man behind the curtain. The pressure for Tehran to retaliate will be immense.

From DOD this morning:

General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.

This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.

Prowlin’ no more

Before they merged with Northrop in 1994, the old-school Grumman Corporation fielded some of the most iconic military– and specifically carrier– aircraft ever made in the 20th Century.

We are talking the F4F Wildcat (which the Brits used as the Martlet, their most common naval fighter of WWII), the Zero-busting F6F Hellcat, the briefly-loved F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat (which the French continued to fly in Indochina and Algeria well into the jet age), the F9F Panther, F11 Tiger, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat– last of the “cats.”

They just didn’t make fighters. They also produced the Cold War ASW king S-2 Tracker and the Yankee Station bomb truck that was the A-6 Intruder.

Sadly, all of the above have long since faded from the fleet. Other than a few ragtag IRIAF F-14s and some Taiwanese and Latin American S-2s, they aren’t even in the service of Third World countries.

And last week, the last armed Grumman combat aircraft used by the U.S. was put to bed.

First flown in 1968, the EA-6 Prowler was an A-6 that had been converted to be an “Electric Intruder” developed for the Marine Corps to replace its 1950s-era EF-10B Skyknights in electronic warfare missions. By 1971, they were flying over Vietnam with VAQ-129 flying from USS America (CV-66). Over the next 48 years, the plane matured and no carrier air boss would leave home without it. Not just an EW jam spreader, it could also target enemy radar sites and surface-to-air missile launchers in SEAD missions with high-speed anti-radiation missiles– more than 200 AGM-78 Standard ARM/AGM-88 HARMs were fired by Prowlers in combat over the years, with the first “Magnum” HARM warshot being against a Libyan SA-5 battery in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.

Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they even jammed the cell phone and garage door signals used to trigger IEDs.

No Prowler was ever lost in combat, although they have been in the thick of it over Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan, Grenada and other points of conflict for a five-decade run.

In all, more than 20 Navy and Marine VAQ squadrons took to the sky in the flying jambox although just 170 of the aircraft were produced.

Now, replaced by the EA-18G Growler, the last Prowlers of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been put to pasture.

U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, fly off the coast of North Carolina, Feb 28, 2019. VMAQ-2 is conducting its last flights prior to their deactivation on March 8, 2019. VMAQ-2 is a subordinate unit to Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

But Grummans are not totally out of the fleet. The E-2C Hawkeye lingers on.

Further, EA-6B BuNo. 162230/CY-02, part of the Sundown Flight, will be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

1 million ACOGs now in circulation

In 1986, Glyn Bindon, a Ford aeronautical engineer who had previously worked on the F-8U Crusader project, started fooling around with a half pair of binoculars in his Detroit home and soon had the theory down for a project that would produce the Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG)– a minimalist battery-free optic that used tritium to provide a red reticle inside a sealed aluminum tube that could be used for rapid shooting in both day and night conditions.

The first 4×32 TA01 hit the market in 1987 and two years later a few were used by the military in the Panama invasion. Then, the SEALs started fielding them in Desert Storm.

Slowly, ACOGs grew more popular around the world with special operations units until 2005, when the Marines ordered 104,000 4×32 TA31’s to equip the rank and file riflemen.

“The ACOG mounted on the M16 service rifle has proven to be the biggest improvement in lethality for the Marine infantryman since the introduction of the M1 Garand in World War II,” later said Maj. Gen, J.N.Mattis, 1st MARDIV, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In 2005, the Army chose the ACOG 4×32 RCO as their field carry optic and the rest is history– with the 1-millionth ACOG produced by the Trijicon last month.

Congrats.

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