Category Archives: modern military conflict

The Mighty D hangs up her guns

The sun is getting low on the half-century-old Reliance class cutters, and one of my favorite ones just finished up her last official tasking.

Via Coast Guard LANT

USCGC Decisive returns home from Eastern Pacific Ocean deployment, completing final patrol

PENSACOLA, Fla. — The crew of the USCGC Decisive (WMEC 629) returned to their homeport in Pensacola, Friday, following a 33-day patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, concluding 55 years of service to the Nation.

Decisive patrolled the Eastern Pacific Ocean in the Coast Guard Eleventh District’s area of operations. While underway, the Decisive’s crew supported the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction and search and rescue missions to promote safety of life at sea and deter the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States.

While deployed, Decisive’s crew collaborated with Coast Guard assets and foreign military aircraft to detect, deter, and interdict illegal narcotics voyages. At one point, Decisive disrupted two vessels suspected of drug trafficking in the same night. Decisive also collaborated with the USCGC Alert (WMEC 630) to safely transfer three suspected smugglers. While aboard Decisive, the detainees received food, water, shelter and medical attention.

“The crew’s remarkable professionalism, competence and determination were on full display as we met the diverse challenges of operations at sea,” said Cmdr. Aaron Delano-Johnson, commanding officer of Decisive. “Whether it was conducting simultaneous boardings or our skilled engineers conducting voyage repairs in Panama, the crew exceeded expectations at every turn. After a successful, final patrol for Decisive, we are looking forward to returning home to our family and friends on shore.”

During the patrol, Decisive traveled more than 6,000 miles and traversed through the Panama Canal. By transiting the historic waterway, Decisive’s crew earned their Order of the Ditch certificates, a time-honored nautical tradition recognizing mariners who have crossed the Panama Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Decisive is a 210-foot, Reliance-class medium endurance cutter with a crew of 72. The cutter’s primary missions are counter-drug operations, migrant interdiction, and search and rescue in support of U.S. Coast Guard operations throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Back in 2011, while working on an article about the old girl for Sea Classics, I spent a day hanging out with the Swamp Rats of Decisive while she was based at CGS Pascagoula, formerly NAVSTA Pascagoula, directly across from Ingalls on Singing River Island. Since Decisive moved to Pensacola in 2017, the sprawling base, which had been originally intended for a battleship surface action group in the 1980s, has largely just hosted a Sentinel-class (154-foot) fast response cutter and the occasional passing NOAA survey ship in addition to overflow from Ingalls.

Anyway, enjoy! These were cleared by 8th District over a decade ago, but never published. 

One door closes, another opens

U.S. Marines participate in the deactivation ceremony for 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Jan. 13, 2023. The battalion is deactivating in accordance with Force Design 2030 as the Marine Corps modernizes to remain the premier crisis response force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Israel Chincio)

In Marine Corps news this month, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines cased its colors during the unit’s deactivation ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, on 13 January 2023.

Surely it is a bad sign when a famed unit– one that formerly counted Commandant Krulak, John Ripley of Dong Ha bridge fame, Ollie North, Dakota Meyer, and “Terminal Lance” Maximilian Uriarte– cases its colors on Friday the 13th.

The move will allow for the transformation of 3d Marines to the 3d Marine Littoral Regiment.

Of note, first stood up on 1 June 1942, 3/3 Marines were bled white in the liberation of Guam in July 1944, suffering over 400 casualties, half its strength.

Speaking of which, the Corps is marking the naming and reactivation of Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, on Jan. 26, 2023, on Guam. MCBCB is named in honor of the late Brig. Gen. Vicente ‘Ben’ Thomas Garrido Blaz, the first Chamorro Marine to attain the rank of general officer.

Thirteen years old when the Japanese invaded Guam during World War II, Blaz worked in labor camps, building aviation fields, planting rice, and digging trenches until American forces retook the island in 1944. Post-war, following a BS from Notre Dame, he would serve in the Marines in both Korea and Vietnam.

The base will be the first Marine installation after Marine Barracks Guam was deactivated on Nov. 10, 1992. Ultimately 5,000 Marines will be stationed there, ironically “partially funded by a large monetary contribution from the Government of Japan,” as part of a pivot of Marines from Okinawa.

“MCBCB will play an essential role in strengthening the Marine Corps’ geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable posture in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Ukraine’s Rusty Iron Fist

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

So, the Western allies are ramping up planned tank main battle tank deliveries to Ukraine. The sums are pretty paltry and diverse to an almost Kafkaesque extreme.

From the U.S. will come 31 M1 Abrams supported by eight M88 recovery vehicles (but no additional HET transporters, essential to move both to the front.) These will join a planned 109 M1 Bradley IFVs, 90 Stryker 8x8s (which may include some gun systems), 300 Vietnam-era M113 APCs, 250 M1117 4×4 armored cars, and 580 largely new MRAPs that never made it to Iraq.

From Germany will come 14 Leopard 2s (with as many as 100 additional third and fourth-hand Leos on the menu from places like Poland and Finland).

From the UK will come 14 exceedingly rare (and exceedingly cranky) Challenger 2 tanks.

The figures are arbitrary, based on the size of a Ukrainian tank company (14 tracks) and battalion (31 tracks). In the end, the Ukrainians want 250 to 300 Western tanks over and above the surplus T-62s and T-72s that have already been transferred. 

While some commo gear between the three incoming tank platforms is compatible, be sure that the tanks themselves are bewilderingly complicated with dozens of subcomponent systems, unique drivetrains, and main gun systems. For instance, Challenger uses a special two-piece shell (known to cause death in its crews if handled without respect) for its Royal Ordnance L30 120mm rifled gun that no one else in the world uses, the Leopard series runs several different models of the Rheinmetall Rh-120 120mm smoothbore that are fairly omnivorous in that caliber, while the Abrams, at least in A1 and A2 models, run a Watervliet-made variant of the German gun with some tweaks to barrel thickness and chamber pressure that is modeled specifically to mate with the M829 family of sabot rounds that have proven deadly effective against T-72s going back to 1991. Are M829s themselves going to be risked in a theatre where tech transfer can occur easily and often?

The logistics (not to mention training) nightmares to support these tanks– which surely (especially in the case of the thrifty Germans) will be older models that have long been in arsenal storage– will be daunting. Like tossing the proverbial keys to a well-used and abused F1 car to a guy that has only ever driven a Lada and expecting him to get in the ongoing race and finish with a win. Meanwhile, the pit crew is still watching PowerPoint slides written in another language on how to keep it running, and, while they have a pallet of spare parts, they go to a different car.

The Leopard 2A7 tank gunner’s position. Not something you could figure out on the fly…

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, in yesterday’s White House press briefing, confirmed the Abrams at least will be coming from storage rather than current unit stocks, which means months longer to get them to Europe and ready to hand over to crews that will, likewise, need lots of time to spin up. 
There’s — there’s training that’s needed. There’s sophisticated maintenance requirements. There’s a supply chain. I mean, it uses a gas turbine engine to — basically, a jet engine — 1,500 horsepower. So, there’s a lot that goes into operating these tanks on the field.

This is fine, because apparently the Abrams transferred would have to be built as export models such as those operated by Egypt and the Saudis without any of the current armor that the Army has used for the past couple of decades, which is restricted to U.S. military use only. 

But Ukraine seems to think this cobbled-together force of 3-4 battalions of NATO-supplied MBTs will become a hard armored fist for future planned offensive operations. The tip of the spear in piercing the Russian occupiers’ lines this upcoming Summer. A Cinderella story akin to the Lake Placid Miracle on Ice with armor taking the place of hockey skates.

I’m just not sure trying to beat the Russians at tank-v-tank offensive warfare with the Russians shortening their supply lines while Ky’iv’s stretches back to the Sierra Army Depot outside of Reno is the best play here. Especially when you look at the past Russian relish for the immovable die-in-place scenario (see Port Arthur 1904, Petropavlovsk/Sevastopol 1855, Osowiec 1915, Leningrad 1941-44, Brest Fortress 1941, Smolensk 1502/1514/1609-11/1613-17/1654, et. al.) that has so often popped up in that country’s military history.

To me, it would probably have been a better idea to keep up the artillery game, which can be easily trained at the crew level, while keeping the little groups of anti-tank killer teams in heavy operations and hundreds of cheap Turkish drones and purpose-built American loitering munitions overhead supported by realtime NATO targeting data (which, let’s face it, makes the war a legit NATO conflict). After all, it has worked thus far.

Anyway, the updated U.S. military aid to Ukraine list, just in case you haven’t seen it in recent weeks.

The ‘Gendarme of Africa’ Increasingly shunned

French 120mm RTF1 Brandt mortar in action in Mali 2019, as part of Operation Berkhane

While France was a big player in East vs West counter-insurgency wars in Africa throughout the Cold War including the twin disasters of the Algerian Wars and the Suez intervention, the Toyota Wars in Chad against Libya, Ethiopia/Somalia, and the Horn of Africa (remember, Djibouti was the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas until 1978 and the country still has 2,000 troops there) the nightmare that was the Congo and Biafra, Kolwezi in 1978, the Gambian coup response in 1981, et. al. They were also on the periphery of the South African/Rhodesian efforts in the 1970s-80s as well, being one of the few countries to ignore the general weapon embargoes on those apartheid states. 

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, France kept up its self-imposed Gendarme d’Afrique role, enforcing the way things should be as seen by Paris, overturning the repeated mercenary coups by Bob Denard, still mixing it up in Libya, sending troops to the Central African Republic (which saw no less than eight French interventions since 1960), being involved in a simmering 20-year conflict in the Ivory Coast, the forever war of the continued Operation Barkhane saga in Mali, and in Burkina Faso. 

Regarding the latter two, Russia seems to be increasingly pushing the French out for assorted reasons. The below from AJ: 

Barrett Firearms… is now Australian

Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms, an icon among American rifle makers since 1982, has been 100 percent acquired by an Australian company. 

The Brisbane-based NIOA Group, a family-owned Australian defense contractor whose name is derived from founder Robert Nioa, jointly announced the acquisition alongside Barrett on Jan. 16. 

Ronnie Barrett and Chris Barrett will “provide ongoing support as executive advisers” to Barrett and the NIOA Group while current Barrett President Sam Shallenberger will take over as Chief Executive Officer and long-serving Barrett Chief Operating Officer Bryan James becomes President. Otherwise, “All management and staff at the Murfreesboro manufacturing facility in Tennessee have been retained and production will continue as normal,” says the companies. “Over time it is expected that manufacturing activities in Murfreesboro will be further expanded.”

The two companies have been working together for years. 

“NIOA’s association with Barrett dates back to 2008,” said Robert Nioa. “We have been inspired by the story of Barrett and admire what Ronnie, Chris, and the family have built over more than four decades.”

Barrett Firearms was founded by Ronnie Barrett in 1982 and moved into the category of legend with its “Light Fifty” system which spawned a series of follow-on big-bore rifles.

The company recently moved into AR10 production as well and is the current sole contractor for the Army’s new MK22 Advanced Sniper Rifles, based on Barrett’s popular MRAD platform. According to the latest available statistics from federal regulators, Barrett manufactured 6,815 rifles in 2020. 

Mighty Luxembourg

The smallest military force in NATO with the possible exception of the Icelandic Coast Guard, Luxembourg actually has a rich military tradition going back to 963. An unwilling participant in both World Wars– the country was the first one that the Kaiser’s troops passed through on the way to Belgium and France– it was one of the original 12 states that created NATO in 1949. After all, “Free Luxembourg” troops (whose rank and file included members of the Duchal family) organized in England in WWII had helped liberate the country while others fought as insurgents in the countryside. They were even given their own slice of Germany to occupy post-war as recognition of this.

By 1954, the country of just 300,000 had expanded its military to a full brigade battle group of some 5,200 men and had sent a combat contingent to fight in Korea as part of a Belgo-Luxemburgish battalion.

The below images of the brigade at its peak in the 1970s and 80s– when it was an all-volunteer, professional standing army– show an interesting mix of U.S. M1 helmets and M151 “Mutt” jeeps (with TOW anti-tank launchers) along with Belgian FN FALs and FN MAGs, in largely Dutch/American-pattern uniforms. Similarly, the Dutch, who were fans of the UZI, seem to have passed on their love of the Israeli SMG for support troops.

Further, the duchy became a staging area for the Western Alliance and in 1967 the joint NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) was established in Capellen.

As noted by NATO:

In the late 1970s, for example, the Luxembourg government decided to build two gigantic military storage depots, holding 63,000 tons of combat vehicles, machine parts, food, clothing, fuel, and other equipment that the Allies would need in the event of a war. At a public consultation with the local population before construction began, one man wanted to know whether the tanks would make noise at night. He was interrupted by somebody who shouted: ‘”You found the noise of American tanks sweet enough in 1944”.

Today, while the Lëtzebuerger Arméi has dwindled to just 900 or so full-time troops, they are still professional and have gained much international experience in the past 30 years, sending contingents on worldwide deployments. Donating lots of kit to Ukraine since the Russian invasion last year, the Armei has also committed to training Ukrainian troops in Europe.

In further news from the Duchy, the decoration for completing the longstanding Marche Internationale de Diekirch road march, a permanent and wearable foreign award from the Armed Forces of Luxembourg, has been reauthorized by the U.S. Army for American Solders to accept and wear on their dress uniforms, after some controversy.

Currently, Luxembourg is contributing to the NATO multinational battlegroup in Lithuania with a transport and logistics unit, moving supplies and equipment across the country in support of the battlegroup’s mission. The Luxembourgers work alongside troops from Belgium, Czechia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, which are currently part of the battlegroup.

Ukraine gets Western Armor (in six months)(maybe)

With the muddy season in Ukraine morphing into the frozen season with the arrival of General Winter on the front, Western military allies in the proxy international war with Russia have decided to up the ante from just supplying small arms, air defense systems, artillery of all sorts and anti-tank weapons, to delivering some significant medium armor to Kyiv.

Germany is sending hulking 40-ton Marders, armed with a 20mm cannon. France is sending AMX-10 RCR– neat little 16-ton 6×6 wheeled tank destroyers with a 105mm gun that we have covered several times before. The U.S. is sending 50 Bradley CFV/IFVs, which typically mount a 25mm chain gun and a dual TOW launcher and has infamously ballooned to 30 tons over the years.

AMX-10 RCR (RCR stands for Roues-Canon, or wheeled gun, Revalorisé, upgraded)

Why the light armor rather than Leopards, Leclerc’s, and Abrams? Well, several reasons. One, there are few roads and bridges anywhere in the world that support such heavy tracks. Two, the tracks themselves are much more fragile than you would think, and require massive tractor-trailers such as the Oshkosh M1070A0 Heavy Equipment Transporter and its 5-axle trailer, just to be able to move around the countryside to the battlefield. Third, a tank isn’t just a vehicle but a collection of advanced mechanical, mobile artillery, and electronic systems that all need their own dedicated training and support pipeline.

And it is the latter that is the biggest deal, by far.

It takes months for the U.S. Army to mint new armor MOS Soldiers and they still require extensive training once they reach their units to be able to operate their tracks at a platoon, company, and battalion level. Just training in basic vehicle operation takes a long time, and that isn’t even getting into gunnery or maneuvering.

You don’t just whistle up an armored brigade from nothing.

See, Desert Sheild Round Out Woes

For reference, in Desert Sheild, the Army called up three National Guard “Roundout brigades” (48th, 155th, and 256th Brigades from Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, respectively) just in case they were needed to fight a North Africa 1941-style armored campaign against Saddam’s armored legions. The Roundout process was a holdover from the old REFORGER days when it was expected to rapidly activate units that were in supposed “enhanced readiness” and bolt them on to understrength active duty divisions to make them combat-ready should the Russkis cross the Fulda Gap. This saw National Guard units in the 1980s and 90s take possession of M1 Abrams, M1 Bradleys, and AH-64 Apaches at a time when a lot of active duty units still had M60s, M113s, and AH-1s.

Prior to Desert Sheild, the three Guard brigades were reporting C-2/C-3 readiness ratings meaning that they could go to war anywhere from 15 to 42 days after the “balloon went up.” However, this soon changed to 120 days minimum to get to a basic acceptable standard once they were actually called up, not including the 15 day alert warning they got before mobilization.

Besides the dental and health issues of the reservists that would sideline as many as 2,400 troops in one brigade alone, almost a quarter of those called up hadn’t met basic training goals with more than 600 Soldiers still needing to go to A-school across 42 specialties, even though all units were required as part of their Round Out status to qualify 100 percent of its crews on their Abrams or Bradley during a gunnery cycle.

Check out this breakdown of the 12 mandatory events for minimum deployability requirements, just based upon the more realistic 86-day Desert Sheild post-mobilization training plan and how long it actually took the 155th to get validated (131 days). The 48th managed to pull this off in a more compressed 115 days (30 November 1990 to 28 February 1991, ironically the day the ground war ended in the Gulf War) while the 256th wasn’t ready until M+160. And remember, this was for National Guard brigades– which included a large percentage of prior active service personnel– that had been regularly training for this in monthly drills and yearly summer camps in peacetime long before they were called to pack their duffles for real.

So how long to get the Ukrainian tracks running?

The plan, at least for now, is to allocate the equipment at some future date, which is likely to be stripped from active duty units, and perform crew training somewhere in the safety of the West. I’d bet in a maneuver area in Poland’s Silesia region that has recently been expanding.

Then, picked Ukrainian crews would have to be taken from the lines or depots and sent West to undergo 4-5 months’ worth of training before they could be minimally capable of fighting their mixed bag of Bradleys, Marders, and AMX-10s. Even if they had been schooled on T-64s and BTRs/BMDs, those are nothing like the vehicles they are getting, so it would actually be better to train guys from scratch so they don’t have to “unlearn” things from their Warsaw Pact equipment.

The crews would probably not be trained on the actual vehicles they would use, which in the end would have to be shipped over the border by train under threat of Russian attack. Once the crews would be married up with their (surplus) tracks in a staging area in Ukraine, they would require additional weeks to make ready. 

So even with today’s good news, it will probably be sometime in the summer before this second-hand ex-NATO armor arrives on the frontlines in Ukraine, if at all. At that point, it may very well be a moot point.

Blue water sailor…

“If you’re not shippin’ green you don’t deserve sea pay…”

This was recently posted on the social media page maintained by the frigate-sized Legend-class National Security Cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752). Stationed at Alameda, California, and assigned to the Coast Guard Pacific Area, she is currently on a Bering Sea patrol.

On the way to the Arctic, CGC Stratton transited north through some heavy seas off the Pacific Northwest. At times, the sea spray reached as high as CGC Stratton’s mast, which is nearly 150 feet tall.

Built at Pascagoula alongside Burke-class DDGs like all her sisters, Stratton joined the fleet in 2012.

Importantly, Ingalls is getting close to the end of the road with the class, as the future USCGC Calhoun (WMSL-759), NSC 10, just recently christened and is expected to commission later this year.

The final ship, USCGC Friedman (WMSL-760) would end the nominal 11 ship class although some Long Lead Time Materials funds for a 12th hull have been allocated. As the class was ordered to replace the 12-vessel Hamilton-class cutters built in the 1960s, it would only seem correct to run the full dozen. 

Pacific Outpost Citadels: Full Speed Ahead in 2023

Interesting year-end contract announcements from DOD, emphasis mine:

Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, Moorestown, New Jersey, is being awarded an undefinitized contract action (UCA), with a not-to-exceed value of $527,740,864, inclusive of all options. This UCA will be awarded for a sole-source, hybrid (cost-plus-incentive-fee and cost-plus-fixed-fee) modification (P00054) under contract HQ085121C0002. This UCA expands performance of the Aegis Weapon System to implement Integrated Air and Missile Defense capabilities into an Aegis Guam System. An initial obligation of $11,394,512 using fiscal 2023 research, development, test and evaluation funds will occur at the time of award. The work will be performed in Moorestown, New Jersey, with period of performance from time of award through Dec. 31, 2027. The value of the contract increases from $811,633,012 by $425,365,356 to $1,236,998,368. The Missile Defense Agency, Dahlgren, Virginia, is the contracting activity.

Gilbane Federal, Concord, California, is awarded an $118,368,220 firm-fixed-price contract for the construction of reinforced concrete pads and foundations in support of the installation of the Tactical Mobile Over-the-Horizon Radar equipment in the Republic of Palau. Work will be performed in the Republic of Palau, and is expected to be completed by June 2026. Fiscal 2019 military construction (Air Force) funds in the amount of $20,043,496 will be obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Fiscal 2020 military construction (Air Force) funds in the amount of $98,324,724 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the System for Award Management website, with three proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, is the contracting activity (N62742-23-C-1311).

Atlantic Diving Supply Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been awarded a $150,000,000 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for airfield damage repair equipment. This contract provides updated capabilities to rapidly recover damaged airfield pavements. Work will be performed in Virginia Beach and is expected to be completed Dec. 28, 2027. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and five offers were received. No funding is being obligated at the time of award. The 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity (FA8051-23-D-0001).

Battle for Angaur Island, Palau Islands, September 17-October 22, 1944. Amphtracs Smash Against the Beach of Angaur. Guns ready, grim-faced Army-Infantrymen sweep toward the beach of Angaur island in the Palaus. This sharp photo of amphibious invasion was made by a Coast Guard Combat Photographer heading toward the beachhead in the first waves. It shows at close range an LVT(A) churning through the surf. Its caterpillar treads enable the landing vehicle tanks armored to creep over the hidden reefs that sometimes block the LCVPs (LOC LC-USZ62-99393)

Now THAT is how you do a Recognition Test

I just love ship, aircraft, and vehicle recognition tests and flashcards, something I dug ever since I was a kid and saw the posters on the walls of Cary Grant’s cabin in the WWII Coastwatcher comedy Father Goose.

I can’t tell you how many different decks of these I have on the shelf! And don’t even get me started on how many dusty old volumes of Jane’s Fighting Ships I have.

However, as anyone can tell you from actual spotting work, those flat diagrams and silhouettes leave much to be desired when it comes to actually being able to tell things apart in real life.

Enter a recent NATO exercise in the Baltics as part of the Iron Spear armored gunnery competition saw 34 teams from 13 NATO countries deploy to Latvia to strut their stuff. With so much dissimilar equipment on hand, it seemed the perfect time to do some real-world up close and personal recognition training.  

How many can you identify?

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