Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unholy Trinity

Watching ISIS irregular forces effortlessly roll up 30,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria in a matter of weeks has seemed shocking.  How does what is essentially a guerilla militia force take on not one but two well-equipped professional armies along with an unknown number of opposition militias and win victory after victory?

The main thing to know is that these are not the kinds of battles we're used to seeing from here in the US. There is no technology, very little in the way of decisive air power, and an extremely small number of heavy weapons.  These are the ultimate in small-unit infantry battles, all about using maneuver to locate a weak point and bring massed fires to bear on that point.  It's about avoiding head on fights unless you have overwhelming numerical and firepower advantages, and rather working flanks, enveloping and bypassing positions of strength and cutting them off from resupply.

A successful guerilla or insurgent army needs very little in the way of equipment. It fights and moves on funding and ideology, demanding incredible service and sacrifice from its members. In the end this is a throwback to the combat of a century ago, before armor and air power and massed artillery changed the nature of warfare. This is people with guns and courage fighting it out at short range in desperate firefights and long sieges.

And over the years, third-world insurgencies and militias have perfected the mix of weapons they issue their infantry troops. You might think these fighters are under-equipped, but these are the weapons that are re-drawing the map on two continents. I often think of them as the unholy trinity.


Too bad they didn't make more of these
This is the ultimate peasant infantry rifle. Simple, reliable and effective, it is said that an experienced Sergeant can make an illiterate farmer proficient with the AK in one day of training. The AK-47 was the original mass-production assault rifle, modeled on the German StG-44. (As a reminder, an assault rifle is any automatic rifle with a detachable magazine chambered in an intermediate cartridge. It is the cartridge that makes it an assault rifle, not any specific characteristic of the rifle itself.) The original AK-47 was chambered in the Soviet 7.65x39 .30 caliber cartridge. The updated version, the AK-74 followed the rest of the world in chambering for a .22 caliber cartridge, in this case the Russian 5.45x39.

With this lighter round, 30 round magazines and the capability of full automatic fire, a squad of infantry equipped with AKs can bring a truly awesome level of firepower to bear at short ranges. This storm of lead from a dozen or more AKs is nearly impossible to stand against, and often results in an advance by the attackers. These rifles are very forgiving in damp or dusty environments, can go thousands of rounds without cleaning, and are therefore ideal for local irregular forces with minimal training. The AK makes up in reliable firepower what it lacks in accuracy, range and knockdown power. But as we are about to see, it is only one of the weapons that make these forces so effective in this kind of fighting.

PKM Machine Gun

Allah's gonna have a whole lot of sorting 'em out to do

Essentially, the squad level infantry machine gun was perfected in 1942 by the Germans with the MG-42. Powerful, belt fed, high rate of fire, easy maintenance, fast barrel changes, light and portable, the MG-42 basically checked every box. So when former tank Sergeant and brilliant weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov set out to build a full-power machine gun based on his AK's action, he knew where to start. He chambered it in the powerful Mosin-Nagant 7.65x54R rifle cartridge, and built it to have a rate of fire of about 800 rounds per minute. The gun and integral bipod weighed less than 20 pounds and additional barrels and ammunition could be distributed among members of the squad.

The PKM gives a small unit the ability to lay down a base of fire out to 1500 meters without waiting for heavy crew-served weapons to be brought to the front. Pushing this kind of firepower down to the squad level was innovative in WWII - the Germans were big believers in this doctrine, but even the US with the BAR and the UK with the Bren began to adopt it - but it is now SOP among armies all over the world. But it's even more critical for these third-world militias and irregular fighters. They aren't going to get much in the way of heavy weapons or indirect fire support, so they'll need the ability to put heavy fire on specific targets while the other units maneuver to close or to break contact.

That's two thirds of the unholy trinity. Equip your guerilla forces with one rifle, one machine gun, and just a couple different standardized ammunition types. Logistics and training are simplified, and in any relatively numerically even battle the insurgents should have a quantitative edge in downrange firepower.

Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher (RPG)

You want me to do WHAT?
Getting lots of lead downrange is important, but what about when these irregular forces need to defeat a vehicle or a bunker, or breach a building or a wall?  These forces don't have heavy weapons or for that matter a good way to transport gear beyond carrying it. This is truly the 'grunt infantry', where each fighter must carry their own clothing, food, water, first aid kit, weapons and ammunition plus equipment and ammunition for the Company is distributed among the individual fighters. So if you want to have the equivalent of a tank or an artillery piece, you need it in some kind of man-portable  form factor. Enter those innovative Soviets, and the RPG-7.

In essence, the RPG is a hollow tube with a trigger unit and a sighting device. The business end is a 4 kilogram grenade-on-a-stick. When fired, a small gunpowder charge pushes the grenade out of the tube whereupon the rocket motor fires for about 10 seconds, boosting the grenade to a velocity of about 375 feet per second. It can be fired accurately at ranges inside 200 meters and is effective out past 500 meters. There is virtually no felt recoil.

This is another classically Soviet cheap, simple, reliable, portable and powerful weapon. Added to the AKs and the PKMs, the RPG gives that same squad of insurgents the ability to knock out vehicles, to eliminated bunkers and strongpoints and to breach walls and doors. In addition to their own gear, the other members of the squad carry a couple belts for the PKM or a couple rounds for the RPG.

And that's the Unholy Trinity. In a combat environment without the luxuries of a modern 21st century military - particularly air and armor - this is the weapons loadout your well equipped Jihadi army carries into battle. And with the right tactics, under the right conditions, it is all they need to win.

Bonus Jihadi Weapon System - The Technical

Looks like we got us a convoy
But often these insurgent and guerrilla groups do have access to vehicles and heavier weapons. In 1991 in Somalia NGOs were legally prevented from bringing in private security contractors, they instead hired local bodyguards under what were euphemistically termed "Technical Assistance Grants". These tended to be militias, who used the wealth to acquire pickup trucks ( the Toyota Hilux was by far the most popular) and mount a machine gun in the back. Soon these improvised fighting vehicles came to be known as Technicals.

Today the Technical has evolved to fill many niches. They carry troops and supplies, they protect the leaders and warlords of the movement or militia, and they carry the wounded to aid stations. But most of all they are fighting vehicles, serving in the role that would have been filled by cavalry a hundred years ago.  They can move quickly off-road, getting behind enemy positions and blasting them with massive firepower. Lacking armor, they are vulnerable to any opposing heavy weapons, but the advantage they provide in highly mobile firepower is unmatched.

An entry-level Technical might mount a PKM, but they more commonly carry much heavier guns.  The 12.7mm Russian DShK, an equivalent to the US .50 caliber M-2 is most common, but you will also see KPM 14.5mm and even 2A14 23mm anti-aircraft guns.

If you think about a Company sized attack by militias armed like this and supported by three or four Technicals, you get a sense of the speed and violence an attack like these can deliver, and you can begin to understand why ISIS has been so successful.  The training, courage, will and leadership it takes to get a unit to hold the line against that kind of assault at close range is rare in that part of the world, and until you find enough troops with the commitment to stand fast, ISIS holds a substantial tactical advantage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Field Guide to Defending the Indefensible

Israel kills a few more of those pesky
human shields. That'll teach 'em
One of the most fascinating lesson of the latest Gaza bloodletting is the convolutions defenders of the Netanyahu policies must go through in order to attempt to justify what clearly amounts to industrial scale murder for domestic political purposes. Nobody wants to sound like a monster, and to make matters more complex, many American Jews are politically liberal. Now, while many of them are once again appalled and heartbroken by the actions of the Israeli government, there is a fair constituency who are willing to attempt to justify the slaughter. As a result, a few talking points, a set of standardized tropes if you will, has emerged. They are largely based on half truths or incomplete analysis, and the hope is that you won't notice the parts left out. Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Israel has a right to self-defense.

Here we have one of the classic canards of the half-truth variety. Yes, Israel, like ALL nations, has a right to self defense. In no way can that somehow be construed to mean that internationally accepted laws of warfare do not apply. If, in the course of acting in self defense, a nation commits war crimes or crimes against humanity, they are still war crimes and crimes against humanity. Civilized nations are expected to conduct military operations that are proportional and that do not rise to the level of murder.

In the case of Gaza, it's even more egregious, because the attacks from Gaza do not represent a significant threat to Israel, so patiently and carefully determining when, how and to what extent to respond is well withing Israel's purview.  There is no real urgency, no need to unleash massive destruction to prevent some kind of impending invasion or apocalypse, so the fact that Israel is choosing to kill and maim all these innocent civilians is prima facie evidence that this is nothing but collective punishment.

It's also instructive to remember the world's reaction to the French resistance after the fall of France in 1940. They were terrorists under any modern definition - bombing, ambushing, assassinating both occupation forces and suspected collaborators. But there was an understanding in the past that if you were going to invade and occupy a nation by force, the people of that nation had every right to resist that occupation. People have aspirations to live their lives in the way they choose under their national leadership, and if you take that away from them by force, it doesn't really matter who the 'good guys' are, they have every right to fight the occupying army, and that army is ultimately responsible for that fighting because they have chosen to be the occupiers. 

Hamas has committed to the destruction of Israel - It's in their charter.

This is, of course, absolutely true. The document was written in 1988 when Hamas considered itself the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. And while there are questions about how accurately this position reflects that of the more modern, political Hamas organization (In 2010 Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stated that the Charter is "a piece of history and no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons"), defenders of Israel's actions are absolutely correct in pointing out that this is still the basis for Hamas' founding document.

But the next question one must ask is "so what". If a group of people get together and write a manifesto that includes huge, impossible aspirational goals, how seriously should those goals be taken? Hamas as an organization has sworn to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic Palestine, but since they obviously are utterly incapable of accomplishing this goal why does it matter?  It's words on a piece of paper, backed up by pathetic home-made 122mm rockets without guidance systems. It's a tantrum and a reaction to their own generations of oppression and mistreatment. It is, frankly, prima facie meaningless. It comes up only to serve as a justification for the excessive, brutal massacres of Palestinian citizens - you often hear Netanyahu apologists state outright that "they voted for Hamas, so they are combatants". I'll let you make your own judgement on the human and democratic values reflected by that statement.

The Palestinians in Gaza are using human shields.

The long version of the response to this justification is here.

But the short version is that my use of human shields does not compel you to open fire. Especially when you claim that my plan is to get you to fire on civilians, why would you then do what you claim is exactly what I want you to do? Remember, human shields are not hostages. Nothing is at stake in the case of human shields until the attacker opens fire. If the attacker stands down, the civilians don't die. So to blame the Palestinians for their own deaths when the Israeli army exercised the utterly unnecessary option to fire on them despite the presence of the so-called human shields is a pretty sick, inhuman position to hold. And in a place like the Gaza Strip, where 2 million people live in a 139 square mile urban prison, it's - well, it's a war crime.

What would YOU do? 

Ahh. This is the topper, the mike-drop, the smugly delivered end-the-argument piece de resistance, the question they don't believe has any other answer. Which always leaves me a bit befuddled. Whether the justification for the violence is the incoming rocket fire or the infiltration tunnels or whatever else they might use, the pretense that massive bombing and shelling of entire cities is the ONLY possible response, even the only possible military response, is stupid and ludicrous at best, and blatantly dishonest at worst. What would I do? I could go after the rockets, which pose no strategic threat and virtually no tactical threat to Israel with radars to pinpoint their launch sites and helicopter borne commandos to capture the hardware and its operators.  And the tunnels are not a threat unless they provided access to Israel itself, so I could deal with them with seismic mapping technology and mining explosives to collapse them all from the Israeli side of the border without killing a single person.

But the more important question is what WOULDN'T I do? I wouldn't bomb civilians, I wouldn't shell schools and hospitals, I wouldn't use much ordinance at all, in fact. But most of all I wouldn't imprison the Palestinian population and treat them like animals. I'd give them human rights, and human dignity. I'd give them hope, a way to make a living, a way to feed and educate their children and a way to get medical care. I'd let them fish their own waters freely.  I'd let them travel throughout the region, and especially to the West Bank. I'd let them import goods and export manufactured goods. I'd give NGOs unfettered access to bring in funds and food and medicine. I'd take all the caps off fuel and energy and food and building material imports, both from Israel and abroad.  It's a funny thing about people. When they're fighting you, it's for a reason. Take away that reason, and they immediately lose interest in fighting. People want to live their lives, raise their families, have some happiness and hope and human value. If Netanyahu REALLY wanted the rockets to stop and the fighting to end, he could make it so tomorrow. The fact that he doesn't, won't even discuss it, is proof positive that he's using the violence as a political tool to distract the people from his atrocious right-wing 'governance'.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Other Bomb

What happens when Plutonium equal to half
the mass of a penny fissions
We hear a great deal about the events of August 6th, 1945. The bombing of Hiroshima, the Enola Gay, Colonel Paul Tibbets, along with an endless discussion of President Truman's decision-making process. So this year I thought I'd kind of overlook the anniversary of August 6th, and instead think about that day three days later and the events over Nagasaki.

Nagasaki wasn't the primary target. The target planners were very interested in assessing the actual destructive capabilities of the atomic bomb, so they would only be used on previously un-bombed cities, in order to see how they performed against an entirely intact infrastructure. The primary target that day was Kokura, a historical city in the far southern end of Japan, just two hundred kilometers from the South Korean coast. But when the B-29 Bock's Car arrived over Kokura, early on the morning of August 9th, the city was obscured by clouds and smoke drifting from a major firebomb raid on Yahata the previous day. Having orders to drop the bomb using visual sighting methods rather than radar, the crew eventually decided to switch to the secondary target, the industrial port city of Nagasaki.

At 11:00 am the clouds cleared and the bombardier on Bocks Car, Captain Kermit Beahan, was able to visually sight the racetrack, which he used as his aiming point. The bomb detonated at 1650 feet, 3 kilometers northwest of the intended target, with a blast yield equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT. The temperature at the blast center was over 7,000° Fahrenheit and the explosion generated winds in excess of 600 MPH. This bomb was somewhat more powerful than the one that was used over Hiroshima, but because the terrain was rolling hills, much of Nagasaki proper was protected from the blast effects and there was significantly less damage. For perspective, only about a gram of the approximately 6 kilogram Plutonium core actually fissioned before the heat of the explosion vaporized the bomb components.

The bomb that was used on Nagasaki, dubbed 'Fat Man', was of the Plutonium implosion type. This type of bomb was MUCH harder to design and build than the more basic 'gun type' fission device used in "Little Boy", the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. But it was much easier at that point for scientists to create weapons grade Plutonium 239 than it was to enrich Uranium to a purity that could be used in a bomb. In Fat Man, the Plutonium core would be compressed using a surrounding set of high explosive 'lenses' to the point where it would reach criticality and a fission reaction would begin.  The engineering difficulty was the explosives had to detonate perfectly simultaneously, or the uneven forces would blow the core apart before it reached critical mass. The design team simply wasn't sure the bomb would even work, so they decided a real-world test was necessary before they turned the Fat Man over to the Army for delivery on Japanese targets. So on July 16, 1945, an identical device they called 'The Gadget" was exploded in a remote New Mexico desert in a test dubbed "Trinity".

The interesting historical question continues to be how Truman came to decide to use the atomic bomb at all, and then, why he decided to use a second one. There were those who believed that the US should detonate the first atomic bomb in an unpopulated area as a humane demonstration of its power and destructiveness. But Truman felt the Japanese would have to be shocked into surrendering, and the August 6th mission to Hiroshima was set in motion. But why the second bombing, at least so soon after the first? It's true that the second bombing was originally scheduled for August 11, but Colonel Tibbets moved it up to the 9th when weather reports indicated a full week's bad weather was closing in over Southern Japan. But even so, why not give the Japanese several weeks to comprehend the death and destruction they faced before hitting them again?  My personal theory is that the second bombing wasn't intended to affect or influence the Japanese nearly as much as it was intended to affect and influence Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union, particularly with regards to the post-war power struggle over Eastern Europe and Germany.

Nuclear weapons have a complex legacy. On the one hand, the human race has lived in their shadow and the threat of civilizational destruction for generations. But on the other hand, that morning 69 years ago in the sky above Nagasaki still represents the last time one was used in anger. But the future is not written, and there's something close to a certainty that thermonuclear weapons will be used in a war before the end of humanity's reign. But the hope within the tragedy is that it will be a small, localized exchange. Nuclear nations have shifted to a 100KT range of weapons rather than five or ten MT "City Busters".  If India and Pakistan fire a dozen modern nukes, it's not the end of the world and a lesson is there to be learned, hard and toxic but not terminal.

The threat of nuclear annihilation has profoundly changed the way nation-states interact with one another. The presence of such powerful weapons put an end to the escalation of large-scale regional and global conflict that characterized the 19th and 20th centuries. It is no longer possible for powerful nations to deploy massive armies in wars that lay waste to continents. In the shadow of the atom, warfare has changed, diplomacy has changed, trade has changed and the world is likely a better place right up until the moment when it all melts away under five thousand mushroom clouds.  But for now, today, we remember the second, and final nuclear attack, the manifestation of applied technology and engineering prowess as remarkable as it was horrific.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Once More Into the Breach

Help the Peshmerga, Save the World
Annnnd, with that, American forces are once again in combat in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, there is much sturm und drang and gnashing of teeth over this development, but I'm quite a bit more sanguine than my fellow lefties.

First of all, my position on international humanitarian military intervention has been and remains consistent. When military forces armed with heavy weapons act to intentionally kill large numbers of civilians, it is the role of the so-called 'Civilized World' to bring superior firepower to bear to prevent the massacre and to deter any further intentional slaughters. War is bad enough, but events like Rwanda, Srebrenica and Misrata call for action. It's an imperfect solution, certainly, but far better than once again standing aside and shouting 'condemnations' as some third world strongman uses his air and artillery on cities full of helpless civilians.

Second, I'm not at all concerned about mission creep in this case. There's no way Obama is going to take the political heat for putting America back in an active combat role in Iraq beyond the small scale support for the Kurds against the ISIS madmen. Which could be problematic, because if it took a Ranger Batallion or a Marine Expeditionary Force to hold the line between Kurdistan and the Iraqi refugees and the marauding bands of 12th century sectarian murderers I'd be fine with that. And I'd still have no concerns about getting drawn back in to the larger Iraq conflict.

This battle is happening RIGHT NOW.  You ACT or once again you find you have done nothing and let horrific things - preventable horrific things - happen on your watch. This will be over by next week - either the Kurds will have a perimeter they can hold south of Erbil or they will have been overrun and the bloodletting will be well underway.

In the larger picture, outside of protecting the refugees and making certain there is a safe place for them to go, the US has no real interest in the IS Caliphate. This is ultimately a sectarian proxy war, with the Saudi/Wahabi led Sunnis seeking to eliminate the Persian/Iraqi led Shiites, and vice versa. There is no side, from al-Assad to Malicki to Khamenei to the House of Saud to the Egyptian Generals that the US should even consider supporting. The battle for supremacy in the Islamic world will grind on for years, and will get increasingly ugly as the real savagery comes out. All we can do is keep an eye on these Jihadi nutballs, especially the ones with US and European passports, and try to protect the people of the region from the worst of the hatred.

That will have to be enough.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Industry Day

July 29th was the long awaited "Industry Day" where the US military will brief interested potential bidders on its requirements for a new handgun to replace the aging and weary Beretta M9s currently in inventory. Up until the last decade, the military issue handgun has been something of an afterthought, important for Military Police and high-ranking officers in combat zones, but not considered an important component to the front-line combat troops.

All that changed, of course, when the primary mission of the US Military evolved from war to occupation.  American troops traveled around Iraq and Afghanistan in vehicles, often armored Bradleys and MRAPs, but mostly in Humvees, And when those vehicles were attacked, the soldiers found they had to get rounds downrange from inside a crowded vehicle. So instead of carrying a pistol an entire tour of duty without ever firing it in combat, soldiers would take their M9 and ten or twelve loaded magazines and push a real volume of fire downrange.

So it's perfectly reasonable that the M9 9mm pistols in inventory are at the end of their service life. It was adopted in the mid-eighties, and has seen action in three wars and uncounted deployments. But the Army is also concerned about the generally perceived 'lack of lethality' of the venerable 9 x 19 cartridge. This is actually hilarious, because the argument over the lethality and one-shot-stopping power of various popular handgun rounds has been the primary religious holy war in the handgun community for decades, the equivalent of Windows vs. Macintosh.

If not 9mm, then what? The obvious candidates are .40 S&W and .45 ACP. On the outside looking in are 10mm, .357 Sig and one of the modern PDW rounds like FN's 5.7mm.  The FBI originally adopted the 10mm as their issue sidearm, but had to back away as they discovered that the weight, blast and recoil from this powerful weapon made training and effective use extremely difficult for many smaller-in-stature agents. It was their testing of some downloaded 10mm varieties that led to the development of .40 S&W. The .357 SIG is probably the ideal solution, but the high-velocity bottleneck cartridge design is probably just too 'exotic' for adoption by the Army. .45 ACP is probably not going to have the velocity and downrange accuracy to meet the Army's broad requirements.

Essentially, that leaves the .40 S&W as the only current off-the-shelf cartridge that would meet the demand for increased lethality.  The problem that many law enforcement agencies that have adopted the wildly popular 'FortySmith' are encountering is that most of the handgun platforms they are using were designed for 9mm, and the additional pounding from the more powerful round has introduced reliability issues and shortened expected lifespans. So expect some specific language in the specs about strengthened frames, barrels and slides, along with design elements to reduce felt recoil.

So who's going to be the big winner? Glock and Heckler & Koch have very popular winning designs that can meet the anticipated requirements (with the exception of an old-fashioned demand for a 'positive safety'. Modern handguns tend to have no external safeties, so this demand would require a certain amount of re-tooling), but the Army took a lot of heat when it adopted the Beretta, a foreign product. Considering that in their recent (2010) competition, the ATF selected the Smith & Wesson M&P .40 over the Glock 17, I'd expect the Army to ultimately select that same handgun for their next generation service pistol.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Human Shields

The main part of Israel's justification for the slaughter of civilians in Gaza is that Hamas is using the people as 'Human Shields'.  They say Hamas is launching rockets and fighting from populated areas, and when Israel provides advance warning that a neighborhood is going to be bombed, they say Hamas won't let the people leave.  Now, this is in varying degrees true and false - Gaza has a population of close to 2 million people in 139 square miles - about half the size of San Francisco. It would be difficult to fight only from lightly populated areas in a place so densely populated in the first place, and while Hamas is very likely guilty of preventing people from leaving in some cases, the Israeli track record for the veracity of difficult to verify statements like this leaves one somewhat skeptical.  After all, once they realized that preventing the civilians from leaving would not deter the Israeli air strike, it would become a tactic without a purpose. (Yes, Netanyahu says the purpose is the production of "telegenic dead bodies", but it's important to remember that the easiest way to tell if Netanyahu is lying is simply to check to see if his lips are moving.)

Now, the tactic of using human shields has a long, if spotty history.  You might remember Saddam Hussein detaining hundreds of westerners, including children, to be distributed throughout the country to military installations to deter western attacks.  But in most cases, human shields have not prevented attacks, and with the rise of air power the long accepted prohibition against armies targeting civilians and civilian areas has eroded.

But there are two considerations that make the situation in Gaza different.  First, Israel is not threatened in any meaningful way.  There is never any real urgency to the attacks. Before the current cease-fire, Israel had struck 2,400 ground targets from the air.  Think about that.  If Israel had struck only 1,900, or only 900, how many fewer innocents would have died?  Of COURSE Israel is choosing to kill these women, children and the elderly. The entire Gaza occupation is predicated on collective punishment, a specifically enumerated war crime in Geneva IV.

And that brings us to the other consideration.  Gaza is currently under occupation, and blockade, by Israel. That makes Israel RESPONSIBLE for the well being of civilians under occupation under international law.  The responsibilities of an occupying power are not ambiguous, they are clearly delineated in treaties that carry the force of law.  There might be a long military history of ignoring human shields, but when those humans are people whose well-being you are as a nation legally obligated to protect, and you choose to kill them anyway, that cannot be anything but a horrific war crime.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Building a 20th Century Force to Fight a 21st Century War

A bad day at the office
The second world war was a watershed moment in the arc of human history.  In a mere six years, everything that people knew about warfare, about diplomacy, about international relations and the way power was acquired, maintained and projected changed in radical and unexpected ways.  September of 1945 saw a new world, ruled by technology, manufacturing capacity and economic power.  The aircraft carrier was the new capital ship, the symbol of global power manifest.  Air power itself changed the calculation of warfare, as there were no safe areas where a nation could manufacture their war machine unfettered.  The tank got faster and better armored, leading to the concept of mechanized infantry that could move at lighting speed, over-running or bypassing massive traditional defenses. The beginnings of a modern combined arms doctrine were being developed, along with a radical decentralization of authority, where the most advanced armies pushed responsibility, initiative and decision making down to the battalion and company, or even the platoon level.  But most of all, September of 1945 saw the deployment of the ultimate technological advance in warfare, nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons changed warfare simultaneously in a more subtle and more radical manner.  It wasn't about how wars would be fought, it was, to a much larger extent than ever before, about WHO would fight them and WHERE they would be fought.  As nuclear weapons stockpiles grew, the weapons became more powerful and more accurate, the understanding that a global nuclear exchange was becoming unthinkable.  Instead of preventing wars, nuclear weapons deterred nuclear wars, which in a bi-polar world meant proxy wars all over the globe.  But proxy wars had an internal logic of their own - they must be fought carefully, without achieving too complete a victory that might make the losing sponsoring power feel the need to escalate

 The result of the postwar development of nuclear weapons and advanced technology has had a profound effect on the way the world orders itself.  Forget superpowers - the technologically adanced Western "hyperpowers" had the air power, the surveillance systems and the global reach to put an end to armies in conflict.  It was simply no longer possible for a fleet, or an armored division, or massed artillery to survive even one day on the battlefield.  If anyone doubted that, the wholesale destruction of Saddam Hussein's massive Iraqi army without significant costs in 1991 was an epochal wake-up call.  The era of warfare as it had been known for thousands of years was over - no nation could hope to even see its armies survive first contact with Western forces.

Of course, because traditional warfare was no longer possible due to the combination of nuclear weapons and technological superiority, that doesn't mean that humankind would simply cease killing one another.  It just meant that things had to be done differently.  The best example of this sea change occurred with the American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.  The Iraqi army was quickly and efficiently destroyed, the capitol fell, the government was deposed, all in the time it used to take an invasion force to arrive at the battlefield in the first place.  But now the Americans were shocked to discover that the rules had changed, and the defeat of a nation's army and government didn't mean the war was over.  Indeed, resistance to the occupation became so virulent that the occupation itself became untenable.  The lesson is that, in the 21st century, wars never end.  There is no longer a measurable concept of victory or defeat.  As long as an enemy faction can recruit fighters and raise funds, it can go on for generations.  In the 21st century, winning a war is one of the worst things that can happen to a nation - the victor must either immediately withdraw his forces and return the defeated nation to its owners (or the most powerful remaining faction) or he must stay as a hated occupier and bleed.

These lessons about the evolution of warfare, particularly the technological evolution of warfare, should be obvious to all.  And yet the US, the most powerful technological military force in history, continues to build aircraft carriers, tanks and jet fighters in enourmous volumes, as if World War III was on the horizon, and it was going to look a great deal like WW II.  But technology continues to advance, and all this military power the US is building is on the cusp of becoming obsolete.

Take the aircraft carrier.  It's always been considered vulnerable, so it travels surrounded by defensive measures, guided missile cruisers to protect it from air attack, submarines and ASW destroyers to protect it from submarines, and specialized technology like CIWS to provide a last line of defense against anti-ship cruise missiles.  But those missiles are becoming harder to defend against, submarines are harder to detect, swarming tactics using small, fast attack boats have been alarmingly successful in simulations, and worst of all, the technological holy grail of a terminally-guided anti-ship ballistic missile is now a reality.  You see, ballistic missiles in their re-entry and terminal phase are essentially impossible to defend against. But they have also been impossible to guide, to finely adjust their targeting in the brief minutes between re-entry and impact.  This has always made strategic ICBMs with nuclear warheads effective against land-based fixed targets, but made it impossible to target a ship.  Now the Chinese have, as part of their A2/AD (Anti Access/Area Denial) strategy, developed a ballistic missile with a conventional warhead that either can, or soon will be able to sink aircraft carriers within several thousand miles of the Chinese coast. If technology gives us a world where large surface combatants cannot survive in contested waters, that leaves only the submarine as a naval force projection vessel, and that is not an useful capability.

Similarly, with modern technology improving the ability of anti-aircraft missiles, from shoulder launched to advanced mobile systems, even the vaunted US air power will soon find it hard to survive in contested airspace.  And with directed energy and (more likely) particle beam weapons in development now, one can see a time in the next decade or two that aircraft will simply not be useful weapons of war.  The skies will belong to fast, intelligent missiles and various specialized drones.

A similar thing is happening with armored vehicles.  Shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles (known as ATGMs) are becoming so effective that we are also seeing the end of the era of armored or mechanized infantry. In 2006, Hezbollah fighters using advanced ATGMs knocked out 52 Israeli Merkava tanks, causing the IDF to rethink its tactics in the middle of a shooting war. Tanks will no longer be necessary for their primary duty, killing other tanks, and they will only be useable after traditional infantry has made certain that there are no enemy fighters in range.

So therein you have the amazing conclusion.  America is spending trillions on the weapons that won the second world war, weapons that are now or will in the very near future be obsolete. Interestingly, however, these advances in weapons and military systems and tactics are, in general, a good thing.  They make it harder for entire nations or societies to go to kill one another on an industrial scale.  Without the ability of large, traditional forces to survive on the battlefield, wars will be fought with missiles and drones at one end of the spectrum, and with rifles and mortars at the other.  Conflicts will be localized, and the fighting will be rooted, not in the traditional nation state disputes, but in the older and more savage tribal, ethnic, sectarian hatred, in many cases exacerbated by desperate resource shortages.  The fact that the US is spending so much of her wealth to build weapons that will never be used (or will be lost in some large-scale future folly in the South China Sea) is an economic tragedy with massive opportunity costs, but it's not really a risk to the US.  All of these technological advancements in war fighting tend to make wars smaller, more localized and often much more defensive in nature.  But it is telling that none of these profound, fundamental changes are having any impact on US strategy or procurement policies.