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September 02, 2009

The Apocalypse Is At Hand

I find it extremely difficult to find a single word of this that I disagree with:

As I walked out of the studio last night, though, Gwen Ifill turned to me and said, "Look, I understand you're not some fire-breathing hawk, but you're about the only person we can find in Washington to defend this war at the moment."

Woah. The only person who will defend this war? If this blogger is the only person in the nation's capital willing to defend the war, we have a big problem. I'm more used to hosting debates on Afghanistan than participating in them. I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, "the good war" has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool's errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That's the way it's supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration's support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).

...the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it's understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.

But then that's pretty much what I said last night, isn't it?

Not sure what it means when someone I usually disagree with comes to the same conclusion for what appear to be the same reasons.

Perhaps nothing. Still, it's profoundly unsettling. I'm not sure I'm willing to lose my husband (or anyone else's husband, or son, or wife, or daughter) in a fight no one in Washington believes is worth the candle.


Update: If you can explain this kind of thinking, you're a better person than I am:

It’s also worth mentioning that the administration continues to be as vague as possible about what we’re actually DOING with all those troops in Afghanistan, because as soon as they identify a specific purpose or goal they’re in a political straightjacket. This leaves even someone who WANTS to support the presence of american troops in the somewhat awkward position of being unable to say exactly what it is they support.

More and more I’m getting the impression that the Obama team is trying to leave the back door ajar throughout the process. And I am encouraged by that perception

This, from folks who demanded that Bush provide them (and by extension al Qaeda) with a blow-by-blow description of our plans.

Unbelievable. These folks seriously think it's acceptable to ask U.S. servicemen and women to die for an administration that may pull the rug out from under them at any time. Surely, though the White House has already had 7 months to study their options, surely the armed forces won't mind getting blown to bits while their elected leaders struggle to summon up the courage of their convictions?

Posted by Cassandra at September 2, 2009 08:41 PM

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It seems that Washington's idea of fighting for something differs quite a bit from those of us who have a head on our shoulders.

Posted by: RIslander at September 2, 2009 09:16 PM

Or a stake in the outcome.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 2, 2009 09:38 PM

I've seen several stories about a helicopter shortage in Afghanistan, seriously impeding our mobility. Seems like helicopter plants should be running 24x7 (making helicopters is at least as "stimulative" as the various boondogles going on) and pilot/crew training programs should be expanded as much as possible. An administration that really cared about victory in Afghanistan would have these things on forced draft.

Is any of this going on? Anyone here have any insights into the helicopter situation?

Posted by: david foster at September 2, 2009 09:49 PM

It seems that the main thing is transferring helicopters from the Reserve components to Active duty units might alleviate the problem.

Posted by: RIslander at September 2, 2009 09:56 PM

Nearly every national security/foreign policy conservative supports this war and victory in Afghanistan/War on Terror. Only person? Gwen ought to get out from behind her desk a little more often. --Michael Johns.

Posted by: Michael Johns at September 2, 2009 10:08 PM

I can ask the spouse.

Back when the whole MRAP thing was going on, I could not write about it b/c I knew a lot of things that weren't in the papers (and what was in the papers bore little relation to what was really going on at the 5 sided funny farm, Franz Gayle's ranting aside). Still, I kept saying we were going to end up with piles of unusable equipment on our hands, mostly delivered after the need had long since passed. And that turned out not to be too far from the truth. Now we're building a smaller, more nimble MRAP, though in truth there was never just one model :p

At any rate this article doesn't seem too bad:


As with most "shortages", the real problem often is not so much that we don't have the equipment, but that it's not in the right place or not owned by deployed units. The spouse has worked on the last few QDRs, so he has an excellent idea what we have and where it is. But it's not always easy to move equipment from a non-deployed unit to support forward deployed units, if for no other reason that when the NDU ships out, their stuff will be nowhere to be found and that makes them undeployable. Plus, how do they train and how do pilots stay current with no helos?

The Army has had major issues with this for the entire war. They're so big there's stuff squirreled about everywhere, but the force structure gets in the way.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 2, 2009 10:09 PM

Gwen ought to get out from behind her desk a little more often.

I believe the point of that comment is that Ms. Ifill did not *want* a conservative. She wanted someone who was *not* a conservative but supported the war and couldn't find one.

Given that we're not in power right now, that would seem important.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 2, 2009 10:11 PM

The helicopter shortage is real. In Iraq as well. One thing we are going to need to make when this business is over, is a lot more Blackhawks.

Posted by: Grim at September 2, 2009 10:28 PM

I'm willing to take your word for that, Grim :)

My point wasn't that we didn't need them, but rather that often when we read the word "shortage" we assume there are none anywhere and the only recourse is to get new equipment/recruit new people. But that often isn't the case. 1 in 6 helos, I think, is what the article said are currently deployed.

So again, perhaps not so much a physical as a logistical shortage - we may have some but for whatever reason they aren't getting where they're needed.

I have no idea what the production time is for a new Blackhawk (once the paperwork is done and contracts awarded - which can take a long time). The Poles are apparently building them for Sikorsky. They started final assembly on 8/17 and anticipate seeing the first one roll off the assembly line in 2010.

And that exhausts my knowledge of things that whirl about in the sky. Over to BillT.


Posted by: Cassandra at September 2, 2009 10:41 PM

Until this becomes a "maximum effort" war that impacts Joe and Jane Average nothing will be done to fix any of it. Helos, Up Armor Humvees, MRAPs, better uniforms (yeah, that ACU jammie sleeper is a real POS. Life expectancy is about a month before it starts tearing.) and all the rest would have been EXCELLENT uses for the billions and billions of Viagara money. It would put all kinds of folks to work, give them a sense of purpose AND help protect our troops.

Instead they give it to Obies buds and wannabe buds who will do his bidding. Acorn, Union Labor, radical organizations....while people lose their life savings and homes, and wind up on the streets.

Thanks Mr. Prez. You made the change, now give us some hope. Or is that just a happyass phrase to win an election?


Posted by: Kbob in Katy at September 2, 2009 10:53 PM

RE: 'This Kind of Thinking"
It's the 'climate change phenomenon'. Real world data has not confirmed the terrible predictions of the warming models used to justify their dooms day scenarios. Now they can be climate alarmists about warming or cooling . It maximizes their flexibility and minimizes requirements for integrity or honesty.

Posted by: JohnFLob at September 2, 2009 11:58 PM

And that exhausts my knowledge of things that whirl about in the sky. Over to BillT.

Whooooo. That's a subject for an entire post.

Basically, the Army doesn't have enough helicopters, the majority of the ones they have are unsuitable for fighting in dusty environments or at high altitudes (above 12,000 feet) in the mountains, the majority of the pilots only receive OJT on mountain flying, aircraft maintenance TOE is absurdly unrealistic, and parts availability is a joke.

On the bright side, there are helicopters suitable for this particular fight.

On the dark side, the US doesn't make 'em.

On the other bright side, there are US pilots who know how to fly them when they're available and use them the way they should be used. We're all *old*, but the right people realize that means we know what we're doing.

Tell the Unit *not* to go on any V-22 rides into the hills.

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2009 03:03 AM

I just checked your Sikorsky-in-Poland link.

A fully-integrated digital glass cockpit that is instrument flight rules (IFR)-capable, a dual digital automatic flight control system (AFCS) and coupled flight director

Those are nice bells 'n' whistles, but it means they're building the S-70i for the *civil* market. In a tactical situation, that's just excess weight.

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2009 04:16 AM

My take on the root cause of all this bs is the gutless boy wonder we have for CIC.

Posted by: joe c at September 3, 2009 05:13 AM

Thanks, Bill :)

That's exactly the kind of thing I have no idea about.

I wasn't sure that was a government contract (or even that the buyers would be American). But I found the link by searching on 'manufacturing time for Blackhawk helos', which is what I was trying to figure out (how long does it take to make these things once DoD lets a contract?)

I also thought it was interesting from the "stimulus" aspect David raised. It has been my impression, though I would be the first to admit I haven't been paying attention, that more and more aircraft are being manufactured abroad. Perhaps you or Camo can comment more knowledgeably than I on that subject?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 3, 2009 06:51 AM

Another interesting facet of the production problem I stumbled onto while doing research related to my real world job: often a critical factor in production of weapons is not so much the nuts and bolts of the physical product, but the software that drives it.

I've seen several delays on procurement contracts where the s/w appears to be driving the delivery date.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 3, 2009 06:54 AM

Thanks for all the responses on the helicopter issue. My view is if the helicopters we need are manufactured somewhere other than the U.S., we should buy them a batch from the manufacturer ASAP as part of a deal which would also provide for ongoing license-built production in the U.S.

Here's a historical precedent. As WWII approached, France's Minister of Aircraft Production called for large orders to be placed in the U.S., since his own aircraft industry operated largely on craft methods and could not meet the volume demands. He was overruled by "the need to protect French jobs.

We shouldn't make the same mistake.

Posted by: david foster at September 3, 2009 09:18 AM

I've seen several delays on procurement contracts where the s/w appears to be driving the delivery date.

That's the reason there's no Comanche (RAH-66).

Although it wouldn't have made much sense to have written the code for computers that existed only in the imagination of Sikorsky's PR department.


None of that ever existed, except for the stealthy fuselage. The testbed Comanches had the same exact radios I had in my Huey in Vietnam...

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2009 09:40 AM

So Bill, you left a few tantalizing clues, but now we are all still hanging.

Is it the turbine engines that are a problem in the high altitude or the size and pitch of the lift rotor in the relatively thin air that make helos and especially the V-22 dangerous to operate in Afghanistan?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 3, 2009 08:13 PM

Don B - Although not a rotoary wing pilot, I am a pilot, and I think the limiting factor is the rotary wing -vs- lift aspects for any aircraft that uses said rotary wing.

At some point you just max out on lift in any airframe, and taking off vertically the point tends to arrive earlier. High altitude (from MSL - mean sea level) on hot days is especially bad (look up "density altitude" for the wisdom) and in the afghan suck, I think high altitude and hot days are the norm.

I saw a couple of V22's at Luke AFB a while back. The pilots were pretty cool and proud of their airframes, but one of the Viper Drivers asked what it did well. The unfortunate answer was nothing. It does what it is supposed to do "OK". It can take off vertically, but it's not a helo. It can carry cargo/troops, but not a cargo plane in capacity or range. It is a maintenance hog and is incredibly complex to repair when it does break.

I have not kept up with maintainabilty and dead line time, but if such info is readily available, it could be interesting, provided it is not manipulated or filtered.

Posted by: kbob in Katy at September 5, 2009 10:45 AM

Without going into a six-hour class on aerodynamics, rotary-wing performance at altitude depends on both rotor design and powerplant (the engine). A rotor blade's design is always a compromise between maximized vertical lift and forward airspeed -- you could design a blade with superior hover performance at all altitudes, but it wouldn't fly forward very fast, or you could design a blade for maximum forward airspeed that wouldn't hover very well, except in ground effect. The Aerospatiale Llama is a superb high altitude helicopter, with a service ceiling of over 17,000 feet, but its cruise speed is only about 100 knots.

The engine is also a compromise. A single large engine will produce tremendous power, but it weighs so much that the resulting helicopter will have a very limited lifting capability -- in other words, it won't be able to lift more than the airframe, the fuel, and the crew. There are smaller engines that produce a respectable amount of power, so using two smaller engines is a viable alternative to using a single large one. Problem is, now you have to have two fuel control systems and independent fire extinguishers, which also add weight.

Single engine helicopters don't have in-flight fire extinguishers, by the way.

The V-22 is a whole different ball of wax. It doesn't use rotors (despite being billed as a tilt-rotor), it uses variable-pitch propellers, and the thrust vector merely changes by tilting the entire engine/nacelle sections. It's needlessly complicated, there are significant safety and performance problems, and the aircraft has several major problems -- not the least of which is that an engine failure below 500 feet AGL is pretty much a death sentence for all on board.

Posted by: BillT at September 5, 2009 12:11 PM

Bill and kbob,

My impression then, is that most helicopters (at least in the US Mil inventory) are optimized for sealevel to 5,000 feet operational altitude.
But when the base of operations is already almost a mile above sea-level (such as a large part of Afghanistan), then choppers have to operate from takeoff with reduced lift, which just gets worse as they climb further above their base in the thin air.
Could some sort of field retrofit on Blackhawks in Afghanistan (different rotor) theoretically improve safety and operational margins, albeit at a reduced operational speeds (slower but safer)?

The Soviets operated in Afghanistan in the '80's. Is there any post-mortem insights on their operational problems with rotary lift aircraft?

Lastly, is all this chopper talk an unauthorized thread hijack? :)

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 5, 2009 07:23 PM