Friday, April 11, 2014

Scorpion Philosophy

Smarter polices
Scorpion Philosophy
Low Cost Does Not Mean Low Capability


An examination of U.S. Philosophy of Combat Aircraft and associated costs

            Bigger, faster and louder, are words that America loves and applies to all things from food portions, cars and entertainment.  America is a country that prides itself on giant breakthroughs in industry and technology.  Every new invention does not have to be from the ground up. What the aerospace defense industry needs to look at is adaptability, and versatility. This is prudent from an operational and economic standpoint. This is not to say the technological gains should not be sought after but that they should not impeded the procurement of new systems.
            Examining Soviet/Russian philosophy towards combat aircraft is one way to move forward and remain dominant. Russia’s history of being invaded pushed their weapon’s makers to use practical weapons that could be built in large numbers and used by a conscript force. The most famous of these weapons is the AK-47. When it comes to aircraft the thinking was the same. All Russian military aircraft are built with worst case scenarios in mind. The landing gear is always designed to be rugged to allow operations from unimproved or dirt strips. The Mig-29 went so far as to have special doors on its intakes to enable it, a high performance fighter, to operate in areas where foreign object ingestion would destroy other aircraft.
            Another philosophy, which is more relevant, now than ever, is to find a platform that works, then expand upon it. This can be either through new specialized versions or derivatives based on a previous platform. Sukhoi has demonstrated this with an entire family of aircraft based on the Su-27. Naval variants, thrust vectoring and strike/bomber aircraft (Su-34) are all adaptation of a platform that was viable and versatile. More to the point these aircraft are still relevant in today’s combat environment. The U.S. is trying to have a degree of versatility with the F-35, a new ground up design, and billions of dollars have been spent on an aircraft that is good at many things but not lacks excellence in any one area. The U.S. has tried to find aircraft for all branches of service in order to cut the cost of having specialized aircraft of different types.
            The U.S. would benefit from taking the Russian path but using off the shelf or proven systems with new technology. The A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) took that approach and the result was a classic warplane that proved its worth. The Textron Scorpion  was developed as a low cost easy to produce and maintain aircraft. It is marketed for COIN, ISR and FAC roles. While not a frontline fighter, the philosophy behind it and its affordability should be adapted towards major weapons platforms.
            The production lines for the F-15 Eagle and the F/A-18 Hornet are still going. Taking the Russian doctrine of making new variants or new aircraft based on these proven platforms is a wise option. In addition to being a wise avenue to explore it would also save jobs and as the newer aircraft are created it may create more jobs in the long run. The technology to keep these airframes relevant is here and waiting twenty years for another new ground breaking aircraft is costly and unwise. This is especially true as new challenges arise faster than new aircraft can be produced. Boeing attempted this with the F-15S Silent Eagle. Stealth technology was applied to a proven frame. With more study and input the project might have succeeded.  

One overriding concern of the military and the aerospace manufacturers is an obsession with true stealth. True stealth itself is a misleading phrase, in that no aircraft is truly invisible to radar. What this obsession with stealth does is drive up costs for aircraft that will only need to have a reduced RCS to improve survival. Even the F-22 has retains the capability to carry un-stealthy external stores once air dominance has been achieved in a theater. In essence, this turns it into another fighter, but with a larger price tag.
In order for this shift in production to be effective strategies and tactics would have to change as well. A mix of UCAV’s for ISR and SEAD mission and manned aircraft would be a prudent choice. Even among manned aircraft there should be the high tech stealthy aircraft suck as the F-22 Raptor that would achieve air dominance in theater and other aircraft to operate in the environment after air dominance has been achieved. (See Smarter Policies “Steel on Target”
There will always be a need for completely new aircraft to fit special niches. The U.S. Marin Corps has unique requirements one of which is V/STOL. The AV-8B Harriers are long overdue for replacement. The F-35 is an expensive choice and may not be the best fit. In the meantime, the other forces would benefit from a different train of thought.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Putin's Free Reign

smarter policies
Putin’s Free Reign
How Ukraine May Hand Itself Over


Exploring Russian Subversion and Ukrainian inexperience in the ongoing crisis

            On the Russian side of the crisis there are signs of subversion but, like everything else, the motivation is unclear. With the Russian propaganda machine in high gear and the troops still massed at the border anything is possible and the Russian like it that way. Any aggressor would. One possibility that has begun circulating is that the subversion is an economically viable way of wreaking havoc on Ukraine as punishment for the ouster of Yanukovich. This has several benefits. First of all the tactic is politically safe. Covert operations are deniable even when everyone knows they are going on. Economically they cost less than rolling in armored division. Second, if things get out of hand or escalate to civil war Russian can then claim the moral high ground with an intervention. Never mind the fact that the eastern areas happen to be mineral rich and an industrial hub. It is clear Moscow has its hand in the unrest what is unclear is how savvy the Ukrainians are when it comes to countering the professionals.


Groll, E. (2014, April 8). Passport . Retrieved from Foreign Policy:
Ignatius, D. (2014, April 8). Putin steals the CIA’s playbook on anti-Soviet covert operations. Retrieved from Washington Post:
Le Vine, S. (2014, April 8). Putin isn’t invading Ukraine—he’s sabotaging it. Retrieved from Quartz:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ukraine Secession Issues

SMarter policies
Ukraine Secession Issues
The Crisis Part II

James E. Mason

An examination of the unrest in Eastern Ukraine

            As the news cycle has shifted away from Ukraine the situation in the eastern part of the country has turned for the worse. The crisis is not over and warrants renewed attention. Earlier post explored the possibility that the actions in Crimea were simply damage control for an unwanted situation. The sloppiness of Moscow’s excuses, the denial that its troops were involved and the hasty one sided referendum all indicated a slapped together plan to rescue prime real estate.  The current situation where pro-Russia protesters have seized power presents new problem and new questions surrounding the events.
            A simple explanation for the events that have unfolded is that they are simply a product of Moscow’s bellicose propaganda machine and nothing more. Unlike the “Pro-Russian” activists in Crimea, these groups appear to be actual citizens and not soldiers without insignia. IF this is a homegrown call for union with Russia it presents problems for Putin. First, there is the policy of protecting ethnic Russian regardless of where they are. If this is an actual policy or one of convenience, not following up on it would be   politically catastrophic.  Second, the situation creates a stalemate between the Ukrainian authorities and the secessionists. In a tense standoff like this national security is in the hands of a few locals and therefore neither government can have complete control over events. This is national/international situation that can erupt simply through the whims or mood swings of average citizens.
            The possibility that these protests are FSB inspired is worth exploring. What purpose would they serve? First of all there would be the element of control. Unlike the scenario above, having the protests inspired and controlled by the FSB/Moscow the likelihood of things getting out of control decreases. Second, is the promotion of the Kremlin’s political line.  From the start the Russian have been painting Ukraine as a dangerous place for ethnic Russian and that Russia would be there as a protector. It is interesting that none of these take overs happened until the situation in Crimea was settled for the most part. It is also important to remember that the Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, a major story a week and a half ago, are still there. It would be unwise to predict exactly what that implies but their presence in addition to the current unrest and Moscow’s vow to protect Russian everywhere proves to be an interesting mix.
             The Ukrainian issue is not over. What will happen is still unknown but the balance of power is in Moocow’s favor. How they will handle that advantage and what they hope to gain from any actions are questions that need to be answered. The taking over of government buildings and the declaration of a republic is not a light act to undertake. Time will tell how it plays out.


Ratnam, G. (2014, April 7). Hagel Says U.S. Mulls Adding Brigade to Counter Russia . Retrieved from Bloomberg:
Rosenberg, S. (2014, April 7). Ukraine crisis: Protesters declare Donetsk 'republic'. Retrieved from BBC World News:
Services, A. J. (2014, April 7). Pro-Russian separatists proclaim independent republic in eastern Ukraine. Retrieved from Al Jazeera:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Afghan Elections

Smarter policies
Afghan Elections
Don’t Expect a Miracle


The hopes of the west and the reality of Afghanistan’s attempt at democracy

            The coming election in Afghanistan is the first step toward democracy, but no one has ever won a marathon by taking one step. This sums up the challenges of democracy in Afghanistan. The likelihood of post-ISAF chaos is almost certain given that some key problems with the Afghan government have never been addressed or tackled. Functional democracy needs a proper environment in which to flourish and that environment does not and has not existed in Afghanistan. Corruption, factional tribalism, outside interference and a growing military are all factors that will affect Afghanistan in the next two years.

            Outside Interests
            One of the great paradoxes of Afghan society is the rampant xenophobia mixed with outside influences. Accepting help that may influence internal policies is nothing new. In the post election environment (if not now) players like Iran, India, Pakistan and China all have a stake in Afghan politics. Yet the approaches are varied. India is notable for its soft power approach and civil projects. In the long run this may have more sway over things than Pakistan’s support of militants. All in all these countries are capable and willing to exert power and influence inside Afghanistan and with internal divisions amongst the people and corruption running rampant these players should be taken seriously.

            Internal Divisions
            The most overlooked fact in regards to the present and future state of Afghanistan is the civil war of the 1990’s. America tends to forget that it’s involvbement in the country started in Afghan affairs started in the middle of that very same civil war. Driving the Taliban from power was a good thing but it did not repair any bad blood or ill will that accrued during the 1990’s. If anything, the foreign involvement has simply delayed resentments. Western perspective often view’s the conflict in terms of the Afghan Government vs. the Taliban. This is true but only a small part of the reality. Uzbek’s, Tajik’s and Pashtuns are just some of the ethnicities and all will want representation. This is easier said than done and the consequence of failure would be disastrous. In a country that has had cash and guns pumped unto it for twelve years a violent outcome is not out of the question.
            The plague of corruption that has hampered efforts at progress is still around and will always be a problem. Hamid Karzai is playing a political PR game by stepping down after his two terms (a rarity in that part of the world) but ensuring that he is still a key player in the running of Afghanistan. From picking officials that are in his best interest to throwing money around, it is safe to say that he plans on being a force to be reckoned with even without a title and ceremony. In essence he is setting himself up to be a political version of a warlord. What he is doing is undermining democracy and helping to ensure that Afghanistan does not make much progress as time moves on.

            The military and the Taliban
            By far the most influential forces in the country are the Military (ANA) and the Taliban.  Tension has arisen among Karzai’s generals over his refusal to sign an agreement to keep some U.S. troops in country after the end of this year. Foreign Affairs columnist Paul D. Miller makes a compelling argument in regards to a military coup ( The Taliban might help this along if their attacks go unanswered by a newly elected government. A likely scenario would involve the Taliban using violence to destabilize the new government only to have the military take the lead and the country settling into a long conflict.  With Pakistan offering safe haven and support one side and the U.S. supporting the Afghan leaders on the other, things will not change.
            There is an old saying that one should leave a place in the same condition you found it. In that respect the ISAF mission is a success. It was a mess when we found it and it will be a mess after ISAF is gone.


Burke, J. a. (2014, April 1). Alliances realign as latest superpower pulls out of Afghanistan. Retrieved from The Guardian:
Gaskell, S. (2014, April 2). The U.S. Military’s Most Crucial Mission Yet in Afghanistan . Retrieved from Defense One:
Miller, P. D. (2014, April 2). Afghanistan's Coming Coup. Retrieved from Foreign Affairs:
Press, A. J. (2014, April 4). Veteran Photographer Killed in Afghan Attack. Retrieved from Al Jazeera America:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hungry Hawks

Smarter policies
Hungry Hawks
The Media and Russia


An examination of the media’s cold war nostalgia and why it is does not fit into reality

            There is a certain solace to be found in a myopic foreign policy but it is a false comfort with adverse consequences. Unfortunately the hawks in the media and the government seem all to willing to embrace such practices out of nostalgia, personal political gain, sensationalism or a combination of all the above. Calls to get tougher with Russia are not only dangerous but outdated and pointless for several reasons.

            Money is the new Ideology of Moscow
            One major factor that hawks tend to ignore is the absence of communism as a doctrine and its export as a form of foreign policy. This was critical in the formation of a global opposing force, which the Soviet Union was and modern Russia is not. This is not to say that the Russians are not powerful, dangerous or capable but, without a doctrine like communism their power and potential threat are not what they used to be. This is not to imply that the Russians are not looking out for their best interests globally. What this means is their best interest are economic and not only political in nature. How can we see this in the current crisis?
            First of all, the economic warfare is limited. In light of the buzz about sanctions and their effectiveness, people are not looking at the targets of those sanctions. On each side the sanctions have been aimed at individuals first and institutions second. In a full blown cold war the sanctions would be major parts of a strategy where as now, they seem to be tit for tat. They are there simply so each side can say they did something. If all of this sounds absurd please keep in mind that Russia has made no effort to impede our supply lines into and out of Afghanistan. If they were really out to start a cold war that would be a place to hit first. But, there is money in that arrangement. NATO has cut ties with Russia but that was never a strong marriage to start with.
            Second, losing Crimea would have been an economic as well as strategic disaster. For a country with almost no warm water ports this is unacceptable. The prospect of the Ukrainians evicting the Russian Navy from Crimea were slim to none, but the uncertainty of what  a new government (one the Russians did not approve of) raising the price of the lease or other operating expenses was too great of a risk. Taking Crimea was a form of damage control resulting from an unexpected regime change. If this was a new cold war Kiev 2014 would resemble Prague of 1968 by now.
            The Ukraine Situation is Local not Global
            With a little research anyone will start to realize that Ukraine and Russia are almost one and the same. They may have separate languages but the relationship is so close it is safe to say the Russians view this entire crisis as an internal affair. This earnestness and defensiveness is not a resurgence of the communist era that gave us the cold war but simply a deep seeded Russian trait of keeping the west out of its back yard. It is this defensiveness that has led to the Russians not pulling their forces back from the Ukrainian border. This is not aggression as much as improving a bargaining position and saving face for a domestic audience. This localized intimidation is a far cry from the global crisis and posturing of a true cold war.  Obviously the Russians are making limited, calculated moves this time around, not the global crisis of yesterday. If this was a cold war we would see Russian aggression in other regions in order to support the actions in Ukraine.
            Focusing all Our Attention on Russia is what got the U.S. into its Current Strategic Mess
             The real danger in this new found hysteria lies in the effect it might have on lawmakers and therefore our foreign policy. In light of the Bush administration’s hunt for imaginary weapons of mass destruction, the resumption of a cold war based on hype is not unrealistic. If this trend of sensationalist reporting and hawkish behavior by lawmakers continues it will lead to the creation of blind spots in our defense and foreign policies. The enemy we are facing in Ukraine may be an old one but the world has moved on. At the time of this writing North and South Korea are trading fire and the Taliban are stepping up attacks. There are a multiple threats globally and remaining aware and nimble is the main challenge for the U.S. Nostalgia induced myopia is not an option that should be perused.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chess with Putin

Smarter Policies
Chess with Putin
Reading Moscow’s Intentions


Exploring several hypothesis regarding Ukraine and the mystery of Moscow’s intentions

            Do not play chess with a Russian and expect to win. That is common sense and unfortunately Moscow is playing a good game of chess in regards to its intentions with Ukraine. The troop buildup on the Eastern Ukraine border is ongoing and it is hard to determine what the end game will be. The idea of open conflict appeared to be alarmist but as time has passed more credence must be given to the worst case scenario. Here are three possible paths Moscow might undertake.
            H1: Full Scale invasion
            The most alarmist and worst case scenario is a full scale invasion of Ukraine. As of now the estimates of troops massed on the borders would indicate this is not the main goal. But a full takeover would accomplish some political goals for Moscow. First of all, it would remove an unfavorable government in their sphere, and more to the point, on their border. 1956 Budapest and 1968 Prague were inspired by the same concerns. This time around it is not a matter of enforcing political dogma but security and trade. Russia is Ukraine’s largest trading partner and placing a government in power that will maintain the status quo is in their best interest. The question is if Moscow believes the fall out to be worth it. With the actions of the past month it is also important to ask if they even care. Sanctions can only go so far and Russia can weather them better than other countries.
            H2: Incursion into the east and South of Ukraine
            A limited incursion and annexation is a slightly less ominous scenario and holds several advantages for Russia. Now that Crimea has been annexed it has become isolated from the Ukrainian infrastructure it had come to rely on. Securing the south and east of Ukraine not only puts the ethnic Russians in Moscow’s sphere it would also alleviate the economic nightmare that building Crimean power plants and infrastructure that would be needed in the current state of things. Politically a full scale invasion or a partial annexation would not bode well for Russia but it would not be disastrous as well. In the U.N. vote condemning Russia there were fifty-eight abstentions so it is safe to say they still have more friends than just China and Syria.  
            Taking this limited course of action also does two things. First it would keep the new Ukrainian government off balance. A crisis of this level only a month in might be too much for them to handle. The defense minister has already been sacked and it has only been a month since the crisis in Crimea. Second is the attainment of a foothold before the Ukrainian vote in May. As a previous post pointed out, this entire adventure is more damage control than anything else. Putin may believe that he has lost Ukraine politically and the best he can do is make sure there is some kind of buffer between Russia and EU/NATO.  This would enable them to have neutral buffer states under the false pretense of being independent states.
            H3: Troop Movements are for Intimidation
            This falls in line with keeping the Ukrainians off balance. Any new government will have a difficult period of growing pains and the imminent threat of war only makes this worse.  Economically this course makes sense.  Direct action is costly in blood treasure and prestige. If Moscow can destabilize or coerce Urkaine without the commitment of forces they can look better abroad and still claim victory for the domestic audience.

            If Moscow opts for direct action the window is closing. The west cannot counter them and does not have the stomach to do so. The Ukrainians are still trying to organize themselves and needy for economic support. To wait any longer would increase the chances of diplomacy becoming a bigger player in the situation. On the diplomatic front Moscow may not get the deal it wants and will have to negotiate without an advantage.


Cooper, H. a. (2014, March 27). Military Cuts Render NATO Less Formidable as Deterrent to Russia. Retrieved from New York Times:
Felgenhauer, P. (2014, March 25). Russia's Window of Oppurtunity in Ukraine. Retrieved from Foreign Policy:
Gaskell, S. (2014, march 27). Pentagon: No Evidence RussianForces on Ukraine Border are Conducting Exercises. Retrieved from Defense One:
Gertz, B. (2014, March 27). Inside the Ring: U.S. fears Russia planning to federalize Ukraine, alarming Congress. Retrieved from Washington Times:
Starr, B. (2014, Marh 27). U.S. Intelligence Assessment: Greater Liklihood Russia Will Enter Eastern Ukraine. Retrieved from CNN :

Friday, March 21, 2014

Damage Control Ukraine

Smarter policies
Damage Control Ukraine
How Moscow May View the Crisis


A hypothesis on Russian views regarding the crisis in Ukraine

            Crimea has been an important part of Russia for hundreds of years. This fact cannot be disputed. Putin’s rhetoric is trumpets the brotherhood of all Slavic people (with Russia as the leader of course) but there is a more pragmatic reason for the annexation.  Crimea is Russia’s only port that remains ice free year round. Securing Crimea is simply a way to not lose a vital part of their naval power. What the press has failed to realize is that the events in Crimea are not the ideologically driven aims seen during the Cold War. The excuse of bringing ethnic Russians back into the fold is a tool for pragmatic damage control not an ideology in itself. Analyzing Russian actions from a purley economic and pragmatic point of view paints the situation in a different color all together. If one wants to know where the Russian may move next the best question is, “What will benefit Russia the most?”

            Eastern Ukraine
            As noted in the last post, the fate of Eastern Ukraine depends heavily on the reactions of the wests and to a lesser extent on the treatment of ethnic Russians living there. That said, Eastern Ukraine presents a tempting target because its industries include steel and coal, and was vital to the former Soviet Union. Having a Russian population next door and solid economic temptations may be too much to resist. Putin seems to be calculating carefully in regards to western reaction. His brazen actions and flimsy excuse only worked in Crimea because of the proximity of troops stationed there and the speed and surprise with which the operations were conducted. Eastern Ukraine presents a larger land area and no troops are prepositioned there.
          Future Tensions
            Despite the alarm bells in the media future tensions or potential conflicts may take time to develop. This is not because of a weakness in the Kremlin so much as a cost vs. benefit approach they are taking. Crimea was a gamble that was worth the risk and it looks as if the gamble paid off. When it comes to other states wanting to join Russia, such as Transdniestria or others, no one should hold their breath. If a republic is accepted into Russia it will either be in Moscow’s best interest or of little consequence. South Ossetia or Abkhazia fall into this category. They are almost part of Russia as it stands and after the 2008 Georgian War Moscow knows no one would or could do anything about it.

            If/when Moscow does embark on a military campaign it will more than likely be an effort to suppress secession of a state. Chechnya, Dagestan, and other states may want independence and that is a red line Moscow has not and will not tolerate. The natural resources matter less than the loss of prestige and the precedence a successful separation and the political fallout such an event would cause. Chechnya was a prime example of what happens when one tries to turn their back on Moscow and regardless of the lingering violence and hostility the Russians will not let it go. Most of Putin’s rhetoric and military posturing is for domestic audience so keeping the Russian territory in tact is a priority because it keeps Putin in power.