Posts Tagged ‘Recommended reading’

China explosion! (not really)

March 31, 2011

There’s been an avalanche of interesting things to read about China – what’s a “China hand” to do?

China’s National Defense in 2010, Information Office of the State Council, People’s Republic of China, March 2011

U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine – April 2011, Focus on China. A few of the main features are subscriber-only material, but there are also several articles that look very interesting available for free, such as:

A Step Too Far: Why CPGS Is The Wrong Answer to China’s Anti-Access Challenge (PDF), East-West Center Asia-Pacific Bulletin No. 102, March 24, 2011, by Iskander Rehman

Rising Power… To Do What? Evaluating China’s Power in Southeast Asia (PDF), RSIS Working Paper No. 226, March 30, 2011, by Evelyn Goh

I hope that once I’ve had a chance to read through some of this I will have some comments to add. In the meantime, here’s what a few other learned observers have to say:

China Releases National Defense 2010 White Paper – Information Dissemination

Beijing Issues Latest Defense White Paper “China’s National Defense in 2010”: Full Text and Key Excerpts – Andrew Erickson

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Review: American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964

March 3, 2011

American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 by William Raymond Manchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like most Americans, I knew of Douglas MacArthur before listening to this audiobook. I knew he was a five-star general of the army like Eisenhower, Marshall, and Bradley. I knew he commanded forces in the Pacific in World War II, constituting the southern effort that mirrored the central Pacific effort commanded by Chester Nimitz. I knew that he was sacked early in the Korean War by President Truman for insubordination. I knew that he was called “Dugout Doug” by troops who believed he did not share their privations in forward positions, close to the enemy.

I learned so much more about MacArthur in this book. I learned that his Army career spanned a remarkable 52 years, and that he was a general officer for something like the last 30 of these. Contrary to the “Dugout Doug” epithet that followed him in the Pacific, he was hardly a coward in the face of the enemy – in fact, it was quite the opposite. He was virtually suicidal in taking undue risks in battle. In World War I, though he was a high-ranking officer (colonel as chief of staff for the Rainbow Division, and later brigadier general in command of his own units), he insisted on commanding from the front, not some tent or quarters far removed from the battlefield. He accompanied his troops on raids and reconnaissance efforts armed only with a riding crop and refused to wear a steel helmet or carry a gas mask (he was gassed at least once because of the latter). Much later, when he withdrew to Corregidor in Manila Harbor after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, while everyone else rushed for cover when the island came under air attack, he routinely came out of the underground shelters to observe. It was much the same when he later returned to the Philippines after withdrawing to Australia to regroup. Though the Japanese knew the location of the house he was using as a command post and regularly strafed and bombed the area, he refused to leave the building or seek shelter when attacks came. In fact, one of the first actions he took upon assuming the private home as his headquarters was to demolish and fill in an “unsightly” bomb shelter that spoiled the aesthetics of the home’s lawn. Even during the Korean War, he still needed to get close to the front lines to get a feel for the fighting, much closer than many of his aides would have preferred (though in Korea he always made “day trips” to the fighting – flying in, touring, then returning to Tokyo at the end of the day).

Though he was quite fearless in battle, he was also a megalomaniac, highly egotistical, unable to accept blame for mistakes, and unwilling to allow anyone but himself to be acclaimed. His cables were routinely studded with accolades of his own exploits and triumphs, rarely if ever even mentioning the name of any other officer from his command.

I was unaware that Dwight Eisenhower had been one of MacArthur’s aides in the 1930s when MacArthur had retired from active duty and had gone to the Philippines to oversee the U.S. military assistance program there. It would forever sting MacArthur that Ike, who had been a major or lieutenant colonel while working for him, would have such a meteoric rise thereafter, pulling equal with him in rank as a five-star general of the army in the next decade and even further when he won the presidency – something MacArthur always coveted.

His seniority and reputation earned him a great deal of autonomy in how he conducted his business as a warfighting general. In World War II, orders were issued to all other theater commanders, but to MacArthur, the orders were sent for information only. This would lead to his ultimate fall from command in Korea. The man simply could not refrain from dabbling in politics, even going as far as launching an abortive presidential bid in 1948. He could not see the line between civilian control of the military, and was belligerent and insubordinate to commands and instruction issued even from the president himself. The lesson for American civil-military relations was clear – something was wrong with how the system allowed MacArthur to behave as he had – and would yet.

One thing I thought completely remarkable was that even after Truman fired him and he returned to the U.S. – his first time back in over a decade (he had been in the Philippines, Australia, and Japan during his time abroad) – he toured the country, making political speeches attacking the president while in full uniform, still on active duty, still drawing full pay and benefits from the military, jetting about the country on a military plane. This would never happen today.

In the end, MacArthur was a tragic figure – so talented, so gifted and driven (largely by the influence of his mother, who always pushed him to best the achievements of his father, who had been an Army three-star general), but also so terribly flawed. He failed to adequately prepare the Philippines for the Japanese invasion in World War II, responded sluggishly to reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (which preceded the strike on the Philippines by several hours), and largely repeated these mistakes in Korea in 1950. US troops in Japan were soft from easy occupation duty there, and the U.S. posture on the peninsula itself was abhorrent when the North Korean attack came. Of course, MacArthur could never be blamed for any of these shortcomings. (In an interesting sidenote, many of the Japanese troops who attacked the Philippines in December 1941 came from Takou, Formosa – now Kaohsiung, Taiwan, from which I write these words. MacArthur failed to conduct any aerial reconnaissance missions of Southern Formosa to determine the disposition and strength of Japanese troops – something he and the Filipino people would pay dearly for.)

It’s a long book – nearly 800 pages in print and over 31 hours of unabridged audio – but very interesting for military history buffs and students of Asia-Pacific geopolitics. (MacArthur to this day is probably regarded more fondly in the Philippines and Japan than he is in much of the United States.) I have read another book by the same author, William Manchester, called “Goodbye, Darkness” about his experiences fighting as a Marine in the Pacific theater during World War II, and there is no doubt that he is a skilled writer. Recommended.

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On Cyberwar with China, and other recent publications

March 2, 2011
Cyber-attack on Mastercard.com

There’s been a glut of military journal releases this week – the stalwart Military Review, featuring an excerpt (PDF) from Bing West‘s new book on Afghanistan; a new issue from the journal Prism, which discusses what are known as “complex operations” (basically, the messy, nation-building-type wars heavy in interagency coordination that have proliferated in the last decade) with an interesting-looking article on human security in complex operations (human security is a newer concept in security studies with the premise that without security at the human level – essentially addressing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the lowest level – then you aren’t going to be able to achieve any other type of security); and finally a new issue from Strategic Studies Quarterly. Regular readers will recall I examined an article from their last edition on the “new” Korean War and implications for Taiwan. (It came out just about when the NorKos were shelling Yeonpyeong Island and it seemed as if we were about to say goodbye to the 1953 armistice.) The latter contains an article called “Blown to Bits: China’s War in Cyberspace, August–September 2020“. (PDF) OK, you got me – I’m pretty interested in China’s computer network operations capabilities – let’s take a look at this one.

The author, Christopher Bronk, Fellow in Information Technology Policy at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, sets up the fictitious future cyberwar scenario by discussing the development of U.S. information warfare superiority from the 1991 Gulf War to the 1999 Kosovo War. He also mentions the other, more recent bellwethers of possible future cyber conflict, the 2007 and 2008 cyber wars on Estonia and Georgia, respectively. (The belligerent in both instances was thought to be Russia.) In the latter case (Georgia), kinetic conflict was preceded by a cyber “preparation of the battlespace” just as many analysts believe would be the case if the U.S. and China at some point come into a state of military conflict. On the prospects of such an occurrence, Bronk notes

While it is the author’s deepest and most sincere hope that no military conflict will come between China, Japan, India, the United States, or any other states of the Western Pacific and Asia, the massive interest in cyber conflict among these countries leads many to ponder such a struggle.

And so here we are. The scenario he asks us to ponder is this: it is 2020, Taiwan has completed its Finlandization, and the PRC aches for greater conquest in Asia. It sets its sites on Singapore, at the southern end of the Chinese “lake” called the South China Sea and at the eastern mouth of the Strait of Malacca, perhaps the most crucial maritime chokepoint in the Pacific Basin, if not the world. Quite plausibly, China’s actions are spurred by concerns about the security of precious seaborne fossil fuel imports coming through the Indian Ocean.

The author’s intent is not to try to present a litany of details about potential cyberwar that would be impenetrable to anyone not holding an advanced degree in theoretic mathematics or computer science, but instead to consider “how cyberwar might supplant more traditional conflict and how cyber dimensions may alter warfare.”

After laying the groundwork, the scenario begins:

Many a pundit and strategic theorist had wondered what shape unrestrained information warfare might take. The opening hours of China’s virtual war with the United States and its allies over Singapore would confirm many of the worst suspicions of that crowd. Chinese forces were quite clearly working inside the decision loop of the allied forces. Preliminary moves by the PLA in the information space indicated that it could do much damage to enemy communication and computing resources, but a series of hints would reveal that China also likely had compromised, at least to a degree, the encryption mechanisms used to secure US and allied military and diplomatic communications. At times, Beijing most probably held the capacity to have a fairly complete information picture even of very high-level, classified systems, although the reverse was also likely true.

Though the author intended to “stay out of the cyber weeds”, there is a bit of digital undergrowth to deal with, though not too much to detract from his main intent: starting a discussion about whether a forceful political goal can be achieved by cyber means alone. I think this is a lot like the shopworn, discredited thesis popular in the late 1990s that wars could be won by airpower alone that grew from the 1999 Kosovo War – it would be great if the answer was yes, but it’s not.

The scenario demonstrates ably the potential vulnerability of U.S. and allied information nets to cyber attack; the question remains if U.S. decision-makers are willing to take concrete steps now to really protect these vital information channels. Sure, the U.S. has established a formal joint command to deal with cyber issues, but in many cases the lines of responsibility have not been clearly drawn and require further clarification.

Review: The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

January 28, 2011

The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in CombatThe Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat by Bob Drury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This gripping account of U.S. Marines in combat during the Korean War is a must-read! I was thoroughly engrossed by the storytelling. Despite the fact that it is a historical work, it reads like a novel.

The descriptions of bravery and selflessness of the Marines of Fox Company, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines fighting to defend Toktong Pass near the famous Chosin Reservoir in some of the most austere winter combat conditions imaginable (think alpine fighting where temperatures did not rise above minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end, with deep snow and howling winds) is truly remarkable. While the combat itself is old-fashioned, consisting mainly of static fighting positions and human-wave tactics by the Chinese volunteers, the lessons for dealing with the environment are still relevant for a possible new fight on the Korean Peninsula.

The commander of the company of Marines, William Barber, won the Medal of Honor for leading his troops through several days and nights of siege by Chinese forces that far outnumbered his forces, despite being seriously wounded himself early on. In all, “The Last Stand of Fox Company” is an inspiring account of leadership, comradeship, and perseverance in the face of severe adversity. Highly recommended.

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The Pacific: Endgame

December 31, 2010
Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this post in May 2010 after viewing the final episode of HBO’sThe Pacific” miniseries.  I think I meant to work on it more and then post it a bit later, but since it’s now the end of the year and I am just now posting it, clearly it fell by the wayside.  Previous posts on the series can be found here and here.

The final episode of HBO’s original miniseries “The Pacific” aired last night in Taiwan.  As I have written about a couple of times previously here at Facing China, I’ve been doing some reading related to the series and the World War II in the Pacific.  My final selection related to HBO’s The Pacific was the new book about the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. But before I get into the book at all, let’s discuss The Pacific, shall we?

I enjoyed the series.  It had big shoes to fill, though.  I would say that if The Pacific had come out 10 years ago in place of Band of Brothers, people would be gushing about it, me included.  But since it had so much to live up to, I must reluctantly admit (I already admitted that as a U.S. Marine myself, I am biased) that in my opinion Band of Brothers is the superior series.  Why?  I am not completely sure…perhaps it was because Band of Brothers focused on a smaller “scene” in the European theater of war, as compared to the far-ranging American effort across virtually the entire vastness of the Pacific Ocean.  I think that as a result The Pacific was a bit disjointed, it didn’t flow as smoothly as Band of Brothers did.  Then there was the characters – none of the actors in The Pacific really excelled and stuck with me the way certain characters did in Band of Brothers, like the crazy-legs lieutenant that seemed invincible running across many a battlefield, inspiring the troops to greater accomplishments.  Or Dick Winters, the ultra-charismatic officer who Band of Brothers followed throughout the war.  His equivalent, Sledge’s company commander at Peleliu, “Ack Ack,” did not survive that island’s fighting.

I asked at the outset whether or not the producers of The Pacific would be able to do justice to the baseness and ferocity of the fighting in places like Peleliu and Okinawa as described in Eugene Sledge‘s book.  I think they did a fair job in showing the incredibly demanding conditions the fighting took place in, like the never-ending rains in Okinawa that turned everything to a sea of mud.  In his book, Sledge described one Okinawan vista this way:

It was the most ghastly corner of hell I had ever witnessed.  As far as I could see, an area that previously had been a low grassy valley with a picturesque stream meandering through it was a middy, repulsive, open sore on the land.  The place was choked with the putrefaction of death, decay, and destruction.  In a shallow defilade to our right, between my gun pit and the railroad, lay about twenty dead Marines, each on a stretcher and covered to his ankles with a poncho – a commonplace, albeit tragic, scene to every veteran.  Those bodies had been placed there to await transport to the rear for burial.  At least those dead were covered from the torrents of rain that had made them miserable in life and from the swarms of flies that sought to hasten their decay.  But as I looked about, I saw that other Marine dead couldn’t be tended properly.  The whole area was pocked with shell craters and churned up by explosions.  Every crater was half full of water, and many of them held a Marine corpse.  The bodies lay pathetically just as they had been killed, half submerged in muck and water, rusting weapons still in hand.  Swarms of big flies hovered about them.

In the end, it’s back to the old cliché – read the book.  At one point in The Pacific, a Marine on Okinawa slips down the side of a hill of mud while trying simply to get from one place to another.  He ends up in a deep puddle of maggotty mud-water along with a rotting corpse or two.  While it is disgusting by any measure on the screen, here’s how he described the same events in the book:

My buddy rose, took one step down the ridge, slipped, and fell.  He slid on his belly all the way to the bottom, like a turtle sliding off a log.  I reached the bottom to see him stand erect with his arms partially extended and look down at his chest and belt with an mixed expression of horror, revulsion, and disbelief.  He was, of course, muddy from the slide.  But that was the least of it.  White, fat maggots tumbled and rolled off his cartridge belt, pockets, and folds of his dungaree jacket and trousers.  I picked up a stick and handed him another.  Together we scraped the vile insect larvae off his reeking dungarees.

I’d certainly recommend The Pacific as a good series to watch about World War II in the Pacific from the U.S. point of view.  It doesn’t tell the whole story, but how could it?  Four years of fighting can hardly be compressed into under 10 hours of television.  Nice effort – 4 of 5 stars.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I also wanted to talk about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima.  First, it’s important to note at the outset that the book is controversial because of problems with key sources of information the author used in researching the book.  In fact, because of these source problems, the publisher pulled the book from further sales earlier this year and the author is re-writing the book without the tainted sources.  Oh yeah, the sources scandal also raised questions about the author’s academic credentials, and it turns out that the PhD he claimed wasn’t real.  Due to all these problems, Last Train may not have been the best book to choose in retrospect, but in my own defense, I bought it soon after it was released, prior to all these skeletons coming out of the closet.  I decided to read it to tie in with World War II‘s “endgame” – nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and a few days later, Japanese capitulation.

The nuclear attacks on Japan are not a major event in The Pacific – they occur at the end of the 9th episode, and are not shown, only alluded to in a conversation about some fancy, new “super bombs” wiping out a couple Japanese cities.  This is not to downplay their significance; it is simply because the attacks themselves are beyond the scope of the story.  It is because of the atomic bombs used on Japan that the story ends as it does, with a U.S. victory on Okinawa, with no need to chance the estimated 1 million U.S. casualties that would be necessitated by a breach on mainland Japan itself.

Last Train talks about some of the poor souls who managed to survive the bombing in Hiroshima and thought that fleeing would be a good idea, to get out of the area.  I agree, but a few who fled Hiroshima went to join family in Nagasaki and were there a few days hence when the second, more powerful nuclear bomb was detonated.  This could called “really, really bad luck.”  The book also asserts that the Hiroshima bomb was a “dud.”  The yield was only about 10 kilotons (KT), even though it was supposed to be between 20 – 30KT. (The Nagasaki bomb‘s yield was in this latter range.) One Japanese survivor, a medical doctor who wore glasses to correct his eyesight, had his vision corrected by the blast.  In what might be the ultimate deadpan, he said that he does not recommend weathering a nuclear attack as an alternative corrective vision surgery. (!!!)

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this year.  I wanted to see both of the bombing sites and see what the cities that still exist there are like now.  It’s remarkable, really – what I took away most from the visits was the resilience of mankind.  To see the photos of the destruction the bombs caused and to stand at the hypocenter today and take a look around, to see all the bustle and urban metropolis still surrounding you there, is quite a testament to being able to bounce back from a really, really big setback.

A related book I also recently completed was John Lewis Gaddis’s newest book of history related to the aftermath of World War II, called The Cold War: A New History.  I found the book to be quite interesting in how it ties so many different themes together, from the evolution of containment, detente, the creation of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War in Asia, the opening of China, and on and on.  It was a nice way to bring me pretty much right back to the modern day, tracing out the results of World War II to (near) the present.  Excellent book.

Significantly, on the ASBM…

December 27, 2010

Just caught my eye over on my Google Reader feed – a new report from the gurus of the Chinese ASBM at the U.S. Naval War College.  I haven’t had a chance but to skim through it and look at the pictures, but it looks pretty informative, nonetheless.  I’ll read through it tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you have time today, go ahead and have a look:

China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches “Initial Operational Capability” (IOC) (HTML) (PDF – includes graphics)

OEF-P Case Study

December 27, 2010

I just read through the “Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines Case Study” (PDF) posted at Small Wars Journal a few days ago.  It’s been many a moon since I’ve touched on OEF-P-related business here, but this new case study (dated October 2010) is worth a read if you are at all interested in the topic.  It’s got a lot of good background information on how the mission in the Southern Philippines was conceived and why it operates the way it does, based on the specific operating environment unique to the Philippines.  I wish I had a reference like that one before I deployed there. (If you are headed that way – MUST READ!) It’s also chock-full of references for additional readings if you want to dig deeper on a subject.  Check it out:

CASE STUDY: Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines By Richard Swain, Ph.D, Booz Allen Hamilton, under contract to U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Center

Matterhorn

September 22, 2010

Long-time followers of this blog (all two of you) will already know that I like the programs the Pritzker Military Library has from time to time.  Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Library hosts authors of military-related books for talks about their works.  The most recent program I caught featured Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, one of the truest memoirs of the Iraq War I have read. (Side note: go check out Matt’s latest post on his new blog, Kerplunk, about an academic conference he recently attended – good stuff!)  I caught the podcast for that one, but on other previous occasions I have endured the often-painfully early wake-up calls required to watch the streaming video live as the event happens.  This time around, to watch author Karl Marlantes talk about his brilliant novel of the Vietnam War Matterhorn, I won’t have to get up early at all – thanks PML!

I read Matterhorn after seeing the high praise heaped upon it from various sources, including James Fallows of The Atlantic.  While I had little doubt that the book would be interesting to me – it’s about Marines and war, a couple of topics near and dear to my heart – I wasn’t as certain that the book would be able to live up to the hype.  Well, it did, and then some.  It’s been a while since I have read a book that I literally didn’t want to put down (especially when considering that some of my academic pursuits of late have included political economy and philosophy), but that’s how Marlantes’ novel was.  Marlantes himself was a Marine who served in Vietnam and started writing the novel soon after his service there ended.  More than 30 years later, the product is worth your attention.  Read the book, and if you haven’t yet, still tune in (or get the podcast) to see him talk about the book on Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 6PM Central (US) time (7AM on Friday morning here in Taiwan – no problem tuning in for me!).  Read on for all the details.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2010/09-23-karl-marlantes.jsp

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pritzker Military Library

610 N. Fairbanks Court, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60611
312-587-0234
Make a reservation

Member reception: 5:00pm
Presentation and Live Webcast: 6:00pm

Books are available for purchase at author events courtesy of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court. Library members receive a 10% discount.
As a young man, returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he began writing an epic novel about the war he experienced and the way that combat changes people. More than thirty years later, his work is done.

Matterhorn draws from Karl Marlantes’ experience as an officer with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. The year is 1969, and 2nd Lt. Waino Mellas has been assigned to lead a rifle platoon of forty Marines as their company builds a fire support base in the mountains near the border of Laos. His platoon is full of young men who have been at war for years; Mellas, fresh out of college, is overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a leader and the dense jungle landscape that surrounds them.

As casualties mount, Mellas and his platoon fight through a series of conflicting missions – they are ordered to abandon their newly built base, the ordered to take it back from the North Vietnamese Army, and then ordered to abandon it again. While their commanding officers fight the war from a distance, little aware of how their decisions affect men on the ground, Mellas and his platoon endure sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and a growing sense of futility; they struggle to understand and trust each other, and they forge powerful bonds that will overcome fear, doubt, and loss.

Karl Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals for his service in Vietnam. Matterhorn is his first novel. A graduate of Yale and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he lives in rural Washington.

It’s finally here

August 17, 2010

The Pentagon’s 2010 China Military Power report, that is.  Though I had been waiting for this release for some time, I had a busy day today and haven’t had a chance to read much beyond the executive summary, but here are a few links to keep you busy for a while:

The report:

Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2010_CMPR_Final.pdf (PDF, 83 pages)

Accompanying Armed Forces Press Service story – “Report Says Chinese Military Transparency Still Lacking

MSM coverage:

The Wall Street Journal – “U.S. Sounds Alarm at China’s Military Buildup

The New York Times – “Pentagon Cites Concerns in China Military Growth

The Washington Post – “Economic powerhouse China focuses on its military might

I plan to write more about the report once I’ve had a chance to get through it a bit further.  Since the report is months past its customary release date, I wonder if it will prove to be worth the wait.

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“Too Big to Fail,” U.S. Marines Version: The V-22 Osprey

May 1, 2010

MV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan

A USMC V-22 flying in Afghanistan [From http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]

I first saw the V-22 in person in the summer of 2005 while stationed in Quantico, Virginia.  I was at an event at the officer’s club there, and just as we were walking out to the parking lot to head home, we saw them across the road, two of them, using the nearby parade grounds as a landing zone.  At that time, most of us had never seen them in person before, so we stood slack-jawed, watching as they prepared to take off, and then, improbably, leapt forth into the sky vertically and transitioned their propellers from helicopter mode to “go fast” mode, rocketing off to the horizon at an impossibly fast speed for a “helicopter.”  It was quite remarkable, I remember thinking at the time – they don’t look like they should even be able to fly, yet there they went up, up and away.

I was no stranger to the V-22 – probably no Marine was.  Full-page glossy photos of the machine had been adorning defense contractor advertisements in the Marine Corps Gazette and other defense periodicals since before I had first taken an interest in the Marine Corps in the early 1990s.  The V-22 had been “hyped” so hard for so long, I figured it was little more than a pipe dream.  Lo and behold, a decade hence, there it was!

The Dream MachineBut it was gained at no small cost, as two reviews of a new book about the V-22 assert: 25 years of development, $22 billion, and over two dozen lives.  Influential defense blog Danger Room recently interviewed Richard Whittle, author of the new book The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey and the May 2010 edition of the Marine Corps Gazette also features a review of the book.  Taken in concert, they’ve got me hooked on wanting to read the book.

From the Gazette:

The major credit for the Osprey’s repeated leases on life can be traced to many familiar names in our current and recent Marine Corps. From majors and lieutenant colonels who believed in the dream to general officers who recognized its potential, there is no shortage of Marines who literally staked their careers and reputations on the success of the program. Just as important are the members of Congress and industry who shared the vision and continually resurrected what appeared to be a dead program by providing support and, most importantly, money to keep the dream alive.

I worked in close proximity to Marine general officers in 2007 – 08, and I recall that at the time of the first Osprey deployment to Iraq in September 2007 the “pucker factor” was high – there was simply no way that the Iraq deployment could fail.  Too much money, too much time, and too many lives had gone into the development of the airframe and its revolutionary capabilities; it had to be a success.

I’ve discussed the V-22 with Marine rotary wing pilots who fly other airframes and who served in Iraq at the same time the initial deployment was made, and they were of the opinion that the V-22 deployment was successful in no small part because the missions assigned to it were “cherry picked” to maximize the chances it would not be put in an ambiguous situation where failure would likely result, i.e. a V-22 crash or shoot-down.  If this is the case, then the strategy was a success – no Marine V-22’s crashed or were lost in Iraq.  Here’s what Whittle had to say about the Marine V-22’s in Iraq:

Riding in [the V-22] in Iraq wasn’t much different from flying in it elsewhere, except that a crew chief fired some rounds from the machine gun on the back ramp to test it after we took off. In theory, there was a chance somebody would shoot at us, but peace had broken out in Al Anbar province at the time – this was December 2007. Besides, while helicopters usually fly low in combat zones, the Marines cruise their Ospreys at 8,000 feet or more, well above the range of AK-47s and RPGs. The Osprey gets to that altitude quickly enough that getting shot at wasn’t a great worry when I flew in Iraq. It also gets you where you’re going a lot faster than a helicopter can, and it doesn’t shake and rattle you the way many military helicopters do.

Recently a U.S. Air Force V-22 variant crashed in Afghanistan and several servicemen were killed.  When I saw the headline talking about a V-22 crash in Afghanistan, I automatically assumed it was a USMC aircraft and that after such a long development and fielding process followed by an extremely careful method of making the initial combat deployments that the inevitable had happened and that a “knee jerk” reaction would be forthcoming, removing all V-22’s from the Afghan theater.  Thankfully, this has not been the case.

It takes a certain amount of risk to even develop an aircraft like this.  Its unique design gives it capabilities that far surpass any other rotary wing aircraft in the U.S. inventory (along with certain drawbacks that are also unique to it).  In his interview with Danger Room, author Richard Whittle had this to say about Marines, risk, and the V-22:

The Marines are risk-takers by nature, but as I explain in the book, they’ve been in love with vertical-lift aircraft since the helicopter and the atomic bomb emerged during World War II. They saw very quickly that in the atomic age, it might be impossible to do amphibious assaults — their trademark mission — from ships anchored close to a hostile shore, the way they did them in World War II. They fell in love with the tiltrotor because it offered a faster and better way to take Marines to a fight from ships at sea. Their passion for it, though, stems from their unique culture. Unlike the other armed services, the Marines are also a tribe or even a cult, and one of their tribal beliefs is that they have to be different to continue as a separate branch of the military.

Amen, brother!  I am glad that the Marine Corps stuck with the V-22, despite the costs in lives and treasure, for it has the capability to change the way that we are able to move around the battlespace.  Indeed, the combat radius of a V-22 compared to the aircraft it is designed to replace, the Vietnam War-vintage CH-46E is almost funny:

combat radius comparison

Combat radius comparison

For an example of what could be done with the V-22 a little bit closer to home (I live in Taiwan), if you took off in a combat-loaded CH-46E from Kaohsiung, you probably would not be able to make it to China and back. (The CH-46’s advertised combat radius is 184 miles, which is pretty close to the approximately 190 miles that Google Earth tells me it is from Kaohsiung to the Xiamen / Zhangzhou area in China’s Fujian province.) Contrast that with the V-22’s combat radius of 426 miles.  You would not only be able to reach China, you would be able to make it all the way to Hong Kong, 407 miles away.  And then after dropping off its cargo, the V-22 could then return to Kaohsiung, without refueling.  Let’s take a look at the graphic, courtesy of PowerPoint and Google Maps:

Distances from Kaohsiung to selected Chinese cities

(Or, if you’d prefer to see the actual PowerPoint slide, it’s here (.pptx): KHH – HKK)

Not bad.  Nice capability.  This is only a hypothetical situation, though – I don’t think the V-22 will be among approved weapons sales to Taiwan anytime soon. (Better luck with the F-16s that have been promised since the George H. W. Bush administration.)

Marine load cargo on Osprey

Loading an Osprey in Afghanistan [From http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]
In summary, Richard Whittle’s new book about the V-22 looks pretty darn interesting to me and I plan to add it to my “to read” stack.  Maybe you should check it out, too.

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