23 April 2014

Non Temp Storage

As I wait for the Officer Separation Board results (hoping I still have a job) I still have to go through the process of PCSing to Germany. I'd like to note that the Army announced that units would begin "persistant presence" missions in eastern Europe, which just happens to coincide with a more aggressive Russia.

The packers and movers will start moving us in two weeks or so, picking up "unaccompanied baggage" which we will use to set up housekeeping when we arrive.

A week after that, the rest of our household goods, and a week following that, everything that is going into storage.

My firearms, and air rifles (and pistol) will get stored with family as I can't take any of them to Germany. I'm thinking quite seriously of putting all my reloading gear into long term storage.

Because in Germany you need a license to possess air guns that don't have the "F in Pentagon" proof mark, and it takes at least a year to get qualified to get the license. You need a license to handload ammunition, and are legally restricted to loading only calibers you own. Suffice to say that all my shooting overseas will be with rented/borrowed firearms and commercial ammunition is probably accurate.

To someone who has been born into freedom, and enjoyed simply being able to purchase property, Germany has me somewhat frustrated.  But the chance to broaden my childrens education trumps me being able to enjoy my hobby. And maybe this will push me over the edge to actually learn how to hunt with a bow (probably not, archery never resonated with me).

Three years ago I had no problem ordering 16 lbs of powder and a sleeve of primers. Now I can't find anything in stock online save for magnum rifle powders (which I happen to have plenty of).  Quite possibly I need to buy a 300 Win Mag just so I have something to reload for in the future? I've had worse excuses for buying a rifle.

But still, planning to put things into storage for at least three years is a new experience for me. There are no guarantees in life, but I'm hoping that I'll get to use my reloading gear again, and that components will be a tad more available in three years.

22 April 2014

Oh military pay...

So on the book of face the proposed budgeting which stops the automatic yearly raises and reduces it to something a bit more sustainable has been attacked as evil officers who are both tone deaf and using defence contracting as a golden parachute from service....

More than one idjit has declared, "How about they try to live off an E5 pay!"

To which I replied, "I did, for 6 years."

Right now if you are an E5 with 2 years of service your gross income will be 27.8k a year in base pay.

But you won't have to pay for lodging. You won't have to pay for medical, dental, or vision. You won't have to pay for mental health care. You'll get 30 days paid vacation a year. Enlisted soldiers can even get matching funds up to 5% of their optional retirement savings account, the TSP. There definitely are worse jobs in terms of compensation.

There are a lot of things that an E5 doesn't have to pay for, so that 27.8k, minus taxes, becomes largely "discretionary income."

Now I'm not saying it will be a lavish lifestyle. For a portion of that time I was single living in the barracks. For another portion I was a reservist going to school full time while my wife worked. For another portion I was activated for war.

But I got out of college debt free.

When I was in command I had E4s and E5s who never had any problems paying their bills. Then I had a few who always had problems. The difference wasn't the pay, the difference was the choices they made as individuals.

I see Russia and China bringing out Fifth Gen fighters with better performance characteristics than the F-35 "Albino Elephant" and I see the mission load only increasing as we start focusing on supporting partner nations with training and military to military engagements.

When it comes to the most pressing needs of national security, enlisted compensation isn't even in the top ten issues facing our country. When compensation falls below acceptable, people stop enlisting, and if that goes on for too long then things like enlistment bonuses and pay increases will entice talent from the free market.

There are definitely things we could be spending money on to keep America safer, first and foremost would be not mothballing 3 carrier groups in the Navy.

18 April 2014

April 19th, a good day to talk about professional Armies in 4th Gen warfare...

Evidently calling the Officer Corps a bunch of spineless, brainless, yes men solely concerned with a paycheck is the new thing all the cool pundits are doing, first Ms. Barnhardt and now Bill Lind.


First off, Iraq wasn't a failure any more than the War of 1812 was a failure, or the Civil War was a failure. Iraq has been on its own for a while now, and yes the killing is on an uptick. Iran is a right bastard to have for a neighbor. Peace is that brief moment of time where everyone pauses to reload....

I wonder how the British Army felt after Yorktown? Were there calls for reforms? Was blame passed about? Or did someone realize, "You know, fighting an expensive foreign war a long distance from our lines of supply is never a recipe for success."

But in terms of what the US Military could do, and did, in Iraq, was definitely a "success" in terms of kicking ass and taking names in six weeks, then spending almost a decade trying to rebuild some semblance of representative government. It's like a carpenter with one tool, a sledgehammer. Great for knocking down walls, but just not the right tool for doing finish work on cabinetry. But when your only tool is a sledgehammer, that is what you use.

Afghanistan, same story as Vietnam. We win in every engagement, but we are supporting a corrupt government that everyone knows is corrupt.

In terms of actual fighting, we've kicked ass and always kicked ass. If you want us to do something other than fighting, like Somalia, Lebanon, the rebuilding of Iraq an Afghanistan, by the very definition of what Armies are, we kinda suck at that.

Seriously, do you want an Army that specializes in 4th Gen conflict when China is looking hungry and Russia is getting all imperial? This is a serious question, and one that the American public should probably be involved in.

Do you want a Navy that keeps the sea lanes open, or a Navy that projects power forward to rattle the saber as needed? A Navy built around anti-piracy measures is entirely different from one built around aircraft carriers and cruise missile launch platforms.

Do you want a Marine Corps that specializes in disaster relief and humanitarian evacuation? Or a Marine Corps that specializes in amphibious assaults and forced entry?

Because right now, the Officer Corps in the Army at least, is working on trying to figure out what the fuck we'll be asked to do in the near future. From being Warrior Diplomats" in the Regionally Aligned Brigades to being "America's Kickoff Team" in the global ready brigade or Ranger Regiment.

It is utterly impossible for a military to do all things well.  Hell, even with an extravagant budget we can't even do all things good. At the very best we choose where we are competent and where we suck.

One of the big reasons why we don't have a bunch of "reformers" at the top is that we have been "transforming" as we went along. In the last fifteen years we've gone from the Division as the unit of action, to Brigades, and now we've revamped the brigade makeup based on lessons learned from Stryker Brigades which we stood up and fielded, in wartime. And we opened up combat units to women, in wartime. There has been a damn lot of changing going on.

When you look at the "failures" of Iraq and Afghanistan, it isn't a fundamental lack of training, or resources, or even quality troops. It is a fundamental lack of, "Hey Genius, we took over a country like you asked, gonna give us a realistic ending state so we can go the fuck home?" from leadership that doesn't wear stars, bars, eagles, or leaves.

Right now the military doesn't need reforms. We have the capabilities that the President and SECDEF desire, we have the manpower levels dictated by Congress. We have a training regime that does produce competent units and individuals ready to go kill people and break things.

So tell me Bill Lind, what reform would you like to see? The first rule of maintenance is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

On the flip side of that, I agree with Bill Lind that the "up or out" and "20 or bust" personnel management policies are horrible. I also agree that we have more officers than we truly need. However this isn't WWII. And if you start trying to make an Army like a WWII Army, you'll see WWII levels of casualties. You can't have it any other way.

Yes command is too short, but it weeds out the obviously incompetent. Yes people are afraid of getting fired from a job so they become risk averse, but the problem is with their immediate boss and senior rater. Some policy change that says "Embrace the screw ups as legitimate learning opportunities" is going to go over like a lead balloon with a lot of folks. If you didn't figure it out as a PL, then as an XO or plans/training officer in a 3 shop somewhere, Company Command isn't the time to figure it out.

There are reforms that can be had, and right now the Officer Separation Boards are ongoing to cut officers. Whether or not 2,000 Captains and Majors is enough of a cut remains to be seen. Crossing my fingers already hoping I'm not one of the cut.

17 April 2014

Until the fat lady sings....

Does anyone else hear the irony here? 
“It’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”
Because I distinctly remember something about a legal requirement to pass a budget....
The way Congress develops tax and spending legislation is guided by a set of specific procedures laid out in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. The centerpiece of the Budget Act is the requirement that Congress each year develop a "budget resolution" setting aggregate limits on spending and targets for federal revenue. The limits set by the budget resolution, along with a companion "pay-as-you-go" rule, apply to all tax or spending legislation developed by individual committees as well as to any amendments offered on the House or Senate floor. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=155
If by "violating the law" you mean "screwing around with public tax money and getting away with it." I think that those words hold the distinct ring of irony.

14 April 2014

Cyber Attacks


Go read Weaponsman's analysis on the steps of conducting a cyber attack.

Allow me to give a differential analysis, not because I completely disagree with his understanding, just that I think this is a better model for comparison.

Those seven steps are not very analogous to a combat operation.  Those seven steps are very analogous to placing a spy in an enemy Command, Control and Communications sensitive area.

Step one, Recon. What does your target look like?  In the human realm this is things like location, ethnicity, dialect, social circle, and education. In the cyber realm this is the operating system, installed applications, hardware configurations (you know Intel built in remote access at the hardware level for some of their newere processors, right?), and physical security measures.

Step two, weaponization. This is where you take the spy you want to insert and make sure his cover story is air tight, make sure he/she can speak the language, make sure that they are prepared to penetrate inside of the enemies security measures. In the cyber world this is the same thing, except with an electronic file of some sort. This is a generally a custom bit of code that is designed to get access to the target machine, and begin the process of escalating privileges. These generally have to be custom code because a truly successful hack requires a "zero day exploit" that the target security measures haven't seen before, so they don't know to look for it. The spy has to pass for the enemy, your weapon has to pass for legit code.

Step three, delivery. You insert your spy into enemy territory, send him to a training camp, have her use her cover role as a secretary to take a lover in high command, there are a lot of options. In the cyber world you insert your code into an enemy machine. Email attachments are common, but even remote access to a printer has worked in the past. This is the initial access to your target. Some viruses are specifically targeted to only a few systems, so they can be spread benignly through carriers. If you've ever been chewed out by your boss or IT guy because you plugged your smarthpone into your work computer to charge, you deserved it.

Step four, exploitation. This is where your spy is on the inside, and simply gathering information. In the cyber realm, your malware is giving you information. At this stage the spy has done nothing destructive and neither has the malware. The spy is letting you know how many players their are in the enemy force structure, the malware is letting you know how many users, how many machines, how many IP schemes, etc.

Step five, installation. This is where the spy sets up a blind spot to let a commando team into the secure compound (or some other analogy, it could be dropping a radar screen for five minutes so a plane can fly somewhere). In the cyber realm, this is the backdoor that allows an outsider to gain system access to the targeted machine (or network). Still nothing destructive has happened yet. The commando team is poised and ready to take over, the hacker is poised and ready to pawn the network.

Step six, Command and Control. This is where the spy pulls his pistol inside the enemy command post while the commandos rush in and takes over. In the Cyber Realm this is where the backdoor is exploited by a hacker on your side to "own the system" and take control of the network.

Step seven, actions on the objective. The objective for our spy is to take down the enemy network from the inside, and now he gets to make off with file cabinets full of records to keep hunting down the enemy based on the intelligence found there. Our cyber realm equivalent is doing the same, replicating data found on the enemy network, exploiting that intelligence to build more targeting packets and enable real world operations.

Now the "step seven" also has an alternate ending, complete destruction. The spy placed a nuke in the HQ and all the bad guys blow up.  Stuxnet overspun the centrifuges and the enrichment stopped. That is also a legitimate "actions on the objective." With stuxnet steps 3 through 7 had to be all in the code as the targeted network was isolated from outside communications, it took someone plugging in a USB device, or infected optical disk, to transfer that virus to the targeted network.

At the heart of it Cyber warfare is information warfare. Not information warfare in the terms of "winning the hearts and minds" or "engaging the media" but the ability to manipulate the information your enemy has coming in, and dominate the conflict between the two parties to your favor by gaining and maintaining information dominance.

HTML 5 and CSS

What follows is simply a whiny rant, so no need to read further.

I am not a code monkey. I will probably never be a code monkey. But everyone who works computers is expected to have a working knowledge of HTML.

In the tech world systems develop over time, and evolutionary changes are the norm, except when they aren't. Every once in a while someone will "simplify things" and it will screw up everyone who was used to doing things the old way.

HTML 5 with Cascading Style Sheets is like that. If you never did any HTML 4 and you just learned HTML 5 with CSS then you would marvel at all the "spaghetti code monsters" that came out of previous version of HTML.

But it makes re-learning things all sorts of frustrating because now you have to remind yourself to "use CSS" instead of a depricated markup. I'm sure that by the time I'm done I'll be completely in love with HTML 5 and CSS, but for right now it seems like I spend half my time looking up referrences on how to do what I used to do with inline code to put it into a style sheet...

Learning isn't always fun, but it is always worth it.

12 April 2014

500 Yard shots in the wind

One of the hardest things for me to unlearn is to shoot for score, instead of shooting to hit the target. I've always been a "tactical Timmy" adjusting my sights for the wind, trying to thread my bullet through the breeze. I can hit the target doing that, but I've never been able to keep it tight on the 10 ring like a no wind condition. I was doing pretty good today, holding inside the 8 ring for two strings, and only dropping to the 7 ring once at 300 yards. At 500 yards, the wind started getting squirrely and my groups opened up as I tried to compensate for the shifts. I won't post my final score for that as I am really not proud of it, but the two misses I got were less than 4 inches from the 5 ring.

I was having a discussion in the pits today with a very nice young lady who shot a 189 in some very challenging wind conditions. A difference of 4 inches on a torso is essentially meaningless against an unarmored torso, but that is the difference between a 10 and an 8 for score on a target. Or the difference between a 6 and a miss.

She said these words "You have to choose your condition and shoot in it. I shot my first sighter when the flag at the target line was indicating left and when I felt the breeze on my hair.  That was my condition.  The hardest part about shooting in the wind is just waiting for your condition, but you have a lot of time."

20 minutes is a long time. And you do run the risk that your wind condition won't replicate in that time frame, but in my experience that isn't likely at all. Winds shift and swirl, conditions change rapidly.

An infantryman, if he misses a shot, can simply take another shot. Misses in combat have a very different consequence than they do in competition. A miss in combat can still cause your enemy to get fixed in place, so depending on what you want to do (suppress for example) a near miss can be part of the plan. But in competition the only thing worse than a fast miss is a slow miss.

So I've been chewing on her words all afternoon, because she is a better shot than I am and her advice was sound. There are times when we will need to "wait for conditions" even in a tactical situation. If you are on a sniper mission you wouldn't take the shot if you knew it would miss due to environmental conditions.

Part of me wants to keep fiddling with the sights, or using front sight hold off, because that is what I've been doing, and I really do want to be able to make the shot in any condition. The smarter part of my brain says, "Listen to her, learn to use tactical patience when competing because what you have been doing hasn't been improving your scores."

Now I won't have this issue at all with Vintage Sniper, you only get 20 seconds per shot in that game so I'll HAVE to keep adjusting for wind. So I think I'll start "choosing my condition" in High Power in order to get consistently better scores.  After all, if I only shoot 19 out of 20 rounds for score and drop one because I ran out of time, that can be better than 18 for score with two marked misses.