Thursday, August 18, 2011

National Security Podcast Listing

Over the last few weeks, I've seen more and more interest on Twitter in National Security podcasts.  Some folks are just looking for decent ones (@ChrisAlbon characterized the existing ones as too "academic or Blackfive-ish"), but some folks are a step ahead and are willing to step into the breach (I'm listing @Selil and @NaheedMustafa here in an effort to shame them into producing the podcasts that they alluded to this week)

So, I went through this drill earlier this week and put together a list of NatSec and IR podcasts with the intention of reviewing them and screening for winners.  I'm giving up on that for now and instead just pushing them out with iTunes links and you all can decide for yourself.  If you want to put new ones in the comments (or send them to me on Twitter) I'll update the post as we go.

All links are iTunes unless otherwise noted.

Center for the Study of Governance and Transparency (10-part discussion discussing corruption in government).  This one has been very academic and niche so far.

Department of War Studies' Podcast (King's College) Ongoing podcast focused on "war, conflict and international security."  So far this has been the most accessible one that I have listened to.  Lots of noted names in the NatSec arena.

Wilton Park Dialogues Ongoing podcast that "forges links between ideas and policy; delivering practical results through dialogue" --I'm not so sure about all that, but worth trying out.

World Affairs Council (of Northern California) Ongoing podcast to "engage the most critical global issues of our day and connect to the ideas that lead to change." I don't know anything else about these folks, but the idea that they centered on Northern California may be an indication of the kind of politics you are going to get here.

Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (Oxford University) Ongoing podcast covering a wide-range of topics primarily centered on the application of ethics in war and conflict.

Oxford Transitional Justice Research Seminars (Oxford University) Ongoing podcast focused on "issues of transition in societies recovering form mass conflict and/or repressive rule"

Politics and International Relations (Oxford University) Ongoing podcast focused more on the traditional IR side than National Security.

I would like to thank @dianawueger and @shloky for the recommendations to this list (by which I mean pretty much everything on this list).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Its called a "Uniform" for a reason...

Due to recent budget hand-wringing and clear indications that serious cuts are coming for the Department of Defense, I am starting a list of things we can do to save some scratch.  While these certainly aren't intended to solve our budget issues, they are things that can be accomplished quickly and cheaply.  This is the first.

Return all Services to a single utility uniform:

By my count we are currently fielding 13 variations of different general purpose utility uniforms (for the purpose of this post I'm ignoring flight suits, coveralls, maternity, etc).  The US Army is currently fielding the ACU in both UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) and a MultiCam variant [1,2].  They are also rolling out a new ACU version specifically cut to better fit female soldiers [3].  The Marines (who I should point out, started the uniform arms race back in 2001) support two variations of their MARPAT uniforms (woodland and desert) [4,5].  They have also tested variants for female Marines (but have not fielded them).  The Air Force rolled out the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) [6] but still authorizes the BDU for homestation wear (until 1 Nov 2011) [7].  They have also fielded a female version of the ABU [8].  Additionally, the USAF has also begun fielding the ACU MultiCam variant for Afghanistan deployments (which is the only instance of reutilization in this list, so that actually doesn't count against them).  This brings us to the US Navy, which deserves special ridicule for the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) [9] that they are currently fielding as their primary uniform and the fact that they are still supporting both the BDU [10] and DCU [11] for "tactical environments."  They have also recently started fielding the 'Type I' and 'Type II' variations [12,13] to replace the BDU and DCU.  Unfortunately, these uniforms looks so much like the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU) that General Conway explicitly complained about the confusion that would be caused.

While I think that most people would agree that our current rainbow coalition of uniforms is ridiculous, there doesn't seem to be agreement on what a tactical uniform is supposed to accomplish.  As I see it there are only two fundamental questions that need to be addressed:

1) Can military personnel safely and adequately be supported by a single pattern (Army approach) or will it require multiple patterns for the variety of operating areas (Marine Corps approach)? 
My belief is that a quality, generic pattern (something akin to MultiCam) could serve as the single style for utility uniforms across the DoD, but this is a legitimate question to be answered.
2) Is it necessary to support different uniform cuts for females?
I'm wholly unqualified to speak on this, but there seems to be consensus among the females that fielding a female uniform cut would yield benefits.

The bottom line is that over the last 10 years the utility uniforms supported by the military have expanded from 2 variations; unisex BDUs and DCUs to the current mess of 13.  Its not just the lack of clarity on the issue that is disturbing, these changes carry with them the requisite expansion in regulations, support and logistics.  If these changes met a compelling need for highly specialized camouflage for specific tactical environments I would fully support it, but that is clearly not the case.  They are an effort by each Service to highlight their own "uniqueness."  This is not a legitimate function for a utility uniform.  Service members should receive the most effective pattern and they should all receive it.  I don't believe that Service identification should be placed above tactical utility or the efficiencies that would come from having a single pattern.

Camouflage does not become less effective as the number of people wearing it increases.  There isn't a limited amount of concealment in the universe. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Uniformity (Part 1)

Based on this announcement that the Air Force was now fielding OCP (OEF Camouflage Pattern) for Afghanistan deployers, I was inspired to

A) Actually post something longer than 140 characters
B) Rage about uniforms (starting with the Air Force)

Granted, I have been out of the active-duty military for a few years now, but as I remember it, the underlying goal of a camouflage uniform is to blend in with ones surroundings.  Thats why it was so difficult to watch a few years back as the Air Force field tested this monstrosity (a uniform so hideous that the vendor who developed it is embarrassed by it)

In what may have been the most unified moment in Air Force history, there was a collective outcry against this abomination and eventually this pattern was tabled and we ended up with the Airman Battle Uniform.  The ABU basically took the worst features of the Battle Dress Uniform (the outdated design) and coupled it with the worst features of the Army Combat Uniform (a digitized pattern of questionable effectiveness).  If that wasn't bad enough, in an effort to retain the 'flavor' of the uniform at the right, the Air Force insisted on a modified 'tiger stripe' pattern and added a 'slate blue' to the final palette.  Granted, this was a damn sight better than the smurf blue they started with, but still nothing approaching good.

This is the final result:

There are still a litany of complaints against this uniform, most of them forehead-slappingly obvious.  For example, instead of being constructed of a relatively light-weight material that could be layered for cold weather climates, the material was actually heavier than the old 'winter-weight' BDUs, meaning that it would be excruciatingly hot in warm-weather environments (good thing we don't fight in any of those).  To make matters worse, the Air Force included an interior 'map-pocket' on both sides of the uniform made of two additional layers of the same heavy material.  This means that the front side of this uniform has a minimum of 3 layers of heavy-duty, cotton/poly material (even more if you count the places where there is another layer for the external pockets).  Of course, Airmen immediately cut out these unnecessary layers which led to the requisite post-hoc regulations to keep pace with actions people were already taking. 

Ok, so the point of this post is that demonstrate that the Air Force either doesn't know how to develop a combat uniform (insert punchline here) OR didn't really care about the tactical aspects of this uniform and was only concerned with having something "unique."  My guess is that it was probably both.

Ok, so now the ABU has been finalized and is largely fielded (mandatory wear date is Oct 1, 2011).  The ABU was supposed to be the Air Force equivalent of the Army's "Universal" Camouflage Pattern, meaning it was initially justified as being a replacement to the woodland and desert BDUs.  Now however, the Air Force is rolling out a new pattern for Afghanistan.  Let that sink in for a minute...

They haven't even fully fielded their last uniform and they are rolling out a new one.

They are also reverting back to the 2-uniform solution (Afghanistan vs. Everywhere else) I wish that I could say that this behavior was specific to the Air Force, but its not.  Collectively, the DoD has demonstrated that we have no idea how to develop, field and sustain a combat uniform.

Don't get me started on the Navy Working Uniform....

Admiral Mike Mullen