Jade Helm 15: Why Testing is Necessary

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Mon, Jun 1 - 9:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - Black Helicopters

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the concerns of the Black Helicopter Watch Battalion1 of the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, because there are going to be an awful lot of dark helicopters floating around the skies of the southwest for a couple of months. Yes, O BHWB of the TFHB, these black helicopters are real, they are all sentient, manned by aliens from outer space, all of whose spaceships are deadlined for defective widgets. The aliens are working for the UN and the Martians until new widgets show up (they’re on back order), and they are all expressly out to get YOU.

Now that we have that settled, as I mentioned in that essay I cited to you over the last two weeks, Training for War, one of the five functions of training is “Testing (of doctrine and equipment).” What that means in this case is that if you haven’t done it you don’t know if you can do it. If you haven’t done it, you don’t know if there’s a better way to do it. If you don’t know if you’re doing it as well as possible, or if you can do it at all, then you are risking something between unnecessary loss of life, mission failure, and utter national humiliation.

Think back here to Operation Eagle Claw, the Iran hostage rescue mission. There are all kinds of things people find fault with in that, from trying to form a joint force2 that was perhaps a little more joint than necessary (so everybody – Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and CIA3 – could pat themselves on the back and get a chunk more budget for their service or agency4), to selection of the ground commander,5 to a despicably weak National Command Authority in the form of Jiminy Peanut, now the nation’s worst ex-president. The precise details of the failure are beyond the scope of this column.

Suffice to say that the minimum number of helicopters considered acceptable to the completion of the mission was six, and it dropped to five, then failed disastrously. Why? Ultimately, I think, because they simply weren’t used to flying in the kind of sandstorms, haboobs, Iran presented at that time of year, because they never had. Because of this, they missed that the hard packed sand of Desert One, the airstrip where the various groups assembled, would be covered with deep fine dust. Since the helicopter that was diagnosed by its crew as having a cracked rotor did make it back, one wonders if the sensor, too, wasn’t affected by the haboob.6 One lost visual and had its electronic altimeter apparently scrambled by the dust suspended in the air. Another lost its primary hydraulics.

All that would have been fine, we could have aborted and tried again later, perhaps, except that the dust kicked up by turning rotors and propellers made sight problematic, leading to a crash on the ground, resulting fire, the loss of eight servicemen, and utter national humiliation.

Getting rid of Jiminy Peanut and replacing him with Ronaldus Magnus, though a great good, was perhaps insufficient repayment for all that.

The short version of all that is that, for war, thinking about something never gives all the answers, and usually doesn’t even ask the right questions. You must DO in order to know.

Which brings us back to Jade Helm 15, and the twelve hundred or so Special Forces types, to be scattered mostly in penny packets around the American southwest. How would a similar group be supported in war? How will this group be supported in simulated war? Note, here, that war is in goodly part an exercise in logistics. No, logistics, alone, is not a sufficient key to victory, but it is always an absolutely necessary key to victory.

How do you learn to supply small teams scattered over thousands of miles of hostile territory, mostly basing in urban areas, without being seen? You must do it.

How do you know your helicopters have sufficient practical range, which is always less than theoretical range, to do that over the requisite distances carrying the requisite loads? You must do it.

How do you develop the control systems for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to land at unmarked or not visibly marked airstrips? You must try it…again and again.

How do you find out how many helicopters of what type are required to provide X support at Y distance? How many once they start breaking down? You must do it.

How do you train to infiltrate your helicopters into hostile airspace? You get the Air Force up to establish what amounts to an aerial interdiction barrier and then you try to get through it, to do it. And you keep trying until you figure out how.

Answering all those questions, and ten thousand more, still wouldn’t give perfection and surety. Nothing is perfect and not much in war is even very certain. This is precisely why one has to answer as many questions as possible, develop as many techniques as possible, test as much equipment as possible, as realistically as possible, and subject every doctrinal preconception you have to rigorous testing against a self-willed opponent, to increase your chances of success as much as possible.

So why not do this overseas, as some of the TFHB have insisted we should?

In the first place, we do, in fact, run similar exercises in foreign countries. There are a number of reasons, however, why we can’t in this case. One is that there is perhaps no area to which we have access with the right mix of terrain, natural and human, plus size, to simulate what we’re trying to simulate here. I, at least, cannot think of any. Another is that, if one thinks the TFHB is overacting to this, just imagine the cries of “Gringo go home,” “Down with Yankee Imperialism,” and “Give us back our country” that would emanate from practically any place overseas where we might try. Then there are the diplomatic constraints we would certainly have to operate under, in large part precisely because of that “Gringo go home!” reaction. Let’s not forget cost, either. Moving a force overseas to conduct an exercise that could be conducted here costs more, and often a lot more. How many in the TFHB complain about the cost of the Federal government and the military? How many want to pay more? “Yes, you, over there in the back? What, not you, either. Tsk.”

So, in summation, all you who object to the conduct of Jade Helm 15 based on a perception of lack of necessity or military advantage, go find another reason.

Don’t miss Part I and Part II in this series on Jade Helm 15


1 Just for general info, PRACTICALLY ALL ARMY HELICOPTERS, DURING HOURS OF REDUCED OR LIMITED VISIBILITY, APPEAR BLACK. IF YOU LOOK AT ONE IN THE SKY AND IT IS CLOSE TO THE SUN IT WILL ALSO APPEAR BLACK. You might find a white painted one in Alaska. Maybe. We may have a few in desert colors, still. Maybe. Are we all clear on this now?

2 Joint means involving more than one service. In many cases, this is unavoidable, but it is almost always problematic.

3 It’s even worse than that, really; not only did each service get to participate, but the services themselves seem to have gone out of their way to get maximum participation from their sub-organizations, further complicating matters.

4 Yes, different services bring different abilities to the table. They can also bring problems which may exceed the additional abilities.

5 It came as something of a shock to me, later on, to discover that Charlie Beckwith was not universally well thought of in the SF community, and from times long preceding this. Still, nisi bonum, and he did create Delta, AKA CAG. Besides, the services are rotten; he may have been the best thing since canned beer.

6 There’s a lot of odd crap that seems to happen to electronics amidst that kind of dust storm. Perhaps it’s from static electricity. I believe it can effect radar rather badly, too, which makes one wonder if the helicopters couldn’t have gone high and hugged the ceiling of the haboob. Of course, even if possible and useful, they’d have to know to do it, which means someone would have to have done it.

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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  • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

    Yes, static electricity in fine dust *does* do weird things to RF fields, and it doesn’t help that the dust is, itself, an effective semiconductor (sure, the silica isn’t doped exactly correct, but the particles we are talking about are so small, they have fields around the outside that factor in.

    Plus, that crap is basically coarse jeweler’s rouge, mechanically…

    • Ori Pomerantz

      Are there fine dust areas in the US for the military to train?

    • Tom Kratman

      Some of them in the very area under discussion.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      So the reason the US military wasn’t ready to run an operation in such conditions in 1979 was criminal negligence? Or were the mitigating circumstances, for example that the main expected theaters of war were SE Asia and Germany, reasons enough not to worry about fine dust?

    • Tom Kratman

      I am pretty sure that Eagle Claw was so fucked up from every angle that the complete truth is so well hidden it will never be known. But it had everything going against it.

      We can claim we used the RH-53s because of reasons a, b, c, and d. Me, I don’t believe it; I think we used them because everybody had to be given a slice of the pie for political reasons. We can claim the carriers were involved for X and Y reasons, but it was to give the Navy some cred. Also was it absolutely necessary to have the Air Force on the ground? Maybe, maybe not, But I suspect fuel could have been brought in by Army helicopter, too.

      At this time, though, while our focus was shifting to the desert, it hadn’t fully shifted yet. The National Training Center and RDF were just getting off the ground. We were babes in the woods….well, the notional woods.

    • SirBrass

      Folks seem to want to chalk it all up to a variety of nefarious and complex reasons, when all it is is a small handful of reasons dealing mainly with Peter principle, someone getting greedy, or “we all have to participate”, and the intermediate consequences (what everyone thinks of as the numerous nefarious factors) are the results. Cascade failures.

    • KenWats

      Didn’t Grenada have similar issues with everybody wanting a piece of the action (and subsequent budget pie)?

    • Tom Kratman

      Yes, it did.

    • Neil

      I must put in a good…err…bad word here for the Joint Strike Fighter, long may it provide cash for my checking account.

    • Tom Kratman

      If we stroke you a check for a million or two, can we kill the fucking airplane?

    • Neil

      Absofreakinlutely, I can be bought. As long as I’m allowed to respond to RFPs on the replacement airframe.

      Mind you, I was batting cleanup on those F-35 projects–I didn’t have any part in breaking the darn thing.

    • Jack Withrow

      I knew some of the Marine Pilots involved in that cluster fuck, served with them in ANGLICO a year prior to the CF. Also served with one of the pilots that was killed, didn’t know him that well. Ran into one of the pilots that was injured on that mission a couple of years later. The one lasting impression I got from him, was Beckwith running all over the LZ at Desert One screaming at people and no one had a clue who he was, not even the Army folks involved. The Chain of Command was broke before the mission ever started.
      Like you I doubt anyone who was not on that mission will ever know the full story of just how fucked up it actually was. And from talking to some of the participants of that mission, none of them know exactly what happened either. No one I know that was on that mission has a good opinion of Beckwith, utter hatred is the most common impression I get. One pilot told me that Beckwith tried to throw just about every Officer on the mission under the bus to deflect blame from him. As I said they literally hate the man.

    • Tom Kratman

      That is not entirely different from what i had heard. Still, nisi bonum.

      On the other hand, I suspect if Meadows had been in charge it would have been done much simpler and would have worked. No, the Son Tay failure was NOT Meadows’ fault.

    • landsmand

      Dick Meadows, great man, sadly underappreciated outside his home community. We in the UK liked him a lot.

    • Tom Kratman

      I think he did the SAS course, too, didn’t he?

    • Duffy

      Not just the US Military. Go and look at the Challenger
      disaster. This was a direct result of spreading the contracts for the booster rockets, whose O-rings failed, across as many Congressional districts as possible. Thus requiring a design for the solid rocket boosters which could involve as many different manufacturing locations as possible, rather than a single piece design which was safer. This directly contributed to a design
      using the O-rings.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Based on reading a lot of what you write, military preparation seems to be more similar to engineering than anything else. You can run all the calculations you want, but until you have prototypes and get them working, you don’t really know.

    The difference, as Bruce Schneier said, is that engineers live in a world ruled by Murphy, a random entity that makes sure things go wrong. Soldiers(1) live in a world ruled by Satan. An intelligent, malevolent entity desiring evil.

    (1) Bruce Schneier actually said that about IT security experts, but the same principle applies.

    • Betty3045

      Are you an owner of a PAY$PAL acc. !?if you have you can include an additional $310 a week in your pay-check just Freelancing from your computer for several hours a week=> —>

    • SirBrass

      I made a similar comment on FB (yes, I know we’re supposed to comment here, not there), as I am an engineer and with just a tiny change of certain words, this series of articles could be a bull session held in a fellow engineer’s cube over lunch complaining about project managers and other company bureaucrats are keeping us engineers from doing our testing jobs right or well enough, and when the customer company complains about defects and bugs, we get the short and smelly end for failing to perform.

      And our answer is what Lt. Col Kratman is saying about the necessity of testing.

    • Tom Kratman

      And don’t forget His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Mong.

    • Ming the Merciless

      When things go wrong, Emperor Ming orders the execution of the cowardly and incompetent pour encourager les autres.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not Ming, Mong. Look for a very early column here concerning Putin, IIRC.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Yes, yes, I know.

  • Shattered Citadel

    As always an amazing article. Going to share it on my social media.

    • Tom Kratman

      Thanks. Share where?

    • Shattered Citadel

      Twitter, Tumblr and on my SC FB page, The usual suspects. My followers love these kind of articles and I’m sure many know your works like I do.

    • Tom Kratman

      This was a mispost.

  • john galt

    Sorry, I’m here in Texas, and we know He hates us, and this looks evil, as does much of what He does. As said in “Texas Rising” (history channel) “we’re ornery”.

    And whatever the “plan” is, it’s going to go wrong, someone here will start shooting, giving the excuse for “jade helm” to go full-on “texas suppresion win 2016″ except they’ll lose.

    • john galt

      The “plan” might be for Texas to blow up so they can declare “martial law” and cancel 2016? hehe more like blow up DC

    • Tom Kratman

      Plan? These are the kind of people who ban rifles with bayonet lugs, in response to the incalculable number of drive by bayonetings we have in this country, incalculable because non-existent. Such is their overall incompetence that it’s a serious stretch to presume they even _can_ plan.

    • Tom Kratman

      Most unlikely.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Additional thoughts about Eagle Claw:

    1. When Carter ordered the mission, he knew that the hostages were in no specific danger at the time; that many hostages would likely be killed even in a “best case” successful rescue; and, that even a successful rescue would endanger hundreds of Americans in Iran who were not in the embassy. His motive for ordering the mission was thus clearly political; i.e., to counter the dramatic loss of public confidence in his leadership. This was completely despicable.

    2. Supposedly six helicopters were needed because RH-53s equipped with internal fuel tanks could only carry twenty passengers. However, Beckwith could have proceeded with five helicopters by removing the internal fuel tanks (RH-53s could easily reach Desert Two from Desert One with external fuel tanks alone) to make room for more people. As each RH-53 could carry 56 people without internal fuel tanks, four would have sufficed to transport 178 people from Tehran to Manzariyeh. If there were any casualties – and 45 to 70 casualties were expected – then three would have sufficed. The decision to abort was thus highly questionable.

    3. The problem that “caused” the abort was in a backup fuel pump. The sixth RH-53 could have been flown despite the defective backup fuel pump. No attempt was made to fly a spare backup fuel pump from the Nimitz. If the RH-53 that earlier returned to the Nimitz brought the spare pump, Beckwith would have seven helicopters available! Not even to attempt to repair the sixth helicopter or improvise a solution using five helicopters was a profound failure of leadership.

    4. Carter insisted on establishing a communications capability that would allow him to cancel the mission until the moment the assault force entered the embassy, and deliberated only twelve minutes before ordering the mission aborted at the first sign of difficulty. It is hard to believe he really wanted to carry out the mission at all – certainly it didn’t take much to make him quit. This lack of determination at the highest level was nothing less than GUTLESS. As New York Times columnist William Safire said in 1980, most likely Carter only wanted a demonstration of resolve to bolster his public image: “Did the President see any advantage in making a feint and then withdrawing?” If there had not been the deaths at Desert One, he might well have gotten “credit” for trying, and the failure would have been blamed on the military and on technical failures he (Carter) could do nothing about. Again – this was completely despicable.

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