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Why Most US Weapons Systems Are Worse than Russia’s

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We first published this article in November of 2015, and are re-running it now in light of the dramatic advances Russia has recently made in weapons tech, rapidly outpacing the US. A lot of the problems the author identifies here explain why the US is falling behind.


In this fascinating analysis, our contributor explains why the US military is in serious trouble, unable to compete with Russia, and unlikely to change going forward.  He has experience in the military, civil service, Congress, and the lobbying and contracting sectors.  He lives in the Washington, DC area.


<figcaption>The F-35: Insanely expensive, its costs keep soaring - and it's worse than Russian planes which cost 20 times less</figcaption>
The F-35: Insanely expensive, its costs keep soaring – and it’s worse than Russian planes which cost 20 times less

Lately we have seen some good analysis on the limits and vulnerabilities of the American military in light of events in the former Ukraine and especially Russia’s demonstrated competence in Syria.  

So we have the “what” of the issue, but how about the “why”?  

As a U.S. Army veteran and a longtime resident of the Beltway—including four-and-a-half years living on Crystal Drive in Arlington, Virginia, which has probably the densest concentration of “defense” contractors anywhere in America—I think I understand what is fundamentally wrong with the U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC.)

First and foremost, the MIC has long been incapable of producing durable, efficient, versatile weapons.  

We don’t even have to look to the F-35 on this one.  

(America’s latest fighter which has turned into a spectacular technical failure and massive  ($1.5 trillion!) expense  – see our super-popular article about how this plane stacks up against the Russian competition- edit)   

Just consider the most basic item, the M-16. 

The M-16 Assault Rifle

My field experience with this piece of junk is that it runs into problems in the presence of even a small amount of sand. When enough sand gets in to the chamber and mixes with the lube oil on the bolt assembly, the grit thus formed results in up to every second round misloading.

God forbid you should brush an oiled open breach against the side of your foxhole—you are out of commission.  In the absence of air or artillery support or sheer overwhelming numbers on your side, you are dead meat against anyone with a gun that functions in a sandy environment.  And why?  Because, as I was told in boot camp (whether it’s true or not), this thing is perfectly built to have zero fault tolerance.  

Supposedly, just about every metal component in the M-16 is cast and/or machined to perfection rather than stamped.  Contrast this with Russian or Chinese weapons that are said to be built like can openers to spray lead under any conditions.  In other words, the M-16 is so sophisticated that it doesn’t work well.

It is now acknowledged that the M-16 with its 5.56mm rounds is insufficiently lethal beyond a couple of hundred meters, making it unsuited to long-distance firefights over open terrain (again those deserts, or perhaps shootouts between mountain ridges.)

The M-1 Abrams tank

Another great example – this can be a real dog.  The engine is a gas turbine, like with an aircraft, except that it is being driven around in deserts and even sandstorms, making it extremely finicky and high-maintenance.  (Would you fly your Boeing into a sandstorm?)  Of course, the Abrams was designed to fight in Germany where sand is not an issue.  But during the Iraq adventure, sand so tore up the turbine fans (or whatever) that over 1000 of these million-dollar “power packs” had to be removed and sent up for depot-level maintenance or refurbishment stateside.  

Yes, that’s right—these things cannot even be fixed in the field.  All you can do is pull them out with a crane and ship them back to the civilians at enormous expense.  At the height of the Iraq adventure, around 2007, the maintenance backlog was so bad that even the national media got wind of it.  

Of course, when you have the world’s reserve currency, you can afford all that and more—the entire world is paying for your wars.  

But the waste and inefficiency are a fact.

The Basic Problem :  Excessive Complexity

I think the problem here is that American war planners and logisticians prefer originality, complexity, and/or expense-for-the-hell-of-it over versatility and ease of use and maintenance.  This is no surprise given America’s wealth and the longtime generous funding of its armed forces.  After all, every military reflects its own society. 

Unfortunately for Uncle Sam, what he gets is equipment that may work very well in one environment but not another.

But so much for American equipment per se.  Let’s talk about Crystal Drive (a neighborhood in suburban Washington where many defense contractors have offices – edit.) —or more broadly, the MIC.

The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is failing on a massive scale

It is clear now that the MIC cannot build anything for less than 200 percent of its original planned budget (and that’s being extremely conservative.)  Nor can anything it cranks out nowadays meet performance or survivability expectations.  Besides the never-ending supersonic train wreck known as the F-35, we have other boondoggle failures such as the Littoral Combat Ship, which by all accounts is less capable and more vulnerable than the 20 to 30 year-old vessels it was supposed to replace.

Or, going back a few years, we see the Army’s “Commanche” helicopter, an intended replacement for the Apache, which blew through $6.9 billion—in 1983-2004 dollars, probably over $10 billion today—before the entire program was scrapped.  That’s right, over $10 billion for nothing—not one Commanche was ever delivered for permanent use to an Army operational unit!  

Where did that money go, if they didn’t actually manufacture anything besides a few prototypes?  Did they spend $10 billion on PowerPoint presentations?  

My brain cannot even wrap around this.  Can you imagine what Russia or China could do for $10 billion?  

However, even that pales before the Army’s cancelled Future Combat Systems program, which burned through an estimated (no one knows exactly) $20 billion from 2003 to somewhere between 2012 and 2014 (depending on what termination milestone you go by), with almost nothing to show beyond a few prototypes, a lot of concept art, and a 29-pound toy robot made by iRobot of “Roomba” vacuum cleaner fame.  In fact, I can’t think of one big new U.S. weapons system that has succeeded in the last 25 years, other than perhaps the Stryker armored car (though some have argued that point, and I just don’t know enough about it.)

As pointed out by many other observers, part of the blame lies with our political system, where MIC corporations buy politicians and then receive favors in the form of contracts, whether or not the contracts make any sense. However, I think this is not the only problem, nor even necessarily the biggest.  

Fundamentally what I think we have is systemic over-complexity resulting in nothing getting done, or done well anyway.

US intelligence agencies have the same problem

This is akin to the deep systemic crisis in Uncle Sam’s intelligence agencies, where from 9/11 to the Arab Spring to Crimea to the ISIS conquest of Mosul to Russia in Syria, the word is always “we didn’t expect…”  In this case, we have numerous agencies—some of them with overlapping functions—that are drowning in paperwork and garbage data (or too much data) and are almost totally useless.  

As some readers will remember, it got so bad that in April 2014 the State Department released a photo collage aiming to prove that (among other things) a bearded Chechen battalion commander going by the name Hamza, who appeared in Russian TV footage of the 2008 Olympic War, was none other than the bearded, overweight Slaviansk militiaman going by the call-sign “Babai”—in other words, Russian special forces have invaded the Donbass.  (The New York Times ran with this and was then oh-so-vaguely and gently reproached by its own ombudsman.)  

Shouldn’t this awful joke have been prevented by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is supposed to promote info-sharing among agencies and centrally vet all claims and conclusions—especially those being trumpeted on the State Department’s website or at its briefings?  Apparently not!

Bureaucratic bloat

On the other hand, what the U.S. lack-of-intelligence complex is very good at—besides hiring way too many buxom, flirty young things straight out of college and with no language skills or any experience at all (DIA and NGA, you know your ex-military managers like to beautify their offices)—is providing employment for tens of thousands of its own staff as well as tens of thousands of grotesquely-overpaid contractors, including those who build and run billion-dollar eavesdropping centers that have proven incapable of picking up anything useful, perhaps because when you try to listen to everything, you end up hearing nothing. 

The lesson here is that the more offices and agencies, the more managers and political appointees who will seek to justify and expand their turf and budgets by shoveling out as much money on as many contracts as possible, as quickly as possible, in many cases even paying contractors to do little more than just sit around (sometimes at home) waiting for the next contract.  (I have seen this many times in Washington.)  

Then you get so big that people simply trip over each other and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

The US MIC worked great 50 years ago because less money and people were involved

So I think this is what’s going on not only in the intelligence apparatus, but in the MIC as a whole.  We have hundreds of thousands of staff and contractors as well as military officers assigned to liaise with them, all kinds of project managers and “six-sigma black belts” and other buzzwords, juggling millions of PowerPoints across the river from Washington and throughout the country, and they can’t field a helicopter after spending $10 billion on it. 

Really?  How did this great country ever defeat the Japanese Empire?

Go to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington; you will see the most amazing things—e.g. generators designed to operate on the surface of the Moon, drawing electricity from the heat of plutonium decay—that were developed when there was no Crystal Drive, no Tysons Corner, etc.  

Then go to the museum’s extension near Dulles airport and check out the SR-71 “Blackbird”, the fastest and highest-flying airplane ever built (this was about 50 years ago.)  

How did they do it?  

Although there were more men in uniform back then, the MIC itself (or should I say the Military-Industrial-Intelligence-Homeland-Insecurity-Complex (MIIHIC)) – had but a fraction of today’s civilian workforce.  Luckily, most of those paper-pushing “systems integrators” and PowerPoint rangers did not exist.  Blueprints were drafted with pencil and paper.  

Today, Uncle Sam can’t even build a heavy rocket engine, not to mention a good helmet or ejection seat for his F-35.

No hope for change going forward

So it seems that as a technical civilization we are degenerating.  

Sure, there are constant advancements in microelectronics (a.k.a. integrated circuits) and the programs they allow, but in terms of heavy engineering—of which the MIIHIC and other government initiatives like the space program were at the forefront since WWII—it seems that the U.S. is tapped out.  

And you know what?  Throwing more money at it is just going to make it worse. 

The organizations with their budgets and their perfectly reasonable-sounding arguments for ever-greater budgets will grow, their workforces will grow, the contracting sector will grow, more shiny office buildings will go up, but the result will be an ever-increasingly-negative marginal return.  

John McCain and all the other broken records in and out of the Pentagon will say we still don’t have enough funds to counter a pointless Russian invasion of parasitic, inconsequential Lithuania (currently headed by a longtime communist) or any other 1990s-era speculative wargame training scenario that somehow carried over into the public consciousness and morphed into the Greatest Threat to World Peace.

Of course, as long as the U.S. has the money to send gazillion-dollar armies and armadas against illiterate natives armed with sharp sticks and coconuts, this may not visibly threaten its hegemony.  Almost any problem or mistake can be papered over with money, for a long time anyway.  

But eventually, even if the money spigot does not constrict, we will get to the point where the military really can’t be used as anything more than a façade or a gunboat road-show, hoping no one calls the bluff, because the stuff just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, or else is too vulnerable (witness the evacuation of the U.S. aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf after Uncle Sam found out that Russia has cruise missiles with a range of at least 1500km, or the ridiculous sail-around of China’s little islands which had the sense to infringe only very slightly and briefly on that country’s imaginary territorial waters), or the natives can devise their own countermeasures. 

In fact, I would say we are at that point already.  Not to mention, the U.S. Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs are still so tapped-out after Iraq and Afghanistan that another major ground operation is unthinkable.  (At this point, Washington is more likely to launch nukes at somebody than risk another ground war.)

So you can anticipate a lot of hand-wringing and a lot more money being thrown into the breach.  That’s simply what the machine does; there is no chance to reform it, nor will the Hegemony dissipate willingly (although lately it’s done a good job of dissipating unwillingly.)  

But all that money may as well be flushed down the can. 

The threshold has been reached and it’s all downhill from here.



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‘Deep concern’ over cancellations of 999 calls to Garda

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The failure by gardaí to respond to 999 calls from domestic violence victims was of “deep concern”, Women’s Aid has said.

The Garda force, it added, was the “key frontline responder to combating and preventing” domestic abuse and public trust in their response was “absolutely vital”.

Women’s Aid made its remarks after a report in The Times stating a large number of calls from domestic violence victims were among thousands of 999 calls that had been cancelled by the Garda in 2019 and 2020.

Women’s Aid chief executive, Sarah Benson, said it was “of critical importance” that gardaí now reach out to victims who rang 999 seeking help, only to have their calls cancelled. The system that allowed this practice needed to be overhauled so it “can never happen again”.

“All members of the gardaí must be reminded of their responsibilities under the Garda domestic abuse policy and held to this standard,” Ms Benson said, adding her organisation would always be there to support victims. “We have been given assurance that these actions are current high priorities for An Garda Síochána. ”

In late April, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told a meeting of the Policing Authority that a Garda audit had found many 999 calls were cancelled, and therefore not given a policing response, between 2019 and October 2020.

Major trawl

At that time he was not able to say how many calls were treated in this way, though the number was believed to be in the thousands and to involve a wide variety of calls and alleged crimes. Mr Harris added a major trawl was under way, including retrieving recordings of the emergency calls, to establish the volume and nature of the calls cancelled at source.

When that work was done, and other records were examined, a “definitive” number of cancelled calls would be established. However, Mr Harris said it may not be until the end of July before that became clear.

He added the matter was identified when an examination of the Garda’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system was carried out. That system is used to record and map incoming 999 calls and police responses to them.

When that examination was carried out, a “systemic” practice of cancelling calls, meaning the person seeking assistance received no policing response, was identified. Mr Harris explained the system had been changed to ensure that many calls could not be cancelled again.

He added that under the new system, calls could only be cancelled with permission of a supervisor. As a result, the number of cancelled calls now being examined was not increasing.

However, Mr Harris also said there were at times legitimate reasons for cancelling 999 calls. For example, some incidents would generate multiple calls when only one response was required. At other times, other emergency service responders were more suitable than the Garda to respond, while other calls could be “silent”. However, the audit being carried out was examining calls cancelled “erroneously”, he said.

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Covid-19 in Spain: Madrid’s Teatro Real forced to cancel performance after audience protests lack of social distancing | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Teatro Real was on Sunday forced to cancel a performance of Verdi’s opera Un ballo in maschera due to a protest from audience members over the lack of social-distancing measures. Madrid has once again become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with the region accounting for more than one third of all new Covid-19 cases.

According to one of the spectators, who had a seat in the upper gallery of the opera house, where tickets are less expensive, up to 15 people were seated side by side in this area with no space between them. The spectator told EL PAÍS that audience members complained to the ushers as soon as they saw that they were seated right next to other theatergoers, with no empty seats between them. In a press release, the Teatro Real maintained that capacity was at 51.5%, meaning 905 seats were occupied.

On the ground floor, some of the seats were closed off, but in the upper galleries, there were entire rows of 15 people side by side

Spectator at Teatro Real

The situation became increasingly tense, and many members of the audience began to stamp their feet and clap to express their anger at the lack of social-distancing measures. The commotion became so great that one of the theater managers decided to announce over the megaphone that the performance would be delayed so that anyone who wished to could leave the theater and ask for a ticket refund. The lobby was then overwhelmed with angry patrons, and the police were called in to control the situation.

“There were no complaint forms, they had to go to the offices to print them. On the ground floor, some of the seats were closed off, but in the upper galleries, where there are lots of people much closer together, there were entire rows of 15 people side by side,” said one of the spectators. “It’s unacceptable, a lot of elderly people come here and they should take that into account.” The Teatro Real has not clarified whether the level of seat occupation was the same in all areas of the theater.

Another audience member, who was seated in one of the front rows on the ground stall, also complained that the theater had not left empty seats. “The entire row was filled, there was not one seat free, we were like fleas. And that’s in the most expensive area of the theater. My companion and I went to the back, where there seemed to be more space.” According to this spectator, after the theater announced that it would offer refunds, the orchestra entered the pit and started to play. The overture was played and some of the first singers came out onto the stage, but the booing was so loud that Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti left the theater and the performance was cancelled. According to a press release from the Teatro Real, the conductor tried twice to continue with the opera but a “very small group insisted in continuing their protest to boycott the performance, and for this reason it was canceled at around 9.10pm.”

Audience members in the upper galleries (l) and on the ground floor (r)  before Sunday‘s performance at the Teatro Real.
Audience members in the upper galleries (l) and on the ground floor (r) before Sunday‘s performance at the Teatro Real.

Under the regulations of the Madrid regional government, the theater is allowed to be at 75% capacity, a figure that, in practice, does not allow safe distances to be established between all audience members. At a press conference for the presentation of the opera, which opened last Friday, the managing director of the Teatro Real, Ignacio García-Belenguer, said that the theater had decided not to sell more than 65% of available tickets to make the public feel safer.

Many of the theatergoers took to social media to express their outrage at what happened. “The Teatro Real opera was canceled due to the protests over the overcrowding of people,” Spanish writer Rosa Montero wrote in a message on Twitter. “I was there and it was shameful. There was a total lack of distancing [measures]. And at this time, with 37 areas restricted! We love opera but not like this,” she added, in reference to the new selective lockdowns aimed at curbing contagion in the capital and the Madrid region.

The Teatro Real has said that it will open an investigation “into this regrettable incident and will take the necessary measures so that future performances take place normally.” The iconic theater was the first opera house in the world to reopen after its closure due to the coronavirus lockdown and has pioneered the creation of new protocols that allow performances to continue safety while the pandemic continues to affect the country.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Polish Russophobia is Mostly Artificial, Stoked by Russia’s Enemies

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blasted the Polish government for inculcating anti-Russian attitudes among the population. Speaking to Sputnik, political observer Eduard Popov said that while Warsaw regularly uses Russophobia for political reasons, there’s no evidence to suggest that Poles have a sort of natural hostility toward Russia.

Speaking to students and teachers at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Friday, the Russian foreign minister lamented that the Polish public is being “brainwashed” into holding “unequivocally anti-Russian” attitudes.

<figcaption>Check out this video at the bottom of the page of Russian and Polish women comparing their beautiful languages.</figcaption>
Check out this video at the bottom of the page of Russian and Polish women comparing their beautiful languages.

“I see here an obsession with creating an atmosphere of total resentment by society of anything related to Russia,” the diplomat said, answering a question about the reasons behind Warsaw’s anti-Russian policy, including the recent decision to demolish hundreds of Soviet-era war monuments.”

According to Lavrov, Poland’s Russophobia is being whipped up by people who “diligently” rewrite history, who are working to revise Polish nationalism based on ideals of superiority over others, and who would like to “pin the blame for all of Poland’s misfortunes on [Russia].”

The West propagates the narrative of an aggressive Russia constantly attacking poor defenses Poland but in reality, Poland was regional power in its day, which often launched aggressive unprovoked invasions against Russia. Poland invaded Russia long before Russia ever invaded Poland. The above painting by Jan Matejko shows Polish King Boleslav the Brave capturing the capitol of ancient Russia, Kiev, in 1018. Legend has it he damaged his sword on the golden gate and since then it was called the notched sword. During the time of troubles in 1600’s, Poland even occupied Moscow.

 

This includes Warsaw’s claim that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the real reason behind World War II, the diplomat said. In Lavrov’s view, by focusing on the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, Polish leaders seem to forget that “at the time of the Munich Conspiracy, when Czechoslovakia was divided up, Poland quietly took for itself a very tasty morsel.”

“The fact that this was a very serious impetus for creating potential for conflict in Europe is something Poland prefers not to speak about, just as it prefers not to mention that long before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Great Britain and France concluded their own, similar treaty with Nazi Germany,” Lavrov emphasized.

Ultimately, the senior diplomat noted that in this environment of hostility, even elementary communication and diplomacy is difficult.

Asked to comment on Lavrov’s remarks, Eduard Popov, a Moscow-based political analyst whose areas of expertise include Russian-Polish relations, said that the idea of Poles’ naturally-occurring anti-Russian sentiment is really only one part of the equation.

“Poland’s anti-Russian traditions have a long history,” the observer said, speaking to Radio Sputnik. “Here we can recall the three divisions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth,” in which Russia took part, “the subsequent participation of the Poles in aggression against Russia on the side of the Napoleonic armies, and so on and so forth.”

During their occupation of Moscow, they imprisoned, beat, and starved to death Patriarch Hermogenes of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, over a century before any Russian army would set foot on Polish Soil, and partition it. One could argue the Poles started the conflict, and Russia merely won.


 “But anti-Russian sentiment in Poland is just one side of the coin. The other side is pro-Russian sentiment. This too shouldn’t be discounted,” Popov stressed.

The world popular Polish video game series, The Witcher, based on the book of the same name, was hugely successful in Russia due to it being based on their common Slavic mythology and culture. Whilst the game was popular enough in America, that Obama was given a copy by the Polish government, it will always be closer to the hearts of Slavic Russians. Below is a character who is clearly inspired by Russian-Ukrainian Cossacks, note the distinctive hairstyle and sabre. Despite Russophobia in Polish culture, Poles and Russians are very close.

The analyst drew attention to Lavrov’s choice of words in saying that Poles were being “brainwashed.” This was true, he said, noting that to some extent, anti-Russian views really are being artificially inculcated among the Polish public. 

“Polish Russophobia, even though it has its historical roots, is something that is sufficiently engineered, something artificially imposed on Polish society. I recently spoke to representatives in the Polish opposition, and was told the following fact: about 70% of Polish media is controlled by German media structures, while the remaining 30% is controlled by Americans. Do we really need any more evidence that Polish public opinion is being formed along a deliberately anti-Russian slant?”

Ultimately, Popov said that he was optimistic, and that it wasn’t worth getting hung up exclusively on the negative aspects of Russian-Polish relations.

“We must remember that along with official diplomacy there is unofficial diplomacy – people’s diplomacy. Not all Poles adhere to the anti-Russian perspective being imposed on them. This is something that manifests itself in personal communication. According to polls, about 35% of Poles have positive attitudes toward Russia. This is a very important factor on which to build the foundation of future relations between Russia and a Poland that’s free and independent of the West,” Popov concluded.

 

Despite their political differences, Polish and Russian peoples are both Slavic, and share cultural and linguistic roots. Many Russians and Poles see through the Anti-Slavic agenda imposed on them by foreign powers and see each other as Slavic brothers. Check out this video to see two beautiful women comparing the Polish and Russian languages.


Source: Sputnik

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