The Engagement at Arzangan, September 28th, 2011

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I creep upon a village, with murder in my heart.

I hear footfalls all around me, my soldiers spread apart.

 

Morning mist surrounds us, the Kush fields drip with fear.

My stomach churns with anguish, each sound screams in my ear.

 

The village walls loom closer, a rampart must be cleared.

The gravel drags across my chest, my breath is fast with fear.

 

At last the wall confronts us, soldiers go left and right.

A dog’s shrill bark sounds out, before the morning light.

 

A foreign scream resounds, Allahu Akbar fills the night.

His Kalashnikov spits death, the bullets strike and smite.

 

A balance has been broken- the firefight screams out.

I shoot at moving shadows, my medic hears a shout.

 

RPGs boom with vengeance, machine guns chase the dead.

Bullets seek my life, leaves fall from overhead.

 

I run the line with gunfire, the soldiers shoot with glee.

Finally the fight is over, it’s oh-five thirty-three.

 

I walk with my commander, we look upon the dead.

Screaming are the wounded, smoldering is a head.

 

My work here is finished, the prisoners are rounded up.

My Afghans want to kill them- praying, I hold them up.

 

Over by the village wall, a woman shrieks and wails.

A girl with emerald clothing knows what death entails.

 

Lord, spare me the horror, this disease known far and wide.

Beneath the chest of every man,

A killer lurks inside.

Climate

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So I’ve been doing a little travelling lately. I’ve been hanging out somewhere in western Europe. I’ve spent years of my life here in the past, and it’s always striking how things change when I return.

One of the big things I’ve noticed over here is the sheer number of power windmills and solar panels on people’s roofs. Governments over here are pretty serious about renewable energy sources, green energy is heavily subsidized and energy use is taxed to the gills.

So I was pretty interested about an article I came across today about a possible re-entry into a “solar minimum,” and its possible impact upon the Earth’s climate.

Look, I’m not going to wade into the debate over “climate change.” Not going to happen. I will, however, state that the Earth’s climate has changed quite frequently over geologic time, and it will change again one way or the other. After all, it’s pretty tough to debate that the Ice Age never happened, or that the Earth wasn’t considerably warmer when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The debate you hear now is like monks in the middle ages arguing over how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin.

Our climate will change in the future. You can take it to the bank. The argument is over how much humans impact or drive the degree of change, and what consequences that entails for national and international energy policy.

Another cool article on this subject by the US Geologic Service talks a little about emissions from volcanoes, and the relative impact of natural CO2 vs. man made sources. Interesting reading, and the USGS is a gold standard for scientific inquiry.

You guys are pretty smart, you can draw your own conclusions.

FYI, a pretty good solar panel kit at Harbor Freight costs 189 bucks, US. I use one myself, they are easy to install and you see similar Chinese rigs in various places in the world. Not enough (by a long shot) to power a house, but you can do a fair bit with one of these kits, certainly enough for a small outbuilding.

I dunno, I kinda like the idea of generating my own power. Better than handing over huge wads of cash to my electric company. What’ll be really cool is when the price of solar and storage drops enough that it’ll be economically feasible for everyone to be their own little power company.

That day will be fine.

 

 

 

Summer strikes

Hey everyone. I’ve never ran a blog in the summer before, so I’m discovering right now that it can be challenging to run a blog while traveling, working, etc. So no, I have not disappeared, just juggling a few balls at the moment.

In any case, I came across an article that touches upon an earlier blog post of mine, the USAF and their need to acquire a suitable dedicated close air support platform. It seems that the Air Force is seriously considering a new aircraft for the CAS mission, and in my opinion it can’t come too soon.

Read the article, it’s pretty good and you’ll come away a bit more informed.

Recon is a good thing

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As those of you who have been following my blog for a while know, I’m a little bit hung up on the possibility of humans crossing interstellar space and checking out new worlds. My books revolve around the premise of a future interstellar civilization that may have escaped the Earth, but humans can’t escape their natures, for better or for worse.

So I was pretty excited to come across a really cool idea (and accompanying article) on the internet espoused by no less a figure than Stephen Hawking.

It’s pretty cool. What his team wants to do is to create a bunch of micro-probes with solar sails, and dispatch them across interstellar distances to check out nearby star systems. The spacecraft his group is working on would take about 20 years to reach Proxima B (about 4.5 ly). Once the small fleet of spacecraft get there, they would shoot back data via a laser link to earth and scientists could give the data a look over.

I think this is an awesome idea on several different levels. Let me lay out why.

First, such a project would give people actual experience building interstellar capable craft, albeit very small ones. You have to start somewhere, and why begin with manned spacecraft? You have to do a proof of concept sooner or later.

Second, powerful telescopes etc. are great, but nothing beats getting a spaceship up close and personal with stars, systems, and planets. As any old soldier can tell you, nothing beats having “eyes” on the objective.

Third, we can dispatch a lot of these types of probes to several objectives. From each we will learn something different, and these types of missions will not break the bank.

Which brings me to my final point. If we can check out ten different systems, and we learn more about interstellar travel from each mission, then we can choose a final contestant for actual manned travel at the lowest possible cost. It’s a brilliant idea.

And think of the possible reward- if there are worlds out there capable of sustaining human colonization then humanity could gain a new home. Our basket of eggs is looking a little precarious right now, it would be nice to have options.

I am encouraged that some of our best minds are giving this serious thought and effort. It beats people sitting around and watching TV, moaning about how the world is going to hell. Maybe it is going to hell, but not everyone is going down quietly.

Good for you, Mr. Hawking.

Movie night

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My daughter and I have a tradition- we go to the movies together and see films that interest us. It’s usually a lot of fun. Sometimes we watch winners, sometimes not. In any case, it’s a good time and it breaks up some of the monotony of day-to-day life.

Well, this summer didn’t seem to have any really good front runners, so I was willing to settle for second best. At some point I want to watch “Dunkirk,” but it’s not out yet. Well, my daughter really wanted to see “Wonder Woman,” which was kind of a mystery because the old TV series was out when I was a child, and it had been out of production for decades when she was born. I had visions of a tawdry remake, and I planned on sleeping through the show.

Boy was I wrong. “Wonder Woman” turned out to be a highly entertaining production, in my opinion it justified the high ratings and stellar sales that it has received. If you don’t have anything better to do, and you have some spare time and loose change, give it a watch. It’s really fun.

But that’s not really why I’m writing. While “Wonder Woman” was great and well worth the price of admission, I was very excited by a movie trailer that played before the film started.

Another movie that I saw long ago (and it helped to form my opinion of what sci-fi should look like) was the original “Blade Runner”, a movie so bad-ass I have no words to describe it. The production was awesome, the plot terrific, and the acting was world-class. If I had to compile a list of my all-time ten best movie favorites, “Blade Runner” would be up towards the top.

So imagine my excitement when I saw that “Blade Runner 2049” would be out this October, with Denis Villeneuve directing and Harrison Ford reprising his original role.

This is going to be flipping’ epic.

In preparation for watching this long-awaited sequel, I am going to re-read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick, and of course, I am going to re-watch “Blade Runner.”

My daughter is excited as well. Awesome to indoctrinate her with a classic.

Movie night in October is going to rock.

Been busy

Late spring is upon us here, and I am swimming against the tide of outside work around the house after a wet May where I couldn’t get much done. It didn’t help, either, that I was recovering from surgery and couldn’t do much.

So no, I haven’t forgotten about my readers. I’ve been crazy busy. A big project has been building a chicken coop over the unsightly concrete remnants of an outhouse (I live in an old house. Funny to think that within living memory we went from structures with no running water to the iPhone 7). In addition, I’ve been catching up on reading- one book I will crack soon is the proof of a friend of mines’ first novel. I’ve read his short stories, and I am looking forward to his book.

One thing I’d like to talk about is a concept John Birmingham turned me onto called the “Wizard Hat” that Elon Musk and a company called Neuralink may be working on. The device reminds me strongly of the “halo” in my books, but the article that describes Musk’s project lays out the concept with elegance and 40,000 odd words. It’s worth the read if you have the time. I burned through it in a couple of hours and will probably re-read it.

I am very excited that people are working on stuff like this. If you read the article (and I suggest that you do) you’ll see why.

Now if only people would start working on FTL. But maybe we need the “Wizard Hat” first. BTW, I think “halo” sounds cooler than “Wizard Hat.” But that’s just me.

Now that the lousy chicken coop is done, I can get back to writing and keeping you all in the loop.

I strongly suggest you all check out the article above, and by all means post back here and we’ll have a conversation about it.

It’s really worth reading.

The girl, the tiger, and the monkey

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I’m back. It’s been quite the tumultuous past couple of weeks. Fortunately I was able to secure another interview with Pete the Ranger during all the commotion that surrounded the launch of Immolation, the final book in the Paul Thompson trilogy.

Pete has a lot of yarns, and he was glad to share another of them the last time I saw him. We were in his garage, as usual, surrounded by tools and empty beer cans. Pete cracked open another one and began.

“This story is about the girl, the tiger, and the monkey.” My curiosity was peaked, as I had no idea what he was talking about. “The setting is Afghanistan, while living with the locals.” “I found strange things all the time.” I nodded, he was quite right. I thought immediately about some surreal incidents in my past.

Strange things do happen in those dusty villages, half forgotten by time.

“There were rumors of monkeys that ran around in villages, that people were scared to death of. One time on a patrol I thought I saw a tiger chained up to a house, on a second story balcony.” Pete didn’t see it again, but wheels were spinning in his head. “I got this idea that I needed a pet tiger… I already knew the Afghans respected me, but I wanted them to be afraid of me so I wanted a fuckin’ tiger.”

I laughed and thought about the wildly inappropriate Ranger Promo video.

For a couple of months, Pete sought the tiger. No luck. One day he sauntered down to the place where the dust-off helicopters called home. He discussed his idea with the pilots and ground personnel, and they thought it would be a great idea to have a tiger on a chain by their compound to keep the Afghans away at night. Also, the medevac guys wanted a monkey, and their rigger even volunteered to “sew a little flight suit for him”.

Pete added a monkey to his wish list, “because I’ve always wanted a fuckin’ monkey.” He added that monkeys were known to be a “pain in the ass,” but he thought that was appropriate because “I’m a pain in the ass to deal with, too.”

He started to seriously pursue his idea. As he patrolled the villages with his Afghans, he would stop people and question them about any monkeys or tigers that he might be able to claim for his own use. He would ask the people “Kujasti sheedy diawana (Where is the crazy monkey)?”

Pete kept this up for a while, confident that he would eventually get his mascots.

One day it all went south. Pete was at a meeting with provincial leaders, and a mysterious woman walked up to him. Pete thought she worked for the UN. “Her mother was French, and her father was Belgian, and she was smoking hot anywhere in the world, let alone Afghanistan.” He went on to add “women were few and far between.” This mystery woman, Pete referred to her as “Angela,” “would wear white, flowing baby-doll tops with no bra.” Pete was smitten. However, he also knew that she knew that guys on the grubby firebases drooled over her.

“She could sit at a picnic table, and she smoked cigarettes like a chimney…or a steel mill, but she never bought cigarettes. She could get them off of dudes all day long.”

So at the meeting, Pete was relaxing. To his surprise, “Angela” sat down with him. She said “Oh, you’re Pete the Ranger.” Pete confirmed he was that person. Then she unpacked a surprise.

“Do you know you’re going to jail?” Pete was taken aback, and asked her why that was. (As an aside, I can imagine that at this point Pete was going back through a long list of situations and incidents.)

She looked at him, dragged on her ever-present cigarette, and spoke. “Trafficking in endangered species.”

He put on his best choirboy face and said, “What are you talking about?”

“Purchasing a Bengal Tiger in Afghanistan or anywhere else is illegal.”

Pete hadn’t known that, but the conversation enlightened him. “I explained to her it was a funny joke… but she referred again to the letter of the law.”

He decided to put his supposedly good idea on a back burner. “Angela crushed all my dreams… I got no monkey, I got no tiger, but I still think it would be cool to own such pets.”

“Angela got no cigarettes from me.”

Pete took another swig, shrugged and chuckled.

More follows, readers.

Immolation, Excerpt two

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All,

Immolation, the final chapter in the Valley trilogy, is now officially launched. The launch has been a success, and many of you have grabbed a copy. Thanks much, all! Special thanks also goes out to John Birmingham and the crew at cheeseburgergothic.com, who have helped to spread the word far and wide.

If you haven’t signed up for my list it’s not too late to do so- you’ll be the first to know about all things JL. There are future projects in the works. Paul Thompson’s tale has concluded, but the writing will continue.

Below is an excerpt from Immolation. Enjoy!

 

On top of the mountain opposing the 405th Regiment

 Pleasant-Puff-of-Air waited with her sisters. They would attack the Tslek, or bugs, below. Weeks before, she and her sisters had been pulled by their elders from their crèche and sent to the mountains in terror before the killer clouds of ash descended on them.

Many had been too late to flee the cities, and Puff knew that the majority of the Whoueen on her world were dead. She had been raised as an agricultural aide to tend a crig farm on the plains, as had countless numbers of her forebears. She wasn’t a soldier; she never intended to be one.

But for the past couple of weeks, as the ashfall subsided and the Whoueen could fly once more, she had been pressed into service and hastily trained in that role. True soldiers were few, but they had taken over the leadership of the Whoueen, and they had made it clear that there was no choice but to fight or die.

The bugs’ actions reinforced the point. They had dumped their kinetic strikes on her world, Fwerdwhich translated as “delicious”—and they had landed in their horrifying, crawling machines shortly thereafter. With her own eyes, Puff had seen what remained of her peaceful city. She had been filled with towering rage when she gazed on the heap of corpses and ruination that the indescribable bugs had left behind on their slow march toward the refuge of the Whoueen.

Now, she held a rail gun in her claws. She would attack the creatures today. Although she was a farmer at heart, she was also of the Whoueen, and her heart was filled with a terrible longing to close with the foe.

Many revolutions before, the military counsel on Fwerd had been directed to cache large amounts of weaponry in the mountains for precisely this worst-case scenario. The worst had come to pass. The weapons had been passed out. Puff, an aspiring farmer, had received her very own.

Puff’s wing leader was the Whoueen equivalent of a private, but she had been pressed into command of one hundred of Puff’s peers. The young and old civilians-no-more now waited on the signal to attack.

The signal would come soon.

***

Paul had moved his troops around into the stellate formation; it was the best one for anticipated attack from above. His Headquarters Company was in the center, and his five line companies were arrayed in a circular fashion around him. His battalion was the regiment’s closest to the mountain; Paul anticipated that they would take the brunt of the attack. Of course, one never knew with Harpies, he thought.

His people were in place, so now there was nothing to do but wait. Paul checked his engineers’ obstacle overlay and saw that his position was saturated with the little Phalanx flying mines. He looked at the placement of his six AD bots; they were good as well. He scanned the prepositioned ammo stocks and looked at food and rest plans.

Third Battalion was as ready as could be. Paul knew he was fidgeting, and he knew that the last thing he should do was to start calling people and joggling their elbows. With a mighty effort, he restrained himself. He heard nothing but silence on the net. The sunset was approaching, and the rain started coming in sheets.

A river of ash mud was at his feet. Every trooper he saw was caked with the stuff. It was a truly miserable day that promised a miserable end.

Paul’s halo pinged. “Dragon Six, this is Spear Six,” Colonel Dunlevy said.

What did she want? “Send it, Spear Six.”

“Dragon Six, I don’t like how your battalion sticks out. Reposition five hundred meters to the south.”

Paul sighed. “Ma’am, my battalion is in a textbook interlocking-fires position with the regiment. If I move toward the center, our arcs will have a suboptimum density.”

“Just fucking do it, Thompson.”

Paul shook his head. “We are anticipating attack at any moment, ma’am. If I start to move and they hit us, it’s going to be a mess, and you know it. What is your decision, ma’am?”

“Move, Colonel Thompson. You’re wasting time. Spear Six, out.”

Shit, he thought. He had no choice. He prepared a new battle map and then placed a call to his operations section and his company leaders.

“All Dragon elements, this is Dragon Six. We have received orders from higher to reposition five hundred meters south. Included in this message is the updated overlay. In five minutes, we move. Follow your green arrows, and get it done quickly. Respond in sequence.”

“Alpha, roger.”

“Bravo, can do.”

“Charlie, this is stupid.”

Paul interrupted. “Ours is not to reason why, Charlie. Get it done.”

“Delta, wilco.”

“Echo, moving mines now.”

“Hotel, roger.”

Paul watched the seconds tick down toward the move, and he prayed that nothing would happen for ten minutes, the length of time it would take to move shop.

His timer hit zero, and a green arrow appeared on his visual. He placed an all-call. “It’s time, Dragons. Bust ass, motherfuckers.” He started to bound and saw troopers to his left and right moving as well.

He called Colonel Dunlevy. “Spear Six, this is Dragon Six, moving. Estimate in new position five minutes, ready to repel possible attack in ten.”

“Roger, Dragon Six.”

Paul skedaddled as he watched his battalion move in a mostly coherent, AI-guided formation. Please, God, he thought. Let the Harpies hold off for another five minutes.

***

On the mountain above Third Battalion, 405th Infantry

 Puff was as tense as a crig farmer in a drought, her sisters were also restless. She knew that she might die today. She knew for certain that she would face combat. Her commander, the private, was skittering along the crowded passage on her rear claws. She chittered encouragement to her “troops” and passed along what courage she could give with red-flared mental impulses.

Puff went over the plan she had been mentally given. Her wing was to drive at the bugs’ center; their leader, a female called Dunlevy, was located there. She had to die. Puff checked the ammunition in her rail gun and vacated her bowels one last time. She shuddered and stretched her wings as best she could in the crowded flight tunnel.

A sending arrived from the aerie’s ad hoc battle master, a lieutenant equivalent. “People of Fwerd! Today, we fly into battle against the invaders of our world, the destroyers of our nests. I know that the soldiers’ path was not what you wanted to follow, but it is your duty now to fight for the matriarch. Let none of you bring shame to your mothers. May we be victorious in the coming struggle. Leave none alive below. Crush their machines in your claws. The signal starts now. Fly to battle!”

Upon that last thought, Puff felt a jolt of fear and rage course through her system. She screeched in fury with her wing mates, and the flight tunnel roared with the sound. She heard the sizzling zing of the autoguns hidden in the redoubt and then followed the press of bodies toward the entrance. From ahead, she watched the Whoueen take flight, and the line grew shorter. Finally, she reached the flight hole. No one was ahead of her. Below in the valley, she heard the ripping roar of the bugs’ weapons and saw the mass of Whoueen fly arrow-straight toward their machines.

With a physical and mental scream, she took flight.

 

Micro drones in combat

When I wrote the first book in my trilogy, In The ValleyI imagined a future where combat leaders had instant access to tiny drones that provide communications, recon info, and would be controlled via a wireless internet connection to the user.

The future is coming faster than I expected. ISIS is using mini-drones in combat now, they are dropping mortar rounds via drones on friendlies in Syria. They are also using them for recon. The US Army is experimenting (a lot) with small drones, there is a lot of thought and money being directed toward this technology.

So it peaked my interest when I came across an article today where a company is trying to market such drones to the military right now. “Will tiny drones become a must have for soldiers?” LOL, hell yes, was the answer that popped into my head.

Mind you, the “Snipe” is bulkier and clumsier than the drones I imagined for future combatants. However, it is still an application where the infantry soldier can deploy a drone to look around corners, behind buildings, over terrain features, etc. It is only a matter of time before such little drones become weaponized. In the case of ISIS, the bad guys have already done it.

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This is a first-generation view of the future. I don’t know whether to be excited by this, or to be leery.

The old methods of reconnaissance will (possibly) soon be obsolete. No more “recon by fire,” no more stumbling into an ambush. The Snipe has a thermal camera, have fun hiding from that.

And sure as the devil, both sides in future conflicts will have access to this technology. I’m not a big fan of unproven technologies when it comes to combat operations. When the bullets start flying, Murphy’s Law prevails each and every time. However, this technology is so promising, so game changing, that I am convinced it will be widely used far into the future.

Humans are always looking for anything that will give them an edge in both love and war, and this technology will deliver. Clausewitz‘s “fog of war” will be rendered less dense by these little machines.

It’s a matter of time and refinement.

Panzergrenadier

hitler's zippoI came across a most excellent article today, it was about the worth of NATO and standardization. I won’t talk much about it, as you all can click on the link above and read it. It’s pretty good.

When I read it, I remembered a particular operation I was involved in once with a German panzergrenadier unit in Afghanistan.

I’ve had a lot of interactions with Germans over the years, and I speak a little Deutsch. But that operation was really my first chance to work closely with a German unit in combat. Frankly, it was a little jarring to ride to war with armored vehicles marked with the Iron Cross, to see soldiers armed with the MG42 (now known as the MG3) cocked and locked.

I shook my head at the irony, seventy years earlier we would have been at each other’s throats. Now I had a German liaison in my truck and I chatted away with him in German while I sat at my gun in the turret and smoked cheap Afghan cigarettes.

Times do change, and alliances are essential. Does NATO need updating for the 21st century? Absolutely. Right now many of the national militaries within the alliance have gone through tough times, they are underfunded and understrength. That includes the US, by the way.

One of the problems is the cost of procurement for new weapon systems. There is far too much fat and red tape involved in fielding new stuff. Look at the F-35 as a prime example. See my article below about the AT-6 for my two cents on that.

Yeah, I’m prejudiced towards ground forces, it’s true. But darn it, who has to put boots on the ground in bad places? There is little excuse for undermanning and over deploying infantry combat forces when the problem could be remedied at relatively moderate cost. It costs about 17k dollars to kit out a US infantry soldier, about 6 million to fully equip a light infantry brigade. More brigades, less time in the Box, the fresher and better trained the forces involved.

The lowest cost version of the F-35 is 148 million dollars, and the cost goes up from there. Mind, that is the bare price for one bird. It does not include training or maintenance expenses. And a US fighter squadron usually has about 21 aircraft assigned. Do the math.

In the west, we are shooting ourselves in the foot with sky-high procurement expenses. The Chinese and the Russians don’t spend nearly as much on their forces, and they are making vast improvements with their equipment modernization programs. The T-14 Armata looks like a formidable machine, to cite one example. And the Russians have 2,300 of them scheduled for delivery by 2020 at an average cost of 3.7 million dollars apiece. An 8.5 billion dollar total cost for a boatload of cutting edge tanks equals about two lousy squadrons of F-35s.

The entire German Army currently has 244 Leopard 2 tanks available.

Wow.