What does a US Army version of a US city look like?

The Telegraph looks at a new city created by the US Army in Virgina to be used for training purposes:

The 300 acre ‘town’ includes a five story embassy, a bank, a school, an underground subway and train station, a mosque, a football stadium, and a helicopter landing zone.

Located in Virginia, the realistic subway station comes complete with subway carriages and the train station has real train carriages…

There are also bridges and several other structures which can be transformed into different scenarios.

The $96 million is designed to meticulously “replicate complex operational environments and develop solutions”.

Lots of movies portrays scenes of fighting in American streets, often facing aliens, but I assume the military has some strong ideas about what works and doesn’t work military in the average American big city. How do US cities fare in battle situations? In other words, I assume most American urban planning doesn’t think much about creating defensible positions or providing ways to best move troops and supplies. Instead, it was guided by ideas of how to create certain kinds of streetscapes, how to efficiently move cars through cities, and leaving spaces for both private and public settings.

I wonder if the Army has some advice about how better to plan cities once they start going through exercises.

Sociologist/CIA fellow describes “the paradox of the war on terror”

A recent sociology dissertation asked members of the CIA to describe their work and the “war on terror”:

Nolan, a CIA Graduate Fellow in sociology, produced the ethnography by making observations and interviewing 20 analysts in NCTC’s Directorate of Intelligence (DI) while also working full time as a counterterrorism analyst at Nation Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) from January 2010 to January 2011.

She notes that many analysts feel overwhelmed because “they often were not really sure what their jobs were, and they felt that they had very little understanding of what other people in the organization do.”…

What Anna detailed is the paradox of the War on Terror: The U.S. is fighting, but there are no clear day-to-day objectives. There is an enemy, but it is more of a network than an entity. There is an objective, but there is no clear way to win.

Last year The Washington Post, in a report on the NTCT’s disposition matrix, noted that Obama administration officials believe that U.S. global kill/capture operations “are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.”

I’m not quite sure this is confusing, as the article then goes on to suggest. This is a new kind of operation but the parameters are not entirely unknown. The U.S. is working against social networks, which take time to understand and track. (Think of recent efforts for academics and police to analyze the social networks of gangs.)

However, we could ask whether this new reality matches the kind of bureaucratic structure common in larger organizations. If the objectives change consistently as does the information coming in, it seems like there has to be a corresponding structure that allows smaller units to act somewhat independently and quickly respond to situations. Yet, more smaller and independent units still require coordination so they are not working at cross-odds or important information and actions fall through the cracks.

Similarly, it requires a different mentality from the public who might prefer clearly defined operations. Fighting terrorism is not that. Even when there are “successes,” it can take years to lead to them. “Winning” is not one-time event where a peace treaty is signed but rather the ongoing amount of time citizens in the United States are not threatened. (Americans have some experience with these ongoing wars. See the war on drugs and the war on poverty.)

It seems like there is a lot of room here for sociologists to investigate the war on terrorism, the military, the government, and the responses of the American public. Sociologists may have shied away from military sociology in recent decades but this is a critical component for understanding today’s world…

The “immortal” B-52

Even as technology cycles speed up for smartphones and other devices, there is one remarkable plane that is still flying and might continue to fly for decades more: the B-52.

Don’t be surprised if another generation of the family is in the cockpit before it goes into retirement. The Air Force plans improvements that will keep the plane around till 2040.It’s not quite your grandfather’s B-52. True, its onboard computers are pitifully underpowered antiques and some models still have vacuum tubes — Google that, kids. Barry Posen, director of the Security Studies Program at MIT, informs me that “there are dials in the B-52 cockpit that have not been connected to anything for years.”

But the plane has been repeatedly remodeled and upgraded to assure its utility, with new engines and electronics. Soon it will be “getting modern digital display screens, computer network servers and real-time communication uplinks,” according to the Times…

One of its virtues is relatively low cost, which presumably makes the Pentagon more willing to use it. The high price tags on the B-1 and the B-2 Stealth bomber mean the Air Force can’t buy as many of them and has to exercise more caution about putting them in harm’s way.

Another factor is that while more advanced aircraft possess capabilities that are rarely needed, the B-52 is perfectly adequate for most real-world contingencies. MIT defense scholar Owen Cote told me that since the 1990s, “we’ve been essentially continuously at war against smaller powers with weak or nonexistent air defenses, against whom the range, persistence and versatile payloads of the B-52 can be invaluable.”

I saw this story while recently thinking about the amazing aspects of modern car engines: they can be turned on and off thousands of times a year and they generally are expected to last at least 100,000 miles. Car engines are remarkably consistent considering all of the moving parts and the internal combustion taking place. Take the consistency of cars and then apply them to these larger aircraft and the idea that they can last for decades or even a century is remarkable.

Additionally, the end of the column hints that these old aircraft are perfectly fine in most modern situations – not all, but many. I know there is a whole history of bombers not being as flashy as fighter  and we would prefer to be prepared for all circumstances but it does lead me to wonder about claims that we need always need to be creating the best fighter-jets possible…is this a physical manifestation of American exceptionalism?

Interstate highways are not intended to be military airfields in times of crisis

This story about a plane landing on a North Carolina highway reminded me of a myth about the U.S. Interstate system: the idea that they could be used by military aircraft in times of crisis.

Numerous folks swear Interstate highways in the United States must be designed so that one mile in every five is perfectly straight and flat. According to this whispered bit of facetious lore, if the U.S. ever comes under attack, those straight, flat stretches will be used as landing strips.

Belief in this crazy idea should fail anyone’s logic test. It makes no sense to render inoperable the Interstate highway system during times of domestic crisis — moving troops and supplies on the ground would be too important an activity to curtail just to land planes. The U.S. is riddled with any number of small, private airfields that could be pressed into service if the need arose, with that need being dependent on some foreign power having first knocked out an almost uncountable number of major airports plus those airstrips on military bases, not to mention the American fleet of aircraft carriers. Folks who commit to believing this crazy notion of highways doubling by design as airstrips are letting the romance of a “cool fact” blind them to what their common sense should be blinking at them in bright neon letters.

Richard Weingroff, information liaison specialist for the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Infrastructure and the FHA’s unofficial historian, says the closest any of this came to touching base with reality was in 1944, when Congress briefly considered the possibility of including funding for emergency landing strips in the Federal Highway-Aid Act (the law that authorized designation of a “National System of Interstate Highways”). At no point was the idea kited of using highways or other roads to land planes on; the proposed landing strips would have been built alongside major highways, with the highways serving to handle ground transportation access to and from these strips. The proposal was quickly dropped, and no more was ever heard of it. (A few countries do use some of their roads as military air strips, however.)

Some references to the one-mile-in-five assertion claim it’s part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. This piece of legislation committed the federal government to build what became the 42,800-mile Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, which makes it the logical item to cite concerning regulations about how the interstate highway system was to be laid out. The act did not, however, contain any “one-in-five” requirement, nor did it even suggest the use of stretches of the interstate system as emergency landing strips. The one-out-of-five rule was not part of any later legislation either.

This myth could be countered without suggesting that this is such a crazy idea. Small, private airfields would not likely have the length for modern jets nor be able to stand the weight of larger aircraft, particularly bombers. Additionally, the federal government spent large sums of money on interstate highways; wouldn’t they have wanted to get more out of their outlay?

Another way to counter this myth would be to make a larger argument that yes, Americans considered driving so important that the government was willing to subsidize the construction of interstates. In other words, the highways are more about our love for and reliance on cars and trucks than a nefarious Eisenhowerian plan benefiting the military-industrial complex.

The Federal Highway Administration has an official myth-busting page. Here is their answer to two questions of whether interstates were built with defense purposes in mind:

President Eisenhower supported the Interstate System because he wanted a way of evacuating cities if the United States was attacked by an atomic bomb.

President Eisenhower’s support was based largely on civilian needs—support for economic development, improved highway safety, and congestion relief, as well as reduction of motor vehicle-related lawsuits.  He understood the military value of the Interstate System, as well as its use in evacuations, but they were only part of the reason for his support.

Defense was the primary reason for the Interstate System.

The primary justifications for the Interstate System were civilian in nature.  In the midst of the Cold War, the Department of Defense supported the Interstate System and Congress added the words “and Defense” to its official name in 1956 (“National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”).  However, the program was so popular for its civilian benefits that the legislation would have passed even if defense had not been a factor.

Interesting that the federal government hosts such a page…

Societies may not want women to fight in wars – until they are desparately needed

Here is an interesting piece about women soldiers in history, particularly focusing on their participation in World War II when their countries needed them. Here is part of the argument:

The girls of Stalingrad weren’t the only women to inspire shock and awe in World War II. Great Britain, the United States, and other combatants put hundreds of thousands of females in uniform; the Soviet Union alone recruited roughly a million, sending many into combat as tank commanders, snipers, and pilots. Desperation, not egalitarian ideals, drove these mobilizations; there simply weren’t enough men to fight in history’s largest conflagration…

In many ways, Panetta’s decision is simply a recognition that women are already fighting in combat. The United States has deployed nearly 290,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. More than 140 have died, many killed by insurgents. With the blurry front lines of modern warfare, even women assigned to noncombat roles sometimes wind up in battle. In 2005, assigned to a protection detail for a military convoy, Army National Guard sergeant Leigh Ann Hester landed in a firefight with Afghanistan insurgents. Jumping from her Humvee, she ran to a ditch where several Americans were pinned down and about to be taken hostage. Opening fire with her M-4, she held off the insurgents, killing three and helping to rescue the men. Hester became the first woman to receive a Silver Star for a direct engagement with the enemy.

Still, Panetta’s decision will be fought hard. Citing reports of sexual harassment in the ranks, some officials worry that women will disrupt the cohesion crucial to combat unit. They also argue that females physically can’t handle the duty.

IN THE END, some people will never accept women in battle—at least, that is, until women are needed.

It strikes me that “normal” social roles can change quite a bit under altered circumstances such as war. So how much is this new directive in the United States allowing women in combat is driven by a need at the front lines? Does this tell us more about the larger capabilities of the US military than changing social norms regarding gender?

Working with old Nike missile sites in the Chicago suburbs

If one looks closely, there are still a few remnants of the Cold War in the Chicago suburbs: old Nike missile sites. One such site is being cleaned up in Vernon Hills:

The weapons and the equipment needed to fire them were removed decades ago, but the hatches and the concrete pad — and the bunkerlike magazine buried deep beneath them — remain…The Chicago area was home to more than a dozen Nike bases. They could be found in the city and in Addison, Arlington Heights, Naperville, Palatine and other communities, as well as at Fort Sheridan near Highland Park.

The Vernon Hills base included six underground missile magazines, a barracks, a headquarters building and other facilities, all surrounded by what was then cornfields.

Along with the other Chicago-area bases, the site represented a last-ditch effort to destroy any enemy bombers targeting the Windy City. Coastal defenses and air-to-air combat efforts would already have failed to stop invading planes.

Here is a list of the 265 Nike bases across the United States and the website for the Nike Historical Society.

The site in Naperville has since been remade into Nike Park. I suspect some younger residents might think this is named after the shoe company instead of anti-aircraft missiles. At the time of its use, this plot of land was outside of town though it is now clearly part of the I-88 corridor.

I wonder how much interest many communities would have in cleaning up and displaying these sites. Indeed, the Daily Herald article says the “the nation’s only restored Nike base, complete with a museum and public tours” is located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. In addition to the money this would require, these sites are decades old and they aren’t exactly conducive to the idyllic image many suburbs and communities would like to display. It is one thing to let someone else take care of the history in a museum somewhere and another to remind residents that there was once a military base in their sleepy community.

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of military gear passed into the hands of local police departments

Wired has an interesting story about the amount of military gear that is now in the hands of local police departments:

Small police departments across America are collecting battlefield-grade arsenals thanks to a program that allows them to get their hands on military surplus equipment – amphibious tanks, night-vision goggles, and even barber chairs or underwear – at virtually no cost, except for shipment and maintenance…

In 2011 alone, more than 700,000 items were transferred to police departments for a total value of $500 million. This year, as of May 15, police departments already acquired almost $400 million worth of stuff. Last year’s record would have certainly been shattered if the Arizona Republic hadn’t revealed in early May that a local police department used the program to stockpile equipment – and then sold the gear to others, something that is strictly forbidden. Three weeks after the revelation, the Pentagon decided to partly suspend distribution of surplus material until all agencies could put together an up-to-date inventory of all the stuff they got through the years. A second effort, which gives federal grants to police departments to purchase equipment, is still ongoing, however. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, since 9/11, the grants have totaled $34 billion…

Officials in these Police Departments still maintain that these costs and this apparently unnecessary equipment are worth it. “If you can save one life,” said Lieutenant Tim Clouse of the Tupelo Police Department referring to a missing person they were able to spot thanks to the chopper, “it was very much worth it.” Pierce, from Cobb County, echoes the thought. “If it saves one life then it’s worth the money and the effort put into it.”…

According to Stamper, having small local police departments go around with tanks and military gear has “a chilling effect on any effort to strengthen the relationship” between the community and the cops. And that’s not the only danger. “There’s no justification for them having that kind of equipment, for one obvious reason, and that is if they have it, they will find a way to use it. And if they use it they will misuse it altogether too many times,” said Stamper. What happened a year ago in Arizona, when army veteran Jose Guerena was shot down during a drug raid that found no drugs in his house, could very well be an example of that misuse.

It would be intriguing to see how local residents would respond to seeing such gear being used in their community, perhaps nearby or even on their street. Imagine you are minding your own business in the front yard and all of the sudden one of Nebraska’s “three amphibious eight-wheeled tanks” comes your way. Kind of shatters the image of suburban or more rural pastoralism. Actually, this could make for a Hollywood action film: local ne’er-do-well breaks into the local police department, takes the keys for the local tank from the snoozing cop, and goes on a rampage.

If some local departments have all of this gear, do they use it regularly in the public eye? If not, why not? Will some of it be on display at local July 4th parades?