Sunday, January 17, 2010

15 January 2010

Spitting Cobra

15 January 2010

Cobra Battery at FOB Frontenac

Arghandab, Afghanistan

Artillery is called “The King of Battle.”  When it comes to the delivery of force, probably nothing outside of nuclear weapons can outmatch the sustained delivery of extreme brutality.  Cannons also can deliver small atomic weapons.


Aircraft and missles have range and other profound advantages, yet on a tactical battlefield these guns are like a force of nature.

They can fire in any weather that man dares to stand in.

American artillery can destroy a parked car with the first shot from twenty miles away.  No sniper has ever lived who can shoot so well.

The red glow is caused by an approaching humvee whose lights were dimmed by red filters, yet the sensitive camera collected light over time.

Calculations for shots are extremely complex and include dozens of factors, such as windspeed, barometric pressure, humidity, altitude of the gun and the target, temperature, and the earth’s rotation, and the specific lot number of the ammunition.  Every gun is different and so the calculations for one gun would lose accuracy in another.  The guns are brutal and rugged, but also high-tech, precision machines that took centuries of science, engineering and experience to reach the current state.

The guns have reached such a high level of evolution that despite the extreme complexity, within minutes of receiving a “fire mission,” a good crew will reliably deliver accurate shots with help from the computer.

Sometimes missions are pre-planned, while at other times crews must wait close to the guns for hours, even days, without a break.  There was some base in Iraq—I went there with CSM Jeff Mellinger but have forgotten where it was—and the base was taking rocket or mortar fire on a frequent basis from a certain area.  And so the cannoneers slept just next to the guns, and finally the enemy fired and was killed because the guns were pointed at the exact predicted firing point.  The cannoneers just loaded and counter-fired and finished them.  Probably few people on base realized that the “cannon cockers” had conducted an ambush-by-howitzer.  (Maybe the crew who was there will recall this and set the facts straight.)

Cobra battery, 1-17th Infantry, fires illumination.

Sometimes the crews fire “H & I” or “terrain denial” missions. Harassment and Interdiction missions are fired at terrain known to be used only by the enemy at certain times, and so anytime the enemy feels like rolling the dice, they can move into that terrain.  Such missions also provide influence for “shaping” the battlefield.  If the commander is trying to flush the enemy into a blunder—maybe an ambush—or maybe to cut them off from an escape route, he can have the guns pound into a gorge, say, that is used as an enemy route.  Or maybe he just tries to persuade the enemy to take a route where we have sniper teams waiting.  The battery can be used in many ways that do not include direct attacks on enemy formations.

Bringing ammuntion to Afghanistan is far more expensive than most places—all is brought in by air.  Pakistani and Russian officials understandably don’t want our explosives traveling through their territory; nor do we.  I once flew from Kuwait to Bagram in a C-17 that was filled with 155mm projectiles and a couple of passengers.

The cannons can be towed or picked up by helicopters and moved many miles within an hour, and so it’s possible to stage a long-range attack with the guns by suddenly moving them. The guns can wait quietly for months or years without need of refueling or runaways.  The crews are small, and the ammunition is hardy and can be stored for a lifetime.

Some muzzle flashes are not bright because the target is near, requiring little propellant.

The Dragon roars: This was an HE mission and the target was far away requiring a larger charge.  Sometimes they are even brighter.

The guns are dangerous, so the crew must be well trained, and they must frequently drill.  Recently, a soldier got hit in the helmet by a recoiling 155mm cannon.  He escaped with no injury but was lucky not to be killed.

Shots can be directed through many methods.  Aircraft such as A-10s or Predators can spot targets, as can soldiers on the ground.  A satellite could just as easily spot targets.  There is no “best way;” each situation is different.  However, it’s tempting to say the “best way” to call in the guns is to have highly trained troops on the ground who can get eyes on the target.  These troops train specifically for calling such strikes.  Their jobs require great preparation, including much classroom time, physical ruggedness, and coolness in the face of getting killed.  But that’s a different story.

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There are more pictures and information that can be found on Michael Yon's article.  To read the rest of the story, please click Spitting Cobra.

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The Wall Street Journal


JANUARY 6, 2010, 9:45 P.M. ET

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam

Indonesia's first democratic president espoused a philosophy of religious and ethnic tolerance.


Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.

Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia's traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death.

Wahid recognized that the world's Muslim community is engaged in what he called in a 2005 op-ed for this newspaper "nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam" and he understood the danger for Indonesia, for Islam and for all of us from this "crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world."

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The War in Afghanistan has truly begun. This will be a long, difficult fight that is set to eclipse anything we’ve seen in Iraq. As 2010 unfolds, my 6th year of war coverage will unfold with it. There is relatively little interest in Afghanistan by comparison to previous interest in Iraq, and so reader interest is low. Afghanistan is serious, very deadly business. Like Iraq, however, it gets pushed around as a political brawling pit while the people fighting the war are mostly forgotten. The arguments at home seem more likely to revolve around a few words from the President than the ground realities of combat here. I can bring the ground realities, but can sustain the coverage only by the graciousness of readers. Please keep that in mind. Please click…

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As always, this dispatch has been reprinted with permission from the author, Michael Yon.

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