Monday 1st of June 2020

recruitment recon

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In late May, the U.S. Air Force announced its intention to release an advanced video game simulation. The theory is that the game, if successful, will be an effective recruitment tool among high school students.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the U.S. Army already did the exact same thing with a game called “America’s Army,” launched in 2002. That one was for a while relatively popular, but as a recruitment tool there’s little doubt it failed. Indeed, it was panned early and often for claiming to offer a realistic soldiering experience while glamorizing it as an exciting and largely consequence-free adventure. The game, of course, never showed the tedium or the dark side of military service in conflict—but what proper recruitment propaganda ever does?

Not content to merely copy a failed program, the so-far untitled Air Force game seeks to combine the allure of video games with the Orwellian realities of modern “big data” applications that the government is so fond of. In this case, officials have suggested they are literally going to monitor players to spot particularly talented ones they can recruit.

Call it recruitment recon.


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unless you become a soldier for the empire...


Political editor Dr Martin Hirst has been musing on recent political news while re-reading Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. His outlook is bleak.

I’m doing a course at my local TAFE this year; it’s a mixed group. I’m one of three oldies (I’d describe myself as a late baby boomer). Apart from a couple of students in their mid 20s, the rest of the group are all in their late teens. We had a discussion this week about what constitutes the zeitgeist — the “spirit of the Age”.

Some of the responses from the millennials in the class got me thinking. In part, I reflected on what I was like when I was 18; I also began to think about Thomas Hobbes and those famous lines from Leviathan about war of “all against all” and the bleak lives – “nasty brutish and short” – that some of us are forced to live.

I was reminded of these passages – from Chapter XIII, 'Of the natural condition of mankind' – by some of the fears and concerns expressed by millennial classmates.

For them, the overwhelming zeitgeist is fear. They are scared about the future that is facing them. More importantly, perhaps, they feel powerless to do anything about it.

They talked about how difficult it is for them to find work — even the precarious work of casual shifts in the hospitality or retail industries. They talked about feeling like they’d never be able to afford to buy a house, and their fear of global warming and the damage that we’re doing to the planet.

But most of all, they felt like they could do nothing about the problems confronting them.

I thought about it for a few days afterwards. Something was niggling me. I finally figured it out. For many millennials, it feels like they are being deliberately excluded from society and from decision-making.

Then it hit me: our whole political culture is built on exclusion and fear.

It is actually blindingly obvious.

A nation built on exclusion

The nation of Australia was built on exclusionary principles and these have dictated the political mood ever since.

The Indigenous Australians were deliberately excluded from the beginning of Australia. The ethos of colonial government was that Aboriginal Australians were a pest, to be wiped out, or at best segregated, herded into forced enclosures and left to starve.

This exclusion was codified in so many ways: by the system of religious missions; by the taking of children and incarcerating them in hellish conditions; by systematically ignoring the health, education and employment needs of whole communities, forcing them into enduring poverty.

For decades, Aboriginal people were excluded from most cities and towns by legal restraint, and by designated physical boundaries. Yes, there were actually roads that Aboriginal people could not cross by law.

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scraping the bottom of the barrel...

From Mark Perry, the author of The Most Dangerous Man In America and The Pentagon’s Wars. 

It’s not a secret: a surefire way for a presidential contender to get votes is to promise to increase the defense budget. It has worked for nearly every president since John Kennedy—and it worked for Donald Trump. Back in September 2016, candidate Trump promised he would not only increase the Pentagon’s budget, he would add more soldiers, sailors, and airmen (and women) to the military’s ranks.

In April, Trump followed up on his pledge by signing a defense bill that not only ended the spending caps, but called for an increase in the military’s size in 2018 by adding 20,000 new personnel—including 7,500 more soldiers, 4,000 more sailors, 1,000 new Marines, and 4,100 more airmen.

Senior military officers, and particularly Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley, celebrated the increase. Since becoming his service’s senior officer, Milley has argued that to meet its obligations, the Army will need 540,000 soldiers in its ranks by 2022, an increase of some 70,000 soldiers over four years. “It is not some arbitrary number,” Milley told a gathering of Army veterans back in August. “We have done the analysis. We need to be bigger, and we need to be stronger and more capable.”

Milley’s goal meant that the Army not only needed to find 17,500 new soldiers every year, it needed to find replacements for those who retire or leave the service every year—about 20 percent of the force. So it is that the Army set its 2018 recruiting goal at 80,000 soldiers. Initially, at least, Milley’s target seemed modest, reachable.

It wasn’t. 

In April, the Army revised that number—downwards. Instead of recruiting 80,000, it announced that it would recruit 76,500 new soldiers. But even that number might be too high, as the Army notes that it’s recruited only 28,000 in the first six months of the year. The problem, it seems, isn’t that young people don’t want to join the Army—or any of the services—it’s that they can’t. And therein lies a paradox: for while the U.S. military represents the best in America (as its most senior officers claim), it doesn’t actually represent America. For that to be true, two thirds of our military would have to consist of obese, under-educated former drug users and convicted criminals. 

Here’s the arithmetic: one in three potential recruits are disqualified from service because they’re overweight, one in four cannot meet minimal educational standards (a high school diploma or GED equivalent), and one in 10 have a criminal history. In plain terms, about 71 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds (the military’s target pool of potential recruits) are disqualified from the minute they enter a recruiting station: that’s 24 million out of 34 million Americans. The good news is that while the military takes pride in attracting those who are fit, educated, law abiding, and drug-free, they’re having difficulty finding them—manifestly because fewer of them actually exist. 

Then too, of the pool of remaining potential recruits, only one in eight actually want to join the military, and of that number, fully 30 percent of those who have the requisite high school diploma or GED equivalent fail to pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test (the AFQT), which is used to determine math and reading skills. Tutoring companies produce sample tests and there’s an “AFQT for Dummies” on the shelves. Here’s a sample question: “Five workers earn $135/day. What is the total amount earned by the five workers?” Put more simply, the purpose of the AFQT isn’t to identify the most qualified, but to winnow out the illiterate, the 30 percent who can’t read, write, or count, despite their high school diplomas. 

That’s why the numbers are grim: “There are 30 some million 17 to 24 year-olds out there, but by the time you get all the way down to those that are qualified, you’re down to less than a million young Americans,” Marine Corps Major General Mark Brilakis says. In fact, Brilakis might be overestimating the number—if only one in eight of 10 million in this age group actually want to join the military, that leaves a pool of 1,250,000 potential recruits. If 30 percent of those can’t pass the AFQT, that number becomes 750,000. 

In addition to winnowing out recruits due to mental, physical, and social ineligibility, there’s a natural cap to the pool. There are, after all, perfectly good reasons why young Americans might not want to serve: the military is regimented, physically demanding, sometimes boring and often dangerous. “When you sign up for the military you don’t just sign up for a new job,” retired Colonel Kevin Benson, a West Point graduate and former director of the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies, notes. “You’re really joining a new culture. It’s a way of life. Not surprisingly, when many potential recruits realize what they’re getting into they decide to do something else.” 

There are a number of possible solutions to the military’s recruiting crisis. The services could lower their eligibility requirements, assign more recruiters to focus on target populations, lower the numbers of military members the armed forces needs—or all three. But lowering standards is not in the cards. “The recruiting numbers look bad,” a retired Army senior officer admits, “but I think the glass is half full. None of the services have taken the easy way out by lowering recruiting standards, and the result is that we have a smarter military than we’ve ever had.” This retired officer (who requested anonymity as he is in a sensitive position in the private sector), cited the impact of a legendary West Point “tank study” of the 1980s that showed smarter tank gunners are actually more accurate tank gunners—that, in effect, smarter soldiers are better soldiers. It’s not simply that smarter recruits are more capable of operating sophisticated weapons systems (like the F-35); they’re better fighters, too, which is, after all, the whole point.

The services have responded to the recruiting crisis by recasting their recruiting strategies. The Navy’s new multimillion dollar “Forged by the sea” appeal is a dual promotion that focuses on what the Navy offers while telling “Gen Zers” what the Navy actually does—an important point, as it turns out, because, according to the ad firm that proposed the appeal, most young Americans don’t actually know. It’s a heavy lift: the Navy will have to retain its current numbers and add 11,400 sailors by 2019 and then increase that number again in order to fulfill the Trump administration’s plan to build a 355-ship fleet. The Air Force faces an even more daunting challenge: the service is 2,000 pilots short and, until recently, the numbers of its recruiters were historically low. It has increased retention bonuses, assigned additional recruiters (100 more this year), and reopened closed recruiting offices. But the tech-heavy service doesn’t just need increased numbers. It also needs more recruits for specific specialties: maintenance, cyber warfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and nuclear experts—that is, recruits who don’t walk in off the street. 


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bonkers navy...

A deputy minister in Kiev suggested that the British Navy should send its warship to the Sea of Azov to test Russia’s response. Moscow described the idea as ‘bonkers.’

“When it is being said that Russia won’t allow the passage of a British ship, I have one remark – has anyone tried it?” Yuri Hrymchak wondered during a talk show aired live on a Ukrainian TV channel on Friday.

Hrymchak serves as deputy minister of temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons – a department tasked with facilitating the ‘future return’ of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. He was discussing last month’s naval standoff near the Kerch Strait.

On November 25, the Russian Coast Guard intercepted and seized two Ukrainian gunboats and a tugboat. Moscow accused the sailors of trying to enter the busy strait, connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, while violating existing navigational procedures. In response, Ukraine accused Russia of unprovoked aggression against its vessels.

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a scenario for you to really die in...



Clearly, the U.S. military will prevail in any fire fight; but just like in Iraq, simply eliminating Iran’s army or navy does not mean that victory would be secured.

Iran is three times larger than Iraq, and according to Harry Kazianis in The American Conservativewar games simulating Iran’s ability to respond to hostilities in the Persian Gulf  led to an ugly outcome:

“…Iran decides such an action cannot be allowed to stand, and decides to make a statement that not only is its military powerful, but it can cause serious damage to US naval assets in the region. They counterattack with a massive volley of anti-ship missiles pointed at the ultimate symbol of US military might: America’s only aircraft carrier operating in the region. Firing over 100 missiles, the carrier’s defenses are overwhelmed and the 100,000-ton vessel is destroyed, with over 2,000 sailors and airmen lost.

Iran doesn’t stop there. To make clear that it won’t tolerate any further US military operations against its forces, Iranian conventional attack submarines – purchased from Russia – launch a series of attacks on US surface combatants in the Persian Gulf. While Tehran loses two of its prized subs, one American Littoral Combat Vessel is sunk, with over 62 sailors killed.”

Today’s war hawks have promised us an easy, swift victory before.

As Jack Hunter points out, “the same club of neoconservative hawks [Sen. Cotton] belongs to also predicted an expeditious war back then. ‘Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that,’  then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted in 2002.”

We have seen where the hawks’ predictions of easy success lead. This time, the U.S. should not let us be so easily persuaded into the path of war.

Barbara Boland is TAC’s Foreign Policy and National Security Reporter. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC


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suicide ahoy!

Three Navy sailors assigned to the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier killed themselves last week in separate incidents, officials said Monday.

The commanding officer of the carrier, which is docked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, announced the deaths in a post on the ship’s Facebook page Monday.

“It is with a heavy heart that I can confirm the loss of three Sailors last week in separate, unrelated incidents from apparent suicide. My heart is broken,” Capt. Sean Bailey wrote in the announcement.

None of the deaths occurred on the carrier, which is docked at the shipyard for repairs, Navy Times reported.

The crew members who killed themselves last week are the third, fourth and fifth sailors assigned to the ship to commit suicide in a two-year period, Bailey added in his statement.

Bailey urged sailors on the carrier to come forward with suggestions on how to put an end to the string of suicides.

“We need All Hands to engage by bringing forward your suggestions and ideas for how we can work together to prevent another suicide,” he wrote in the post, adding: “I want to reiterate that there is never any stigma or repercussion from seeking help.”


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Gus apologises for the tacky heading at top. I guess the punny headlines of the Mediocre Mass Market Murdoch Media (MMMMM) has stained my judgement today... It might happen again. 



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women winning the war...

Dstl staff have recreated the work of a World War Two unit which was set up to help stop U-boat attacks on Allied ships.

The Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) was formed of officers and rating from the Women’s Royal Naval Service, or Wrens. Despite rudimentary facilities, more than 5,000 officers were trained by the women; operational analysts and war gamers who helped to win the Battle of the Atlantic.

Modern-day war-gamers from Dstl teamed up with today’s Royal Navy to recreate the work of the WATU at the Liverpool War Museum on Saturday.

Last weekend saw the anniversary of one of the most important achievements of the unit. The Wrens discovered – and successfully modeled a response to – a new acoustic torpedo. Their work foiled the German’s use of this weapon for the remainder of the war.

Alison Davis, from the software and model support team at Dstl, who is leading the project said:

We still use war gaming, just like the Wrens of the WATU, albeit in a modern form. Partnership with the Royal Navy and other front line commands allows us to look at a huge variety of scenarios and how we might respond.

The women of the WATU had a difficult job, bringing together doctrine and intelligence on what was basically the floor, but their efforts helped those fighting on the high seas hundreds of miles away.

Some of the families of Wrens who worked in Liverpool attended the event, as will Navy officers from HMS Collingwood.

After the war, Captain Roberts summed up the link between scientists and officers, something which continues to be vital today. He said:

One other lesson of this battle which I think is very important is the value of the closest and most constant co-operation between the staffs and the scientists.

Before the War, I do not think it ever occurred to any officer that gentlemen in grey flannel and sometimes thick spectacles would, in many respects, be able to teach him his business in directing operations of war, and would tell him things which he did not know about the killing of U-boats. I have no hesitation in saying, from some little experience of command in war, that the operational research scientist is an absolutely indispensable member of the fighting staff of any important headquarters in these modern times.


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