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The economy or the people? Or Is the cure worse than the virus?

 

President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.

The President also reiterated his argument that he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and to see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview. He added: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”

The President’s optimism of course is countered by all of the panic and anti-trump rhetoric of the media.  Have you heard the media report the praise for the actions of the president from unlikely leaders like the governors of California and New York?  Some of the closures are clearly the result of the panic created by the media.  The rest is truly to ease of contagion of the virus.

The president’s prediction that the U.S. economy would be up-and-running by Easter, however, is tempered by comments earlier in the day by top officials at the Pentagon who predicted the COVID-19 outbreak could last anywhere from 10 weeks to three months.

Trump’s thoughts about getting people back to work sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.

For weeks now, millions of Americans have been practicing “social distancing” in an effort to “flatten the curve” of increasing Chinese Coronavirus infections. Governors in California and New York have issued “stay at home orders” and closed “non-essential” businesses in an effort to stem the growth of the illness. Other states have made similar or more limited declarations or are considering them.  Most states have ended the school year and are trying some form of remote education.  This would be more practical if every school child had a computer and every home had the internet.  (This will be the subject of a whole new article as I learn from the experience of our grandchildren.

While more than 40,000 Americans currently are infected with Chinese Coronavirus, hundreds of millions of others are suffering from the outbreak’s related effects. The U.S. economy is in shambles. The stock market has seen catastrophic losses. Out of an abundance of caution, millions of workers have been sent home. Thousands have been laid off. Restaurants and businesses have been shuttered, and many — especially small ones — may not re-open.

The negative financial impact of the shutdown/quarantine strategy gets worse every day. But are these widespread, but hopefully short-term, economic losses necessary? Will they avert a long-term economic crisis that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands?

As we come full circle from the Rose Garden’s hope of today about opening the country by Easter to the risk of opening the government prematurely maybe there is a compromise solution.

Some places like Wyoming and many of the other mid-western states have few cases of the virus.  Many locales in even New York have few cases.  Such an analysis of the country suggests that there are large pockets of minimal contamination.  Also we know that the vulnerable population groups are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.  Younger Americans my get the virus but the effects are minimal.  This suggests another way to dice who can go back to work—non-threatened folks.

It is only smart to continue to limit large gatherings but many other social interactions can be resumed in selected locales.

To me the biggest threat while living is Kansas is flying on commercial aircraft.  The airlines should use some of their stimulus money to devise methods of purifying the air inside their planes while they are in flight. 

Of course travel is one of the biggest threats to the selective isolation that I have suggested (age and locale) as the virus can be brought from one of the isolated pockets to a relatively clear zone.

As the country and its leadership struggle with the dilemma pointed out here it would be terribly helpful if the media could stop the hate Trump rhetoric and substitute a support for America theme—why not try telling folks what is good? Or be truly complete in its reporting—“New York City is out of certain needed items because the administration forgot to order them and the government has not been able to fill all of its needs yet.” “Areas critically impacted are in New York, where they did not cancel Lunar New year celebrations.” Complete and accurate reporting and positive stories about women in Kansas making facemasks for a local hospital would also be nice to hear.

I ask my readers to consider the closure of the society and the risks from that versus the closure of the economy and the much longer and possibly worse impact from that.  What is worse—some deaths from the virus or a depression?

Restructuring the Marine Corps

In the last several months the United States Marine Corps (USMC) has introduced a new vision for the structure of the Corps for 2030.  This Marine Corps 10-year restructuring is to align itself with the National Defense Strategy, but in doing so, in my mind, it risks ignoring the last 70 years of its history.

The commandant of the Corps is seeking to transition the Corps away from its two-decade-long focus on counter-insurgency and towards the international competition that the national strategy poses as the greatest threats in the future. However, the commandant and other Marine Corps leaders are announcing that as part of this transition, they would eliminate/greatly reduce capabilities for sustained ground combat.

For example, as it gears up to fight China in this anticipated period of great power competition, the USMC will trim the size of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons and cut all of its tank battalions in the next 10 years. It is also greatly reducing its artillery depending on increased lethality and accuracy of the remaining tubes. These changes, part of the 2030 force design effort, come as a result of the Corps’ wargaming and analysis effort meant to inform what it needs to fight a near-peer threat in 2030. According to the outline, the Marine Corps will cut the “the Primary Aircraft Authorized” for both the F-35B and F-35C squadrons down to 10 aircraft from 16. Also in the next 10 years, the Marine Corps is planning for “complete divestments of Law Enforcement Battalions, Tank Battalions and associated Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), and all Bridging Companies.”  It will also greatly reduce its logistical support capability.  Finally, it is seeking to move into the longer range missile field, as we reported, rather than rely on the Army which is also moving in that direction.

There are two risks in this force structure revision.

  • The national command authorities will use the tools that they have available when a conflict arises. The Marine Corps they employ will not be dependent upon the Marine Corps’ capabilities or design at that time. The lack of diversity and flexibility in the capabilities to be applies could waste lives .This is not a new phenomenon. Look at the US Army that was deployed to Vietnam in the mid- 1960s.  It was designed to fight the Soviets on the plains of the Fulda Gap.
  • Why would the Corps want to be in a position where it cannot go to war without Army support for tanks, heavy firepower, logistics, and mobility? In short the changes undermine the Marine Corps’ expeditionary nature. The Army provides niche capabilities like psychological operations units and theater-wide logistics to all U.S. forces, not just the Marine Corps — the point is valid: The Marine Corps has been able to deploy and fight a wide variety of adversaries using its organic capabilities.

The Marine Corps should also avoid completely eliminating capabilities. Although the new guidance implies such eliminations, this creates gaps that might need filling in. Instead of creating these large gaps in capability the Corps should maintain in the Marine Corps Reserve an extensive toolkit as a hedge against an uncertain future. Traditionally, the Marine Corps reserves have been structured nearly identically to the active-duty force with a division, air wing, logistics group, and command headquarters. It is the only service that does this. The other services use the reserves to provide capabilities that are few or nonexistent in the active-duty force.

Thus, the Marine Corps could put capabilities into the reserves that don’t fit well with a western Pacific great-power strategy, but that would be needed for other kinds of campaigns. Using tanks as an example, the Marine Corps could reduce the number on active duty armored units to one company per division but keep an enhanced force of several battalion in the reserves. Personnel managers will whine that they cannot sustain the skill base with such a small active-duty community. The other services have figured out how to do this The Marine Corps can also.

Your thoughts?

New Howitzer Range

The Army’s improved Paladin 155 mm howitzer recently impressed officials at Yuma Proving Grounds.  The tests sent an improved projectile to an altitude of 50,000 feet and a distance of over 40 miles.  The goal is a range in excess of 60 miles.

Each armored or mechanized brigade includes a battalion of 18 such howitzers.  However brigades are currently hard pressed to acquire targets independently out to 60 miles away. This suggests that other changes need to follow in intelligence acquisition and overall doctrine of how divisions and brigades will fight the battle.

I would ask my readers for their ideas/suggestions on changes on doctrinal and equipment that the new artillery capability will necessitate. Let’s hear from you.

Learning from the corona virus

While the media spasms[i] over the corona virus as a way to get rid of President Trump, we should be examining critical lessons that we should learn with respect to military preparedness.

The corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak is causing some disruptions in military productions and activities.  Right now these are precautionary.  The bigger issue that these disruptions highlight is the issue of single source procurement.  Will external sources being interrupted result in more producers returning to the US? Are self-imposed risks acceptable?

Some of the disruptions in military activities include:

  • Lockheed Martin has held up production of F-35s in Italy and Japan. They have told employees to stay home for the next week. However, Lt Gen Fick (Program Manager) said that he does not anticipate any other disruption to the supply chain and that the Joint Program Office (JPO) is not taking any deliberate steps to actively curtail any ripple effects due to the corona virus that may further go through the F-35 supply chain.
  • The Indian Navy (IN) has postponed the 10-day long ‘Milan 2020’ multilateral exercise it was expected to host in the Bay of Bengal for 31 navies. The IN said in a statement on 3 March that this year’s iteration of the biennial exercise, which was scheduled to begin on 18 March, has been deferred after taking “the safety of all participants and travel restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19”
  • The Pentagon will decide soon how to prepare for the upcoming military moving season with the outbreak based on whether the new COVID-19 virus is still active in late spring through early fall, a military doctor said Wednesday. Presently travel to and from Korea is halted.
  • Military families in Italy are facing a third week of school and day care closures. They are also facing a two week quarantine when/if they return to the US.
  • The Army is screening new recruits before they enter basic training. Any found positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined.

It is certain that these are only the tip of the iceberg.  What is most important is what are we learning from the ongoing disruptions?  Are we examining supply chains to see where we have potential bottlenecks?  Are corporations and government entities willing to pay the price for some redundancy or are they going to take a risk? Risk might be acceptable in some categories or cases but not others.  Examples where risk may not be acceptable include pharmaceuticals, long lead time parts and components for essential military equipment, critical personnel skills.

The obvious other casualty of this virus scare is globalism.  When critical things have been allowed or even encouraged to be externally produced and then become unavailable due to disruptions in production and thus the supply chain in addition to looking for alternate production providers we might just question the whole philosophy that caused the problem—globalism.

A peacetime example that could occur next week to military units because of personnel replacement disruptions.  As an armored brigade commander I had over 100 tanks to maintain.  In my direct support maintenance unit there was only an authorization for 2 turret mechanics with a critical skill. If one of those authorizations was not filled and the other individual was on special duty my turret problems went unresolved until I could find a work around.  So an efficiency in personnel created a maintenance bottleneck and reduced readiness of several tanks.  Was this an acceptable risk?  Not to me but surely to the bean counters in the Pentagon.  Surely they considered the risk.  But what if the bottleneck is not anticipated or there is not a work around. This example applies as much to the supply chain as it does to personnel.  Is there a workaround whether it be alternate suppliers or backup capabilities? Redundancy is not necessarily bad.

These are the questions that we should be answering.  We should thank the Covid-19 for forcing the consideration of the risks created by what were thought to be the efficiencies of single source and function operations and globalism.

[i] “Unfortunately, we have been able to assess that accounts tied to Russia, the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation, has been engaged in the midst of this world health crisis,” Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, testified before the Senate on Thursday.

She went on: “We saw the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation at play. Russian state proxy websites, official state media, as well as swarms of online, false personas pushing out false narratives.”

 

Extension of the New START Treaty?

A senior US State Department official told a seminar in London on 11 February that there remains time for Russia and the United States to work through processes for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is due to expire in February 2021.  There are several extension possibilities in the treaty.

Rumors are that John Bolton wanted to try and lure China into a tri-lateral nuclear control agreement.  There are no rumors to date on what the president or his new National Security Adviser might be thinking.  I know from personal experience that time is actually short to decide to try for a treaty extension and then negotiate it.  Let alone add in the Chinese.  There has not been any evidence of the agencies—State, Defense, Energy, or Intelligence—manning up for such an effort.

The New START Treaty is the only strategic nuclear arms control agreement still existing between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was negotiated by the Obama administration and approved by the Senate. It limits both sides to no more than 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons on no more than 700 deployed launchers. Further, it provides the United States with access to and information about Russia’s nuclear arsenal and vice versa. Both signatories are reportedly fully complying with the agreement, as verified by the U.S. intelligence community.  The new nuclear capable missiles deployed by the Russians into Eastern Europe are not covered by the treaty.

The agreement entered into force in 2011 and will expire on February 5, 2021. However the agreement can be extended by executive agreement for up to five years, a step that would not require further Congressional approval. Both the Joint Chiefs and the U.S. intelligence community allegedly support such an extension. Russia, for its part, has repeatedly and unconditionally offered to extend the agreement.

The Trump administration has been in office more than three years and has yet to determine whether it is interested in extending the New START Treaty. It is easy to see the administration holding such a negotiation as a carrot for after the election.  This might attract more moderates and some Democrats to support Trump.  Conversely new allegations of the Russians meddling in the election and supporting Trump could dissuade the administration from offering such a negotiation lest it appear soft on the Russians.

It is in this context that one should consider any reports of interest by the US in negotiating a new broader multilateral strategic arms control agreement either independently or with both Russia and China. Some American military and security officials are reported to be eager to expand strategic conversations with Russia to protect American interests, and also right to want new and expanded strategic conversations with China, whose actions and capabilities pose growing military and security challenges to American interests in East Asia. Those that are eager feel that discussions are urgently needed to prevent conflicts and diffuse unnecessary tensions in volatile areas and develop new rules for our growing competition with these states.

Before going any further one must determine who the people are that are reported to be eager for such negotiations.  To carry the day in the Trump administration they must be completely without any swamp smell.

What are the arguments for such an extension of the existing agreement and then its expansion into a tri-lateral agreement? It is well known that Russia is developing new strategic nuclear systems, some of which would be covered under the New START if it remains intact. Allowing the agreement to expire or trying to expand it in an unrealistic way and in an unrealistic time frame means Russia would be free after 2021 to develop as many of these new systems as it chooses without any constraint or rights of American access. Of course the US would have the same rights, but in a deficit cutting world there might be strong voices to avoid another nuclear arms race.

There is also nothing that prevents the Trump administration from extending the current agreement and at the same time beginning negotiations on new ones with Russia, China, or both.

As we go forward we will keep an eye on this area as there is the potential for much to happen..

Deployment of small yield nuclear weapons

Barely noted in most news reports but this past week, the US Navy announced that it had tested a new missile known as the W76-2. The Washington Times reports that the W76-2 is a “submarine-launched, low-yield device designed to counter Russia’s arsenal of smaller missiles and to give the US. a way to retaliate in kind.”

A DOD spokesman noted that: “In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners.” The spokesman continued: “[The W76-2] strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

The “Nuclear Posture Review,” referred to is a document that the Trump Administration put forth outlining its position on nuclear policy.  The Trump administration feels that  during the previous administrations, Russia, in particular, has made advancements in its weapon’s arsenal, while the United States has not, which has caused some to believe that Russia may have the upper hand in this area. The Nuclear Posture Review was meant to address this.

The thinking underlying this review reads very much like deterrence theory of the cold war. The W76-2 is one of the first publicly announced results of that document.  It reportedly gives America a way to combat the Russian advancements in low yield nuclear weapons. The thinking is that the deployment “strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

Proponents of the system believe the US needs a low-yield nuclear option in order to credibly counter Russia, which has invested heavily in a variety of nuclear systems in the last decade. Defense officials believe Russia would potentially use a smaller nuclear weapon in order to deter America from entering or extending a conflict, under the “escalate to deescalate” thinking; if the U.S. only has larger strategic weapons to retaliate with, it may hesitate.  This hesitation would give the Russians an advantage the advocates of this thinking believe.

Opponents of tit for tat deterrence doctrine question whether such a doctrine is realistic, and also argue that no nuclear system can truly be non-strategic. These opponents have raised concerns that having a low-yield and high-yield warhead able to be launched on the same submarine-launched missile creates a situation where an adversary doesn’t know which system is being used and therefore reacts as if the larger warhead has been launched.  This thinking makes the argument that a nuclear war can be limited to small yield exchanges questionable. Will an opponent wait until a war head detonates before acting?  Assuredly no!

In short this means that deterrence is strengthened because low yield nuclear weapons can be used and there is no need to escalate to larger yield weapons because we do not have a comparable small yield weapon. The logic is pure cold war deterrence theory and is potentially flawed.

Additional concerns are that this is the beginning of a new arms race.  An arms race that cannot be tempered by an arms control agreement.  How does one verify yield of a nuclear weapon. In the past nuclear arms control agreements have focused on delivery vehicles (planes, and different kinds of missiles)…  These are things that can be seen and counted.  Warhead yield is quite another issue.

The deterrence theory argued above and the inability to control warhead yield give me pause.  In arguing that smaller war head yield supports deterrence one can imagine the same argument for huge yields enhancing deterrence.  Being able to limit a nuclear war has its advantages, but any nuclear war must be considered a catastrophic event.

Coronavirus conspiracy theory?

Biological warfare has been a threat to mankind for almost a century.  Many have theorized about some country weaponizing Ebola. And several suspense novels have been written about super heroes stopping such attempts.

This morning on Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday Morning Futures show Senator Tom Cotton reported that the coronavirus did not start in Wuhan Animal Market, as originally reported.  The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reported that the virus probably started in a government research facility that is 300 yards from the market.

These two reports contribute to the growing body of theories that the virus did not originate from a natural situation.  Was this a biological weapon gone astray?

Senator Tom Cotton told Maria: “Here is what we do know: This virus did not originate in the Wuhan animal market. Epidemiologists who are widely respected from China published a study in the international journal Lancet have demonstrated that several of the original cases did NOT have any contact with that food market. The virus went into that food market before it came out of that food market. So we don’t know where it originated… We also know that only a few miles away from that market is China’s only bio-safety Level Four Super Laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.

The Daily Mail report is based upon the same source as Senator Cotton’s.  It reports that Chinese scientists believe the deadly coronavirus may have started life in a research facility just 300 yards from the Wuhan fish market.  A new bombshell paper from the Beijing-sponsored South China University of Technology says that the Wuhan Center for Disease Control (WHCDC) could have spawned the contagion in Hubei province.

‘The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus,’ penned by scholars Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao claims the WHCDC kept disease-ridden animals in laboratories, including 605 bats.

It also mentions that bats – which are linked to coronavirus – once attacked a researcher and ‘blood of bat was on his skin.’  The report says: ‘Genome sequences from patients were 96% or 89% identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus originally found in Rhinolophus affinis (intermediate horseshoe bat).’

It describes how the only native bats are found around 600 miles away from the Wuhan seafood market and that the probability of bats flying from Yunnan and Zhejiang provinces was minimal.  In addition it is noted that there is little to suggest the local populace eat the bats as evidenced by testimonies of 31 residents and 28 visitors. Instead the authors point to research being carried out within a few hundred yards at the WHCDC.

It is now too late for a super hero to save the day. The super hero may turn out to be the weather.  Virus usually fade during spring and summer’s warmer weather.  Unfortunately not enough is known about the coronavirus to ascertain that it will suffer a similar fate.  Should the weather prevent a pandemic we can only hope that an immunization will be available before the virus emerges from weather induced hibernation.

Returning to the conspiracy theory, the publication of remarks coming out of the central Chinese leadership substantiates that the leadership was concerned about the contagion much earlier than previously reported.  This information is used to substantiate that the Chinese government knew that it had a problem on its hands earlier than previously reported.

One cannot imagine a better experiment than what is happening in Wuhan and the rest of the world.  Data will abound after this virus has been contained.  Data on how to spread the virus on one hand and how to contain it and treat it on the other.  This suggests that the next time the spread of the disease could be much quicker and more deadly.

We can only hope that China allows western researchers access to all of the data that the government must be gathering as it seeks to contain the virus.  So far the Chinese have denied western representatives of the Center for Disease Control and other such organizations access to the source of the virus. The amount of access in and of itself will go a long way to confirming or denying all conspiracy theories.