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Why was SEAL Team Six called upon to assault the Bin Laden house, and not another SEAL team, or the Rangers or Green Berets?

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WELL, if there’s some quarter in which SEAL Team Six isn’t perceived as the “it” special ops team, it’s not for lack of trying on their part. I draw your attention to a 2011 Washington Post piece in which an anonymous member of ST6 describes his cadre as follows:

“We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t been seen.”

Whatever aura currently surrounds the SEALs, I’d suggest, can be traced to the kind of identity cultivation on display here, this macho-mystique thing that American audiences seem to love reading about and reporters seem to love perpetuating and for a group of closed-mouthed toughs, ST6 members can display an impressive capacity for self-promotion.

One former SEAL who wrote a book about the bin Laden raid, for instance, wound up having to forfeit $6.8 million in royalties and appearance fees because he forgot to ask his supervisors for approval.

The story the Post was reporting, meanwhile, is the bigger deal here: how special-operations forces like the SEALs are increasingly relied on to fight America’s wars. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, what we’re up against aren’t traditional armies but extremist ideologies, represented by decentralized bands of non-state actors who aren’t exactly wild about the Geneva Agreements.

Members of US Navy SEALs team SIx after training

US Navy SEALs at undisclosed location and at unknown mission (Photo: Unknown author)

Though Team Six may get the marquee coverage, there are in fact, as you suggest, a bunch of special ops forces in the field today, from all branches of the military—the Army’s Special Forces regiment, aka the Green Berets, helped Afghans topple the Taliban, for instance.

Special operations forces gained a foothold in the U.S. military in the mid-20th century, as leaders realized that increasingly unconventional wars—think Korea and Vietnam—would require unconventional techniques. The Green Berets were organized in 1952; the SEALs—named and trained for effectiveness on sea, air, and land—were established in 1962.

Special operations assignments fall into two main categories: direct action, including behind-the-lines combat, manhunts, hostage rescues, etc.; and indirect action, which covers (e.g.) coaching foreign forces on fighting their own wars. Through the ‘70s, the various units constituted a loosely organized mosaic, each accountable to its own chain of command.

Two events help explain what’s changed. First was the failed attempt to rescue the U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran, during the Carter administration—for the military, an unthinkable black eye. Its response was to gather all special forces under one operational umbrella, the U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.

Under that umbrella, you’ll find the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, which includes elite groups like SEAL Team Six, its Army counterpart Delta Force, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron.

The second event was, perhaps, needless to say, 9/11. The budget for special-ops forces has quintupled since 2001, and the troop count at JSOC’s disposal has ballooned from around 1,800 to more than 25,000. As we got into Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld basically gave JSOC carte blanche, pre-approving them for a laundry list of operations in 15 countries.

Barack Obama relied heavily on special forces; like drone assassinations, they jibed with his preference for keeping military action small and containable. (And free from meaningful oversight, not to mention legally questionable and morally troublesome—however one may miss the guy, his record here is no snap to defend).

We note, however, that the intellectual seeds of this shift were planted back in the Clinton administration. At some point following the U.S. embassy bombings of 1998 the president was heard to speculate, “You know, it would scare the shit out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.”

Cue the SEALs. Created after the 1980 hostage debacle, Team Six wasn’t, in fact, the sixth SEAL outfit to suit up, just the third; the nickname was chosen to psych the Soviets into thinking we had more specialized forces than we really did.

The team was conceived as an agile, fast-moving counterterrorism unit—athletes who rappelled out of helicopters, basically, and with the war on terror their moment had clearly arrived. That moment hasn’t been without some complication; various news accounts have raised alarm over alleged extrajudicial killings, unaccountability, abuse of authority, etc. But the omelette-egg ratio, apparently, is one the U.S. government can live with.

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The Story of the Old Russian Tank That Can Still Fight the World’s Best Armor

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There are several thousands T-72s in use around the world. Not surprisingly, the biggest user is still Russia, with about 2,500 in active service and another 8,000 in reserve. As of September 2016, about a thousand T-72s have been upgraded into B3 models, according to a Russian defense site.

When the Soviet T-72 tank was first deployed, Richard Nixon was President, the F-4 Phantom was America’s primary fighter, and the world’s steel beasts had yet to discover a nemesis called the wire-guided anti-tank missile.

At least 25,000 T-72s have been built, making it the second-most prolific post-World War II tank, coming in behind only the ubiquitous T-54/T-55. That the T-72 is still in service today — and still being used by about 45 countries, including Russia — speaks to the longevity of this vehicle.

The T-72 began life as a cheaper alternative to the disastrous T-64, a sophisticated mid-1960s tank that proved to be over-complicated and unreliable. First deployed with the Soviet Army in 1973, the 41-ton T-72 featured a 125-millimeter smoothbore cannon. The cannon was fed by an autoloader instead of a human loader, just like the T-64, enabling the vehicle’s crew to be reduced to three instead of the usual four in modern tanks. However, unlike the T-64, the T-72 didn’t try to feed the crew’s limbs into the gun.

With a Rolled Homogenous Armor – a measure of armor toughness — of about 410 to 500 millimeters for the cast-armor hull and turret, the original T-72 had decent armor protection for an early 1970s tank. However, it also carried ammunition in the crew compartment rather than a separate, protected space, which increased the risk of a catastrophic explosion when the vehicle was hit. So many damaged T-72s in Iraq blew their turrets off that U.S. troops called them “jack-in-the-boxes.”

What’s notable about the T-72 is how it has been upgraded over the years, as well as its numerous variants. The T-72A appeared in 1979, with thicker armor. “The thickened appearance of the turret frontal armor of the T-72A led to the unofficial U.S. Army nickname “Dolly Parton’ for this variant, after the buxom American country singer and actress,” writes tank experts Steven Zaloga in his book “T-72 Main Battle Tank 1974-93“.

Next came the T-72B in 1985, which incorporated features from the newer T-80. In particular, the T-72B had a laser rangefinder and thicker armor of as much as 560 RHA, with the turret beefed up with composite armor.

It was the T-72BI version that really had a well-protected turret (“Super Dolly Parton” composite armor). The Soviets were particularly concerned with shaped-charge shells and rockets; The T-72BI’s hull and turret had a remarkable 900 to 950 RHA against HEAT warheads.

The T-72B and BI also had the capability to fire missiles from their 125-millimeter cannon. The 9M119 Svir and 9M119M Refleks missiles — NATO code name AT-11 Sniper — are two-foot-long, laser-guided missiles with a range of more than 3 miles. The T-72B and later models were also equipped with explosive reactive armor, or ERA, to destroy incoming shells before they hit the vehicle.

The T-72B2, unveiled in 2006, has advanced Relickt ERA protection, the Shtora-1 jamming system to disrupt missile guidance links, and a more powerful, 1,000-horsepower engine.

The latest upgrades, displayed in 2010, is the T-72B3 and B3M. Intended as a cheaper upgrade than the T-72B2, the B3 program refurbishes old T-72Bs with a new engine, better fire control and a more powerful cannon.

Unfortunately for T-72 fans, there are numerous home-grown variants developed by non-Russian customers. Among others, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had “Lion of Babylon” T-72s, Yugoslavia had its M-84, India the Ajeya, South Africa the T-72 Tiger upgrade package and Syria the T-72 Adra.

There are several thousands T-72s in use around the world. Not surprisingly, the biggest user is still Russia, with about 2,500 in active service and another 8,000 in reserve. As of September 2016, about a thousand T-72s have been upgraded into B3 models, according to a Russian defense site.

While Russia has 3,500 T-80s, that tank seems to be a dead end. While the T-14 Armata is an intriguing and sophisticated next-generation tank, it seems unlikely that it will be mass-produced enough to become the primary Russian main battle tank any time soon. Which means that for the foreseeable future, the T-72 will continue to be the backbone of Russia’s armor fleet.

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5 Reasons Why a 2nd Korean War Won’t Be Like the First (and Much Worse)

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If a Second Korean War were to erupt tomorrow, there is one thing we can be sure of. It won’t be like the First Korean War of 1950-53.

It’s always reassuring—and usually fatal—to assume a conflict will be like its predecessor. France lost in 1940 because they assumed World War II would be fought in the trenches like World War I. Israel almost lost in 1973 because they assumed the Arab armies would collapse as they did in 1967.

So what are the chances that Korean War II would be just like Korean War I? The answer is, slim to none. Here are five key differences:

1 – No Blitzkrieg

The popular image of the First Korean War is of stalemate, as entrenched armies battled over obscure hills worth nothing more than a notation on map. But the first year of the Korean War was as fluid as any World War II campaign. The conflict began in June 1950 with North Korean tanks and infantry pushing weak South Korean defenders and a scratch American task force 300 miles down the peninsula, from the 38th Parallel to Pusan. Then in September, it was the turn of the North Koreans to flee all the way up the peninsula to the Chinese border after U.S. Marines landed behind their lines at Inchon. Then in November, 300,000 Chinese “volunteers” sent the UN armies in North Korea “bugging out” way down south (seeing a pattern here?). Then in the spring of 1951, the Americans launched a series of methodical high-firepower offensives that pounded Communist forces back across the 38th Parallel once and for all.

So much for stalemate. However, Korean War II won’t be nearly as mobile. The biggest reason is the size of the opposing forces. South Korea now has more than 500,000 well-armed active-duty soldiers as opposed to 95,000 poorly trained soldiers in 1950, backed by 37,000 U.S. troops. That’s a hefty force, but still half the size of North Korea’s 1.2-million-strong army backed by 21,000 artillery pieces. And much of it packed along a Demilitarized Zone that is just 250 miles long. A surprise North Korean tank-infantry assault across the DMZ, covered by a massive artillery barrage and special forces raids, is arguably powerful enough to punch through the border defenses and reach Seoul. But with so many troops stuffed in so small a battlefield, and considering how urbanized South Korea has become over the past sixty-seven years, the offensive will be a bloody slog rather than a blitz. Conversely, a U.S./South Korean drive across the 38th Parallel to Pyongyang would have to penetrate the same bloody hills of 1950–53, but this time even more heavily fortified.

Whether Korean War II would drag on into a permanent stalemate, given North Korea’s economic fragility and Western reluctance to endure yet another “long war,” is another matter. Yet barring a collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime or its army, it seems unlikely there will be any lightning advances or bug-out retreats up and down the Korean Peninsula.

2 – The War Will Be High-Tech

Korean War I was arguably the first conflict of the Cold War. Yet despite some new weapons, notably jet fighters, most of the equipment used by both sides was World War II leftovers such as T-34 tanks and P-51 Mustangs. There was no technology to break the stalemate, short of atomic weapons. However, another Korean conflict would feature the most advanced weapons—at least on the Allied side—such as stealth aircraft, precision-guided missiles and bunker-buster bombs (but hopefully not nuclear weapons). As for the United States conducting an Inchon-style amphibious landing to break a stalemate along the DMZ, any landing would face North Korean access-denial weapons such as submarines, mines and anti-ship missiles. Technology won’t change the need for boots on the ground to achieve any decisive solution in Korea, but it will certainly change the character of the fighting from 1950.

3 – America Won’t Be Fighting China

This is arguably the biggest difference of all. In many ways, the Korean War should have been called the China-America War, which just so happened to be fought in Korea. It’s hard to conceive of 300,000 Chinese troops streaming across the Yalu to save Kim Jong-un from the imperialists. But if China does intervene…well, best not to think about it. The United States does not want to fight a land war with China on it’s doorstep. China doesn’t want to fight a nuclear-armed superpower that also its biggest economic customer.

4 – America’s Army Won’t Be Draftees

The United States drafted 1.5 million men during the Korean War and mobilized reservists, many of whom had already fought in World War II (and weren’t thrilled about having to fight again). This time, the United States will field a volunteer force: even reinstating the draft could not train enough soldiers in time to make a difference. A professional army creates fewer political problems, but it also means the U.S. military will continue to be overstretched between its European, Middle Eastern and Asian commitments.

5 – North Korea Has Nukes

North Korea wasn’t a nuclear power in Korea War I. It is now. The prospect of weapons of mass destruction being used on the battlefield will be greater than in 1950, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur urged that atomic weapons be used in Korea. This is bound to affect the conflict, such as the inevitable operations to seize or destroy North Korean WMDs.

Yet here, at least, is a similarity between 1950 and 2017. Even in the darkest hour of the First Korean War, President Harry Truman kept his eye on the prize—not triggering World War III with the Soviet Union. Despite MacArthur’s vitriol, Korea was simply not worth the risk of using atomic bombs. Today, North Korea has a nuclear arsenal, which it cannot use without literally facing thermonuclear annihilation. The United States has nukes, but what U.S. president wants to go down in history as the person who dropped the first nuclear bombs in combat since 1945?

Korean War II, should it happen, will be a bloody, ugly conflict. But it will not be a repeat of the prequel.

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