War College

War College


A weekly look at the weapons systems and tactics that both endanger the world and keep it safe.


Mosul - The real trouble begins when ISIS leaves  

Mosul is as the Iraqi capital of the militant group Islamic State. Out of a population of between 1.5 million and 2 million, 4,000 to 8,000 are armed extremists. They now face a combined military force in the tens of thousands, backed up by some of the world's great military powers, including the United States.

What the hell happened to Britain's Royal Navy?  

To say the Britain's Royal Navy is legendary is probably to undersell it. There have been thousands of books - fiction and non-fiction - written about its victories during the Napoleonic wars. Its a bit much to expect any organization to keep up that kind of performance for centuries, but the Royal Navy did. That's what makes its current state so surprising. 

Inside America’s armed militias and the new civil war  

Depending on where you live, this story will either be shocking or old hat. But even if you have an armed "militia" operating near you, you probably don't realize just how developed these states within a state have become - and how far they've drifted from the majority of American society.

When the 'War on Drugs' got literal, and how it could end  

Drug cartel weaponry has gotten deadlier. In 2015, a Mexican army helicopter was shot down in the state of Jalisco. The local cartel used a rocket-propelled grenade to do it. And for years, drug gangs have worked on their navies, moving from cigarette boats to homemade submarines. They have air forces, as well, and fight pitched battles against the army in Mexico and other places. But things are changing.

Mosque and State - Why separating them isn’t so simple  

The separation of church and state is one of the fundamental tenets of the modern Western world, but that doesn't make it inevitable for all cultures. But does that mean that the Islamic world and the Western one are in an existential struggle? Or is that division even meaningful?

Why nuclear war looks inevitable  

Several developments have the potential to move the hands of the nuclear doom clock closer to midnight. 

Quantifying the success of targeted strikes since 9/11  

In the 15 years since America first went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has reduced the number of troops on the ground and increased the number of unmanned robots picking off high value targets.

How the Pentagon became the world's weapon system superstore  

The United States is the world's largest arms merchant. It's not even close. So, who decides what gets sold, and to whom? And how closely does anyone follow the rules? This week on War College we look at the upsides, and the downsides, of having such a big share of the arms market.

The age of the aircraft carrier may be over  

The United States has more aircraft carriers than any other country. Depending on what you call an aircraft carrier, it's 10 times as many. So why don't more countries have more carriers? Maybe they aren't such a great idea, anymore.

How the U.S. got caught between two nuclear neighbors  

It's a situation where the United States has interesting choices to make. India and Pakistan are often at each other's throats. Both want U.S. support. Both are allies of necessity for the United States. Both have nuclear weapons.

This week on War College we look at a delicate balancing act, where diplomatic failure by the United States could have deadly repercussions for millions.

The Kremlin may be more involved in U.S. politics than you realize  

Hackers released a treasure trove of unpleasant internecine emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. The Democratic Party chairwoman was out of a job and tensions between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters were reignited just as the Democrats were trying for a prime-time show of unity. Who were the hackers? Security experts inside and outside the government have pointed the finger at Russia. So, was this an act foreign aggression playing out on a strange new battlefield?

How a 'chicken gun' keeps U.S. warbirds aloft and other strange tales  

When the United States Air Force tests a new aircraft it needs to make sure it won't crash should a stray bird slam into the plane's side. Thankfully, the military has an artillery piece with a 60-foot barrel that hurls chicken more than 400 miles an hour. The chicken gun allows the military to make sure no stray bird will foul up its expensive jets while they're mid-flight. If you think the chicken gun is weird, it’s only the tip of a strange and fascinating iceberg.

How did the U.S.  get into all these wars, anyway?  

The United States is at war and has been for more than a decade. Although major combat operations in Iraq in Afghanistan have ended, America still maintains a presence in both and will for years to come. It also funds Syrian rebels, bombs Islamic State strongholds in the region and runs drones from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa.

With America fighting on so many fronts, it’s hard to understand the Pentagon’s strategy or the endgame for the various conflicts. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich says it feels that way because it is that way. According to Bacevich, the American military is fighting a war that began decades before 9/11.

This week on War College, Bacevich walks us through what he calls America’s War With the Greater Middle East and tells us how it started and why he thinks it must end.

The simple reasons Russians love Putin  

In the West, people tend to think of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strongman dictator – a former KGB man who oppresses his people, censors the media and antagonizes Russia’s neighbors. From the outside, it’s hard for anyone to understand how Putin stays in power, let alone stays popular.

And Putin is popular. Pollsters put his approval rating at more than 80 percent. It makes perfect sense if you understand Russia.

This week on War College, we sit down with Anne Garrels, a longtime Russia correspondent for NPR. Since the collapse of the USSR, Garrels has spent more and more time in smaller Russian cities and towns, getting to know people who don’t live the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the country's capital.

Garrels gives the reasons why Russians love Putin, and why it’s in the best interests of the West to understand them.

Why do people blow themselves up? Not for the reasons you think  

Suicide attacks in Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul. And where to begin in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Israel? Further back, attacks in the United States, Mumbai. Nearly commonplace in Afghanistan and Yemen. Why? What are these young men and women thinking? Are their minds focused on a reward in a world beyond this one, or are the motives more earthly - human?
This week on War College, we speak with Roger Griffin, an expert on the motivation behind militant attacks. He offers explanations for actions that seem inexplicable.

Is it time to get rid of the Air Force?  

Until 1947, the Air Force was part of the U.S. Army. Of course, even then, the Navy had its own airplanes launching from aircraft carriers, protecting the fleets and attacking the enemy largely at sea.

Nowadays, the Army has helicopters and transport planes. The Marines have their own fighter jets. Naval aviators are as renowned as their Air Force colleagues and fly missions against ground-based targets.

This week on War College we talk with a man who believes the Air Force should be disbanded. That having it separate from the Army does little beyond creating a bureaucracy. In fact, he argues, a separate Air Force has changed the nature of warfare and not in a good way. If all you have is a hammer, he says, all problems become nails.

Why is it so hard to come home from modern war?  

There’s an argument to be made that humans evolved to fight each other – and to be good at it. But as the United States approaches its 15th straight year at war, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder are high. Many soldiers come home uncertain as to where they fit in and dealing with depression, anxiety and other issues.

This week on War College, we look at whether PTSD is a modern phenomenon. If it is, what is it about the way we live now that makes it so hard to transition home from the battlefield?

The AC-130 gunship and a tragedy in Afghanistan  

The United States keeps some very old, very strange-looking planes in its arsenal. But each serves a purpose. The A-10 Warthog provides close-air support to ground troops. The B-52 drops bombs, but is so large and easy to spot that it also sends a message. The AC-130 is also a plane with a specific purpose. It’s propeller-driven and has its guns mounted on only one side. This week on War College, we look at this anachronism and the damage it can still do. Of course, any weapon system is only as good as its guidance.

DARPA brought us the internet - mind control could be next  

For a group of scientists working on weapons — some of which could end the world — DARPA has a surprisingly good reputation. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is credited with creating the Internet and runs public contests for human-looking robots and self-driving cars. This week on War College, we look at DARPA and some of the projects that still being carried out under the cover of official darkness.

Will there be war in the South China Sea?  

If you’re looking for a place on the globe likely to spark a world war, you could do worse than the South China Sea. The United States, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan all have claims there. China is building artificial islands and the U.S. Navy is patrolling close by.  There have been confrontations at sea and in the air. This week on War College, we’re looking at this global sore spot and asking just how heated is the situation likely to get.

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