Category Archives: Technology and Society

The Vaunted Russian Military

Is unjustifiably vaunted.

[Update Thursday morning]

The very model of the modern Russian general:

Russian operational doctrine relies on a brittle top-down approach to command, which means that when (not if) a plan encounters unexpected setbacks, subordinates lack the flexibility and initiative to adapt to the new circumstances. Without a professional non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps and subordinate commanders who are expected and trusted to adapt to changing circumstances, senior Russian commanders, fearful of being sacked, have been required to expose themselves to hostile fire to direct tactical details rather than focusing on strategic or operational concerns. But the progress of the war thus far suggests that Russian problems are systemic and cannot be corrected by even the presence of senior officers doing the job of colonels and majors.

The relief of Russian commanders, which set this entire sequence into motion, has led some to suggest that a U.S. shortcoming in recent years has been our failure to fire unsuccessful generals. In the words of one critic, “a private who loses his rifle is subject to greater punishment than a general who loses a war.”

…The real problem that the U.S. military faces today is its loss of focus on the factors that underlie military effectiveness. “Diversity,” “inclusion,” and other buzzwords do not win wars. As the Russian experience in Ukraine suggests, neither does a broken system. The continued stalemate in Ukraine, which has dampened this year’s Victory Day celebration in Moscow, illustrates that the modern Russian general faces a task even more daunting than that of his American counterpart.

Both systems are broken, in different ways.

Certifying Commercial Space Stations

NASA just put out an RFI. This concerns me a little: “NASA is currently developing requirements for commercially owned and operated destinations that would support NASA, international, and private astronauts safely in low-Earth orbit.”

NASA can certify facilities for NASA support (as it did for commercial crew), but it has no business saying what safety requirements should be for use by international or private astronauts. My comment will be that different individuals will have different risk tolerances, and that commercial facilities should be allowed to establish their own requirements for their own customers.

[Afternoon update]

From the document: “NASA intends to be one of many users of the provider’s CLD. NASA will only levy requirements on the CLD service to ensure the safety of the NASA or -NASA sponsored crewmembers. However, for CLD provider services with their other customers, NASA will need to have Insight to the provider’s activities to ensure that these do not create an elevated risk that could impact the NASA or NASA sponsored crewmembers.”

CLD is Commercial LEO Destination. I wonder why they capitalized “insight”? I assume by this that they mean that if NASA is going to be using the facility, NASA would want to know who else is and what they are doing, so they can assess whether that activity is consistent with NASA’s needs for safety assurance for their own employees. That’s not unreasonable (we had to do that sort of thing in payload integration for the Shuttle to ensure that a payload wouldn’t break an Orbiter), but it will be an inhibitor for facilities to welcome NASA aboard. But by my reading, this will only apply to facilities that want NASA as a customer, and those that can find markets without NASA will be able to have their own safety requirements independent of anything NASA wants. Both Phil McAlister and Kathy Lueders have read my book, and are aware of the danger of overspecifying S&MA requirements, but they also have to be cognizant of the politics.