Fighter Pilot’s Perspective of GOT Episode 5
Great podcast that I only recently became aware of after one of my unit members shared an email of mine without my knowledge. Luckily, a different member heard your podcast on E3 & said this sounds like something youd write! There was a good reason for that, its because I wrote it!!
Im flattered by your comments and will strongly consider writing terrifying childrens books in retirement. The shrinks will be pleased.
Since youre the first venue to publish something Ive authored, I figured Id share a more comprehensive view of E5, since the E3 review I wrote was brief & not intended for public consumption. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: the following are views solely of the author & not the official stance of the USAF/govt. I think I have to say that.
The Conquest/Massacre at Kings Landing; a fighter pilots perspective.
In my last installment where I critiqued the planning and execution of the siege defense of Winterfell, I think we can all agree that that military campaign was an abject failure, even though the Commanders intent was ultimately met where friendly forces snatched victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat in the end. Terrible planning and shaky relationships of senior leaders were the soup de jour, and luck/Arya carried the day. A wise fighter pilot once said, hope is not a tactic. I agree whole-heartedly and would add that hope is not a strategy either.
In E5, friendly forces are on the offensive, taking the fight to Kings Landing… finally… we wouldnt want more than one episode resting on our laurels. Leading up to the fight in E4, all of the senior advisors among Team Targaryen-Stark (yes, I hyphenated againIm not sorry) appeared to be in agreement that reconstitution and logistical considerations must be given their due attention. As the senior decision-maker and E3 Close Air Support MVP, Dany wasnt having any of this wait around business and unilaterally decided to bring the hate to Cersei, Ricky-Tick. As the commander, this is clearly her call, and why not… because we have one Dragon remaining. Why bother with story development at this point anyway, amirite?
Unfortunately, this was all complicated by Jons unsophisticated view of ethics at the strategic leadership level. Jon is generally a binary thinker, very black and white, not realizing that real strategic leadership occasionally requires senior leaders to make ethically-questionable or less than palatable calls to serve a higher moral purpose, to shape a more desirable operating environment, or influence a more positive end state. Jon cant seem to operate in ethical grey areas, and this has certainly gotten him in trouble in the past. Now realize that I am not suggesting he outright lie, but perhaps he could be less forthcoming with the highly inflammatory, blistering truth in the most tumultuous and volatile of times. #yourtimingblowsbruh. Had he listened to his queens command (not request) and not told his sisters the truth regarding his identity, it is likely that senior leadership cohesion would be stronger, Varys would not be dead (an elimination of a tremendous intelligence source… its like firing the CIA and NSA… all of them at once), and thus, the entire slaughter may have been prevented altogether. Varys loyalty would not have been in question had the alternative of King Jon/Aegon not been predominant in his (and others) minds. By embracing a post-conventional view of ethics & awaiting a more appropriate and less volatile time to break the news (like after Cersei was resting comfortably in an ashtray or dustpan) may have appeared to be moderately deceptive of Jon, but it wouldve been less likely that Dany would have gone full-Dresden on the inhabitants of Kings Landing (never go full Dresden…). His suppression of the truth for a more opportune time, counter to his nature and personal moral compass would have saved thousands…. or it wouldnt have… but at the strategic level, senior leaders need to hedge their bets and wield their influence carefully to influence decision-makers to secure the best possible outcomes. Regardless, this was a very foolish disclosure that fractured the senior leadership, which practically made the massacre an inevitability. Once Dany felt she was on an island stuck in a leadership vacuum devoid of trust with her senior advisors, her options were indeed quite limited. Everyone is calling Dany the Mad Queen, but her moves are rational considering her long-term desired end-state of ruling the seven kingdoms, & the lack of trust and cohesion in her coalition. Jon Snow definitely knows nothing about effective campaign planning at the operational level, and he also knows nothing about post-conventional ethical considerations at the strategic level. Dude swings a mean sword in the trenches though. Jon, I award you infantry squad-leader status. An intensely valuable job more fit for your talents. Not exactly senior leadership material Im afraid, and thats okay. Moving on.
Next, in the moments leading up to the attack, the call a knock-it-off when the bells ring message was proliferated widely through the senior leadership, yet was acknowledged by.. pretty much no one. This message from Tyrion was received by blank stares. #warningsigns #warningsignseverywhere
And what the hell is up with friendly-force tracking?! Arya & the hound bail… huh? Not even a mention from Jon or Dany. Youd think that your Delta operator that killed the friggin night kingthe baddest dude in Westeros, you know… the guy that killed a dragon with a javelin? Yeah. She killed HIMmight be useful in a large offensive, especially one happening, like, ya know, SOON, yet she hops on a horse to ride with a maniac on a self-assigned suicide mission. Bruh. Get it together. Shes your sister, a badass, and a legitimate HVI. Know where she is. Since the queen has determined that its go time, perhaps give Arya a valuable mission that doesnt involve waltzing into the red keep without support… give her something executable coupled to a realistic exfiltration plan. At least have a plan. The no-plan game plan appears to be Jons Modus Operandi. Hope is his strategy. Not a good omen moving forward. Ive beat Jon up enough for now. Moving on.
Speaking of support… Close Air Support, actually… this is the episode where Dany came to the realization that CAS is not the most efficient use of Air Power… which is straight out of USAF doctrine. CAS is a tactical game to assist ground forces gain inches, feet, meters, Km, on the battlefield, a real force multiplier for the ground scheme of maneuver. Moving forward of the FLOT (Forward Line of Own Troops) and past the FSCL (fire support coordination line), air power is less constrained by and concerned with the slow march of ground players and has proven to achieve strategic effectsone can dramatically shorten a campaign with the appropriate use of air powermore on this later.
Clearly while not eating & sleeping, Dany constructed a fairly comprehensive plan to peel back the Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2AD) situation in and around Kings Landing. The Scorpion had proven its effectiveness against an unaware, non-maneuvering air breather, aided by the element of surprise, resulting in the loss of a High-Value Airborne Asset (HVAA) in E4. This clearly gave Dany healthy respect for and familiarity with surface to air fires, but it also made enemy forces overconfident in their new system, which was proliferated widely throughout the realm. Their overconfidence was demonstrated by your observation that scorpions were conspicuously absent from the red keep. A real A2AD system would be highly-integrated and get this… guided. The scorpion is not guided, its aimed Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAApronounced triple-A)… much less effective against maneuvering targets, and can be overflown with sufficient altitude. As demonstrated in E5, the use of unpredictable maneuvering, erratic altitude changes, and varying her attack axis kept Dany & her dragon inside enemy AAA operator OODA loops (#Boyd). They were unable to complete a full engagement cycle to a high Pk (probability of kill) shot. Only a few shots were close, yet easily defeated by an aware (and experienced) fighter jock. (#scoffthescorpion)
Additionally, Dany effectively used environmental advantages and attack azimuth selections that increased her lethality and survivabilityI really dig the surprise attack against the Golden losersI did NOT see that coming. Her aggression and lack of apprehension were traits I appreciate as an operator myself, and her adaptability led to the rest of the (momentarily) living seeing first-hand what air power can do if wielded by proficient hands making quick decisions, unconstrained by ROE (and later, a modern sense of morality). Additionally, she clearly cut the full destructive power of her asset loose, nearly doubling previously observed yields… nice. A real masterpiece of destruction.
While planning, Dany had obviously concluded that air power must be applied aggressively against enemy AAA sites, naval assets, defensive fortifications, and massed troops (soft crunchies). This is a good plan to ensure a more permissive operating environment for air and ground forces. What she failed to recognize, however, is the JP 5-0 (Joint Planning) concept of Centers of Gravity (COGs). While the aforementioned targets Dany dispatched prior to the bells ringing are juicy targets and are Operationally sound COGs, good strategic planning would have listed Cersei as the juiciest of COGs (the ace of spades, as it were), and thus should be killed or captured at the earliest opportunity, like the very moment air superiority is established. Thus, the time spent perched on the rooftop crying & contemplating her next aerial firepower demonstration would have been better spent breathing fire into Cerseis window. Boom. Wars over. Wheres the throne? Here? Great. Oooh. Oh man… thought it would be more comfortable. Oh well. Tyrion.. have cushions made! Bring me wine. Hi Jaime, you dont look well. Need a band-aid?
Alas, JP5-0 wasnt around, and formal military education had not been developed or instituted in our ragtag coalition, and Dany likely had never felt more alone after Jons obviously unstrategic (and arguably disloyal) verbal indiscretion, perched on her most loyal of allies, Drogon, surveying the destructive masterpiece in whats likely the swiftest rout of a heavily fortified city in Westerosian history. She had not learned the lessons of the firebombing of Tokyo & Dresden, the lack of military value and counterproductive nature of targeting civilian centers learned from WW2, and the perils of giving in to emotional, social, or psychological pressures as seen in the Mai Lai massacre. While a family heritage, there was no institutional guidance or Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) on the proper application of air power, and her sole constraint was her relationships with the senior leadership of her coalitionmost important of which was Jon, obviously. Minimal training, no institutional memory, no constraints, nearly unlimited power… sound like a recipe for a massacre in any campaign.
Anyway, this short operational pause with the ringing of the bells was Danys moment to demonstrate maturity, morality, and strength. At this moment, she failed to adhere to our modern understanding of any of these concepts, returning to a tried & true method of authoritarianisminstill fear to establish control. #shesaidsheddoit Further… she elected to rely on known strengths over shaky relationships & questionable alliances. It is not ironic that she returned to her Targaryen roots, but it could have been avoided with greater cohesion and trust amongst senior leaders in command. Jon should have seen this coming, hell, she TOLD him it was coming. Yet somehow he still seemed surprised when Dany pushed the fuck-it button and began her airpower demo against the civilian populous. I guess the red keep will have more sword furniture to match the iron throne if they ever dig it up.
In the end, I really enjoyed the episode, and as a career fighter pilot, I found Danys coming out moment as the premier air dominance power in Westeros particularly gratifying, albeit morally abhorrent, militarily unnecessary, and strategically disappointing. Like… whom are you going to rule now, girlfriend? #thatsrightashes
So perhaps my gratification is a primal one, where every young fighter pilot naively dreams of being unconstrained in the pursuit of a real global reset, knowing full well it would be morally indefensible, yet foolishly thinking it may be the only way to achieve the strategic desired end state. I think this is central to Danys thinkingshe wants to start fresh for future generations, feeling this generation is unsalvagable, especially considering the state of her own leadership team. This is the crux of strategic leadership… make the best call you can with the information available to you, and history will judge you accordingly. She may very well be called the mad queen and killed for her efforts, and perhaps rightfully so… or her methods defended by a newly enfranchised populous, whoever that may be, eyes set on a better future. Time will tell. And by time, I mean in a few days well have a better idea.
In the end, it is obviously best we as a flying & fighting force are constrained here in modern times; we use force only where and when necessary, and our precision brings mass and strategic effects through proper planning and application of the Joint targeting cycle under the constraints of civilian control and extremely judicious application of fires, particularly in urban terrain. We wouldve taken Kings Landing with few friendly losses and minimize civilian casualties. That being said, E5 was a grand spectacle, simultaneously gratifying and horrifying to this warfighter. I rest easy knowing we wouldve done it better. Much.. much better.
Ultimately, the massacre can be squarely placed on Jons shoulders, for failing to embrace a post-conventional understanding of ethics, where a short-term suppression of the truth served a larger moral good by preserving the lives of innocents in and around the AOR. Leadership is the most important factor on the battlefield, and Jon sucks at leading at the strategic level.
And PS: he still SUCKS AT PLANNING.
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