Conquest Is for Losers

More than a century has passed since Norman Angell, a British journalist and politician, published “The Great Illusion,” a treatise arguing that the age of conquest was or at least should be over. He didn’t predict an end to warfare, but he did argue that aggressive wars no longer made sense — that modern warfare impoverishes the victors as well as the vanquished.
He was right, but it’s apparently a hard lesson to absorb. Certainly Vladimir Putin never got the memo. And neither did our own neocons, whose acute case of Putin envy shows that they learned nothing from the Iraq debacle.
Paul Krugman, NYT Opinion pages

related: 2009-06  A decision model for justified war and a definition of victory


[Fun] The Greek riddle

The Greek riddle
(No political statement intended, only fun.)

Pay attention to Norway. :-)

(This comic style is known as "Poland balls".)



Shaping the deep memories of Russians and Ukrainians

Sometimes clients or log readers remark about how I write very concise; bare bones content without unnecessary elaborations. Or in the words of an old boss of mine "Not enough text!"

This is probably nowhere more obvious than in a comparison between this

William R. Polk, 15 December 2014
(more direct link not possible, scroll down there)

and a blog post I wrote about China's defining experiences five years ago:

The intent was similar, the style very different.

It's saving time, but it also shows that I write this blog with (among others) two assumptions:

(1) It's OK to merely point people at facts or ideas, for those who are or have become truly interested will look up more about it.
(2) Texts with the full reasoning, technical details or historical details would be too long and I cannot predict which part will not be understood or not known. It's best to address this in replies to comments.

Especially part 2 explains why my style here differs so very much from the professional writings of think tanks, for example. In my job it's fine to be concise in writing and to explain whatever still needs explanation in a meeting with the client. Here, it's in my opinion fine to be concise in writing and to explain whatever needs explanation (or justification) in the comments.

I CAN write long-ish dissertations, studies and the like, but I rarely get paid for it or are self-motivated to do it.



The 'Stummelwerfer' and 2B25

3" Stokes mortar in use
Back during the First World War the Englishman Stokes invented the very simple Stokes mortar, using a smoothbore barrel, a fixed firing pin, a simple baseplate, a small sight and a tripod leg mechanism. It was a fascinating departure from the reign of rifled firearms that began three generations earlier and was a largely minimized design. The German tactical equivalent was a much more elaborate design, which used recoil buffering even though recoil could be transferred into the soil easily instead.

The French company Brandt refined the Stokes mortar during the 20's and created with its modèle 1927 a design that was the grandfather of all modern medium (81.4 and 82 mm) mortars. The further refined modèle 27/31 was introduced or copied in almost all countries. The similarities were such that any "8 cm", "81 mm" or "81.4 mm"* mortar could exchange ammunitions during the Second World War, and the Russian 82 mm was able to use these medium mortar munitions as well.

It should have been obvious that simplicity and light weight was a key to success with mortars, but plenty mortar designers fiddled around with unnecessarily elaborate designs. This included the German 5 cm light mortar, which disappointed as an impractical and weak effect weapon. It wasn't only the cost, bulk and weight of the weapon that disappointed the German army; otherwise, it would have made much more use of French 60 mm and Soviet 50 mm mortar models derived from the 81.4 mm Mle 27/31. The effect did apparently not justify the effort and 50-60 mm mortars were later mostly used by Germans in rear area security forces which received 3rd rate equipment typically.

kurzer 8 cm Granatwerfer 34
The German solution to the problem was to cut short the 8 cm GrW 34 (a Mle 27/31-derived mortar) and to limit the use of auxiliary charges therein. A truly crew-portable mortar was created, and it used the same ammunition as the regular ones. What I've seen in the literature so far indicates that this mortar was often deployed for direct fire.
This approach wasn't continued past-WW2.

The light mortar category was continued with "commando mortars" of 51-60 mm calibre (no bipod, tiny baseplate) following the lead of a Japanese WW2 design in philosophy and 60 mm mortars with bipod and real baseplate following Brandt's Mle 27/31 and Mle 35.

A development from the 1980's and 1990's was the introduction of long barrelled mortars in 60 and 81.4 mm calibres for extended range, but a much more intriguing and much more radical innovation was introduced for the "commando mortar" category in the 1970's*: The Belgian 51 mm Jet-Shot mortar. Its most famous designation nowadays is "FLY-K", but others such as "NR8113A1", "TN8111" and similar cryptic designations that are useless for marketing purposes were known as well.
The very special thing about it was its ammunition; it pushes itself out of the mortar using an internal combustion - but it doesn't vent he propellant gasses. This eliminates a lot a of problems, such as muzzle flash, most of the firing noise (replaced by a 'click' sound) and the mortar doesn't heat up any more (not very relevant with "commando mortars"). The drawbacks are substantial as well; more expensive ammunition, no ability to use auxiliary charges, limited range and no compatibility with other weapons.

FLY-K principle of operation

 France and the UAE adopted the system, and France calls it "Lance-grenade individuel Mle F1".
There were copies of this innovation; a Georgian model was called Delta 60 mm silent mortar (by Jane's) and a Chinese model was known as Norinco Jerboa 51 mm, for example.

Finally, back in 2011 the Russians came up with such a system as well, and the pushed the range and effect boundary by using a 82 mm calibre with up to 1,200 m range (approx. double of the FLY-K's): 2B25 developed by Burevestnik (2nd link here). Its weight is more than double that of the FLY-K; 15 kg, which is still "man-portable".

This is interesting, as it's on the one hand a technically fascinating grandson of the FLY-K and grand-grandson of the "Knee mortar", on the other hand it's the first to follow the 8 cm krz GrW 42 at least a little bit; medium calibre and short range (company-level range). It does lack ammunition commonality with regular 82 mm mortars, though - albeit its silent 82 mm ammunition may be usable in regular 82 mm mortars. It would be plain wrong to make such a crew-portable short range mortar compatible with regular munitions (except maybe without any auxiliary charges) because this would require a stronger barrel; the "silent" ammunition doesn't stress the barrel much because it contains the overpressure itself!

A look at military history may explain why the FLY-K was no world-wide success like the Stokes-Brandt mortar pattern: Restricted to low pressures and thus short range, no ammunition commonality, little effect of HE. It's nevertheless technically fascinating and this may have driven its limited success and certainly kept alive the long-lasting interest. The FLY-K weapon has been adopted by a German company a few years ago; the journal articles about it shamelessly omitted that it's such an old design.
The Russians have corrected at least one deficiency - the light warhead - and this may lead to more commercial success. They may have semi-corrected the compatibility issue as well, since in theory it's possible to design silent 82 mm rounds for use in regular 82 mm mortars. I wasn't able to learn about whether they achieved this.

The Russians had several other "silent (captive piston etc.) designs earlier; including a silent underbarrel grenade launcher and very compact assassination pistols. They also invested a lot in 9 mm and 12.7 mm subsonic sniper rifles, which defeat the sonic boom-dependent acoustic sniper detection systems that became somewhat famous, miniaturized and mature in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of occupation.

The "silent" 82 mm mortar (round) would defeat a multitude of means of detection as well:
(1) the hearing sense of hostile troops
(2) acoustic triangulation systems***
(3) flash-spotting by hostile troops
(4) flash-spotting by aerial or high vantage point sensors
All commando mortars have such a short range and low trajectory that detection by counter-mortar radars is most unlikely in warfare between armies.

Medium and heavy mortars may be in a survivability crisis, but the light and commando mortar categories sure have technically fascinating aspects. Their survivability concern is commercial; underbarrel and stand-alone 30-40 mm grenade launchers as well as electronics-assisted RPGs, Panzerfaust, bazooka and man-portable recoilless gun designs compete as satisfactory and often even superior substitutes. The "Armbrust" Panzerfaust even uses its own interpretation of a captive piston "silent" firing mechanism with no flash or smoke!****


*: All of these were actually 81.4 mm; only the Soviets differed slightly and the former Second World does till today, save for the new NATO members.
**: I wasn't able to track down its actual date of origin even though I paid attention to it for more than a decade, but it was no news back in 1985 any more.
***: Pioneered by the British artillery during the First World War.
****: With moderate commercial success, likely due to its poor weight-warhead size ratio. It's got much attention and keeps fascinating people since decades, just as the FLY-K. Guess which Belgian company bought a production license for the Armbrust...


[deutsch] "Niemand hat der CIA mehr geschadet als Dick Cheney…"

Empfehlenswerter (und kurzer) Artikel:

Zugegeben; die Folterstories diese Tage sind geschmacklos, aber da sollte man durch. Je übler die Präsentation, desto wirksamer ist hoffentlich die Impfung. Zuminest außerhalb der USA; denn dort ist Folter nicht zuletzt durch "24", Parteitreue und parteiische Medien bei etwa der Hälfte der Bevölkerung anerkannt.

Im Jahre 2000 wäre das noch unvorstellbar gewesen, und doch dauerte das Abschütteln der westlichen Zivilisation keine zwei Jahre, ausgelöst durch ein einziges Großereignis.
Deutschland wurde dereinst von 1919 bis 1933 mürbe gemacht, bis es schließlich in die absolutistische Diktatur abglitt und 1942 dann den westlichen Kulturkreis vorübergehend verließ und erst mit Gewalt zurückgezogen wurde.

Man sollte derartiges mehr oder weniger abruptes Abgleiten in 'dunklere' gesellschaftliche Zustände immer im hinterkopfhaben, wenn die eigene, noch vertrauenswürdige Gesellschaft im Begriff ist, Instrumente der Diktatur mit guter Absicht einzuführen. Dazu gehört insbesondere die Massenüberwachung der Bevölkerung.



NYT debunks "torture works" claims


To be fair; the NYT writers partially disregarded how intelligence works. 'They knew about it already' doesn't mean all that much. Much intelligence only becomes valuable once there's a confirmation from a different, independent source.

Sometimes the CIA lied by claiming that some info was discovered through enhanced interrogation torture.
It's not that clear-cut that enhanced interrogation torture results were useless when they confirmed what was already known discovered before.*


*: Example case: "Thwarting of ‘Second Wave’ Plot and Discovery of Al Ghurabaa Group"


"Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture" (updated)

"It’s official: torture doesn’t work. Waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, did not in fact “produce the intelligence that allowed us to get Osama bin Laden," as former Vice President Dick Cheney asserted in 2011. Those are among the central findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation and detention after 9/11."
Politico, by Mark Fallon

The really bad thing about the whole abuse program and abuse propaganda is how quick and easy it was to bring down the ethics of a nation which believed to be the "good guy". This should be a warning to everybody who trusts his government with programs even only in the periphery of censorship, mass surveillance - or warmongering.


Excerpts from the report's published executive summary:
The Committee makes the following findings and conclusions:

#1: The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
#2: The CIA's justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.
#3: The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.
#4: The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.
#5: The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
#6: The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
#7: The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.
#8: The CIA's operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.
#9: The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA's Office of Inspector General.
#10: The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques.
#11: The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.
#12: The CIA's management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.
#13: Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
#14: CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.
#15: The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA's claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced Interrogation techniques were inaccurate.
#16: The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.
#17: The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.
#18: The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques,criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
#19: The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.
#20: The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States' standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.


Misguided attention on tanks' power

One of the enduring and interesting mysteries of the Blitzkrieg campaigns in 1939-1942 is the low raw power of the then-victorious German tanks. Their numerical inferiority was most obvious in 1941 and 1942, but their qualitative inferiority (on spec sheets) was most obvious in France 1940 already.

Their numbers were inferior by a ratio of 1.5, but the armament and protection was a whole league lesser:
20 mm and 37 mm guns were typical, with few 75 mm stub guns (no better penetration than 37 mm) on Pzkpfw IV. Some German "tanks" were mere tankettes with machine guns only.
Meanwhile the opposing calibres included some low-powered 37 mm guns and some 75 mm stub guns, but mostly fine 37, 40* and 47 mm guns equal to or better than the German (and Czech-designed) 37 mm guns.
German maximum armour plate thickness was about 13-30 mm; bulletproofed. The Allies had but for one model only tanks with 30-60 mm in use - the Char B-1bis, Somua S35 and Matilda II tanks were shell-proofed and almost impenetrable to the German tank guns.

Many factors were combined to make up for this inferiority; training, personnel organisation (spare crews), maintenance, quicker refuelling, command and control by radio, better operational plan, quicker command system, better recourse allocation, better vision for crew members (especially the tank commander), better cooperation with infantry and artillery etc.

The message of all this is largely incompatible with modern perceptions of tanks: Nowadays it's (especially among laymen, but also among procurement officials, industry representatives, junior and senior military personnel) about the quality of the tank, and often about it's raw power.**

There's the seemingly ever-lasting perception that a penetrable tank is a poor tank, that the troops only deserve the best stuff (and "best" meaning mostly the most obvious qualities), much talk about the triad of tank power (firepower/protection/mobility, in varying order), and at times concerns about the ability to penetrate even the best-protected surfaces of 'threat tanks'.

Much money is spent on such things accordingly, but intense and realistic training (including training beyond the four days sound barrier of sleep discipline) with its unsexy expenses for fuel, spare parts, munitions and possibly repairs and compensations (for damaged civilian infrastructure, fences etc.) rarely seems to be at the centre of demands.

Army "readiness" is of public concerns at times, but did you ever see an article comparing your country's expenses for training per tank battalion with others'?*** How many publications do you know which state the time required to change a tank powerpack, the maintenance breaks required on administrative marches or the durability of track segments in km?****

"The Blitzkrieg Legend" by Karl-Heinz Frieser (this is the English edition)


*: The British 2 pdr gun lacked a HE shell as far as I know, though.
**: There are exceptions, of course. Technical experts pay much attention to detail and some armies pay attention to special skills such as crossing light bridges or driving through woodland).
***: The Americans and to some degree other anglophone countries have the "hollow force" scare to keep operational expenses up, but that's a more general concern.
****: I know Hilmes' and Ogorkiewicz' books do cover such 'hidden' qualities, and that's it.


[Fun] Welcome to democracy!


(This is not an endorsement of military interventions!)


The Walking Dead and Jihad

What do "The Walking Dead" and Jihad have in common?
In my opinion it's the same as with emigrants: Those who are unsatisfied with their life (because they achieved little) just like the idea of giving this life up in exchange for another one; one without the known restrictions (even if they will be replaced by others). I'm sure this makes up a large part of the fascination of emigration, post-apocalyptic fiction, 'Jihad', the Légion étrangère and possibly even professional military service in general.
Let's add Pokémon, Avatar and all the other youth fiction about young people going on a journey without parents. Seriously!

Back to 'Jihad': A n unpublished statistical survey (FAZ article here) of those who left Germany for Syria  for religious motives in the last years ('Jihad') revealed that these people were a very varied group, but basically losers. Almost none of them made it past a very low income job, for example.

378 travellers were studied
89% males
322 believed to be Jihadists
125 of them were 21 to 25 years of age
Half (of the 378) were married
104 had children
61% were born in Germany
duration of life in German society was not correlated strongly
37% had German nationality only
24% had German and another (mostly Moroccan) nationality
14% were converts
249 (of 378) had committed crimes previously (including drugs)
only 18% were apparently motivated by propaganda
30% by friends, 23% by Salafist mosques
Another study claimed a while ago that 60 people from Germany had died in the Syrian civil war.

There are always people in a society who feel as losers unless the society is perfectly equal. We're not going to get rid of this fact of life. People wasting themselves in a foreign civil war is a fringe phenomenon and fringe problem of the society. We shouldn't make it mainstream by sending troops into such conflicts as well.