Campaign volunteers

Decision-making should involve at least an attempt of weighing up pro and contra; of trying to get the cost/benefit ratio right. But not all costs matter. There are always both relevant and irrelevant costs; sunk costs are irrelevant costs, for example.

Now let's assume some soldiers or reservists volunteer for a campaign. This would be an individual-level decision, and a government's decision could then be limited to the four options
(1) government-run expedition
(2) covert government-run expedition
(3) ignoring it
(4) criminal prosecution after the fact*

That's a very different decision than a political 'war or peace' decision involving a military only.

The price of casualties amongst the troops would probably need to be appraised differently than in the plain 'war or peace' case, as the volunteers would have made that decision for themselves already, based on their individual preferences which are unknown to the government.**

The flow of legitimacy is upwards from the voter to the candidates in a democracy, because the voters know their preferences and add their vote to the overall pool of votes.
One might reason that the flow of legitimacy about the decision whether individuals can go to war cannot be in the reverse direction because again the voters (volunteers) act based on their preferences which are unknown to everyone else. So nobody else could make a better decision for them.
An exception would be if their action would harm the rest of the society, such as through worsened foreign relations, retributions or the fiscal costs of a (para)military operation.

The government can thus not claim to make a better decision on behalf of the volunteers themselves - it can only claim to make a better decision on behalf of other citizens who might be affected.

Volunteer forces were somewhat popular in the past, with the (case 2) American Volunteer Group and (case 3) Eagle Squadrons being examples. There are also thousands of case (3) and (4) examples of so-called jihadists right now and the insurrection in the Eastern Ukraine may be a case (2) on more than only the Ukrainian side.

Mercenaries and volunteer foreign fighters aren't merely an approach to feign neutrality of their country's government; they do require a very different ethical and practical decision-making on part of the government.

Plausible deniability is important though, as the United Nations' General Assembly defined aggression in 1974, including this quote:

(g) The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein.
That is, unless you are sure some UNSC veto will protect your government from official international repercussions. Plausible deniability doesn't help against unofficial backlash anyway.

The employment of actual volunteer contingents could become an important foreign policy tool in the decades to come when governments attempt to disassociate themselves from backlash-inducing meddling. It may also already be a major challenge, as governments strive to suppress unwanted mercenary and foreign fighter activities.


*: Some countries outlaw mercenary activity in itself.
**: This is a rather important facet of economic theory. Some perfect outcomes are impossible in practice because of the inability to use a god-like knowledge about the people's preferences. You need to know preferences for a perfect allocation of resources, for example. Markets and democratic elections or plebiscites are tools to reach outcomes based on at least a decentralised consideration of preferences.


Fear, oh this fear!


Fearful pussies mistaking themselves for decisive men.



*: Guess who inspired this one!


A war can break a society

"I’ve realized that most Americans don’t understand that Iraq used to be a modern, Westernized and secular country. From the 1930s to the 1980s, Iraq’s neighbors looked to it as the example. People from different Arab countries came to Iraq to attend university. The country had an excellent education system, great health care, and Iraq was rich — not the richest, but rich.

Of course, Iraq is not like this today.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait, 24 years ago last month, the United States destroyed most of Iraq’s infrastructure during the Persian Gulf War. Bridges were bombed, along with power stations, railroads, dams and oil refineries. (...)
Gradually, people also began turning to religion as a result of all the hardships. Religion changed the country: more censorship, more rules, more rigidity. Alcohol, which was once widely accepted, was frowned upon. Mainstream TV shows and movies — even cartoons — were censored to remove kissing scenes, partial nudity and other elements viewed as immoral."
source: Article by he Washington Post 

I think he underplays the effects of the eight years of Gulf War in the 80's because that's not so interesting for the newspaper's readers. Still, it's an example for how wars break countries, and may set them back by a generation or more or destroy achievements forever.

European societies involved in both World Wars regained its health from 1911 only in the 60's, if at all. Some nations waited till well after the end of the Cold War for a full recovery.

The article also points out how unexpected such disastrous consequences can be and how bad inelegant warfare is.*


*: The five rings, typical Western air campaign plans and just about everything in air war strategy is bullshit. I don't have a cure-all alternative, but this gives a hint about how I approach the problem.


The Economist: "The humble hero"


The Economist, May 18th 2013
THE humble shipping container is a powerful antidote to economic pessimism and fears of slowing innovation. Although only a simple metal box, it has transformed global trade. In fact, new research suggests that the container has been more of a driver of globalisation than all trade agreements in the past 50 years taken together.

This is similar to how the myth of a very successful and essential Marshall Plan distorted perceptions towards the assumption that economies can be kickstarted with foreign aid (it wasn't that important). The belief in free trade is almost religious in some people (and especially so if their pay check depends on it).

An article about the importance of containerisation for maritime trade also reminds me of the containerisation issues of the military.
I won't write about this before I've done some more research, though. I haven't seen from the inside in a while how things are done. Most Western military forces seem to under-appreciate articulated lorry logistics and fuel tank pallets/containers, though. Civilian long-range truck logistics are being dominated by articulated lorries, but they have traditionally only niches in army logistics (mostly as tank transporters and heavy fuel trucks). I feel the armed bureaucracies are missing out on something here.
It's always nice to figure out some ideal military truck logistics solution, but the bulk of the supplies would need to be hauled by civilian trucks if our alliances really need to defend themselves some day. A fleet mix between milspec and civilian trucks would be used. Compatibility (moving cargo from a civilian truck to a milspec truck for the final 200 km between corps logistics hub and consuming units) would be of major concern.


edit: A link to info on the special air freight container types (LD series) and another link to measurements for the ocean shipping/trucking containers.


Affordable combat aircraft

Truly "affordable" combat aircraft projects don't look the way the JSF program did and does; there were actually affordable aircraft designs with which "affordable" wasn't just a marketing lie and eventually a running gag.

Some affordable combat aircraft have proven to be quite successful even if facing the high end combat aircraft of their own or even a later generation. How did they pull this off, was there any still valid trick?

For this text, I will consider the following example combat aircraft types as successful and "affordable":*

Saab Draken (Mach 2 interceptor, SWE)
Mirage V (Mach 2 ground attack, FRA)
A-4 Skyhawk (subsonic light fighter bomber, USA)
Folland Gnat (subsonic light fighter, UK)
MiG-21 (short-range Mach 2 interceptor, USSR)
SEPECAT Jaguar (supersonic ground attack, UK/France)
AMX (subsonic ground attack, ITA/BRA)
F-5 Freedom Fighter/Tiger II (supersonic light fighter bomber, US)

F-5E in almost clean (dog fight) configuration

(a) Speed: Slowness is not a necessity. Plenty supersonic entries with afterburning turbojets (Jaguar: afterburning turbofans).
(b) Engines: Single engine is not a necessity (Jaguar and F-5 had two)
(c) Avionics: No really powerful radar in the list, but some small radars are in the list.
(d) Agility: Most aircraft in the list were known for fine agility, albeit the subsonic ones have poor thrust/mass and Draken/Mirage had good agility primarily at high altitude.

(e) Undercarriage: Mixed; some are equipped for grass airfields, others not. The Skyhawk undercarriage was even dangerously high.
(f) Crew: Only single seaters, albeit with two-seat trainer versions available.
(g) All-round view: Only AMX and early MiG-21 approached 360° field of view. Most had only about 320°; this allows for more usable internal volume behind the cockpit (avionics black boxes, fuel).
(h) Weight class: Some were distinctly lightweight in their generation (Skyhawk, AMX, F-5), the rest was at least clearly no "heavy" aircraft in their generation (compare Mirage and Phantom II or Thunderchief, for example).
(i) Leap-ahead technologies: Mirage V was a downgraded Mirage III, which was among the first of the Mach 2 generation and one of few pure delta fighters. Draken and MiG-21 were also 1st Mach 2 generation aircraft. Draken pioneered the double delta wing.
(j) Timing: Most examples are from the 50's or 60's. The 1970's Jaguar was "affordable" only in context of its era. The even later AMX was affordable, but not very successful; it was apparently too similar to the performance of armed jet trainers and the time-honoured A-4.
(k) Jointness: None of these was developed as a joint air force and navy aircraft, albeit there was a naval Jaguar version (not produced due to French egoism).
(l) Multinationality: Jaguar and AMX were bilateral development programs.
(m) Air combat armament: None had medium-range (Sparrow class) air-air-missiles

I didn't really hope to discover the secret of how to develop and produce a modern combat aircraft on the cheap, of course. The quick look at the historical examples shows there's not one obvious formula for success.
Not being a "heavy" aircraft is a no-brainer.
Limited avionics suites save bucks (best examples Mirage V, Jaguar), that's also a no-brainer.
Two engines or supersonic ambitions are no K.O. criterion - or weren't.

Maybe the way to an affordable aircraft is
(1) use existing engine(s)**, don't strive for thrust/mass overmatch***
(2) use a small to normal size airframe
(3) use few or normal performance combat avionics
(4) two-seat versions primarily for training, not as main version
(5) good agility within the thrust/mass limitation

The rise of medium range air combat missiles and the growing importance of combat avionics for survival and targeting pose challenges for this 'recipe', though. Furthermore, even aircraft such as Jaguar and AMX were from their start badly challenged in their main roles by the rise of ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-air guns.


*: This list skips trainer-based aircraft and specialised ground attack aircraft because I suppose that truly affordable combat aircraft are an attractive option for small air forces, but specialised ground attack aircraft without a good deal of air2air capability are only good for civil wars. F-16 wasn't included because of the more low-cost F-5.
**: Jaguar didn't. Jaguar was kept in the list mostly for having a modest approach towards avionics.
***: F-16 did, and was almost certainly less cost-efficient than the older F-5 throughout the 80's.


Our addictions

A recurring irritation to me in close air support discussions is that Americans assert that you absolutely need the ability of an CAS aircraft to swoop down and strafe targets barely outside of hand grenade throwing distance to friendlies. This has always been a curious assertion, because there's exactly one military in the world which places enough emphasis on this alleged necessity to maintain much of this capability (or something resembling it). The Russians have a similar aircraft, but its preferred ammunitions demand a much greater minimum distance.
It's obviously no universal necessity. In fact, the USAF has just like the Soviets/Russians begun to use its dedicated CAS aircraft almost exclusively at above 15,000 ft long ago.
But this is not a unique phenomenon; perceiving something as a necessity that's not really necessary. All Western military forces are hooked up on some capabilities and items which are rather "nice to have" than "necessary".

An example would be dentists. There's absolutely no need for them in a military. You can send your bad teeth owners to civilian dentists instead.

What about all those more or less small 4x4 passenger vehicles? Most of the time there's but one or two men in them, they could just as well ride a motorcycle. This motorcycle could be attached to some truck when not needed, saving on the share of drivers in a unit and cutting down convoy lengths. Having them ride a real truck (with much payload) instead would cut down on convoy size (and driver requirements) as well.

Battlefield helicopters. How exactly did armies fight wars when there were none? More ambulance cars. Helicopters may turn out to be utterly non-survivable in a conflict between great powers anyway; the contrary has at least never been proved. They are weather-dependent as well, so you actually need a full size ambulance car backup.

Anti-tank guided missiles. Why exactly do we need them? Main battle tanks have guns to deal with their kind, and dismounted troops' best bet to survive hostile MBTs is to stay out of their line of sight anyway; hide in buildings or woodland, or in ditches. ATGMs and their predecessors, the anti-tank guns, have a mixed historical record at best, with great success only against poorly led or otherwise inferior quality tank forces. Modern ATGMs appear to be overwhelmed by current ATGM countermeasures (save for HVMs).

Infantry weapons with more than 300 metres range. Only idiots or completely unaware hostiles will expose themselves to detection at greater ranges than 300 metres. I personally suck at spotting 'hostiles' even as close as 100 metres and can hide myself from their view within 20 metres on many different terrains. Even while moving, exposure can often be kept insufficient for detection until one is within 50-100 metres or so. The few inept hostiles who will expose themselves at 400+ metres will catch a bullet quite soon anyway, so why is the hurry to do it at such a range already? It's true, allied forces have repeatedly complained that they were unable to return PKM fire effectively if the enemy was far away, but I've yet to see a report claiming that a PKM's fire was actually effective at such a range in the first place. Ammunition is not meant for mere psychological relief.

Lavish logistical support. Not too long ago, drivers were also mechanics. The maintenance and repair of their vehicle was part of their driver's training. Somehow this was (mostly) lost to modern army wheeled vehicle crews. Workshops should be limited to repair badly mauled vehicles; even an engine and gearbox exchange can be done by a trained vehicle crew if the truck is designed for it. You don't need a workshop for it. I've seen a lot of awesome improvisations for lifting engines out of vehicles or raising vehicles from the ground for working underneath.
The same applies to supply services. Many mobile actions run out of steam after four days due to physical and psychical exhaustion of the troops anyway (officers even more than others). Supply columns usually arrive no more often than every second day. Why not simply operate in four-day bounds, and carry five days worth of supplies within the unit? The serially emptied supplies-carrying vehicles could be sent back in small packets (loaded with lightly wounded, prisoners, captured material and material in need of rear area repair) every day, and return on about every fourth day with new supplies.

Voice radio with its relatively high bandwidth requirements. I'm no SMS typing artist, but I've seen girls typing incredibly fast. They sure don't need voice to communicate almost as quick as I do with voice. And modern software is able to recognize spoken words and turn them into written text.
I've never liked voice (analogue) radio anyway. Didn't understand much among all those static sounds. Modern digital radios are better and can compress data, but text messages would still only require a tiny fraction of the bandwidth and make jamming more difficult.

Full motorization with military vehicles. Why is that? We used to be able to supplant the army with civilian vehicles in times of need. Is any conflict bad enough to send men to die, but not bad enough to commandeer some civilian trucks? There are now many more civilian 4x4 vehicles in Germany than the Wehrmacht had motor vehicles in 1938. More than we have trained soldiers and reservists in their best years. The same goes for trucks. Why do we even bother with dedicated military vehicle standards if the vehicles used on soft soil construction sites and in forestry greatly outnumber the military vehicles? Sure, military vehicles drive little and shall be used for decades, but this only means some components need to be revised for greater life, not entirely different vehicle designs. Civilian trucking is almost all about semi-trailers - how many semi-trailers apart from tank transports did you ever see in an army? Aren't the palletized load systems of the military world (MULTI/DROPS/PLS) incompatible with at least some of the systems used by the civilian trucks which handle the trash containers on construction sites?

Backup pistols. An idea from "white" anglophone countries that the rest of the world doesn't quite consider a necessity. Pistols have a mere policing role in the German army, for example.

Large staffs. It's about time to destroy the entire modern idea of staffs and re-start back at WW2 staff sizes, when an army group HQ resembled a modern times' divisional HQ (some Western divisional HQs broke the 1,000 personnel mark years ago, though modern-time Bundeswehr Div HQs are smaller). Corps HQs including security and signallers were company-sized and divisional HQs were platoon-sized with a mere dozen officers. Our brigade HQs should be smaller than our present battalion HQs are.
Smaller staffs are quicker staffs, and they're forced to focus on what matters much. Leaders had to ensure that mostly high-performing officers served on their staff and much bullshit was impossible for want of staff manpower. Civilian product development practice (such as software projects) revealed that development teams of sizes up to 40 make much sense, with time required for communication growing too much with larger teams. I'm quite sure there were plenty parallel observations done on military staffs.

You don't agree with the examples? No problem, the examples aren't the point. Think for yourself; what's really necessary and what's merely luxury we got used to?



"Terrorist!" is the new "Communist!"

"Terrorist!" is the new "Communist!".
It has been true for a decade, and was announced even earlier by Hollywood's B-Movies of the 90's.
The symptoms are obvious.

Disliked bad guys are "terrorists", while 'our' bad guys aren't "terrorists".

'Our' bad guys call their enemies "terrorists" to get our help.

Small wars are being waged in the name of fighting communism terrorism.

Small wars are being lost after years, and Americans try to cover up a defeat by Vietnamisation Afghanisation; the attempt to prop up the 'allied' indigenous force.

Intelligence services have almost perfect freedom of action in the name of fighting communism terrorism.

They're the worst threat to us, ever. I dare you to disagree! I dare you!

Foreign military forces get subsidies and training from Americans to fight communism terrorism.

Zero tolerance against communism terrorism, no matter how unimportant and remote the shit hole of a country is. Unless it's under a nuke umbrella, of course.

Hardly anybody feels restricted to a definition of communists terrorists. Instead, put this label on your enemies and hope it sticks.

Sometimes I wonder how stupid and gullible mankind really is.



German arms exports to Kurds

Germany is delivering thousands of small arms to the Kurds, an apparently complete list is here. The small arms suffice for a brigade (machine guns) to corps (pistols) equivalent, the package is not exactly well-rounded. Almost everything delivered is 1960's vintage apparently, with a surprising 8,000 G36 rifles as the exception.*

The whole delivery is a novelty, for by law Germany isn't supposed to deliver arms into crisis regions (deliveries to Turkey and Saudi-Arabia were hotly debated exceptions).
On top of this, the whole delivery was an astonishingly quick executive action, and the legal side of it is highly questionable. It may very well be that the gubernative is acting illegally and the whole thing may be an usurpation of powers of the legislative branch.**

The Kurd's peril against IS was likely not even the main motivator for this action; there were powerful domestic ones: The current social democratic minister of economic and energy affairs is part of a triad of social-democratic top politicians expected to challenge Chancellor Merkel in the next federal elections. Another one of the triad had his turn last time already. The delivery is a huge political defeat for him, since he wanted to add a very restricted arms exports policy to his vita.
At the same time this political fall of man is a huge victory of the arms industry, and possibly the defence bureaucracy which wants non-NATO and non-EU customers to help sustain the German arms industry and to finance its development projects. These groups were pushing for a more relaxed arms export policy for decades, and now they can point at a single example in which arms were delivered even into an ongoing war.

The Kurds surely didn't need German arms. They could have gotten additional small arms elsewhere. This doesn't really help make a more restrictive export policy perfect (no rule seems to be perfect on this), but it shows that the urgency wasn't a necessity, but an ambition.

I suppose this quick delivery or arms to the Peshmerga was for domestic reasons, and the IS threat to Kurds and Iraq was a false pretence merely. The main winner are the military-industrial groups with special interests. The legal side of the story could prove to be messy, or this could turn into an example how bad grand coalitions can be for democracy and separation of powers.


*: Schwere Panzerfaust = the original 84 mm Carl Gustav man-portable crew-served recoilless gun from the 1960's. The rounds still available for this weapon in Germany are likely illumination rounds exclusively. 

**: Edit:  I looked up the law, and it's not clear-cut enough to form an opinion on this without knowing all the commentary, earlier court rulings et cetera. The law itself says weapons must not be exported if there's a possibility that the arms will be used to disrupt peace. This has been treated equal to a power being at war for decades, so the legal side is tricky.

[Fun] Tactical road crossing


Readers never ask for funny videos, but keep in mind, I do this for fun, not for money!

There are actual 'standing operating procedures' for 'tactical road crossing' out there, but the long story short is: Someone exposes himself for a while and may get shot along a straight road. The fewer expose themselves at the same time, the more may be hit by a machine gun burst, but the less may be  hit by a sniper. The fewer expose themselves at the same time, the longer the road crossing takes and the more likely some hostile can ready himself for opening fire. There will always be risks, and persistent risks will mercilessly decimate the force over time.

In the end it's the same as with river crossing; best done on the top of a U-turn, but then you have troublesome terrain on the other side.



The narrative

News, commentary and discussions on the crisis in the Ukraine, possible interventions there and in Syria/Iraq haven't felt quite right to me. Belatedly I realized what exactly was missing: The view that soldiers are humans, too.

The narrative has been a technical, technocratic one.

This narrative enables people to discuss policy alternatives on these problems as if they could be something better than the least horror. The sad truth is, there's no "I win button" - there are only "I lose" buttons - the difference is merely how badly one loses. Every option is a failure.

Sure, one COULD intervene somehow and crack IS* or push the Russians out of the Ukraine - even the paramilitary ones. But none of the possible outcomes will look anything as good as the situation a year ago. The failure to keep peace costs mankind dearly, and no course of action will turn this around. We can only minimize the net damage.

A soldier deployed to a foreign country to intervene is one man who isn't productive, working for the wealth or health of his people. He's a man who's not going to be a father to a child any time soon. He's still going to be paid much - more than normal. His family will most likely miss him much. Even his dog.
He might become prisoner of war, endure poor food, poor housing, hard work, interrogations, pain and worse. For years, maybe even decades.
He's probably going to return with damage that will hinder him to become or be a father, or even to work only. He might even return as someone who needs help as if he was a child, and others need to work to provide this help. 
Or he might die.
Thousands, ten thousands, hundred thousands.
And doing it through robots doesn't really help much - there are humans on those video screens as well. It's not all robots vs. robots (and even that would be horribly wasteful).

There aren't enough bloggers, journalists and television personalities who try to push back against the narrative, trying to give it a fuller spectrum. There are some bitter, often sarcastic, old men who distrust everything war. And other people who won't be listened to, like me.

This shall be my attempt, and an excuse for failing to resist the narrative myself all too often.

The video may strike you as oversteering on the issue,
but maybe this is necessary:


*: I don't even think it's that difficult, for it appears to be a thoroughly hyped new 'nemesis' to me.