Future land campaigns for defence

I didn't really write much on military theory topics for a while, and that's a mistake.

My military theory-tagged writings are a mix of some appreciation for old insights and practices, some peripheral topics and my core interest: How to deter / prepare for / wage a land warfare campaign as defending ("war of necessity") power or bloc in a land/air campaign. This is about a clash mostly between great powers. The kind of warfare that made Europe so fearsome militarily and broke much of it twice. Hence a healthy emphasis on "to deter".

There's nothing to be gained in such a war. Whatever you take or force on others, you'll pay way too much for it. The only sensible choice is to get over with it quickly, and with an acceptable outcome.
This means the defending power(s) should visibly gain the upper hand quickly, and proceed to offer a quick, face-saving and relatively cheap status quo ante peace or at least an armistice.
Any pondering about how to occupy the aggressor's countryside is thus moot. Very subtle progress in warfare isn't very helpful. Escalation - especially involving additional powers or introducing nuclear weapons - could prove to be perverse. To knock out the aggressor's government only keeps the aggressor from negotiating, and is thus counter-productive.

Highly visible and credible strength is fine for deterrence, but only if it is not so great that it creates fear of invasion and only if the strength is actually applicable: It doesn't help to know multiple divisions will arrive in two months if the aggressor intends a limited coup de main followed by a peace offer only.

The differences between textbook approach and reality will vary. Sometimes it will work almost flawlessly, other times a unit may be 50% understrength, lack radio comm, be low on supplies and tired. An all-round strong military has to at least potentially be good under all circumstances. You need to be able to exploit when and where you have superior power. You need to bee able to accomplish modestly ambitious missions with little resources. You need to avoid paralysis or collapse during a crisis.

Versatility, ability to function as fragments, ability to make do with a fraction of authorized strength ... there are many highly unfashionable and unsympathetic topics which deserve at least as much attention as the shiny new tool and its music-supported CGI video advertisement.

Infantry manoeuvred and fought in units of hundreds of men for thousands of years. The firepower revolution of the 'smokeless' powders changed this. Theoreticians understood that infantry would need to exploit cover and concealment during the approach in order to survive this firepower until it's close to the enemy. They did not figure out that this necessitated manoeuvre and combat in at most platoon-sized elements because cover and concealment were in short supply (nor did they figure out how to overcome defenders on the last few hundred metres). Practicians had to figure this out in 1914-1916.

Infantry adapted; by WW2 army offensives on cluttered terrain (such as in Italy) were really a string of  platoon engagements.
It is likely that mechanized forces still need to transition to a fully developed model for small manoeuvre unit tactics, leaving the big manoeuvre unit approach to engagements under very favourable circumstances only. Tank companies and platoons can and often do manoeuvre independently, of course - especially in battlefield reconnaissance and security missions. I'm somewhat ambitious and believe that this is far from "fully developed model for small manoeuvre unit tactics", and this is in part a matter of equipment versatility.

The challenge is about the same on the tactical level as on the strategic level; it's of lesser interest what to do on the battlefield when local superiority has been achieved. It's also of lesser interest how a clash between two largely intact and capable forces would end.
What's most interesting is how to shape the battlefield, how to create advantages prior to the main clash - or rather without a really big clash.

The focus should be on how to create advantages prior to the big clash, not during the big clash. A brilliant manoeuvre in the midst of a battle when thousands were already sent into the meatgrinder is fine for history books, but it's very, very late.
Small unit manoeuvre tactics and the reconnaissance's principle of committing few to high risks in order to alleviate the risks for the majority of the force are likely able to help very much.

Schwerpunkt. The current interpretations of "Schwerpunkt" vary a lot and are being applied to many different topics. The nature and validity of a Schwerpunkt is very different on the bloc, corps, brigade and battalion levels. Schwerpunkt / Economy of force and similar concepts are self-evident and valid ideas which help to avoid wasteful behaviour. The interpretations which obsess about the enemy's Schwerpunkt meanwhile cannot really show a track record of usefulness in real warfare.

Schwerpunkt is valid inasmuch as it helps us to maintain self-discipline and clarity of thought at times; it keeps us from fizzling out and demands a better husbanding of resources.
I do not fully subscribe to the concept, though. As mentioned in (4), the challenge is to prepare for tactical victory by accumulating advantages. The husbanding of resources as advised by the Schwerpunkt concept is but one way of many how to do this, and not ranking particularly highly amongst them. Too much attention to the Schwerpunkt can lead to ponderous preparations and risky bunching up of forces. Moreover, a fixation on the "bigger battalions win battles" school of thought keeps us from looking at the important micro level of independently manoeuvring small units and units or the value of shaping operations.

Answers depend on questions, military theory answers depend on circumstances. A force which is meant to handle a conflict quickly and satisfactorily will likely not be able to do so with the full power of its bloc. In fact, leaving much if not most of the bloc's power out of the campaign may allow their power to serve as bargaining chips in negotiations. You cannot threaten to add forces into the fray any more if you already did it. Few things impress as much in battle as the arrival and intervention of reinforcements, and politicians are likely to feel the anxiousness about this as well.

A conflict may thus be not only limited in time (quick) and geography (no escalation), but also very much limited in the forces committed. The consequence would be a rather low ratio of forces to terrain during the first weeks. This is even more important as fully motorized forces may move a lot, and may be positioned in great depth (thus increasing the area).
The battlefield may not only seem to be empty; it may actually be quite empty. Really defensible lines are not to be expected unless the geography really favours this. We have actually never seen a land campaign between two competent and fully motorized great power forces. The campaigns of Israel faced moderately competent forces and demonstrated a remarkable instability and record-breaking destructiveness. This was repeated against Iraqis, but this may prove to be no more instructive for campaigns against competents than was mowing down tribal spearmen with Maxim machineguns.


Conflict scenarios and musings of people who stick more to a conquest-like idea of war are bound to produce different conclusions.



Aggressive defence

Armoured divisions which forcibly crossed a river 1940* were told to set up a defended bridgehead by cautious minds. The idea was to wait for reinforcements and to refresh the exhausted troops. It was a sensible tactic on paper, for the culminating point of attack was likely close if not already exceeded. The troops were really tired and the artillery almost out of ammunition after four days of rapid advance.
More daring commanders on the scene - understanding that armour was better on the offence than on the defence - were more aggressive. Their concept was to advance and they enlarged the bridgehead considerably before hastily assembled elements from several opposing divisions arrived to create a weak defence around the bridgehead.
Later on, the reinforced armoured forces broke out of their large bridgehead quite easily (and probably with luck).

Ever since, the tactic of (what could be called) aggressive defence was firmly established in the repertoire of Western fast ground manoeuvre forces: Aggressive manoeuvres to disrupt preparations for counter-offensives, for breaking through defensive lines before they become strong and for avoiding a close containment of bridgeheads and breakthroughs.

Well, on paper: The same war famously saw a huge failure to enlarge a bridgehead a few years later.**

- - - - -

The concept - as imperfect as its execution usually is - has a quite universal applicability. You can observe the same in chess, in politicians' debates, in football - it should be no undue stretch to apply it to military strategy.

The ingredients are
(1) one's own ability to act aggressively
(2) while the opposing side is not yet done with (preparations for) what it intends to do.

- - - - -

Imagine an unfolding crisis, and your government has confidence in its expectations for what's going to happen next.
Couldn't a couple aggressive***, unexpected actions ruin the opposing sides' plans, crush their timetable, make their political calculations obsolete, destroy their confidence in their ability to predict your government's reactions and to predict the costs of the crisis?

Couldn't such a disruption make a quite acceptable diplomatic settlement more likely?

- - - - -

I'm all for peace and free love and stuff****, but I distrust the notion that escalation is always a bad thing. An escalation to ruin some aggressor's day may be the right thing to do. To have and obey a defensive and reactionary game plan makes one predictable. The very existence of a crisis should be understood as a hint that someone used this predictability to predict the outcome of a produced crisis - and arrived at the conclusion that it's a good idea.
A.k.a. failure of deterrence.


*: Meuse crossing, May 1940
**: Anzio, early 1944
***: "aggressive", NOT "aggression against a peaceful country
****: Similarly, I don't think "war as last resort" makes much sense.


Will the Marine Corps APC racket ever end?

The U.S. Marine Corps introduced an amphibious APC (similar to, but not as versatile as their WW2-era vehicles) for its large squads early in the 70's and immediately began to think about its successor :
1972: AAV-7 enters service
no production

1982: LVT(X) project,
no production

1990's and 2000's: AAAV project,
no production

until recently: EFV project, 
no production

Four decades. USMC development of big amphibious armoured personnel carriers has been ongoing for four decades without a production model, much less an affordable one. Only the "LAV-25", a slightly modified off-the shelf armoured truck, was purchased in the meantime. Its successor, "MPC", is on hold and big business is ready to go - go skim off a rent on development budgets since production is unlikely. The corps of most effective self-promoters failed in AFV development procurement grossly.

This beats even the U.S.Army, which was unable to bring a new armoured fighting (as opposed to transportation or combat engineering) vehicle into production for about three decades (and quite the same for helicopters, which is a USMC area of fail as well).

Examples of the USMC's bit ticket procurement incompetence are spreading in NATO; the U.S.Army, the British Army and the German army are on their heels. The active, but largely fruitless Poles and the Italians are no better. Armoured vehicle development and procurement sucks in NATO.
We can expect to sooner or later lag behind an aggressive neighbour by up to 40+ years if we allow such incompetence to reign on.

Yes, the German Puma IFV had severe teething problems. Some of the known (though not explicitly published) early problems were outright embarrassing, 3rd semester engineering studies-level failures. The program delivered merely one version, which is less than the mid-1980's Puma that was a development project of the industry itself and had huge logistical commonalities with the Leopard 1 and 2 tank families.


A quick look at oil trade

I did a quick look at oil trade, to see whether the United States become more independent from Persian Gulf oil and thus probably long-term more disconnected and disinterested as well. The statistics don't support this guess, but their look in diagram format is nevertheless striking (and odd):

data from U.S.Energy Information Administration




Researchers Easily Slipped Weapons Past TSA’s X-Ray Body Scanners

Andy Greenberg, Wired

As with so many supposed "counter-terrorism" or "pro-security" efforts proved to be useless, gone awry or plain harmful, nobody will be held accountable. To be pro-"security" is a no-lose position, and there's hardly ever a rollback of failures or a decimation of inflated "security" bureaucracies. That's by slice by slice we slide deeper into a mess in which "security" is overrated and faked, while civil liberties are being perforated more and more.




Future of Warfare in low GDP countries

(GDP = Gross Domestic Product)

Speculations about how future war(fare) would look like tend to know two extremes; high tech scenarios against other high-tech forces and high-tech scenarios against low budget guerrillas or other troublemakers.

I was tired of this and looked at it from the other angle for a change; the future of warfare in regard to low budget forces primarily against peers.

As a starting point, I didn't assume a really low-tech or no-electronics force. Instead, I assume that consumer electronics are available to low budget troops, including affordable goodies otherwise meant for gun nuts, golfers and hunters.

Improvised armoured SUV in Mexico
This means affordable sniper rifles, quality assault rifles, laser rangefinders, software encrypted radios, camouflage clothes and load carrying stuff, soft body armour, helmets, ballistic computers for direct and indirect fire weapons, satellite navigation, drones with a daylight video camera, night vision devices as well as up-armoured and soft 4wd vehicles would be affordable and probably available.

The typical cheap heavier weapons exports such as NORINCO products and old stocks (machineguns, recoilless rifles, various anti-tank weapons up to 120 mm calibre, mortars, hand and rifle grenades), various guided missiles and towed or truck-mounted howitzers would be affordable and available as well. Nobody would need to fight with machetes.
Improvised armoured car with RCL in Libya

Other low budget forces could field about the same stuff, plus some probably quickly consumed (or rarely employed) tanks and combat aircraft as well as fresh supplies of cheaply acquired heavy weapons systems as warfare might drag on.

Mobile warfare would depend more on so-called technicals (with 12.7-23 mm gun or 73-120 mm recoilless gun) than we're used from Western forces (in which only special forces and LRRP use "tactical" soft 4wd vehicles, which tend to look more like dune buggies or steel pipe framed trucks than Toyota Landcruisers). The defence against this might be as important as the defence against tanks in Europe. A typical howitzer battery might have many heavy machineguns on many of its trucks and cars for self-defence, for example. It's difficult to armour-up wheeled vehicles against threats such as 12.7, 14.5, 20 or 23 mm API: This was achieved with purpose-designed armoured trucks (rated against 14.5 mm API), but plain steel protections require a thickness of 30-40 mm. Up-armoured cars and trucks would tend to be protected against 7.62 mm only.

Artillery offers the best bang for the buck with old Warsaw Pact howitzers (122 mm) and multiple rocket launchers (122 mm, too) which are available in huge quantities. Their dispersion is bad (especially for the rockets) and munition duds a problem (due to long storage or little quality control at manufacturing), but the accuracy (centre of impacts relative to target) could be great. Both the target's and the artillery's position can be determined with great precision nowadays using simple civilian equipment such as mobile phone GPS, mobile phone ballistics application, mobile phone meteorological app, compass and golfer or hunter laser rangefinders. The only accuracy weak spots would be muzzle velocity (if no MV radar is available) and exact wind conditions (unless weather balloons are used and tracked well), but this is manageable with observed howitzer fires.

The range of weapons and munitions available to a low budget force could thus be impressive and customised for the threat and environment. Their active tactical repertoire would still be very small if they face a high tech force. Units would enjoy freedom of movement only if air defences with a good service ceiling are available and restrict hostile air power to strike packages (= no continuous threat overhead) of which the ground forces would be warned in time.

The real question is in my opinion not what equipment they will use. They will simply use what fits.

Much more interesting is how competent the armed forces and guerrillas of future warfare will be.

Will they be much better than today's low budget forces in regard to training? Video games such as Operation Flashpoint 2 (multiplayer, highest difficulty setting) could surely indoctrinate the need for caution into even the most stubborn recruits who would otherwise reject crawling in dirt and prefer to spray and pray upright instead.
Tactical coordination and cooperation might be much-improved if by terrain or other circumstances radio communication can be used without excessive risk.

There is great potential for detached small unit infantry tactics whenever no sizeable percentage of the civilian populace is hostile and if at the same time the terrain does not offer long lines of sight in most places. Small unit raids and ambushes supported by small team surveillance, shadowing and scouting of hostiles could yield great benefits to the tactically more proficient force.

Low budget-on-low budget forces clashes might be much less dominated by morale collapses and outright flights from previously held settlements than we're used to. Cohesion might become much better instead, allowing for low-budget forces to prevail even during crisis situations. You can build a cohesive force without a lavish budget drawn from a high-tech economy, but you need to get recruiting and small unit leadership right. This doesn't necessarily mean that many poor countries will exploit this potential; they may still raise and maintain politically loyal yet incompetent and brittle forces instead.

The 2000's high profile occupation wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved tiny low budget forces (with great non-violent support base) vs. larger and lavishly funded Western forces and their overpaid proxies. There is no reason why this should be normal in the future. Low budget armies with hundreds of thousands of male and female members - fighters as well as (para)military and civilian porters and  supporters - could dominate future warfare instead.

Imagine a conflict close to the equator; 26° C midday temperature all-year, 90% air humidity. High-budget forces would probably not even wear hard body armour under such circumstances, but even without it they would tend to carry more equipment than their low-budget opposition. The low-budget opposition would likely make use of porters and thus lighten the load of the dismounted fighters even more. They could run circles around their laden opponents (unless superior opposing forces' observation capabilities restrict them too much).

Campaigns between low-budget forces on the other hand might be dominated by the civilian support advantage. Logistical, communications and intelligence support in friendly territory can be much better than among a hostile population. Actions on hostile ground would probably be more often than not be limited to raids and superior concentrations of forces.



Planned topics

These are some topics planned for August/September:

(for the German arms exports debate, this should soon be published)

The Economist: "The humble hero"
(still looking for an excuse to link to this old economics article on containerization and trade)

Campaign volunteers
(on foreign fighters / mercenaries)

Battlefield missile artillery from the blackpowder age to the 21st century - Part I
(big topic)

Affordable combat aircraft
(an overview with few conclusions)

Aggressive/preemptive defence
(tactical and operational mil theory and history topic)

Specialised reinforcement formations
(mostly mil history and theory)

The fusion of battlefield AD, C-RAM and field artillery
(big one, but rather ambitious concerning technology)

Future land campaigns for defence
(war and peace topic)

Our addictions
(about irrational, bloating and weighting down requirements)

Drones in theory (Part 3: Naval drones)
(as if I had a clue)

Dolchstoßlegende, assault infantry and modern personnel affairs
(held back becuase the topic is dislikable)

Basic training catch up considerations
(essentially calculations)

Future of Warfare in low GDP countries
(big topic)

Will the Marine Corps APC racket ever end?
(held back because enough U.S. bashing already)



Wonderful article about the bias of Western news

Max Fisher, Vox

Citadel armour

Back in the Age of Sail warship resistance to shot was largely determined by the quality and thickness of timber used. Ships of the line were able to withstand some light and medium size cannonballs at a couple hundred meters range. This changed when practical high explosive shot was introduced; it was capable of massacring wooden ships.
Shortly thereafter iron and steel became affordable in greater quantities due to industrialised production and ships with metal armour plating (and still wooden support) became the new capital ships. The hevy weight of the necessary armour was a problem, and this problem only grew worse when by the late 19th century the big guns (about 234 to 304 mm calibre) became more relevant and with new propellants (mostly cordite) also much more deadly. 
One solution to the weight problem was to harden the vital parts of the ship (bridge, boiler and engine rooms, main and secondary artillery and its ammunition supply, fire control observer stations) and leave most else largely unprotected. This was known as "Citadel armour".
The most extreme version of this was the "all or nothing" armoured ship, which had only thin (IIRC up to 25.4 mm ~ 1") fragmentts-stopping armour outside of the citadel.

armour scheme of the U.S.S. Iowa
The consequence was that damage to the unprotected areas - including collision damage - could put a ship out of service for months.

HMS King Geargo V with a damaged bow after a collision in 1942

This naval example was mentioned first in this text not because it was the first or most important one; it merely offers a nice term for the phenomenon of having varying degrees of protection, even including no protection in some portions: Citadel armour.

A much older example is a hoplite, who (in the most expensive version) included an all (bronze plate) or nothing armour.

Modern infantrymen tend to have four protection levels; bullet proof plate with kevlar vest backing, kevlar vest and helmet at most capable of stopping handgun ball projectiles, polycarbonate goggles capable of stopping weak fragments and some buckshot and finally nothing stronger than cloth or boot leather. This is de facto an all-or-nothing protection against rifle bullets at normal combat distances.

Modern tanks have the same staggering of protection. Frontal protection is typically designed to stop hits by the biggest tank guns, while sides tend to stop at most autocannon and moderately-sized shaped charge warhead shots. Plenty of its components are rather exposed, though. There's no more armour protecting the suspension as with Matilda II tanks, unprotected fume extractors were revealed to be a problem in 2003 and the external weapon stations and sensors are at most protected against rifle bullets if at all.

Matilda II tank, with expensive cast steel side armour protecting the suspension

The widespread application of the concept of citadel armour creates a challenge, as claims such as "protected against ..." are usually misleading; the protection is always partial only.

This creates a great need for spare parts (such as optics for tanks, tires and windows for armoured trucks). It also causes a drop in readiness during prolonged campaigning. An infantryman may survive a bullet to the chest nowadays, but the fragments of a grenade in his limbs can still put him into hospital and recovery for months. Tanks are notorious for having a high degree of attrition and piling up at repair workshops during mobile warfare, though a large share of mission killed tanks is repairable usually.
There's also the problem of incentives; a requirement to withstand some extreme threat on some surfaces may easily lead to a neglect of relatively modest protection for other surfaces (see the fume extractor problem). Armoured vehicles tend to have no protected stowage for the personal items of the crew, so a great many tankers have already been unable to change into fresh clothes or boil some water for coffee because their backpacks were perforated and burned beyond recognition.

The drawbacks of the citadel armour concept are bound to re-appear during every warfare just about every time, and they are equally bound to be underestimated in peacetime when they're not as obvious.