[temporary] low ops

I'm writing on a series of mostly long posts that summarize info, thoughts and conclusions on warships. This takes a lot of time (finding all those pictures and links is the worst about it), so there won't be much other writing in a while.

The good news is I finally repaired the spellchecker on my browser, so there will be fewer embarrassing typos in the future.



"Hybrid" Russian invasions

There has been much talk and many articles about "hybrid" approaches of Russia to warfare. Cyber, invading army in incomplete uniforms, attempts to manipulate right wingers with fake news, attempts to manipulate social media with fake comments and upvotes et cetera.

A very widespread conclusion from this is that if Russia made a move against NATO, it woudl do so with a hybrid approach that mattered - not just some 'Since 6 o'clock we're returning fire." false flag nonsense as the nazi stunt in '39 that would be relevant but for the most gullible part of the domestic audience.
As a consequence, questions are being asked such as what NATO would do if Russian army troops crossed the Estonian borders posing as Russians living in Estonia.

I have argued against this a couple times, but this time I'll argue against it more elaborately.

First, let's ward ourselves against falling for the nonsense that what the Russians did in the Ukraine was anything new, imaginative or unusual.

So it wasn't really new, imaginative or unusual.

It was a move designed to achive multiple things
- calm the more gullible part of the domestic audience
- give foreign sympathizers a way to not think or Russia as an aggressor first and foremost
- delay Western reactions TO A CRISIS IN A NON-ALLIED COUNTRY

There we have the key difference between such theatre in the Ukraine and in Estonia. The bar for Western military reactions was incredibly much higher in the case of the Ukraine. It's extremely dubious if any Western military would have been sent to assist the Ukraine even if Russia had formally declared war on the Ukraine with a stated war goal of 100% annexation.

A NATO member on the other hand is an altogethehr different thing. To neglect the duty to help an ally-by-treaty that's under attack would destroy the standing of any great power. It would even destroy the deterrence value of a nuclear arsenal. Most of Eastern Europe would likely surrender to Russia, seeking favorable terms if nto an alliance in which servitude as allies is the payment for continued sovereiugnty.

There's no way NATO would not at the very least react with a non-violent counterconcentration of military power in Poland and Germany (likely Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Norway and Denmark as well) if Russian fake secessionists appeared in the Baltics.

Those who expect a similar playbook as in the Crimea and Donetzk basin are making the typical mistake of extrapolation. They neglect to think about the reasons for the observed behaviour, and whether such reasons would exist in a future scenario as well. The intelligence put into making such an extrapolation can be provided by the computer chip of a microwave oven.

- - - - -

It's easily debatable whether the aimed escalations that I project in scenarios of Russian aggression would really be dared. Meanwhile, I also assume that certain escalations would be avoided (I think they would keep Belarus neutral in a Baltic conflict). Escalations are tricky and depend on judgment that cannot be predicted.

What can be predicted is that any fake secessionists as first stage of invasion would utterly fail to make any difference in favour of Russia. Fake secessionists might provide some propaganda value well before an invasion - but adding a fake secessionist uprising as a first stage only wastes the element of surprise and time. The Russian military is not entirely ignorant of Suvorov - a rapid coup de main for fait accompli is MUCH more plausible than them wasting days.




Link drop Jan 2018, part II

"Previous research has shown that when confronted with a factual statement that appears to go against an ideologically held belief, a percentage of people tested will move their position away from the factual information – a so-called “backfire effect.” This notion was rapidly incorporated into the skeptical narrative, because it seems to confirm our perception that it is very difficult to change people’s minds. However, more recent research suggests that the backfire effect may not exist, or at least is exceedingly rare."

I mentioned this effect in some blog post years ago, jsut cannot find it. Apparently, I did not use the term. My experience fits better with the notion that the effect is commonplace than with the notion that it isn't - at least regarding things that people find comfort in believing.
Did I prove my point? ;-)

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I don't get it. It worked fine before!

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An old one, but back then I wasn't in the mood becoming all rational cassandra again. Errorism is petty compared to this:

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In case you didn't notice; the French state of emergency ended a while ago after two years - it was replaced by one of those primitive reaction 'law and order'ish laws that pop up after terrorism and then stick for no good reason whatsoever. Germany has such leftovers from the 70's on the law books.

So when one mourns the decline of liberal democracy in Europe, don't just look at Poland, Hungary or maybe Spain.



quick note on retracted articles

I retracted a few articles over the last ten years. Today I pulled one titled "Interceptors vs. wonder weapon fighters" from 2009. I have felt for a long time that I didn't properly take into account the kinetic and potential energy difficulties and effects of datalink networks on the tactic I mentioned.

I also pulled (long time ago) one about a RAND study (the study was widely criticised), one about downsides of high speed in ships (faulty data), a couple blog posts that were meant to be temporary all along and a few that were about the blog itself. I have a couple drafts of which I don't know if they were never publsihed or rather reverted from published to draft.

It happens once in a while that I pull articles, but if you ever miss a blog post of mine there's still the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. I can't do anything about its long term memory.



Link drop January 2018

This doesn't give me a good feeling. On the other hand, there was more than a decade delay between Rambo in Afghanistan and Americans wanting to go there.

I may have mentioned this before.
This wake reduction is not only of interest for fuel savings. Navies might be interested in it to reduce vulnerability to wake-homing torpedoes and saterllite/aerial radars that can detect ships going more than about 5 kts by spotting their wakes.

Think of this as mounted on a 4x4 car, moved every 2-4 minutes by 500+ m. And this thing is visibly (see antenna) not even close tot he state of the art!

A low frequency towed active sonar system for FAC-sized naval units. What's the excuse for "AAW" frigates and destroyers to nto be general purpose units again? 

Years ago I did (IIRC) doubt that low frequency active sonar would be available for ASW helicopters (or did I only doubt it would be available with sonobuoys?). Well, I was ignorant of this thing, obviously. So costs and survivabilikty against (potetnial) submarine air defences are the two main problems left with ASW helos then. AFAIK.

A reasonable concept, might be even better if they turned it into a palletised solution - but I've yet tio read about any MULTI/PLS/EPLS/DROPS equivalent in Russian use.

I mentioned in comments that NOSTRADAMUS might be relevant against the hypothertical cruise missile surprise salvo. This was what I meant:

This reminds me of the coloured and sugared water that was handed out in German air force barracks to meals.First time I saw "Jägermeister" flavor as a drink. Quite a disappointment; it was rather based on the dessert than the beverage.

and for germanophone people:

Nichts Neues im Westen.


Konnte man sich auch so denken.

So sollte Politik und insbesondere Demokratie nicht funktionieren!





At least no war was started in 2017* and the only NATO country that descended into dictatorship was Turkey. My expectations for 2017 were worse on both counts.


*: Unless you count the conflict between the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds as a (new) war.


A different perspective on military combat aviation

There's a card game for children in which one vehicle, animal or whatever trumps another; it's called Trumpf cards. You win a small victory against the other player if you have the faster, heavier, better motorised or bigger thing on your card, and you choose what metric of the card you want to play.
It's an utterly infantile way of comparing different items - seemingly objective metrics.

Discussions about combat aircraft have a very similar impression on me; they're about range, g limits or turn rates, payload, radars, stealth. Those people who appear to be more knowledgeable do quite the same, just at greater level of detail. They also tend to neglect the importance of fleet efficiency; there's no point in comparing aircraft 1-on-1 if you have the choice between 100 F-15s and 200 F-16s at a given budget.

I'll present a different was of looking at combat aviation, and I'll use the extreme and interesting case of West Germany in the 1970's as the example.

Back in the early 70's we had two kinds of combat aircraft (F-104G Starfighter and G.91), later reinforced by a third kind (Sparrow missile-less F-4F Phantom II).

Now that I've mentioned you can actually pretty much forget about the hardware itself already. 

What was the mission?
The constitutional mission was defence, but the actual primary mission was to help avoid World War 3 by deterring the Warsaw Pact.

Well, how do you deter the Warsaw Pact?
Two ways are possible: To impress them with your ability to fight a nuclear war after having been attacked, and to impress them with your ability to fight a non-nuclear war after having been attacked.

The first West German minister of defence was apparently focused on nuclear warfare. He opted for the F-104G, an aircraft that was good for little but photo recce, lobbing nuclear bombs at targets and surprise kills in ground radar-assisted sneak attacks on enemy aircraft. Many hundred nuclear-capable Starfighters were available to lob nukes on Warsaw Pact mechanised forces, airbases and bridges.

West German F-104G
The G.91 was a budget solution of little importance; a little subsonic fighter-bomber for close air support. It was numerous, but not really prominent in the air war concept of the 70's.

Later on the F-4F Phantom II joined the club, but it was a VERY different aircraft. Bigger, better range, two man crew, much more effort required for purchase and operation per aircraft. The one saving grace was that it had a much more impressive conventional warload than either Starfighter and G.91, none of which exceeded WW2 propeller fighter-bombers' conventional ground attack capabilities. The F-4F carried approx. twice the bombload of a typical medium WW2 bomber when used as a fighter-bomber, but much of its employment would have been in fighter and photo recce roles instead.

The range and payload combination enabled the Phantom IIs to reach even Oder bridges from West German airbases, albeit this was at best at the limit of their practical abilities.

Still, this skill was important because of one fundamental consideration: 
The West German (FRG) government claimed to represent all Germans and did not recognize East Germany as anything but a Soviet-occupied part of the Federal Republic of Germany. War plans that required us or allies to nuke East Germany or even only Warsaw Pact ground forces that invaded West Germany were unacceptable in the event of actual WW3. Thus anyone who considered deterrence no safe bet would naturally be worried about the harm done to the own nation in the event of WW3.
A different equipment strategy (than the Starfighter/Gina force) would make sense -  one that enables the Luftwaffe to deal with Warsaw Pact mechanised forces, airbases and bridges and other targets without nuking our own people. The F-4F provided a little bit of capability in this regard, and the MRCA that became the Tornado IDS offered an approach that seemed realistic and thus deterring:

British Tornado IDS

The Tornado IDS would exploit good range (with droptanks), high subsonic speed at very low level and the terrain following radar to approach the targets very low (avoiding air defences and the ubiquitous MiG-21 fighters), destroy the target with their large conventional payload and try to return unscathed. (The MiG-23's and later MiG-29's look down radars as well as the few Soviet AEW aircraft were the Tornado crews' nightmares.) Additionally, they were capable of the very same things as the Starfighter, minus the rapid climbing.

This was an effective, both deterring and potentially defending, air war component that might have averted nuking German cities on the Oder (bridges tend to be at cities) and small towns (the Soviets built their airbases right next to towns, not spaced by multiple kilometres like NATO).

The downside of this was the susceptibility of the concept to modern pulse doppler look down radars (the approach was highly questionable by the time the Tornado IDS became operational in large numbers) and the immense expenses. A Tornado IDS had two engines with each 40.5 kN dry thrust and 71.2 kN thrust with afterburners. There was a two-man crew and the avionics were very sophisticated for their time, including two radars and commonly carried jamming pods.

The difference between a Tornado IDS and a F-4F or F-104G went well beyond metrics; it was about an altogether different way of risk mitigation. MoD Strauß (F-104G proponent) did not care much about the effects of dropping nukes all over the own country. MoD Schmidt (Tornado IDS proponent) did, and pursued an approach to air war that was meant to first keep the peace by deterring a Warsaw Pact attack and as a backup plan giving the own people a chance to survive by avoiding or at least delaying a nuclear inferno at home.

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Meanwhile, the USAF was coined by its experience over North Vietnam where sophisticated strike packages pushed through defences and finally relearned the old lesson that precision guided bombs are extremely effective against fixed target structures. The USAF kept investing in Wild Weasels, anti-radar misisles and finally introduced the F-15E, which was less well-suited for Tornado IDS-like mission profiles but equipped with laser-guided bombs. The USAF thus had yet another concept for air war; one in which strike packages push through air defences and MiGs to knock out targets with PGMs. This concept eventually superseded the terrain following approach that was de facto doomed by look down/shoot down fighter radars and AEW. It also developed the stealth bomber infiltration concept for strategic (B-2) and tactical (F-117) bombers. These two USAF offensive air war concepts are still dominant for conventional warfare, but both of them are extremely expensive and above-average dependent on technological superiority.

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Other approaches could have been sensible in the 70's and 80's as well. A focus on fleet efficiency in conventional warfare for maximum deterrence, for example.

The F-5E was available a decade earlier than the Tornados. It had two engines of 15.5/22.2 kN each, was more capable of using grass strips as runways, clearly superior in daylight air combat compared to both Tornado and Starfighter and as a strike fighter he could have provided sterling service in CAS. Its avionics were simple and cheap, and its operation was cheap as well. Its small size served it well in air combat (almost invisible to the eye head-on) and enabled its users to hide the aircraft under foliage and in buildings alongside highways.
The Luftwaffe could have afforded almost a thousand F-5E/F Tiger IIs instead of 212 Tornado IDS. Those Tiger II's would have generated about eight times as many sorties per day (almost exclusively daytime missions).* Five 500 lbs bombs would have been a realistic payload for CAS missions, and a Tornado would struggle to match a daily delivery of 120 500 lbs bombs (F-5E) with its daily delivery of 36 1,000 lbs bombs. The even more crude F-5A version was already known for excellent bomb placement.
Furthermore, it would have been toast almost every time a MiG-23 got a jump on the Tornado, while fivefour Tiger IIs would have been vastly superior in air combat to a single MiG-23.

This approach would have yielded a thousand fighters with air combat characteristics superior to MiG-21s** and with double or triple the ground attack effectiveness of a G.91 at about the same procurement costs of the Tornado IDS; without substantial R&D expenses.

The Soviets would still have been deterred by NATO's (non-FRG) nuclear delivery capabilities (small 1-5 kt TNTeq nukes on precise 1,000 km missiles could have dealt with the difficult bridge and airfield targets that the Tornado IDS inventors were concerned about - the civilian casualties would have been rather limited, particularly if the civilians had 12 hrs time to flee from settlemetns close to such obvious targets).

So there were three ground attack strategy choices;
- to focus on participation in nuclear warfare, effectively planning a genocide on your own people
- to focus on conventional interception (long range ground attack) with sophisticated, specialised and expensive aircraft
- to focus on conventional CAS with many cheaper but more versatile aircraft, without dealing with the far away targets directly (or keeping a couple old Starfighters for that role)

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A comparison of F-104G, Tornado IDS and F-5E in a West German 1970's context should thus not be about top speed, range, bombload on a single sortie, avionics or turn rates. It should (have) be(en) about what can be done, what concept for offensive air war is or was behind such choices.
I have observed the Jäger 90 / Eurofighter debates since the 1980's, and I have not seen any detailed tech discussions until the 90's and the public discussions never outgrew that infantile phase. To date we (Germans) have Typhoons with marginal land attack capabilities that are optimised for very high altitude air combat in a modest radius around paved runwyay airbases. Neither the remannts of the Tornado force nor the small Typhoon land attack capabilities would matter much in regard to close air support, and interdiction would de facto be limited to blowing up bridges. It just happens that blowing up bridges isn't all that important to NATO defense in Eastern Europe. The Bundeswehr's Luftwaffe appears to be drifting in regard to its appraoch to alliance defence air war, and there's not even a hint of a public discussion about this.
You can easily find people playing Trumpf cards about Su-35, Typhoon, Rafale, F-22 and F-35 on the internet, though.

somewhat similar non-mainstream thoughts on military aviation:


*: The realistic asumptions here are Tornado IDS three sorties with each 12 x 1,000 lbs bombs for CAS (CAS because of using similar mission radius for a fair comparison), F-5E/F six sorties with each five 500 lbs bombs. Four F-5E/F could be afforded instead of one Tornado IDS taking into account Tornado development costs and assuming F-5 license production in the FRG. Both Tornado and Tiger II were capable of a few more daily sorties for a few days, but not for a week or more.

I shouldn't have mentioned so much hardware while trying to bring across an abstract thought. The main point was how hardware choices reflected fundamentally different approaches to (offensive) air warfare, as well as deterrence. The F-5 thing was meant to be peripheral only - it was meant to make the secondary point about fleet efficiency more forceful.


Comment on European investments in air power

I wrote before about reasons to be skeptical of air power (platforms) in land warfare, and this time I'll explore one particular problem in greater detail.

A casual look at aerial imagery of Fliegerhorst Nörvenich (a Typhoon air base of the German air force) shows roughly two dozen hardened aircraft shelters and several other usual locations where one might suspect Typhoons. The main maintenance hangar of such an airbase usually has 1-4 aircraft at all times, for example. Or, well, that's how remember it.


So there's a total of about 30 very likely locations for Typhoon aircraft for a nominal strength of about 35 Typhoons. The Luftwaffe has a total of six tactical air wings (equipped with either Typhoons or Tornado), and I suppose there are a total of 200-230 very likely locations for the Typhoon and Tornado aircraft in peacetime, particularly at nighttime and on weekends. We can add roughly 20 more for hangars of the aviation industry where aircraft are for major maintenance and upgrades.
Air defence units' radar vehicle storage locations and other super high value target locations would easily add up to 50 more locations of great interest.

Now let's think about the cruise missile threat: Cruise missiles launched from ships (could be containerised in 40 ft ISO containers on cargo ships) have enough reliability and accuracy that one might expect about 80-90% of the locations hit with effect (including through hardened shelters - those things are not really hardened against direct hits of dedicated munitions) if each two missiles were ordered to be launched for every location.

That's less than 500 cruise missiles. The average price of a cruise missile in quantity production doesn't vary very much with size or range because the electronics and engine are the cost drivers. American cruise missiles cost anywhere between USD 0.5 and 1.6 million depending on type, order size and year. It's a safe bet that four cruise missile with 40 ft ISO launch container would cost less than USD 8 million. Let's set the likely lower prices of Russian cruise missiles aside for a moment; the capability to launch 500 cruise missiles would cost well less than USD 300 million, including chartering a couple small container ships and manning them for a couple months.

That's less than the price of three Eurofighter/Typhoon aircraft.

That salvo of 500 cruise missiles could - if surprise is achieved - take out well over 100 Typhoon and Tornado tactical aircraft, with Typhoons priced around USD 100 million.

So essentially a proper aggressor who would seek strategic surprise and be prepared to exploit such a surprise effect could knock out maybe half, maybe three fourths of the Luftwaffe at the price of way less than 5% of its Typhoon inventory. And piling up more aircraft is no viable strategy to counter this, nor is better hardening of shelters a reasonable strategy.

On the one hand the hardened shelter approach that became so dominant after the 1967 Six Days War has been devalued by conventional cruise missiles (and likely also conventional ballistic missiles, but those are rare). There's no real alternative in use during peacetime, even though saturation fo airbases with dozens of additional sabotage- and somewhat blast/fragmentation-protected shelters would be possible.

On the other hand the extreme contrast between the expense for first strike munitions and their target platforms calls into question the entire idea of defence by (European) air power platforms. It's an 'all eggs in one basket' kind of problem.

The other major European air forces are affected by this as well - 1,500 cruise missiles could knock out most of the Typhoon, Rafale, Tornado ECR and Mirage 2000-5 inventories, dozens of destroyers and frigates as well as hundreds of other high value targets.

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I have noticed again and again that internet discussions on air power are focused on 1-vs-1 comparisons of fighters (and in case of Brit; and obsession with Brimstone) and overall nominal aircraft type quantity comparisons.

Many relevant factors don't get their due attention, such as:
  • fleet efficiency (sometimes one should rather discuss 3-vs-1 situations because the aircraft costs are so very different)
  • sortie rates
  • time on station for fighters
  • effect of datalinks
  • effect of missing AEW support
  • advantage of flying over friendly area air defences
  • ability to operate from improvised airfields
  • ability to repair airbases
  • ability to withstand surprise attacks
  • comparison of first week effect between aircraft-launched land attack missiles and container-launched land attack missiles
  • readiness rate
  • inventory of high quality PGMs (such as later AMRAAM versions)
  • dependence on tiny active radars in missiles for air superiority
  • loss of efficiency from strike packages compared to all-strike fighter missions
  • loss of time (sorties) from fighting for air superiority and attrition of air defences
  • often poor hit probabilities of air combat missiles

The aforementioned risk of major knockout blows by surprise cruise missile attacks is but one issue. Still, it's probably the most important issue that doesn't get due attention in regard to air power for Europe.*

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I may sound utterly continental and German here, but in my opinion land power has the charm that it's not so terribly on the all-eggs-in-one-basket trip. An entire mid-sized navy could be ruined by two dozen cruise missiles. An entire mid-sized air force could be ruined by a few hundred cruise missiles. It takes many hundred cruise missiles to ruin a mid-sized army. You would at the very least need to knock out a major portion of MBTs and SPGs to consider it a major blow.

Fleets have been surprised and ruined in harbours for ages - Cadiz, Copenhagen, Taranto, Pearl Harbour. Air forces have been dealt terrible blows as well - Barbarossa and Six Days war come to mind. Land forces on the other hand were terribly surprised only if they were within few hours cruising speed of opposing land forces. That's not the situation of the German land forces as of now.

From this point of view the Heer looks incredibly much more robust and incredibly much more budget-efficient for deterrence and defence than the Luftwaffe ever could. (The Deutsche Marine is useless anyway.)

So once again I tried to explain why I don't really care much about major flying air power platforms. I'm not stupid enough to believe that a single fighter fanboi would be swayed by this, of course.


*: And no, the around 120 combat-coded F-22s (of a total 186) which may realistically generate 100...200 sorties per day would not save the day. They would become effective in Europe after several days only, and it's questionable if the USAF would want to operate them from airbases with already cracked shelters. Moreover, they could be reached by cruise missiles as well - especially once they're deployed to Europe. I see little reason to expect the Russians to pursue even only in theory a symmetrical strategy against the F-22s. That's what the F-22 has been optimised for at great expenses, after all.
Moreover, F-15C/D and F-16C/D don't look competitive with Su-3x threats unless the Russians badly slacked in the missile quality department. 

P.S:: In case you think that Western intelligence would reliably warn; a desensitization strategy could feature ships with such missile containers as replenishment ships of regular Russian navy exercises. It would also be most difficult to tell such preparations from ships being sent to export arms in containers. Moreover, an ordinary container ship may have about 150 40 ft ISO containers on the highest level of the stacked container load, which would suffice for roughly 600 cruise missiles.
Arsenal ship and SSGN concepts have always been idiotic warship-centric ideas.