2008/01/25

Screamers

Do you remember the movie "Screamers"?
This video featured small drones which mostly moved underground to kill soldiers as an independent, target-seeking mine.
I never really believed that the Micro Air Vehicle interest of DARPA was related to reconnaissance as the communication quality doesn't seem to be promising. But every mini drone can carry enough explosives to kill (even from considerable distance with EFP technology...which has been in use for many decades).
Just imagine bird-like drones, rat-like drones, mole-like drones or even - worst case - mechatronic flying squirrels. Such mini-drone technology doesn't seem to be too advanced for even developing countries in 2025.
Millions of mini-drones (price tag like a cell phone each) identifying and killing soldiers ... *shudder*

Well, the good news is that although I'm pretty convinced that the technology and production won't a big problem in 2025 we won't see such an extreme scenario in this world.
It never happens to be that drastic. Planes did not kill all ships, subs didn't, machine guns didn't end offensive infantry tactics, tanks didn't end defensive warfare, anti-tank missiles didn't make tanks obsolescent...and you'll need more than just a thousand truck loads of mini drones to win a ground campaign in 2025.

But there's a catch - the flying mini drone example is an extreme example how a changing technology might render the traditional understanding of air superiority pointless.
Hundreds and thousands of Typhoons, F-22, F-35, Super Hornets, Gripens and Rafales will be completely ineffective against smallish drones.
We should think about future air defense concepts even if we still rule the skies by 2025.
Classic barrage balloons with close-meshed and thin nets, classic heavy AAA (anti-air guns aka "Flak", still known as naval guns in calibers 76-130mm) and probably even UGVs with high-powered machine shotguns might be more relevant for air defense in 2025 than fighter planes (no matter whether manned or not) and large anti-air missile systems like Patriot, Aster and MEADS.
And don't forget to ask the Aussies about underground fences - they have some experience due to their rabbit plague...

The NATO armies have mostly neglected battlefield air defenses under the assumption that NATO air superiority fighters will keep them safe from enemy air attack. It's about time to wake up on this.

The anti-air branches deserve some funds, talents and attention - they will need it. But don't let them waste it on classic battlefield air defense!

Sven Ortmann

2008/01/24

Blog migrated

I migrated this blog to this new hosting service and address to improve the visuals.
The old layout was ... less pleasant.

I had 17,000 page impressions so far and the shortage of new posts during the Christmas/new year time told nothing about my intentions concerning this blog.

There are still plans for topics left, and I have fresh ideas all the time.

We are in my opinion almost asleep concerning national security affairs - only the temporary and rather meaningless Iraq/Afghanistan missions attract interest. The real national security challenges like excessive costs, ill-structured economies, worsening relationships, potential future Asian alliances and poor manpower strengths don't attract enough attention.
It reminds me of the decades before World War One; too many people were focused on irrelevant colonial and maritime affairs and four decades of peace in Central Europe had ruined military readiness for the challenges that the war finally offered.

2008/01/20

Broken dikes take away predictability

I've already expressed my belief that economic health and power of nations is a very important variable for defense policy - also in the future.

Well, I've got an economic science background (but I'm no expert on financial markets - the goods markets are so much more important and interesting), this comes handy as I attempted to understand the impact of the recent crisis and overall situation on the future decades.

This is of course a rather hopeless endeavor - even federal banks don't have the economist brainpower to produce reliable forecasts. But forecasts by educated people are usually wrong because of additional factors that they missed - not so often because of a wrong interpretation of the known factors.
In short: Shit happens, it's worth an attempt.

So first let's remember the overall situation:

- The USA has been partially de-industrialized in the past decades.
- This was one reason for a huge trade deficit for many years and a huge net external debt today
- The USA has a huge public debt, as do most old industrialized nations (China doesn't)
- China, Japan, several oil states and several EU nations incl. especially Germany have strongly positive trade balances
- since the breakdown of the Bretton-Woods system the US-$ was leading reserve currency
- the previous factor allowed the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank to print money and export it almost without fearing inflation (and so it did, partially financing the trade and public deficits this way)

Amidst such a situation came the recent banking sector crisis. Every macro-economist knew that the old situation was not sustainable and that the trade balances had to change sometime. Well, this didn't happen the pleasant way.
The banking sector crisis undermined the trust into banks which couldn't be tolerated by the Fed. So the Fed helped the banking sector with "cheap" money. That led to inflation expectations for the US-$, which weakened the $ against Euro, Rinminbi and Yen.

And the dikes broke in the midst of the storm tide.

The dollar weakness and inflation expectations are difficult to turn around, and it's very enticing for decision makers not to intervene at all (against these trends).

Why should high inflation and weak dollar be fought by U.S. authorities? They reduce the value of the external and public debts. Even poor private households that have too many debts can be happy about it if their debt has fixed interest rates. Especially the weak dollar has its advantages, while the inflation's advantages will be canceled by quickly adjusted expectations.

But the devaluing of the debts is not the only nice thing: The exchange rates ruin the competitiveness even of otherwise superior foreign companies - and motivate investments in the USA and thereby a re-industrialization of the country.

This is certainly no nice option - and it won't gain new friends. Europeans and East Asians will be pissed off by the purchasing power loss of their savings and the (unfair) price advantage of American factories.

Otherwise - why should the U.S. American political leadership go the hard route and work against inflation and pay back huge debts if they can have it so easily?
It's basically a trade-off between trust, friendship, respect, prestige - and economic health.

In either scenario we'll see drastic changes in the geo-strategic situation in about fifteen years.

Forget about what's fact today if you think about the distant future.


Sven Ortmann

2008/01/19

Time to talk about dangerous people

Uhh, Osama bin Laden (that's how it's spelled in Germany).
Frightening guy.
Nobody did hurt the United States of America (not of anything else, so not just the "U.S.") as much as he did in the last couple of years.

Ok, mainstream opinion is not my strength, so I'll stop it now.

I know a guy (not personally) who did much more harm to that country.

His orders killed more citizens of the USA.
His actions took away freedom from USA citizens, for real.
His actions did cost the USA insane amounts of money - more than a trillion US-$ - wasted for no advantage.
His orders created so much suffering to the citizens of the USA - OBL is an ineffective loser by comparison.
He did this all in less than the past five years (compare this to OBL's record of more than 10 years since he declared his war against the USA!).

Now guess whom I mean.

I have hints for you: There are a lot of funny videos on youtube featuring him and he is not on the "FBI most wanted" list.

Sven Ortmann

2008/01/16

Quality vs. quantity

We (Western forces) waged small wars for decades. Not a single conventional war was total or at least in large scale and difficult terrain at the same time since the Korean War truce.

The combination of this experience and of our high-tech societies has turned our forces into high quality but small quantity forces. This is a good idea concerning the personnel. Germany has shown that a cost-saving and work force-saving small military does not prevent a rather quick readiness for total war by its transformation from a 100,000 military to a millions of men military in 1933-1939 (and to a lesser degree the UK Great War experience in 1914-1916).

But I believe it's different concerning the equipment. Our equipment tends to be small quantity/high quality as well, and much of it hasn't got nearly the industrial base to produce it for a rapid force expansion. In addition to this our army equipment tends to focus more and more on force protection capabilities that would be almost useless in a great war.

Think about the classic Tiger vs. T-34 struggle in WW2. The Tiger was a high-tech and high-power tank (although not 100% modern) and was opposed by the rather crude T-34 tanks. The Germans weren't able to produce enough Tigers and its focus on protection even reduced its usefulness for the German operational tactics which focused on mobility (the post-war Leopard I was much less protected). The T-34 otherwise was easily produced in astonishing quantities and could be used by poorly trained personnel.
The optimal tank would have been in between, but this historical example clearly shows some basic truths.
You need to have the industrial base to support your force in a Great War - you should have a military that does not demand much more than what your industry can supply.

This lets me think about our lacking metal industry - how many gun barrels can we produce each year? How many ships can we produce? How much of our automotive industry could adapt to build medium armored vehicles? How much armour steel can we produce? How many cartridges can we produce?
We have several industrial shortcomings. It doesn't help to have military equipment designs that aren't designed for quantity production. Much of our military equipment is even so old that the civilian production has already shifted to other production methods and materials.

We'll be in real troubles if the machine building industry moves away as well.

The suitability for quantity production in arms races and wars should be a more important requirement in our military equipment design and selection processes.

Sven Ortmann

2008/01/15

Press freedom ranking

I wasn't exactly nice to parts of the press in "The press as threat" and "Translation and News", and there's more to criticize. The selection of News, for example.
Otherwise it's a clear and well-known fact that democracy needs mass communication systems for effective communication and information. The voters need the information to decide - and most of them need it refined and pre-selected or they couldn't handle the quantity of news.

This means it's always bad news for democracy if the press is controlled by specific interests, incompetent, bullied or even illegal.

Have a look at the ranking of "Reporters without borders" for some surprises about this. Some of our self-proclaimed exemplary democracies don't seem to fit well into this organization's understanding of a free press.

Maybe they expect a bit too much (like the allowance to publish secret information once it leaked to them and anonymity for criminal informants) - but I guess this ranking gives overall a correct impression of the general situation.


Sven Ortmann

2008/01/13

Mating season

Having the right allies and denying those to rivals was and is always essential in national security policy - this fact is true since some thousand years.

The NATO members did a fine job in this, but the world sees new nations on the rise to power - predictably serious power.

China and India are on the rise.
China is obviously too different politically to become an ally before the communists (which are in fact nationalists) lose power.
India otherwise has some ties to the NATO member UK and other Western Nations through the Commonwealth.

India and China have a regional rivalry including slightly disputed borders - I don't expect them to ally unless they get threatened by the same power.

Finally there's Russia. Russia is relevant because of its decent population size, extreme geographical size, decent industrial and technological level, good education, nuclear weapons, its believe to be a great power (at least) and because of its natural riches. It might ally with China and India and it co-operates with both, but seems to have troubles rather with China than with India.

In other words: It's mating season in foreign policy.

We seem to ignore that there hasn't been much visible in terms of alliance or friendship building (except some US-Indian activity).

India and China are natural rivals and far, far away (which still means something as long as you dominate in naval power) - Russia would be the natural ally for the Europeans.
Having Russia as an ally (even if the alliance would be restricted to European geography) would eliminate the only serious potential threat to European security (the Arabs - even if united - lack the industrial base to seriously threaten us with conventional forces).

A limited NATO membership or a WEU membership of Russia would not only pull the only really serious opponent on our team - it would also keep Russian politics the freedom it wants to have in Asian affairs.


If any of the High Contracting Parties should be the object of an armed attack in Europe, the other High Contracting Parties will, in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, afford the Party so attacked all the military and other aid and assistance in their power.

Sven Ortmann