2008/05/24

Comment policy

Recently I was compelled to delete some unacceptable comments, so maybe it's time to lay out a clear comment policy.

Consider the comment section as a place where you're a guest.
Offensive, deliberately misleading comments and generally comments made with poor manners will be deleted. About anonymous comments; would you like anonymous guests?


I am aware that some of my posts are provoking - they're never meant to be insulting, though. I want to provoke thought and I feel rarely any need to write about mainstream ideas. This may cause a wrong impression of my thinking. I am not contra everything or against mainstream all the time - I just don't feel the need to write about it when I agree with mainstream opinions.

It's natural that most readers will disagree a lot because I am often far away from the mainstream consensus in my posts.
That's no excuse for forgetting everything someone was ever told about good manners or to deliberately misinterpret the texts to make them look gross, though.

Furthermore, my mini-articles here are not up to scientific or some other standards simply because this is a blog and not a printed publication. I have publicized in professional journals and written scientific works before. I can do so, but it's an added, unpaid for and largely useless extra effort to write like that.
Just e-mail me if you desperately need references.

By the way; I have absolutely no idea why it's "Kommentare" instead of "comments" - the blog setting is UK English. I apologize for this inconvenience, I guess I will eventually find out how to change that.

2008/05/22

Technology creeps according to patterns

A look at 20th century military technology developments reveals some interesting patterns.
New technology begin immature, expensive, unreliable, bulky, heavy (usually not all at once).
Some of the disadvantages disappear over time, and the technology becomes more widely useful.

A typical pattern is that a new technology is first being used in aircraft (as the air power's importance justifies the costs and the mostly obstacle-free air favours some technologies).
Another typical pattern is that it originates in navy ships (especially if the technology is very bulky or heavy at first).

A typical example is the active phased array and Aegis technology. The antenna technology was first employed in 'strategic' air defence radars (on land, but for air warfare) and on the Ticonderoga class "Aegis" cruisers. The latter also developed the well-known air defence networks one step farther, as it could co-ordinate the anti-air fires of a whole naval task force (carrier battle group).
Active phased array radars are becoming quite standard today, they moved into aircraft applications
(as they became less bulky) and even battlefield surveillance radars. The network approach was a great hype in Western army forces in the past 10-15 years. It's been partially successful in army applications, especially for the tracking of friendly units and artillery coordination.

OK, pattern recognized, what's the use of this? Simple; we can look at what's been introduced into naval and air forces but not yet into the low priority/low cost ground forces and can thereby form our own predictions of future army technology trends. It's a pity that development delays are often long enough to throw such predictions off by decades. Anyway; we can at least guess what technology will eventually be introduced into ground forces.

Some technologies are already transitioning from naval/air applications into ground force applications, just to name a few:
- vertical missile launches (considered for EFOG-M, Netfires)
- dual missile seekers (as in 9M123 Khrizantema)
- close-in weapon systems as the Phalanx gatling system (originally built to intercept missiles, revived to intercept mortar bombs), radar camouflage (first tried on periscopes, latter applied to warship masts to improve the own radar's performance, then applied to 'stealth' bombers)
- fire-and-forget and multiple targeting (especially to be found among most newly introduced direct fire ground missiles/ATGMs)
- electronic defensive jammers (in contrast to general electronic warfare, defensive jammers were introduced in the 90's and are still not used in all possible applications)
- digital radios for datalinks (becoming standard in well-funded ground forces)

Sven Ortmann

2008/05/19

Some myths and associated expectation of gratitude

It's not uncommon to hear/read by some Americans that Europeans should be more grateful for being saved against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by the USA.

Well, these guys need to get their facts straight in my opinion.

Nazi Germany had lost WW2 in autumn of 1941 when it had lost ten thousands of motor vehicles (that doesn't offer such a nice chronicle entry as the Battle of Stalingrad, but was more important). It never recovered because truck production was very limited in wartime due to the need for tank production. Passenger car production was even very reduced in comparison to 30's and 1940. The winter 1941/42 caused additional vehicle losses, replacements never came close to these losses.
This meant that the German army lacked the capability to sustain mobile warfare on the Eastern Front - its superiority in static warfare was much smaller, and it eventually got ruined by attrition. Foreign material played only a minor role in the Red Army (and not all foreign material was American anyway).
The Russians survived the onslaught because the British kept about 30-40% of the German warfare potential away from the Eastern Front, especially some armored troops and lots of trucks in North Africa. This and the attrition on the Eastern Front doomed the Wehrmacht long before U.S. forces became relevant in Europe.

Another myth is that the U.S. saved Europe against the Soviet Union.
Well, it's difficult to tell where the lines between Western Allies and Red Army would have been in 1945 without the U.S.Army participating in the Normandy invasion and subsequent land operations to the Elbe (probably on Germany's western border). But France and Italy would certainly not have been in Stalin's zone of influence.
Afterwards, both UK and France quickly became nuclear powers with mostly intact manpower reserves whereas both Germany and Russia were bled dry and incapable to sustain large-scale conventional warfare for any useful length till at least the late 50's.
The USA was never really necessary to protect Western Europe against the Soviets, simply because the Soviet military power as we remember it was in great part a fantasy of U.S. intelligence services. Two European nuclear powers (more would have been easily possible) and the fact that by a large margin most NATO military power in Europe was European and not American in 1950-1989 shows that.

Europe and the world don't need to be more grateful than they are, and the USA never protected others without serving its own interests.

Sven Ortmann

Some numbers:
First five weeks of Operation Barbarossa = 4,772 cars and 6,927 trucks lost, 429 cars and 1,928 trucks replaced (Schustereit, "Vabanque").
First six months of Operation Barbarossa: 103,704 non-armored motor vehicles lost, 33,313 replaced (Frank, "Personenkraftwagen der Wehrmacht").
Keep in mind that surviving motor vehicles were increasingly worn out and maintenance was difficult due to many different types (civilian vehicles, French and other foreign vehicles).
179,600 horses (about 20% of entire Wehrmacht inventory, probably about 30% of Eastern Front inventory) died between December, 1st 1941 and March, 15th 1942. The quantity of horses was eventually increased during 1942 to compensate for motor vehicle losses at least in infantry divisions, but most of the additional horses were indigenous horses - smaller, weaker and only suited to pull smaller wagons (Buchner, "Das Handbuch der deutschen Infanterie").

End note:
Besides that, the quasi-official turning point for the war in Europe was in late 1942 (that's the easily comprehensible, history book version as two major battles happened in late '42) - before U.S. forces became major opponents of German forces.
There's no doubt that Americans experienced some sacrifices (not much in comparison to many European countries) in the fight against Germany, but that didn't save Europe from the Nazis as the Nazis were already defeated before G.I.'s shot at German soldiers for the first time. 1943-1945 was mopping-up time - bloody, but hopeless for the Nazis.

2008/05/18

Buzzwords, "talking points": Hot air instead of suitable for democracy



The best part begins at about 2:00.

Side note: Chris Matthews has it also wrong. Nazi Germany only got the Sudetenland in 1938, Hitler took the "half of Czechoslovakia" in 1939, without Chamberlain's consent.
But he was right, appeasement is the failure to contain an aggressive power when necessary, not to talk with it.

2008/05/17

An earthquake highlights changes in the Chinese society

The great country of China has been hit by a terrible earthquake and our newspapers and TV stations are busy showing us the suffering.

Well, one thing strikes me; how much of a tragedy the loss of their children was to their families. It's always a tragedy, but a special factor was influential: China's one-child policy.
Several interviewed parents explicitly mentioned the one-child family when explaining their tragedy - they lost their only child.

This policy shaped the Chinese society and helped to transform it away from the 1950 PR China. It's not reasonable to expect any human wave assault tactics in the future at all. The PR China needs to value its troops' lives highly or it risks (additional) serious internal troubles and discontent. The population size of the PR China might enable that country to mobilize many troops, but it would probably not influence the tactics as much as in past decades.

I will never again think of the PLA as a mass infantry force. Their attempts to modernize to a smaller, more hardware-dependent army needs to be taken seriously.

Sven Ortmann

2008/05/14

Let's talk logistics

I'm skeptical about a lot of things that weren't thoroughly tested recently, logistics are no exception.

Logistics were a very, very strong advantage of Western forces in the past decades - our logistical prowess was unmatched since we learned how to use railroads for military transport.

But during the Cold war many of the Western forces could reasonably expect that war would not happen far away from their bases - they expected most combat in Central Europe, and they had their depots sited accordingly. Conventional combat in Central Europe would have been rather short-ranged, with 200 km thrusts being a very long distance offensive. The force structure matched these expectations.
We would need to mobilize many civilian trucks if we wanted to deploy our troops to our present Eastern or Southern NATO frontiers (even though much of the hardware would be moved on railroads).
We have remarkably few exercises about how to quickly deploy and sustain division-sized and greater forces on our alliance's frontiers - simulations are no good training for the CSS (combat service support) and work with old variable values instead of testing to finding new variable values.
This sounds a bit as if logistics wouldn't be smooth in the first couple of weeks or months.

Another sorrow is the increased protection and overall heaviness of the equipment.
We'd need to haul a lot of fuel to sustain mobile warfare - that's not much of a problem, unless you factor in some complex issues and friction. It would be nice if fuel efficiency and especially large road range would have a high priority in future designs.

Finally, do we have enough ammunitions? Both World Wars were begun without enough ammunition (especially the first one), it wouldn't be surprising if we would be short on supplies till production is ramped up next time as well. Saving on ammunition is easy - you won't nearly get as much trouble for cutting ammunition as you'd by cutting major system quantities. Many learn about MBT or fighter strength cuts, but few learn about the ammunition quantity. I bet that even many senior officers have false informations about this issue due to deliberate deception for deterrence effect.
The Japanese Self-Defence Forces reputation took a serious hit when ridiculously small ammunition supplies (few days worth of major warfare) were reported to the public years ago - no matter whether these reports were true or not.
Smart bombs were reported to be on short supply after two months of bombing the smallish Yugoslavian forces in 1999.

But there's also an upside; the advance to Baghdad in 2003 (not really rapid, but quite decent average speed) provided some large-scale experiences on CSS during such offensives. It adds to the partial modern war experiences and helps our forces to see at leas some parts of the great puzzle of modern conventional warfare (we don't really want to see the whole picture!).

I wish we would have some really large exercises over really long distances - let's say deploying to Turkey, Spain and Estland, with few days early warning, of course. Some days of corps-sized and primarily ammunition-consuming slow ops, some weeks of very mobile ops burning lots of diesel fuel and then again one some days slow ops.
It would certainly provide valuable lessons on the capability of our logistics system and would be worth every cent. Strong logistics are one of our assumed advantages, and we don't want to miss that in the next major conventional war.

Sven Ortmann

2008/05/11

Information superiority?

The Western nations enjoyed many advantages in most of the past decades' wars. Initiative, technology, air superiority - sometimes even superior numbers.
Two advantages were added in the past two decades; information superiority and minimal dispersion of some bomb and artillery shell types.

But what's information superiority?

The mainstream perception seems to be that our superior sensors and our ability to exploit air superiority for reconnaissance removed a great deal of the fog of war for us while the enemy remains almost blind.
Well, this point of view has merits, but great advantages provoke strong reactions/countermeasures.

It won't be so simple when we ever have to fight a competent opponent. The art of camouflage, concealment and deception was well-used by the Serbs in 1999 and reduced the tactical air strikes' effects (forget the contemporary reports about NATO successes; the majority of destroyed "tanks" and "artillery pieces" were likely decoys).

Many important reconnaissance and surveillance assets might be much less survivable in major war than they seemed to be so far. AEW and SAR/GMTI radar planes can be hunted with extreme range SAMs and AAMs of Russian origin and they could be sabotaged on their base (they're especially susceptible to light mortar fire). Overflight reconnaissance drones like the Predator/Reaper family and gunships (modified transport aircraft) have only marginal survivability even against outdated air defenses. They cannot persist, instead would be limited to the same time windows as strike packages (fighters/bombers/wild weasels) at most.

But our advantages don't only provoke countermeasures that diminish these advantages - we are also prone to carelessness.

The whole networking approach of ground forces requires a lot of radio traffic, whereas phone lines and couriers aren't used much.
There's no way how we could reliably prevent that this radio traffic compromises many of our positions and movements, though. The necessary sensors to locate electro-magnetic transmitters (radar sensors, radio comm and respective jammers) are entirely passive and can use temporary phone lines to transmit their findings without compromising signatures (classic SigInt).

Another problem is that ground forces who enjoy air superiority historically never cared much about camouflage and concealment against observation from air. They don't see a need to do so 'because the enemy won't be able to attack them from the air anyway'.
This could be a deadly mistake in combination with often rather weak field anti-air firepower (also a result of trust in Western air superiority).
The opponent could use small, low-tech UAVs for aerial photography. Many developing countries can design and build such cheap craft with cameras - only infra-red or radar sensors are challenging components. You cannot really shoot down small UAVs with machine guns - and it would be futile to jam their radio link if they are flying on auto-pilot and can transmit their sensor data after recovery. We can also not expect our fighters to engage thousands of cheap UAVs at 1,500 ft altitude - our fighters were simply not built or optimized for this and would likely not be able to counter 20-minute saturating waves of small UAVs.
Even if our fighters attempted to deplete the enemy of small UAVs - older AAMs would be unreliable against these small aircraft and new AAMs are typically not available in huge quantities. Production of small UAVs can be extremely cheap (if in quantity production and not gold-plated) - their quantity might render the fighter's efforts futile.

More examples can be imagined; like NVG-equipped infantry sometimes doesn't use other methods to sense the opponent other than their night sights anymore or unfavorable terrain (hills, forest, urban) that in itself diminishes our sensor's and radio's utility.

It might happen that the information asymmetry is much less favorable than usually expected once we confront really competent opponents who adapted their capabilities to counter ours.

Sven Ortmann

2008/05/08

Imagine...

Let's have a crazy idea.

Imagine that one in a million men is a hidden Gandhi or Mandela.

This would ensure that for all serious conflicts of our time, there'd be a couple, often dozens or even hundreds of impressively elegant solutions.

You would just need to find the nugget among the grit and help it to rise to influence (and survive assassinations).

That would be fantastic.
Researchers of social science really should look into this, the insight how to pull this off reliably would be more valuable than a vaccine against HIV.

Sven Ortmann

2008/05/07

Casual video

Some serious bloggers have a "casual friday", I'm not that patient today.
I'm a big fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - it's excellent and very entertaining political satire.
This part of a recent show is especially interesting, for everyone and on several matters (it's not very satiric, though).
Don't be scared by the intro...


link

2008/05/03

Charter of the United Nations

Article 2
The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

2. All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.

3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

Source: Charter of the United Nations

Stick to it or leave the club.

Sven Ortmann