Complex issues

It's always the same with complex issues; you can analyze perfectly everything you know and think about and still be 180° wrong because you missed a single factor that turns the whole issue.

That's in fact a problem that can affect every expression of opinion, critic and comment. Even experts are not immune against it, just think about how they disagree with each other all the time. (Yes, it happens to me as well, of course).

The key to manage the problem is to stay open to new arguments - especially arguments that contain the missing factor(s). Some people do sometimes argue against wrong conclusions, but they don't provide (the right) arguments, thereby wasting everyone's time. It's possible to entrench in a wrong opinion simply because of such worthless opposition. A productive culture of discussion is probably one of the most valuable things that a community can have.

Missing a factor in an analysis happens very often. One recent example for a immature conclusion that I remember is the call for more troops to seal off the borders of Afghanistan against the Taliban from Pakistan.
Many people seem to think that this would be a good plan.
They don't consider two crucial factors: Pakistan and smugglers.

To seal off the border angers the smugglers, and thereby provoke an additional party to become a foe.
Much more troublesome would be a success in really sealing those borders. The Taliban would stay outside. We would have a party in Kabul, but the power of the Taliban would be directed exclusively at Islamabad, Pakistan - and we'd have troubles with a nuclear power being under maximum attack by Islamists.

Another opportunity to miss important factors is the Russia-Georgia crisis. The simple reasons for mistakes here are the lack of information (due to previous lack of interest) and lack of time to process information and exchange ideas (because it's a new interest). Long-time experts on the issue have an important advantage here - but can still come to different and therefore often wrong conclusions.
Their experience advantage is already on the decline as they'll fulfill their job as experts and transfer knowledge to others.

Sven Ortmann


The Western Powers and Eastern Europe

Some people fear that the U.S. foreign policy leads the Western World into another Cold War.
Well, I don't. The USA isn't leading any other nation of relevance today, there's just a lot of hot air noise.
The symbolic humanitarian aid deliveries of the USA for Georgia are apparently being dwarfed by Russian humanitarian aid, which reportedly (source: a Western journalist) even helps Georgians outside of South Ossetia.

It's difficult to recall when the USA was for the last time the country that's being called for if there's a crisis somewhere. We saw a lot of calls going out from Washington, but few going in this decade. Washington participated in conflicts more often as a troublemaker than as a mediator. It asked almost all other countries for auxiliary troops for Bush's adventures instead of sending its own troops to clean up for others (as was the common accusation of Americans towards Europe in the previous decade).

Washington was also in the background as one of the root causes for the recent South Ossetia War because it pushed the Georgian government's confidence as a by-product of its quest for Allies in the Coalition of the bribed.

Well, who "leads" the West in this conflict if not the leaving U.S. president?

There's apparently no single "leader".
That's an unacceptable situation for some, but otherwise quite self-evident for a group of sovereign nations.
It's also a good idea not to react instantly (Georgia was lost militarily anyway), but to communicate among each other and to find a really sustainable strategy.

The EU-Europeans have two dates for the definition of their strategy and behaviour that will be supported by the majority.

A special top-level meeting of the EU on the Caucasus conflict.

A top-level meeting of the EU with the Ukraine.

(NATO had high level meetings on 2008-08-12 and 2008-08-19).

It's unreasonable to expect a complete strategy for Eastern Europe on 2008-09-01, but the media people will probably do so nevertheless. The Ukraine meeting eight days later might be the less publicized, but more important one.

So what could we expect? A real, encompassing and published strategy? That's probably unlikely, as this should be agreed upon on a NATO meeting. It might create a confidential strategy that will later be pushed through on a NATO meeting.

The Europeans attempted to create and maintain a peaceful and non-aggressive (at least not overt aggressive) relationship with Russia. These meetings might show whether that was a strategy to keep Russia quiet during the Western expansion since about '92 or whether it will be a future strategy as well.

One outcome might also be some venting of hot air and no published real actions.
That would be considered as a sign of weakness and lack of unity by many people, but might as well be a logical symptom of a possible agreement that the EU has no significant interests at stake in Georgia and Ukraine. Anyway, the usual suspects will certainly use it as an opportunity to bash Europeans.

A Western strategy should be agreed upon this fall, and it should keep our real long-term interests in mind.

Sven Ortmann

It looks like the first meeting's output focused officially a lot on humanitarian issues and demonstrates a preference of partnership over confrontation.
Maybe they will need some more months of observation and diplomacy to create a real strategy. link

Ukraine has become associated with the EU link


Medium UAVs

I've got the recent issue of "Flug Revue" in front of me on my desk.
It has an article ("Mantis enthüllt") about BAE Systems' drone projects.

The author mentions that the drone Mantis (comparable to Predator) shall get triple redundancy FbW controls.

That reminds me of a general problem of such medium-sized drones:
They don't live up to their earlier promises. One of the original arguments for such drones was that they would be cheaper than comparable planes because they don't need the same flight safety (no pilot's life at risk).
Well, that's apparently just wishful thinking today because the necessity to train with these drones and the civilian market prospects enforce civilian aviation safety standards.
There are other cost drivers as well; these drones always require good sensors, probably more than a comparable manned plane (like Bronco or Pucará) because it lacks the dual Mk.1 eyeballs and cheap binoculars of the pilot. The drones require lots of satellite bandwidth for the (video) datalink, costs that should be included in a honest assessment of their costs.

Another medium UAV problem is their survivability.
The official requirements of the USAF for a Predator successor ask for its survivability in a low intensity threat and limited survivability in a medium threat situations; an official statement about the uselessness of such medium drones in a high threat situation. This applies to all typical COIN aircraft, but it's nevertheless often ignored.

Small UAVS can be smaller than any manned aircraft and explore new opportunities.

Very high altitude UAVs save a lot of weight because they need no pressurized cabin - their extremely good endurance is also a favourable characteristic.

Medium UAVs otherwise seem to have significant disadvantages in comparison to aircraft like the OV-10D+ Bronco - which had much better combat capabilities (including the potential for a mini gunship capability with a turreted 20mm Gatling) and had the speed to arrive at a hot spot quickly.
The current (since about 2002) Predator/Reaper hype seems to reinvent the wheel, to recreate capabilities that were lost only early in the 90's. The audience seems to have forgotten or never known about the manned alternatives' capabilities that the UAVs emulate (partially) with so much effort.

Indeed, many people have argued for manned COIN aircraft in the past years, with little success. The justified drive to test innovations seems to have allied with a political drive for zero-casualty-chance UAVs - and overshot the mark.

Sven Ortmann



I've heard and read a lot about "tripwires" recently.

The preliminary diagnosis is that there's an endemic belief - pretty well confined to Northern America - that no power would dare to attack a country that has U.S. troops (or even just some humanitarian aid from the USA) on its ground. The second symptom is the belief that even if that failed, to attack U.S. troops (or whatever U.S.) in a distant country would trigger war with the USA.

This belief in tripwires is quite funny - and detached from reality. Whatever apparent success such "tripwires" had in the past, it had likely much more to do with the fact that most countries are actually not so benevolent and don't invade other countries all the time (tripwire present or not).

The 2008 South Ossetia War happened despite more than a hundred U.S. military advisers in the country, and the Korea and Vietnam wars experienced foreign interventions to oppose army-sized U.S. forces in the country.

There's nothing magic about "tripwire" forces. It's not really relevant whether a "tripwire" is present, but a whole set of questions:
- how important is the country/conflict
- how relevant is the country/conflict
- expected costs and repercussions of an intervention
- character of the (potentially intervening) government
- political/military feasibility of an intervention

A "tripwire" force is at most a symptom, and can be a mere bluff.
Humanitarian aid involvement is certainly even less than that; it's certainly no tripwire.

Sven Ortmann

MI5 report challenges views on terrorism in Britain

The Guardian has an interesting article about terrorists in the UK, based on a "UK Restricted" report of the MI5.
I don't actually understand why it's restricted, but the report pretty clearly tells that there's no real pattern of Muslim terrorists in the UK. OK, most of them are apparently male.
But apart from gender, there's nothing you could really search for. Family, age, education, alcohol, prostitutes.

Crucially, the research has revealed that those who become terrorists "are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism".


OK, this applies most likely for terrorists in Germany as well.
The German government may disagree, but then it's up to itself to prove its point.

Mr. Schäuble (German minister of the interior); the controversial "Rasterfahndung" (accumulation of data to search for terrorists using supposedly treacherous patterns) is most likely ineffective, wasteful and an unnecessary general spying on us (this is actually not the first hint that the method is useless!).

I expect that the FRG stops using "Rasterfahndung" and stops to collect data about its citizens like mad.

Sven Ortmann


A strategic Mobile Defense equivalent for COIN

I read Manstein's "Verlorene Siege" recently. He's recognized as one of the greatest generals of WW2 and wrote that book in the 50's.

One of the interesting parts of that book was a repeated side-note; an accusation at WW2 generals that they failed to break the trench war pattern by voluntarily sacrifice ground to resume mobile warfare once the enemy advances into the widened neutral ground.
That fits pretty well to his WW2 operational concept "Schlagen aus der Nachhand" (Mobile Defense) which allowed the enemy to go beyond the Clausewitzian "Kulminationspunkt" (culminating point of attack) before a decisive counter-attack destroys the attacking armies.
It requires a great deal of patience, discipline and military understanding by the politicians (Hitler most often lacked that) to allow the generals to use such a devastatingly effective operational plan.

I believe that I found a modern-time parallel for COIN.
The low level of Guerrilla combat in Iraq seems to me to be at least in part due to the overwhelming combat effectiveness of the occupation forces. The deterrence is so strong that the classic Maoist Guerilla warfare stage of open confrontation was never really attempted. There were some major fights as in Fallujah, but those were in their size rather reminiscent of the numerous combat actions in Vietnam than Vietcong's all-out Tet offensive or Castro's drive to Havanna.

The parallel is probably not yet clear: Imagine the counter-Guerilla parties would be able to provoke a general, decisive uprising that could be defeated conventionally and decisively.
The Vietcong didn't recover from the Tet offensive - regular Northern Vietnamese troops did most of the fighting afterwards.

To provoke such a large-scale open uprising would require less, not more military power in the country (but availability of quick strategic reinforcements).
The counter-Guerilla forces would need to give up some strength and ground first and to deceive the Guerillas about the relative physical and morale strengths.
That's certainly a risk; to give up some strength and ground to entice the enemy into an extremely vulnerable action to defeat him decisively.

To give provoke a risky Guerilla offensive by intentionally giving up some control and strength could be a counter-Guerilla strategy, resembling the extremely demanding operational concept of mobile defense / "Schlagen aus der Nachhand".
It might work in Afghanistan.

Sven Ortmann

The success story of hard kill defenses

I wrote in May about how technological concepts creep almost predictably from naval and air war applications into land warfare.

One such concept is to destroy incoming munitions instead of only the launching weapon systems.

The earliest application was the interception of anti-ship missiles. Even some ballistic missile interception systems were used early on.
It's common knowledge today that ships can shoot down incoming missiles, and a failure to do so is usually being considered as a gross failure. Such anti-missile technologies did initially require quite elaborate sensors, launchers and large munitions - and were only justified by their protective value for costly and important warships.

Publicly known air war applications of the principle are mostly about interception of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

We've seen a lot of land warfare in the past and very few new naval combat schemes in the past, so attention has moved to intercepting munitions for army force protection.

Active defense suites (like the now-obsolete but well-known Drozd and Arena Systems) can intercept anti-tank missiles (and some are even claimed to be able to intercept Mach 5 APFSDS dense metal projectiles) to protect tanks.
C-RAM (counter rocket artillery mortar) technologies attempt to protect stationary targets (Israeli towns, expeditionary army camps) against indirect fires. High-energy lasers have received a lot of attention as CRAM weapon, but they can easily be countered with insensitive munitions and aren't as proven and combat-ready as autocannon-based solutions.

Who knows? Maybe we'll attempt to deflect sniper bullets in 20 years.

But wait! There are some really nasty guided munitions that trouble air forces and navies a lot, but hard kill defenses are rarely mentioned!?

Target: Anti-radar missiles (ARM)
I've not seen many references about effective protection against such missiles (which tend to be rather small and are often pretty fast and difficult to locate).
The ability to intercept ARMs was claimed for the Swedish command-controlled RBS-23 BAMSE missile, though. I suspect that this capability is much more widespread and simply classified. This is potentially very relevant, because the public has used to the good success of SEAD (suppression of enemy aid defenses) campaigns and weapons. Maybe we won't see successful SEAD against 1st rate opponents in the future?
The addition of a IRIS-T derivative to the German version of the MEADS air defense system might be such a hard-kill self-defence weapon against ARMs. It's a bit odd that the missile uses an infrared seeker, though.
By the way; guided and glide bombs can be intercepted as well, of course. That's not really difficult (insensitive explosives in the bomb would be a promising counter-measure, though).

Target: Torpedoes
Surface warships are targets for submarines. That's a Cold War wisdom (it might actually have lost its relevance due to SONAR advances), and the apparent lack of hard-kill defences against torpedoes was always a bit confusing. Many hard-kill defences were developed against sea-skimmer missiles, but none against torpedoes?
Not really. Soviet multiple anti-submarine rocket launchers were sometimes considered as a possible defense against torpedoes. That would most likely be a so-called 'soft defence' as it would rather ruin the seeker capability than destroy the torpedo, though. Anti-torpedo capability (sometimes only as upgrade possibility) was sometimes mentioned as a possible feature of lightweight (324mm) torpedoes, though. The MU90 lightweight torpedo is being claimed to be able to intercept torpedoes (even though only in a special version).
This anti-torpedo hard kill defence hasn't entered common knowledge yet as well.

Target: Air-to-air missiles (AAM) and Surface-to-air missiles (SAM)
It's challenging to put a hard-kill defense against such anti-aircraft missiles into a typical combat aircraft. It's not only difficult because of the volume, weight, velocity - fragments of the intercepted missile must not hit the vulnerable aircraft!
Most publicly known anti-missile defenses are of the 'soft kill' category (ECM, flares, chaff, flying decoys, IR dazzler, IR laser dazzlers) - soft kill merely attempts to achieve that the missile misses.
Most combat aircraft have several short-range missiles. Modern short-range missiles can (at the very least the IRIS-T and a R-73R) even lock on their target after launch - and can therefore even engage targets behind the aircraft (if fed with sufficient firing solutions).
I have yet to experience a discussion about modern fighters that considers the possibility that fighters in air combat intercept each other's medium range AAMs with short range AAMs. It's likely just a classified capability.

As usual, the next wars with really modern weaponry will likely change the public understanding of modern military technology and show additional, previously classified applications and capabilities. Current discussions that don't take into account likely existing capabilities like these need to be observed with a gran of salt.

Sven Ortmann


Technological differences between the Russian Army and the Red Army

The arsenal that Russia used in the South Ossetian War was mostly Cold War gear, plus some newer material that was mostly an evolutionary improvement over said Cold War gear.

The only Russian aircraft seen on videos and shot down were attack and reconnaissance aircraft of Cold War vintage, the involved fighters did apparently not fly low enough to be filmed. There are very few non-Cold War aircraft types available anyway.

The photographed armoured vehicles were pretty much typical 1980's equipment. I didn't see a photo of T-64's yet, but surprisingly some T-62's. I didn't spot new equipment like BMP-T, BMP-3, T-90 yet. Even T-80's were apparently not used.
The most modern AFV that I identified on published photos was so far a 2K22 Tunguska air defense AFV.

The involved forces represented the better half of the Russian army - this shows quite clearly the old technology that coins the Russian armed forces TODAY.
There's still a chance that the less visible equipment (electronic warfare tools, radios and such) is more modern, but reports about the Russian Army don't suggest this.

The Russian Army doesn't need to look like this in some years, though. Outdated armies are likely candidates for strong modernization efforts, especially if the fiscal situation develops favourably as in Russia '08.

The Russians developed a lot of gear to prototype or troop-testing stage and didn't procure much in the past years. That's reminiscent of the 1933 Reichswehr, which begun its expansion and modernization with late 20's equipment.
A possible Russian Army modernization in the next few years would (on the material side) likely see a quantity procurement of known equipment.

There are some especially interesting and conceptually different systems that pose significant challenges to NATO military technology and tactics - no matter whether employed by Russia or its arms customers:

Tactical ballistic missile Iskander
This missile enables to destroy critical targets like bridges, airfields and ships (at least in harbour) even in face of enemy air supremacy. This is a challenge for the land-based air defenses and apparently a major reason for the ABM missile versions in the Patriot, MEADS and SAMP missile SAM systems. The effectiveness of such interceptors against a maneuvering Iskander missile is unproven, though.
Its accuracy is the primary problem; the user can select where to hit a bridge instead of just hoping to hit it somewhere.

Long-range surface-to-air missile system S-400
This is a post-Cold War long-range air defense missile with active radar seeker.
Its range is superior to the publicized Western anti-radar missile (HARM and ALARM) nominal ranges (about 90km) and most likely superior to their practical ranges.
A cluster of such SAM systems can cover a huge area and might offer at least defensive air superiority in combination with the newer versions of MiG-29 and the Su-27 family.

Active defense suites and heavy ERA on tanks
This is a technical and tactical challenge, as it's a step forward for the survivability of tanks against most anti-tank weapons. Many modern anti-tank guided missiles are very unsatisfying against such defenses, even Systems like Javelin, Hellfire and Spike might fail against a modern-concept hard-kill active defense suite. The Russians pioneered this technology a generation ago and did likely not publish about their newest models. Western active defense suite brochures already claim effectiveness against the most challenging threats (top attack missiles and Mach 5 dense metal APFSDS arrows).

Long-rage multiple rocket launcher 9K58 Smerch
This multiple rocket launcher (MRL) was originally deployed immediately before the end of the Cold War, but improvements of the ammunition changed the characteristics a lot.
Its maximum range of 70 to 90 km protects the launcher vehicle against most artillery counter-fire efforts (only air attacks and ATACMS missiles pose significant threats).
The use of relatively cheap trajectory control technologies (not full guidance, but reduction of the range dispersion) enable a useful dispersion and pattern-firing even at long ranges.
NATO forces can do a lot with their tools against howitzers and even self-proelled howitzers and shorter-ranged MRLs. A long-range MRL with good dispersion is a significant threat that cannot be considered as under control yet.

Short-range multiple rocket launcher TOS-1 Buratino
This is basically an old main battle tank hull with a short range MRL. It originated in the 1980's, but only became publicly known much later. The rockets have only the range of a light mortar, but their low ballistic trajectory might hide them from counter-artillery radars in many terrains and the hull isn't easily impressed by counter-fires anyway.
The real problem is the warhead, though. The 220mm rocket has a thermobaric warhead that pretty much says "forget about fortifications" to its opponents.
The system could quickly be produced in huge quantities because of the availability of thousands of tank hulls for conversion.

Tank Support Fighting Vehicle BMP-T
This is again a system that could be quantity-produced by conversion of old MBT hulls. The Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) concept has always been questionable due to the lesser protection than the MBTs which were to be escorted by the IFVs. The ability of mounted infantrymen to deliver effective suppressive fires with personal weapons was questionable against unguided short-range anti-tank weapons like Panzerfaust, Bazooka and RPG types and non-existing against ATGMs. An auto cannon, one or two mediocre ATGMs and a coaxial machine gun were rather moderate fire support for MBTs - especially in comparison to what the BMP-T offers.
The BMP-T has a MBT hull with MBT-like survivability. It has an overhead weapon station with dual autocannon that could rip IFVs and nearby helicopters apart, long-range ATGMs that could kill AFVs and helicopters at longer ranges than a MBT's main gun and automatic grenade launcher in a suppressive fire role reminiscent of WW2 tanks' bow machine guns.
This package might prove to be a much more effective fire support against those opponents that MBTs don't have under control. The higher-than-IFV survivability might enable an armoured unit to sustain an offensive longer than a MBT/IFV mixed unit could (because the latter could quickly be turned into a vulnerable MBT-only force).

These were some very visible and well-known weapon weapons that are available to Russia. They're cornerstones of technological-tactical counters to some NATO army technological strengths. The more challenging stuff is likely not publicly known yet.

The equipment used in the South Ossetia War deserves to be considered as basically 1980's equipment. The Russian Army would change its technological face rapidly if it modernizes its arsenal. The new equipment would pose new challenges and make well-established ideas about conventional warfare obsolete.

Sven Ortmann


Missing a statement...

The South Ossetian War of 2008 begun eight days ago.

I've seen, heard or read about statements by the governments of Russia, Georgia, USA, Germany and France. Hey - I even heard the statements about this war of two wannabe-presidents from another continent.

Reality check: Have a look at the map!
That huge marked country south-west of tiny Georgia is Turkey.
Germany is barely visible, France and USA not at all - and this map covers a pretty large chunk of the earth's surface.

Germany, France & the USA have little to say in the conflict.
One really, truly important country in this conflict - especially in the long term - is Turkey.
Maybe I had bad luck and missed its government's statement, but Turkey surely wasn't mentioned as influential power in any discussion about the war that I observed.

Turkey has a combined military personnel strength of more than a million man, comparable military technological level as Russia and it has the majority of the NATO bases that could be used to exert any influence in Georgia.
The conflict happens in its backyard and certainly touches its interests more realistically than the interests of many other NATO nations.
It does also control the Bosporus and is certainly indispensable as base for any credible long-term guarantees if Western countries intended to give any.

Seriously, I want to know the Turkish government's take on this conflict.
Their position and intents concerning Georgia are more interesting and relevant than German, French and U.S. American ones combined.

Sven Ortmann


Aftermath of the South Ossetian War('s hottest phase so far)

The Western nations have realized that Russia's government is now self-confident again. We cannot treat Eastern Europe policy as a low-priority project anymore, it requires some serious attention and effort to achieve further successes in face of Russia.

There's a lot that can be done about the countries whose status is in question; Georgia, Ukraine, Moldavia. Even Belarus might become a hot spot if sometime its government loses power. The strategy formulation for this area will be very challenging.
One option that I would prefer would be a buffer zone of neutral states (comparable to Finland) between NATO and CIS.

But it's not only about the countries that are neither firmly integrated into NATO nor the Russian influence zone.

We have some 'new' NATO allies in Eastern Europe, and never publicly discussed how to secure them against Russia. The NATO border was sufficiently deterring in the past, but the feeling of insecurity seems to be present - especially in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
This is understandable despite Poland's and Lithuania's distance to the Russian mainland because Belarus is politically extremely close to Russia.

A forward deployment of alliance forces as done during the Cold War when occupation troops in Germany were turned to forward-deployed alliance troops would be a costly option. This option could be used as deterrent, as a price for Russia to pay if it steps over the Rubicon somewhere. Russians don't like foreign armies close to Moscow at all.

To secure Poland requires relatively few efforts in my opinion:
The Polish army needs to be competent in delaying actions, have a good morale and readiness. The German, French, Dutch, Belgian and Danish armies need to be competent in conventional warfare on Polish soil, have a good readiness, good land-bound long-range logistical capabilities and be prepared for quick deployments by rapid deployment exercises (unheralded, whole division and annual if possible).
That should be enough deterrent to secure Poland.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are more challenging; these countries and their armies are rather small. It's unlikely that they could sustain (on their own) an army strong enough to delay an invasion long enough for reinforcements to save the day.
Forward deployment of allied forces would be a simple answer, but that's not really preferable in my opinion.
I suggest to apply the same concept as for Poland, but with some additional physical obstacles in the defensive plan and with enough military aid to enable these alliance members to sustain an army that's strong enough for a long delay of an invasion (they have really only a short distance to trade before they would lose their capital). The logistical supply for the reinforcements should be pre-deployed and supplied by sea. This is especially challenging in Estonia because the Baltic Sea freezes there during the winter.

To add the Baltic states to NATO did certainly not enhance the old alliance member's national security. Such moves do really deserve much more thorough public discussions.

The present situation is that we have the alliance obligation to protect the Eastern NATO members. That should be done in reality, not just on paper. It's about time.

Sven Ortmann

edit 2008-10-14:
Two interesting articles
"Nato commanders to draw up plans to defend ex-Soviet bloc members from Russia"
"NATO split over Baltic defense"

edit 2008-12-15:
I made a more detailed analysis of the Baltic scenario. The seaports are surprisingly capable, but there are very few icebreakers and the only permanently free harbor is Klaipeda - easily rendered useless by ground forces direct fire and not very far north. It could help for a counter-offensive, but not in the initial delay& stopping phase.
The river Daugava in Latvia was difficult to cross in past wars - another argument for an invasion during winter.
The seaports will likely not play a major role, just like naval actions in general would have little utility.
The road connection between Poland and Lithuania needs to be improved.
I'll likely post the analysis sometime in the next few months.


Turn of opinions : Comeback of conventional warfare

I observed a very wide-spread opinion during the past years; most interested people assumed that counter-insurgencies, small wars would be the face of war in the future. few others meant that the experiences or Iraq and Afghanistan were so negative that politicians would avoid such conflicts for some time (till the political lessons learned are forgotten).

Well, the past days gave us photos of tank columns in a war, burnt-out and decapitated tank wreck photos and apparently some classic conventional warfare.
The Russians have reached a region of Georgia that's better suited for armoured warfare than mot of South Ossetia, the type of warfare and its perception will likely not change much before the war ends.
(Putin seems to intend a much more direct replacement of the Georgian government than I expected, asking for its resignation directly as condition for a cease-fire - a probably politically very costly choice in the long run).

The Georgia war has even seen air attacks, a naval blockade and sinking of a naval warship (missile boat) and the use of modern anti-air defenses.
The equipment in use was 20-40 years old and the combat experiences won't tell much about modern military technology, but the shape of war as a conventional war directly involving a superpower that's not being called "USA" impresses some people.

I've read several remarks that mocked about the "future of war = COIN" assumption in the past few days.
The West-East struggle finally got some attention as well, we will likely see some political efforts aimed at the Ukraine quite soon.

It's no new Cold War, but we're back at obvious Great power politics - this time about alliance definition and conventional war prevention/preparation, not about kicking around some non-industrialized countries.

Sven Ortmann



Well, I hate it when my fears come true.
The South Ossetia crisis looks almost like a real, conventional war.

It's ridiculous how much the public pays attention to South Ossetians. Those people are unimportant for Putin and their cessation from Georgia is not the real reason why we see a limited scale war in the Caucasus.

It's also not about oil. Pipelines don't become magic, even not if you call them "oil pipeline". Some people get mad over anything associated with oil, but an oil business in the region would be a reason for Russia to establish good relations, not to feed internal conflicts.

In my opinion it's all about the definition of the Russian sphere of influence. Georgia (and btw, also Ukraine) is still neutral ground.

Putin wants to at least keep influence in all former Soviet Republics. That failed grossly in the Baltics. It worked very fine in Byelorussia and most Southern states (although the U.S. presence that were established for the Afghanistan war questions that). It never worked fine in Georgia since Shewardnadze lost power.

What may be Russia's intent in this conflict?
My guesses;

(1) Weaken the Saakashvili government (Western-friendly), achieve a government change towards a government that's at least neutral between NATO/USA and Russia.

(2) Keep the conflict alive for later opportunities to meddle in Georgia if (1) is no complete success.

The probably most important and most interesting detail of the conflict are the allegations of excessive violence of Georgia's troops against civilians or civilian settlements.

This could be exploited by Russia for two purposes:

a) Keep the Western powers from intervening openly in Georgias favour. Strong support is almost impossible to justify if Georgia is suddenly being painted as bad guy in our medias.

b) Weaken the Saakashvili government by exposing its wrongdoings in this case.

The conflict will remain local in my opinion. A full-scale war would need to be launched by Russia, but it's not in Russia's interest. Georgian nationalism might be fueled against Russia by a full-scale war (so far, it's more on the level of a border skirmish). Such a nationalism would undermine any Russia-friendly government for one generation at least.

My expectation: The fighting wills top soon once the Georgian government realizes that its operation failed and that Russian troops keep its army from taking (and keeping) full control of South Ossetia.
A cease-fire and (additional) peacekeepers will be arranged by using the institutions of the U.N..
Russia will do its best to press all Georgian wrongdoings into Western and Georgian public discussion, and the South Ossetians (Russians) will help a lot in this info campaign.

The struggle for the neutral countries Ukraine and Georgia that happens between NATO/USA and Russia needs to become a hot topic for our public discussions.
It's not acceptable that our supposedly democratic states handle such elementary matters without public supervision, with intelligence services and diplomacy alone.
It was a shocking move by the USA some months ago when it attempted to get Georgia into the NATO - without any discussions in the public.

This struggle for Ukraine and Georgia deserves public attention and discussion in NATO countries.

Sven Ortmann


Geostrategy: Most interesting country in the world

Let's play a game; pick your favourite area from a geostrategic point of view!

My candidates are

(Suez Canal)

(Western bridgehead in Arab region, in strike range to Suez Canal)

(at the PRC's sea trade lanes

Turkey (close to CIS, Europe and Arab regions, Bosporus, in strike range to Suez Canal)

(close to CIS, NATO & Arab regions and at the Strait of Hormuz)

(Panama Canal)

(at SE Asian sea trade hot spot)

(a classic thorn in the U.S. backyard, somewhat close to Panama Canal)

South Africa
(link between Western World and Black Africa, controls sea trade close to Cape of Good Hope)

South Korea/Republic of Korea
(Western bridgehead in East Asia, in range of some of China's sea trade lanes, buffer between PRC and Japan)

Feel free to think about other candidates, of course!

My personal favourite is a close call; it's either Turkey or Iran.

These countries are not only close to global trade bottlenecks.

These nations are different than the people around them; Persians are neither Europeans nor South Asians nor Arabs. Turks are neither Europeans not Arabs nor Persians. Not all Iranians are Persians, though.
This lack of allegiance to a group of countries turns them into potential swing states, they could ally with many sides even in a case of such a thing like a cultural clash - or be neutral.

Turkey has been integrated into NATO and therefore into the European/Western/NATO bloc - but they're not really welcome as potential EU member in some EU nations (even though the governments may behave differently). They might turn away from Europe if disappointed too often, too much - or if the NATO fell apart sometime in the future.

Iran hasn't been integrated into any bloc, but has some ties to the PRC (which is a friend of Iran's neighbour Pakistan). It could as well drift into the CIS bloc if the pressure becomes too great.
Anyway; it's interesting from a geostrategic point of view and this might explain some of the interest in this country that the U.S. government under GWB has demonstrated in the past four years.

I believe I settle with Turkey.
That's probably not fashionable because Turkey isn't about oil (at least not directly), didn't allow U.S. forces to invade Iraq from north in 2003 and because it seems so firmly settled in the NATO.

Nevertheless, it appear to be more relevant once you look at the context of the CIS bloc. It controls the Bosporus (exit/entry for Black Sea) and is NATO's access point to the Persian Gulf region (other than from the sea). Sea lanes through Suez Canal/Eastern Mediterranean can be threatened or blocked from Turkey's soil.
It's the only almost-Western but Muslim country and could bridge the gap culturally between Europeans and Arabs, being in between both.

This begs the question; why are U.S. bases still in Germany instead of in Turkey?
Turkey would be an excellent host nation for forward air, sea and ground forces bases - especially its Southwestern coastal region.

S Ortmann

edit 2013-05: I should add that the Pan-Turkic ideology (a nationalist party got about 1/8 of the votes in the 2011 elections) could put Turkey into a rival position to Russia in regard to influence in Central Asia (Turkic languages there). The West's encroachment has been stopped in Belarus (as long as the dictatorship doesn't crumble) and Ukraine (where any national election can change the trajectory entirely). Russia would not exactly be happy to face a Turkish challenge on its southern flank.


Air power advances

I've seen a lot operational research-like texts about the growing capability of air-ground attacks in the past years.
The general assumption is that the dramatically improved dispersion of modern guided munitions increased the air power's effect on the ground war a lot.
Well, there's of course another side of the coin as well; defensive reactions to improvements in the offense.
The camouflage, concealment and deception efforts reduce the visibility of real targets - strike planes carry less precision guided bombs today than they carried 'dumb' bombs twenty years ago (this is also an effect of the trend to base combat aircraft pretty far away from the battlefield, which requires more external fuel tanks).

The necessity to provide air combat and anti-air defense escorts (CAP and SEAD sorties) to strike planes further reduces the efficiency of air power.
Well, the destructive power has still grown, especially against an enemy who needs to expose himself to accomplish his mission.

One very important factor seems to be ignored in most unclassified discussions of the air-to-ground warfare challenge: Soft effects.
Air power is not only effective because it destroys; it's most effective because it threatens with destruction.
The air forces that were Western Allies in WW2 probably never really grasped this.

An army with insufficient defense against air attack is not so much exposed to attrition by air attack as it is hindered in its freedom by the threat of air attack.
German troops movements in the 1944-1945 Western campaign were almost completely limited to nighttime and poor weather - the same applies to logistical movements, including railway train movements.
(The Allied armies were still too slow despite this and their "100% motorization" advantage to exploit the potential of mobile warfare against a fuel-deprived and mostly foot-mobile German army that depended on horses and nighttime railway movements for logistics.)

The operational effects of such a limitation of mobility and logistical capacity were likely more serious than the direct destructive effect of the attacks.

Thousands of fighter-bombers and bombers roamed the skies over France and Benelux in 1944 - during all daytime.
It's very different today. Few hundreds of combat aircraft would be used in offensive air war, the duration over enemy terrain per sortie would be shorter, many aircraft would be needed for SEAD instead of strike missions, patrolling fighters would not strafe targets of opportunity (like marching infantry columns, moving trains) with deadly effect and the overall 'synchronization' of efforts in time would often prohibit a full daytime coverage of an area.

Furthermore, the night attack capability based on thermal sensors and radars takes away the ability of the enemy to seek refuge in the night.
There's almost as much (if not more) aerial threat to ground forces at nighttime as at daytime - a limitation of movements to daytime makes no sense anymore.

This superficial great advantage of the very much increased lethality of nighttime and poor weather attacks is being greeted by air power fans as a great improvement in air power effectiveness.

In fact, night attack capability has likely taken away much of the air power's effectiveness by removing much of its soft (deterrence) influence on the ground operations.

Sven Ortmann


Immunization against Authoritarianism

Germany has experienced extreme left-wing (socialism/wannabe communism) and extreme right-wing (nazism/fascism) governments in the 20th century (and a monarchy with parliament and constitution at its beginning).

Especially the poor experience with nazism has provoked a strong reaction - the German society and state are designed to resist any attempts to revive fascism or similar ideologies. These precautions erode only partially and very slowly.

The poor experience with the Eastern German socialism and the strong anti-communism indoctrination that was applied in Western Germany during the Cold War caused a high degree of resilience to socialism as well. The outermost left wing of social-democracy is well alive in the party Die Linke, though. The same party has also some socialism features, but its chances to lead a leftist government that might threaten freedom in Germany is nil.

That leaves one most relevant threat to liberty; conservative/political center authoritarianism. There's no party in Germany that advocates this, but the threat might arise if an external shock (like 9/11) or a long-lasting misery (like the Great depression) erodes the resistance to authoritarian ideas. Such special conditions could make a loss of some civil rights (or loss of their effectiveness) acceptable. We saw that happen with regard to habeas corpus, torture and domestic spying in the post-9/11 USA.

The German governments of 2001-2008 (chancellors Schröder and Merkel) actually pushed a lot of domestic spying and previously not allowed police techniques forward - against mediocre resistance. That seems to have come to a halt, just short before the project to allow the Bundeswehr to support the police on our soil.
Two minor scandals of the Bundeswehr during the 2007 G8 meeting (Tornado planes flying low to scare demonstrants, unarmed Fennek sensor AFVs used to observe areas/demonstrants) have apparently caused a final stop tot his movement.
Domestic Bundeswehr competencies are still almost entirely limited to serious crisis situations (like floods, wartime).

The perception of the threat of potential authoritarian governments is rather weak because of our precautions and two generations of democracy (at least for most of us). Most Germans would likely suspect a threat form the extreme left or right and just a minority would agree that there's a real threat of an authoritarian government that could exploit already existing laws and technology to quickly establish a police state. We don't have as much public CCTV cameras as the British (yet) and some other precautions are still in force.

Nevertheless; it's time to focus on the threat that's left and get over the threats against which we have immunized us as much as possible in the past decades.
Let's resist additional competencies for judiciary and executive (the armed services of the state and the government) that might endanger liberty or help those who might sometime attempt to switch to an authoritarian state.

Sven Ortmann