The effects of Mumbai

As many dead and injured as in a random large airliner crash.

As much physical damage as in a random small airliner crash.

Three days of wasted attention.
Attention that could have been directed at productive thinking about wealth & diplomacy.

More arguments for politicians and bureaucrats who intend to waste even more resources on 'anti-terror' activities.

Terrorism is a major problem because we react hysterically. They could have a Mumbai action 365 days a year and would still be a minor irritation in comparison to our real problems.

You want our military to go on a hunt for terrorists?
I'd prefer to see our police go on a hunt for tobacco company CEOs and share owners.

"The World Health Organization has stated that tobacco is set to kill a billion people this century."

"Imagine that cigarettes were harmless—except, once in every 25,000 packs, an occasional innocent-looking one is filled with dynamite instead of tobacco. Not such a bad risk of having your head blown off. But with 250 million packs a day consumed worldwide, we could expect to have more than 10,000 gruesome daily deaths—surely enough to have cigarettes banned everywhere."


Our reaction to those ridiculously irrelevant terrorists is self-defeating, ridiculous itself and utterly irrational.

Let's build proper bunkers around our nuclear powerplants' reactor rooms, let our police do its job and our intelligence services co-operate with others and let us get over this tiny terrorism "problem". Terrorists are laughable in comparison to REAL problems.

Sven Ortmann


Are we defeating ourselves by economic ruin?

There are two likely causes for the downfall of powers.
(No, decadence and sodomy aren't exactly likely causes.)

The most popular one is military defeat of really large scale, but that's often preceded by and overshadowing the other likely reason - economic decline.

Economic decline (relative decline, not necessarily absolute decline!) is most easily 'achieved' by waste of resources. Insufficient investment in education, infrastructure and tools leads to a long-term decline in output - or at least a sub-standard growth.

We (well, according to statcounter at least most of 'us') live in market economies - usually with a hefty government activity (the U.S. is no exception to this in my opinion).

There are two nodes for the determination whether the society is (too) wasteful or not: The treasury and the financial sector.

The treasury's responsibility is to keep waste low in the executive's spending - and to help the parliament in directing the state's resources to the most advantageous activities. High deficit spending and low share of investment in the state budget are warning indicators.

The financial sector- most importantly banks - has the mission to allocate the resources (money) as efficiently as possible. It shall determine the interest rates - these should be as closely to the expected value of return as possible. This includes a proper assessment of risk.

Now let's look at our present situation, 'crisis'.
The financial sector has done much damage and received much criticism, but the very basic and near-total failure in the core mission of the financial sector isn't among the usual accusations. The financial sector was not only wasteful and excessive - that happens to all sectors to some degree. It was the contrary of what it should have been! 'It' didn't allocate resources effectively and this is not 'just' a world economy crisis - we see a fundamental failure.
Think of cops going to plunder stores, doctors injecting poison all the time or flight controllers playing 'crash the planes'.
The socialized risks in this crisis are apparently now summing up to 8,500 billion USD - 8.5 trillion $!
* Fed: $ 5,500 billion
* FDIC: $ 1,539 billion
* government: $ 947 billion
* Federal Housing Administration: $ 300 billion
* Fannie and Freddie: $ 200 billion
(These aren't sums of losses, but the quantity of risky guarantees and investments.)

The other opportunity to ruin your society is still government spending, and pointing at the utterly useless and unnecessary latest Iraq War with its USD 1.8 to 3 trillion price tag should be enough to question the sanity in this area. The U.S. government is just one of many Western governments, of course - but large-scale public debt and even greater pension obligations are rampant problems among developed countries.

Many empires and other powers in history failed long before being finally being defeated on a battlefield. The failure was usually economical.
Look at your favorite failed empire - Roman Empire, Spanish Empire, British Empire, Chinese Empire, Mayas or whatever - they failed either for dynastic problems (breaking apart because of lack of a unitary government) or they suffered from a slow decline due to economical suffocation by wasteful behavior.

I've got no interest in predicting doom - but we need to scrutinise our ways. Our societies are great, but not invulnerable - and certainly not secured against failure by destiny.

Sven Ortmann


South Korea, Madagascar and the likeliness of resource wars

These two stories on another blog are extremely interesting - and surprising:



Such trades to guarantee raw material / food supplies were not uncommon many decades ago (albeit much, much shorter) and still happen. Especially states that don't have foreign currency reserves sometimes try to arrange such deals to secure their supply.
The scale is new to me, though.

South Korea puts many eggs into a single Madagascar basket to secure much of its future. This is a much smarter move than ideology-driven wars for raw materials or even only for access to raw materials. It's also a bond that will likely lead to a lot of South Korean attention for Madagascar.

Madagascar is almost ideally suited for such a deal - relatively stable, militarily weak and geographically divided from unstable continental countries like Mocambique. It would be accessible for an amphibious intervention and it can provide many different raw materials.
I think we can expect a strong ROK marine corps and amphibious fleet as well as development aid for Madagascar for the next decades.

The South Korea-Madagascar deal is extremely interesting for theoretical analysis, but also quite symptomatic for the East Asian approach to supply security. Chinese investors have bought many plantations and mines in Africa in the past years. That's not really uncommon for Europeans as well, but Europeans don't do it with such a systematic approach.

Such a strategy to secure supply reduces the amount of the global free trade with raw materials. This is serious.

Imagine a demand for 100 units of good x* and a supply of 95 units of good x*. That's not too bad, the price will rise a bit till a reduction of consumption by only 5% would match supply and demand.
Now imagine that 90% of the world production of good x was covered by multinational treaties and not available for free trade.
That would mean a remaining demand for 10 units would face a true supply of 5 units! A huge price would be necessary to match supply and demand in this situation.
That price would hurt the buyer very much - and hugely benefit the seller.
The result might be a good motivation for stupid resource wars.

This small theoretical example shows how important such treaties could become for the buyers - and how disadvantageous they could become for the participating sellers.
Even more important: Such treaties might contribute to the likeliness of resource wars.

Sven Ortmann

*: For economic theory purists: think "at price y"

The upside: Huge prices for few could also result in substitution and/or an increase of efficiency (that disperses to the consumers with guaranteed supply as well).


Cluster munitions ban

Cluster munitions / submunitions / bomblets / cargo rounds - there are many words warheads that contain many smaller warheads to increase effectiveness.

The principles that make such munitions are simple:
Fragments lose velocity quickly, so it's much more efficient to use many small diameter fragmenting charges than a single large one.
Many small shaped charges have a higher chance of a direct hit than a single warhead.
Many small incendiary charges have a better chance to start serious secondary fires quickly than a single large one.
Several smart submunitions can cover a larger area and potentially hit more targets at once than a single smart submunition.
Finally, the opportunity to scatter many mines at once covers a large area, and more easily than many smaller delivery munitions with only one mine each.

The introduction of DPICM on a large scale decades ago increased the effectiveness and changed the artillery's effects (many small, almost impossible to treat fragment wounds instead of few small ones, for example).
The armies of wealthy nations have usually more DPICM munitions than classic 'unitary' high explosive shells (albeit the effectiveness against tanks was overestimated by the West).

There's not only the spiral of military technology, but also politics, though. It's not really unreasonable to expect a politically effective ban on submunitions which was drafted this year and will begin the ratification process next month. The reason is the sometimes terrible dud rate (on the order of 10% although many models have less than 1% duds) that had long-lasting land mine-like effects (not necessary with proper technology like condensator-depending fuzes or a biodegradable shell matrix, but the political damage was done).

This might become an extremely important step backwards.

First, it's necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of air attack, artillery and heavy mortars without cluster munitions.
* Air attack might not be affected very much as the trend went towards guided unitary warheads anyway.
* Heavy mortars (120mm) might not be affected very much because unitary (HE mortar shells are still quite common anyway.
* Artillery (especially multiple rocket launcher systems like MLRS) would lose a lot of its effectiveness per artillery piece if cluster munitions were withdrawn.

Better, non-cluster munitions for the artillery (smart shells like SmArt would be retained) including better control of fragmentation patterns might help to compensate for this, but that's rather an approach for the military-industrial complex as it's about hardware procurement.

Armies that remove cargo round stocks need to re-evaluate their requirements for artillery quantity - a reduction of artillery quality by x % might require a compensating increase of artillery quantity by y %.

Furthermore, smaller artillery calibers than 155mm might become more advantageous than before. This applies especially to guns that need to be lightweight anyway; mountain/airborne guns which were usually 105mm guns since the 50's but with a trend to 155mm at least in the 90's.
Denel's 105mm long-range howitzer G7 a.k.a. Leo 105 might have been a more timely design than previously thought as well.
That gun doesn't offer major advantages offer the competitor 155mm M777 other than the virtues of smaller shells (fragmentation efficiency, less ammunition bulk & weight) until it'll be redesigned for lower weight (underway).

Multiple rocket launchers may require an even more thorough assessment. Their classic strength was the near-instantaneous coverage of a target area - this was greatly enhanced by the use of DPICM, which became the almost only munition for MLRS.
Rockets can especially easily be adapted for guided operation - thanks to fins for steering and rather gentle acceleration. Maybe guided munitions for MLRS (at least the large types with a larger than 110mm calibre) will get more attention and funds in the future than without a cluster munitions ban.

Finally, we can expect more attention to proximity fuzing (which increases the efficiency of fragmentation shells). This works usually with radio frequency technology - essentially tiny radars not larger than normal fuzes and pre-set to detonate at a certain altitude over ground. The principle possibility to jam and therefore de-value sch fuzes was demonstrated already in WW2. ECCM (electronic counter-countermeasures) to protect against jamming was introduced long ago, but can this be trusted?
Jammers were reduced to backpack size as early as in the 90's (Shortstop). Such jamming technology wasn't in large-scale use by adversaries of Western armies so far, which explains the low degree of attention.
There's an apparently jamming-proof proximity fuze technology more similar to laser ranging than radar. It measures the distance only forward, not all-round and is therefore not suitable for other proximity fuze applications like anti-air missiles.
Finland's company Noptel has such a fuze for mortar bombs.

The ban on cluster munitions might bend many military technology and organization trends related to artillery.

Sven Ortmann

edit 2008-12-07:
This graphic illustrates the loss of efficiency (albeit neither unitary HE shell fragment distribution nor cargo round submunition dispersion are perfectly circular).
The diameters are 100 m and 350 m.
The source has also rather distasteful photos about the more difficult to treat wounding patterns of submunitions.


Pirates & Islamists

Here are some German articles on the Islamists vs. Somali pirates conflict.
I've read about rumors that both were allied - there's at the very least a significant exception.

The despised Islamists might still/again be the only effective force for order in Somalia, the area is apparently extremely complex.

All three articles are in German.
The story; some Islamists were pissed off by Somali pirates because these captured a ship from a Muslim country (unofficially probably because of a lack of protection money, who knows?). They moved into pirates safe havens in search for them and apparently scared them.




finally; even the designated baddies Iranians want to fight the pirates:
The Indians and Russians are there as well - as it seems with less coverage by Western media than the Western ships.

The super tanker was captured off the coast of Kenya - a pretty clear indication that simple convoying would require too many ships for too long. The problem is not only off the Northern Somali coast.

It would be a great short-term move if the Islamists vs. pirates move was somehow the result of diplomacy or intelligence agency's efforts. It's often good to let others do the dirty work, especially if this means to ally with who was previously considered as hostile.
That's likely an optimistic interpretation, though.

Sven Ortmann



The "T-95" is the rumored new Russian main battle tank (MBT) - it's been a kind of celebrity among tank enthusiasts since the mid-90's despite pretty much complete lack of information about it.
There are only rumors, and the most central rumor is about the gun calibre - it's expected to be 125, 135 or 152mm. An external gun mount with a minimum profile turret as well as an autoloader are also quite common assumptions about the T-95.
That's all an extrapolation from late Cold War and early 1990's tank design trends.

MBTs were too often considered as tank destroyers at that time, their original role of destroying all other opposition than MBTs was underestimated - an attitude that was changed by wars since the late 90's, especially in Chechnya and Iraq.

Let's have a look at the environment for the new Russian tank design. Tanks are often an expression of a greater philosophy for ground combat, so their design is quite interesting.

A) The ability to be deployed by railroad is an absolute necessity for a Russian MBT. This limits the width.

B) The Russians have emphasized a low ground pressure and good cross-country performance of their tanks - most visibly in the wide tracks used since the T-34 of WW2 fame. They have lost their strategic buffer satellite states in Eastern Europe and could expect to fight the next war in their own country or their present neighbors. There's therefore no good reason for a change of the policy. Small gaps between road-wheels, wide tracks, rather medium weight (less than 50 tons) and a rather normal length (no reduced length although that would be possible with modern compact tank engines) can be expected. (A 'short' tank is rather uncomfortable on rough ground and has shorter tracks, therefore less area to distribute the weight.)
The latter is most interesting, as it means that a lot of internal volume might be available in the hull for supplies.

C) The Russians have often emphasized a good road range (external drop tanks) and again I see no reason to expect this to change.

D) Russian tank protection became good to excellent since the 1940's and was mostly underestimated during the Cold War (an underestimation that persisted quite well). They pretty much pioneered the use of explosive reactive armor (ERA) and active protection systems (APS) in addition to introducing composite armor like the West did. Armor spacing was also common. Protection against secondary effects behind the armor was rather disappointing, though. The latter has drawn a lot of attention especially after the first Chechnya War and might be resolved.
The Russians pretty much showed their APS and ERA tech of the 80's and early 90's - it's reasonable to expect that they made some progress despite tight budgets.

E) Russian tanks had also a rather good firepower since the T-34, and often larger calibres than their counterparts (76 vs. 50mm, 122 vs. 88mm, 100 vs. 90mm, 115 vs. 105mm, 125 vs. 120mm were the contemporary gun calibre match-ups).
This served a role in the offense-defense spiral when ever more powerful guns were introduced to overwhelm ever better armor. The 135 and 152mm calibre rumors base on this tradition. There's a problem, though; large calibres become also ever less practical and ammunition supply either more voluminous or smaller.

F) The Russians have many, seriously: MANY! MBTs in their arsenal and demonstrated as late as this year in the South Ossetian War that even T-62's (at least if they were upgraded) can still be considered as effective tanks if not used in face of top modern AT weapons of MBTs.

G) The Russians have recently demonstrated a readiness to innovate outside of established development lines and to address other challenges than frontal MBT armor penetration with their BMP-T tank.


This leads me to rather different conclusions than the standard expectation. I don't expect the new tank to be a big gun tank. It wouldn't be very smart to follow the spiral and simply add brute force. APS have probably bent the spiral away from ever larger calibres.
A very large calibre would be perfectly possible - there would even be enough internal volume for a meaningful ammunition load. I simply expect the Russians to be smarter. They had plenty time to come up with a smarter concept than brute force.

APS could be overcome much easier with multiple attacks (almost) at once instead of just "bigger" shots.
The recent combat experience has emphasized the shortcomings of tanks due to the limited elevation and depression of their main gun - and much smaller projectiles (about 80-105mm) than those of modern tank calibres (120-125mm) proved to be effective enough.

Finally, there are some indicators that the Russians don't expect to deny their enemy the air superiority if they have to face Western, very modern forces - and they would need no new tank against other neighbours. A lack of air superiority means a significant aerial threat to the tank.


Here's my personal speculation about the T-95 (or how it will eventually be called):

Hull and drive:
A compact diesel engine and a rather conventional three-man (driver, gunner, commander) hull that looks externally quite similar to the past models (T-64, T-72, T-80, T-90).

A layered protection of APS (effective against APFSDS, redundant), heavy ERA and composite armor plus spaced armor in some places. Behind armor effects will be limited by spall liner, fire suppression and few combustible materials as well as ammunition well-hidden in a different compartment than the crew and with blast doors.

Turret & weapons:
This is where I don't follow the common big gun assumption. The Russians might go back to their classic 76, 85 or 100mm calibre - with an autoloader and a very high rate of fire as well as with good gun depression and a rather anti-air capable maximum gun elevation (more than 40°). This gun could double as defense against air targets (including small drones that don't justify the expense of a missile) in addition to its ability to shoot up to mountain ridges and high floors. Such calibres are very effective against soft targets and should be able to penetrate MBT side and rear armor as well as to saturate MBT APS defenses with a high volume of fire. Such a concept was shortly explored by the Americans in the 80's with the RDF/LT tank which was too radical to be accepted (it was coupled with a high-tech light tank approach).

A second main weapon would represent the high-end frontal anti-MBT niche; missiles like CKEM mounted to the turret sides - these can punch through MBT front armor (about 10 MJ penetrator). Frontal armor + APS can be overcome either by ripple fire or after saturation of the APS with cannon shots. Such a missile enables even some indirect fire without line-of-sight against targets observed by a third party. The Russians have used missiles with their MBTs since decades - albeit usually with a shaped charge warhead and launched with the main gun.

The third weapon would be a classic coaxial machine gun, possibly reinforced by an automatic grenade launcher - the Russians demonstrated a strong affection for this class of weapon in the past ten to fifteen years.

The usual modern sensor suite (integrated with the APS) can be expected.
A T-95 with APS and said unconventional armament might additionally have a multi-purpose battlefield radar. The APS is probably emitting anyway, so the possibly compromising emissions of such a radar would be a lesser counter-argument than usual. A radar could help against aerial targets (including missiles), enable ripple missile fire against more than one target at once as part of a hit & run tactic and it could help when multi-spectral (infrared-blocking) smoke is in use.


This was a high-tech approach for a possible new Russian MBT - a low-tech tank would make no sense as simple upgrades of the existing tanks would be more economical than a new low or medium tech MBT. Furthermore, it's a tank design that rather complements the old armada of MBTs instead of replacing it right away - it closes capability gaps and could be used in mixed formations.

The actual 'T-95' might look very different, of course.

Deviations from the standard design could tell us about the Russian's intentions and conclusions:
A very light tank would emphasize strategic deployment by air or tell about a lack of trust in passive armor.
A rather slow & heavy tank would hint at operational areas with rather good soil conditions and road network as well as a less mobile tactical concept.
A tank without much fuel capacity would hint at a less mobile operational concept.
A production of many BMP-Ts instead of a new T-95 would hint at expectations of combat against MBT-weak, infantry-heavy forces.

A big part of the fascination "T-95" is probably that tank enthusiasts can think freely about modern MBT design...but the tank might become quite relevant in military affairs as well, even without a hot war.



RPG-30 - the offense vs. defense spiral grows

I've seen photos of an unknown Russian recoilless weapon with a dubious second barrel months ago and my guess (not just mine) was that the second barrel was intended to defeat APS/hard kill-defenses.

That turned out to be correct, as I saw today on the Firearm blog.
Further info is here and here.

The small barrel shoots first and provokes a reaction of the hard-kill defense (and possibly clears some explosive reactive armor - ERA), while the main barrel shoots a normal shaped charge (seems to be a tandem shaped charge similar to RPG-29's - the tandem configuration is standard for the defeat of ERA).

The use of only one decoy projectile to counter active protection systems (APS)/hard kill-defenses seems on first sight to be inadequate; most if not all APS cover every angle with more than one interception cartridge. It may be that some or all APS are unable to intercept the second warhead due to the explosion effect and debris of the first intercept.
Anyway; the RPG-30 probably needs a switch to select whether decoy or real warhead shall launch first - an APS could be set to ignore a first (small) target and only intercept the larger second target, after all.

The Russians seem to stick to their 105mm shaped charge - possibly because of weight restrictions. The Chinese scaled up to 120mm warheads for such weapons some years ago (pretty much ignored by the military-interested Western public), but that design seemed to be most credible as battalion-level support weapon on tripod, comparable to early recoilless guns.

The dual AT bazooka is a fine example of offense vs. defense spiral going on in the realm of technology even in peaceful times - even in a country with a not really generous military budget. APS are still not widespread equipment today (despite the Russian ones were hot topics as early as around 1994). We see a countermeasure before the technology that it shall defeat is even in quantity production!

That's a good reminder for everyone with interest in military technology; there's pretty much always a possible countermeasure which will eventually reduce the value of an innovation drastically. That includes 'wonder weapons' like stealth and guided munitions. It's just becoming heavier, more complex and more expensive all the time.

Sven Ortmann


USAF Air Mobility Command & An-124

Someone recently attempted to annoy me with the fact that the Bundeswehr sometimes charters civilian Russian transport planes (like An-124) for transport flight to Afghanistan due to a lack of heavy-lift aviation.
It was of course an American who was proud of his nation's C-17 and C-5B - and it wasn't the first such attempt.

Well, the world is ugly, and just in case somebody thinks about following his lead; the USAF Air Mobility Command charters An-124 all the time. I've heard about 150 flights in 2006, 250 flights in 2007...
That's not embarrassing - it's simply much less expensive than to buy and operate an airlift fleet for the greatest imaginable demand.

Sven Ortmann


pan-European security treaty?

"Mr Medvedev called for "a new pan-European security treaty which could be joined by all nations" and suggested that next year's summit could also be attended by Nato and the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States."
(Financial Times, November 15th)

Seriously, this deserves a cover page story, not a small break!

Sven Ortmann

Northern supply line for OEF-A and ISAF

NATO is apparently trying to use the northern supply line from the CIS more - that will add relevance to road security in the German sector and it's also a sign for political dependence on Russia.

It will be interesting to see which Eastern European interests will be sacrificed for this [enter despising word here] Afghanistan War - and how much the Europeans will be willing to sacrifice their backyard interests in favor of such a distant conflict.

(this article is several weeks old, but still interesting)

Sven Ortmann


Some articles

I've got some article recommendations for you...

Tokyo's governor is probably no expert, but maybe there's more as the article claims...
East Asia allies doubt U.S. could win war with China

Pentagon board says cuts essential
and real politics:
Pentagon Wants $581 Billion From Obama – War Costs Not Included

Minimum deterrence

Documents linking Iran to nuclear weapons push may have been fabricated

War Nerd: Congo Warrior Nkunda Is Nkool
with background:
France's shame?

"Soldier of Tomorrow"

A German article on domestic spying by our soon-to-be-FBI-equivalent:
Notstandsgesetze 2.0

Another German article, this time about the (disclosed) state of the art of hard-kill AFV defences (really impressive stuff):
Abstandsaktive Hardkill-Schutzsysteme


Tires that laugh at bullets

OK, I admit - this topic was too long on my "to do" list.
Michelin's Tweel technology of wheels with flexible rubber cushioning instead of (pressurized) air cushioning was published few years ago and one of my first thoughts was about the usefulness for military applications.

The concept has now been transferred to military technology:

See the Military tech blog post about this product.
(The honeycomb still needs to be covered to keep dirt and mud out - nobody wants mega-heavy wheels!)

This technology might be suitable for military needs and limit wheel vulnerability to incendiary and blast effects - no more trouble with fragments, bullets and sharp objects on the ground.
There's of course no use of CTIS possible with such wheels - that should reduce the complexity and price of wheeled military vehicles.

The vulnerability of conventional tires to bullets and fragments was always a problem - and obviously so since other vehicle components were hardened. Tires are a very heavy, bulky supply and the need to replace many tires (if for example partisans like to snipe at these wheels) can grow to a significant portion of the overall supply demand.

Simple Tweels with some fire-retarding additives might become a really, really great thing for armies.

Sven Ortmann

2008-11-20 edit:
(Almost) as usual, the Germans already invented it (well, something really similar) in one of their notorious scarcity phases (a.k.a. World Wars) when creativity had to compensate for a lack of raw material supply: "federnde Räder" (~"cushioning wheels") were used in World War I (1915 onwards) to replace tires (the natural rubber supply from overseas was almost entirely cut off) for cars, while trucks had to use 19th century wood/iron wheels.



There was a time (actually, pre-9/11) when not only nukes, oil/gas and terrorism were in the focus of national security policy debates, but also migration pressure (and fresh water supply).

These topics haven't lost their relevance, but were overshadowed by the more en vogue topics. Fresh water and migrants don't seem to be existential problems for Western nations (except -surprise- Israel), after all.

Migration pressure (most acute Latin America to USA and Africa to Europe) is based on the 'magnetic' attraction that rich countries have on the lower middle classes of poor countries (really poor people usually cannot afford the travel).

This attraction can be reduced by some information campaigns and the poverty can be reduced with some successful forms of (mostly rural) development aid, but ultimately these measures cannot stem the tide.
That's relevant for both internal and to some degree also for external security of the target nations and even relevant for their economy (especially the low-level employment market).

A strategic response to reduce the relative attractiveness and to divert more of the migration movements might be to create nodes of growth close to the origin countries.
The urban areas of these countries already attract most rural migrants - it should be possible to create additional special economic areas that attract the migrants - think of many small Hong Kongs and Singapores along the African coastline.

It's highly unlikely that the European states will invest their attention/money into a strategic response to a creeping problem like intercontinental migration, though. Well, I don't expect it until terrorists and oil lose their attraction - and they won't do so for another at least three years in my opinion.

Sven Ortmann


Next decade: Supersonic business jets

There are some supersonic business jets in the pipeline, and I expect at least one project to reach production status in the next decade.
This has some relevance for the realm of military affairs, just like traditional and ultra-long range business jets have.

The affordable and fast business jets are a classic platform for signals intelligence (Sigint). Such aircraft have been used since decades for electronic sniffing; they recorded electromagnetic emissions of (potential) opponents to learn about the others' radio/radar technologies and/or communications. Large aircraft like RC-135 are usually not necessary for this and almost every state with an electronics industry with military products has its own small or large Sigint aircraft fleet.

Such passive means of intelligence gathering aren't the only ones in this context, though. Aerial ground surveillance radars can be used on such small aircraft as well. The most well-known such aircraft is today the E-8 JSTARS, but the much older Mohawk and the HORIZON system show that such a large platform is unnecessary. The UK's royal Air Force actually mounts its new ASTOR system on a ultra-long range business jet (Raytheon Sentinel system).

Airborne Early Warning & Control systems can be based on business jet-sized platforms as well, as dmonstrated by carrier-borne AEW systems, the Swedish Erieye radar that's usually being mounted on very small airliners and the very modern Israeli Eitam (CAEW) system.

What could supersonic cruise - especially supercruise - add to these applications?

Well, it's in my opinion all about survivability. Such systems (especially the AEW&C systems that are important assets in air war) are among the highest priority targets in a conventional war. An inferior air force cannot really hope to destroy such planes in sufficient quantity with normal fighters, but agents/commandos that raid the airfields, dedicated very long-range air-to-air missiles and very long range surface-to-air missiles threaten clumsy subsonic aircraft like RC-135, E-8 and E-3. The range of such missiles is about the same as the range of the aerial radars, which means that such aircraft might be pushed back and maybe couldn't sense deep into 'enemy' terrain.

A supersonic aircraft is a much more challenging target - and the smaller size (with possibly a bit RCS reduction) lends itself well to successful jamming of tiny active radars in missile heads.

Survivability is the reason why supercruise business jets might become the basis for the next generation of Sigint, AEW and radar ground surveillance radar aircraft.
I don't expect this to happen soon, though. The procurement cycle might require a new generation of such systems only in twenty or more years because most air forces that might accept small aircraft as platforms (this seems to exclude the USAF) have equipped themselves with such planes quite recently.

Sven Ortmann


Reminder: It's too easy to underestimate

The photo shows an Iraqi Type 69 tanks after capture by the USMC in 1991.

Easily visible is the now well-known slat armor applied to turret rear and sides, almost immunizing these surfaces against shaped charge munitions.

Slat armor is both K.I.S.S. and extremely unsexy - it was occasionally used since at least the 1960's (as secret frontal protection for the Swedish "S-tank", for example), but had its breakthrough only few years ahead when it was understood as excellent protection for lightly armored vehicles against the very old RPG-7 anti-tank weapons.

The 'Western' approach to armor was primarily the compound armor ("Chobham" armor and similar), Israel and the Warsaw Pact additionally embraced ERA (reactive armor) on large scale - and earlier.

This slat armor anecdote from 1991 serves two purposes;
First, it reminds us that something may be highly efficient, but not 'sexy' (it's good to remember the disastrous consequences that the 'spit and polish school' had in the Royal Navy about a hundred ears ago).
Second, it reminds us that big budget high-tech armies have no monopoly on great tools/weapons; sometimes, even third rate armies and despised low-tech systems have 'diamond' components.

Sven Ortmann

edit: I see the irony of posting about underestimating others directly after a harsh critique on an operation that has yet to take place. Feel free to falsify my previous post, I'd love to be wrong on that one.

edit 2009-03-01:
I found another example, slat armor on a BTR-70 during the Afghanistan War (the Soviet episode):


"Mission Atalanta" or: How to demonstrate incompetence

There are some ragtag modern pirates in our world. Most of the time they're on land, of course. No pretty sailing ships and black powder guns - just small and nimble motor boats and some 1960's infantry weapons. They don't sail the high seas, but annoy (or entertain) news consumers with quite daring attacks on ships in front of Somalia and in the Strait of Malacca.

The Somali breed has annoyed some governments too much too quickly.
They're pissed off and want to send warships to - well, to do something about it.
The EU calls that "Mission Atalanta" - about ten ships were said to be included in this.
That's an outrageous embarrassment - I'll elaborate on that later.

The German participation is even more embarrassing. The legal foundation for pirate hunts is surprisingly disputed in Germany. It's apparently unclear what to do with prisoners if any were taken (I doubt that).

Finally, there will be one frigate with anti-terror mission at the coast of Somalia (which collected valuable intel on the pirates in the past) and another one exclusively for anti-pirate patrol.
I'll better not go into any detail about the anti-terror frigate mission, that would be too much railing in one post.

Back to the anti-pirate patrol: It's a waste of time.
The politicians seem to go the most obvious yet completely pointless path. That's a demonstration of incompetence.
A successful hunt for pirates isn't the same as a patrol. Instead, you need to go to their bases. To patrol the seas just wastes time.
The EU has displayed a basic knowledge of Greek mythology by calling the Mission "Atalanta" (albeit it's not connected to the mission in any way). Instead they should better have known a minimum about military history - and call a different, really effective mission "Mission Pompey".
Pompey was not only a Roman politician and general of Caesar's time, but also likely the most successful pirate hunter of all time.

Superficial history books for pupils tell about how he fought the pirates at sea and defeated them. Good history books tell about how ships were necessary to move ground troops quickly - and how he eradicated the pirate's bases and (obviously) defeated them morally and by superior mass, coordination and high mobility.
He could have patrolled the seas for years without decisive success - the assault on the bases (often deserted in advance due to broken will) was the decisive element. Finally, he used an amnesty.

The EU wouldn't need to send any warships if it had a clue. A simple freighter, some inflatable boats, a medium transport plane and a fighter bomber in Djibouti and a company of parachute-qualified infantry is all that's necessary. I could plan and organize an effective raid (if intel was available to me) with the resources of a poor Third World country.
The key for a minimum intensity solution is to raid the base/village's coastline at night, destroy the tools (boats and engines) with explosives, use some threatening leaflets, exfiltrate with boats to the ship and demonstrate power (bombs impacting around the village at an announced time as a warning).

Well, some captives held by the pirates complicate the affair, but those are (AFAIK) mostly not Europeans and all you need to do is make clear that the village will be eradicated without further warning by bombs if piracy continues or captives weren't freed.
Finally, it may end in dead captives - and a village that was destroyed (including population). I would bet that this would end piracy and make lots of minor conflicts much easier for us for at least two decades.

Politicians are of course not ready to order such actions (anymore), but are unable to do nothing as well - that's why they launched a most likely wasteful mission with temporary success designed to save face - at the taxpayer's expense.
I bet the mass media won't understand the futility of patrols till that's too old news to tell a story about this.

Sven Ortmann

edit2008-11-20: Thanks to 'DemolitionMan' for the link:
"Dmitry Rogozin said the view of Russian experts was that naval action alone, even involving a large fleet of a powerful nation, would not be enough to defeat the pirates, given Somalia's geo-strategic position."


90 years ago: End of the Great War

World War I (then known as "The Great War") ended 90 years ago, on 11 November 1918. The last veterans died peacefully in the past few years.

90 years ago a war finally came to an end that had almost shattered the fabric of Europe; culture, states, economy, science, population. The terrible 1918 flu pandemic killed even more people till 1920, but didn't have such lasting impact.

Europe had changed forever in World War I.
The British Empire was ruined.
Bolshevism had conquered the remains of the broken up Russian Tzar empire.
Austria-Hungary, a power with hundreds of years of history and important force for order in South-East Europe, had gone.
The Ottoman Empire had gone.
France had experienced severe destruction and a disproportionate loss of life.
The young nation Italy had experienced a huge loss of life and had its weak economy strained beyond its limits.
The young nation Germany had experienced huge loss of life, was ruined economically and it was the only major surviving losing power. It got all the blame - and a unhealthy dosage of humiliation by France and Poland. It barely kept the radical left from permanent power, instead falling prey to the radical right after two more major crisis (hyper inflation and great depression).

The war had left more scars than that, though. The culture had changed - beyond culture fashions like clothes. Many Europeans came to see war as a terribly destructive and lethal event for little or no gain. War wasn't like in the old times - coloured soldier marching to distant battlefields. War had become once again like the Thirty Years War - utterly destructive, uncivilized, ruining, maiming, destroying everything that generations had worked for. This became part of the national heritage - a certain commemoration of war. Europe offered everyone a demonstration of war that could help others to learn about the true nature of war.

The lesson has faded a bit over generations - despite being refreshed by the even more destructive Word War II. The price that Europe had paid for the insight was excessive - and it's even more outrageous that other nations apparently didn't learn the same lesson yet. Europe's large nations are different from other nations - for a reason.
That's not cowardice of flimsiness; it's wisdom. Expensive and valuable wisdom.
Let's not forget the lesson, or else two generations of our ancestors would have suffered completely in vain.

Sven Ortmann


Sound supressors and decoys

Infantry has the best chance for survival if it succeeds in keeping its location secret. That's why camouflage, concealment and deception are so important.

It's important to initiate a firefight from an advantageous position and with the advantage of surprise. It's important as well to keep this uncertainty as long as possible to reduce effective counter-fire.
To fire from unsuspected directions (flank or rear) is a typical trick of the trade, but the actual reduction of firing signatures and use of decoys could achieve even more.
The use of decoys (that mimic the acoustic and visible firing signature of actual assault rifles and machine guns - basically LED lights and dedicated firecrackers) would be difficult to prepare, but the reduction of firing signatures is actually quite simple at least for assault rifles.

Sound suppressors are easier to use, though - they need no special consideration in combat.

All-metal sound suppressors can be built to
- eliminate muzzle flash
- reduce the acoustic signature forward slightly
- reduce the acoustic signature backward and to the sides significantly
- minimize movements of foliage, grass, sand & dust around the muzzle
- reduction in recoil by more than 20% (muzzle brake effect)
- slight improvement of dispersion

the disadvantages would be
- a little bit more weapon length (about 3-5 cm)
- center of gravity of the weapon moved forward
- a little bit more weight (less than 400 g)
- different external ballistics than without sound suppressor (impact point shifted by less than four MOA)
- little bit more cost (less than 100 € if procured in large quantity)
- sound suppressor would need to be removed/replaced to reduce thermal signature
- the rifle becomes unsuitable for rifle grenades, blank and frangible bullets if the suppressor is attached
- the sound suppressor diameter might interfere with iron sights that are very close to the barrel (like on the old G3)
- sound suppressors with many baffles need to be installed precisely

Such suppressors withstand rough use and quick fire quite well.

The elimination of the muzzle flash is the key - it helps to keep the location of the shooter unknown for precious seconds and adds to the enemy's confusion. The morale effect of few seconds more confusion during an ambush can be decisive - but it cannot be understood with exercises and operational research.

Add a well-emplaced machine gun with periscope sight that doesn't expose the machine gunner much and you've got the equipment to maximize the survivability of the infantry in the defense.

The survivability of infantry during a movement to contact or even an assault will always be an even greater problem. This requires much more training, creativity and discipline than tools.
There is potential for tool improvement for the benefit of the infantry, though. Much less bulky, less heavy, less expensive and less obvious tools than level IV ballistic vests are still awaiting their exploitation.

Sven Ortmann


Schweres Wurfgerät

Trotz starker Artillerie und verstärkter Granatwerferaustattung sollte man nicht auf ein schweres Wurfgerät verzichten. Die vom deutschen schweren Wurfgerät erreichte Höchstschussweite von 2200m muß noch gesteigert werden. Zur Bekämpfung von Flächenzielen gibt es für Panzergrenadiere keine bessere Waffe. Ein zusammengefaßter Feuerschlag von Napalm- oder auch "nur" Brisanz- oder Flammöl-Wurfgranaten hat in Angriff und Abwehr eine große Wirkung.
Eike Middeldorf, German Army General Staff expert on tactical lessons learned 1944/45, in a book for the young Bundeswehr ("Taktik im Russlandfeldzug", 1956)

You should not dispense with heavy projectiles despite strong artillery and reinforced equipment with mortars. The maximum range of the German heavy projectiles of 2,200m needs to be increased. There's no better weapon for the mechanised infantry against area targets. A concerted strike of napalm or even "only" HE or fire oil heavy projectiles has a great effect both in attack and defense.
Two books of Eike Middeldorf (this and "Handbuch der Taktik" of 1957) are diamonds of military literature, fusing German WW2 wartime know-how, 1950's NATO army know-how and his conclusions. His writing needs to be seen in context though - he basically wrote for the case that the NATO might repeat the Eastern Front war of WW2.

This quote is one of the many interesting quotes in those books. The "schwere Wurfgerät" he's writing about is the "Schweres Wurfgerät 41" or "Schwerer Wurfrahmen 40" in calibre 32cm.
Both were crude weapons, the former was for prepared fires, especially in breakthrough actions:
The latter (Schwerer Wurfrahmen 40) was mounted on the APC of that time, a SdKfz 250, and was therefore mobile enough for the kind of actions that Middeldorf wanted:

Some things changed in the post-war artillery; primitive and cheap weapons like these were certainly not well-suited for the military-industrial complex - and the artillery technology advanced with proximity fuzes for greater fragmentation effect and DPICM for even greater fragmentation. But fragmentation works best against unprotected targets, and it's rather simple to protect a force in the field against DPICM. A light truck with a foxhole excavator and a strong plate to cover and camouflage the foxhole is one example of how to do it in minutes.

NATO countries did apparently not see much need for Wurfgerät-like weapons and munitions in the past decades, but WW2 experiences aren't the only thing that suggests some merit in the idea:
The Russians developed and produced the TOS-1M "Heavy Flamethrower" system. They don't use napalm, conventional explosive or flame oil, but thermobaric warheads and used old MBT hulls instead of APC hulls as carriers. I mentioned the system already in August.

There's a difference between Middeldorf's concept and the TOS-1, though: Middeldorf wanted these weapons as rarely used overwhelming firepower organic to mechanised infantry (Panzergrenadier) battalions - the TOS-1 appears to be a higher level ordnance.

Nevertheless; did we reject the Wurfgerät weapons category too early, do we have a gap in our equipment for a fight against fortified areas?

Sven Ortmann



I did once explain the need for reform in politics to a conservative friend like this:

Effective and popular bills have already been passed.
Effective but unpopular bills have not been passed yet (most of them).
Ineffective and popular bills have already been passed (some of them).
Ineffective and unpopular bills are extremely rare.

The decisive variable in politics isn't only effectiveness, but also popularity - which leaves us always some potential for improvement.

It's similar for innovations (also in military affairs).
The variable "popularity" can be replaced by "plausibility" (or other variables - let's stick to plausibility for now).

There's certainly much potential for improvement/innovation in equipment, tactics, operational art, strategy, logistics, wartime policy.

We can search for innovation potential the normal way - just for effective+plausible - but we won't find much potential for improvement this way.

Instead, we should consider to look for implausible but effective changes.

That's quite difficult, especially if you don't have a unit at hand for experiments; the human brain depends a lot on plausibility. But some things are only implausible and seemingly paradox on the surface. That was described very well in the book "Strategy: The Logic of Peace and War" by E.N. Luttwak.

There are other variables that reduce the likeliness of effective innovations. These variables represent human weaknesses. Technological lock-in, tradition, necessary effort, (no) profit opportunity for arms industry and so on.

Sven Ortmann