2008/12/29

The Israel-Hamas conflict as a case study

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Israel claims to defend itself in this conflict. Well, defense or offense is very difficult to tell when a conflict is that old and both sides attacked the other one again and again since decades. Let's ignore that for a while and pretend that rockets flew into Israel and Israel responded with bombs - simple as that:

Does "self defence" really justify the response in that case?

International law would likely say yes, although it's more complicated when we don't simplify the case. Israel hasn't exactly a white vest.

Many civil codes have the principle of proportionality. You - as an individual - are allowed to defend yourself and your property - but proportionally limits this right.
You are in most countries not allowed to shoot a kid that steals apples from your tree or to kill someone who has merely beaten you slightly. You're usually also not allowed to return after an assault and kill the family of an assailant or burn his house.
Your reaction needs to be proportionate. Being under attack does NOT legalize/legitimate ANY violent reaction.
OK, that's not really favoring the Israeli position and it's pretty much the criticism that was (again) in the news. The reaction was disproportionate.
- - -
There's another problem, and that's (finally) my (afaik) original contribution to this messy subject:

Maybe you read this blog before and recall an old text about victory or defeat (or as I would call it today; "successful war and unsuccessful war").
I will apply that thought on the Israel-Hamas/Gaza conflict.

1st
Violent action can only be justified by its good effects.

2nd
A war is only legitimate if it doesn't worsen the situation for everyone, for example. Violence that worsens the situation is despicable and illegitimate.

3rd
This includes that even self-defense isn't justified if it worsens the situation even for the defender.

The U.N. charter doesn't reflect this. It allows self-defence without requiring proportionality.
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It's obvious that Israel cannot hold itself back and just show the other cheek as a strategy to undermine the power of extremists on both sides, to gain/strengthen the support of other nations and to cool the overall conflict down.

Sure, such a behavior would likely result in escalating harassment by its enemies, but disproportionate payback doesn't seem to help Israel's interests in the long term either.
They need a strategy that at can lead to an end of the misery - instead of mere revenge and killing of enemies/destruction of enemy hardware.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.:
Btw, Gaza should simply be swallowed by Egypt again in my opinion. Egypt could handle that region and its extremists. That would require an external moderator's pressure, though.

2008/12/22

Kriegerdenkmal Gross Königsdorf

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There's some discontent in some NATO countries about a lack of martial will of Germany. That's very strange as we've heard the opposite complaints more than enough, and I'd like to address this discontent.

The German population has a strong consensus that the military's task is to prevent war and actual war is meant to be for self-defense and collective defense. There's rather little sympathy for the idea that a military should fight for national interest or even for other nation's interests (and the Afghanistan War isn't widely believed to be about collective defense).

Germany was actually a rather peace-loving nation even during those times that are often depicted as militaristic.
There were 43 years of peace (less very few small wars overseas) before the First World War and there was a strong-anti-war sentiment in the inter-war years. Social-democratic foreign policy tried to reach out and attempted to reconcile with France. Even Hitler had to fake a love for peace in his speeches.
The appreciation for war in the Cold War was as low as it could be (both enemies and allies would have murdered us with their tactical nuclear weapons in the event of war, and we would have had to fight each other).

Germany's primary concept for a good future was most of the time economic success - this worked fine before the world wars and after the world wars.
War is widely being understood as extremely wasteful, civilization-breaking, deadly even for civilians and generally as a waste of a generation.

I drove through a village in Western Germany today and made these photos of a Kriegerdenkmal (~war memorial) in Königsdorf.


This small village's Kriegerdenkmal lists 33 names for the First World War and 90 for the Second World War. Such Kriegerdenkmäler are common in rural areas of Germany (the cities got destroyed in WW2, after all) and also wide-spread in Austria, France, UK and other European countries.

Most were erected close to churches in the 1930's, calling the dead of the Great War Helden (heroes). The dead of WW2 were usually added later, and inscriptions call them rather "victims".
The Kriegerdenkmal in Königsdorf is a typical example; it's close to the village church and it shows that the last war years were the most terrible - and some dead after the war due to the war (in captivity or due to long-term effects of injuries).
Keep in mind that civilian losses were much higher in the bombed cities than in rural areas like this village.

- - - - - - - - -

Repeat:
War is meant for defense, not for influence.
A majority of Germans don't agree that the Afghanistan war is defensive.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/21

The automobile companies bailout and the long-ignored economic reality

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There's some right-wing talk about how unions were responsible for the high costs of the big three automobile companies in the USA.

Well, it looks to me as if the automobile companies (that seem to deserve a reputation for being unable to learn or even predict properly) simply moved their costs into the future during the 70's, 80's and 90's.
There would be ZERO costs for pensioned workers today if these costs had been paid in a proper fund model at the same time when said worker gave their work force to the automobile companies.

Instead, the Big 3 did what governments do; they accumulated obligations instead of spending the true price immediately.

(Maybe that the unions bear responsibility due to the volume, but honestly; it takes an asymmetry in power that favors the employees to make such past deals unfair.
A power asymmetry that favors employees over their employer is about as common in reality as companies' recruiters visiting unemployed workers for a job interview to beg for them to join the company.)

The same self-inflicted slow poisoning that happened to the Big 3 will happen to the U.S. government as a whole in a few decades unless its obligations will be de-valued (and effectively a huge portion of the citizens be robbed).

There are many problems in many Western societies like public debt, public long-term obligations (pensions and other), bad economy structures, unsustainable trade balances, inefficient political processes, unsustainable non-renewable resource consumption, neglect of lower class youths and excessive consumption and service expectations of citizens.

Meanwhile, some people still fantasize about future 'necessary' military spending and grandiose R&D + procurement programs.
The detachment from reality will likely last for at least another year, and some people will never catch up with reality.

Many Western states need to reform themselves a lot, even need to rebuild their industrial base and re-orient their economy. Any avoidable military expenditures needs to be avoided - and the expectations in military affairs need to be tuned down to proper alliance self-defence and participation in explicitly U.N.-authorized defense of nations.

Military expenditures are pure consumption in macroeconomics - mostly useless for the economic development. Their only unquestionable utility lies in national security. There's rarely any convincing utility beyond that.
You don't need to have almost half of the world military spending (purchasing power parity) for your national security if you're in the most powerful alliance ever.

Dipl.-Ök. Sven Ortmann

2008/12/20

Some eye candy for a change; MBB Bo 105 low level aerobatics



This helicopter's rotor head design (much less moving parts and maintenance requirements, better agility) was a revolution for helicopter technology in the 1960's.

This rotor head technology is still not dominant in military aviation because helicopter designs of the 70's still prevail. The S-70 that won the UTTAS competition (UH-60 BlackHawk) uses the outdated rotor head design, for example. Its competitor YUH-61 used the superior semi-rigid system of composite construction system like the Bo 105.

2008/12/18

Matthew Yglesias on the Iraq war

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Matthew Yglesias on the Iraq war:
The harsh reality is that this was not a noble undertaking done for good reasons. It was a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards. And it’s seen as such by virtually everyone all around the world — including but by no means limited to the Arab world. But it’s impolitic to point this out in the United States, and it’s clear that even a president-elect who had the wisdom not to be suckered in by the War Fever of 2002 has no intention of really acting to marginalize the bad actors. Which, I think, makes sense for his political objectives. But if Americans want to play a constructive role in world affairs, it’s vitally important for us to get in touch with the reality of what the past eight years of US foreign policy have been and how they’re seen and understood by people who aren’t stirred by the shibboleths of American patriotism.

It's true, but I'm a bit puzzled why this is still a story.
He only wrote about what was a pretty standard opinion on the Iraq War in Germany even before the war began.

Sorry, this time no #1 for "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!".

The time for painful insights will come for most who became emotionally engaged pro-war since 2002, and I bet that many will try to use painkillers like a "stab-in-the-back" theory. It's already in the making since 2006 by people like Rove, Rice and Feith.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: ETA. for the first 'impolite' comment is 2000.

2008/12/17

The American Way of War (tm)

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I am experiencing positive feedback and confirmation with greater regularity than ever before for one opinion of mine in the past months, so I think it's about time to engage the topic directly.

"With the Osprey ... I think the fast forward flight mode of the Osprey -- man, you could put forces on the battlefield where they need to be in a big hurry," White said...But read carefully what he says next...

"I think the enemy has it templated out where ... they know how long it takes for [fixed wing] air to check on station and start working. So, man, I think those Ospreys you could set some blocking forces behind some enemy and I think you could really be able to out maneuver them and gain the upper hand pretty quickly. So I would look forward to the opportunity to work with the Osprey..."
http://www.defensetech.org/archives/004591.html

So this officer needs high-tech tilt rotor planes in addition to his other first class equipment and support to decisively defeat guys in pickups in skirmishes?

That's exactly what's in my opinion wrong with the American Way of War(tm). A huge material input is required to solve troubles with feeble Third World opponents.

The USA had some extremely costly (and unsuccessful) wars in the past decades with no more opposition than merely light infantry.


The USA defeated the badly overstretched (way beyond the culminating point) North Korean infantry forces early in the Korean War after initial debacles.
- - - - - - - -
The USA lost against the PR Chinese (an infantry-strong force with little artillery and tanks and no air support) in the Korean War after being initially overrun.
This defeat (net change since Chinese intervention; retreat from North Korea's northern border to South Korea's northern border) is being sold to the world as a draw by looking at the whole war instead of only at the period that included the PRC's PLA involvement, though.
- - - - - - - -
The USA defeated the Vietcong in South Vietnam tactically, but never strategically.
- - - - - - - -
The USA lost to North Vietnam's NVA (again few support arms) strategically (broken will, it's plain like that).
The actions in Vietnam have badly damaged the USA's reputation and created hundreds of thousands of additional opponents.
The Americans fell back to insist that they were never defeated by Vietnamese in battle - as if that meant anything any more once the war was lost.
- - - - - - - -
The USA (as a so-called superpower) invaded successfully the Third World midget island state of Grenada, but not without several casualties.
The cost of the invasion was likely greater than Grenada's GDP.
Congratulations.
- - - - - - - -
The USA as superpower successfully invaded the small Third World state of Panama in a war of aggression (also using a land connection to its bases in the Canal zone).
Congratulations.
- - - - - - - -
The USA - together with many allies - defeated the inept Iraqi army in 1991.
The Iraqi army was doctrinally no more advanced than the French army in 1918, though.
The cost of war was greater than Iraq's GDP.
- - - - - - - -
The USA - again with significant allies - invaded successfully the much disarmed and embargo-weakened Iraq in 2003, immediately failing in the 'control' mission once arriving in Baghdad.
- - - - - - - -
The USA successfully invaded with truly significant allies Afghanistan and with the help of several neighboring countries against the Taliban - a motorized infantry Third World militia whose warfare skills were comparable to the late 19th century Boers at most.
- - - - - - - -
The USA failed pretty much during the occupation of Iraq, resulting in more than six years of civil war (at least three more to come), unchecked ethnic cleansing and violence and vastly different development in Iraqi politics than intended.
The war cost was not only greater than Iraq's GDP, but likely on the order of one or two decades worth of Iraq's GDP. The war cost (fiscal and other, including attention) badly damaged the USA's fiscal health and inevitably also its economy.
The ground forces became worn out to a significant degree and lost much of their conventional war 'skill'.
The actions in Iraq have badly damaged the USA's reputation and created tens of thousands of additional opponents, including a brand new Iraqi AQ branch.
They're selling this now as a U.S. success/victory to the world.
- - - - - - - -
The USA failed so far in the occupation of Afghanistan. AQ and Taliban leaders slipped away. The Taliban are in the process of regaining control of much of the country, establishing shadow administrations in rural regions. Again, a huge expense and material effort failed to break the enemy's will - instead, the actions helped the enemy with its recruitment and fueled the civil war. Furthermore, it destabilized the neighboring nuclear power Pakistan.


The U.S.Americans have no doubt a great talent for PR (public relations) and most of them seem to be convinced of their armed service's superior quality.
You do certainly know at this point that their PR talent failed on me.


Many Americans believe that their allies should look at the U.S. Armed services and learn.
I believe that these allies should better look at examples of military efficiency, not at an example of excessive military spending for losing wars. Well, unless they want to know what to avoid.
There are impressive examples of military proficiency and efficiency in European, Eastern Asian and South African military history that offer many lessons for land warfare. Lessons that are actually worth to be learned.

Here's a (humorous, but true) example:
(The irony of history: The Russians tried to succeed against the Finnish Jäger/Jääkäri light infantry with high material effort and superior numbers.)

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/16

Armored vehicles

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One of the striking effects of the Iraq war on military hardware was the hardening of vehicles. Even dedicated AFVs were further hardened (TUSK set for Abrams and other measures, I'll probably cover that in the next weeks).

Everyday use-vehicles like the HMMWV were hardened as well - first as increased production of pre-war armored versions and with improvised armor, later with improved armored versions.
Logistical trucks were hardened (well, the cabs) for almost the very first time.
Later we saw the revival of armored trucks that were strikingly similar to South African/Rhodesian designs of the 70's.

Remote-controlled weapon stations (RCWS) became a hot item in the international 'defense' market after a while (an earlier reaction was to add WW2 and Vietnam-style gun shields).

Armor (against blast, bullets, outdated shaped charge warheads) has become almost a must-have for new military vehicles.

The trend looked similar in Afghanistan.

I consider light armor as a good idea.
Steel protection against 7.62mmx54R steel core and AP mines as well as a spall liner and fire extinguisher to limit the effects of penetrations is relatively cheap, light and thin.

I have some doubts about whether heavier armor is a really a good idea, though.

The benefits of the much heavier armor against RPGs and large IEDs are in my opinion rarely great enough to justify the increase in fuel consumption, maintenance requirements, ground pressure and width.

Let's recall that "jeeps" used to be small, cheap and nimble liaison vehicles. Light trucks were used for small cargo hauling like transport of wire and tools to a platoon. There's also such a thing like enemy air reconnaissance in many scenarios (and air supremacy cannot change that; or would F-22's hunt for 5 lbs photo drones?) - huge vehicles are simply disadvantageous at times.
Many small bridges cannot support the heavier MRAP models and unpaved, wet roads can be ruined by a column of heavy trucks.

The fuel consumption is an issue in itself. Armor costs cargo weight and space. You end up transporting less with the same fuel consumption or the same with a higher fuel consumption. The reduction of payload per vehicle means that march column/convoy lengths grow - the unit march speed declines.

My old (pre-2003) opinion was that armored brigades could use armored trucks to reduce the security requirements for their otherwise entirely 'soft' support units.
I didn't think that smallish jeep-like vehicles needed armor and I still don't.
I also believed that the need for armored vehicles in infantry-heavy brigades (which should fight in tank-unfriendly terrain) isn't very large in conventional war.

About occupation wars; well, you're doing something wrong if the local population wants to kill you, period. Armored vehicles don't change that.

I expect (and hope) that light, unarmored vehicles more comparable to a Jeep Wrangler than a "JLTV" or "MRAP 2" (whatever that will become) will be procured in large quantities once the Iraq war-induced overemphasis of non-combat vehicle armor faded away.
I expect the same for light trucks (2 to 3 ton range) because their payload suffers a lot by the (fixed weight penalty of a) armored cab.
Medium and heavy trucks can easily carry the extra weight of some armor, but bulky and simply not 'sexy' (a factor with too much relevance in peacetime) armor (like slat armor) as well as armor that limits the field of view (traffic accident problem!) won't survive in peacetime for long. They might get an exchangeable cab design - soft in peacetime, but with the option of a hard module for wartime (and of course too few actual hard modules in storage).

The present 'vehicle armor for everyone' drive is an exaggeration. Most non-combat vehicles should not be (well-)armored in most conflicts.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/15

Today's 10. Panzerdivision (Bundeswehr)

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I'm usually not very interested in specific units and their organization.
I am interested in TO&Es and structures, but not in individual units.

There are exceptions, though.
The 10. Panzerdivision of the Bundeswehr (German army) is such an exception.

That division consists (to date) of

* its staff company,
* a musicians unit (I want my tax money back!),
* Panzerbrigade 12 and
* Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23.

The reason for why a staff, a mountain infantry brigade and an armor brigade can/should be called a division - even a Panzerdivision (armor division) seems to be very elusive.
I can't find it.

The 10. Panzerdivision (just like the 13.PzGrenadierdivision) is also strange because it has no divisional support assets - unlike the 1. Panzerdivision, which has nine divisional support units of company to regiment size.
I'm obviously not talking about a 'real' division here, but merely about a HQ and two brigades.

The whole 10. Panzerdivision (and the 13. PzGrenadierdivision) lacks a dedicated artillery unit. It has no artillery regiment or battalion. Compare that to the 1. Panzerdivision; 1 artillery regiment plus 1 armored artillery battalion plus 1 Lehr armored artillery battalion.

Another confusing detail:
The Panzerbrigade 12 has one armor and two mech infantry battalions plus support units. That's the same composition as our two Panzergrenadierbrigaden (mech infantry) have. So why is it a Panzerbrigade and not a Panzergrenadierbrigade?


Let's face it; the requirement to keep the know how for armor/mech infantry, airborne infantry and mountain infantry plus the intent to have one Luftbewegliche Brigade (a strange helicopter combat unit) doesn't allow for an all-division army.

It would make sense to exploit the opportunity for an experiment with some independent brigades.

I would send the Panzerbrigade 12 as Panzergrenadierbrigade to the 1. Panzerdivision and free up the Panzerbrigade 21 (which has one armor, one mech infantry and one armored arty battalion) as an independent brigade (with built-in combined arms even without divisional support).

The Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23 could be independent as well. Permanent cooperation with a heavy brigade doesn't make sense for a light infantry brigade with some high mountain specialists anyway.

*Sigh* I wasn't able to resist Captain Obvious this time. */sigh*

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: This is the army structure 2010.

edit:

The locations of the units are a complicating factor, of course. It may also be that the seemingly superfluous divisional HQ makes sense as a training opportunity for officers. The structure doesn't make sense from a 'war' and 'doctrine' perspective in my opinion, though.

2008/12/14

Military procurement in 2009/2010

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I've tried to hammer an insight into my audience:
Military spending levels are partially wasteful and for many countries too high these days.

I stick to this and am convinced that it's extremely important.

There are complicating exceptions, though.
One such exception is a superficially paradox effect of the current economic crisis:
Most of the Western governments attempt to turn their nation's economies around with additional government spending.
That's a questionable concept that depends almost entirely on two multiplier variables (that tell about how much economic activity is being kicked off by private and by public spending) - and a yes or no should depend on how much you trust the econometrics (that's the science field that attempts to calculate these multipliers).
Maybe it's right to increase government spending right now, maybe not.

To relocate government investment and consumption from 2011-2013 into 2009-2010 has certainly advantages (especially the addition of debt) with small additional disadvantages in comparison to simple "more spending".
To renovate a government building in 2009 instead of in 2013 or to buy training munitions in 2010 instead of in 2012 seems to make sense, even if you don't trust the multipliers.

This means that there's the superficially paradox situation that an unsustainable military budget should very well get additional money in the short term (to fix economic problems that were partially created by wasteful governments) - but such a short-term budget increase needs to be followed by a return to a sustainable level (in the medium term even below that one).
Please note that this is not an increase in spending for the next five years - the spending in that period should indeed decline. I meant merely a shift of spending from the medium term to the short term as part of economic stabilisation policy.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/13

Wake-up call

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Let's face some reality: It would be foolish to spend much on national security in the next three to six years.

There are discussions and studies about what could be done better than before if we allocate money here or there - but it should not happen.
There's no money (unless you accept to go broke on a national scale) for more training, more hardware, more soft power - the luxury of expeditions needs to end in this time of economic crisis and our military needs to accept a smaller budget.


* The fiscal health of our states is a very strong factor for our ability to prepare for defense in general.

* The economic health of our nations is a very strong factor for our ability to defend ourselves and to prepare for our defense when war becomes likely.

Our long-term national and collective (NATO) security would be ill-served if we spent much on national security policy and its metastases in the next few years.

We need to exploit the opportunity to focus on our economic & fiscal problems without serious national security challenge. Terrorists are annoying in fair weather, but not worth the distraction now.

I've heard and read much about how the Arabs are responsible for their problems and always blame others. Well, now it's our turn to face reality and to realize that our societies were not sustainable and we need to address OUR domestic problems.

There will certainly come a time when we can afford distraction, waste of resources in expeditionary warfare and messing in distant and irrelevant places in general again, but it's not now.

1st
Get out of the wasteful 2002-2006 crusader attitude.

2nd
Face reality; we have domestic problems. Real, huge problems.
We cannot afford what many believed was affordable and our societies are not sustainable.

3rd
Fix our own problems.

4th
Enjoy the benefits of no-nonsense behavior after 2015.


Proposals like
"Building a Military for the 21st Century"
"These recommendations would save the Department
of Defense $38.6 billion over the next four years."
are just poor jokes.

NATO members with especially strong economic problems (UK, Spain, Greece, USA, Italy) and/or especially strong military spending (USA) don't need minor savings like one or two percent in military budgets - but rather 20, 30 - maybe 50% cuts.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/12

"Bewegliche Gefechtsführung"

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Some of my favorite books are those of Eike Middeldorf, a German author of the 50's and 60's who was very influential in the early Bundeswehr.
He was responsible for tactical lessons learned at the OKH (German army general staff) in '43-'45, worked in the Amt Blank (shadow defense ministry before Western re-armament) and was responsible for the Bundeswehr manuals for many years.
I recommend all of his books.

One of his often-repeated requirements was that an army (at battalion to brigade level) needs to pursue a bewegliche Gefechtsführung.
This is difficult to translate, maybe "agile combat leadership & execution" fits best. It's in principle also what the Heer teaches.

This wasn't only about road or off road speed of vehicles or units. It's also about reaction times from camp to march, about quick decision-making, about readiness to change your intent according to a changed situation. For Middeldorf it was apparently the hallmark of competent behavior on battalion to brigade level (he focused on Kampfgruppen - regiment-sized combined arms teams - in his second book).

The bewegliche Gefechtsführung includes such a much-discussed concept like the OODA loop as a natural component.

Ultimately, it's about doing the right thing in the situation - not the right thing for a situation long gone.

Quickness helps to evade defeat, to exploit opportunities, to arrive in time to help comrades and to reduce wasteful idle time.

This combination of quickness of the mind, quickness of material and high readiness doesn't seem to receive the well-deserved attention in many armed forces.

A high emphasis on risk reduction, on firepower, on protection or even only on holding/controlling terrain seems to contradict the bewegliche Gefechtsführung mindset.

Sven Ortmann

Afghanistan madness

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The long duration of the Afghanistan war, the endurance of the Taleban, the lack of progress and the miraculously still not entirely cut supply line through Taliban territory - there's a lot that can make you wonder about the Afghanistan war.

There are answers, though. Sometimes new information becomes publicly available that explains the war (and why it's incredibly pointless):

"Taleban tax: allied supply convoys pay their enemies for safe passage"

We should end this stupid war, not feed it. It could go on for decades like this and not deliver any advantage for us. We survived a communist Vietnam as well.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/10

Terrorists & context.

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I'm not easy to impress, and terrorists didn't impress me much either.
They're a rather marginal threat to us in my opinion - and statistics team up with me on this.

Maybe that's because I have such a great interest in military history.
2,900 dead - that sounds to me like the losses of a single infantry division in front of Moscow in the winter of 1941/42 to me.

It's all about context.
The German scale for national defense problems goes right up to

* destruction of our cities. 80, 90%. Not just a single quarter - all cities!
and even
* becoming a radiating wasteland after annihilation by enemy and 'friendly' nuclear weapons.

We Germans should and could look at the terrorist 'threat' quite relaxed.
In fact, we do. Somehow. There's still some excitement in the news media when something happens - but that's probably on the same order of magnitude as excitement about spoiled meat scandals and definitively less than about a soccer championship.

Now if I only could understand why our government sent troops to Afghanistan and why they weren't (all) recalled yet...

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/09

'Matthew Alexander' interview



That's an amazingly relaxed setting for a serious topic. It still transmits the info as well as a newspaper article.

2008/12/08

German Arms Exports

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Germany is apparently #3 on the international arms export market.
That's quite interesting - Germany's industry is well-known for its export success and we've got a strong mechanical engineering industry, but also some very tough laws that exclude most crisis regions of the word for our arms exports.
We don't have dependent nations, puppet states or proxies that would prefer our products for political reasons (which is one explanation for the large volume of U.S. arms exports).

An article about the arms exports issue (with a critical tone) appeared in the Netzeitung, and was illustrated with this photo:
This photo is outright amazing.

I see a complete Sturmgewehr 44 of WW2 vintage, a MP40 of WW2 vintage, an incomplete assault rifle (also Sturmgewehr 44?) and something that looks like an Italian WW2 submachinegun.

That's certainly no good photo choice for an article about German arms exports in 2007 - but an amazing photo in itself. I knew that the grandfather of all assault rifles (at least production-wise) was still in use in Lebanon and elsewhere by militias during the 90's, but I didn't expect to see it ever in a news(paper) article any more.

It's also a small reminder how little small arms actually changed since WW2 - even the first of all assault rifles (Vollmer automatic carbine, prototypes built & successfully tested in the 30's) would still be a credible battlefield weapon today.
And the Indian police that failed (due to poor morale apparently) against terrorist raiders in Mumbai was armed with hundreds of Lee-Enfield rifles, an only slightly different model than the original Lee-Enfield rifle of about a hundred years ago.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/04

Development of strategies

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I am in a seemingly perpetual conflict with the ways of many 'strategic' thinkers.

Be they political pundits, general officers, government officials, authors or simply bloggers.

There are different ways how to develop a strategy and some of these ways were even codified. The straw that broke the camel's back for this blog story was this:
"In the past I have stressed the importance of thinking strategically before acting and have emphasized the idea that any strategy must address The Essence of Strategy-four critical questions based on single words:

* Where-do you intend to be at a time point in the future? (Future Picture)
* What-are you going to put your resources against? (Systems and Centers of Gravity)
* How-and in what time span are you going to apply your resources? (Parallel Attack)
* Exit-for every part of your plan? (Finish with Finesse)"
That sounds rather sound, but it's also utterly optimistic.

It's a demonstration of the "we can do that" attitude. This attitude is inappropriate for thinking at that decision level. "We can do that" is for NCOs and enlisted personnel.

The U.S.Americans use their "METT-TC" mnemonic to help in operations planning - especially on tactical and operational levels. It has an important element; "e" - enemy. That may be considered as just enemy location, strength and intent. Another important factor are the reaction alternatives of the enemy. You need to look at what effect your actions might have on the enemy - including his reactions to thwart your plan and including his evasive actions to reduce the effect of your plan.

Furthermore, your enemy might actually be capable to defeat you (imagine that!), which turns any "We can do that" background in strategic thinking into a recipe for disaster.

It's simply not enough to set a goal for the future and then work to achieve it.
We need to think thoroughly about our goal in the first place. That's the greatest and most important challenge in strategy development.

Problem One: Costs

The destruction of wealth, health and life needs to be justifiable, so the lost input is ALWAYS an important factor in strategy development. The Powell-Weinberger doctrine circumvented this necessity by allowing only unavoidable and very limited wars, a flawed simplification of the decision-making.

Afghanistan is a complicated case, and our information about that war is incomplete and questionable today (for absolutely everyone).

Let's use an example that we know a lot about: The First World War

Look at the strategy development guide from the quoted example.

There's apparently nothing in it to prevent the bloodshed, economic waste and the doom of empires (pretty much all six involved empires were broken, some less obviously than others) that characterized the First World War.
(I assume strongly that the first 'where' paragraph does not include fiscal and biological health of the own nation, as this would be untypical for such a question.)

The neglect of "costs" leads to disastrous results. Imagine a corporation invests without looking at the cost of the investment!
The "Loss aversion"/"Sunk costs" problem is a terrible trapdoor for those who look at costs the wrong way. Costs need to be considered for decision-making, but never sunk costs!

Problem Two: Enemy countermeasures

'We want to achieve an end-state - how do we do that?' - That's not enough.
"How will the opponent react?" is a very important question - a question that's too easily ignored due to the belief in the own overwhelming capabilities or it's being dismissed as impossible to predict.

The latter argument is somehow right, but it doesn't de-value the identification of possible opponent's reactions - especially if their success can be predicted.
The previous post about techno-tactical innovations to counter a technical innovation offers such promising reaction options that need to be considered in advance.

Again, a well-known historical example: I wrote an article (never published) about the Battle of Britain several years ago. I was puzzled by the standard claim in many history books and articles that the Luftwaffe pursued the wrong strategy, that it should have continued to bomb Fighter Cmd airfields.
That's wrong in my opinion, the Luftwaffe was (without much strategic thought) doing the (militarily, not morally) right thing. The whole rationale is too long for this blog post, the summary is this: It was impossible to defeat the Fighter Cmd by bombing its airfields. The Luftwaffe would have reached a RAF pain threshold at which the British fighters were re-deployed farther north, enabling them to reduce the combat activity to a sustainable level. The identification of this possible reaction (and the insight that this reaction would have ruined the plan) was very important. Göring apparently decided to discontinue the airfield bombing without such thinking, though.

The effects of air attacks on airfields were simply not mandatory - the opponent was able to evade these effects or render them irrelevant by a simple re-deployment of forces.

Some goals are simply impossible to enforce - even though that doesn't need to mean that you will be/were defeated. A goal might appear feasible with your plan, but it can become impossible to achieve once the opponent parries/dodges your action.


I'm a skeptic, no optimist. Optimists should not devise strategies (except for their own private business). Neutral minds should decide on strategies, supported by both optimists and skeptics.

We need to consider the costs (drawbacks) before we set our goals (and need to revisit this decision very often afterwards).
We need to consider the possible reactions of the opponent. The pursuit of a plan that can obviously be dodged is rarely a good idea.
A "We can do that" optimism needs to be banned from higher-level decision-making, it does only fit into the realms of NCOs.
Optimism (instead of neutrality) in decision-making adds to the probability of excessive costs and defeat.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/02

Weapons & munitions hype

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There's always the same when the procurement of a new weapon or munition is being announced in the press; a hype.

I recall estimates about one early 70's AH-1 attack helicopter being the equivalent of 18 tanks. A later AH-1 version was x % better. The next helicopter, AH-64A, was much better again. The later AH-64D should be able to take on an armor brigade according to these hypes.

There's a similar, and due to isolation more subtle example in the new issue of DTI on page 29:
The new AGM-88E version can apparently keep the lock on a targeted radar after the radar was switched off. Earlier versions depended entirely on a passive radar seeker to find their target - which was useless when the target stopped emitting as the Serbian radars did often in 1999.
Well, the problem was apparently approached technologically with a second seeker that shall keep the target in sight.

Problem solved. Right?

Not really.

Such a change doesn't make the enemy suddenly dumb. Just like the original designers expected the radar to emit till impact, simple countermeasures can protect the radar against the new missile version just as well. If a radar is in use at all - passive thermal sensors work just as fine in many short-range air defenses and have about the same range potential like any thermal and electro-optical sensors used by the aircraft to detect, identify and aim at targets on the ground.
Only radar-based and observer-based air attacks can outrange passive air defense sensors.

Let's look at it;

- the passive seeker might be fooled by a decoy radar emitter close to the recently switched-off real radar

- the active seeker might be fooled by decoys nearby the real emitting radar

- the active seeker might be jammed by a jammer close to the emitting radar

- chaff might be launched nearby the radar to degrade the active seeker's performance

- the radar might be parked along several trucks, some of which move away and offer the active seeker themselves as decoys

- the radar might be well-armored to withstand the hit, few antenna elements would be replaced after the hit

- the radar might be separated from its antenna

- the radar vehicle (with radar antenna on a mast) might be in the inner courtyard of a building where the active seeker cannot see it

- the incoming missile might be intercepted by another missile (a capability claimed for some missiles, including RBS-23 BAMSE)

- the incoming missile might be intercepted by autocannon shells with proximity or timed fuze

- objects (remember barrage ballons!) might be inserted into the flight path to provoke a premature missile warhead detonation

It's also important to note that a air defense network with functioning communications can replace a switched-off radar with another radar while the radar-guided missile is in flight. That would be an organizational-technological response that doesn't save the targeted radar in itself, but keeps the threat for the aircraft active.
The same applies to anti-air missiles that employ passive infrared or active (possibly even passive) radar guidance or a mix of these terminal guidance technologies. Such missiles don't depend on a ground radar's emissions after launch - or at least not during the whole flight.

These countermeasures have two things in common;
- I was able to figure them out in a matter of minutes
- they're cheap
Furthermore, most can be done in few months or even weeks and most involved technologies are mature.

It's possible to lengthen the spiral of arms technology race between offense and defense with projects like this, but the effect is marginal against smart opponents.
The missile improvements add other, non anti-radar features into the missile, but they don't do one thing that's being claimed; prohibit an escape of the opposing radar. A smart air defense will still be much easier to suppress than to destroy.

The good news; we can stick to "SEAD" (suppression of enemy air defenses" and don't need to switch to the terrible acronym "DEAD" (destruction of enemy air defenses).


Very rarely does a technological approach succeed in settling the race between offense and defense forever or for a very long time. An effective countermeasure is pretty much a sure thing. That's why absolutely no weapon or munition deserves to be hyped up.
In fact, any such hype only hurts - those innovations that get very little attention and offer no drastic improvement have the best chance to retain their effectiveness because a quick countermeasure is least likely for such an innovation.

Sven Ortmann

2008/12/01

Torture is not only immoral, but outright counter-productive

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"I'm still tortured by what I saw in Iraq"

"I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

"When I submitted the manuscript of my book about my Iraq experiences to the Defense Department for a standard review to ensure that it did not contain classified information, I got a nasty shock. Pentagon officials delayed the review past the first printing date and then redacted an extraordinary amount of unclassified material -- including passages copied verbatim from the Army's unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army's own Web site. I sued, first to get the review completed and later to appeal the redactions. Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don't even want the public to hear them."


A testimony by former Navy general counsel Alberto J. Mora in 2006:

"[T]here are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq -- as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat -- are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."


edit: 2008-12-19: