2009/08/31

AFV mobility

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The study of mobile warfare history and lessons learned offers hints that we should better improve the mobility of Western heavy (armour, mechanized) brigades.


The mobility of a tank is mostly defined by specific fuel consumption, fuel capacity, power/mass ratio (leading to acceleration and speed), (mean maximum) ground pressure and durability (tracks, engine, suspension). Other factors (gearbox, suspension and track design, for example) are relevant as well, but today usually not really restrictive any more.

Driving range (fuel capacity by specific fuel consumption) looks even more important than mere specific fuel consumption to me. The driving range defines the frequency of refueling. It has a huge impact on the formation's ability to maneuver freely. The tether of fuel supply can be long or short, and a long one is a huge advantage in mobile warfare ("long" not in the meaning of "overstretched").

Formations are usually awfully slow in relation to individual vehicles' speed potential. A low top speed (often used to describe a tank's mobility) is not very important for march mobility.

Acceleration is important on the level of individual tank tactics, but only so in terrain that provides opportunities for cover or concealment.

Ground pressure defines what kind of open, flat terrain is negotiable or not. Soft and wet soils can be impossible terrain for a tank if it has a high ground pressure; a common problem with main battle tanks. The "lighter" ones (like the Russian models) have usually lower ground pressures.

Durability was a major weakness of old Soviet tank models, and it's the primary reason why armies don't move their tanks much. A truck can easily run 10,000 km in a few weeks without major problems. A tank would need many expensive repairs (spare parts). A breakthrough in tank component durability could cause a revolution in land warfare because durability is the greatest constraint for the employment of tanks.
Let's take the T-72 with its relatively poor durability: track 3,200 km, engine 1,000 h, gearbox 7,000 km. This explains why their crews are usually ill-trained; much more training would not be affordable.

- - - - -

A WW2 lessons learned result of the German army was a requirement for 500 km off-road range. That collided quickly with reality, as the Bundeswehr got thirsty, short-legged M-47 and M-48 (ridiculous 110 - 200 km road range; less than Pzkw IV in WW2) as first equipment and needed to compromise in the Leopard 1 development as well.

The post-Cold War Leopard 2A5 has a quite good range, around 500 km - on road (the A4 version had 550 km with a fuel consumption of only about 218 l/100 km on road, but A5, A6 and A6M are heavier and therefore more thirsty).

This nominal fuel consumption isn't really relevant, though. Let me use the often-cited results of a Swedish tank competition that led to their procurement of Leopard 2 versions: The Leopard 2A4 consumed 26,874 l diesel on 3,730 km (mixed off-road and road driving).

The results looked like this:
Leopard 2A4: 720 l / 100 km
M1A1 Abrams: 1,478 l / 100 km
Leclerc: 1,380 l / 100 km
(The French claimed that their tank was still ill-prepared for the Swedish climate; their bad.)

That resulted in practical ranges (different fuel capacities) of:
Leopard 2A4: 167 km
M1A1 Abrams: 127 km
Leclerc: 120 km.

Leopard 2 and Abrams have since become even heavier, and their effective ranges were therefore significantly reduced.

- - - - -

Steps towards more durability and less specific fuel consumption seem to be incremental only. We can expect improvements if our procurement system presses for improvements, but we shouldn't expect huge improvements. Tank power pack evolution leads rather to higher power densities (more compact integrated engines) to save volume and therefore armour weight.

This drive for less volume is officially directed at saving system weight, a direction that I don't understand entirely.
The Cold War is over, and the German armoured forces have rediscovered mobile warfare and operational art; the emphasis on mobility is much greater than during the Cold War when the NATO was preparing for huge attrition battles with relatively little emphasis on mobility.

Saving weight is fine, but the change in power pack shape suggests a shorter tank hull (example Leclerc), which does neither save surface area on the most heavily armed frontal surfaces nor is it a good idea to reduce the length of a tank much (optimal track contact length:gauge ratio for good driving characteristics is 1.5-1.7).

The "EURO Power-Pack" (1995) is a well-known upgrade engine for legacy main battle tanks. The Bundeswehr didn't upgrade its Leopard 2 with this power pack. The reason was apparently a combination of costs and having no good idea about what to do with the extra volume in an old hull.

It could replace a Leopard 2's engine with a length saving of about one metre, and a volume saving of a bit more than two cubic m. That would suffice for an extra fuel capacity of about 2,000 liters.
2,000 litres diesel fuel (3,200 l instead of 1,200 l) would increase the driving range of the Leopard 2 by more than 150%.
Let's say I have an idea about what to do with the volume.

- - - - -

A battalion is a formation, though. Many other vehicles would need to refuel much earlier than such upgraded Leopard 2's would need to. That's not a major problem with soft vehicles which could quite easily get additional fuel capacity. Other armoured vehicles would be a greater problem.
The new Puma IFV is said to have a road range of about 600 km, little more than a Leopard 2.
The Fuchs has about 800 km road range, while the upgraded M113's have less than 500 km.

- - - - -

The tether of fuel supply doesn't seem to be officially recognized as a pressing operational problem. Neither upgrades nor new requirements lead to vastly improved ranges of our armoured vehicles. That's a bit disappointing, for it imposes avoidable logistical restrictions on mobile operations.

Sven Ortmann

Source for most data: "Kampfpanzer", Rolf Hilmes, 2007
(German standard book on tank technology, comparable to Ogorkiewicz' books)
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2009/08/28

Stealth fighters and LPI radar

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Insiders at times tell outsiders that all those public discussions about the merits of stealth fighters are ridiculous. Outsiders would simply lack the necessary insider information.

Well, on the one hand I'm an outsider, on the other hand I don't push mainstream stories about what stealth fighters can and would do in war. My position is therefore in between; I'm positive that the insiders weren't thinking of my stuff, but on the other hand I still don't know (much) insider stuff.


One piece of stealth fighters is their radar: Their whole low radar reflexivity is of little purpose if enemies detect them (or at least the direction to the fighter) by simply processing their radar signal.

The countermeasure of stealth fighter developers was the low probability of intercept (LPI) radar. There are apparently millions of stealth fighter fanbois in the world, and their reading of the "low" in LPI is quite often the phonetically similar "no". That doesn't change reality much, though: LPI radars are not NPI radars.

I'll use info from the popular book (well, popular in an electronic warfare context) "EW 102 - A Second Course in Electronic Warfare" to shed some light on LPI radars.





A number of measures can be taken to make a radar less subject to detection. One is to make the signal so weak that the ESM signal cannot receive it. This is difficult for the radar because the radar must receive enough energy after the round trip to the target (...) to detect the target. The receiver encounters only a one-way path loss ...).
A second way is to narrow the radar beam (thus increasing the antenna gain) or to suppress antenna side lobes. This makes it more difficult for a receiver not located at the target to intercept the signal, but does not impact a receiver located on the target.
A third way to reduce the interceptability of a radar relative to its performance is to give the radar a processing gain not available to the ESM receiver.
None of these approaches is magically enough to make a LPI radar invisible to modern ESM (electronic support measures; in this case a radar warning receiver, passive radar) tools.
(1) is quite impractical, (2) has an obviously limited growth potential and no real effect on the target's ESM and (3) is obviously an approach that depends on the modernity of the tool. A fine system with approach (3) can be great when it enters service and ineffective against modern ESM just a couple years later.

Radars can be thought of as having three levels of LPI:
• The radar is easily detectable but not easily identifiable—called an LPID radar (...).
• The radar can detect a target and is not detectable by an ESM receiver at the same range but outside its main beam (...).
• The radar can detect a target and is not detectable by an ESM receiver located on the target—a “quiet radar” (...).
Only the third - and most demanding - grade is what stealth fighter fanbois seem to think about when they read "LPI radar".

The math and technical details about LPI mentioned in the book aren't really useful for most readers, so let's just sum up:

In all cases, the radars’ level of LPI is described in terms of range detection ratio with various engagement parameters specified (for example the target cross section). They are also described in terms of “warning time” which is the time between the detection of the radar by a hostile receiver carried by a target and the detection of that target by the radar. Again, engagement parameters must be specified (e.g., target approach speed and radar cross section and the type of receiver employed).
It's a much, much more complicated thing than "an undetectable radar beam".
LPI radars are just like many other combat aviation systems - subject to a competition. They may have (had) a supreme time, but any such advantage is fleeting. It's no silver bullet technology, instead it's adding complexity to the high-tech competition in air war. An opponent with an adequate technology base can defeat the "LPI" characteristic, and this gets more and more easy as LPI radars become older and wait for more advanced upgrades or replacements.

Again, I don't trust any assertion that technology provides a huge and robust advantage. The historical pattern predicts rather a competition between action and countermeasure at ever growing complexity.
High-profile, high-cost advantages don't last for long.. Only small, underestimated or culture-specific improvements provide a lasting advantage.
LPI radars are just tools that provoke an effective countermeasure.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/27

Hypervelocity missiles

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Some technologies are very promising, but stay immature seemingly forever without entering service (or enter service very late, and in small numbers).

Supersonic air transport, maglev trains and fusion power are some civilian examples.

Cased telescopic munitions smaller than 25mm calibre, caseless ammunition, turreted mortars, lethal combat lasers, liquid propellants for guns, autonomous killer drones and small hypervelocity missiles military examples of such enticing, yet not really successful ideas.

Small hypervelocity missiles have three promising applications (antitank, anti-air and anti-tank), and the anti-tank role seems to be the one that got the most R&D.


Several nations have researched small hypervelocity missiles. Projects from the USA, Germany, Sweden and Canada were apparently most published. Such research work dates back by decades - at least into the 70's.

- - - - -

These missiles are promising because of a gun's limitations; a gun tends to become heavier, larger and more expensive with higher performance. Missiles become superior at some point because they accelerate in the air (requiring no or just a very short barrel) with lesser propellant pressures. That's why we have intercontinental missiles but no intercontinental guns.

The cannons of main battle tanks approach impractical sizes as well. We're at 120-125mm calibre since the early 80's, and that's actually no more than we already had in WW2 (37-122mm high velocity guns) in quantity production. The pressures became higher, the projectiles more advanced, the barrels longer - yet it's difficult to add more than incremental advances without a larger calibre. There are 135, 140 and 152mm high velocity tank guns, but their disadvantages prevented an introduction so far.

A hypervelocity missile (HVM) could propel the same penetrator as a gun can, and do so at an even higher speed. That leaves little doubt about its ability to defeat tanks as well as guns can do, but the mix of advantages and disadvantages would be very different.


HV AT missile advantages:
* usually mounted outside of the main armour
* several missiles ready for quick ripple fire
* higher possible penetrator velocity
* less weapon weight
* no barrel durability issues

Tank high velocity gun advantages:
* possibly more compact ammunition
* smaller firing signature
* more mature technology (technological lock-in)
* likely lower cost of ammunition

I expect that at some time we'll see relatively light armoured vehicles armed with anti-tank (AT) HVM in addition to a rather modest gun armament. My speculation on the T-95 last year was one such example.
This combination would exploit the gun's advantages for most tasks and exploit the HVM technology only for the high-end AT purpose.

The most promising publicly known HVM to date seems to be the CKEM project for an AT HVM with the size and weight of a common ATGM.

The ripple fire capability would enable ambushes where one firer could threaten several tanks with destruction at once. That would likely rarely happen in actual combat, but it would be an additional motivation for careful, dispersed and bounding tank tactics.

The ripple fire capability has a second advantage, too: No projectile is 100% safe from the most advanced active protection technology, but even that cannot defeat several approaching missiles in quick succession. These protection systems can affect several tank gun-launched long rod penetrators because of the several second interval, but their chance against several missiles impacting in one or two seconds would likely be to the intercept of the first, maybe also second missile.

The high velocity (mach five to seven) of such missiles could also overwhelm other defensive capabilities like ship anti-air defences or an aircraft's ability to react to an incoming missile by fooling and dodging it.

Hypervelocity missiles may be a great, underestimated and neglected technology with exciting new options and an answer to existing problems. It may just as well be a Rube Goldberg technology that's fascinating only at first glance. I keep being interested in HVMs because I've got a deep-rooted suspicion about conservatism in military procurement.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/26

Taiwan's defence - the army

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It seems as if calls for additional modern combat aircraft and submarines for the Republic of China (Taiwan) are gaining some momentum these days.

I do understand the submarine part, but not so well the aircraft part. Taiwan is in no position to compete with PRC air power in the long run. Subs are fine for underdogs, fighters not so much.

The calls for such big-ticket, high-end systems are even more ugly if you look at the ROC Army.
Their army is essentially stuck in the 60's. They have major weapon systems like M48 and M60 main battle tanks, M109 SPHs and many towed FHs.
Almost a hundred attack helicopters and insufficient quantities of anti-air and anti-tank missiles are their most notable modern weapons.

The visible systems give an incomplete impression of an army's modernity and an even more incomplete impression of its capabilities. Many strengths are difficult to see in peacetime.
Nevertheless, the neglect of the army seems to be quite obvious.

I keep having problems taking their defence efforts seriously.

An old saying asserts that the army with the most fancy uniforms loses. This saying has some truth in it. An emphasis of form over function has hurt many organizations in history, and armies are no exception.


It could be argued that cool modern-looking fighters and surface warships are today's "fancy uniforms".
The ROC's defence politicians seem to have a preference for form over function, and it feels comfortable not to be allied with Taiwan.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/25

Strike Complexes vs. Countermeasures and Friction

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Something bothered me recently. A military theoretician whom I respect a lot expressed an opinion that did in my opinion not account enough for friction.

(...) with modern fire complexes, if you get found, you get struck.
(I assume he meant the "surveillance-strike complex" or "reconnaissance-strike complex" concepts with "modern fire complex", but I wouldn't be surprised if there's already a new term of the week.)


- - - - -

The idea is actually not new at all. The high art of the German artillery in the defensive battles of 1943-1945 was a quick reaction time-over-target fire mission to break an attack. Such missions included a very short period of fire for at times several artillery battalions at once.

It was even turned into a technical concept with the advent of a fire control computer that knew all battery types and positions. The soldiers just had to feed the target coordinates and mission (ammunition) and the pre-transistor computer was able to send the necessary fire missions to the individual batteries automatically. We didn't really advance that much over this capability; the advances were rather incremental.

Battlefields were always really dangerous places, but people tend to overestimate the lethality of battles (and especially the lethality of munitions and weapons) nevertheless. The ground war in WWI and naval aviation in WW2 were huge, yet rare exceptions to this rule.

- - - - -

His view resembled an old rule of thumb / thought model:

(1) What's on the battlefield will be discovered.
(2) What's discovered will be aimed at and fought against.
(3) What's been fought against will be hit.
(4) What's hit will be destroyed.

That was obviously terribly simplistic (albeit not entirely useless). The utility of this simple stuff was in pointing out the potential for survivability enhancements, for countermeasures. There are thousands of countermeasures imaginable, and many have been applied. This is easily visible with tanks. Their countermeasures range from camouflage (1) to powerful armour and automatic fire extinguishers (4) plus dozens of others in at least 18 categories of tank-specific countermeasures.


One aspect of warfare is the contest between action and countermeasures. There were few - and exceptional - moments in time when there was no balance, when a lack of war experience allowed action to get a huge advantage over countermeasures (as in 1914-1917 and 1939-1942). The other turn around (countermeasures triumphing over action) is usually a no-show and difficult to find in military history sources (an example being the inability of the Royal Air Force to fly effective daylight bombing missions over Germany in 1939-1943).

- - - - -

It may be true that being seen by a modern and competent enemy almost equals being dead, but that should not bother military theorists as much as it should bother force planners, trainers and procurement officials. It's a temporary exposure. This problem will be reliably and quickly solved (albeit at a possibly terrible price).

We should look ahead, and also have an eye for the art of war in a modern strength-countermeasure equilibrium or for fluent situations of short-lived advantages for either side.

- - - - -

Countermeasures and friction explain why we shouldn't be extremely pessimistic about survivability.

Let's take an armoured deliberate attack as an example.

The tanks move into marshalling areas.
Airborne reconnaisance could already spot and identify them, but camouflage, concealment, deception, electronic jamming and air defences blind the enemy.

The unit moves forward and could be visible to enemy ground forces. Again, CCD, electronic jamming (jamming radios and battlefield radars), suppressive fires and smoke pose serious challenges to the defender. Being well-equipped, well-trained and aware of enemy capabilities and shortcomings helps a lot.

The unit enters direct combat. It's difficult to avoid hits entirely, but the chaos of combat and the proximity to the enemy make it quite tough for enemy fire controllers. They need to avoid hitting friendly troops, after all. The close combat may also disrupt landlines and create disorder. Fearful troops may report false contacts. Vehicle acceleration and the exploitation of cover and concealment to limit exposure to seconds. People make mistakes and waste some of the few opportunities.


Dozens of countermeasures can be applied to reduce the effectiveness of the in itself simple observe-identify-report-order-calculate-order-fire-hit chain. Counter-countermeasures (like better sensors, more jamming resistant radios, redundancies) can be applied to this firepower chain as well.


In the end, it's just another action-countermeasure contest. 20th century military history suggests that it's no good idea to bet on either side for more than three war years* in a row, for this kind of contest doesn't tend to stick to extremes for long.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.:
Some armies use lists of "principles of war". I'm no fan thereof, but if I would have to compile such a list, I would add "Countermeasures" to it. Countermeasures are universal and important enough to require all combat and combat support officers to understand the full extent of the relevance of countermeasures.

*: Some advantages even lasted only for months in wartime.
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2009/08/22

Regional security policy among friends and allies

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I've got a working hypothesis about how allies and befriended nations should agree on a common security policy if they're not in the same region:

The ally/friend IN THE REGION should have a bonus on his opinion.
His security is much more at stake than the security of a distant ally or friend despite the talk about a 'global village'. His expertise on the region is also likely much better.

This would mean that Poland, Romania and the Baltic NATO members would dominate NATO's Eastern frontier (Russia) security policy.

Turkey would dominate NATO's Near/Middle East-related security policy.

South Korea would dominate 'Western' North Korea-related security policy.

South Korea, Japan and maybe Taiwan would dominate allied 'Western' PRC-related security policy.

Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey would dominate NATO's southern frontier (North Africa) security policy.

This should happen on the political level (head of state, foreign affairs minister, defence minister), of course.

It seems just natural to me, and it would likely have avoided a lot of trouble.

- - - - -

Nevertheless, the idea that Poland's Russia policy would outweigh the German Russia policy is rather unsympathetic to me. The principle could also lead to the tail wagging the dog in some cases.

Maybe a second requirement other than vicinity should be added to the equation:

The extra influence should probably only be granted if it's not causing an escalation. We don't want to see how the tail wags the dog so much that the dog bites someone unintentionally.

On the other hand, it seems very legitimate to me to grant countries at a hot spot the ability to de-escalate a conflict. Distant allies should not be able to escalate a conflict. Actually, no member (or group of members) of a defensive alliance should be able to escalate a conflict on its own.

The founders of the NATO apparently thought alike, as there is Article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty:

The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
which seems to be partially based on Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
I expressed my opinion that we've got several too aggressive allies about a year ago. The assumption that power (and a UNSC veto right) equals freedom of action in international affairs should have its limit in the rights of allies.

Nevertheless, keeping up with a foreign arms build-up should be possible and not be considered to be an escalation.

- - - - -

Let's sum up:
The allies of one region should be able to stall foreign policies of distant allies that stir up the conflict potential in the region. In fact, they should be able to coin the relations of the alliance in their region - without inciting conflicts.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/18

Patrol and sentry dogs

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Military dogs have been used for thousands of years. It's likely that dogs were even involved in stone-age warfare.


Their value as fighters has been diminished against all but unarmed opposition, but their superior senses (especially smell and hearing) are still valuable.

Modern military working dog training is specialized; it's highly uncommon to train a dog for narcotics detection, explosives detection and tracking at once.

I am not very much interested in these functions anyway; my interest focuses more on their value in detecting enemies in closed terrain and as morale boost in the field.

Modern battlefields are empty; most soldiers don't see enemies for weeks and some do never see enemies. That's a problem, for they need to stay alert despite being bored.

Modern conventional wars would also have no continuous defensive lines as necessary to infiltration. All troops need to pull their own security, even many kilometres away from all known enemy positions.

The combination of these two problems made me think about sentry and patrol dogs for a while. I had a dog for many years and like dogs very much; military dogs are really interesting.

Since the function of scout dogs was to give silent warning of the approach of any enemy they were trained for use principally with reconnaissance and combat patrols at outposts. Their chief tasks were to warn of ambushes or attempts at infiltration. Though the distance at which they were able to give warning depended upon a number of factors, such as the ability of the master to understand his dog, wind direction and velocity, volume or concentration of human scent humidity, and denseness or openness of country the dogs usually could detect the presence of enemies long before the men became aware of them.
(...)
The presence of the animals with patrols greatly lessened the danger of ambush and tended to boost the morale of the soldiers. Personnel who used the dogs stated that they saved many lives and were enthusiastic over their value. It was noted that where a dog was present on a patrol there was a feeling of security and relief from the nervous tension caused by fear of an ambush. This enabled the patrols to operate more efficiently and cover greater distances.
(...)
That scout dogs did perform valuable service in the European Theater as well as in the Pacific is illustrated by one experience of the 33rd Quartermaster War Dog Platoon while serving with the Sixth South African Division of the Fifth Army in Italy. On the night of 20 December 1944 a small reconnaissance patrol led by one of the dogs of the platoon and his handler, Corporal Robert Bennett, left a forward outpost to investigate a village approximately a mile inside enemy territory.

A few hundred yards into the enemy territory the dog halted suddenly. Not yet sure of the scent he advanced a few steps then halted again, this time every hair bristling, his nose pointed straight ahead. The patrol leader crept cautiously forward alone and not more than 200 yards away discovered a large group of German soldiers in ambush. With this valuable information the patrol returned to the outpost where they called for mortar fire to wipe out the enemy position.

There's the question of dog breed:

The German army and some others seem to prefer the Belgian Shepherd breed, sub variety "Malinois". Others breeds as for example Labrador, German Shepherd and Rottweiler are also in wide-spread military service.
The Malinois is very similar to the German Shepherd dog except that it's lighter built, tougher and has less breeding-related defects.


German Malinois breeding is only in the hundreds of whelps per year and many of them would be ineligible for military employment due to their character (the breed ranges from courageous to coward) or health. It would furthermore be preferable to use male dogs for military service because of the relatively small breeding base.

Such a Malinois breed working dog can be in service for about eight years after training and before he gets too old.

The preference for such a relatively large dog (25-34 kg) has logistical consequences, for it consumes more food and water than smaller dogs would do.

Training and care

The training begins at about 1 -1.5 years of age and takes about 35-40 weeks. The dog handler should be the same for years if not for the whole service time. The handler treats the dog as his private dog, just with full material and medical support by the Bundeswehr.
Old German military working dogs don't get euthanised when too old for service; their handlers either keep them or -exceptionally- give them back to the Bundeswehr for caring till their death.

Veterinaries have become rare in modern armies since we got rid of almost all horses (Germany has a few mules left for the mountain troops). A wide-spread use of dogs would likely require additional veterinaries, or an extra dog-specific training for normal medics.

Equipment

The necessary equipment is rather cheap and light: A chord, a muzzle, a fragmentation protection vest (not in hot climate), additional water containers and some kind of protection for cold nights.


There are dedicated dog trailers and dog kennels, but I seriously doubt their necessity.

- - - - -

Dogs are non-technical, no-buzz - and their employment usually spikes in wartime. WWI, WWII, Vietnam War, Iraq War - the dog's military value was often rediscovered in wars, and mostly ignored in peacetime.
Reports received from overseas during and immediately following the war gave ample evidence that while many satisfactory results were obtained from the use of scout dogs in the war against Germany, these animals were employed much more effectively in the islands of the Pacific. The dense tropical vegetation and the semidarkness of the jungles even at midday afforded the Japanese excellent opportunities to infiltrate behind the American lines and conduct reconnaissance. Such hostile operations could not easily be detected by ordinary patrols. When dogs accompanied these patrols they were able to detect and give silent warning of the enemy long before the men became aware of them. The dogs could also be used to good advantage in mountainous areas, in river bottoms, and in heavily wooded terrain.

I think we should fix this cycle. I recommend experiment with dogs in much more missions than only military police, EOD, combat tracking. I'm thinking of one dog & dog handler per platoon, in the field but this usage could even be increased to squad level.

So far the Bundeswehr has as far as I know about 200 military dogs in military police (128) and paratrooper (72) units, plus a few others. The level of usage could be expanded into the thousands at low cost in a few years. Emphasis: Low cost.

- - - - -

Organization

I'm not sure whether dogs and dog handlers should be pooled and centralized. A dog platoon per battalion would work fine in some regards (expertise, ability to replace individual losses), but it would be very suboptimal in other regards (training, cohesion). I guess that's something that needs to be worked out by experience.

- - - - -

There's one thing I'd like to caution about, though: Dogs are easily countered in the explosives detection role. The German army used explosives detection dogs to search for mines along railways in WW2, and the partisans simply adapted by scattering small amounts of explosives powder along the railway lines, thereby diminishing the utility of the dogs.
This should also be kept in mind with the expensive technical means of sniffing that were funded and developed by technology-believers who were apparently devoid of military history appreciation since 2001.

- - - - -



Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/17

Only pictures and a video

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No real blog post today, I'm busy with theoretical stuff.

Long-time readers most likely noticed that I began adding pictures to the blog months ago. It's easier on the eyes than endless columns of text.

The search for context pictures (few are really descriptive, like maps or stats) was at times more challenging than the text itself, but I also found some that I saved for later use.
Well, today there's no real blog post, and I'm in the mood to dump some of those pics that would otherwise apparently never be used - but are still funny.

Have fun.



vladimir putin
see more Political Pictures


political pictures for your blog





Sources: Obvious.
Lachschon.de and punditkitchen.com are quite funny.

Finally something that might actually have some military relevance; a kind of revival of the half-track (French style; a Frenchman developed such band half tracks even before WW1).


Thanks to "Ta152" for the tip.

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2009/08/15

The importance of public information and debate

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First a scenario:
Let's assume that a war erupts somewhere.
Much of a nation feels compelled to participate.

(a) The events may seem to demand a very quick participation
The political class is in this case likely to join that war itself, and to attempt to convince the people of the cause later on.

(b) The events may allow for a thorough public debate pro and contra war.
That would likely lead to a convergence of public (or published?) opinion and government action. The government may also rule against the people's majority will, that case would look much like case (a).


Now let's look at this from a democracy point of view: The nation doesn't want to have an oligarchy with a political class doing what it wants. The voters are empowered to choose their representatives and have (facilitated by the press) an oversight function.

Where's this in the two cases?

The difference between an oligarchy and a democracy is that the public needs to have a timely, informed debate on the topic. Exceptions should only be tolerated on marginal issues (because debating everything is impractical). War is not a marginal issue.

"Timely" doesn't mean that it needs to happen and be concluded before the nations joins a war. A debate could go on for years or decades (look at the abortion topic) without conclusion. "Timely" meant "ASAP".

- - - - -

Now let's look at the only war Germany is involved in (and much of the world), albeit our participation isn't exactly warfare.


There was no informed, thorough debate about OEF-A and ISAF in advance. Information about Afghanistan was marginal.
Alternative strategies weren't thoroughly discussed for years, and in fact they weren't discussed to the (in my opinion) necessary degree in most if not all participating nations. It's a kind of cabinet war that undermines Western democracy in many ways.

We're no democracies in regard to Afghanistan - in this case our political systems resemble much more oligarchies in which the political class rules without proper oversight by the voter. (That may actually still be an optimistic assertion, as it's not entirely clear how much influence or oversight the political class exercised over the military during the formulation of the Afghanistan strategy.)


More than two thirds and consistently more than half of the Germans are (according to polls) for a withdrawal from Afghanistan ASAP, yet this isn't even a major topic in the press!

Ironically, our self-proclaimed peace-lover party (the Greens) doesn't argue much against ISAF because the adventure was started while they were in the government. They accepted a lot of crap that ran counter to their principles, just to demonstrate that they were "capable" as ruling party ("regierungsfähig"). This Regierungsfähigkeit was in my opinion nothing else than the submission to the political centre consensus - but they likely got most of their votes to break that consensus.

The only openly contra-ISAF party in Germany is the Left (socialists) who aren't credible at all because of the almost militaristic history of the NVA (Eastern German army). They would likely fall into the same trap as the Greens if they ever joined the federal government.

The political class* joined the international expedition, but failed to convince the population that this is a good idea. The major party politicians avoided a public discussion because they expect to lose it.

The German media sector is cooperating for several reasons:
- Public TV and radio stations are under influence of established parties, churches and other important powers in our society through their boards.
- Most newspapers and political journals are close to the two (pro-war and ruling) major parties, some papers are even under control of a very conservative publishing house.

The other media outlets are either uninterested, aligned to the greens or too marginal to kick off a debate without the cooperation of popular politicians. In times like these a financial market-oriented newspaper like the FTD has become an important source of information about things like war & peace. That's quite embarrassing.

- - - - -

How can we call our country a democracy if we don't give critical information about the Afghan War to our population? You could ask Germans on the street about tribal structures vs. central government in Afghanistan and about 95% would have no clue.

How can we call our country a democracy if we don't debate thoroughly about such important issues?


It hurts, but I think it's correct to admit that oligarchic elements are more dominant than democratic elements in our politicy. In fact, it's likely like that in most Western societies. Berlusconi is just a telltale example.

Damn, I wished we had much more direct democracy, but the political class defends its power. That may lead to serious internal conflict sometime.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: I'd like to strongly recommend the wikipedia article on the "Iron law of oligarchy" as an introduction to that topic.

*: "politische Klasse" (= political class) is a term that seems to be much more often in use this year than ever before. Maybe the awareness that our policy is out of the citizenship's control is growing.
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2009/08/14

Modern basic individual camouflage

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Clothes and equipment in standard camouflage pattern/colour are being issued to all land forces troops, and soldiers develop attitudes towards them. Some see their distinct uniform with pride, some (dis)like it aesthetically and some (dis)like its effectiveness.

The steps were from coloured uniforms (to easily identify units by regimental colours) to grey or brown uniforms (light infantry got less suspicious uniforms long ago) to camouflage colours (green), simple camouflage patterns and finally to 'digital' camouflage patterns.
The digital ones shall in theory distort a man's shape at all viewing distances.

It's difficult to come up with a universal camouflage pattern that works everywhere well, so it's probably better to think of a basic camouflage pattern instead; to be augmented to meet local/temporary conditions.


The most intense discussion about camouflage patterns today seems to be about the U.S. ACU pattern that doesn't do its job in vegetated terrain.
This discussion is - as all previous ones seem to have been - about the pattern.

I think that a bit (actually just a tiny bit) of creative thinking should be applied. It's not just about the pattern. Patterns are 2D, and therefore rarely able to really meet the expectations.

Look at the Israeli helmet cover ("mitznefet"). It wins no beauty contest and honestly, I am among those who would simply hate to wear it. Nevertheless, it breaks up the typical line of a helmet. It makes it much harder to recognize the helmet as what it is: An object that belongs to a soldier.


That 3D element of individual basic camouflage is hugely important.

Let's check for another example, the ghillie suit. It's too hot and clumsy and won't be worn by every soldier (although infantrymen should really think about a partial ghillie suit). It doesn't work based on a pattern, but by covering the shape of a man with a more natural shape of (almost) chaotic elements in colours that match the environment.

Modern camouflage patterns rarely hide in plain sight - the German Flecktarn can do so, but only at long distances or in shadowy places.
It's really about time to go forward, to improve upon existing individual basic camouflage.

My own idea of such advanced individual basic camouflage was to use ghillie-like elements on head and arms, the most often exposed body parts.

The adaption to local and temporary environment could include spray colours (already in use for tuning the colour of ghillie suits and to camouflage weapons and other equipment).
The classic use of vegetation and nets for additional camouflage is almost indispensable in most environments, but we all know about the serious restrictions of d(r)ying vegetation and (usually stationary or vehicle-bound) nets.

There's an apparently more practical approach:

It's possible to use two layers of cloth, and to cut the upper one in an irregular shape to make it stand up and distort the shape. This cutting could even be reserved for just one suit, leaving all else in the soldier's inventory in a more 'attractive' and 'orderly' shape.





Here are examples:

A winter suit application

A close-up of the principle

Better demonstration of the effect

A hat application of the principle





Previous posts on individual camouflage
(and its importance):


Camouflage patterns and the Bundeswehr

Thermal camouflage

Infantry survivability

Future war: The infantry perspective


I suggest not to just discuss a new pattern, but a new individual basic camouflage concept.
One that includes the third dimension.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/13

Col. Bacevich speech and discussion

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I do strongly recommend to listen to this:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing/stories/2009/2647686.htm
There's also a transcript.


I like Andrew Bacevich's and Fred Kaplan's publications very much, with an unusual degree of agreement.


Hat tip to ELP Defens(c)e Blog

Sven Ortmann

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2009/08/12

Most devastating poll I've ever seen

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Poll should always be considered with caution.
This one is extreme(ly interesting):

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2009/08/20098910857878664.html

The USA outmatched the traditional and much-feared arch-enemy India as the greatest perceived threat by a factor of more than three!
I would have considered it as impossible that any power outranked India in that question. Unbelievable.
Hat tip to 8ak.

The good side of the coin: Iran.
It's between NATO and Pakistan.

Sven Ortmann
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Infantry on the offensive

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This video was apparently published to show the problem of heavily laden infantry being attacked and avoided by more nimble enemy infantry at will.

It shows something much more universal to me; infantry needs cover (or at least concealment) for its survival even against light infantry armament.

Infantry advances - infantry is being fired upon - infantry seeks cover - advance stalled.

That problem was 'solved' in the past (when infantry arms were less lethal) by using armoured vehicles, lots of support (smoke and other indirect fires) and a much higher casualty tolerance.

It's well-known that infantry isn't a primarily offensive arm. Its suitability to the tactical offensive was diminished almost as much as that of horse cavalry as long as a century ago.

Armour is different; it uses the power of the internal combustion engine to move (mobility) the tank's weight (protection and firepower) in face of strong opposition. No tank is fully invulnerable, but capable enough that tactics and training can overcome the remaining threats.
A much too primitive understanding of survivability and tank combat has led many (again and again) to believe in the end of the tank, but that has been proved to be premature again and again.

- - - - -

Nevertheless, some (usually not professional army personnel) still come up with ideas of an infantry-centric battlefield. Such ideas look like the Stryker combat team (with wheeled armoured vehicles that would drop infantrymen to do most of the fighting). Other 'visions' are about elite infantry, with every infantryman being a forward observer (modern speak: fire support team) himself. Seriously; I saw graphics on professional presentations and in professional journals that depicted infantrymen(?) hiding behind rocks and targeting individual enemy targets for indirect fires. They had at most a PDW-like individual armament, symbolizing the changing relevance of support fires and small arms.

Such concepts are fine for the application of support fires, but they're utterly off in regard to what armies really need.

An army doesn't need to kill every enemy soldier on the battlefield (how many enemies could be taken prisoner by FO teams?). Conventional ground wars look differently (unless you fought against some of the historically rare, very cohesive and disciplined enemies): There's some combat to fix the enemy reserves, then some combat to break the enemy locally and then there's the extremely important exploitation (a.k.a. pursuit) phase till an operational or strategic victory is achieved or till the offense stops because of the culminating point of attack.

It's great if a brigade can defeat a division in a battle, but that's of little value if it's not nimble enough to exploit that success decisively.

The most significant difference between the 1918 Spring offensive and Blitzkrieg was in the exploitation of success.

Im Ausnützen des Erfolges liegt die Keimzelle des Sieges.
("The germ cell of victory is in the exploitation of success." Guderian, 1940)


The mobility (and logistical capabilities) given by the internal combustion engine and the use of radios for much of the tactical communication coupled with daring commanders and much initiative down to junior NCO ranks enabled a stunningly fast and decisive exploitation of breakthroughs. The breakthrough battle was a phase of high ammunition and low fuel consumption, while the exploitation phase had reversed needs.

- - - - -

Conventional ground war fantasies related to FO infantry and Strykers have some relevance in the tactical and operational defence, but not in the offense. They would even fail to achieve a breakthrough, being the equivalent of the French army's offensive tactics in this example.


Infantry cannot sustain a high-speed pursuit in face of occasional resistance, that's obvious. It's also a reminder for the huge importance of heavy combined arms teams in conventional ground war.
Some (many? all?) firepower-centric approaches to modern tactical (technical) ground war seem to ignore the importance of exploitation.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/11

The cost of carrier aviation

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The Royal Navy is under serious criticism of mis-spending the quite significant defence budget of the UK. Accusations about the level of waste reach up to 8%, and they seem to keep a recent report on it secret.
The British military has a tradition of blaming politicians and their limited budgeting for all its woes, albeit failure of its leadership to meet the expectations has been a constant for at least a hundred years.

Much of the current debate on UK military spending focuses on procurement; especially the new aircraft carriers and their aircraft, armoured vehicles for ongoing wars, helicopters for ongoing wars, a replacement strategic nuclear-armed missile for their submarines and the last batch of the new fighter.

- - - - -

I looked more closely at the aircraft carriers, their aircraft and escorts a few days ago.


They would provide the ability to attack land targets from the sea with F-35 aircraft. That's entirely redundant to USN capabilities and of almost no value in NATO defence. The only real application in collective defensive war would in my opinion be the protection of high seas convoys against today fictious air attack capabilities. That utility is redundant with offensive air war against the threat's air bases.

- - - - -

Let's look at the cost, because naval aviation is typically more expensive than land-based aviation:

2 aircraft carriers Queen Elizabeth class, the program cost is apparently GBP about 4.8 billion

6 anti-air escorts Type 45 class, costs about GBP 3.4 billion

6 anti-submarine escorts (old Type 23 so far, let's take he recent Italian FREMM as placeholder*), cost equivalent about GBP 2.0 billion

2 nuclear submarine escorts, costs about GBP 2.3 billion

72 F-35B STOVL combat aircraft, cost (including half of the British R&D), costs about GBP 6.0 billion

20 Merlin helicopters* on CV/DDG/FFG (including ongoing upgrade program), costs about GBP 1.5 billion


These sums should be regarded as lower limits, as there are no spare parts, extra facilities, training, ammunition and many other costs included.

The sum is about GBP 20 billion for building two CVBGs with (at most) adequate escorts.

These expenses are necessary to project the air power of

* 72 very low observable combat aircraft (combat radius at most 500 nmi with eight SDB as offensive payload each) that can fly two or three sorties a day (many in support and defensive missions)

* several dozen cruise missiles

in international open waters.

- - - - -

Prices are relative, so let's compare. For GBP 20 billion a country like the UK could afford about 200 Typhoon fighter-bombers.

That's a factor of three to one in combat aircraft , and the Typhoons could be used with a combat radius of about 850 nmi around land bases, without mid-air refueling.

Another alternative would be to buy (more) F-35s for the RAF. Let's assume that the F-35 R&D costs are the same even though the UK wouldn't have had to contribute to F-35B development. That's USD 2.5 billion (about GBP 1.5 billion) for R&D. Add about USD 105 million (about GBP 64 million) fly-away price per F-35A (nobody knows the price for sure as of today). The GBP 20 billion would be enough for almost 300 F-35A using current cost estimates (= I wouldn't expect more than 200).

The plans for naval air power look excessively expensive to me - even in comparison to other quite excessively expensive programs.

- - - - -

On the other hand, there would be little left of the UK's Royal Navy if they removed those frigates, destroyers, aircraft carriers and some of their submarines. That does nevertheless not eliminate the looming question about whether the fleet is worth its budget.

Maybe ANOTHER fleet would make better use of the same budget?

They could build container sets to turn container ships into auxiliary land-attack vessels that would be armed with hundreds of cruise missiles and would be able to sneak covertly into position. That would costs less than a single aircraft carrier without its aviation component.

They could buy conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion - about three instead of one SSN.

They could once again prepare for actual naval convoys in order to keep sea lanes open in face of military opposition.


You can count me as a no-fan of the British carrier strategy. Well, at least it's not my tax money.

Sven Ortmann

*: Merlins and ASW frigates are legacy equipment and don't need to be bought any more. I considered their costs because I'm more interested in the cost of such a naval aviation strike capability in general than in the specific UK procurement.
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2009/08/10

Minimum political competence on war

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Politicians decide about war and peace. They set the budgets of the military. They oversee the military, and members of parliament have to check the government's national security policy.

Their competence in national security issues is of utmost importance. It can wreck or save their nation.

I think of a six-week course on alliance and war politics for members of parliament, most cabinet members and some state secretaries.

Do I demand too much engagement on their part if I believe that such a qualification (or its equivalent) is necessary?

- - - - -

Cabinet members are highly influential in national security matters; this concerns especially the minister of defence, the foreign minister, the interior minister, the minister of transport, economics minister, minister of finance and most of all the head of government and his/her first deputy.
The state secretaries of defence and foreign ministries also need a good qualification.
The members of parliament have the power to declare war and to decide on the federal budget - they should be competent as well.

Most of these people learn much on the job (a.k.a. "too late"), but I'm convinced that many theoretical and fundamental aspects are not being learned on the job (and members of parliament learn very little about alliance and defence politics if they aren't member of the respective committees).


Maybe it sounds arrogant to demand (in many cases) additional education for these democratically legitimated politicians. On the other hand: Would a six-week course be an unacceptable effort compared to the potentially extreme importance of their competence?


Maybe they ARE competent enough in alliance politics and war politics (I see little if any evidence for that, though). In that case I would recommend a six-week course in "how to inform voters about your competence".

- - - - -

Anyway; this is just a blog - I use the opportunity to dream up a course.

Curriculum [days]:

(3) European military history
(1) treaties, U.N. charter and resolutions and other legal information
(3) Non-European military history
(1) national strategy
(2) 20th century and modern Eastern European and oriental security policies
(1) alliance theory and dynamics
(2) European alliance history
(2) crisis diplomacy history
(1) political decision-making; war or not war
(1) exercise / game on national security strategy

(1) defence budget; budgeting process, procurement system and overview
(1) military-industrial complex dynamics
(1) war economy and strategic logistics

(1) art of war overview
(2) land warfare - basics, 20th century and modern
(1) air warfare - 20th century and modern
(1) naval warfare - basics, 20th century and modern
(1) non-violent activities in war
(1) military geography and operational logistics
(1) military technology; history and representative systems
(1) political decision-making; war goals and conclusion of warfare
(1) fashions in military affairs

It may be a good idea to split this into six separate weeks, scattered over two years and with pleasant seminar locations. A seminar size of about 20 participants would be fine. That would require about five parallel courses to cover a typical parliament.

Many politicians are experienced in ideology and would only accept such a course if its neutrality and objectivity is for sure. Greens and socialists might still reject it, but that may be a question of labeling and word-of-mouth recommendation.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/08/09

Study object : Trolls

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Blogging with some audience had an interesting effect; I attracted trolls.

The trolls here (I estimate them at about 3-6 different persons) have some traits common (and some have very distinctive styles). They're not very much different from the right wing nuts whom I encountered elsewhere before; usually U.S. American, male, white and no college education.
This shall be no nation-bashing; I know for sure that many (actually apparently more than half) of the U.S.American adults have very different views. I did recently write that every country seems to have its share of idiots, so diagnosing that for a specific country doesn't mean anything about it relative to others.

I'd like to clarify that I do not consider serious criticism or misunderstandings as troll activity.
Nobody is right all the time, and experts have become internationally famous for being 75% right. You can become a millionaire in some sectors for being merely 52% right.
My blog posts are almost exclusively about areas where I disagree with commonly accepted ideas (and I post almost never about topics if I agree with conventional wisdom/mainstream), so being right even less than 50% would still be an exceptional ratio for me.

Serious, skilled criticism is very welcome. Repeat: Nobody is always right, and I'm of course interested in learning about my mistakes.

- - - - -

Here's a summary of the troll activity

There's one troll who never ever addresses any points of the blog post - he merely spews some insults and other offensive remarks. His targets: Me, other commenters, my country and/or my continent.

One troll has apparently superficial knowledge of Europe and Germany, he cites locations, writes some broken German words and points sometimes at German sources. I should emphasize "superficial" here, because he gets even most basic things wrong.

A quite widespread trait of trolls is that they assume to have knowledge that they cannot possess: About the future, for example. Or about me.
In fact, they sometimes assert to know for certain things that can be proved to be incorrect, like attitudes of mine (as evident in conflicting past posts).

Only two trolls dared to use (at least sometimes) recurring nicknames. Most troll comments are by "anonymous". I sign my posts with my real name - but these trolls are too cowardly to at least sign with initials. Well, I guess I wouldn't pay attention to being recognizable if I wrote such crap either.

Nation-bashing is very important to some trolls. Germany, France, Belgium and Europe (especially as EU) get bashed a lot, and I'd like to add; primitively, unrealistically and without any humour.

A huge and at times total inability to understand text is a strong trait of several trolls. They seem to be dominated by prejudices so much that it hampers their ability to read.

Blog posts are short, and require that the reader fills the gaps with active thinking. I don't, won't and cannot (in such short texts) explain the whole topic in perfect detail. Blog posts are no 300 p dissertations.
There are always gaps where I thought that something is obvious enough.* Trolls reliably fail to get to have reasonable thoughts at these gaps - they usually insert the maximum B.S. imaginable (and actually not imaginable to me beforehand) instead. There doesn't seem to be the slightest intent to think about what I might have thought.

Many (if not all) trolls get agitated quite reliably by blog posts that don't fit into the great-U.S.of.A.-all-else-are-wimps-hoooah! view of the world.
That tells probably a bit about their view of the world (and their origin).

Some troll comments were simply illegal. I was obliged by German law to delete/block them, because those comments were crimes by German law (and it would be illegal to tolerate them).

They also often pretend to be "amused". That usually looks to me as if they're amused by not understanding anything at all.

One troll did repeatedly assert that I had "Freudian slips" even though it was obviously just about a typo or a simple translation mistake.

Trolls often assert that I side with certain groups when there's absolutely no hint for it (at least none known to me) - and I wouldn't recount this if they weren't terribly wrong about it (actually trolls rarely if ever seem to get anything right IMO).

Trolls do at times assert that I have no clue. That's not helpful, because they don't show off any competence themselves.
I'd like to tell you that in my opinion they don't have a clue.
You see? It's meaningless. Everybody can claim that someone has no clue. Only argumentation is useful, personal attacks are pointless unless you can prove it.

At least one troll asserts that I hype the Bundeswehr and believe that it's a flawless organization. He seems to read another blog. Almost everything that I write about the Bundeswehr is is a critique (because of the 'no mainstream' thing). Look at the Bundeswehr mortars or Keiler texts, for example.

Trolls fall for hoaxes and wrong/misleading stories and keep using them for months. There was once an article about a German fighter supposedly delivering mustard to an embassy party in Croatia.
The story was stupid enough that most reasonable people didn't bother about it because it failed several plausibility checks. In fact, there was a fighter pilot carrying some mustard - while transferring the fighter to a static display. Croatia is looking into new fighters (about a squadron) for its tiny air force, and someone arranged for a display of the jet in Croatia. The mustard had about zero relevance for the flight itself.
Guess who used the hoax in an aggressive comment? Sure, a troll.
They fell for other long-rebutted stories as well.

Trolls treat the worst sources as credible arguments of theirs while rejecting far more reputable sources - in the same comment!

A recurring theme is also an assertion of trolls that I get "defensive". That's a bit confusing, as there's no such thing in German language that would fit the context. There's apparently at least one English-speaking country (or one of its subcultures) in which defending one's opinion with rational arguments is considered to be despicable.
That's *probably* no good thing for rational debate. It's great for ideologues who believe that yelling louder and more means to be right, of course.
The accusation(?) that I get "defensive" is especially funny as it came only from people whose comments were filled with aggression.

- - - - -

Much of the troll activities may be explainable by an unhealthy amount of aggressiveness/hate and cognitive dissonance problems. The latter may explain why "unpleasant" info agitates the trolls and the former may explain why they bother to write at all (and how they do it).

- - - - -

Sadly, this kind of trolls isn't a small group of half a dozen. As I said before; I encountered such people before. Preconceptions and sentiments as well as a discussion culture that's sophisticated only in dirty rhetoric tricks (like straw man arguments, ad hominem) are quite wide-spread in certain environments.

I wonder how much damage such stupidity does in the Western World. I imagine that this kind of people was easily duped into invading Iraq for no good reason, for example.

Sven Ortmann

*: I know from reasonable people that my jumps are at times too long, and I should make texts easier to understand. The difference between a reader failing to get my idea because of my failure to add detail and a troll is this: The troll fills the gap with most idiotic, personally hostile assumptions.

edit 2009-08-10:
Believe it or not, the trolls are active even in this topic. One still believes in the ridiculous mustard story, asserting to know that I'm embarrassed (he's clueless as always).
Another one calls me ignorant - without addressing anything in the blog post directly (apparently the never-touch-facts guy).
The third one simply spewed nonsense.
All three cowards posted as "Anonymous" (again).

@trolls: Forget about it. Launch your own blog.
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2009/08/08

Russia's potential

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Russia is the single largest non-NATO country close to Europe (and actually in large part in Europe). It's therefore naturally the first choice for anyone who wants to check on the possibility of major conventional warfare in Europe.

Russia's military is at present large, but has outdated equipment, is ill-supplied, ill-paid, has a poor reputation among its citizens (recruit abuse) and a mixed reputation in the West.
Much of this military is bound to tasks in Asia and not available as a threat to Europe, so it's reasonable to expect that European forces are at this point relatively easily able to keep it in check (not necessarily on the first few hundred kilometres, though).

Its primary strength is probably the quantity of equipment stored in depots behind the Urals and its relatively good ability to function with quickly mobilized troops. Recent news indicate that they're about to scrap a good portion of that Cold War legacy equipment, though.
Strong internal security forces (paramilitaries) add to the picture.

The present (rumoured) nominal military spending of Russia is in the same league as that of the UK, France and the PR China, albeit with PPP advantages over the first two. Russia is unable to focus its military power in one theater due to its long Eurasian borders, though.

The potential for greater military capabilities in the future depends on many factors - politics, economy, science and engineering, fiscal health and population, for example.

Let's run a (quick & dirty) check - you won't get a better one by me for free. ;)

Politics

Russia has a pseudo-democratic, authoritarian government with dominance over regional institutions. Well, this sounds promising (for their military). Especially the ability to develop and execute long term (more than five years) political plans is relatively impressive. The ability to create really efficient long-term plans is not very impressive (because of corruption).

The past policy has demonstrated a readiness to use military force - at least on former USSR territory. It has also demonstrated a quite high degree of rationality and patience. Past domestic political competence (economic policy in the Putin era) was rather unimpressive, though.

Economy

Less than € 1.5 trillion GDP (a bit more, but not drastically more in purchasing power parity) isn't much for a country of its size and population. It's actually less than France's GDP.
Exports make up almost a quarter of the GDP, a sign of serious integration into international trade. The largest trade partners are the European and East Asian economic powers, not the former USSR states (with exception Ukraine; about 5% of exports).

The share of industrial activities is about 40% GDP, but much of this is the raw materials sector (oil, gas, mining). A well-balanced, healthy economy at a higher level of national wealth would require a very strong industrial development. This would require at least about a decade of strong growth.


Science and engineering

Russia was quite in love with scientific and technological work. They have no noteworthy anti-science or science-despising political factions (at least none that I'm aware of).
Russia had the legacy of a very strong scientific and engineering complex in the early 90's. Education and experience were robust, albeit with a serious lag in computer tech. The(ir) problem; those with good education and experience have aged by almost twenty years in the meantime. These pillars of technical and scientific competence will break away almost completely in the next two decades and most of them are likely already beyond their creativity apogee.

The small R&D activity since the 90's has furthermore driven many scientists and engineers into more 'practical' jobs. An engineer-turned-truck-driver has rarely kept himself up to date in his original trade and is very unlikely to return to his original trade anyway.
Russia's long-term competence in science and engineering is yet to be determined; it depends a lot on the budgets of its government.

Fiscal health

This points at the next point of interest; fiscal health. Here are several interesting details. The Soviet Union had a state-run economy and therefore no full-blown system of taxes. That has hurt Russia in the 90's. At one point in the 90's the CEO of Gazprom claimed that his (oil & gas) company paid half of the Russian state budget - more than the whole defence expenses.

Nevertheless, Russia was able to pay back significant loans to foreign creditors even despite huge economic troubles. That tells a bit about their ability to mobilise fiscal power if deemed necessary.

Public debt is officially at a fantastic low of about 7% GDP (Wikipedia & CIA World Factbook). This means they should easily be able to finance a stronger posture with deficit spending for many years until they would reach typical Western levels (rarely less than 40%).

The state's revenues are rather limited due to the small GDP; around € 300 billion.

Population

The population of Russia is large at about 140 million, but declining. This trend isn't irreversible, but it's an old situation that has left its demographic and economic marks.
For comparison: The population of Russia is about as large as the population of Germany plus France. Their closest ally Belarus has only as many citizens as Belgium.

The health situation of Russian males is comparably poor, apparently due to tobacco, drugs, infectious diseases (tuberculosis, HIV) and their infamous alcohol consumption. Official figures look like 12 liters pure alcohol per citizen and year, but that's apparently a manipulated statistic. A 17 litres figure slipped off Medvedev some time ago.

Traffic accidents are correspondingly a major cause of death and disability.

The statistic of only about 61 1/2 years life expectancy for males (and about 74 for females) is credible, and shocking.

These problems can be solved, but not in short order. On the other hand, the Soviet Union fought WW2 with strong personnel resources even though famine, alcohol and state terror had badly hurt the population in the inter-war years.

Manpower available for military service (age 16-49):
36.2 million males, 37 million females

Manpower fit for military service:
21.1 million males, 28 million females

Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually:
0.74 million males, 0.71 million females
(rounded, CIA World Factbook)

There's plenty manpower for military service, but the situation is rather poor from a workforce point of view.

- - - - -

Russia seems to have the ingredients for a quite prosperous future, including the groundwork for education, science and engineering and lots of natural resources. Its population is large, but not overwhelmingly large.
The next two decades (especially the next one) will be very important for its further development and standing. Seriously; they cannot afford the waste of resources that a major war would cause.
I personally hope that Western diplomats and governments have figured out Putin's long-term strategy better than the Western public has. This strategy for the nation's development (I assume he has one) will be extremely important for Russia and therefore also for Europe.
I think he neglected the industrial development in the past, with too much nepotism and emphasis on a strong state (instead of strong & healthy economy).

I do always keep in mind the historical precedent of Germany 1932-1939: It recovered from a terrible economic crisis and turned into a military powerhouse in just seven years. The Western powers were burdened by public debt while Germany had de-valued its WWI debt by hyper-inflation during the 20's.



Europe is really in a lucky situation. Its only credible conventional war threat is weakened for several years to come. Not entirely harmless, but badly weakened. Historical precedents point out that the picture could change in a matter of five to ten years, but the situation allows for a relaxed vigilance.


Sven Ortmann
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