2010/06/30

Defensive reconnaissance

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123. Für den Aufklärungsdienst sind nicht mehr Kräfte zu verwenden, als es der Zweck verlangt.
Die Aufklärungskräfte sind beizeiten in der wichtigsten Richtung zusammenzufassen, besonders wenn mit überlegenen feindlichen Aufklärungskräften zu rechnen ist. In Nebenrichtungen ist nur das Notwendigste einzusetzen.
Anzustreben ist, die Aufklärung je nach der Lage aus zurückgehaltenen Aufklärungskräften jederzeit zu verdichten, erweitern oder, wenn notwendig, auch in neuer Richtung ansetzen zu können.

("For the reconnaissance service are not more troops to be used than the purpose requires.
The reconnaissance troops shall be timely concentrated on the most important direction, especially if superior enemy reconnaisance forces are to be expected. Only the minimum (most necessary) shall be allocated for secondary directions.
It is to strive that the reconnaissance according to the situation be densified with held back reconnaissance forces at any time, expanded (enlarged, extended) or, if necessary, also to be sent into a new direction.")


This paragraph of the classic Truppenführung field manual (pre-WW2Wehrmacht) reminded me of an interesting detail; Wehrmacht reconnaissance theory/doctrine was offensive (= optimistic), just as most reconnaissance doctrines seem to be.

The pre-WW2 division of the German army generals into defensive, offensive and armour schools of thought had experienced a shift towards offensive during the 30's and towards armour after the fall of France. The defensive school had mostly assumed that front lines would quite reliably prevent penetrations and did not prepare reconnaissance guidance for the finding and tracking of fast enemy forces that had penetrated the front line (at least not behind the HKL, main line of resistance).

Other defensive skills were neglected as well till they had to be re-learned during the winter of 41/42. Delaying tactics, breaking contact and withdrawals were apparently not trained well-enough.


Back to defensive reconnaissance; Soviet tank units often peentrated the thin front line (often rather lines of pickets and hedgehog self-defence positions) quite often and they were very often particularly vulnerable because their escorting infantry (desants) experienced high losses during breakthrough fights.
The tanks were still able to wreak havoc among German rear units and had to be found, tracked, hunted and destroyed (preferably in ambushes).

That's where a huge problem intervened; there were no forces for the find & track part. Luck (radio reports from surviving rear units, for example) and improvisation had to suffice.
Late war tank destroyer, heavy tank and assault gun units organisations often had a cheap solution for this problem:
A platoon or more of light cars (Typ 82 Kübelwagen offroad-capable cars) with radio sets. These cars were survivable enough (by WW2 standards), quick, small, cheap, easily concealed, easily camouflaged, relatively silent and reliable.
They swarmed out, reported their findings and the anti-tank forces could move into advantageous positions for the AT fight.


I have yet to see an equivalent in modern field manuals; reconnaisance against enemy stragglers and incursions on supposedly friendly terrain doesn't seem to get much attention nowadays.
There are certain area recce, zone recce doctrines (rather patterns) in field manuals, but the idea that this could be used for purposes like the described one seems to be absent.

Unsurprisingly, much of the modern Western literature seems to assume that we'd be on the operational offensive in a military vs. military war. That's quite ahistorical (save for extremely one-sided conflicts such as OIF); a look at the culminating point of attack concept should suffice to remember us that periods of high activity (offence, defence) and relatively low activity (static defence) tend to alternate.


Sven Ortmann
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2010/06/29

Matt Taibbi seems to think the same about news

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As to this whole "unspoken agreement" business: the reason Lara Logan thinks this is because she's like pretty much every other "reputable" journalist in this country, in that she suffers from a profound confusion about who she's supposed to be working for. I know this from my years covering presidential campaigns, where the same dynamic applies. Hey, assholes: you do not work for the people you're covering! Jesus, is this concept that fucking hard?

Most of these reporters just want to be inside the ropeline so badly, they want to be able to say they had that beer with Hillary Clinton in a bowling alley in Scranton or whatever, that it colors their whole worldview. God forbid some important person think you're not playing for the right team!

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2010/06/27

The McChrystal affair and the media

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Loose lips sink ships, and apparently general careers as well.

The McChrystal affair itself looks like a very small episode to me as long as there's no strategy change, but it's a great example.

Let's recall the reaction; McChrystal's competence got questioned because he failed to keep the public ill-informed on the attitudes in his staff and the friction in the chain of command. The journalist got criticised because he supposedly jeopardizes future "access" to important people by reporting the truth once.


This mini scandal was a demonstration about how modern Western media works today: Honest, accurate reporting about the truth is the exception, an accident that jeopardises the author's career.

(the funny version:)
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
McChrystal's Balls - Honorable Discharge
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Western democracies are built on the assumption that the media keeps the electorate informed about reality, in order to enable them to make a decision (vote) in their interest. A democracy with a media failure is a failure, the mere illusion of democracy a.k.a. opiate of the masses.
The latter, more harsh view of the role of the media seems quite fitting in light of the low quality of many TV shows and news shows. (Why the heck should news be a show or entertaining at all!?)

- - - - -

We cannot tell the media what to do without giving up even the illusion of democracy, so other forms of correction need to be considered.
An improved power balance is a promising idea.
Let's assume that all those crappy journalist who tell us about press releases instead of about actual news really would love to be good reporters, but they fear repercussions (lost "access") too much. Wouldn't it help then to give them more rights, the right to access, for example?

The really, really bad news here is that exactly the country with the McChrystal/Rolling Stone example has a law of that kind - the Freedom of Infomation Act. Similar laws have been enacted in many countries, including Germany (2005). Obviously, this doesn't seem to suffice.

- - - - -

Another approach than "rights" is power. The classic economic solution against the exploitation of workers by corporations is to allow them to unionise and strike. The union can be roughly as large as the corporation (or the inter-trade organisation) they're facing (members vs. employees). This can roughly balance the previous power asymmetry and lead to greater general welfare.

Similarly, journalists become powerful enough to end their dependence on "access" could as part of a greater mass.
Persistent problems have rarely easy fixes, and this was none as well. Media concentrations have remarkably negative effects on media plurality and the quality of national news. These media concentrations are employer-side concentrations, of course. Would it be possible to build a journalist trade union that can boycott those who use the ability to deny interviews to sanction journalists for no good reason?

- - - - -

Nowadays we have the internet and thus new forms of media that begin to compete with traditional media organisations. Maybe the new news channels could help to inrease awareness of the problem?

Any way; we should fix our media in order to get better informed on relevant issues.

Maybe I'll live to see a nation in which reporter's relations are not about keeping crap secret and "news" interesting, but about keeping the public (= the sovereign) well-informed.

Sven Ortmann
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Sex in the Army

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The USA has apparently one of the last NATO militaries (4/26) that discriminates gays and lesbians (because a U.S. law demand it). There are currently political efforts to end that, and the result is a minor cultural war.

*Somehow* this reminded me of an old video that shows (in a hilarious way) how sex topics can embarrass soldiers way beyond their capability to cope with it. I always wanted to show this hilarious video clip sometime. :-)

(German video)

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2010/06/25

ACTA

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The ACTA (copyright) treaty negotiations have been criticized a lot, and I think the latest allegation justifies an entry here:

The leaked document shows that the EU Member States are willing to impose prison sanctions for non-commercial usages of copyrighted works on the Internet as well as for 'inciting and aiding', a notion so broad that it could cover any Internet service or speech questioning copyright policies.

Sven Ortmann
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"Punishing Turkey by Philip Geraldi

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by Philip Giraldi

It's worth to be read and I agree 95%.


Sven Ortmann
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2010/06/24

Assault guns - past and future?


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What were assault guns?

Assault guns were one variety of tanks in WW2, common in the German and Red (Soviet) Army. The archetypical assault gun (Sturmgeschütz, StuG) was certainly the StuG III, which was based on the German tank Pzkw III. That tank was not prepared for mounting more powerful guns than 50 mm L/60 or 75 mm L/24 guns, but the good chassis became used in great numbers for a casemate tank (StuG III) with a 75 mm gun (the first few had a 75 mm L/24 gun before the Pzkw III got one, later and most StuG III had a capable 75 mm L/48 gun).


The Soviets used their own series of assault guns, most of them on T-34 chassis. They, too, mounted heavier guns than the turret tank version was capable of mounting. Some examples were the SU-85 (85 mm cannon, earlier than T-34/85), SU-122 (122 mm casemate howitzer), SU-100 (powerful and relatively rare 100 mm casemate cannon). Their heavier assault guns were based on the KV tank series chassis, mounting only large calibre guns.
Germany used the other chassis for assault gun-like tanks as well, but most of those types were assigned to Panzerjäger (tank destroyer) units - assault artillery units such as the Sturmgeschütz Abteilungen (assault gun detachments) were part of the artillery.

The British and U.S. Army followed very different approaches; the British had only the improvised and weird Archer tank destroyer, while the U.S. had a very different tank destroyer doctrine that preferred extra fast, thin-skinned tanks with open turret. They were meant as anti-tank vehicles, while assault guns merely morphed into that role.

The howitzer-equipped assault guns were mostly restricted to the infantry support role, though.

- - - - -

The origin of the assault gun was in WW1. The German infantry needed guns with HE shells to defeat machine gun positions in the field, and used mountain guns as well as other relatively light guns for the purpose. The idea carried on; Germany, Soviet Union and Japan developed dedicated light (70-76 mm calibre, about 400-700 kg) and simple shielded guns for the purpose (and for indirect fire, a role later taken over completely by infantry mortars).

The problem with these infantry guns was that their mobility was too restricted. Their teams could quite easily get caught by competent enemy mortar troops and it was difficult to follow an infantry attack on rough ground with a crew-moved 500 kg gun.
The internal combustion engine and tracks as well as more armour plating were of course the solution, and exactly this was proposed in 1936 in the German army.
A few medium tanks were simplified (no turret, 75 mm L/24 casemate gun), took part in campaigns in 1940 and proved their value as a protected, mobile substitute for infantry guns.

The scarcity of German resources caused a conflict between the need for concentration on Schwerpunkt armour divisions and the scattered assault guns units for infantry of the line.
The assault guns batteries' great success and the great need of the infantry forces for such support coupled with the reduced vehicle price allowed for a decent quantity of assault guns. The organization of the assault guns helped as well; battalion-sized units (in practice less than 30 assault guns each) were held at higher HQs and assigned to support in infantry division sectors only on a as-needed (most) basis. This was more efficient than assault guns for every division; that would have been an unaffordable luxury.
The affordability and quality of assault guns later led to their employment in armour divisions as well, mixed with turret tanks with good effect.

Assault gun tactics

It's easy to learn about hardware basics, but tactics are the really interesting thing about assault guns.


The basic offensive tactic was to advance with (actually behind) the infantry and lob 75 mm HE shells against enemy defensive positions and buildings in support of the infantry. More experience led to more advanced tactics, with a delicate balance between too close and too far infantry screens and even own escort infantry in assault gun detachments. The infantry-bound advance allowed for the use of experienced assault gun personnel scouts ahead in order to have a pair of eyes on the ground/terrain before any assault gun could get stuck on it.

It is interesting to see that much tank combat with main battle tanks after Desert Strom 1991 was quite similar to these offensive anti-personnel assault gun tactics (Croatia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq post-2003).

Offensive tactics such as pursuit or exploitation were no jobs for assault guns. They were simply not as good as tanks in these risky jobs. A dangerous enemy contact to the left or right of a formation could not as easily be countered because assault guns had their gun roughly pointed at the same direction as their movement. Turret tanks are in most terrains able to move in formation with some guns pointing let, forward, right and even to the rear. Assault guns had to turn and stop for effective firing. The necessity to point the front armour towards the enemy helped at times (and turning was quick with good gearboxes), but it stressed gear boxes, sometimes threw the tracks and it tended to let units deviate from their originally planned axis of advance. It was also more difficult to engage multiple targets in quick succession than with a turret.
These characteristics of casemate tanks (kind of similar to today's restrictions of tanks without full firing-on-the-move capability) were the price of the lack of a turret, but apparently overcompensated for by casemate tank advantages in WW2 if the proper tactics were used.

The assault gun on the defence was a different beast. Many tactics were possible, but the most interesting was apparently rooted in the fact that assault guns were operated by artillerymen.
The artillery had developed a far ambush tactic (Lauerstellung) in the last years before WWI (not sure about the exact timing, but most likely after the introduction of the first quick-firing cannons). A battery or half-battery was camouflaged and ambushed enemies on an open field with its destructive fire. This tactic was later adopted by heavy machine guns and almost fell into disuse among artillerymen. The did still know it, though - and employed the assault gun with this tactic against superior numbers of enemy tanks.



The StuG III of late 1942-1944 was very well capable of taking on enemy tanks on open terrain, but its employment in relatively small groups (batteries of 6-11 in theory, detachments of up to about 30 in theory - but more like a dozen in practice) helped to keep the necessity of superior tactics in everyone's mind.

Assault guns were also well-suited for a particularly interesting tactic that was and is very difficult to defend against: Tanks of all kinds can expose themselves for a very brief period, fire a shell against a previously identified and selected enemy position and return to concealment or cover. It's very challenging to defend against such a gradual wearing down of defensive positions. Even good anti-tank guns of WW2 and most modern anti-tank guided missiles of today can meet their limits in such a fight.

The assault gun as a 'cheap tank'

Infantry forces were no fast forces; the need for fast pursuit and exploitation was therefore low. Assault gun units were not required to be able to spearhead an attack into the enemy. The requirements for the hardware were therefore lowered, and this allowed for a cheaper tank.

(1) casemate gun tanks were acceptable, therefore no need for a turret (StuG III costed only 71% as much as a Pzkw IV with the same gun and similar armour protection)

(2) a weak side armour protection was acceptable (even normal tanks are usually weak on the sides)

(3) training requirements were lower, for combat was slower and the tactical repertoire a bit smaller than for turret tanks

Tanks are commonly characterized by the triad of firepower - protection - mobility.
Assault guns place a strong emphasis on firepower and frontal protection
Mobility and side protection aren't as important (the saved weight of a turret nevertheless allowed for a better StuG III mobility than Pzkw IV crew enjoyed.)
The most important requirement in regard to mobility was likely the ability to exploit many off-road firing positions and to support the infantry out of the line-of-sight of roads.
(Today's Stryker MGS was (is?) supposed to support infantry with a 105mm cannon, but it's not very off-road-capable and its gun traverse is no real substitute. It cannot be employed as an assault gun and needs to be used with different tactics that are more predictable because of the reduced cross-country mobility. It has a much greater machine gun firepower than WW2 assault guns as a plus.)


StuG III assault guns and similar German vehicles were relatively affordable, but certainly not poor vehicles. The odds of survival (or rather: remaining life expectancy) of assault gun crews were much better than for tank crews. Their kill ratios against tanks were excellent and superior to tanks of the same weight class. Even the ratio of total own losses (all causes) and knocked-out enemy tanks was very favourable. Their tactics were typically less risky than armour tactics, crews had a better chance of escaping to safety if their vehicle was knocked out. The smaller silhouette in comparison to tanks with comparable armour and gun added to the survivability.

Old main battle tanks as assault guns?

I mentioned the parallel between the limitations of a classic casemate gun tank and today's second-rate tanks (that are not fully capable of firing-on-the-move). The lower hardware requirements of the assault gun tactics usually don't exceed such MBTs' capabilities. The European countries have scrapped their second-rate MBTs, the Russians seem to be in the same process. There are (ten) thousands of such otherwise obsolete tanks all over the world, though.


Such old MBTs are usually considered as low-value tanks, or probably as mere cannon fodder in face of modern MBTs. This estimation stems in great part from the in many aspects very unfair battles against the Iraqi army in '91 and 2003. Such turkey shooting on often completely open terrain does not tell much about such old tanks, though.
Let's remember that the second-rate M4 Sherman tank was the standard tank of the U.S.Army for assault-gun-like infantry support in WW2 as well (despite being terribly outclassed by several other tank types in tank-vs-tank combat).

The effectiveness of old MBTs with assault gun tactics should be kept in mind!

Modern assault gun detachments?

The ideal assault gun unit has its own escort infantry with armoured personnel carriers. This is a necessity because not all normal infantry can be sufficiently trained in close cooperation (providing security) with assault guns.

Such an ideal assault gun unit is independent and to be temporarily assigned to light infantry brigades or battalion battle groups. This allows those light infantry outfits to remain light and only be reinforced with such armour support if necessary and on suitable terrain. We didn't need to optimize the efficiency of army formations that much during the Cold War, but it is a good idea for the 2010's with the expected downturn in military spending.

Today's "assault guns" would be superficially outdated main battle tanks - similar to the delegation of older tanks to secondary purposes in the German army during the Cold War (Leopard crowded out M48 to secondary purposes, Leopard 2 crowded out Leopard 1).

Such modern assault gun detachments could by default be assigned to Corps, either recovering or ready for temporary attachments.


Modern literature calls what's been done in the past two decades "tank-infantry cooperation" or similar - we could call it as well "assault gun tactics" (except that assault gun commanders were usually more careful*). At the very least we should open our eyes to the suitability and value of usually disesteemed older tank types for assault gun tactics.


Sven Ortmann

edit: P.S.: Something is not right with this article. I would have needed many more pages to describe assault gun tactics and make my point. Hopefully, all readers nevertheless get my point in this already quite long text; a reduced tactics set lowers the hardware expectations and in turn lets me think that disesteemed old hardware could be much more dangerous in the hands of competent users than is generally assumed.

*: Edited 2012
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2010/06/21

365 days - 195k pageviews

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The Flagcounter gadget was added on 21 June 2009, one year ago. It counted 195k pageviews*.

195k pageviews is a quite impressive figure in my opinion. The blog was almost entirely hidden from view before late 2008, after all.

Next step: Make it 195k a month. ;-)

- - - - -

German blogs are rare, German MilBlogs are even more rare and German blogs in English language are ... well, I know only two or three.

I'd love to see a few more blogs like mine in German, English or French. The MilBlog scene is too much dominated by American and French blogs in my opinion. They've got the language advantage (maybe there's a great MilBlog in Hungarian, but who could know about it?).

The British MilBlogs are often critique blogs with a strong focus on UK affairs. It's a bit strange why the UK bloggers don't cover stories from the whole Commonwealth. British TV and newspapers seem to have a raised interest in Commonwealth-wide affairs in comparison to foreign ones.

The American MilBlogs are often either too hardware-centric for my taste, or rabid and respectless right wing or a very few so-called "liberal" blogs. American MilBlogs in a wider sense do also include the more than 95% "I (or my husband) was in Iraq" MilBlogs.

- - - - -

It's not exactly an advantage in the modern German society to have a strong interest in military affairs - especially not so if you've already left the payroll of the Bundeswehr years ago. I do like to compare it to an interest in firefighting:
Nobody wants buildings to burn, everybody despises arsonists, yet you want a well-equipped, quick, effective and relatively safe firefighting reaction once a building is burning. Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I believe that even though most buildings are quite well-protected against fire, there are arsonists, buildings will burn, our firefighter department will be called. I do also believe that it's not going to be as good as it could be - it will even be worse than in earlier actions.

I blog with some interest in military affairs and civil liberties, and I do so with a conviction that Western armies are as ill-prepared for modern, full warfare as they were in 1913. Many people told me about their agreement with this view, and some were even more pessimistic.

Maybe I'm wrong and much more is fine than it seems to me - fine. Great. I'd love to be wrong on that one.
On the other hand - maybe I'm not that wrong. In that case, why not inspire some thinking with own thinking?

This is why I'd like to see more blogs like mine. I am cocky enough to assume that mine is an inspiration to some readers; that it raises the interest in different interpretations, in weak spots, in historical best practice examples. Many more blogs like that could probably have an advantageous combined effect.

Military theory is today being treated as a state secret in Germany (as if that secrecy had worked aginst the Reds). It wasn't always like that. Germany had a huge amount of published military theory discussions, articles and books prior to WWI. That activity wasn't enough to prevent the disasters of 1914-1918, but it had a very positive net effect nevertheless; a very competent officer corps. I'm not willing to say that the U.S. army officer corps is very competent (in comparison to other NATO officer corps), but they still have an open discussion culture on military theory. That was a bit restricted after 2001 when some branch journals (infantry, armor) were pulled from public view (as if that would enable secrecy...ridiculous).
Nevertheless, such a look beyond one's own nose can tell us that a more public military theory discussion in Germany would not equal treason. Our few military journals (to be found only in in the biggest press shops) do not need to be on the level of industrial propaganda, modeller and airsoft journals.


Sven Ortmann

P.S.: Statcounter counted 175k in the same period, now I want to see their CEOs in a boxing ring. ;-)
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2010/06/16

Times have changed

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Back in 2001, many people got crazy. Military forces were used for policy and additional funds were made available for them. The U.S. armed services were almost buried under the amount of money that flowed into their budget.

Back in 2007, the beginning economic crisis and soon shrinking Iraq invovlement should have led to an end of the money flood, back to normal. This didn't happen, first due to normal lags and later ebcause fiscal austerity was damned as economic suicide by a grassroots wannabe economic experts movement that took over the mainstream media in most Western nations in a few weeks last year.

The time of economic "stimulus package" (or "we cannot do much of use, but we can pretend to save the world by spending!") politics seems to be over now, and finally, things go back to normal. Well, there's at least a trend in that direction.

The published attitudes seem to have moved during the past few weeks. Maybe it was the impression that Greece left on us. Maybe the time was simply right: Cutting military budgets in order to cure the budget disasters has become a real topic, and an accepted one.

The German Einzelplan 14 budget will probably be cut by about a billion Euros per year, but that's peanuts in comparison to the expected cuts in the UK, Greece and U.S.. Even Spain and Italy might easily exceed that sum.

The strange thing about this is that military spending should be about external factors (such as threats), not about internal ones. Save for procurement activities of lasting effect; doesn't the ability to cut military budgets due to fiscal problems kind of prove that we spent too much before?

Sven Ortmann
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2010/06/14

A trick for ACEs

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I did see a snippet on TV about a certain type of excavators (walking excavators, invented in 1966). A few seconds of a demonstration how one such walking excavator climbed up on soft ground at an incredible slope were shown. Another vehicle - a tracked one - failed to repeat the trick because the soft ground didn't offer enough grip (and the slope was really tough).

Here are two videos of such walking excavators doing a vertical climb trick, demonstrating the use of the excavator tool as a kind of leg:






That created a weird connection in my mind: The U.S. Army surprised German soldiers sometime in 1943-1945 in Italy by winching a few tanks up a slope that could normally not be negotiated by tanks. The German defenders on the pass were not prepared for defence against tanks and the deliberate attack succeeded. This created a false and long-lasting myth about extraordinary climbing qualities of WW2 U.S. tanks.

Now what if this trick would become part of the armoured engineer repertoire just like laying bridges over unpleasant obstacles (and there are tricks possible with bridgelayers that weren't really made public)?

Armoured engineers in several NATO countries use certain armoured engineer vehicles with excavators, winch and dozer blade. A lightweight, (thin-skinned) vehicle of that kind (with a for other purposes quite overpowered excavator) might be able to climb slopes well in excess of what's normally negotiable - and use its winch(es) and dozer blade afterwards to help a few more armoured combat vehicles up.
The whole trick would probably be loud - but on the reverse slope and therefore difficult to hear.

Maybe this should be tested and taken into account when the next such vehicle requirement has to be written (or updated). A quick calculation about the required excavator tool power might show that it's not even close to feasibility with normal ACE vehicles, of course. Well, except for a few degree slope gain.


Sven Ortmann
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2010/06/07

Hexawheel concept

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There's a new concept car (likely still only in CAD version) about a concept that could be called "active articulated truck". It's the answer to a question I've never heard ("How can a light truck climb a 1.5 m obstacle?"), but it's still interesting.














(I'm not sure whether this is actually a Mercedes Benz concept.)
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Gaza blockade

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The French minister of foreign affairs has apparently said that the EU would be ready (even happy) to take over the naval blockade of Gaza in order to prevent arms transports to Hamas.

That smells as if there's a 10-20% probabiltiy that the German navy will get one more distant patrol mission.

I hope that they'll at least drop one other mission in exchange if Merkel agrees to yet another naval patrol mission.


Sven Ortmann
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Aviation - should it be a separate service or not?

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The question whether aviation should be exclusively in an air force, partially in navy/army or all in navy/army is a tricky one.

I reasoned that the supplier-customer relationship in the force structure is the key question for several years.

Aviation supports both naval and ground forces. The most obvious example is CAS (close air support); aircraft providing fire support to ground troops, not completely unlike artillery. Reconnaissance and logistical aviation are in similar support roles.

The USAF has the A-10 aircraft for CAS, and a long history of neglect (in comparison to its great affection with fighters and their pilots) has lead many in the U.S. Army to believe that the USAF prefers to be its own customer (air superiority, long-range attacks far away from battlefields) than to be a mere supplier for its customer, the Army. The USAF did indeed focus on CAS only during wars, while it invested heavily in more 'sexy' (prestigious) fighters (and in the 50's: nuclear bombers) than in CAS assets.
Part of the reaction was that the Army produced and emphasized a new aviation branch (after having lost the (United States Army) Air Force when that one became independent); helicopter army aviation and drone projects.
The relationship between infantry and artillery is similar; the infantry keeps its mortars as a hedge for the unreliable artillery that at times prefers to prepare for counter-artillery fires over hazardous close support fires.

- - - - -

The interpretation of the problem as a supplier-customer optimization problem has its difficulties, though. This point of view would assume that independent air forces neglect CAS and prefer so-called 'strategic' attacks while army-integrated air forces would be expected to focus on supporting the army.

The historical record trashes such a hypothesis. (That's too bad, for it was a really nice hypothesis.)


The independent German air force of 1935-1945 focused on 'operational' air support (supporting the operational plan of the army) and neglected so-called 'strategic' attacks (attacks on industry & cities) as much as was possible under the circumstances. This could be excused with several facts if it was the only exception tot he rule: The Luftwaffe was built by former army officers, influenced by WWI pilots who knew only air war over battlefields, had most enemy industrial centres well in range of medium bombers and resource constraints didn't allow for a 'strategic' bomber fleet anyway.

It wasn't the only exception, though: The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force had both CAS aircraft and long-range bombers (although the latter were also used in for some kind of 'strategic' interdiction and for missions in support of ground forces).

The U.S.A.A.F. (United States Army Air Force) was very much focused on 'strategic' bombing well into WW2 despite being part of the U.S.Army.

The independent WW2 Red Air Force of the Soviet Union (VVS,) did focus almost entirely on air attacks in divisional areas (very close to the front) as an independent air force. The Red Air Force had many long-ranged bombers in WW2 and used them almost entirely with a bomb overload (additional bombs, but minimal fuel) on very short range attacks. Its passing interest in long-range aviation was probably entirely dependent on the general Soviet Union's interest in long-range aircraft for civilian purposes.

- - - - -


Military history is less paradox in regard to the support of navies by independent air forces. The almost dismal naval performance of the Luftwaffe in WW2, the poor support of the Italian Navy by the Italian Air Force in WW2, the troubles of the late Italian Navy with equipping its Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier and the discouraging experience of the Royal Fleet Air Arm in the 30's all seem to confirm that navies need their own aviation branch or else there will be no good air-sea warfare capabilities.
(Hint: The German Navy lost its Tornado IDS wing to the Luftwaffe a few years ago. *Sigh*)


The Israel Air Force (IAF) may be a positive example. It did both the tactical/operational air support just fine in 1967 and 1973, was very capable in the rather 'strategic' Entebbe (1976)and Osirak (1981) raids and proved its 'operational' level capability again over the Beqaa valley (1982). Its later employments were rather mixed, in part because of inappropriate expectations.


Well, what's the optimum?

In regard to navies, the historical record seem to confirm that navies should have their own, unrestricted aviation arm.
A possible exception might apply to very maritime countries where an independent air force would not be distracted from air/sea warfare.

In regard to armies, the historical record seems to suggest a "It depends." answer. It depends on the national needs, on the circumstances and on the available technology.
A possible exception would apply to very small militaries. I doubt that it makes sense to separate air force and army in a military of less than about 100,000 total personnel. A separate air force in such a small military would likely be inefficient because of avoidable bureaucratic overhead.


Sven Ortmann
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2010/06/01

Thoughts on tactical agility


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An old rule of thumb advocated a triple superiority for the attacker in order to almost guarantee a successful attack. Historical examples for such 3vs1 offensives typically matched one of two basic models:

(1) Outflanking attacks where the attacker used superior numbers to create a longer line and win on one or two flanks.
(2) Frontal attacks with superior force density.

The greater the firepower (and especially its effective range), the less was (2) a convincing choice. The problem was especially evident at Kursk and during the Cold War. It was nevertheless necessary whenever the defender was able to put up a continuous, noteworthy front line (between two obstacles such as a sea, a neutral country or nearly impassable terrain).

Continuous front lines are not being expected for most future conventional war scenarios and weren't really relevant for (good) military thought back in the late Cold War either (two dozen divisions along a 1,000 km front were simply unable to man and defend a continuous front line).

Again, the question arose how to handle the defensive fight and avoid being outflanked by superior forces?

Thinking in the "lines" paradigm would suggest that we recreate the battle lines of the 18th century. An oblique order (counter-)attack or simply a full width delaying action would be possible in a 1vs3 situation.

We could alternatively look at the scenario from a non-linear perspective, assuming that the forces are more compact and able to turn quickly.
I recalled what I learned at martial arts about the fight against more than one opponent; reduce it to a 1vs1 fight by avoiding the second. The second attacker may move to your left, then you move to your right in order to keep him behind the first attacker who's in front of you. You circle around the first opponent by moving to the left if the second attacker threatens your right side.
It's surprisingly simple to keep the second attacker in a useless position behind the first one until you run into an obstacle or until the first attacker adapts his tactic.


This evasion of much of the enemy's attack power is interesting and effective, but its requirements are difficult to meet in battle.

The agility and reaction times of leadership and units put restrictions on this. Sadly, even resting forces cannot move very quickly into a new direction (although this can be much improved with proper training).

Even more reason for pessimism is being provided by the military historical experience about how difficult it is to disengage, to break contact. It's very difficult to pull back formations that are engaged in combat.


Forget the image of the nimble Karate or Taekwondo fighter for a second and think of classical Greco-Roman wrestlers. 1vs1, the entangle each other; it's almost impossible to disengage before the fight is over. A 1vs2 situation would ensure defeat, or a second attacker could easily move into a perfect position for his attack.

Sadly, the latter is a more accurate description of many modern land forces.

The great simplification in this text - modern brigades are more like a cluster of battle groups than a solid body of whatever shape - doesn't change the fundamental shortcoming.


Again, I'd like to emphasize the importance of battlefield or tactical agility - from brigade staffs down to Platoons. Reaction times need to be a fraction of those tolerated in peacetime training. Changes of orders must not create confusion and chaos, but rapid adaption and execution. Breaking contact on short notice with few losses is an important core skill for battle groups and brigades. It's not only useful if not crucial for the defence, but also of great utility on the tactical offence (more about this probably later).

One could expect that the well-funded Western armies train accordingly and are masterful at quick and agile manoeuvres at battle group to brigade level thanks to many, many free play exercises on diverse training areas.
The truth is more close to computer gaming. The enormously important training of (off-)road marches and actual outdoor tactical manoeuvres is being neglected. Such training happens mostly at unit, not at formation levels.

This is one of many reasons why our extremely expensive Western armies fail to reach their potential and to come close to the historical gold standards of experienced and slim wartime forces. Their excellence lies in the lack of threats who do it right at comparable funding levels.


Sven Ortmann
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E-Petition about better information on the German ISAF mission

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Sascha Stoltenow from one of the very few German MilBlogs (BendlerBlog) has initiated an e-Petition. I propose that the German readers take the time to read his proposal and think about signing the petition:


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