Another voice for ground/ground air force missiles


(context was a possible F-35 purchase):

If we continue to use the very advanced [versions of the] F-16 and F-15 and upgrade some of the systems, we could save so much money that we could buy other important systems like ground-based missiles. And you can use more [air-launched] standoff weapons because they have extreme precision and a very long effective range. You don't have to put all your effort into the aircraft.
(my emphasis)

2010/07/18 Defence and Freedom:

On infantry small unit development

(First a disclaimer: I'm going to write about warfare with opponents who have corrected vision, comparable combat morale and who can aim.)

Some authors claim that a German infantry squad of WW2 typically had 80% of its firepower concentrated in its one machine gun; a MG34 or MG42.
That was probably quite correct, but the carried ammunition and practical rate of fire indicate a slight exaggeration.
The issue was more fundamental than simple mechanical or material statistics, though. A machine gunner has the feeling that he can actually achieve much in battle and has typically a different psychology in effect than most other soldiers have.

Infantry is not all the same - you cannot give a special weapon to just anyone and expect always the same results. Differences are also deeper than mere qualifications and physical fitness or strength.

Some soldiers are aggressive, many are capable if lead well and some are basically porters, not fighters. The most basic problem for infantry is therefore to identify who belongs to which group and to assign jobs and missions accordingly (and possibly reject the porter guys).
The aggressive, daring guys who are very difficult to suppress need to become leaders (the smart ones) or operators for the most important weapons (such as a machine gun).

A 80/20 or 70/30 rule of thumb fits to many forms of human activity: 20-30% of the people have 80-70% of the overall effect (Pareto Principle). This is applicable to the spreading of diseases, the work in staffs, the kills of World War fighter pilots, the number of friends on social networking sites, the performance of snipers, the performance of computer gamers, the success in flirting and it's also relevant for infantry combat.
We can dream on in fantasy land and look at a platoon as a small unit of 20-50 equal men, but that's not going to be confirmed in intense combat.

- - - - -

OK, let's say we succeed to assign the most valuable men to the leadership jobs or give them the most powerful weapons. What does this tell us about the others in the platoon or squad?

The readers may not like it, but to be honest; the average assault rifle user will be little more than an ammunition porter for the main weapons and a rear/flank security man and message relay.

How does this fit to the everyone-a-super-soldier approach of modern Western infantry equipment programs? The average assault rifle user has got some heavy AT weapon, a designated marksman rifle or an underbarrel grenade launcher nowadays. He's so overloaded with his own kit that carrying additional ammunition for a machine gunner or a platoon commando mortar reduces the mobility to that of a four-year old.

The technology-driven approach with a flair of combined arms (accurate single shots, full auto suppressive fires, high trajectory HE projection) down to squad or even fire team level may be a terrible misunderstanding.

To equip everyone with better rifle optics than were available to WW2 snipers isn't going to turn everyone into a super soldier either. The sights may be worth their weight and bulk, but they don't turn cowards or extremely frightened and shaking men into cold-blooded fighters with an overwhelming lethality in a 400 m radius.
Such equipment will still have the greatest effect with the few men who are psychologically best prepared for combat (this may include being simply too dumb or crazy to understand the danger - in fact, smart people rarely turn out to be among the most daring).

It's probably about time that the psychological differences between infantrymen again consciously influence the setup of infantry small units. This ranges from personnel selection over equipment to tactics and TO&Es (tables of organisation and equipment).

Combat in complex, though. It may be a good idea to 'waste' some good weapons on not very good soldiers in order to distract hostiles, to relieve the few over-performers off (suppressive fires) pressure.

Next, we should keep in mind another pressing challenge: The extreme lethality of modern weapons. Forget about the experiences against unskilled paramilitary (or lesser) fighters in recent warfare. The extreme lethality of modern infantry battalion arsenals (up to 120 mm mortars) restricts the infantry small unit repertoire for most actions. Only very high pay-off actions justify very risky tactics. Most often infantry needs to be very cautious in order to preserve itself for important actions (the military view) and a life after the war (the individual's view).

The combination of high lethality and cautious behaviour leads quite naturally to very short yet intense fire fights with (whenever possible) the advantage of surprise, followed by a quick withdrawal and rallying. The latter is necessary in order to avoid being stuck (and fixed) in a protracted fire fight till hostile mortars end it.

This justifies an emphasis on the right weapons (and munitions) for such an action. A salvo of M72 or SARPAC-like weapons, a very high rate of fire for the machine gun (with an appropriate, stable tripod) and the use of command-detonated mines (~Claymores) are possible answers.

Another approach might emphasize stealth and the avoidance of breaking said stealth. A minimised muzzle fire thanks to suppressors and optimised flash hiders, barrel lengths and cartridges as well as the employment of deception tools (fake muzzle fires) are imaginable.

There's also the possibility that both the own and the hostile infantry are very cautious and often stumble into each other at short range. That could be avoided with detached scout pairs and the use of military dogs, but it's still a possibility. Devastating and immediate fires would be important in this case. Hand grenades might become more important in such situations than all electronics combined and independent (re)actions of all soldiers without much leadership would become most important.

Other patterns for dominant forms of infantry combat are imaginable and need to be considered. Every such form might lead to distinct preferences that could shape the ideal infantry small unit TO&E.

Another hugely important factor in 'real', wars of necessity (if not even total wars) is attrition.

Life expectancy drops to very, very sad levels once a man becomes an infantry lieutenant in wartime. It doesn't look substantially better for infantry NCOs.
A serious army needs to be prepared for appalling losses among its leadership. One way to prepare is to have more leaders than necessary (the U.S. way), another one is to overqualify their subordinates (the old German way).
As far as I can tell, the latter is superior because it enables a very quick adaption once losses happen. A decapitated platoon can continue its mission if an NCO takes the lead, while it would need to wait a while till a replacement leader arrives (and that guy would be unknown to the soldiers).
Some of the most effective and consequential small unit actions in military history have been completed by subordinates who took over command after the initial leaders fell.

This is quite a challenge for TO&Es, for you need enough well-suited men for leading, for employment of the main weapons AND as 2nd or 3rd in command. You don't want to rely on your best machine gunner as emergency platoon leader - that would equal a terrible loss of firepower. The 2nd in command should on the one hand not be too close to the 1st in command, but on the other hand you don't want him too far away. For example, he shouldn't be in the assault element if your army's tactic prefers the platoon leader to be with the fire support element.

Psychological capability in combat, the expected nature of infantry combat and attrition should influence our infantry small unit concepts much more than they seemingly did after the Cold War. Gadget-driven concepts of infantry combat and infantry small unit TO&Es have dominated for about 15 years and are still in fashion. This exaggeration needs to be corrected.

Again, it was impossible to cover the topic comprehensively. I limited myself to mention a few rather rarely discussed aspects of infantry small units setups. Maybe I ruined all the future fun of discussing gun calibres and 40mm underbarrel grenade weapons for you, but that's within the limits of the usual risks of reading this blog...

Sven Ortmann




This is BAe's idea for a GCV: A ridiculous antenna farm.

This is how vehicles look when they're overloaded with gadgets after their third upgrade. A vehicle in CAD stage shouldn't look fucked up already.

Maybe they should think about this project more like a soldier and taxpayer, less like an electronics engineer.

New fashion: Budget cuts

It's by now obvious that the new fashion is about military budget cuts. Well, it's at least a fashion in Western nations.

This begs a question: What is true?
(a) We planned to spend too much.
(b) We plan to spend too little.
(c) Something happened that reduced the need for military power.
(d) A very unlikely case; ecoonomic difficulties increase the acceptance of defence risks.

(a) and (b) indicate grave political errors that should be enough to justify the end of a politician's career.
I suspect the answer is (a) coupled with the remark that this fashion is a disappointingly late consequence of the economic crisis (+its roots and +what it caused).

The same question can almost always be asked when force strengths change; was the old level wrong, is the new level wrong or did something relevant happen?

In the end, it's quite obvious that our budgets are always wrong - they're either too large or too small. The legislative never gets it right simply because humans are fallible.

Yet, we could exploit the opportunity to learn. The new political truth is that the new budgets will be officially right. This means the old ones were most likely wrong and thus should be discussed as such.
Let's learn from that mistake. Why wasn't the budget changed at an earlier date?
Bureaucratic and political inertia? Special interests? Did too many people get used to the old status quo and assumed it to be right & proven?

Or is the new budget going to be wrong (too small)?

(I have no real problem with budget changes simply because I don't see a "too small" or "too large" problem in Germany. The money is spent for a completely wrong approach in my opinion. We're muddling through with no big & brilliant idea anywhere and our force structure planners of the past need to be fired immediately. Exhibit A: The structure of the army brigades.)

Sven Ortmann


On defensive power

People seek security in an uncertain, not exactly safe world. The consequences can be self-defeating.

One such example is an arms race. One state is a bit superior to his neighbour - the neighbour can't stand it and strives for superiority as well. Thus they spiral into an arms race, in worst case till they go beyond the sustainable strength. Inevitably one power realises that its strength isn't sustainable - but probably doesn't dare to accept inferiority. The result may be a war - the attempt to exploit a fleeting moment of unsustainable superiority that promises a better end than inferiority.
The situation in 1912-1914 and especially after the first mobilizations in 1914 was similar.

A theoretical way out is to build up military strength that's not of use in strategic offence. This way one power could be at strength "200" if defending itself and "100" if it's an aggressor - with a similar neighbour. Neither power would need to fear inferiority in war and no arms race would be necessary to feel safe.

Fortifications used to provide exactly this; military utility in strategic defence that's not directly useful for strategic offence. Permanent fortifications have lost their strategic utility, though. Even the fortifications along the Korean border don't come close.
Medieval fortresses are popular among tourists and generally capture the attention and imagination of people. These visitors don't reall understand how bad it really was when fortifications lost their strategic relevance.

Burg Hochosterwitz, photo: Johann Jaritz

There's a general problem on the tactical level that makes it difficult to buy exclusively "defensive" weapons (even anti-tank missiles have offensive uses!) for modern ground warfare: Operational defence neccessitates offensive actions on the tactical level. In fact, even stationary defensive concepts don't work without tactical counter-attacks.
Battlefield air defences are probably the only exclusively defensive combat component of ground forces and even they are of greater use during mobile (potentially offensive) operations than during static phases (= never offensive).

A competent operational defence with mobile forces is usually offensive on the tactical level, too: It's mostly about giving some ground in exchange for a good opportunity to counter-attack.

The power of mobile combined arms operations disqualifies the concept of "slow" (and therefore not much "offensive") ground forces such as infantry-centric forces. A total defence concept is not worth its budget if it cannot withstand a smaller and balanced offensive concept.

Finally, strategic defence is rarely exclusively defensive and successful at once. Successful examples that came close to total defence depended very much on geographic obstacles.

- - - - -

For clarification; defence is supposed to be the superior form of combat on the tactical level, but only with an at least similar degree of combat readiness. Real warfare tends to be tricky in this regard.
Defence is strong, but it's not decisive. History knows many example of two forces of about equal total strength clashing and the defensive one lost. This tragedy has hit many army commanders on the field of battle and modern European warfare had also several extremely impressive examples.

- - - - -

The only realm where a total defence concept seems to have the potential of success is the political level. The invention of defensive alliances (where members are not supposed to support an aggression of an ally) was ground-breaking.

The Cold War has taught us that this doesn't suffice to avert wasteful arms races. The problem was that NATO was perceived as one bloc by the Kremlin.
The Kremlin did indeed believe that all important NATO members would participate in a hypothetical aggression, even though they would not have been legally obliged to.

The post-Cold War NATO shows an even worse side-effect: Bored by the peace and relative lack of tensions among members, their attention became focused outward on minimal to ridiculously marginal problems. The defensive alliance became quite extrovert and asserted the right to keep the neighbourhood (not jsut its members) safe.

A focus on tactical to strategic defence was and is enticing for national security planners who want to make do with an affordable or even small budget. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be the right technology to make it work.

The good thing about all this is of course that we Europeans are productive enough to afford a degree of military superiority over our neighbours that discourages even the attempt of an arms race against us. This strategy for preserving peace and providing security does of course only work if your power/alliance can sustain a vastly greater military might.

Asia might not be able to rely on this concept. It might instead depend on geographical barriers (Himalaya, Pacific Ocean). The defensive alliance concept could help Asia as well - but they should avoid NATO's mistake and not appear too united. That is of course one of my rather "twisted" ideas and extremely unlikely to ever gain much ground among pundits ...

Finally, one more remark: The invention of "how to build a defensive army" - be it hardware, tactic or operational art - such an invention would be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize and easily the greatest thing of the century.

Sven Ortmann


A flood of irritating quotes caused by a proposed F-15 deal

(The Defensetech blog has an article about the proposed sale of 84 F-15s to Saudi-Arabia and Israel's reaction, based on a WashPost interview with Israel's secretary of defence. The interpretation of that interview by DT author Greg Grant is one of many possible interpretations of what Barak said.)

My first thought when I saw this

Israel Wants Missile Shield Money, JSF Tech To Not Oppose Saudi F-15 Sale

headline at the DT blog was "Wow, that would be brazen".
I am, of course, accustomed to the idea that a sovereign nation doesn't need the permission of another nation for such a decision.

The article body has more to offer, though. This

In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Barak evoked Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), suggesting that Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of dozens of brand new F-15 fighters could tilt the regional military balance.

repeats what I read elsewhere. Again, I was a bit irritated that there's actually an acronym worth to mention for this - "QME". That's the only acronym for a foreign nation's national security strategy that I recall at the moment (IRATM).

It's also a bit irritating to see how the "qualitative edge" gets associated with hardware only. Weren't the Israelis supposed to be super pilots, the Israeli industry to be good with EW equipment and Arabs supposed to suck at warmaking in general?
Aren't these supposed F-15 sales simply replacements for worn-out 1980's F-15's of Desert Storm fame?

Quoteworthy material kept coming:

Israel isn’t in a position to dictate who the U.S. sells advanced weaponry to, Barak said; although it really is. If Israel so desires, it can mobilize its powerful allies in Congress to hold up arms sales to Arab nations, especially when it’s something as big as the sale of 84 F-15s.

I guess it'll take a few more years till I can understand how a nation which perceives itself as the sole superpower can treat an issue like this as normal. Another government has decisive influence on your legislative (government?) in regard to specific bills?
Granted, that's not really news in this case. Nevertheless, it's an astonishing tail-wags-dog stunt. The tail isn't even connected to the dog, but thousands of miles apart!

It sure sounds like Israel wants some kind of technology transfer in the deal.

This is also ranging from noteworthy to brazen, considering how often I've heard and read complaints from Americans about how willingly Israel supposedly transferred military high tech to the PR China.

There are surely hundreds of mosaic pieces in the full story and to put
them all together and to filter misinformation out would require a huge effort. The picture as it shows itself in the recent reports (and earlier ones) is nevertheless a quite irritating one.

The greatest human strength and weakness at once is the ability to get used to almost everything. This is such a case where I can only shake my head and turn away, assuming that a couple hundred million people are already used to the documented behaviour and many of them don't see anything disturbing in it.

Israel seems to make great profit in its "special relationship" with the U.S. - unlike the UK. Maybe the Brits should ask Israel for a lesson? Spending blood side-by-side with U.S. G.I.s doesn't seem to buy nearly as much influence on U.S. policy as a few million $ lobbyism money. You might even get the spent money back - hundredfold!

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: Maybe Israel has a similar special relationship with Germany, but that's for sure more sporadic, less institutionalised and less brazen. Germans are used to allow others to influence German legislation - in a multialteral cooperation called the EU that gives us the ability to influence their legislation as well. An open statement from another government that implies the ability to decisively influence a Bundestag voting is as far as I can tell well above the scandal threshold in Germany.


Protection against air power (army)

(I have absolutely zero motivation to search and include some nice pictures for a more pleasant reading today. This is a long, not exactly easy text. Brace yourself. ;-) )

Maybe it's a good time for a general article about protection against air power on the battlefield. The topic is quite encompassing, and the approaches vary a lot even among NATO allies.

First, let's have a look at the priorities as I see them. Some readers might disagree with this prioritisation, having the assumption of NATO or U.S. air supremacy in mind. Well, that's not cast in stone and even if it was; this article is a bit more encompassing than about classic aircraft (manned or unmanned).

- - - - -

Protection against air threats is first and foremost about measures that reduce the vulnerability to attempts of detection and attack.
This is mostly about passive measures - the basics of camouflage, concealment, deception and radio discipline as practised by all competent ground forces. There's nevertheless also the possibility that active jammers could be employed. Such equipment tends to be rather centralized and ranges from radar jammers (the Russians have a model to counter the E-8 J-STARS, for example) to satellite-blinding lasers.

Next comes the necessity to reduce the air threat's repertoire.
Force the hostiles to fly high, to fly in less efficient strike packages, to fly with partially defensive payload, to minimize the number of attack runs and to attack from a long distance. The desired effect is a reduction of the hostile air power's effect on our remaining vulnerabilities.

Third come the actually destructive responses.
This is about the damaging and destruction of both platforms and munitions.

Laymen often overemphasize the third aspect.

Navies emphasize the very last aspect (intercept of munitions) while air forces and armies neglect it. They had few really high value targets (HQs, pivotal bridges) to protect while navies had to protect expensive and difficult to replace warships and had little hope of hiding on the open, flat sea.

- - - - -

Now let's look about topics of importance:

There was the general trend of miniaturization since the invention of transistors. We're now at a point where two pound flying drones might be enabled to seek and kill (with EFP warhead, for example) individual soldiers. Other loitering killer drones can be sent against vehicles (Germany researched this for thirty years and would have fielded such a drone years ago if the Cold War hadn't ended).
Non-lethal drones are still more important, though; reconnaissance and electronic warfare drones are especially interesting.

Such miniaturized, quantity produced drones can be useful and cheap at once. A drone (target) can reach a critical threshold where it costs the same as the munition meant to destroy it. The defence with said munition becomes unaffordable in all but a few extreme situations (even before that threshold was reached).

Modern battlefield air defences are primarily if not exclusively meant to destroy platforms, not munitions. Critical parameters such as sensor capabilities, minimum firing range and cost per kill (both in weight and money) are acceptable for the defence against helicopters and low-flying combat aircraft, but a lightweight aerial drone could slip by many battlefield air defences without being identified as something different than a bird.
The problem begins with their low speed (radars use the Doppler effect to ignore everything that doesn't move quickly enough in order to minimize false alarms) and extends through their small size to their infra-red signature (different temperatures than combat aircraft).

The problem of smallish aerial drones is a problem all-troops air defence; no centralised defence system will be able to handle tiny hostile drones. I repeat myself: Bird-like drones require bird hunting ammunition; shotgun ammunition.

Larger drones can fly and be useful beyond machine gun range and require a form of countermeasure that is affordable and offers enough coverage. Today's battlefield air defences are quite unlikely to succeed in this role, save for a few autocannon designs with timed frag or shrapnel projectiles. Guns of 35-76mm calibre seem to be a promising choice; the anti-air artillery (AAA) may experience a revival on an unexpected scale.
Such a revival might in turn diminish the relevance of the drones, or push them on a path of development towards more sophisticated, expensive and survivable designs.

AAA has proved its multi-role capabilities in WW2 when AA weapons from 20 to 88mm calibre proved their worth in ground combat. We might become enticed to consider this for future AAA as a feature. Heavy (armoured) forces might use medium calibre tank guns and infantry fighting vehicle autocannons as AAA (with the necessary ground/air sensor technology).

"Light" formations with a focus on the dismounted fight such as infantry units might become interested in multi-role guns for both indirect artillery fire and air defence. A quick-firing 76mm gun not much unlike WW2 AAA designs might be worth a look.

Some machine guns had dedicated flip sights for ground/air fires (such as the MG3 "Fliegervisier"). These were known to almost useless against modern combat aircraft and even against attack helicopters. They might become almost self-evident in the future. A possible alternative is the use of tracer cartridges.

- - - - -

OK, that was about the long-since emerged challenge of aerial drones. Drones are borderline between platforms and munitions. Another challenge for modern air defence forces is beyond this border; munitions as targets.

The dedicated, classic battlefield air defences are in need of a reform. We need to look more into the interception of ammunitions instead of primarily the interception of platforms.

The advances in sensors and miniaturization have enabled stand-off precision attack capabilities. The best reason for buying such stand-off equipment is of course the desire to avoid the kill zone of air defences. It's all quite tricky, but the widespread readiness to invest in such stand-off capabilities points strongly towards the conclusion that this stuff is effective. That is bad news for classic battlefield air defences, of course.

Battlefield air defences can hardly be numerous and capable enough at once to defeat platforms beyond their attack range. Well, unless we consider semi-mobile air defence units such as Patriot or Aster batteries as "battlefield" air defences.
This is indeed a possible answer to the stand-off munitions challenge; set up air defences with a greater range than stand-off missile-equipped aerial attackers can have.
This might indeed work - at least partially. We will not have air defences that can out-range a 250 km air launched missile. Such missiles are still a threat to stationary targets; critical infrastructure such as bridges. Tank crews do not really need to fear such long-range missiles.

Is it feasible to protect every army brigade with a full-blown air defence battery of 20+ km effective radius?

The existing force structures point out that no army has allocated such heavy air defence assets to a brigade or division yet (as far as I know). The classic battlefield air defences fit into the short and very short range air defence bracket (ShorAD, VShorAD) instead. Missiles with ranges such as 5 to 15 km are typical.

Maybe we could pull it off technologically. maybe we could have de facto mobile air defence batteries with protected 8x8 trucks. They might even be dispersed, connected only by radio and power by APUs. A swarm-like cloud of air defence trucks (C4, sensor & launcher models) might maintain a permanent protective umbrella of medium range surface-to-air missiles - even during a brigade march (few 8x8 trucks moving at once).

An optimistic army might expect that such a setup could survive. Less optimistic air forces might be plagued by the idea that a competent opponent usually finds a way to hit such a basket full of eggs.

This leads back to the necessity of killing munitions instead of platforms. Few battlefield air defence systems have an officially claimed and useful capability against missiles. Some types of air defence munitions and fuses are even unsuitable for the intercept of missiles by design. This affects especially the hit-to-kill munitions (both shell and missiles); incoming munitions tend to be too small for a reliable direct hit.
The widespread interest in 35-40mm guns with shrapnel or air burst shells can be explained with this defence problem.

The intercept of munitions also knows a high end; the rise of precision guided artillery projectiles and missiles demands for an effective answer on part of the defence. Radio controlled missiles tend to be among the very cheapest missiles capable of hitting moving targets. Radio control partially fell out of favour for the defence against platforms because those platforms are expensive and often equipped with emitters capable of countering such a guidance. Incoming missiles are not equipped with such emitters, though. The Swedish RBS-23 system is an example for a ShorAD system with a claimed capability to intercept even supersonic anti-radar missiles (one of the most difficult targets).

The ability to intercept Mach 3 missiles is close to the ability to intercept guided artillery munitions. Again, the defender's ammunition should not be more expensive than the attacker's ammunition.
The critical threshold is complicated, though. The whole affair is close to the counter-artillery business of the artillery (again, air defence and artillery meet!). The artillery's radars can detect and track mortar, artillery and rocket munitions in flight. This helps friendly firing units because they get feedback about the drift of their dumb munitions. It does also enable the detection of hostile firing units (by calculating the trajectory of dumb munitions back to their origin - this doesn't work as well for guided ones).
Finally, it enables a quick assessment whether the incoming munitions will hit anything of relevance or miss. This could even lead to GPS/radio-based early warning systems for troops. Many troops and vehicles already carry a lot of electronic gadgets with them - why not give them a software-based acoustic early warning if they're about to be hit by artillery in fifteen seconds?

At this point it should be visible that you do not need to intercept all incoming munitions - you could ignore those which are going to miss. This in turn influences the affordability threshold for defensive vs. offensive munitions.

Counter artillery rocket mortar (C-RAM) systems have so far mostly been based on existing hardware. It began probably with a 114mm cannon shell being hit by a naval Sea Wolf SAM sometime around '80. Today's systems are rather short-ranged; one system is based on a six-barrelled 20mm Gatling gun and another one is based on 35mm autocannons with shrapnel munition. There were also tests with self-propelled howitzers attempting to intercept other howitzer's shells in flight.
The efforts of Israel are quite outstanding. their objective is more political than military in nature and they developed several missile types for the intercept of dumb rockets.
Numerous other projects surely exist without striving for as much publicity.

Very short-range C-RAM systems seem to dominate in NATO today because today's mission profile is about the defence of fortified camps in guerrilla warfare against the weapons of guerrillas (mostly short-ranged mortars and very compact rocket launchers). This hardware won't help us much in a possible great war when we might face pulsing saturation attacks from competent "shoot & scoot" artillery forces.

The technical problems are certainly formidable; how could we develop a really cheap munition capable of hitting a supersonic manoeuvring munition in flight? It seems that the necessary answer is that we must not in any case launch a development project to meet this challenge. That would be the worst possible move because of the embarrassing inefficiency of NATO members' military hardware procurement agencies. The industry might develop such a system on its own initiative, on order by an export customer or maybe the Israelis, or Swedes end up developing an adequate hardware solution.

- - - - -

This is a great moment to recall the prioritisation:

Protection against air threat is first and foremost about measures that reduce the vulnerability to attempts of detection and attack.
Next comes the necessity to reduce the air threat's repertoire.
Third come the actually destructive responses.

It makes sense to keep the active defence priority in regard to rocket, artillery and mortar threats low because this kind of response is likely the least cost-efficient one. A low budget for R&D as well as procurement does not exclude a good effort at tactics and theory about hard kill defences, though. Navies had defend themselves against munitions since the 70's (and should better have done so since the 40's!). Air forces should have a close look at the topic as well. Land forces should at the very least recognize its relevance to the artillery fight and the protection of key infrastructure (the famous 'critical bridge').

Sven Ortmann


Helicopters & mobilisation

There's a most important difference between small and great wars, and it's trivial: The scope.

You can pour high-end equipment and well-trained personnel into a small war, but that's not sustainable in a great war.
Great wars have the nasty habit of requiring as much resources as are available, and this includes mediocre and inferior resources. The cream alone doesn't suffice in great wars.

A military institution in Europe should first and foremost prepare for great wars. It doesn't need to be really ready for one, but it should at the very least be prepared to get ready a.s.a.p. once that becomes necessary.

Now there's a Cold War left-over that's quite strange. The Cold War demanded permanent readiness in Europe, and the WW3 scenarios left little to no time mobilisation. We partially ditched the idea of harnessing reserves and civilian assets for warfare based on these scenarios - especially in the former alliance frontier state of Germany (both). We had mobilisation plans, but their scope was laughable in comparison to the mobilisations of 1914/15 and 1939/40.

Today we're in the strange situation that our great war preparations - having lost much of our attention to stupid overseas adventures - don't seem to harness the reserves and civilians better than during the Cold War although we're now in a relative geographical position that would allow for a mobilisation in the event of war. Said mobilisation would probably not be decisive because it would take months, but it has at least become a possibility.

Let's take the recently covered helicopter topic as an example. We have approx. these German military helicopter inventories projected for 2015 (excluding naval helicopters, including orders):

82 CH-53 medium/heavy lift helicopters
122 NH90 TTH transport helicopters (more planned)
80 Tiger attack helicopter
100 Bo 105P1M light helicopter (liaison)
14 EC 135 light helicopter (training)
(Many additional old Bo 105 would probably be left in a cannibalized shape.)

Meanwhile, we have a civilian inventory of
789 helicopters in Germany, among them

119 R44
111 EC 135
52 MBB Bk 117
51 AS 355
43 Bell 206
32 Bo 105
26 EC 120
24 Hughes 369
18 AS 332
18 EC 135
15 A 109
12 Bell 407
10 Bell 212
9 MD-900
7 AB 412 / Bell 412
7 AB 204 / Bell 205
7 SA 330
6 S-76
6 SA 365

This includes few helicopters suitable for troops & material transport. The overwhelming majority of them would be suitable for liaison, MedEvac and observation (such as march route overwatch) purposes. I left away most very light helicopters such as two-seaters, as these would only be suitable for basic pilot training.

I think it would be a good idea to not only think of the common MilSpec helicopters as possible military helicopters. We could and most likely would commandeer civilian helicopters and the related personnel into service in the event of a great war.
These helicopters would most likely provide much of the liaison, medical transport and even some troop & cargo transport capacity.

This leads to the possible conclusion that there's no great need for liaison helicopters in the peacetime military; we would easily have enough of them with civilian registration. The MedEvac and liaison capacities would rest greatly on civilian types and this should influence force structure and especially our expectations. It makes no sense to develop and procure a handful of gold-plated MedEvac helicopters if we would have a 90% civilian medevac fleet in war, for example. Well, unless you are a fan of stupid small wars.

Sven Ortmann

Data on civilian helicopters: Thanks to LBA (Luftfahrtbundesamt).
Photo copyrights "Igge" (NH90) and "Stahlkocher" (EC135); Wikipedia users.


The "West German RPG-7"

The RPG-7 gets much attention because it's been proliferated all over the world, and therefore its role in modern conflicts. There are even admirers who miss such a weapon in NATO's arsenals; a simple, cheap launcher of acceptable weight with a wide range of warheads.

Well, the Bundeswehr actually had a very, very close equivalent till the 90's when it was replaced by the Panzerfaust 3.

I'm writing about the Panzerfaust 44 "Lanze" (lance). Panzerfaust 44-2 and Panzerfaust 44-2A1 actually; the difference is the sight mount.

Here's a comparison with a standard contemporary RPG-7:

Panzerfaust 44 Lanze RPG-7 with PG-7V
Calibre: Barrel 44 mm 40 mm
Calibre: Warhead 67 mm 85 mm
Length unloaded 880 mm 950 mm
Length loaded 1180 mm ?
Weight unloaded 7.82 kg 7.9 kg
Weight loaded 10.12 kg 9.15 kg
Muzzle velocity 170 m/s 120 m/s
Maximum velocity 212 m/s 300 m/s
Armour penetration RHAeq CE 375 mm 330 mm

The performance difference in weight : velocity can be explained with a useful characteristic of the PzF 44: It has a (slightly) reduced backblast thanks to an iron powder counter-mass behind the propellant. The penalty is a higher weight. The weapon was still not cleared for use in confined spaces, though.

The lower velocities also limited the official effective ranges to 200m (moving taget) or 300 m (stationary target) instead of 300 and 500 m respectively. The Lanze's telescopic sight had 100-200-300-400 markings, though.

Western Germany did not develop larger and different warheads for the Lanze, unlike the Soviet Union and Russia with the RPG-7. There were no thermobaric, tandem shaped charge or larger calibre warheads for Lanze. That's why the RPG-7 of today is much more powerful - given the right ammunition - than Lanze ever was. There's a rumour about the existence of a multi-purpose grenade for Lanze, but it wasn't mentioned in the Bundeswehr's field manual (ZDV 3-16).

A larger calibre would have lead to unacceptable weight increases unless the principle of the munition had been changed. In the end, the Bundeswehr introduced the Panzerfaust 3 instead, which had a 110 mm warhead and its 60 mm barrel is part of the ammunition (only the sights are reusable). The Panzerfaust 3 had an unacceptably long development and testing time, being introduced in 1992 after a tactical requirement of 1973. It had been obsolete against ERA-equipped Warsaw Pact tanks for ten years at the time of its introduction.

Different versions of the Panzerfaust 3 weapon have been procured; especially an anti-ERA version (1998) and the Bunkerfaust, meant to defeat opponents behind walls.

The problematic lack of an intermediate infantry grenade munition between 40mmx46 low velocity grenades and an about 11 kg heavy Panzerfaust 3 round led to the late introduction of the RGW 60 and in the future possibly RGW 90 as well.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: If in doubt, trust my figures about the Lanze. They're from an official document. Some web pages assert a higher range against moving targets and different sight range markings.


A question begging for a satisfactory answer

I asked this question about the war in Afghanistan for a while and never got a satisfactory answer. Maybe a reader knows one?

Why did the West never apply a "Hydra" strategy in PsyOps and policy?

We could have pledged publically (and told all Afghans about it) that we would send ten new soldiers for every KIA and two new ones for every WIA.
Add in a thorough information on the size of Western military establishments and the claim that we've proved superiority over Russians historically.
After every KIA and WIA, let new troops arrive - as pledged - and spread the word, including some increased activity.

This might have discouraged violent opposition to some degree.


Sven Ortmann


The first week of a peer vs. peer air war; a dilemma

It's been a classic dilemma of the Cold War: What should be done early on in an air war?

* Should the air forces focus on the air superiority fight (fighter vs. fighter) at first?
* Should they focus on the destruction of enemy air defences first?
* Maybe attack enemy airfields?
* Maybe blow up some important bridges?
* Attacks on hostile troops on road marches?
* Attacks on hostile troops in contact with friendly troops?
* Should squadrons relocate to more survivable airfields or stay at their home airbases?
* What kind of mix would be optimal?

The Israelis had this kind of dilemma - especially in the surprising Yom Kippur War 1973. They seem to have improvised. The substantial losses of their attack aircraft forced a campaign against hostile battlefield air defences on them in the midst of the conflict. In the end, lots of technological changes and special conditions prevent the Yom Kippur example from giving us reliable guidance about how to answer the dilemma.

The dilemma wasn't nearly as serious in the conflict against Iraq. The Iraq was simply no peer and not capable of immediate decisive action on the ground or air. Fighting against Iraqis was even less than a sparring match in comparison to WW3 expectations. Again, there's little to learn from the campaigns against Iraqi forces in regard to the basic prioritization dilemma.

- - - - -

There might be an answer to the dilemma, though: Surprisingly, this may be a technological answer (and we should be sceptical about it for this reason).

It's obvious that several of the aforementioned options are related to the survivability of combat aircraft. Survivability against hostile fighters, against hostile attack aircraft (when on the ground) and against hostile air defences.

Now what if we were able to take this out of the equation? Let's assume we had a silver bullet that can strike operational level targets (typically 50-500 km depth, for example) while the artillery can strike close targets (and substitute for lacking close air support).
The air forces would then be able to fight for air war superiority, fight air force vs. air force. They would have the best probability of success, could later turn on the hostile ground forces and deliver a strong argument for the politicians who hopefully keep negotiating about an end of the folly.

OK, which weapon or munition could render fighters, air defences and attacks on friendly airfields quite irrelevant? The (quasi-) ballistic missile!

Such missiles are very survivable against most air defence systems, have a useful range for the operational level of war (the longer the range the faster - and thus more survivable!) and nowadays such missiles have the necessary pinpoint accuracy for the destruction of stationary (fixed and reconnoitered semi-mobile) targets: Air fields, long-range air defence batteries, bridges).

NATO air forces (and navies) have understood their potential, their potency as threat - and accordingly spent a great deal of attention and money on hard kill defences against such missiles.

They did not embrace the (quasi-)ballistic missile themselves, though. Missile types with less than 500 km range would fit into the treaties that are in force (except possibly ICOC 3-3).

It may be a prejudice, but maybe it's simply bureaucratic inertia coupled with conservativeness and special interests (fighter pilot generals wanting more fighter wings, not more unsexy missile batteries) that keeps these missiles outside of NATO air forces.
Foreign policy strategy (promotion of ICOC & BM counter-proliferation efforts in general) might play a role as well.

The exposure to Third World ballistic missiles based on Russian 1950's technology has distorted the perception of the (quasi-)ballistic missile threat. Such missiles are at times interpreted as useful only with non-conventional warheads.
It's almost forgotten that NATO had such battlefield missiles with conventional warheads in service during the Cold War!

- - - - -

There are several modern designs of accurate (quasi-)ballistic missiles:

supposedly 300 k range

supposedly 400 km range.

Supposedly 300 km range.
The payload is several hundred kilograms each - enough.

The most obvious choice for NATO forces would probably be to introduce (more) ATACMS Block II into Corps- or Division-level army artillery units and to produce in license a longer-range version of LORA (to be honest, its's most likely cheaper to let them develop a LORA 2 and to buy a license than to develop a missile of our own!).

The dilemma could then be solved quite easily; NATO air forces could alternate between defensive (defence with fighters and air defences) and offensive (additional strike packages against battlefield air defences and relatively easily accessible installations) phases until it has a won the air power vs. air power contest in one shape or another.
Strike missions against airfields, fixed and semi-mobile area air defence assets, bridges and the like (ministries?) would be substituted for with the fires from 300-500 km (quasi-)ballistic missile regiments.
Close air support could early on be substituted for with army aviation and artillery fires.

So far, the Western air forces don't seem to believe that this is necessary, though. They prefer air-launched cruise missiles of about 250-300 km range instead. Such cruise missiles require sorties just as the classic strike packages would do.

Maybe we should pay more attention to (quasi-)ballistic missiles as a gap in our air forces instead of paying obedient attention to other big ticket projects (fighters, bombers, air launched cruise missiles) and to the role of ballistic missiles as threats only.
F-35 and Typhoon critics are numerous - how many critical remarks about the lack of SRBMs in Western air forces did you see (except here)?

Sven O

edit 2013: I should have mentioned the Indian Prithvi missile as well.


A yesterday man's confusion on Great Power status

History has proved that certain grand ideas - once believed to be self-evident - are (or became?) wrong.
One such error was the idea that you need to have a large land mass if your nation has a large population (Germany). Another such error was the idea that it takes a colonial empire for a country to be rich & powerful (UK, France, Spain - falsified by Germany during the late 19th century). Yet another example is the idea that a country needs guaranteed access to natural resources (preferably on its own or its colonies' soil) to be a rich industrial nation. This has been falsified post-WW2 by both Western European and East Asian nations.

Finally, one misconception seems to persist at least among some people: The idea that it takes military might - even the ability of "power projection" (being able to defeat some distant country) to be a Great Power.

There is no doubt that apart from the independent nuclear deterrent, great power status requires independent conventional military capacity.
by Alexander Woolfson

Uhm, no. There IS doubt. In fact, modern lists of Great Powers include several countries which don't even aspire to either an independent nuclear deterrent nor an independent conventional military capacity (of the kind that Woolfson had in mind).

Let's look at an easily accessible example: Wiki
Or let's look at a blog that focuses on Great Power stuff;

I could easily add other sources, but these two should suffice to show that there IS doubt.

- - - - -

Japan was driven into its disastrous WW2 experience by a misguided belief that it needed direct access to foreign resources for prosperity.
Britain, France and Portugal fought series of wars (hundreds!) to build and maintain empires that did little for their prosperity. The same effort spent domestically would probably have yielded better results.
Spain was domestically broken by the economic and political effects of its colonial empire in the 16th to 18th century.

Germany got into WW2 for an asshole's stupid idea that it required a huge territory because its homeland would be too small for its greatness or whatever.

- - - - -

Today, some nations waste resources on inflated defence budgets and risk going to war over marginal topics (because some politicians cannot resits the military big stick once they have it at their disposal).

No, Britain does NOT need an independent nuclear deterrent and it does not need expeditionary forces that can cruise to some distant country and beat it up or occupy it. That's not what it takes to be a Great Power.

Great Powers are about influence, about relevance. Great Powers are those powers who must not be ignored in a large share of global conflicts and political matters. These conflicts and matters are nowadays almost always peaceful - unless certain Western countries launch a war.

Good relations with Commonwealth nations, the permanent UNSC seat, the UNSC veto right, the ability to assist with expertise and money in times of trouble, being leading advocate of mutually beneficial multinational agreements, a "honest broker" reputation in regard to the moderation of international conflicts - that would ensure Britain's Great power status in the 21st century.

A broke country with nukes and an expeditionary military that gets involved in needless wars of choice would not be a good Great Power, if one at all. Most importantly, such a recipe is not going to help the country to prosper socially and culturally.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: And then there's the question who's luckier; a Great Power or a country like Luxembourg?!


Logistics - we got used to trucks

I keep trying to accumulate military (history) knowledge on a very broad basis. Electronic warfare and logistics appear to be the greatest challenges in this endeavour. EW is very secretive and logistics is boring. That's probably the reason why few show interest in logistics.

Nevertheless, I took on another book (without any new insights in the first three chapters). That got me thinking about logistics again. Among these thoughts was this one:

Pre-1850's logistics were very basic. Food, fodder, few equipment and ammunition. Civilians often made up a large part of the train and provided "services" to the troops. I think I mentioned in an earlier post how these functions got militarised (all services except the sexual ones were incorporated into the military itself) in the late 19th century.

The transportation of fodder with horse-drawn carts was very inefficient (the cart-pulling horses ate much of the payload!) and lead to a rule of thumb that you shouldn't campaign farther than 250 km away from your logistical base if you depended on the supply shipments of horse cart convoys.
Some campaigns looked very different; one version used boat/ship-centric logistics support thanks to a coastline or a canal/river network. Other campaigns did simply not depend on the shipment of supplies from some logistical base; Caesar in Gallia, Alexander in Persia (after he left the Med coastline) and the Mongols come to mind.

The latter version emphasised the foraging - obtaining all you need from the country you're moving through.

Logistics changed a lot with the invention of trucks. Rail-roads had merely pushed forward the logistical base in the form of railheads. Trucks replaced the horse-drawn cart. A truck needs only a small fraction of his load-carrying capacity to transport goods much farther than 250 km. Campaigns such as the partially mobile desert warfare of 1940-1942 became feasible.

Modern armies got used to the availability of great volumes (and weights) of supply and changed themselves in order to exploit this for their advantage. The consumption of ammunition rose in incredible heights during the World Wars (possible in WWI without having many trucks simply because railheads were close to the front-line).

Something changed in the 50's and 60's, when modern armies became fully motorised/mechanised: Soldiers forgot that all these supply requirements were a novelty in mankind's history. The Napoleonic Age when armies went on campaigns with very little logistical supply somehow vanished from institutional knowledge.

- - - - -

Today we can see the consequences. Logistical bottlenecks are a huge problem for a corps equivalent operating in Afghanistan even though there's almost no fighting and only a weak enemy.
The German army - bound by political constraints in its combat behaviour - spent a great deal of attention on the development of logistics, camp defence and camp services. The whole logistical behaviour of Western troops in Afghanistan seems to be very strange if looked at from a military history angle:

Why is the "comfort" (with associated logistical and manpower requirements) so much better on the main bases than on outposts? What is all that supply volume being used for? How does the "we do almost nothing except caring for ourselves and patrolling" mission there require such a vast amount of supplies when German infantry divisions of 1941-1942 were able to fight in a mobile war with intense battles with few trucks and many horse carts?

- - - - -

Mankind is both blessed and cursed with the ability to become used to almost everything. The effect of getting used to recent circumstances has a profound effect on logistics: We un-learned the ability of our ancestors to make do with little logistical support.
It should be possible to drop an infantry company from a plane in Afghanistan with some cash and to recover it a year or half later without having resupplied it in the meantime. They could live off the land, obtain what they need in their region of operation. The Afghans manage to live there as well, after all.

Even the thought of such a logistical modesty appears almost crazy nowadays, though. Even special operations forces wouldn't want to even come close (at least not for a year).

- - - - -

Nevertheless, we should become aware again of the possibility to substitute for the shipment of supplies with other means. The most such means is of course the possibility to obtain material from the region of operations itself (the alternative is to carry more supplies with you).

Long-range scouts can extend their mission duration if they acquire food locally, photovoltaic power is being harnessed to re-charge batteries, armoured reconnaissance and armour spearheads could loot civilian gas stations and vehicles for fuel and lubricants - and expeditionary forces could turn into an indigenous sustainment mode.

We didn't lack warning calls about our dependence on logistical support and motorisation since the 60's, but the effect of these warning calls seems to have been unsatisfactory.

It's a safe bet that this one won't achieve anything of significance, either. Nevertheless, I wanted to vent.

Sven Ortmann


Gitmo detainees and Germany

Germany finally seems to have accepted two Guantanamo detainees. The overall reaction was decidedly unenthusiastic if not phlegmatic. Nevertheless, there are the expected negative voices, such as this post on the Weblog Sicherheitspolitik (a German blog mostly on national security policy) or this on another German blog (Deutsche Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik) with a title that would essentially mean the same in English.

That blog post basically follows the well-known pattern from the U.S.:

I considered this to be ridiculous when hysterical U.S. right wingers used this talking point and it's not much better in Germany as well, although we'll probably not lock 'em up.

- - - - -

I'm still in opposition to accepting Gitmo detainees in Germany, though. My reason is a very different one, and it's *surprise* not exactly a very common one.

This is my point:

The U.S. fell from the level of Western civilisation with Patriot Act, war of aggression against Iraq, torture, kidnapping people even in allied nations and the "unlawful combatant" scandal treatment of what should have been either criminal suspects or prisoners of war. Well, because of that list and a few more points.
The handful people in Gitmo are quite irrelevant. I do not care about their fate, not any more than I care about the fate of some Papuan village. There are more than six billion people out there and I cannot care about all of them. I can merely insist that life and freedom are rights that must only be violated with really good reasons.

In short: It's about principles. In this case I mean Western civilisation principles.

So why is Germany supposed to take two Gitmo detainees? The reason is simple in my opinion. The U.S. has still not recovered, it is still unable to treat these people right, to admit its error and to correct it. If we can take them, why not CONUS?
The answer is simple; CONUS isn't ready to accept them. It's still in the mad 9/11 shock mode and too much under influence of scaremongers. It's still not back to normal operation, back to the ability to act rationally and coolly.

That's why I am against accepting Gitmo detainees to Germany. The Americans shall do their homework, clean up their own dirt and prove that they're willing to meet the expectations and behave like a civilised nation. I expect them to be able to treat these people either as POW or as criminal suspects - be it in jal or not. I don't care whether they won't be accepted by other countries including their homeland. The Americans catched them - now they got them. Their problem.

Now its their turn to prove that they can do the right, the Western civilisation thing. We shouldn't offer them a cheap way out.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: It would be possible that some readers use the primitive concepts of "anti-americanism" or "left" as explanations for what I wrote. I can only advise them to take the text more seriously. Even people who don't agree with me usually admit that I have a point.


The 24/7 air attack paradox

I could swear I wrote about this a long time ago, but I never find the article whenever I search for the post with my search function.

Well, here's it (again?), in short:

I see a problem in modern air/ground attack technology, and it takes a long look back to the prime time of air power to explain this.

The German army was almost completely unable to move in daylight on the Western Front from June 1944 till the end of WW2. Few exceptions proved the rule, and all of them were tied to poor weather phases.
The Western Allies achieved this with several thousand tactical aircraft that roamed the skies during daylight (very, very few were on non-strategic missions during the night). Every move in daylight even by small units was possible only along certain roads - especially roads that offered concealment (trees) in short intervals. The troops were then able to sprint into concealment once aircrafts were spotted. Even that was pointless if hostile aircraft were overhead all the time, of course.

The result was a huge problem on the tactical level, but it was an unmitigated disaster on the operational level. Reserves moved extremely slow and counter-attacks were much delayed. German operational art died the death of lags and slowness.

The critical component in this historical case was the Allies' inability to achieve a similar effect at night. There would have been no reason to restrict necessary marches to poor visibility phases if that had not offered effective concealment.

- - - - -

This is where I see a problem in today's air/ground attack avionics. We turned the night into day, supposedly because this was an improvement. The avionics and training costs for the night attack ability were quite high - were they worth it?

Our enemies would not be motivated to restrict themselves to night marches. They would be willing to march 24/7. The extremely valuable slowness and lag factors would not be in effect (at least not as much as back then). Instead, we could expend a limited quantity of expensive precision munitions against a much larger quantity of mobile targets.

Maybe that would suffice to compensate for the lack of the slowness & lag factors. I tend to believe that it would not if we really fought against a peer instead of against a 4th rate developing country military equipped with 'monkey model' hardware.

In short; I don't consider air/ground night attack capability as a desirable feature for a large share of NATO air/ground capable combat aircraft. It's also very questionable for attack helicopters, mostly for fratricide concerns.

The night air/ground capability looks like a prime candidate for luxury spending and gold-plating awards to me. It was very fashionable during the 80's and 90's and has become quite self-evident since then, but somehow I doubt that the operational consequences are really understood.

Sven Ortmann