Not in 2010


Apparently not in 2010!

P.S.: I'm back from skiing vacation. No bone was harmed.
Travelling to the Alps was quite pointless, though. Deep snow was everywhere in Germany.
Btw, I'll post a lot in early January.


Hungarian government makes a questionable move towards press "oversight"

There are likely very few adults in the Western world who hadn't thought at least once that it would be really nice if a certain TV station or newspaper got sanctioned for the crap it pulled off. We usually think about it and then we remind us that it's the other side of press freedom.

Governments have the same temptation, but unlike us they can actually do something against the press. 
The Hungarian government has apparently not restrained itself and set up a press oversight system staffed with government party officials.

The European governments are seeing the need for economic and fiscal cooperation and are unlikely to confront the Hungarian government seriously about this violation of otherwise well-established European ideals any time soon.


Tanks - thoughts on a blank sheet of paper

The widespread understanding of tanks is likely outdated because there has been only a rather limited set of experiences post-'45. Lean back and enjoy some thoughts of mine; I attempt to substitute for our lacking military history experience with my brain power and knowledge about military equipment.

I am of course in a hopeless situation as an under-resourced individual here, but the stuff might still be relevant to your interests.

The established idea is that tanks are no good in terrain with short lines of sight.

The tank crews' weapons out-range infantry weapons (a) and thus they're better off in open terrain. Even man-portable infantry weapons have been a deadly threat to tank crews since 1943 (b).

Tanks need to have some spacing in order to mitigate indirect fire effect with dispersion (c) and in order to insure themselves a bit against surprise contacts. The spacing is more practical on open ground where platoon and company leaders can still see their tanks (d).
A buttoned up (hatches closed) tank crew has typically a poor all-round vision (e). Infantry can sneak up and employ even Molotov cocktails and improvised explosives against such a partially blinded and deaf tank crew.

Open ground is also typically less riddled with obstacles that are relevant to a tanks' mobility. A tank can drive through a tree or a house, but it's not recommended standard practice.

Thus, tank crews learned to avoid areas with short lines of sight unless they really need to enter them.

It was nevertheless understood since the 70's that tanks are also terribly exposed to hostile long-range weapons on open ground. The open ground became the favourable terrain for attack movements when the opposition was blinded or suppressed, but cluttered ground was understood to be favourable for hiding and ambushing.

Let's look at some changes in military technology next:

(a) Infantry became equipped with sophisticated guided anti-tank missiles of 2,000 m range. This enables them to shoot at tanks at practically every relevant distance whenever there's even a choice between close and open terrain.

(b) Man-portable anti-tank weapons are based on the shaped charge principle - the armour penetration principle that can be defeated more easily than all others. Tanks have been optimized for tank vs. tank fighting for decades, as tanks were the greatest tank killers in WW2 and in the Arab-Israeli Wars of '67 and '73. This narrow optimization lead to an extremely strong frontal armour (glacis, turret front) and as a compromise poorly protected sides and rear.

The lack of serious opposing force tanks after the Cold War has led to a different compromise, though: Upgraded and new tank designs are now meant to resist man-portable anti-tank weapons all-around.

These very same man-portable AT weapons have also increased in range. A Panzerfaust 60 of 1944 had 60 m effective range, a Panzerfaust 3-T600 has 600 m effective range. The increased range makes it ever more difficult to avoid their firing envelope. Much of this increase (about the jump from 300 m to 600 m) happened in the 90's when computerized sights with laser range finders gave the infantry high-quality fire control aids for their heavier man-portable anti-tank weapons.

(c) The indirect fire attack of choice against tanks isn't any more a concentration of hundreds of bomblet shells and rockets. Modern artillery turned towards precision munitions and seeks direct hits. Dispersion doesn't mitigate such a threat any more.
In fact, dispersion might add to the tank's vulnerability because it's more difficult to maintain a large multi-spectral smoke wall than a small one. Dispersion might at times force tanks into poorly concealed positions, while at other times concentration might do the same. Overall, recent developments have added a question mark to the value of dispersion.It became a more situation-dependent method than ever before.

(d) Many modern tanks have a Blue Force Tracker or similar system. Such a system can show the location of every unit, small unit or team on a screen and can be updated in short intervals. A well-designed system of this kind can offer a unit leader an accurate and up-to-date overview about the positioning of his teams as long as radio traffic is permitted and possible. A tank company leader doesn't need to maintain a line-of-sight to all his platoons and tanks to know where they are - not any more.

(e) They have been possible for decades and are slowly being added to modern tanks: All-round camera systems for tanks. The Merkava 4 tank has such a system; the commander knows about the surroundings of his tank and eventually he would also know about nearby hostile infantry. This awareness is now independent of whether he's buttoned up or not (as long as the system works).

- - - - -

This begs a central question: Is close terrain really still a tank-unfriendly type of terrain? Is cover and concealment for infantry within infantry arms range really a problem any more?

Maybe it's not. Close terrain offers many advantages to a tank as well. These advantages have merely been overshadowed by the perceived disadvantages during the last decades.
The short lines of sight offer the element of surprise to a tank and they allow for a quick withdrawal. The enemy in LOS is isolated from most of his comrades because of the short lines of sight. An attacking tank company that bunches up and fights its way through a short line of sight terrain could dominate the local fight with its superior concentration of fighting power and its superior protection. It could also exploit the short lines of sight in order to mitigate hostile support fires simply by keeping its exposure to any one hostile position too short for a proper indirect fires mission.

Maybe we should think less in terms of line of sight than in terms of  density of obstacles to movement. A terrain with long lines of sight yet very little terrain that tanks can negotiate (such as in the high Alps or in the Pripyet Swamps) is no tank-friendly terrain. The LOS is irrelevant here.
Likewise, a quite obstacle-free terrain with much concealment (such as a wood with many young trees and bushes) for a LOS of only a few hundred metres at most might actually be excellent terrain for tank crews if these tanks are properly equipped.

Is this correct? I don't know. I have no idea. I have no idea because there was no real test for it.

This is -again- a topic where it becomes ever more obvious that we don't know how to fight under modern battlefield conditions against a first rate opponent. Exercises on training grounds don't provide a satisfactory answer. Neither do the rather anecdotal combat experiences in the wars after 1945.

We might be up for some really, really terrible surprises in the next major war.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: You might be irritated by the possible conclusion that long LOS battlefield terrains  are probably poor for everyone - infantry and armour alike. This should be a non-surprise given that I have long advocated that exposing yourself is getting you killed on a modern battlefield. I just applied this more to infantry than to armour so far.

I forgot to mention: The ability to negotiate obstacles gains importance once obstacles become the decisive tactical restraint. This means that fully tracked vehicles with good trench crossing ability, good power/weight ratio, low mean maximum ground pressure and possibly a dozer blade would completely outperform any of those fashionable 8x8 vehicles and probably also 55+ metric ton tanks.


Critique of the Battle of Britain (strategy)

I wrote a text on strategy and some details in the Battle of Britain back in 2004. I revisited the text several times in the meantime, but found no suitable channel for publication. The style was so different from what I write on this blog that it didn't fit here either.

The problem was solved when I found the "Battle of Britain and the Blitz" military history blog of Mitch Williamson, a very prolific blogger (he has many blogs!). He agreed to post it and now there's finally an appropriate home for the article. Problem solved.


Not scared ... again.


On another note, a bus driver recently killed himself and a victim when a bus crashed into a house in Germany. Nine people required medical treatment because of shock.

Bus drivers are known for their superior lethality in comparison with errorists.

Last seven days' results:

Bus drivers : errorists

Who scares you more?
Neither scare me.



Supply, demand and a weird statement

If there is cost growth, I think we will just have to reduce the buy.”

This quote was from Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale, the context was cost growth of the F-35 combat aircraft project.

The attitude is extremely weird (and he was just the anecdote-supplier who represents decades of military spending habits in several NATO countries). It's even more weird that people seem to agree. I guess that happens only because humans can adapt and get used to almost everything.

- - - - -

It's about decision-making; there's supply and demand, and the supply was changed by a price increase. The demand side revises its decision accordingly because the demand is typically lower at higher prices. It's really first or second semester microeconomics.

The graphic below shows the situation under the assumption that national defence demand is fixed (always the same, no matter what's the price) I assumed that it's fixed because threats are exogenous - they are not being influenced by the price of an F-35. No matter what's the price of an F-35 - the same quantity is needed (that's the assumption). Demand is thus assumed to be inelastic.

This assumption doesn't seem to fit to the observed behaviour. The quantity in the graph stays the same, even after supply was changed to a higher unit price.

Well, who's wrong? Hale and all those other military spending professionals who behaved similarly over the past decades? Or maybe the assumption of inelastic demand is wrong?

Let's test the latter explanation: Let's assume that demand is elastic.
How could it be elastic? The threat that the F-35 is supposed to counter is still exogenous.Well, there could be substitutes - a higher price for a good could motivate the potential buyer to buy something else instead to meet his needs. Interestingly, military project cuts tend to be independent from other projects being enlarged or created.
The next graphic shows a variable, elastic demand. This demand is being influenced by cost. It appears as if in this scenario the F-35 has a diminishing marginal utility for the demand side.
In other words: At least some F-35s of the initial planned quantity are apparently not necessary for defence, for defence is an absolute requirement that would cause an inelastic demand.

Finally one graph for a (probably) plausible demand curve. It's a composite curve consisting of an inelastic demand for a necessary quantity of F-35's plus an additional demand curve that recognizes a reduced relative marginal utility of the F-35's.

This may of course be misleading. Maybe I applied the wrong model (a market)? A market without market failures is by design able to create the perfect resource allocation. That's why - even despite the many existing market failures - it's a popular model and was my first choice. I used the market model because of a faint hope that military procurement might actually be about serving the public, about an efficient allocation of resources.

- - - - -

There are more suitable models, and I'll employ Niskanen's Budget-Maximizing Bureaucrat model next: A bureaucracy serves itself (and thus needs to be supervised by people with useful motivations). This "serves itself" manifests itself in the maximization of the budget. ITS budget.
I was taught an Niskanen's economic view of bureaucracies which basically assumed that in the beginning, every additional buck spent on the bureaucracy yields more than one buck advantage for the society. This ratio worsens up to the point where spending more on the bureaucracy creates a net damage to society. The bureaucracy is fine with this - it looks primarily at its budget, not at the general welfare. At some point, it becomes obvious that the over-sizing of the bureaucracy compensated most of its original net advantage. The bureaucacy is unlikely to reach the point where it does more harm than good to the society because external forces (political supervision) intervene in favour of other interests than the bureaucracy's.

So basically the model of a bureaucracy is about its quest for an ever greater budget and ever more staff - up to the point where exogenous forces intervene and limit its budget.
Suddenly, the quote makes much sense. The bureaucracy has fought for its budget and got a limit imposed by an exogenous power (the legislative). Its procurement costs rise - and it simply operates within its limit, within its budget. It buys less.
It was probably not really about defence all along. Moreover, with such a model in mind the air force leadership would be not appear to be a credible source about the necessity of the buy altogether!

- - - - -

We could also assume the model of a bartering process. The requirements might have been inflated (and public cost estimates may have been intentionally low). That would enable the reduction of a quantity which was originally deemed necessary (in public, but not for real).
That, of course, would imply that the original figures were never realistic and the original quantitative requirement would have been incorrect.

Any insights?
Well, yes. First of all a trivial one; the planned quantity of a military good cannot have been an absolute necessity for defence if its reduction is ceteris paribus acceptable.

In fact, the feasibility of "Sicherheitspolitik nach Kassenlage" ("security policy according to budget situation") is a strong argument for the suspicion that there's a huge amount of waste in military budgets if the budget is not kept tight.


P.S.: This is really not about the F-35. The quote is representative for a greater symptom and was selected because it was readily available and required no translation.



The Wikileaks epic just got more interesting

So far Wikileaks actions look more embarrassing than endangering to me. Wikileaks gained credibility with lots of most likely real leaks - it's probably becoming attractive for seeding disinformation with false leaks. Even the publishing of real leaks can produce advantages for the embarrassed party, such as "See, we do in secret mostly what we told you in public!"-type of messages.

Now it's getting really interesting, though:

By Rob Pegoraro

The credit-card firm's [MasterCard] Web presence has been largely unreachable for the past few hours after a coordinated attack intended to punish it for refusing to process donations to WikiLeaks.

Reports such as TechCrunch's post indicate the "denial of service" operation was coordinated through 4chan, a free-form message-board site that's been used to arrange numerous other sorts of Web mischief and sabotage, as well as a separate effort called Operation: Payback.

This sounds to me like it's turning into a cultural war - establishment vs. sub-40ish pop culture. The parallel to conflicts between government and extra-parliamentarian opposition in countries such as Iran is interesting.

This is also interesting (and adds to the embarrassment of the leaks!):

Journalism professor and media critic Jeff Jarvis grumbled that he could use Visa and MasterCard to contribute to the Ku Klux Klan -- but not to WikiLeaks.

In any case: Don't mess with crowds which can self-organize - unless you're ready to endure the pain. There's going to be a huge backlash for the anti-Wikileaks/anti-Assange actions. They probably knew that this could happen and delayed the concerted efforts against Wikileaks' hosting and banking providers for exactly this reason.

Sven Ortmann


Senri nyumon - An Introduction to the Principles of War (Japan, 1969)

It came recently to my attention that this little '69 gem from Japan isn't as well-known among military-interested people as I assumed.

A Translation from the Japanese
Dr. Joseph West

Original authors:

Kentarō Anabuki Nobuyuki Suzuki Ryōichi Funakoshi
Minoru Ueki Seiichi Tauchi Hachirō Maeda
Kaoru Onisawa Kenji Takagi Shōsuke Maki
Yūkō Kashiwaba Inao Tanaka Masaya Maki
Makoto Katō Sunao Chamura Katsunori Makino
Toshio Kamo Matsuji Tomisawa Tomohiro Matsui
Kokki Kiyofuji Mitsukuni Narishige Diahachi Matsumoto
Yasushi Kunigo Shōki Noguchi Yonejirō Matsumoto
Osamu Kōno Naoyuki Nozoe Tomoyoshi Miki
Keijirō Sakae Takatomo Hamaguchi Takeji Yamauchi
Harutaki Sasaki Hitoshi Fujiyoshi Taneaki Yamanouchi
Hisashi Shibata Kiyomi Haruyama Kazuo Yamamura

There, fixed it (at least for my readers).

Sven Ortmann



Quote of the (yester)day

And the award for best quote of the (yester)day goes to ...
shared by the commenters DomS and Mat at the British MilBlog Think Defence!

“we are increasingly irrelevant to the US as an ally, I can see them calling on India next time”

Phew. Thank god for that. Although heaven help the Indians.

Sven Ortmann


Example: How to fool modern air power

"All that glitters is not gold".

One of the favourite targets for air/ground attacks (next to  other high-value objects such airfields, command nodes, supply depots, air defence radars and tanks) these days is still the bridge. The destruction of bridges can stop or even entrap an enemy force or cut off its supply.
Well, that's the theory. In practice, this is a disruption and never complete. The right timing is most important for the operational level commander.

Back in WW2 bridges were quite easily destroyed in dive attacks (45-90°) with heavy (454-500 kg) bombs. A few hits did usually suffice for destruction, although some bridge constructions proved to be very resilient.

Guided munitions proved to be very useful against normal bridges, beginning with AZON bombs and even an active radar-guided glide bomb in WW2, later the very first laser guided bombs in Vietnam and finally GPS-guided bombs over Iraq.

There's a problem, though: Warfare is a contest against a thinking enemy who is often quite inventive.

Civilian bridges can easily be destroyed, and this is so utterly well-known and self-evident that armies prepare for this with military bridging. These military bridges are often segmented and can be repaired quickly. To cut such a lifeline reliably for more than an hour or two requires multiple attacks over time - something that doesn't exactly suit modern high-quality-but-low-quantity air forces well.

It's even worse: The enemy might be crafty.
The Chinese, for example, employed some underwater bridges when they endured total enemy air superiority.  Other armies (including the U.S.Army, which did not really need such a thing) did and do it as well.

ES91-56-6 (SC349005) 2 ½ ton trucks cross a river by underwater bridge, eight miles northwest of Taegu, Korea, on their way to the front line. 16 Sep 1950

Such underwater bridges have their tarmac a few centimetres below the waterline and alternatively it's also be imaginable to submerge a (pontoon) bridge like a submarine when an air attack is expected and to raise it again once the sky is clear again.

(Finally there's the possibility of using amphibious trucks as ferries, such as the M3 Amphibie in German service. This is a rather low capacity tool, though (few vehicles per hour).)

- - - - -

Such bridges are difficult to find, but that's not the critical problem any more. Radars could very well detect the crossing movement of motor vehicles from very far away. The problem is rather in the attack. How do you aim a guided munition at such a target?
Infra-red sensors won't work - they "see" only the water surface!
Radar sensors won't work -  they "see" only the water surface!
Visual sensors or naked eye won't work, they "see only the water surface!
Laser illumination on water - not exactly promising!
GPS and INS (inertial navigation)?

GPS and INS can hit a target of known location, but that might be tricky as well. Military engineers could use a submersible pontoon bridge and move it by 20-100 m every hour. All it takes is a proper preparation of the riversides!

Now you're flying a 150 million bucks super stealth jet with some jam-proof high-tech guided bombs in your weapons bay - and you're still impotent against a crafty military engineering river crossing effort. That's certainly frustrating. Your only hope would be to remain entirely undetected and to catch the bridge while it's on the surface. You would probably have to do this twice a day and your whole squadron might be forced to do it a dozen times per day in order to reliably interrupt the bridge connection, though. You might think that they will eventually run out of pontoons, but how many pontoons can they buy for 150 million bucks !?

We can think of countermeasures against stealth, countermeasures against the guidance of stealth aircraft's air combat missiles - but the most important countermeasures to stealth aircraft might turn out to be completely unrelated to hard kills of flying objects (aircraft, munitions): 

Good old camouflage, concealment and deception plus a saturation with a low-quality-but-high-quantity approach are still valuable. Even bridges - once one of the easiest targets for bombers -  can be turned into impractical targets for modern bombers.

Sven Ortmann

You know that people have gone overboard mentally when...

... a toy robot cemented to the base of a pillar detours traffic down-town for hours because people fear it's a bomb.