Confused by German palestine policy


We practically went to war in 1999 to support the Kosovars against the supposedly ethnically cleansing Serbs, guarded Kosovo, recognised Kosovo, subsidised the genesis of a Palestinian state through the EU for years - and now we're voting against Palestine's membership in UNESCO even though our government should have known in advance that this application would succeed?

This sounds devoid of principles to me, to say the least.

By the way; congrats to the Palestinians.

S Ortmann


On the Central Quest of Military Art and Theory:

The pursuit of the decisive, "unfair" (net) advantage over the enemy.

Many recipes have been developed over time for the accumulation of such an advantage. Clausewitz developed the military Schwerpunkt, Erfurth wrote a book about surprise, v.Schlieffen became fixated on encirclement battles and especially Cannae, ancient writers such as Vegetius already wrote about training, strategems and rules of thumb (Master Tzu).
It's been also a classic approach to overpower an enemy with superior numbers. This took in modern times the shape of overpowering the enemy with superior military budgets during peacetime and superior industrial output during wartime.
The modern approach is typically a combination of almost all known ones, epitomised in doctrine manuals and organised training.

The central theme in almost all of these ways is to seek victory/success before (or even without) a fight. You strive for being the almost safe winner of a battle before you go to battle. All else would be negligent.

This is where the previous post kicks in; it's important to draw a strong line between small contacts with the enemy and the big battles.

The focus is usually on the big battle; popular military history is especially fixated on battles.

That is disconcerting, especially in regard to military theory development, for battles should be among the least interesting episodes of a skilful campaign. Battles should be pretty much decided prior to their initiation. The real challenge is ahead of a battle.

By the time a battle would be accepted, the enemy should be so much disadvantaged that he better withdraws and accepts a pursuit (a common occurrence in turning movements and 18th century army-manoeuvring campaigns). The withdrawal and pursuit -albeit no easy thing for either party- were in many historical wars the really big affairs. The losses of an army after its ranks were broken were usually much bigger than during battle itself. There were exceptions (such as Greek inter-Polis warfare, Pacific Island battles, 1st World War), of course.

The only thing that's better than to pursue an enemy without needing to break his force in battle first is to encircle him. Thus the aforementioned Cannae fixation of German military during the 2nd and 3rd Reiche.

The focus should be -today as ever - on the accumulation of a decisive net advantage. Later on, this advantage has to be realised.

This is a bit analogue to seeing the value of your stocks rising; you also need to sell them at some point in order to cash in. Stocks rising in itself is of no value.

The accumulation of a decisive net advantage may happen through diplomacy, force building, reconnaissance, ruses, skirmishing, positioning and many other known components of military art and theory.
The realisation (exploitation) of the advantage require battle, pursuit or -best of all- peace negotiations. A political move will be the ultimate realisation of the accumulated net advantage, of course.
Yes, I'm that much a Clausewitzian.

Some readers may be tempted to think that all this is trivial; it isn't. It's helpful to look at war this way.

For example, activity that in itself has a poor record (such as reconnaissance with high attrition) can be fine, even necessary. This is part of the reason why a truly attritionist mindset is very problematic. Such a mindset would usually label such activity as wrong.

So basically this post addresses the decades-old anglophone debate between 'maneuver'-oriented and 'attrition'-oriented schools of military theory. That distinction is simply not as helpful as the distinction between "accumulating a net advantage" and "realising the net advantage". This addresses only those people who aren't overburdened by 4-word titles instead of 1-word ones, of course.

Just in case of doubt; my two concepts are of course not phases with a discrete succession. They do overlap each other. They're constructs to help a more clear and more purpose-focused thinking about military art and theory.

S Ortmann

P.S.: I'd be proud if I could say that I developed this clarity of thought (which I think it is) before skirmish and scouting tactics caught my major interest. Sadly, it was the other, not-so-methodological, way around. First I formulated my skirmish theory (largely unpublished), then I formulated this text in support of it.


What is a "battle" - what is not?

(This post is a preparation for the following one.)

The English word "battle" is nowadays more ambiguous than the German word "Schlacht". It's also in a much more inflationary use.
I found it useful to not call fights of all kinds and all scopes "battle". Such an ambiguous use of the word clouds the view for what's important (in the next post).

It's about as annoying to me as the typical description of a lone AK shooter as "sniper" just because he didn't shoot at stone-throwing range and his position is unclear.

Die Alexanderschlacht; oil painting of Albrecht Altdorfer, 1529
For example, it would be a mis-use of the word "Schlacht" to call an assault on a platoon-sized outpost a "Schlacht". That word is reserved for much bigger fights; as a rule of thumb I wouldn't call anything smaller than a division on division engagement a "Schlacht". Meanwhile, it seems to be common practice to call almost ever fire-fight "battle" nowadays - as well as many entirely non-military actions that don't even necessarily include opposing parties.
I've been told that this inflationary use of the word "battle" only began by the time of the Vietnam War.

As a contrast, even many corps vs. corps contacts of WW2 weren't even mentioned in daily reports of the German supreme command, much less named as "battles" with their name. I got to admit that Germans coined a dedicated word for the really, really big world war battles in order to differentiate them from more normal battles; "Großkampf" (great fight).

A platoon vs. battalion-sized engagement would be - especially in a great war context- nothing bigger than a reconnaissance (if the platoon is moving) or a practice assault for a green battalion.
The attention on small wars during the last years has done us a disservice and clouded our mind. It helps to have a clear linguistic differentiation between a real battle and a small contact between hostile parties that merely gets equal attention as a battle would (for lack of a real battle).

I cannot redefine a language that changed over time, but I wanted to point out that it's important to keep the difference between a small exchange of fire and a real battle in mind. Clarity of language is important for clarity of thought.

S Ortmann

P.S.: The German word "Schlacht" (battle) is a close relative of "schlachten" (slaughtering).


Website recommendation: "Napoleon, His Army and Enemies"

I can heartily recommend this great website, for it's a huge and great and just splendid website about the major European armies of the Age of Napoleon.

The "Strategy and Tactic" section is outstanding!

S Ortmann


An article about artillery

Typical articles about artillery in professional journals look like

Artillery [blah] 21st century [blah] transformation [blah] lethality [blah] network [blah] leap ahead [blah] revolutionary [blah] effects [blah] efficiency [blah] joint [blah] system of systems [blah] excellence !

I stopped reading such articles years ago.

Their illustrations are often neat, but the content of truth or even actual information is 'moderate'. Moreover, often it's important what's not being written (for example that the shiny new gun is already out-ranged by foreign substitutes or that the bureaucracy plans to buy only a small supply of the new ammunition). Ongoing programs are usually being hyped - up to the day when they're being cancelled. Afterwards there's perfect silence about them and whatever is the next move of the bureaucracy is going to be hyped as super-wise.

In short: Most professional journal articles about artillery (or most other military topics) are pretty much an insult to the reader's intelligence.

Luckily, this blog is not professional journal, so I can dare to write an article about artillery without being ashamed.

Earlier blog posts about artillery looked at hardware examples, sub-sets or specific conditions for effectiveness or other specifics:

2011-08: The underrated genius gun


2011-01: A German artillery fire control computer in '45?


2010-08: "Who Says Dumb Artillery Rounds Can’t Kill Armor?"


2010-04: A little bit German artillery and anti-tank defence history


2009-11: The future of multiple rocket launchers


2009-09: On defensive firepower and much else...



2009-04: C-RAM


2008-11: Cluster munitions ban


2008-07: Mortars and howitzers

This time I'll try to write about the grand picture, of all artillery since the 20th century. It will also be somewhat applicable to other indirect fire arms (such as mortars).

The purpose of the artillery is to influence a land campaign advantageously by achieving effects through fires (and the threat thereof). These effects were exclusively destructive / lethal / repulsing a long time ago, but jobs such as illumination, smoke screening, disruption, radio jamming were added during the 20th century.

The effects are the centre of attention (or should be), for they are the justification for the effort.

Old photos about arty can be interesting, too...

It's thus interesting to create a list of what influences artillery effectiveness (in a somewhat abstract way). This is the area where public discussions of artillery are especially narrowed-down and dumbed-down. My attempt to create such a list follows:

Artillery hardware-dominated factors

(1) Ammunition quantity (including the availability of ammunition to the firing unit, not just in national depots!)

(2) Ammunition quality (type and quality of warhead/cargo, quantity of sub-munitions, including fuse type)

(3) Duration of munition flight (relevant against moving targets)

(4) Angle of descent (important for unitary fragmentation munitions and in hilly/mountainous terrain)

(5) Reliability of guidance / trajectory correction and fusing (inclusive ECCM)

(6) Vulnerability of ammunition to hard kill countermeasures (C-RAM)

(7) Fuse setting in use (timed, proximity, super quick, quick, delay, mine fuse?).

(8) Quality of ammunition storage (especially for certain white phosphorous rounds) and ammunition age / shelf life.

(9) Fires observability (radar cross section or smoke trail of munition in flight, flash, noise, smoke, trajectory height, manoeuvring munition?) 

(10) Resistance of artillery to non-fires influences (EMP, deep sub-zero temperatures, moisture, heat)

(11) Dispersion of impacts (usually an elliptical pattern, not a simple circle - thus a difference between longitudinal and lateral dispersion)

Other artillery factors

(12) Reliability of artillery personnel (morale, accidents and errors, willingness to fire when civilians are present)

(13) Close security (360°) concerns

(14) Survivability of artillery against dedicated anti-arty measures (camouflage, concealment, deception, hardening, redundancy, mobility, tactics)

(15) Readiness of artillery (On the march? Shoot and scoot? Double crews? In range? Fuelled? Supply times? In need of repairs? Suitable trajectory when mountains are present? Suitable direction (in light of different safety distance requirements for longitudinal and lateral dispersion)? Artillery in a self-defence fight? Authorised/actual strength?)

(16) Accuracy of impacts (or of projected impacts if rounds become effective prior to impact; correct calculation with correct input variables including ammunition characteristics, barrel wear, temperature, altitudes, coordinates, meteorological date and more)

Communication and command

(17) Delay (lag) between arrival of request/command and fires (calculation, checks, deconfliction, loading, aiming weapons, communication between calculating and firing small unit)
(18) Resource allocation (Centralised decision-making? Schwerpunkt?)

(19) Reliability of communication (line of sight, range, clarity, inter-lingua, ECCM)

(20) Delay (lag)  of communication (speed of transmission, queuing of messages, procedures)

(21) Timing of fires requests / commands (tactical timing, not = lag!)

Related to observation of the enemy

(22) Accuracy of observation (own and relative position)

(23) Reliability of observation (IFF, recognition of decoys, night and bad weather performance)

(24) Lag of observation (non-digital aerial reconnaissance, acoustic sensors)

Target (area)-related factors

(25) Susceptibility to soft-kill countermeasure reactions (timely warning, taking cover or evading, deploying smoke/chaff/dazzler/decoys against target-seeking munitions)

(26) Surprise factor

(27) Surface quality (Deep snow? High trees?)

and a big one:

(28) Nature of the target (dispersion, cover, hardening, morale, proximity to "blue" troops, size, movement, importance, vulnerability to secondary effects such as secondary fires or explosions, ability to make identification more difficult, exploitation of red cross or protected sites etc)

I suspect the primary utility of such mil porn pictures is to keep readers motivated.

Having thought about this for a while, I'd like to make three comments and leave all else to the reader and later blog posts:

(a) The challenges are much greater and much more diverse than the mere shopping of some fancy precision munitions or new guns. I hope none of my readers will be ever tricked by marketing hype about a supposed silver bullet (again)!

(b) The actual effect is much, much smaller than the potential effect because no force comes close to mastering the first 24 points. An incomplete understanding of these influences leads to a wrong estimation of artillery's actual effectiveness and the relative importance of specific influence factors.

(c) Wouldn't it be great if sometime in the near future we'd be able to read an article about artillery in a professional journal in which the officer-author writes about the artillery of his army and uses a list such as this one as a check list, commenting on every point briefly? I mean, instead of a buzzword mash-up?

S Ortmann

P.S.: Word count for buzzwords: 4 x "effects" and once "tactical" (in some contexts that would be a buzzword) in my 'article'. All uses seem justified to me, for they're being applied with the original meaning.

I do sometimes ask others to preview and comment/correct my texts. This time I'm thankful for preview comments by the SWC members "Xenophon" and "GMLRS".

A history of the infantry gun in the U.S. (and elsewhere)

The German army/armies improvised the concept of an infantry gun for knocking out pockets of resistance that survived artillery preparations. I wrote about that in an earlier post. The French did something similar, and eventually many countries employed relatively light guns for such purposes during the Inter-war Years.

Anti-tank guns, mountain guns and even light field cannons were imperfect substitutes for dedicated infantry guns in the direct fire role and Brandt-pattern mortars were imperfect substitutes for infantry guns in the indirect fire roles. So in theory, you could make do without infantry guns - and infantry guns were squeezed considerably by such competition.

The U.S. Army was a bit slow to catch up with the whole concept and was especially interested in the indirect fire role, as it seems. Its quite belated adoption became known as 105 mm howitzer M3.

In 1941, the US Arm requested a 105 mm howitzer suitable for carriage by air, and as a rough guideline, a weight of 2,500lb and a range of no less than 7,000 yards were stipulated. In response, the M2A1 howitzer was cut down in length by 27 inches, to become the Howitzer T7. The carriage of the 75 mm Howitzer M3A1 was adopted as a Carriage T6, and the recoil mechanism of the 75 mm Pack Howitzer, much modified, became the Recoil Mechanism 105 mm Howitzer T13. Surprisingly, when it was all put together it worked quite well and required very little further modification, and the design was standardized as the Howitzer M3 on Carriage M3 in February 1943. Trials of production models revealed a lack of strength of the carriage, so those converted from 75 mm matériel remained the M3, while a newly-manufactured design, with thicker metal in the trial, became the M3A1. [...] 2,580 were built [...].
(Ian V. Hogg "British and American Artillery of World War Two", 1978)

105 mm M3 Howitzer in action, WW2
These guns - eventually used as a kind of medium infantry gun since there weren't even remotely enough airborne troops to make use of such a production run, were a moderate success. The Army didn't exactly fall in love with them. U.S.Army field artillery of the time was a huge fan of multi-battalion "time on target" fire missions that united the firepower of many batteries, while infantry guns lack the range to be available for this and are inherently rather point target destruction tools for commanders below division level (that would be battalion or "Combat Command" a.k.a. brigade in the WW2 U.S.Army).

There was a lot of competition as well. Mortars, recoilless guns, bazookas, artillery, on-call fighter bombers and most of all a huge quantity of Sherman tanks in direct cooperation with infantry.

There's also the possibility that the U.S.Army knew about infantry guns, but didn't understand them.

- - - - -

You might think that this was the end of the American infantry gun story, but there's a funny twist. One hand didn't exactly understand what the other did, and the Marines re-invented the wheel. The M3 Howitzer was - as the quote showed - a 105 mm howitzer (rifled barrel) on a modified 75 mm pack howitzer (=mountain gun) carriage.
The Marines - being Marines and all, but most importantly different - had post-war the glorious idea that their 4.2" mortar could be mounted on a carriage. A modified 75 mm pack howitzer carriage. Yeah, THAT 75 mm pack howitzer carriage.

4.2" M30 mortar in action in Korea, 1952

Well, the 4.2" mortar was an unusual one - it had rifling just like a howitzer. Most mortars have smooth-bore barrels.

Let's see - 4.2", what's that in millimetre? 107 mm. Interesting.
What was its range? 7,400 yards as a mortar.

Well, that's only a coincidence! ;)

The Marines being Marines and innovative and all did some PR. They didn't call this bastard gun a howitzer. No, they called it M98 Howtar ("Howtar" being an unofficial designation).

 Ain't that funny?

(The Marines became actually innovative afterwards, but that was not exactly a success.)

- - - - -

Meanwhile (or actually slightly after the M3 Howitzer), German engineers thought hard about an improvement of the infantry gun idea. they, too, combined mortar-ish hardware with a gun-ish carriage.

They had the idea for the High-Low pressure system in which the propellant has first some volume for expansion (into a lower pressure state) before the projectile begins to move earnestly. This allowed for a much lighter 8but longer) barrel and a lighter carriage.
Everything had to be done in great haste, so the projectile of a 81.4 mm mortar and the carriage of the semi-obsolete 50 mm anti-tank gun were married with (afaik) the muzzle brake of a 75 mm anti-tank gun and, well, what else a gun needs. There was a shaped charge version of the shell and some experimentation with a purpose-built very light carriage, too.

8 cm PAW 600 a.k.a. PWK 8H63, true calibre: 81.4 mm (smoothbore)

That gun did not have a great maximum barrel elevation (only 32°), but it combined light infantry gun weight, reasonable effective range and penetration in the important anti-tank role and a reasonable performance in the indirect fire role (out-ranging the common 81.4 mm mortar by much and being about on par with the other regimental indirect fire asset, the new 120 mm mortar).
It's still amazing that it was a quite accurate weapon despite launching a subsonic mortar bomb's shape with a muzzle velocity of 520 m/s (about Mach 1.5).

The USMC re-invented the Army's M3 Howitzer / medium infantry gun, but the Bundeswehr failed to get the high-low pressure guns (there was also a 100 mm model), too. Instead, recoilless guns were in fashion during the mid-50's (moderately practical, but even cheaper than a high-low pressure gun!) and later on there were the first generation anti-tank guided missiles that finally evolved into practical munitions.

Now guess what was fired in anger against Argentine field bunkers in 1982 during the re-conquest of the Falklands, in best WW1 infantry gun fashion ...

Btw, those 2nd generation ATGMs (with typical SACLOS guidance) were in turn replaced elsewhere with more modern ones, and Hamas Hezbollah used those against Israelis troops pinned in buildings during the 2006 Lebanon War.

The infantry gun meme keeps bouncing back.

S Ortmann


Some good stuff from other blogs

...after complaining about them in general.

"No wonder we need a $700 billion defense budget: some of us are planning strike operations at the hint of an anti-American plan."

"Why I Published US Intelligence Secrets About Israel's Anti-Iran Campaign"

"Which begs the question: What, exactly, is the purpose of ISAF reports in the first place? Is ISAF seriously going on record to say that the data that they are making public cannot be relied upon? If analysts cannot build arguments out of the “basic, factual information” that ISAF is providing, why provide it at all?"

"Die de facto unabhängige Region Somaliland schafft es auf erstaunliche Weise, relative Sicherheit und Stabilität zu gewährleisten. Und doch wird der Enklave auch nach ihrem 20-jährigen Bestehen die Abspaltung von Somalia verwehrt."



A rule of thumb for the allocation of specialist support

About long-range long-radius specialist support assets (such as helicopters, artillery, engineers, maybe scouts) in general: A rule of thumb (of mine) is:

Long-radius specialist support assets should as a rule of thumb be assigned to a level of command that has approximately the radius of (short-term, ~24 hrs) responsibility / operations as the asset has radius of effect (very short term, minutes to 4 hours).

I developed this as a my rule of thumb (or rather as a description of the common ground of my opinions on different force designs) a while ago and mentioned it indirectly in earlier posts. The reasoning behind this is mostly about efficiency. Longer range assets than needed (say, 80 km artillery instead of 13 km mortars when you need 8 km radius) are more costly and thus often wasted at lower levels. It's on the other hand not convincing to give a formation commander an asset that doesn't enable him to relocate his main effort quickly (which is big chunk of his job, after all) because of its lack of effective radius.

There are complicating considerations that have to be taken into account as well, of course. Horizontal support doctrine, Schwerpunkt idea in a slow-moving campaign, speed of assets (scouts, for example) and many other considerations play into this.
Thus it's only a rule of thumb. I justify the elevated position for the radius variable over the other considerations with my assumption (observation) that it appears to be the dominant factor most of the time.

- - - - -

Now let's move over to a specific application (I mentioned this one in an earlier post as well): Helicopters as brigade or division assets. This is particularly popular with U.S.Americans and in small war contexts, but rarely if ever being mentioned in other contexts. Helicopters as division assets has been the dominant pattern in the U.S.Army for a long time (+ helicopters in armoured cavalry regiments ~ brigades, helicopters in marine expeditionary units ~ very small brigades).

The radius of effect of a helicopter unit is in excess of 100 km and thus much greater than the short-term area of operations of a brigade. A brigade may occasionally move 100 km over night, but something goes awfully wrong if its elements are in combat 100 km away from its temporary helicopter base.
What's more to be considered?
Helicopters are  fuel hogs while armour, mech and even infantry brigades are manoeuvre formations (heavy divisions too). The combination of both looks quite wrong if you take into account that the mere supply of a moving brigade for its ground element's essential supply needs is already a logistical problem of the highest quality (and rarely mastered for long).

The fiscal cost of helicopters may contribute to them being an inefficient aerial support asset in comparison to alternatives, such as aerial recce drones and guided indirect fire munitions.

U.S. ground forces are the greatest proponents of a strong use of helicopters in regiments, brigades and divisions. They have been much-influenced by the Vietnam experience, a de facto ban for fixed wing aircraft in the U.S.Army and the assumption of air supremacy and effective suppression of enemy air defences.
They are quite specific and alone in this regard, which can be taken as an inspiration to think about whether their conclusions are correct and generally valid (which would mean that dozens of other modern armies were wrong about it).

The availability of helicopter support far forward (= in a brigade combat area) may be marginal due to hostile air defences. If in effect, this might turn the organic helicopter support into deadweight.

Helicopter support may be somewhat similar to other organic support (a subsittute). This resembles the 'UAV' point above. "KISS - keep it simple, stupid!" and the concept of friction in war (v.Clausewitz) appear to suggest that such redundancies may at times be a mistake.

An organic helicopter force impact the march agility of the brigade. The additional vehicles add to column length and duration of passing of a bde convoy. The responsiveness to a march order may be poor because of helicopters still away or not in flyable condition.

Centralisation vs. decentralisation. Different armies have different preferences here, for good reasons. The responsibeness to a formation's support needs is better with organic assets, but having them organic reduces their availability for large operational-level actions. Decentralisation also reduces the efficiency of the dedicated support (~more aircraft mechanics needed for same qty of helos).

The temporary helicopter base in a brigade's area would be in range of (much) hostile artillery and even of hostile air surveillance. This would be the foundation for a high exposure to artillery fire on the base, which is unlikely if the base was more centralised with the corps, for example.

Finally, there are usually* alternative levels for the allocation of helicopter support assets at available:
# division
# corps
# theatre / Armee
I prefer the corps level, for  modern corps would have a radius of short-term responsibility that matches about the (practical, ~90% of missions) radius of effect of helicopters.
(*: Marines and forces in small wars being an exception at times.)

- - - - -

Similar considerations can be applied especially to artillery support, which appear to have advanced in range even more than the (linear) growth of the area of responsibility / operations of formations did.

My approach can be contrasted with the (let me call it) "wish list" approach of some others who at times appear like spoiled children in their expectation of near-unlimited resources no matter what costs. The agility- and logistics-related points even show that having more does not necessarily equal being better off.

Armies have a responsibility to serve their people, but they have also a responsibility to avoid waste. This means they need to allocate resources rationally, not the least because this habit is important for great wars when practically all resources become very scarce.

S Ortmann

P.S.: I apologise if anyone finds my texts difficult to read because I cut them down to the bones without much explanation. I take much as self-evident and attempt to keep blog posts at a bearable length and thus omit some explanations.



An hour ago, I activated dozens on of bookmarks in Firefox to sweep over all bookmarked Milblogs. Then I proceeded with reading ... and now I'm kinda depressed.

To state it nicely, I feel alone with my idea of a Milblog.

I feel also quite alone in my appraisal of the costs of war, and my subsequent rejection of most wars and 'opportunities' for war as net harmful to all communities involved.

There are two explanations;
(a) I'm wrong.
(b) The Milblogosphere is quite terrible.

Neither is charming.

S Ortmann


Analog-mechanical computers

If you were ever curious about the technological level of World War 2...

That was slightly below cutting edge back in '45; tube-based electric computer did exist, but were apparently not preferred for the harsh conditions on a warship.

S Ortmann


"War is a racket" (Repeat)

"War is a racket" by Major General Smedley D. Butler is an antiwar classic by a highly decorated U.S. Marine Cops officer. There's still a USMC base in Japan named for this officer.

One quote of this remarkable officer sums his experience up, but isn't from his "War is a racket" text itself:

MG Smedley D. Butler, USMC, 1920's
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints.
The horrors of war, the unjustified profits of the war industry, the suffering at home, mutilated soldiers and especially his experience in many needless and corrupt small wars convinced MG Butler that war is a racket, evil. I read his book twice in the past years, and it's obviously applicable to our time as well as to the early and late 20th century.

He judged by his personal experience of his lifetime - the "Great War" and many small interventions against sovereign nations in Latin America.

He wrote "War is a racket" in 1935, in hindsight probably one of the worst times ever if you want to have lasting impact and fame for an anti-war work . The axis powers didn't allow peace for long any more (he warned only about Italy in his book) and showed that there are two kinds of war; those you can avoid and those you cannot avoid without submission.

This distinction is very important if we try to apply lessons learned from history for a better future.
Patriotism is a good thing if used to mobilize for unavoidable wars, and it's evil if it's exploited to reinforce support for needless wars.
Furthermore, the arguments of pacifists should not be dismissed completely, but considered for each and every war in detail - they apply to some wars and not so much to others.

Not only the understanding of patriotism should be influenced by past experiences - the whole approach to war needs to be checked. Are our societies really prepared to repel attempts to lure us into needless small or major wars in the future? Or will we fall prey to such attempts as the British did in 2003, when their head of government was able to participate in a war that the majority of the British didn't even want and that became a disaster?


P.S.: This is a modified and abridged repeat of a four year old post of mine. I think it deserved this repeat. After all, almost nobody read this blog four years ago any way.;)


National security policy the rational way (a partial view)

I laid out in my previous blog post that the military has different political purposes in wartime and peacetime. That's quite self-evident, but also important.

The political purpose of armed forces in peacetime should be to impress potential aggressors, to add a risk premium to whatever aggression might be contemplated against the country. The risk of excessive costs or outright failure of any aggression shall reduce the probability of war (deterrence).

This requires an impressive military; impressive in the eyes of politicians and the public.
The classic Cold War metrics for military power were combat aircraft, tanks, artillery pieces, divisions, nuclear warheads. The published matchups were really that simplistic (NAT-internal documents referred to "heavy division equivalents" instead - not much better). Nobody discussed in a newspaper whether the infantry of a nation was well-versed in nightly infiltration attacks.

This superficial part of military power must not be exaggerated, though. It might pervert its national security purpose if you had too much of it. Too much overt military strength may provoke an arms race. Arms races are counterproductive because they cost much in peacetime and lead to a greater net damage in wartime.
It's even worse; one or more parties of an arms race might go beyond a sustainable spending level (resulting in a lack of national capital investments, lack of system-stabilising consumption or a tradebalance deficit). This is not only wasteful, but might even lead to war. One such overextended racer might be tempted to seek an exit in actual war, rather than to admit arms race defeat (= risky loss of deterrence) or even a system collapse.

The importance of the obvious during peacetime leads to an emphasis on the obvious (high-profile hardware, quantity) during peacetime. The matchups show combat aircraft, not the annual flying hours of their pilots, after all.
- - - - -

It's all different during wartime:
During wartime the armed forces should be capable enough to achieve a low net damage outcome. It shall get the country out of the mess that is war, back to constructive peace instead of destructive war. The age of net profit wars is gone, nowadays only a tiny minority can benefit from war.

Yesterday I wrote "minimal net damage" instead of "low net damage", and this is correct if you look at the wartime period only. A national security strategy needs to consider that such minimal net damage would be bought with increased effort (= costs, damage to prosperity) in peacetime. A country with some confidence in its ability to keep the peace would accept a trade-off (with low peacetime expenses at somewhat increased expectation value for wartime damages). Such a compromise might look cynical to the reader, but think of the savings being invested in curing otherwise terminally ill people. A world of scarce resources (such as ours) requires some seemingly cynical trade-offs.

Anyway, the wartime demand for actual capability instead of show-off puts an emphasis on the quality of the personnel and generally 'hidden' qualities of the armed forces.

It's noteworthy that this requires some preparation during peacetime as well, and accordingly no national defence strategy that rests on national armed forces must neglect the nurturing of 'hidden' qualities.
This is where the competence of press, public and politicians as well as the influence of lobbyists (even from inside the armed forces) may be to blame for a suboptimal defence policy in just about every country.

By the way; I don't spot much of a semblance between this and actual national security policies of today. Do you?

S Ortmann


Some really, really basic things about national security

I got into a kind of ranting mode when confronted with a specific opinion on a forum. The discussion was about whether it's acceptable to wish that a country's officer corps is combat-experienced. My point was that this requires involvement in warfare and is thus only achievable under condition of a failure of national security policy, resulting in the conclusion that combat experience is logically not desirable if you look at the whole.

Another forum member intervened with this helpful remark

It wasn't long ago I asked you what a military should do (other than attain victory). You responded with me earning a load of disrespect (but yet, never answered my question).

I don't remember the specific instance, but his description may nevertheless be correct. I'm at times "abrasive" when I'm "appalled" by a behaviour or opinion.
Anyway, here's an excerpt of my reply. I think it's decent blog material, too:

Victory as commonly defined is often a form of failure. The harm done to the own country by warfare is often greater than the harm done by not going to war (if there's any of the latter at all).
(The foolishness of the 2003-2011 Iraq conflict is a good example: pretty much nothing was gained but the busting of a few stupid fantasies. Thousands died, ten thousands were crippled, trillions of dollars were spent - for no real gain.)

The military shall -in the event of war- achieve the minimal net damage outcome for the country, with political efforts to the same end in parallel.

The mission for the government as a whole is to avoid damage altogether, to maximise the benefits of the population. The details are tricky from a philosophical point of view, but it's quite obvious that in our age you cannot really be better off with "winning" a war of choice than choosing not to go to it. You don't get to annex fertile lands or gold mines any more these days, not even oil fields.

This leaves wars of necessity, which again are only meeting the criteria if they're the least terrible alternative. To choose a more terrible alternative than a less terrible one is folly/incompetence, thus you gotta choose the least terrible (again, determining this is tricky detail stuff). Obviously, if the least terrible alternative is the only one that should be used, war can only be the way to go if it's the least terrible way to go.

After all, war is a terrible alternative, thus it's in the context "of war or not war" pointless to cover the "most beneficial" line of argument that applies to many peacetime policy outcomes.

So what's the military's purpose in peacetime?
Support the policy in its quest for good outcomes by making war and sovereignty violations less likely. This can be pursued by putting a hefty risk premium on all foreign aggressions. This risk premium is the visible and widely known probability that an aggression would fail to overcome the resistance (at costs that appear to be acceptable to the aggressor's top decisionmakers).
Thus I finally found an answer to my question what to post on this blog today. I've got some draft texts too, but it seems there's a reason why I didn't hit the "publish" button on them yet.

About war and peace (which, btw, is a label here on this blog!):
People in uniform, people in war ministries (whatever their name nowadays is) and people with a focus on the military (or even its hardware) drown out the voices of philosophy, reason and diplomacy in regard to national security debates.
It's a shame. More brain less guns could have kept many conflicts cold, millions of people alive, entire nations intact.

There may not be enough people out there who can detach from emotions and silly ideas and think rationally about war and peace when needed, but that's no excuse for not accepting that rationality is the way to go.

S Ortmann


Functions in military theory / front lines

I have written about different functions in military stuff over the course of this blog.
I wrote about repulsion and how having a long range may actually reduce the functional utility of a weapon (even ceteris paribus).
I referred often to the functions of a front line, which fell away when armies gave up the idea of establishing a front line.
Recently I wrote about how you could create the effects of encirclement by meeting the function of an encirclement without actually make it look like an encirclement.

Unsurprisingly, I think there's some merit in this way of looking at military theory.

The technical capability of weapons and the physical capability of soldiers very rarely coincides with what happens in real warfare. A main battle tank may be able to aim, shoot and hit while driving at 60 km/h speed, but that's not how tank combat really looks like.

A missile may be developed to destroy a radar station - and end up merely forcing the radar operators to switch their radar off for a few seconds.

An assault rifle may have the technical capability to slaughter a whole platoon in a minute, but that doesn't happen.

The difference between input potential and actual outcome isn't the only indicator for the importance of function, though. Actions have usually effects that are not obvious at all. Many actions serve a purpose, a function in war.

The difference between potential and actual result is the really important thing. We need to understand the functions that rule warfare, more so than the tools. A look at the tools is too deceiving, for it merely reveals the potential, not the actual effect.

- - - - -

Let's finally look in detail at one of the functions that interest me very much, for I see no substitute in place after its loss yet: The front line.

What does a front line do?

Basically it keeps weak forces from advancing much. A proper front line may be infiltrated, but the risk/price is usually high. It can be penetrated by an offensive (under some circumstances), but it cannot be overwhelmed by a general advance along most of its length.

It does thus keep the enemy largely from advancing and thus creates security in the rear. This in turn enhances the efficiency of forces in the rear, for they can train, repair and move supplies without needing to pull much local 360° security. Of course, they also sleep better. Sleep deprivation is a big issue in wartime.

Front lines have a geometrical reason for their (past) existence.
Back in the 18th and even 19th century artillery wasn't long-ranged. It was feasible to protect a town against fires with a fortified ring around it. The longer the artillery ranges became, the greater the necessary diameter of the fortifications. This in turn led to an ever longer circumference (2 * π * radius)- up to the point when it became pointless to allocate so many defenders to a single town. In some places the defensive rings of multiple towns came in contact and it was less inefficient to give them a joint defence.
expanding fortifications lines of Cologne,
4th century to 1877, (c) D. Herdemerten

By the late 19th century it was obvious that town fortifications were pointless. To fortify the border of a state was an alternative. The geometrical reason is simple. Imagine a large circle and now fill it up with dozens of small circles. The large circle surrounds more area than the sum of the small ones, but its circumference is much smaller than the sum of theirs.

The increased lethality of small arms (= less defenders needed per length) and the mass mobilisation of troops with conscription actually enabled the fortification of an uninterrupted front line from Switzerland to the North Sea in late 1914 (as predicted by Bloch). The same was never fully possible on the Russian front in the First World War, but there was still a front line: The function of a front line was met with less ambition than total resistance against offensives.

The probably weakest form of front line came into being in World War Two, again on the vast Eastern Front; the weakened Wehrmacht wasn't able to fully man a front line, thus it had to create its effects with very few resources.
It was mostly a strong point defence with connecting trenches for patrol and surveillance purposes. Indirect fires (especially artillery and mortars) dominated the observed ground without much small arms fire. Again, it was possible to infiltrate, but infiltrations were met by counter-attacks. The less troops with direct fire weapons man a front line, the more they need to be substituted for with indirect fires. A continuous trench line was desirable for the safety of patrolling, but it was no longer always an integral  component as in 1916.

The key for such a front line was to force the superior opponent to concentrate forces for an overwhelming breakthrough offensive. The rear troops were quite secure till this breakthrough occurred, and there were operational counters even to successful breakthroughs. A front line can meet its function even if it's unable to stop the enemy.

Nowadays it's unlikely that traditional, continuous front lines will be established in a conventional war. There are likely too few troops. This has actually been correct since the early Cold War, but the fixation on nukes kept many from seeing it.

- - - - -

The essential components of defence: Direct fires - counterattacks - indirect fires - surveillance.
The less forces per length, the more emphasis has to be shifted away from direct fires. Artillery fires are the classic gap-filler for thin defences.

Modern forces couldn't have short range direct fires along the length of a front line.
Their surveillance of a long line is also in doubt because of weak scout and infantry components (contrary to the sensors fashion). Indirect fires are now high quality, but low quantity (and accurate indirect fires against moving targets are still difficult).
Could all this be made up for with counter-attacks? Hardly.

You need a substitute for the discouraging effect of an established front line, or else your opposing force may put you into extremely risky and disadvantageous situations by exploiting much of its mobility potential. There's no front line that forces them to concentrate for hours or days for a predictable push, after all. They might appear just about everywhere, at any time.

I actually gave away parts of my idea for a substitute in earlier posts. My working title is "skirmish corridor".
I won't describe it in detail here because the point of most of my blog posts isn't to inject my ideas into readers' brains; it's to inspire their thought. A single brain rarely produces great ideas, but a thinking society will succeed. Well, that and the text is already long enough.