Discipline and mutual trust - the basics of robustness in combat

Historical German army experiences stress that the need for discipline has its roots in the extraordinary demands of combat itself.
The German keyword here is Gefechtsdisziplin - combat discipline. It's the compound of obedience with thinking and comradeship.
A (small) unit cannot withstand the stress of battle without discipline, thus discipline needs to become natural for army soldiers. It needs to be trained with discipline in little everyday affairs, but the superiors should always remember that it's combat, not the everyday affair that warrants this effort!

This is of utmost importance, for exaggerations that do not pursue the goal of robustness under combat stress will stifle the "thinking" part that's of great importance for actual performance in battle (and for developing leaders).

As a consequence, it's quite unimportant whether all soldiers wear the sleeves up, down or whether they mix it. They may march in lock-step or not.
All that counts is that superiors used enough discipline standards to instil and maintain discipline. Discipline is a skill that need training and maintenance, it is not a performance.

Mutual trust
Trust is another almost all-important ingredient for robust combat units. Cohesion enhancement measures such as esprit du corps, regional recruitment or common food for all ranks are one path towards building mutual trust. To lead by example is another important one.
Trust is an important defence against wavering under stress, and it's the primary bonding agent of units. It's furthermore of great importance for low level independent action and for the reduction of friction.

Combat discipline and mutual trust are the basics of robustness in combat. 
Gucci gear personal equipment, modded rifles, expensive tanks, big budgets and even combat experience are no substitutes and all built on feet of clay if discipline and mutual trust are gone missing.

To prove a force's superiority over an (obviously) lesser opponent does not in itself prove that the job of building and maintaining discipline and trust was done well.
Only crisis in face of local opposing forces' superiority reveals a force's basic soundness.

"Combat proven" or not - we better pay attention to the basics. Tools, toys and numbers already get more attention than necessary.

S Ortmann


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone!

(I embedded from an obscure Asian website because of Youtube-related copyright issues that annoyed Germans for years and would keep Germans from seeing the embedded video from YT.)


The German government went downhill in terror hysteria, but not this badly (yet)

(hat tip to BoingBoing)

The government dropped a bomb on a U.S. citizen,
who, though a total dick and probably a criminal, may have been engaged only in propaganda,
which, though despicable, is generally protected by the First Amendment;
it did so without a trial or even an indictment (that we know of),
based at least in part on evidence it says it has but won't show anyone,
and on a legal argument it has apparently made but won't show anyone,
and the very existence of which it will not confirm or deny;
although don't worry, because the C.I.A. would never kill an American without having somebody do a memo first;
and this is the "most transparent administration ever";
currently run by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Imagine anyone would have told you during the Clinton administration that this would happen.

S Ortmann


New comment policy

Whoever clicked on "Comments" was able to read this:

Use a nickname and stick to it, please. I feel free to block anonymous comments at will. Offensive comments may also be blocked, in part due to the duties of a blogger in Germany.

I changed it to this

Use a nickname and stick to it! I will block anonymous comments. Offensive comments may also be blocked, in part due to the duties of a blogger in Germany.

and I mean it.

I'm fed up with lots of anonymous comments. It's not that difficult to type two or three more times. Choose something simple like "QQ" if you're really lazy, but choose a nickname and stick to it, please.

S Ortmann


Not so good times for political taboos

The UK is saying no to a European treaty (again after over 50 years abstinence from this), Canada going to bail out of the Kyoto treaty's restrictions ... it's apparently season for breaking political taboos.
I wonder what this is going to mean for formal alliances.

Might some countries bail out of such alliances when the cost/benefit ratio turns red?

Maybe this is rather about emboldened national interest-led foreign policy that heralds an age of less cooperation on international issues?

Will the taboo-breakers be worn down or replaced soon by opposition politicians as was the Polish Kaczinski government (which proved to be very 'uncooperative' in the EU)?

Maybe there's going to be more foreign policy action/activism once foreign politicians begin to think that they're not expected to get everybody into the same boat (think: OIF)? Would such non all-inclusive actions be unwise because naysayers have good points (think: OIF)?

I don't think anyone can be sure about his/her ability to predict these things, so I'm not even going to try. Foreign policy might become more interesting in the next years, though.

S Ortmann


KoW on top leadership qualification

Francis Grice on KoW:

That's an interesting and somewhat funny blog post on the importance of matching skills and tasks at top leadership positions (and elsewhere, too). He in turn referred to another article which flew below my radar.

Traditional hierarchic organisations narrow down towards the top like a pyramid. The complexities of the various tasks exceed the education and training of the top leadership. This would likely even be the case if they had been educated towards top leadership tasks as were monarchs in earlier times. Even monarchs with their decades of top notch training and education rarely performed very well. Today's world is much more demanding.
The orthodox approach is thus to have staffs with diverse skills and a top leadership that's willing to draw on the staffs' advice and smart enough to understand it.

Grice scratches on the surface of an alternative: Why not exchange top leadership when the tasks change?
Or, less unusual, why not demand that top leadership is primarily about assigning specific tasks and specific powers to competent people for specific challenges? The other top leadership's job would then be to keep an eye on the whole and to steer a course through the whole of the challenges, a job for which nobody is fully qualified.

This is of course not totally new, but Western military and political establishments weren't exposed to any extreme challenges for decades and appear to exhibit a degree of incompetence that's deeply irritating (this ranges from terror hysteria over economic policies to ridiculously inept military operations such as Atalanta).

Sadly, erosion of skill and lack of strong characters in the political and military staffs might be part of the problem. There's a reason why Grice was talking about academics as alternative to in-office leaders, not about staff geniuses.

S Ortmann


"Coyote" brown is the new grey

Steingrau-Oliv Feldanzug with Parka
About a hundred years ago, grey was found to be a shade (not exactly a "colour") that doesn't attract attention and is thus viable as a basic camouflage colour in pretty much every environment.
I'd argue that even the Bundeswehr's Cold War-era standard individual camouflage was a mixture of grey and green (officially "Steingrau-Oliv", also commonly called "Moleskin" or "olivgrün").

I've noticed that -at least in the anglophone world - the time-proven grey appears to be out of fashion. The Multicam pattern fashion swept away some stupid camouflage patterns, and the colour "Coyote" or "Coyote brown" (a shade of brown) appears to be the colour in fashion for applications without camo pattern. It reminds me of the famous khaki colour which played a similar role as grey outside of Europe

The reasoning is simply that some equipment does not need a camouflage pattern or should be usable with different camouflage patterns. This applies to pouches or very small items, for example.

Example: Multicam + Coyote
The No.1 concern is of course the contrast to the camouflage pattern; a stark contrast between patterned clothes and light brown equipment might make the soldier very discernible even in advantageous terrain. That's in part a general problem with the shape of the equipment and in part a general problem with homogeneous colouring.

Adding regularly shaped monochrome components to a well-designed camo pattern is not the way to go in regard to minimum detectability, after all.

The namesake, the Coyote, doesn't have a single large monochrome patch on his pelt. It's rather using different shades of colour for his evolution*-optimised pelt.

A coyote, photograph by G Dan Hutcheson

A force that's really serious about optimising its individual service members' camouflage cannot rely on a combination of a good camo pattern and a monochrome accessories colour.

The way to go is in my opinion - and this should not surprise since I advocated this for years- to primarily rely on shapes for camouflage, not on colouring (see here as well).

This in turn means that not only the attention on more or less fashionable camouflage patterns is ill-advised; it's not very important what colour or pattern you use for accessories either.

The colour "Coyote" has the advantage of being more pleasant to the human eye than grey, and is thus likely a good choice. It's furthermore OK to use it for accessories together with different camo patterns - as long as we're not talking about the normal Flecktarn or similar rather dark camo patterns.
The contrast between Flecktarn and Coyote would be too great, too discernible. I'm not very much in love with the darkness of normal Flecktarn anyway, but it's undisputedly great when you're hiding in the dark shade of a tree or other large object (and it's usually hard to hide anywhere else anyway).

S Ortmann

*: I guess that counts as evidence for Anti-Americanism for my troll(s). ;)


Quick recommendations

1st quick recommendation:

Bill Sweetman's article in DTI about the waning importance of radar and thus also of radar stealth in fighter technology and tactics (page 40).


A website that does the fantastic job of making Sextus Julius Frontinus' "Stratagems" treatise on ruses in ancient  warfare accessible to everyone (who has WWW access). I wish there was an equivalent book about modern warfare.

S Ortmann


A training military?

Many countries are not in danger. Meanwhile, they have really good ideas about how to spend their government revenues on non-military purposes.

Would it make sense for these countries to go into a full and overt training mode, giving up the claim that their military is combat ready?

I'm thinking of countries such as Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa or Bulgaria.

How would this look like, assuming a country of small but noticeable size such as Belgium?

First, it would require some diplomacy. NATO members would tell their allies about fiscal troubles and a military in training mode without readiness until further notice.

Next, all procurement programs would need to be adjusted and the personnel system would need to be adjusted. The ability to expand the military into a ready and capable force of substantial size would become the mission within the constraints of the given (small) budget.

The air force could operate a squadron of old (so called "4th generation") combat aircraft until it receives the cheapest modern combat aircraft (Gripen?) as replacement for worn-out aircraft. The pilots would receive civilian, multinational and allied foreign training. It would make no sense to operate an own pilot training system at such a small scale.

The navy would probably have two multi-purpose frigates, two mine countermeasure boats and two conventional submarines. This should suffice to keep the personnel informed about modern naval tech and tactics. Major exercises would happen together with allied forces.

The army would probably keep a few battalions of heavy, light and para/mountain troops as well as a few artillery units. The overall size would probably amount to a small division. The forces could -if the country is allied- be under command of a bi-national army corps, in order to offer corps operations training to some officers.

The personnel system with its focus on the ability to expand would need to focus on intelligent, promising recruits as well as many shortly-trained reserve NCOs and reserve junior officers. The active forces would see many of the enlisted personnel slots occupied by soon-to-be reserve personnel of junior NCO ranks. The remaining enlisted personnel would basically be soon-to-be (reserve or active) NCOs. The skill in training personnel would be highly valued and fostered through training and education (in adult education).

The only missions outside of allied territories would be either observer missions with 2-4 personnel each or embassy emergency protection missions.

Equipment procurement would be oriented towards standard equipment that's suitable for intense training use (so for example no T-90 MBTs) and the operating costs should be low if possible (=low fuel consumption, low training ammunition prices, low spare parts prices).

The overall effect would be that modest savings could be coupled with the ability to expand to a considerable and effective force within few years. This might look unsatisfactory in the short term, but is likely superior in the long term. An underfunded and thus demoralised force that pretends to be combat-ready but is in reality hollowed-out would in my opinion be an inferior alternative use for taxpayer money.

S Ortmann


Salami slicing doesn't seem to work in Germany any more

The political reactions to the revelations about a small gang of murderous Neonazis* were as predictable as often times cynical.

It took only few days till the old gang of closet pro-police state folks resurfaced with their stereotypical call for more surveillance, more data collection, more law enforcement and intelligence powers.

The hip shot political proposals of the federal ministry of the interior mirrored this, but were apparently stopped cold by our liberal (anglophones read: "libertarian") minister of justice Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
This woman is really the only excuse of their party for being in the gubernative.

As usual, the pro-police state folks forgot to make a connection between their claims and real-world effects of their proposals. Too many of our domestic security laws never proved more than marginal effectiveness, and to propose even more of that kind was disingenuous.
The ministers of the interior and the so-called 'law and order' faction should rather pay attention to fight against bullshit in law enforcement. There's too much politics involved in police leadership. The highest of the three police career tracks is most often being dominated by party affiliations, not by meritocracy or -even better- a proper personnel selection based on potential for the job.

On top of that, I'm still waiting for news about people getting demoted for failing in the affair.

The good news is that the salami slice tactic of adding one police state element after another appears to have come to a halt. Maybe sometime in the near future we'll even have a minister of the interior who's got the ethics, humility and self-discipline to not jump on the pro-police state bandwagon on his first opportunity?

S Ortmann

*: They don't really fit the description of "terrorists", since they did not do any actual propaganda. They were rather a murder-robber gang living in the underground and enjoying an incredible series of law enforcement failures.

Direct democracy: You do it wrong




An ethical argument for a Schwerpunkt in warfare

Carl von Clausewitz developed the Schwerpunkt most likely under the impression of the double battle of Jena and Auerstädt in 1806. If only the Prussian army had been able to units its two main forces on one of the two locations, it could have defeated the French piecemeal instead of being defeated in parallel.

Carl von Clausewitz
His conclusion was the theoretical idea of a Schwerpunkt; focus on what counts, and draw as much strength away from lesser tasks as possible. You don't want to have the smaller battalions in a decisive battle.
The bigger battalions don't always win (empirical military history research yielded this counter-intuitive result), but they do so ceteris paribus (=if all else is equal).

To mass more troops for an important (THE important) battle is one way of how to acquire an unfair advantage prior to the decisive fight.

He called his concept "Schwerpunkt" based on a totally faulty understanding of Newtonian physics (he believed Schwerpunkt is where the most mass is concentrated), but he's not alone with confusion about terminology. The U.S. ground forces distorted Clausewitz' concept of a military Schwerpunkt beyond recognition.

Too much intro? Bad news, there's a second intro following:

Unlike some people's misguided beliefs, war does not mean that ethics can go overboard, hostile humans lives become worthless or that maximum destruction is an objective or at least desirable.

War means that you attempt to force your way to an acceptable outcome - and you do so with violence.
Violence that does not improve the outcome has no purpose. Such violence - death, mutilation and destruction - is as much unjustified as it would be during peacetime, applied to your own people. Some of this unjustified violence is unavoidable because you often cannot judge in advance its effects correctly, of course.

(Remark: The point of having military theory and doctrine is not just to reach a politically acceptable outcome in war; it's also about trying to keep the costs low!)

Good news; intros are over, now the real message:

Now what kind of violence in warfare is pushing for a desirable outcome and what's just dumb violence?
This is where the Schwerpunkt concept proves to be incredibly handy: Just apply it. Armies teaching and applying the original Schwerpunkt concept tend to end up with battle plans and decisions that have a Schwerpunkt (at most two; practical application is a bitch). Nothing that doesn't improve the odds of success at a Schwerpunkt is really improving the general outcome. A minor battle (let's say it's bloody to make it feel easier to follow the thought) - a bloody minor battle that doesn't influence the outcome at a Schwerpunkt is likely just unjustified violence.

An example (mentioned in an earlier post): Harassing fires are being despised by front-line troops rightly. Harassing fires rarely have important effects, but they make the whole mess even messier.

On the other hand; yours truly is a proponent of operational skirmishing. Wouldn't all such skirmishing be unjustified violence, far away from a Schwerpunkt?
Well, the Schwerpunkt concept evolved over time even in Germany. A Schwerpunkt does not need to be a small area on a map. It could even be a variable.
For example, a U.S. 8th Air Force bombing campaign Schwerpunkt during May 1944 and later was the destruction of German synthetic fuel production. They were not totally true to this (did many other attacks and spent much more resources than necessary), but for a while they kept their focus on it. The Schwerpunkt was no single battle location, but a critical economic activity.

Skirmishes could indeed be the Schwerpunkt themselves. Skirmishing would only be wasteful and unjustified violence if it's so poorly employed that it's got no operationally relevant effect.

One way how to improve the world is to make sure more officers understand that violence in itself does not necessarily serve a purpose (even if it entails no friendly casualties), that they can make wars less messy by judging the relevance of possible violent acts and to consider this as input in their decision-making.
Military history is quite rich with examples of bloody battles that were utterly unnecessary and politically irrelevant. Such tragedies are usually best-documented when they're most appalling, such as when they happen immediately before or even after cease-fires and peace treaties.
The useless Battle of New Orleans and useless bombing of Dresden were such examples.

Military theory is not exactly strong in regard to omitting possible violence. Doctrines are more focused on how to make violence effective on a tactical level. Peacetime doctrine is even weak on economising on supply expenditure and personnel exhaustion (through stress and sleep deprivation).
There's still a lot of work ahead.

S Ortmann