2012/12/31

Rank inflation or "Chieftains without indians"

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Rank inflation pops up as a side topic in some posts on Defence and Freedom and I'm not motivated to write an encompassing post about it yet, but I'd like to redirect some attention at the casualties lists from recent conflicts with involvement of Western armies; Iraq and Afghanistan.

One such casualty list is here.

What's striking about these lists is that almost all KIA (and WIA) are either officers or non-commissioned officers. This applies to the casualties lists of several involved countries.

Deployments into distant dirtholes are somewhat special and may end up having a lower share of enlisted personnel than the deploying force has overall, but this effect cannot explain the ratio of officer - NCO - enlisted casualties.

Germany had this rank inflation issue for a long time, and it accelerated during the 90's when the force had to shrink without the system having the ability to shed the long-serving troops (8 years for NCOs, 12 for officers, two decades for officers who turned professional) as easily as enlisted personnel.

Tasks which were done by conscripts for decades were increasingly assigned to junior NCOs.

New personnel had to be recruited to keep the force young enough, and gifting NCO ranks to 8-year volunteer recruits ("Neckermann Stuffz") became a regular embarrassing fact of life instead of a rare occurrence.
NCO courses were watered down and senior leadership lost the Cold War's zeal to fire up training. This in turn resulted in junior NCOs being about as much trusted as were Cold War non-conscript enlisted personnel. Our Feldwebel (lowest rank of senior NCO, requiring a special course and traditionally a mainstay of German armies) became as trusted as were our junior NCOs during the Cold War. I recall some big brass guy bragging about how Feldwebel (previously platoon leader rank) shall lead all of our squads in the future (=now). It didn't cross his mind that this required watering down the same.

So basically today's Western armies use junior NCOs as enlisted personnel.

Just in case anybody doubted that our military bureaucracies need a major shake-up and it would be a good idea to do this during this magnificiently low threat era: This doubt should be gone.

S Ortmann


edit - related (hat tip to Eric Palmer blog):

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2012/12/23

Inflationary use of the word "ally"

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The inflationary use of the word "ally" has irritated and annoyed me for quite some time. It's inaccurate and accuracy is really desirable for a meaningful exchange of thoughts.

Americans and British appear to use the word much more often than actually warranted by "if you are attacked, we will fight with you" treaties. Germans don't use their respective word so indiscriminately, at least not in the context of countries.

One of the confusions which appeared because of the indiscriminate use of the word "ally" was about Turkey and Israel, with people asking why the U.S. government didn't staunchly support the U.S. ally Israel in its diplomatic conflict with Turkey.
Well, Turkey happened to be the true ally, and Israel being more the subsidised pet project of U.S. foreign policy. People talked of Israel as "ally" all the time*, though. 
Actually, there's no treaty saying that Israelis should fight side-by-side with Americans, while Turkey is a member of NATO (admittedly, the relevant wording of the North Atlantic Treaty barely meets the definition of a real alliance).
It was the indiscriminate (if not wrong) choice of words which confused instead of informed.

The Strategist blog has published a post citing two studies about ally behaviours, and the difference between these studies' results (one with a loose definition of alliance, the other more strict) supports the importance of not mixing up political cooperation with military alliances: Real allies joined the fight on their allies' side in about three quarters of the cases, while with the very wide definition of "ally" it's only one quarter!

It would help a lot if "partner" was substituted for "ally" more often, as it's more accurate and less confusing in many cases. This could also help to give actual allies the respect they deserve for sticking as an ally even with overly aggressive great powers.



*: With one prominent exception, the CIA.
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2012/12/21

Is irrationality a factor for the preservation of peace?

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What's the point of staying in an arms race? Sooner or later, most participants will fall behind for a while, and if the other party is really aggressive this will likely prove the arms race efforts to be a failure.

An arms race with a big portion of capabilities which serve more on the strategic defence than on the strategic offence could be considered as an excuse. The problem with this is that it's simply not describing post-19th century arms races well. Fortresses are not efficient enough any more.

So maybe arms races -once started for some reason- are being sustained by uncertainty?
Being just a bit weaker and thus capable of demanding a high price for aggression (maybe even win despite initially smaller military power) might explain why arms races exist and do last a while. The temporarily inferior side accepts its temporary weakness and just doesn't want to fall behind by too much?

source
Yet, how could this be? A rational inferior power would rather yield than to fight a damaging war and accept the near-certainty of defeat. The supposed exacting of a price would be a bluff. To fight a war from a position of weakness is kind of like betting your left arm in a poker game when you only have a pair of deuces.

Yet maybe it's the expectation that the inferior power will indeed follow such an irrational course (=not bluffing, with exact cards unknown to the other 'player') of action which preserves peace.


This would be quite ironic, for there's a substantial amount of irrationality in play when wars are being prepared or actually waged, too. It's almost impossible nowadays to get a good return on war efforts (save for wars of independence or special interests) and justifying the huge expenses in peacetime without an actual conflict on the horizon requires even more irrationality in my opinion.


Still, irrationality may preserve peace at times, which should influence one's judgement of seemingly irrational leaders at times. An irrational leader of an inferior country may serve the preservation of peace, while the same leading a superior power may be a threat to peace.


By the way; I'm still unsure why arms races exist(ed) at all. There are scores of examples where one side simply stopped playing along and dropped out of the race, with no aggression occurring afterwards. See Greece-Turkey or the South American dreadnought arms race for obvious examples.


S Ortmann


Similar stuff years ago, and more specific to nukes:2009/03: Nuclear deterrence: It depends!
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2012/12/15

Camo fabrics

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OK, judging by the video, one could conclude that the process isn't really complicated.
This now-ancient report on some of the first multi-colour camo fabrics with different patterns on both sides probably gives a better sense for how complicated this stuff was back then.

 

It has only become more complicated with extra ingredients for camouflage against night vision devices, insect repellents, water repellents and even attempts to make the fabric less permeable to chemical agents

Too bad; almost all of the Western textile industrial capacity went overseas during the 80's and 90's (if I remember the time frame correctly). I suppose enough is left to equip a few million persons within months, though.

Back to the old patterns; the report shows why camo patterns especially for reversible clothing and tents weren't common until WW2: It was simply beyond technological reach until the late 20's. There were multi-colour camo patterns of questionable effectiveness during the First World War, but such fabrics only appeared half-way between the World Wars. Few armies substituted properly with camo nets, though; camouflage is a usual suspect for neglect during peacetime.

S Ortmann
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2012/12/14

TO&E debates

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A comment asked me to discuss something with an example TO&E (table of organization and equipment), and I declined. I'm still convinced that the relatively popular toying with TO&E is largely a waste of time.

I did mention that there are rare useful thoughts in such discussions, and that these could be better discussed in a generalised way. Here's a small collection of such thoughts and discussions which I picked up over the years:


General requirement; units or small units which are supposed to function if split need to be laid out for it.
In a simple (and by technology by now obsolete) example, a mortar battery (platoon) would need to be able to leap-frog, providing continuous support with at least half of the tubes while the battalion is on the move (while mostly deployed). There were some historical TO&Es which did not provide double fire control equipment and personnel as well as enough radios for this purpose.
___________

Another is the idea of having a Verfügungszug, a kind of bodyguard small unit at disposal of a commanding officer. A battalion commander would this way always have a platoon from which to draw couriers, replacement leaders, men for scouting missions, a security team for himself, guards for the HQ and finally if not most importantly a reserve in a crisis even after all 'line' battalions were thrown into action already.
Such (small) units were very popular in the pre-firearms age, but have fallen out of fashion. There were proposals to revive the concept since the 80's at the latest.
___________

Related, there's the proposal in the air to establish a scout/sniper platoon on infantry battalion level. Some armies assign a few snipers directly to 'line' (infantry) companies. Designated marksmen down to squad level (the UK with its LSW/SUSAT combo even had kind of designated marksmen in support units) exist as well. Yet, the highly trained specialists with scout/sniper skills make little sense if dispersed like this. Their casualties, sick and non-deployable soldiers wouldn't be distributed evenly, leaving some units without their support. Their specialisation furthermore requires uncommon training - the whole issue of maintaining proficiency is best-served by having them together in one small unit, in a pool.
Strangely, relatively few battalion TO&Es world-wide feature a scout/sniper platoon (as far as I know).
___________

The ever-lasting optimization challenge between having technical support troops pooled at a relatively high level or dispersed as organic support to a relatively low one. It appears that the former approach (preferred by the Soviets) works best with armies of modest access to said skills, while the latter is the more luxurious approach which costs more, but also performs better.
___________

TO of PzBrig 12,
(c) TUBS
The ever-lasting span of command (not "control") issue. It's easy to lead two manoeuvre sub-units plus your organic support and HQ, but such TO&Es get criticised a lot. Three manoeuvre units provide many more tactical options, but often lead to the unimaginative "two up, one back" tactics.
There are proponents for four manoeuvre sub-units, pointing out the many more tactical options and especially the ability to create a main effort without committing the essential reserve (example: two left, one right and one reserve).
I'm most unimpressed by these, for it's utterly common to see manoeuvre units to shrink a lot or be joined into fewer ones after the strength dropped somewhat. Many brigades don't deploy fully to a theatre of war, and would be even less understrength if they hadn't received replacements from other cannibalized brigades. This latter work-around is not available in a large-scale war, of course.  Add the inevitable early casualties, the sick and the troops used for a non-textbook purpose and you end up with understrength forces which make a mockery of such detailed tactical considerations.
I prefer to keep searching for info and thoughts on how to cope with understrength and loss of experienced junior leaders rather than to pay much attention to the recurring span of command debates.
____________

Tooth-to-tail ratio or share of infantry debates; too few infantrymen is a persisting problem, and was so ever since 1944 (with the Soviets and Germans bled white and anglo-americans burning through their pre-invasion infantry strength multiple times as well).
The lack of infantry has been known for decades, but somehow infantry isn't sexy enough.
The (edit: early) Stryker brigade (edit: TO&E draft) was criticised for being infantry-weak (astonishing, considering its textbook combat tactics - as little as such exist - were dismount-centric). Almost all Western or Warsaw pact brigade TO&Es known to me were weak on infantry ever since the 60's (German brigades lost a lot of their infantry strength over successive army structures).
____________

Mixed or separate branch battalions. You can have a tank battalion and an infantry battalion, train them separately and mix them into two mixed battalions only for action or higher-order training. Another approach is to train them as mixed battalions from the beginning.
The widely preferred approach is to do the former, for it makes training more efficient (there's enough wasted waiting time for soldiers without additional inefficiencies already). The problem of qualifying the senior leaders (battalion staff and commander) in leading such combined arms forces is often dealt with by giving them tours through different branches. You don't want a purely infantry-minded in command of a tank company on certain terrains, for example. There are nevertheless recurring demands for mixed battalions and organizational experiments for the same; an idea which is as undying as laser weapons and flying jeeps.
Even the idea of switching from one TO&E to another once company-level training is complete (a horror for inertia-obeying bureaucracies) gains no ground permanently. This is in part because the mixing is supposedly helpful in tailoring mixed battalions according to needs. Again, I call B.S. because you can only mix what you have - a more infantry-centric mixed Bn forces you to have at least one infantry-weak one made of what's left.
So in the end brigade TO&Es usually show pure branch battalions, completely unrelated to how they would fight and an absurdity if you keep in mind that standing units were originally standardized in order to make it more easily known to higher-ups what kind of force they are.
____________

Specialised brigades versus unitary ones. This debate happens occasionally; there was a German debate on this decades ago, but we eventually understood our terrain in North and South Germany (Cold War times) was too different for a unitary brigade TO&E. This didn't mean the different brigade TO&Es which were developed made more sense, of course. Nowadays you can't even be sure that a Panzerbrigade has a different TO&E than a Panzergrenadierbrigade.
Ground forces with emphasis on being chess figures for great power gaming by bored and irresponsible politicians (also known as "expeditionary forces") cannot anticipate the kind of environment they will be sent to (unless said politicians prefer to play their games in about the same sandbox region over and over). This gives new life to the idea of unitary regiments or brigades. See USMC MEUs.
____________

Some stupid Milblogger proposed PGM companies, trying to provoke some thinking about how to include vastly different and relatively new means into TO&Es. Same with electronic warfare and signals stuff.
____________

The integration of reconnaissance or observation support into manoeuvre forces: The "how" is much-discussed, while I simply propose to keep dedicated recce organic above manoeuvre team (Bde, Bn) level because I consider it a necessity to have recce attached to areas, not formations or units. It's a long story and was occasionally mentioned on this blog.
One driver of discussions around the general topic of how to organize organic recce was and is the RSTA quasi-battalion introduced in the U.S.Army. It proved useful for recce, but didn't bring much fighting power or boots on the ground - and that's what brigade commanders always want more of (often with good reasons).
Cavalry Squadron (RSTA)
 ____________

Finally a TO&E aversion speciality of mine; I *strongly* dislike the idea of having army aviation elements in manoeuvre forces. The armoured cavalry regiments of old were extreme examples for this nonsense. There's little debate going on about this, for almost no army has so many helicopters to spare as to disperse them like this. The helicopter support dependency which developed in parts of Afghanistan could revive the issue if enough helicopters are available for such follies around 2020, though.
____________

Right now (or yesterday) I cannot remember other TO&E topics which ever attracted my interest, at least not below divisional level (there's an ongoing discussion whether to shed the divisional or corps level of command; I'm for keeping the corps level).
It's conspicuous how combat troops-related TO&E debates seem to dominate the list despite the fact that support troops are in the majority and have been so for generations.


See? None of these topics really required an actual TO&E here; they can all be described with words and in general terms. (The two graphics have only decorative value.)

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2012/12/12

[Deutsch] Ein Lehrstück über die Wichtigkeit einer unabhängigen Presse

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[This blog posts centres on a German newspaper article about the failure of the press in Greece.]
 


Als wir die Liste veröffentlichten, haben wir deshalb nicht nur journalistisch korrekt, sondern auch moralisch richtig gehandelt. Man hat sich nicht deshalb an der Liste gestört, weil »persönliche Daten« bekannt wurden, sondern weil diese Liste die Realität widergespiegelt hat. Darauf waren die Namen griechischer Politiker, Publizisten, Geschäftsleute, Ministerfreunde, die von Besitzern griechischer Medien und von Bankern wiederzufinden, die bislang Immunität bei ihren politischen Gönnern genossen hatten.
Das war der Grund, warum jene Polizisten, die mich verhafteten, zugleich ihre Solidarität bekundeten. Sie erleben tagtäglich den Widerspruch und die Heuchelei der Herrschenden. Die jeweiligen griechischen Regierungen erscheinen nicht nur wegen der Einführung der rigorosen Sparmaßnahmen unsympathisch und unpopulär. Sie benutzen gleichzeitig die Krise, um bestimmte Interessen zu bedienen.

Diesen Fall sollte man einerseits im Kopf haben, wenn einflussreiche Köpfe der Presse und Politiker sich bei Schampus arg gern haben, aber auch in Hinblick auf die in vielen Ländern - und auch bei uns - zunehmende Konzentration des Eigentums an Presseorganen. Schließlich ist es auch noch in Bezug auf die öffentliche Kontrolle der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sendeanstalten relevant, aber da hatten wir ja bereits unseren eigenen Warnschuss-Skandal.

Ohne Wachsamkeit daheim nutzt alle Wachsamkeit da draussen nicht viel.


S Ortmann
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2012/12/11

[Fun] Invasion of Christmas Island, 1942

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This was followed on 7 March by an initially cautious and somewhat cursory bombardment of the island’s commercial installations by the battleships Haruna and Kongo. Unsure as to whether it might be being used as a submarine or air base, the ships approached from a distance, using their floatplanes to first reconnoiter the island. After they had determined that the British defences were minimal, the floatplanes dropped 60-kilogram bombs on the island—two of which dropped by one of Kongo’s aircraft destroyed the island’s telegraph station—before directing the battleships’ fire.
The bombardment appears to have been desultory—Haruna reportedly only fired a total of three 14-inch and fourteen 6-inch rounds—but was nevertheless sufficient to convince the island’s defenders to capitulate. As a white flag was raised on the island, the two ships ceased firing and observed as a motorboat, also bearing a white flag, came out to meet them. But as neither the IJN nor the Imperial General Headquarters had planned to occupy Christmas Island at this point—that decision came around one week after the battleships’ bombardment— the two battleships departed, leaving the undoubtedly confused defenders behind.

from here, pp 111-112 
  
IJN Battleship (or "battlecruiser") Haruna, 1944


File under "Stuff you don't want to be reminded about." or "Hilarious stuff if you're not from a particular country."


Now that was a "War on Christmas!" ;)
 

S Ortmann
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2012/12/10

CUDA, torpedoes ... hardware stuff for a change

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Torpedoes are best-launched against an opponent in pursuit, and you're quite safe from them if you run away from their launcher (starting when you're still a good distance away). This simple conclusion is based on the fact that an opponent closing in adds his speed to the torpedoes' while a pursuing torpedoes subtracts the target's speed from his own. The running tactic works because torpedoes aren't very much faster than surface warships (about 30-48 knots versus about 20-36 knots during WW2, for example).
I didn't pull this out of my dark place; it's a classic operational research result. Read Hughes if interested in more of this kind.


Surface warships of the WW2 era had torpedoes as complementary munition; their main munitions in surface engagements were shells (with exception of the Japanese torpedo cruiser Kitakami and even more so Oi). This and to some degree a heavy dose of ignorance about hostile torpedo performance meant that the aforementioned torpedo fight dynamic did not dominate naval battles. Second-best in face of powerful torpedo armament was to attack heads-on (small target area) and outright horrible was the classic Jutland-style battle line
Operational research tells us running in face of powerful torpedoes was best, but military history only tells us the alternatives weren't exactly satisfactory.
I figured it has become quite similar with air2air missiles as with WW2 surface warship torpedoes. This may have been so ever since AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles deleted the need for illumination from medium-range missiles so the shooter could turn and run himself (I suppose short range missiles would rarely allow for a timely escape and are rarely used head-on anyway). Maybe it was even already like this prior to the 90's, with a hunter-killer tactic in which the forward killer fighter fires a Sparrow and runs while a rear hunter fighter keeps the target illuminated with its radar.* (The smaller range of the Sparrow and coordination required would have made it a difficult tactic for head-on engagements, though.)

My understanding was that either way would lead to a huge expense of missiles for few kills if the enemy was smarter than WW2 admirals and understood the dynamic. Missiles would dominate over guns this time, after all. So I figured the typical air campaign between modern air forces would involve a lot of fighters forming almost a line yet moving forward and backward, launching missiles and dodging others'**. That is, unless some technological or training asymmetry overpowered the dynamic.

All this did not fit well to the very small quantity of missiles carried by some fighters; notably F-22, F-35 (which is not primarily a fighter, of course), Gripen - but also typical missile payloads of Hornets, Rafales, Mirage 2000s etc. Only the Russians/Soviets with their Flanker series openly displayed a preference for many (up to a dozen) air2air missiles onboard, followed by F-15 fighters with often up to eight.

So I didn't write about this dynamic - despite at least the non-speculative torpedo thing being really interesting.

Yet, a few days ago I found this about CUDA a.k.a. HTK.

So basically all those "few A2A missiles" fighters may become viable for the 'running forward and backward' skirmisher***-style again, not betting solely on technological asymmetry - and my confidence in the dynamic's relevance to modern fighters grew enough for writing, obviously.
Some glue on the backside of a mosaic stone of the art of war had appeared with these links.




*: This tactic was reportedly used by Swedish Gripen pilots to embarrass some NATO fighter pilots on an exercise. They used AMRAAMs themselves, and instead of the hunter illuminating as was necessary with SARH, he did feed the AMRAAM's computer with info about the target movements via datalink. Meanwhile the launcher platform ('killer') ran.
This is supposedly also the reason for Russian rear-looking radars on some late Flanker versions; a rear-looking radar unites hunter and killer function in one airframe while using the same combat dynamic.
**: Anyone who has ever seen a Navyfield clan war (an interesting online game to watch human behaviour) should know this extremely well from the main fight of the battleships in this game. It has quite the same dynamic despite shells still being multiple times as fast as ships on the scale used by this game.
***: Analogue to European 19th century skirmishers on battlefields and Peltasts.
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2012/12/06

Parasitic land vehicles for the army

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I spent a lot of time reading and musing about the problem potential promise challenge of having agile army formations, especially brigades. A single reinforced battalion battlegroup can easily have more than a hundred vehicles and this gets cumbersome real quick.

The road march length (vehicle lengths + depending on army and circumstances 50-150 m spacing between vehicles) can reach into kilometres real quick. Where to position your combat troops, where the support? Combat up front is nice for a frontal contact, with rearguard offers at least some mobile reserve, dispersed means best convoy defence everywhere against moderate threats, but is hopeless if there's a peer force contact anywhere. The greater the convoy, the worse the propblem.
Luckily, road march length is actually outdated thinking. Nowadays it's more about the time a convoy needs to pass a point, which adds the element of average minimum vehicle speed. Still, a road march length of 10 minutes means a rearguard would at least take five minutes to help the centre in an ambush. Five minutes is a helluva lot time if armoured recce cars with autocannons engage machinegun-armed trucks. Also keep in mind there are often times not multiple, but only one (wo)man in some vehicles during logistical marches. I personally wouldn't want more than one per fuel or ammo truck anyway.

The vulnerability and clumsiness of large convoys is one thing; setting up and breaking camp is almost a science. Imagine the battalion CO wants the battalion battlegroup of more than a hundred vehicles - scattered in groups of small units in a wood or town - to break camp and resume march in any of four or five possible directions on short notice. Say, hostile forces may arrive and be noticed only minutes prior to arrival because security details cannot be set up far away for want of enough troops and the hostiles may be moving at 60 kph once they sense the presence of forces to be caught in inferior readiness for battle. 5 km radius for pickets, 60 kph - five minutes to either break camp and evade or to stand and fight. Horrible*.

Even a less horrible scenario may demand a very quick resumption of movement in an unplanned direction. Frequent movements and stops don't allow a textbook plan for the order of small units resuming the march for any possible direction. It depends on improvisation and training, on junior leadership and drivers getting it almost right without elaborate planning, rather based on standing operating procedures and experience.

Again, having less vehicles makes it all much less troublesome.
_____

It's thus that some issues concerning the agility of a battlegroup or brigade boil down at least in part to the quantity of vehicles.

This is why I'm so utterly amazed at the -in my opinion- crazy amount of wide low capacity vehicles ("wide" meant to exclude motorcycles without sidecars and small ATVs). The hordes of HMMWV- and Wolf-style vehicles always made me wonder: Why?

Want to operate a small radar? Two HMMWVs plus one or two trailers. Military chaplain? Gets a HMMWV and a driver. Officer on a mission from HQ to a subordinate unit? HMMWV and driver. Company HQ? Multiple HMMWVs and a real truck.
This way of providing mobility is extremely wasteful and outright incompatible with striving for great agility on the battlefield.

To find a way that solves a problem of such scale isn't easy, but I suppose I can submit at least a partial cure: Parasitic vehicles.

Look at this:
Forklift carried by truck

Some container trucks have their own forklifts. These parasitic vehicles are meant to reduce the wait time of the driver at depots and destinations; he can unload or load his truck without needing to wait for such a service. (S)he can work and add to income during times when the truck's log thinks he's having one of the breaks which are legally enforced for road safety in at least some countries.

Now back to the chaplain: I wouldn't give him a HMMWV and certainly no driver (who would be used as replacement for less useless job vacancies in a conflict anyway). Instead, I would give him (and many others, such as the company senior NCO ("Spieß") or couriers a durable diesel-powered ATV and establish as standard that almost all medium and heavy trucks need to be able to add such a parasitic vehicle (or equivalent extra payload container) to their back.
I would insist on more ground clearance than seen on the photo, of course.

I suppose this way we could eliminate up to 5% of all wide vehicles in a brigade, somewhat less in non-reinforced combat battalions.
_______________

Another way is the widely publicised way of replacing electricity generator trailers by using some kind of hybrid (combustion engine + electric motors) propulsion in light and medium trucks. The trailers wouldn't disappear, of course - it's human nature to use this freed cargo space instead for some other payload than a generator. We might save a few dedicated cargo trucks this way, though.
_______________

Back to a not widely publicised method; multiple use trucks. Most trucks are assigned to only one use, and this use requires the capacity of a 1.5, 3, 6 or whatever ton vehicle. Thus the army uses a 1.5, 3, 6 or whatever ton vehicle.
Now imagine we would not use a 3 ton truck, but a nine ton truck. The typical reaction would be an accusation of wasteful behaviour ("über den Durst"). Well, my reasoning is that three one-and-a-half task trucks can easily replace four specialised trucks.
Just imagine bigger fuel tanks, some extra storage for tent tarpaulin, some extra storage for ammo or medical supplies, food, spare tires, spare powerpacks, water filtration set, road repair equipment etc.
Some of the rather specialised extra cargo (such as spare powerpacks) would create a coordination challenge (how would the field vehicle repair workshop know whom to call for a spare powerpack?), while other extra supplies could be distributed in a most decentralised way (unless this actually kills some bureaucrat): Another small unit arrives, has a break, asks for some supplies such as diesel fuel. 
It's human nature that some would respond by hoarding and reject the request, but it's also human nature that the framework would encourage unbureaucratic black market trading.
Voilà, some supply problems solved.


I suppose we could at the very least reduce the wide vehicle count in Western armies by about 10-15% without actually losing anything important - and thus lower one roadblock on the way to a much-improved battlefield agility of our manoeuvre formations.


S Ortmann

*: Keeping companies largely separated doesn't help much, unless your tactics don't depend on more than company-sized manoeuvre elements for more than very short durations. It may depend on it for short durations only, but those are likely the time windows during which the performance is most important.

edit because of comments:


FORGET about reducing the spacing (gap) between vehicles as a solution. That's not even practical for civilian purposes and outright foolish for military marches in a theatre of war.
I looked around a bit for something I could refer to and think page 10 of this (chapter on dispersion) might serve as an intro into the cast-in-stone fact that military convoys shall not bunch up with tiny spacing between vehicles.
I mentioned the "50-150 m spacing" for a reason!
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2012/12/04

Comments

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I did away with the spambots a while ago by introducing the stupid captchas; it was either a few captchas for those who want to comment or up to a dozen (escalating) spambot BS comments per day.

There's a different reason for this blog post, though: An increase in conspiracy theory BS in comments.

I understand I do write quite often in disagreement with the mainstream (my agreements with mainstream don't appear worthy of writing about them to me), and there's probably a fine line between this and conspiracy thoeries. Some of my stuff may also be considered conspiracy theorizing - that's probably a matter of the point of view, I guess.

Nevertheless, I don't consider the comment section the right place for conspiracy theories. Open your own blog and write BS about money theory, shadow control of governments and the like in your blog if you insist on sharing it. 
** Skipping some disrespectful comments about conspiracy theorists and their fans here.**

I suppose my own rules for comments did and do so far not explicitly damn conspiracy theorising and I've got a bad feeling about deleting individual comments because of such off-topic BS content alone.

Instead, I will apply a measure I did so far only apply once; I will close comments on the topic in question entirely once conspiracy theories appear and don't stop immediately after first warning.I won't block individual voices, instead I will shut down the whole talk which doesn't single out anyone.
This excludes trolls, obviously. I don't empower them to close all comment sections here. Troll posts will still be blocked and collected for the amusement of friends.


S Ortmann
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2012/12/03

A quote on military procurement

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I recall informally proposing a test to disprove a debate-inspired claim that the A-10's anti-tank cannon would "never" destroy tanks in "all future wars." The test would have cost a few hundred thousand dollars. The colonel hearing this proposal told me something like this: When the Air Force needed a new plane - and its reasons were usually valid-it understood that opposition could arise for various reasons, financial, ideological, or parochial. Therefore, the service had to make a strong case, and part of this involved demonstrating that the current plane was dangerously unsatisfactoy.  In this case, the A-10 was the current model, and thus, did I really think the Air Force would give me money to prove it wrong?

From "The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate" by Douglas Campbell, page xi (found on google books, don't expect me to know the full book).
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On the Boxer deal with Saudi Arabia

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Spiegel has stirred up a scandal by reporting about an apparently pending export of heavy wheeled APCs (MRAV, GTK, Boxer - choose a name) to Saudi Arabia,  and it should.

I remember an article about a Saudi motorised (= wheeled armoured vehicles) regiment written by a Saudi officer and published in if I remember correctly either Armor Magazine or Infantry Journal, official U.S.Army publications. I didn't archive it, didn't find it again in the former and honestly don't know where in the archive of the latter is hidden. It may be behind the stupid AKO account firewall which Armor Magazine and Infantry Journal editors opposed so very much when it was introduced during the early GWOT craze.

Anyway; said article was perfectly clear that such wheeled armour Saudi troops were first and foremost meant to defend the regime domestically, being able to deploy on road to any domestic trouble spot in short notice (unlike tracked forces would typically do, or so was the opinion of the 90's). Going to battle against another military came second.


The scandal is a scandal because of this potential, without the people talking about the scandal even knowing how very much focused said Saudi army troops were and certainly still are on the domestic suppression role.

We shouldn't do business with the Saudis, who come most close of all to meeting the generally wrong Muslim/Arab stereotype of being dark age people. Their state is -by European standards- a single huge abomination, and we should apply ours standards when doing business in the world.
Doing business with Saudis is generally a poor idea for another reason; their inherent corruption tends to taint the ones who do business with them, there's too often some bribing by or of Germans involved when we do such business.


S Ortmann

edit: Found the article. It's in Armor magazine March/April '96!

"The Saudi Arabian National Guard Motorized Brigades" 

2012/12/01

A proper ground forces display for visitors

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I suppose most of my readers have experienced military demonstrations in front of top brass, politicians, foreign officers and/or mere business people as well, probably so from both perspectives.

Such events are always scripted in detail, rehearsed and often commented by someone with a microphone and a whole arrangement of loudspeakers. Everything that's supposed to be displayed gets its (usually boringly long) share of the demo and afterwards the visitors have seen soldiers moving and using hardware.


I've never liked these displays. They're a systematic disinformation tradition.

Here's what I would like to have as a ground forces display:

The whole parliamentary armed services committee gets invited, all senior civilian ministry of defence folks get invited including the new minister (they always seem to be new). They take their seats and pick up the binos, expecting the display.


Over the course of the next thirty minutes they'll hear some sudden noises and see some mortar smoke pop up. Nothing else.
After said half hour, the most senior officer of the army steps up in front of the audience and summarises;

"This is modern warfare as done by a modern, competent army".

The tank attack happened before you arrived because tanks are quick and they're best when they get to execute their mission before anyone not cooperating with them is ready for them.
The infantry seeking and destroying stragglers of the brigade overrun and shattered by our mechanised forces rested their survivability first and foremost on being almost never seen by said enemies. As a by-product, we didn't see much of them either.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is competent modern warfare as it should be against a competent and respected opposition. It's what we would strive to do in the event of getting called up to defend the alliance.
This is the "empty battlefield" as military history reports it about wars for more than a hundred years, almost precisely since the introduction of smokeless gunpowder. This is why you see very rarely if ever an enemy in video footage even of warfare against rag tag militias.
This was - for once - no theatre, but an information event. Thank you for your interest and attention.

Just once, please.


S Ortmann
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2012/11/30

Palestine joined the U.N. as observer and I'm appalled

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The news is that the U.N. general assembly has accepted Palestina as observer, and thus apparently / kind of recognised it as a state.

The result is that I'm appalled and could generally puke a lot right now.

The reason isn't the General Assembly's vote, though - it's what happened around said vote. It's the talking point spewed by far too many people, including the German and U.S. ministers of foreign affairs.
This talking point is very well summarised by Clinton herself:

Supporters of the Jewish state both in the United States and Israeli fear that the upgrade in United Nations status could open the door for Palestinians to bring war crimes charges against Israeli leaders in the International Criminal Court.
"it places further obstacles in the path of peace," Clinton said.
"We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that they deserve," Clinton said.


Just as a reminder; why is it that if a foreign army invades your country you can shoot its soldiers without being a criminal or evil person because of it? Killing people is outlawed, after all.
The reason is your country's sovereignty. Said sovereignty is to be respected. An invasion would disrespect it.
Sovereignty doesn't come out of hot air, though. It's not made up directly. Instead, it's derived from the right of nations to self-determination:

The right of nations to self-determination (from German: Selbstbestimmungsrecht der Völker), or in short form, the right to self-determination is the cardinal principle in modern international law principles of international law (jus cogens), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the Charter’s norms. It states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference

Now make no mistake; this right is also meant to apply to nations not having sovereignty yet:

On 14 December 1960, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) under titled Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples provided for the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples in providing an inevitable legal linkage between self-determination and its goal of decolonisation, and a postulated new international law-based right of freedom also in economic self-determination.

So basically, what the Palestinians (or Arabs living in Palestine) have is the right to self-determination. This is a most fundamental right; the basis of national freedom. It's been strongly advocated by a U.S. president a while ago and others ever since.


Now what do Mr. Westerwelle, Mrs. Clinton and all the others who subordinate recognition of the right to self-determination to diplomatic tactics or strategy? They disrespect said right, quite equal to disrespecting the sovereignty of an already established state in my opinion.
This is in my eyes a 100% immediate disqualification for a job in anything resembling foreign affairs or a national-level cabinet.

The right of nations to self-determination is a foundation of the civilised world, it's THE foundation of international law since we don't ascribe this right to monarchs and princes any more.

Nobody should ever rate such a fundamental principle lower than one's own tactics or strategy. This is most disrespectful.
I'm fine with Germany not voting on the issue in the General Assembly, that's always an option. Yet Mr. Westerwelle should have shut up and not let such poison out. German foreign policy has been about strengthening international law for all its benefits. Now he needlessly sided with those who treat international law as nice to have if it helps you and to be disregarded if it's an obstacle to anything substantial you want to do.
That's a horrible mistake, sadly not our first one; the 1999 Kosovo Air War participation was quite tainting as well.


The whole topic is close to my indignation about the frequent nonsensical accusations of Germany in regard to Slovenia and Croatia gaining independence and getting internationally recognised. The common and utterly idiotic story is that Germany supposedly is guilty of promoting the bloody war in Croatia and possibly Bosnia by recognising Croatia early. 
For starters, we weren't even the first, not alone and many Western countries considered to recognise these nations' right to self-determination. The war in Croatia had begun in March 1991, including some early ethnic cleansing actions by Serbians while Croatia was recognised by Germany (together with Iceland as 3rd European country doing so) as late as December 1991. Still, Germany was made a scapegoat in the anglophone world.

More fundamentally: How dare these people to assert we should decline this right to self-determination to other nations? That's the exact same crap as happened these days!

A nation's right to self-determination is not up for debate or bartering. What's up for debate is merely whether the group in question is a nation.
There's no doubt the Slovenians were and are a nation, and the Croatians were and are as well (their Krajina border wasn't optimal, though; yet no worse than the status quo ante). Furthermore, the Palestinian Arabs are no doubt not the same nation as Israelis, albeit some of them are a not fully equal minority within Israel's U.N-recognised borders of 1966.
__________

The treatment of the right of nations to self-determination and the whole independence recognition thing shows how too many leading Western foreign politicians and too many people offering (in my opinion idiotic) comments on foreign policy are still very much devoid of principles. Principles which the Western world has created, officially established, vowed to respect and can claim as one of its great civilisation advances.

I don't care about walls, pyramids or even stuff like moving letters or the number zero much in comparison; international law is the great civilisation advance which brings peace, cooperation and the respect that's necessary for both from the village and region level up to the continental and global level.
Respect for international law, its basics and foreign people is our best hope for avoiding the Fourth World War as described by Einstein:

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Albert Einstein US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955) (quotationspage)

I'm trying to stay civil here, so I won't extend this into a more detailed appraisal of the mind of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Westerwelle and what I'd love to do with their heads right now.



S Ortmann
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2012/11/28

Covert artillery

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Well done!


It reminds me of the South African Valkiri MRL which uses a tarpaulin to look like a normal supply truck.

Further related:

2010-04 Club-K Container Missile system video

2009-02 Warship Stealth

edit 2012-12-01: Comments on grognews are skeptical whether it's really an improvised MRL. Well, the photo is actually two years old (hence "captured"), and another photo shows uniformed officials inspecting it so it's not totally pulled out of someone's behind. It may still be from another region than Gaza, but I honestly don't care. It's the idea that's of interest, not the location.

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2012/11/25

The European modes of warfare from WW2

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There's a widespread misconception about what WW2 in Europe looked like on the macro scale. The typical view is that the victorious armies reduced opposing armies, seized land and concluded the campaign victoriously.

I meant to write about (against) this for a while but didn't because I deemed a lot of evidence necessary to convince anyone. Obviously, I did not muster the motivation to compile all the stuff I already know for such a blog post. Instead, I finally settled on a cheapened version of the blog post; no evidence, but possibly inspiring some people to keep the eyes open so they can see the evidence more clearly elsewhere themselves.


OK, so what's wrong with the typical view as mentioned before?

The thing about "reduced" is badly misleading at best.

This is quite fundamental, for the prevalent idea of a war between great power is one in which one side's military destroys the other and then victory happens. A totally mislead belief even without francs-tireurs or similar guerillas.

What really happened were two different modes of achieving success in campaigns, with a third mode relevant in almost all inconclusive campaigns/offensives.

(Mode 1:) Some of the German successes 1939-1941

Characteristic of these successes were very quick campaigns, mostly decided by striking where the opponent wasn't prepared.

1940 Norway: Norway was poorly defended, not the least because Britain wasn't prepared to intervene in sufficient strength. They had considered the option of invading it themselves, but were still unprepared.
1940 Western Campaign: Rear airborne invasion in Netherlands and the famous Ardennes push with tank divisions prevented an effective defence by the enemy. The Western powers were actually not substantially inferior in any quantitative parameter, but almost half of the Western forces were defeated with remarkably little fighting. The key to success wasn't destruction of many Western powers divisions, but rendering them useless for the defence of France.
1941 Yugoslavia: 11 days of the most successful preemptive attack ever. Very little combat. An entire regiment rolled through the country without a single even only platoon-sized fight.
1941 Greece: Overrun because the Greek forces were focused on the Italians in Albania and simply not positioned for successful defence.

The primary mechanism was capturing territory through turning movements and encirclements in 1940/41.


(Mode 2:) Overpower for victory, reduction of enemies as a mere finisher

The German military forces were ultimately defeated (depending on how to determine it they had effectively lost sometime between late '41 and mid-'43). Yet, the German military had more (and more powerful) combat aircraft, tanks, AAA and more troops and field artillery pieces in in early winter of 1944/45 than in 1939/40!* It had sustained huge losses for years, but it did NOT shrink. Its reduction was NOT the key to Allied victory!

It was driven back because
(1) The share of aggressive young soldiers in the combat arms was reduced.
(2) Mode 3 rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat

This leads to 
(Mode 3): How most non-decisive offensives really looked
One force overpowers another (or threatens to do so), the weaker force enters a retrograde movement usually with delaying actions, eventually the culminating point of the offensive is reached and both armies get a break for a while (including receiving many replacements for personnel and material).

_______________

The idea of WW2-ish warfare being about destruction of an army in the field followed by occupation of land and forcing the political leadership into surrender is largely misguided as far as it concerns Europe. This is what the war of 1870/71 looked like (albeit the initial political leadership in person of Napoleon III surrendered with the army). WW2 wasn't about reducing the hostile army to get your way. It was about forcing it to yield by overpowering it or by making its geographic position horrible.

I suppose this fundamental misconception has probably caused a lot of damage to at least Western military thought for decades.
You can win by reducing the other army and then occupying their capital, but this isn't really WW2-ish. It's more close to the Israel wars style where destroying a tank army in the field (irreplaceable during the war) yielded success.



*: This is what I meant to collect evidence about, but didn't for want of motivation. The Luftwaffe had thousands of fighters and many other aircraft even by War's end (little fuel and too few fully trained pilots, though), there were thousands of capable tanks in early '45 whereas the force of 1939 was a collection of fewer training tanks by comparison. AAA figures multiplied. Field artillery is tricky, as the share of smaller calibres and low quality captured guns rose over time. Troops quantity only collapsed in '45, while quality collapsed already in '41/'42.
Likewise the "defeated" German submarine-centric navy entered the war with less than a hundred subs and had hundreds about a week before war's end, on average larger and much more powerful ones.

P.S.: Very huge conflict, very short text. Readers should take it as an inspiration to look at WW2 history in order to check whether this blog text is about right. Small deviations in the grand scheme of European WW2 from the text's description don't bother me. I suppose those who get all-focused on minor deviations will never benefit from any model-like approach attempting to describe general patterns.

edit:
To be really, really clear: The remark that drove me towards finally writing this blog post was about destroying the enemy quicker than he can replace his losses. That's what I meant with "reduction" here. This "reduction" is not the same as attrition, but the balance of attrition and replacements. WW2 did work like this in the Pacific Naval Warfare (not even the air war), but WW2 in Europe was not about taking more out of the contest than gets added to it.
To assume the latter is analogue to thinking of a fight as a pushing match in which the opponent ultimately goes down.
In European WW2, said match was rather about going past him or about pushing him until he yields with a step backwards, then follow up with a step forward of your own and finally resume with exerting pressure. Rinse and repeat.
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2012/11/23

Japan and its 'military' spending - an example

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I've read -yet again- how someone complained that Japan has a 1% GDP defence spending and the U.S. has a 5% defence spending yet the Japanese still fear the U.S. might not be able to defend them if cuts occured in DoD budget.

It doesn't matter where I read it, as this kind of thought could probably be found hundreds of times with an internet search engine and the same attitude more generally would certainly be found ten thousands of times.

Let's ignore whether the Japanese defence spending is really 1% (official figures say so), whether the U.S. military (hardly "defense") spending is really 5% (about right +/- 1 % point depending on how you define it) and whether any Japanese really has such a worry at all.

Let's instead look at the scenario of a rise in Japanese spending from 1% to much more, even if less than 5%. In fact, let's focus on non-economical effects for now.


Japan has "Self defense forces" with a small budget and inefficient arms production rates. It may be a hollow force or not (there were Cold War rumours about ridiculously low ammunition stocks), but it still has a top ten air force and a top ten navy. Their relative neglect of the army is understandable, given Japanese geography and the army's striking uselessness against Godzilla.

 (I didn't check the entire videos for accuracy; consider them entertainment.)
Warning: Atrocious music.

What would Japan look like to foreigners with a bigger budget for arms and troops?
Let's say quadrupled to UK-like 4% (The UK fits as an analogy because of its geography):

Even the pretence of a "Self Defence" character of the armed forces would disappear instantly. All that additional money would hardly go into stocks, better pay, better barracks and modernisation of existing units or the army in general. Most of it would no doubt be spent on additional warships, combat aircraft (or development projects for the same).
This would in turn be a threat to other countries in the region, especially South Korea and mainland China. Even the Taiwanese might be irritated.

Keep in mind that an additional 3% GDP on military affairs and military strength gain would no doubt look ugly to regional foreigners in conjunction with the still-widespread and rather disrespectful Japanese brand of nationalism.

The consequence would be a diversion of South Korean national security efforts away from continental threats, likely a lot of irritation and disunity among the U.S.'s friends in the region and China would almost certainly force the pace of the regional arms build-up.

How exactly would this benefit the U.S.?

You got to assume U.S. leadership will be stupid enough to let the hyped-up rivalry turn into actual war (not the "war" Americans talk so often about; "War on drugs", "War on Christmas", "War on women", "War on terrorism" - ACTUAL WAR) to see any benefit in substantially greater Japanese "self defence" spending.

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2012/11/22

RFID: An example for when to step in and say "Stop, reverse and never dare again!"



People should generally not be treated like criminals or slaughter cattle, period. I hope every German judge would intervene forcefully against such practices if given the opportunity, on the grounds of article 1 of the constitution:

Article 1
[Human dignity – Human rights – Legally binding force of basic rights]
(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.
(3) The following basic rights shall bind the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as directly applicable law.


2012/11/21

Iron Dome's baptism of fire

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So Iron Dome, the U.S-sponsored Israeli anti-rocket system (which shoots with relatively cheap guided missiles to intercept unguided ones), appears to be working. The reports about its effectiveness suggest a very high rate of intercepts (possibly by firing more than one interceptor rocket per incoming one), but even more so they confirm that the system is selective:
It predicts the point of impact and compares it with a map of protection-worthy areas. Uninhabited areas (even large open spaces within settlements) are not defended. This is an important characteristic for a hard kill defence against unguided munitions, quite close to hard kill systems for tanks which don't engage RPG warheads which are going to miss anyway.*
This is of great relevance in those famous cost comparisons between the offensive and the hard kill defensive munition, of course. Too bad; the entire approach becomes invalidated once it faces guided or trajectory-correcting munitions or even only munitions suspected to enter a terminal trajectory correction (or guided) phase a few seconds prior to impact.

Iron Dome missile launcher,
(c) supposedly by NatanFlayer
Reports also indicate coverage is still patchy and short-range rockets pose the biggest problems despite their low velocity and crudeness; the reaction lag for detection, classifying, decision-making et cetera is the problem. Again, not without parallel: I remember calculations from a book about three decades old showing that there would be no time to launch a nuclear counterstrike while the first strike of the Soviet Union would be under way. No U.S. president could have made such a decision within the IIRC 7 minutes time window. Hence the importance on surviving a first strike with enough weapons and communications intact for a retaliation and thus for deterrence prior to the must-never-happen first strike.
Reaction lags are always a problem in systems involving human decision-making


So in the end, the semi-mobile Iron Dome system (it would be kind of static in a mobile warfare context, for its dislocation is restricted to an area which might be overrun by a day's manoeuvring - there's no need to adapt to unexpected landscapes) doesn't really provide a baptism of fire for counter rocket area defences at all, it's merely relevant to a specific niche, and only so in very low intensity. I suppose the Israelis would never deploy enough Iron Dome firing units to cope with a Soviet 1980's style division's MRL salvo**, for example (or with an Arab army 1970's Soviets wannabe style MRL salvo).
The practice of marking areas for something isn't unknown in mobile warfare or in what passes as such nowadays; the U.S. Army had lots of no-fire zones during its 2003 Iraq invasion. The problem with such things is that they depend on thorough updates in short intervals, or else the effort will turn very ugly in face of an opposition which actually does mobile warfare, too. Blue Force Tracker systems are in theory up to this challenge, but they contribute to the excessive radio traffic addiction of modern Western-style ground forces and this addiction creates a multitude of potentially disastrous problems against capable opposition as well.

In the end, small wars reports remind me more of what we don't know about wars between great powers for lack of such wars (=good thing in itself!), than they enlighten us (or at least me) about the current state of affairs in general.



*: I think I wrote about this selective fires thing sometime, somewhere before, but I'm too lazy to look it up.
**: In case you wonder why I took a now-defunct example: It's not about re-fighting WW3, but about using an example known to be a realistic threat when people are serious about preparing for warfare between great powers. We might go back to such seriousness, after all. I'm fine with it if we never do, of course. That's kind of the point of this blog.
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2012/11/17

Gaza

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Just in case someone wonders why the conflict about Gaza still lingers on (and is thus on hand for power games to help in domestic politics and elections):

Haaretz / Reuters, January 2011

Expect a revolt if you run the largest prison on earth.
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Helmet cams and training

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The introduction of cameras to police cars had delivered lots of video evidence for courts, and occasionally hilarious youtube videos, too.

The introduction of helmet cameras to infantrymen (or people supposed to be the same) has delivered lots of raw footage of firefights. This YouTube account has published several examples.


Sadly, my most regular reaction to what I see on such videos is to doubt that these people received basic training, switch off and then ask someone else for a second opinion (which is usually as harsh, but I may have a selection bias towards selecting like-minded people for these questions).
I suppose there are also videos of good examples.

The training value of good examples videos has to be great if employed well. The training value of poor example videos with clear marking of what was done incorrectly is likely not negligible either.

It looks as if this development has added another tool for the tool set of infantry and more generally soldier training; field manuals, instruction charts and staged instruction movies look like 18th century parading by comparison - at least in regard to preparation training for the specific conflict.

These very same videos might on the other hand be an equalising factor between different nations' combat troops: Countries with no substantial participation in conflict could benefit, and even paramilitary forces could with a small budget.

This looks similar to the development of laser-based training systems such as MILES or AGDUS, which added realistic direct fire lethality to training. Same in regard to training projectiles such as for gotcha or the official army training munitions such as FX Simunition which follow the same approach with actual combat weapons.


We might see effects of such equalising training aids in the long term; sooner or later some foreign infantry force without remarkable reputation is bound to surprise us with competence. This happens occasionally anyway, but the next time it might be because of such equalisers.
We better pay attention to pushing the envelope with continued improvement of our forces. That's the way to go anyway, for we want the required bang for minimum bucks, right?

S Ortmann

Clarification: I don't mean videos as substitute for outdoor training. I meant these actual combat videos in the (widened) niche that staged training videos have in military training already. Troops need to be trained prior to combat experience, so the more close their approximation to actual combat is, the better.
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2012/11/16

Is finding hostile surface warships really all that decisive?

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A few days ago a Foreign Policy article was stressing the importance of finding the enemy in modern naval warfare. The author was -despite the diplomacy-themed publication - no foreigner to military theory. He was co-author of RAND's swarming study, which I think I already quoted and referred to on this blog. It's neat.
I intended to write about the article all along, so here it is.

The emphasis surely resonates with me, as I emphasise elusiveness for survivability and surprise a lot, but the author also creates a wrong perception or two in my opinion:

(1) The importance of elusiveness is a new, modern thing:
[...] the distilled essence of naval operations today: the hider/finder dynamic.
(2) Smaller means more elusive:
The most valuable vessel [...] that is, the one that is hardest to find and hit -- is also the smallest combatant.
I disagree with (1) and don't think (2) is worth being proposed. 
 
Let me take you on a tour:

Exhibit (a): A text on the survivability of carrier battlegroups of the late Cold War era, in face of the huge and elaborate Soviet navy and naval and strategic aviation assets.

by Andy Pico, 1999

USN CVBG, 2000


Exhibit (b): A summary of the U.S.Navy's fleet problem series of experimental exercises involving aircraft carriers.

by G.J.Walsh, 2011

which includes as a primary source quote:
Evident to Reeves and to the carrier commanders who followed in his footsteps, was the reality that in any future engagement involving aircraft carriers at sea, the first carrier to locate and bomb the other would determine the outcome.
which provokes additional questions*, but also shows the great importance of scouting at sea; to find the enemy first was already considered to be decisive back in the 30's.

Similar points an be found in much of naval history, even disregarding submarines. Just think of the difficulty of finding and intercepting the Spanish Silver Fleet on the Atlantic Ocean, of hunting down privateers outside of their bases, of military commerce raiders, the great importance of cruisers/frigates/corvettes/Avisos and the likes as a screen of eyes for the battleship line, supposed to enable getting into contact with the other battleship fleet and supposed to buy the time for deployment into a battle line.

Hughes goes to some lengths in several chapters of his Fleet Tactics book about the role of scouting, sensors and so on. It's really a lasting, not a modern topic.

The littoral (supposedly) combat ship wasn't meant to be stealthy to actually hide in the Persian Gulf or close to Taiwan's shores: That's simply not a realistic expectation. 
I personally have been suspecting that radar stealth for surface ships has been about making hits by active radar-guided missiles less likely among lots of chaff and jamming. The ship itself is rather easy to find for the launch platform's sensors; even a ship with an invisibility cloak would still be detected easily by wave pattern analysis (with radar) or by its cavitation (by sonar) once it moves faster than about 5 knots.
The only trick needed is to have the ship-seeking sensor and its platform close enough for this (unless it's a satellite). That's not hard close to land bases, but more so on the open seas or in adverse weather conditions (with their detrimental effect on sensor ranges).


To find the other warship has been a challenge on the open seas for a long time, but it's hard to prove that this problem was ever much-related to ship size.

The British had lost contact with the huge Bismarck until the German admiral on-board sent a lengthy radio report believing the ship was still being on British radar (RDF) screens.
Difficulty in finding ships was always more related to weather conditions or with their distance to relevant land bases than with their size.

Moreover, the "finding" part may actually become easier, making it less of a feature of modern naval operations than of historical ones.


Mr. Arquilla also generated a false impression of the role of LCS (which really is just a cost-inefficient frigate). The original, actually thoughtful, idea which led to the LCS was to have many small ships not to hide them, but to make them unworthy of an attack. They were supposed to saturate relevant maritime areas with their presence and relatively short-ranged sensors, and an atatck on them would not have been too bad becuase the crew was meant to be tiny. Furthermore, their destruction by for example a submarine would necessitate that the attacker compromises his position - and said (much more valuable) attacker would then be counterattacked and destroyed.
The USN deleted all daring thought from the concept and added a lot of farce and spin in order to get a replacement for Oliver Hazard Perry frigates (to preserve officer billets and the bureaucracy's size) and the shipyards just added a lot of costs.


Mr. Arquilla, your work on swarming was more interesting and useful.


S Ortmann

*: Among other questions, it raises the question how they anticipated to wage war at sea at all if they were so sure about he vulnerability of surface warships. Ground-based air power would be able to survive a first strike and retaliate against the carrier and other warships in their paradigm. This excluded naval actions close to peer power land bases. How exactly did they envision to execute War Plan Orange in such a paradigm?

edit: Rewritten on day of publication because the original version was confusing.
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