2012/02/29

NATO Order of Battle 1989

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There are people who are really into this stuff, much interested in even minutiae details of OOBs. To me, it's just a nice source for a quick overview. Some readers may be interested in this little gem, though:


The Bundeswehr had 36 active and 12 territorial army ground combat brigades when there was still a real national and collective security challenge (the U.S. had then only 16 in Europe including the ACRs).

Times have changed - today we can make do with a fraction of it and still no red, yellow or pink horde invades us or an ally. You probably wouldn't guess that the national and collective security situation is so utterly relaxed if you read only anglophone sources on defence, though. There's a lot of hysteria in comparison to 'continental' ones.

S Ortmann
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2012/02/28

Odierno worries about AFVs

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by Paul McLeary

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno brought some real talk to the AUSA convention in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this morning when discussing ground vehicles. Talking about the Army’s need for a new infantry fighting vehicle, Odierno lambasted the performance of the Bradley in combat, saying that the BAE Systems-manufactured combat truck “hasn’t done very well” in terms of survivability, and that in Iraq “we lost more Bradleys than any other combat platform, and we haven’t used a Bradley in five years.”

When it comes to the General Dynamics-made Stryker, he said that “we have so much weight on the Stryker right now, we can’t get it off the damn roads.”

Sounds all Pentagon Wars and "ubiquitous 2000's Stryker vehicle critics" to me.

Maybe it's an inside joke for people who watched the Stryker critique of 2000-2006: It seems as if regarding Strykers and off-road driving, even "Sparky" was more correct than the then-U.S. Army leadership. That's kind of sad.


A comment on the "Pentagon Wars" Youtube video says
When your design makes Warhammer tanks look simple and practical, you know you fucked up somewhere.
That instantaneously forced me to think of THIS.

S Ortmann

edit: Obvious crazy goes on.



edit2: Just in case you didn't believe it's crazy: 63.5 metric tons, 25 mm gun, supposedly 9 dismounts (I don't believe the latter is a practical figure - side and rear overhang look very impractical as well).
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2012/02/26

Defence on the Northeast frontier of EU and NATO

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This is a view on typical Northeast European terrain (look at the link, please!).

Flat country, cultivated woods, open agricultural areas, settlements and an odd water obstacle. The terrain is somewhat reminiscent of the North German plains (link), but with more woods.

Right now there's no real threat to us (EU, NATO)  there, but in ten or twenty years we might be in need of a credible deterrence and ground forces capability for such terrain.


The mix of closed terrain with short lines of sight and open terrain with long ones is not unique, but it's interesting; it leads to terrain-specific tactical answers.

Mechanised forces could dash through undefended woods, fight a path through defended ones, move along their outline or avoid short-ranged anti-tank munitions by following a route on the open field. The quality of the options depends on what's being perceived as the bigger threat or strength and on the situation itself.

Infantry on the other hand would need to see the settlements and woods as islands, great concealment for its own purposes (difficult to evacuate under pressure, though).
The outskirts would be highly dangerous to it. It's an old tactic to hammer those outskirts with artillery since there's rarely enough ammunition to hit the entire closed terrain patch. The wood / settlement outskirts could thus only be used well for observation posts and for temporary fighting positions only. The interior of the closed terrain on the other hand would house caches and hideouts, if not bunkers. There would be a certain mobile element, for the infantry would (a) need to throw its strength from interior to outskirt and back and (b) it would need to be able to move from 'island' to 'island'.

Infantry on the attack would likely require much support because crossing the large open areas without would be terminally stupid. Arty fires (HE and smoke) on the outskirts in line of sight and a dash in an (H)APC till disembarkation at the closed terrain to be assaulted would be advisable. Infantry paving the way for mechanised battlegroup through closed terrain would be a plausible scenario.


The whole setup of the terrain leads naturally to a kind of 'hidden strongpoint' defence not totally dissimilar to the old hedgehog tactic, but certainly with great emphasis on concealment. Any operational-level push of fast (mechanised) forces would require follow-up infantry for holding the path in order to avoid that bypassed hostile forces close the torn-open gap and cut the intruding spearhead off. Alternatively, the spearhead would need to turn back before it becomes too weak to fight its way to a meet with friendlies.


This leads to one pillar of ground-level deterrence on such a terrain; hostile deep incursions could be turned unaffordable and extremely risky by having enough troops for a deep (100+ km) occupation of the closed terrain patches with a hidden (and semi-stationary) strongpoint defence.

The second pillar would be about deterring rather shallow incursions, against a rather systematic and wide advance. A good ability to delay such an advance and the ability to make good use of the time gained with reinforcements moves and air power should do this trick.

The third pillar of ground-level deterrence should be the ability of own incursions with multiple battlegroups (think: half brigade size at most).
This means we would need the capability to suppress the outskirts of such closed terrain (= lots of multispectral smoke, comm and radar frequency jamming) and we would need long-endurance mechanised battlegroups (enough fuel for ~500 km practical range).


This should all be self-evident capabilities, but a certain disinterest in actual defence (especially defence of the new EU and NATO members), a decades-old neglect of infantry, a decades-old neglect of armoured forces mobility endurance (fostered by small training grounds and short exercises) and an unhealthy focus on guided or cluster munitions (=rather few HE and smoke shells in depots and standard loadouts) mean that this is not trivial stuff at all (sadly).

S Ortmann
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2012/02/15

Elusive raids and ambushes

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I wrote about defence before and I wrote about infantry before, this time I'll try to elaborate on the elusive ambush and elusive raid thing.

See, combat in Afghanistan does not tell much about first-rate peer vs peer combat at all. A platoon can be fixed by a smuggler gang or a Taliban group and not dare to leave cover for hours. It still survives.
In a high-end conventional war, that same platoon would be wiped out long before the first hour ends, and the enemy infantry wouldn't even need to sweat because such a fixed target is a favourite target for support fires. A really top of the line infantry battalion would destroy such a fixed target within minutes with its mortars.

So whenever you think about what's the difference between AFG combat and combat against really capable opposition; imagine the Taliban had a bomber with a precision bomb on station, ready to strike within minutes. It's a good start.
I am, of course, fixated on really capable opposition because there's little reason to believe that forces of little competence will ever be sent to invade Germany or one of its allies. Their leaders would understand the pointlessness. Wars of choice on the other hand should be avoided.

- - - - -

The aforementioned problem of survivability in contact is part of the reason why I insist so much on quick and short exposure (if possible with a well-timed burst of support efforts). A lot needs to change in tactics once you need to cut your exposure time short.


Very short combat actions still need to be worthwhile, and they still should be very advantageous for 'us'. This means it's best to combine them with other, more established drivers of military tactics.
Surprise is one such driver; surprise describes a temporary advantage created by the exploitation of a fleeting superiority in readiness for battle. To exploit this advantage is a good idea, but it's not always possible.
Damn it, doctrine and theory are still more about what to strive for than about what's inevitably going wrong sooner or later.


The offensive form that exploits surprise and is compatible with a short duration is the raid, and a fine defensive equivalent is the ambush.

Let's use some imagination to describe the point:

Imagine cats fighting for territory. I don't say they do it like this, but imagine it:
A cat sneaks through the territory, attempting to find the rival cat. Once done, it closes in and finally pounces the rival, hitting the resting and surprised rival badly. Then it vanishes into the undergrowth again in order to not be surprise-attacked itself by a third cat.
This would be (elusive) raiding.

Now imagine the cat patrolling or observing its own territory and sensing a moving rival. It sneaks or hurries into an anticipated intercept position, lurks there and finally pounces the rival when it came close. Again, a quick withdrawal follows after dealing a severe blow.
That would be (elusive) ambushing.

The cat surely has a good use for some well-selected if not prepared hideouts, but it has no use for lots of prepared defensive positions, and the whole dynamic would be entirely different if the terrain was very flat and open or even bristling with cats.


I think this is where infantry-centric defensive tactics should go, and where they are in part already (Central and North European Jagdkampf, U.S. Distributed Operations). On the surface, these tactics are very similar - but the theoretical works about them (= the ones I know) and the assumptions are deficient in my opinion. Jagdkampf lacks the organisational support for widespread intentional employment and the theory of it is rather unsuitable (too demanding) for unintentional employment in/after a crisis in battle. It's an incomplete concept that shows its lack of a real baptism of fire. DO on the other hand was/is too tech-heavy in my opinion and about too small teams. Granted, I didn't go enough into details yet to assert the superiority of my concept art all. This is rather about provoking some thoughts.

Fixed defensive positions are largely out of fashion today despite the sandbag castles seen in Bosnia and Afghanistan. What's still lacking is the appraisal of enemy fire support as a factor that requires you to break contact even while the action appears to go well (simply because it already lasted almost for too long).
To expose yourself long enough for enemy fire support is near-suicidal, but it's a traditional weakness that indirect fires effects are poorly simulated and communicated in tactical exercises. In short: They're chronically under-appreciated. Many armies know this, but the attempts to fix this problem do not appear to have lasting decisive success.

- - - - -

What's remarkable about elusive raids and ambushes is the "territory" (area) thing. It's not about a line or an objective - both would restrict the tactical choices a lot and create predictability. Instead, you need to think of this as an area mission.
I'd like to call it a "skirmish area mission" on the (small) unit tactical level, while on the operational (corps) level its somewhat different cousin concept might be called a "skirmish corridor". "Skirmish area missions" of different small units may have overlapping areas - this requires horizontal cooperation.
The average area for a platoon-sized area skirmish mission would be about 100-200 square kilometres, about the same size as envisioned in Jagdkampf. It could be much smaller in an evacuated urban area (even down to less than 10 sq km).

In such a "skirmish area mission", there would be rather few modes;
(1) intruding into enemy-controlled terrain,
(2) contesting control aggressively (trying to eliminate the presence of hostiles),
(3) contesting control cautiously (trying to stay active in the area without trying hard to expulse hostiles),
(4) reacting to major enemy forces passing through (presence of a hostile skirmish element becomes secondary in this scenario) and
(5) control and withdrawal (allowing them to control the area).

The benefits would already pile up while contesting control, namely the ability to communicate from-the-ground info if major enemy forces pass through the area. It's even better if the enemy isn't present with his skirmishers, and thus causes less stress and enforces less caution. The stress of the cat vs cat game would make troops rotation an advisable feature, and that's not what you want (it drives force strength requirements up and the average knowledge about the terrain down*).

On the operational-level picture, major enemy forces passing through such an area would suffer because of the ambush and raid threat, but first and foremost because the present skirmishers could cause attrition by calling for long-range fire support (let's say 120 km range GUMLRS+ missiles, see page 24). The passing forces' movement, strength and composition would furthermore be reported and this could lead to them being outmanoeuvred, subjected to air attack or surprised on the formation level (by manoeuvre brigade(s) or battlegroup(s)). Ambush and raid would be most relevant against supply convoys and scarce yet important equipment (such as various engineer tanks, air defence and electronic warfare vehicles).

- - - - -

This whole concept is NOT suitable for decisive obstacle-related missions, such as clearing a bottleneck or closing it, holding a river front, establishing or destroying a bridgehead. Some of these missions could be met by larger (than unit level) combined arms forces with a very different mindset


S Ortmann

* Digital ground level pictures of the area might help the replacement small unit to familiarise itself with the terrain without exposing itself much on patrols.

P.S.: Sorry, I know that illustrations and photos make it much more pleasant to read such long texts. I did simply not find any suitable ones, fr we don't really want to see photos of a cat in a bush here, right? The key problem with depicting troops with great camouflage is that the photo should really just be a landscape photo, without visible troops. That would be quite irritating, though.
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2012/02/08

On Merkozy's power, fools and power in general

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Last year, some observers hailed a close Franco-Anglo cooperation and diagnosed the end of the Franco-German couple which had exercised above proportional influence in Europe.

These politics games are simple; a few (two) large powers agree on common ground on a topic, then they go to a target summit and prevail with their proposals and demands because there's not going to be any agreement without them anyway. The advantage for the two is basically that the special interests of many others are on a much weaker bargaining position.

Well, the British-French cooperation in military affairs is largely irrelevant now since the elephant in the room is the Euro currency area / PIIGS fiscal crisis. The UK is not part of the common currency and thus irrelevant; Cameron was not happy to be informed about this directly. The UK is a stakeholder, not a shareholder - and thus largely powerless in the issue.


Now there' much being written about 'Merkozy' and how they define the political reaction to the crisis. Authors ascribe especially great power to Merkel, often with reference to the German economic position.

Judging by the conventional view of great power games and by the view assumed by many journalists, Germany is now powerful.

Hmm, right.
Now what's the benefit of being powerful?


You know, Germans have become accustomed to expect that whenever they're being called 'important' or 'indispensable', it's actually about their money. It's thus not surprising that there's not exactly great cheering about this 'power' in Germany.


Moreover, the whole anecdote exemplifies how power is not advantageous under all circumstances; the political reaction to the crisis is actually a rather primitive, and not really self-serving reaction. German foreign policy uses the crisis to shove some long-term improvements down the throats of Greece, and to influence the long-term outcome (at the cost of being called out for disastrous short-term effects).

There's a huge price, though; we're being played like a violin by the financial sector. We're the dog who gets wagged by his tail. So much about our 'power'.
Said 'power' or 'greatness' is rather 'size' - a common misunderstanding in many other cases of 'power' or 'greatness'  as well.

What's really happening is that investors in the financial markets bought PIIGS public bonds and were promised a risk premium (higher than about 2% interest rate). In many cases, said investors were incompetent and did not understand that the risk premium was way too small. Well, their problem; but now they've got the additional problem that the risk might realize and they might indeed not get their money back.

This was when a lucky set of circumstances created the terrible urge "to do something" about the crisis, for, you know, people dislike change. The idea of supporting the countries in peril was born, and much fear about 'contagion' was spread.
As a result, said dumb investors were able to transfer much of their risks to European governments (the people of Europe); they socialised risk. Nobody's talking about socialising profit, of course.

Merkozy were caught in this vicious circle; the more they support Greece, the more previous commitments are at stake. The sunk costs theory says this must not play a role, but they're politicians and the only cost that really counts to them is the loss of their office.
Now they're adding one 'helping' measure after another and dig the hole deeper and deeper, delaying the collapse as much as they could (or at least till after their re-elections?). This means of course that more and more risk is being socialised.


Now where exactly is the benefit of being 'powerful'?
It certainly doesn't appear to be of much use if you're a fool.

Accordingly, getting rid of foolish policy should attract much more attention, and only once this has succeeded anyone should care much about the difficult-to-define 'power' of a nation.


S Ortmann

P.S.: I've irritated people for years by reminding them that Luxembourg is a great place, and utterly small and powerless at the same time. It's an incompatible fact to many people's view of the world.
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2012/02/06

Before I go on

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with writing about military theory, I'd like to explain why I do so on the internet, readable for just about everyone.


One obvious reason is I don't get paid for this stuff - if I was, the results would most likely be kept out of the internet.

Second, nobody's going to make use of this stuff in an actual army anyway. No, seriously - nobody!

Third, others publish articles, studies or books with military thought, and these forms of publication are just as easy to access.

Fourth, few armies would be able to make use of my ideas anyway. Armies are bureaucracies with inertia, and in most cases an attempt to introduce a new idea causes more friction and trouble than it pays dividends.
I expect that no force that could be an actual threat to Europe proper in the long term (up to two decades) would be able to improve itself by adopting an idea of mine (if any can ;) ).


So overall, I'm in the extremely comfortable situation of being harmless. This offers me the freedom to publish some (not all) thoughts on military theory here in such an easily accessible form - just for fun.


By the way; it might be possible to hire me for my thoughts and work on mil stuff (done lots of consulting work and studies in my actual job before), but there's no think tank culture in Germany.


S Ortmann
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