2012/03/31

Marginal rate of utility for attack helicopters

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In economics, the marginal rate usually tells you about the gain for one more unit of effort.
The marginal rate is usually diminishing the more effort you've already put into something in the real world, but some exceptions exist (especially when a certain quantity of effort is required to get any gain; fixed costs).

The last post was about how exaggerated the attention and budgeting on army helicopters usually is. Even I as a critic do not believe that no attack helic0pters is the way to go, and the concept of marginal rates is a useful concept for explaining this reasoning. My writing here about repertoires is another good background for it.

Let's say your army corps brings a squadron of attack helicopters into the fight. Nothing really gold plated, just some average attack helicopters, maybe Mangustas.

The opposing force gets either caught unprepared by those helicopters and the latter have a field day for a change OR the opposing forces are prepared. This preparedness is about vehicle equipment, careful vehicle movement and availability of battlefield air defences (SPAAGs mostly).

The restriction of movements is probably not even the bigger issue here; the expense for battlefield AD (SPAAGs are not effective against modern strike fighters and are almost entirely specialised on countering attack helicopters) is likely the bigger one.
My laziness keeps me from looking up more recent figures, but during the 70's a Leopard 1A4 was priced at DM 1.7 million and a Gepard SPAAG at DM 5.4 million. The 1:3 ratio may have shrunk towards 1:2 in the meantime because of more and more electronics in AFVs, but the basic point is enduring: Battlefield air defences cost a lot, and expenditure for them is expenditure that could have been allocated at more ground combat power if they hadn't to face a threat.

Now back to our imaginary army corps and its squadron of Mangustas; there'll be either some turkey shooting time for them or the opposing force will need to afford dozens if not over a hundred air defence assets to counter this handful of Mangustas (which can appear anywhere in and even beyond the corps sector on short notice).

I think it's likely that some attack helicopters are worth the expense (especially if you already have them) because they provoke inefficiencies in the opposing forces, but it's foolish to expect high returns in shape of tank kills from them. This is not going to happen against a prepared opposing force.

The marginal rate for the first couple attack helicopters is better than their fiscal costs, but break-even is quickly reached and a large attack helicopter force operates at terrible marginal rates of utility; likely often even harming their team more through their fiscal and logistical demand than they help it.


Again; this is the same as with cavalry; high potential - largely if not entirely ruined by countermeasures.



S Ortmann
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2012/03/29

Air mechanization

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Almost ever since I had this blog, I planned to write a thorough takedown of the Air Mechanization craze. Sadly, the amount of research required to fully lock & load for such a blog post was just below my motivation threshold for years.

This blog post idea is thus still on my list, but I certainly want to discharge a quick teaser (for a blog post that may never appear):


Air mechanization of army forces was a favourite of sci if illustrators for about a century, and it appeared to become true during the Vietnam War. Some additional theoretical work appeared later, and the budget-rich U.S.Army as well as the wasteful Red Army invested heavily into it (the Soviets even supplied vegetables to remote Siberian villages with helicopters, as if no such thing as cost/benefit analysis ever existed).

The German army jumped on the air mechanization nonsense during the 90's when the Cold War suddenly ended and it was in dire need for a justification for its PAH-2 (Tiger) attack helicopter and NH90 utility helicopter programs. Sci fi nonsense scenarios and concepts were developed, experimental formations were organised, the programs survived, the experimental formations survived as well - and we still don't have a single attack helicopter suitable for use in Afghanistan in service because the German air mechanization bullshit was just a scam.

That is actually a good thing, for one thing that's worse that stupid procurement is stupid procurement followed up by stupid doctrine.



Now why again is air mechanization stupid?

French cavalry, 1914
Well, it's just like cavalry. Not the 18th century cavalry or even 14th century one. More like the pre-1914 cavalry.

Pre-First World War cavalry was very expensive, had high training demands, was unsuitable for quick wartime expansion, promised great speed over most terrains while delivering quite mediocre actual march performances and it was a major pain in the ass for logisticians (huge fodder demands for all but light Eastern European horses!).


Today's helicopter forces are very expensive, have high training demands, are unsuitable for quick wartime expansion, promise great speed over all terrains but sit idle most of the time and they're a huge pain in the ass for logisticians (huge fuel demands!)


Pre-1914 cavalry proponents "justified" the costs with their supposedly great value based on their mobility. When war happened, they came, saw - and proved to be way too fragile against all but the most poorly armed and most unprepared opponents. Huge attrition in earlier wars did not make much of an impression until 1914. Nowadays everyone thinks it was a folly to trust those cavalry proponents.

Modern battlefield helicopter proponents "justify" the costs with their supposedly great value based on their mobility. When war happens, they come, see - and prove to be way too fragile against all but the most poorly armed and most unprepared opponents (and sometimes even against them). Huge attrition in past wars did not make much of an impression so far. Nowadays the world is still full of army combat aviation enthusiasts.


There's a blog post in the making about topics/hardware that fascinate military-interested people way beyond my ability to comprehend the fascination. I guess battlefield helicopters will make it on the list. I think only fools trust helicopters to prove their worth in a great war.

S Ortmann

P.S.: 1914 cavalry proved to be most useful and at times indispensable as mere despatch riders. They were frequently ineffective as combat forces unless turned into infantry units.
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2012/03/25

What's war?

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Carl von Clausewitz
Von Clausewitz' definition appears to be the most widely accepted definition of war, and to date it appears to be a most insightful one:

Der Krieg ist [...] ein Akt der Gewalt, um den Gegner zur Erfüllung unseres Willens zu zwingen.
(War [...] is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.)
("Vom Kriege", Carl von Clausewitz, 1832, Book I, Chapter I, §2)

It's not a perfect definition, of course (even though I have certainly used it many times before).

Let's attempt to improve on a classic:

Problem (1): The scale is not given, even though he wrote "unseres" ("our"). A clash of two pimps and their loons, would meet the definition as well.
Solution (1): Let's add "organised" in front of "violence"; that's not perfect, but at least short.

Problem (2): This is the real problem. CvC was writing as an officer of a great power of his time, his definition does not describe war well for small powers. Let's look at Finland in 1939/40, defending its freedom (independence) against Stalin's Soviet Union. Was the Finn's point to compel Stalin to do fulfil their will? That would have been somewhat over-optimistic, as what the wanted was most likely the status quo ante. The Finnish motivation was another one IMO.
Solution (2): Scratch "compel our opponent to fulfil our will" and replace it with "reach an acceptable outcome in a conflict."

"War is an act of organised violence to reach an acceptable outcome in a conflict".

Yes, the stroke of genius of pointing at the importance of will would be lost. I believe it's still a more accurate definition. It works for both aggressor and defender, superior and inferior power.

There's no hint at the importance of will any more, but another important hint; war has to end once an acceptable end can be reached. Greedy warmongers will probably have a very high threshold for acceptance, but for some others the alternative definition will point the way towards the minimum net damage.

The "in conflict" ending might furthermore provoke some thoughts about violent/non-violent conflict. Yes, non-violent ones would not be war, and assuming the others don't turn violent it's usually better to pursue an acceptable outcome the non-violent way. Some people need a reminder about this as well (I don't really believe it helps with these people).

Why did I write this?
Repeated reading of more or less accurate CvC quotes in English left an impression on me that people think too aggressively. Too many people who discuss war and peace issues have the state of mind of a bully who wants to subdue someone else with superior strength and force him to surrender. Yes, that includes to break his will, but it is not what war is about on the receiving end. It's not an understanding of war, but only of at most one side of the coin.

On top of that, many wars aren't even about compelling others, some are simply about eradicating others. The Afghanistan conflict (OEF) with its de facto intent of eradicating Taliban and AQ is just one example. It wasn't about the will of the Jews on Masada when the Romans besieged them or about the will of the Phoenicians of Tyre when Alexander besieged them. In both cases it was about establishing a reputation in order to compel a third, bigger party. The razing of Grozny might be such a case as well. The "acceptable outcome" definitions does fit in these cases (an end of the siege would have been the acceptable outcome for the besieged), while CvC's "compel" part does not fit.


Wars of (semi-)nomadic people as described in the bible or known from Asian steppe, African or Native American tribes don't fit well to CvC's definition. These wars were quite often simply about booty. The invader sometimes didn't care about the other's will or behaviour; he just grabbed booty, killed or maimed who resisted and then left. Sure, sometimes they (especially the Asiatic steppe tribes) aimed more at making tribute arrangements, but other times it was about no such thing.
Again, "acceptable outcome" fits well. You just need to keep in mind that the greediness of the people raises the threshold for what's acceptable.


Maybe people would discuss war with more self-restraint if they used my alternative definition of war. CvC's definition lends itself too easily to extreme war goals and is simply not comprehensive and not exclusive enough at the same time.

S Ortmann
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2012/03/22

"Urban" training areas

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Copehill Down, (c) apparently Think Defence
Copehill Down, (c) possibly Think Defence
Think Defence:
The British Army also have a number of urban training areas, the best known is Copehill Down on Salisbury Plain.
Sorry, that's no urban training area, it's a rural training area.

Important tactics from urban combat (going from building to building through the connecting walls without ever going outdoors, moving from roof to roof, moving through sewers) appear to be physically impossible there.

The German term OHK ("Orts- und Häuserkampf"; settlement and building combat) would fit better.

Sad thing is that the above training facility looks actually quite elaborate and good in comparison to some others. Training areas everywhere are very unrealistic and good training on normal terrain (with damages to be paid to civilians) have become even more rare than they were during the Cold War. (I write this only because I am not 100% positive that my strong suspicion about such exercises having stopped a long time ago is true.)

Unrealistic training - and it is unrealistic in many ways, not the least because some lack of realism is utterly necessary to avoid accidents - is a major problem of today's modern military forces. It does contribute to the in my opinion low readiness for actual high end warfare.


S O
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2012/03/21

Fun: German snow camouflage, 1968

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Some of the old instruction videos are just incredible. This one hasn't only a very 'interesting' soundtrack, but the narrator has also an interesting joke:


For the non-German speakers; at 0:53
"These here are not of the Ku Klux Clan, but again lance corporals who show how you can do camouflage correctly and incorrectly"


A commenter on youtube cited a passage of a well-known Bundeswehr joke about the first documentation of the Bundeswehr (in the bible): 

"Sie trugen seltsame Gewänder und irrten ziellos umher."
(~ "They wore strange costumes and rambled aimlessly") :-)
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2012/03/20

Unfashionable thoughts on military vehicles

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Mine-resistant armoured vehicles are the craze du jour or "de la décennie"). I'm not much impressed by fashions, so my thoughts kept wandering and looked at military vehicles from other angles.

First off, imagine this; infantry occupies defensive positions in a region with lots of scattered settlements and woods. It's not motorised with MRAPs, APCs or classic 2-4 ton trucks; instead, it's motorised with more SUV-like vehicles and marches in groups of up to six (wo?)men per vehicle.
The advantage would be that such vehicles could be easily hidden (and ten thousands of such 4wd vehicles could be sourced quickly from the civilians).
Easily hidden - as simply parked in a car garage. Here is a data sheet and drawing of a typical Central European single car garage. The size is enough for a medium SUV, not enough for any real lorry.
It's also much easier to hide such a vehicle with netting than to hide a huge "light" truck such as an incredibly high Unimog.

Vehicles of an entire company could easily be hidden in most villages IF the vehicles would fit in such garages. The advantage would be that almost no reconnaissance effort that falls short of opening these garages or providing long-time surveillance would suffice to detect the occupation of the village (assuming that the civilians fled or were evacuated). An armoured reconnaissance team could drive through multiple such villages without detecting anything (but it would risk to get caught in an effective ambush inside the village). Armoured recce would be slowed down to a crawl if it decided to inspect the many, many garages (and few armoured recce vehicles are prepared for the very frequent dismounting/return of a scout!).
The most significant drawbacks would be
* inability to meet the fashionable extreme protection standards because of the small size (mil spec vehicles of this size can easily be made bulletproof, though)
* long march columns (per vehicle = vehicle length + 50-100 m spacing, this yields a column of up to two kilometres per company)
The former means it's a concept for great wars (the vehicles mobilization advantage points to this as well) and the latter means that it's only good for units that are meant to operate in low force density missions.

- - - - -

The other extreme would be to focus A LOT on short column in order to make brigades or Kampfgruppen / combat teams / battlegroups more agile in regard to road marches. The more vehicles, the more unwieldy such formations become.

The minimisation of vehicle count requires the intense use of high capacity vehicles; heavy trucks. Imagine two medium trucks or a light and a medium truck, each with some logistic special purpose. 
Now imagine a heavy truck is built to combine both purposes. A radio tech truck or workshop truck would have some additional cargo capacity and that's being used for a water or fuel tank, for spare tires, for a generator instead of a generator trailer or maybe the storage of some camp stuff. The fleet of light and medium trucks would be replaced by heavies if possible anyhow.
This would save some personnel (or allow for more than one man in a truck cabin in practice), would reduce the vehicle quantity and thus the march column length a lot and it would lead to both the advantages and disadvantages of diversification. Supply officers would hate the distribution of the liquids, but then again they would probably not be asked so often for a fuel truck because many drivers would occasionally grab some diesel on their own when they meet a truck with a 1000 L diesel tank.


(Link to a youtube video about a Panzergrenadierbrigade / mechanised infantry brigade 570 km road march of a thousand vehicles + tracked vehicles on rail during the Cold War. Part 2 and part 3).

- - - - -

It's remarkable that neither extreme is in widespread use, not even remotely. Instead, we have the supposed 'golden middle' that yields both difficulties in regard to hiding vehicles AND unwieldy march columns (neither is really felt in peacetime training, for there are few settlements in training areas and brigade-level marches are largely reduced to pen and paper or even PC simulations nowadays).
The current mix also poses logistical problems because of the great variety of vehicles (spare parts, especially tires) in use. The mix furthermore limits the entire march column to the performance of the worst vehicle (practical speed, practical off-road mobility), a problem caused by convoys of all sorts in general.


How dare I to suggest there's more than protection rating to military vehicles? Did even write about it! 
I'm a Cold War dinosaur, apparently. :(

S Ortmann
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2012/03/17

When things go wrong

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... it's way too often because the responsible people hadn't high enough expectations for quality.

To illustrate, I'll use a years-old case from a German website:
A professional journal had written an article about some websites telling nonsense on their pages, including a quote from aforementioned website. The wrong info was from an article of the website and really not representative, but it was a vulnerability that the journal exploited to diminish competing online sources for info.

What went wrong?

It had been reported that the article included falsehoods, and it was on a list for an update. That, of course, didn't materialize before the journalist visited the page and reported the falsehood publicly.
The people in responsible positions should have taken the defective article down, but their sense expectations for quality were not high enough; they didn't care much, felt instead that just adding the problem to a to-do list would suffice. It was careless; people got misinformed (and the case was not entirely isolated).


In other words; it's not really a good sign if you learn that the problem was known before the shit did hit the fan. It's an indicator for leadership and management failure and lack of understanding of the importance of quality.

Readers are invited to guess which case inspired me to write about this really old issue today...


S Ortmann
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2012/03/16

Addition to Walt's list: More media failure in the Iran war debate

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Hypocrisy, lack of principle, unreliability and capital crimes. That's what an attack on Iran would mean.

Hypocrisy because the powers involved expect peaceful behaviours (and no nukes) from others, but would become aggressors (in addition to being nuke powers) themselves.

Lack of principle because such an aggression at will does not bode well with the Western idea of how states should behave, of how democracies behave. An aggression displays a lack of principle because after all, we Westerners think of ourselves as the good guys, right? We couldn't be that if we were aggressors, not matter how much we fool ourselves with warmongering propaganda.

Unreliability: It's really simple. Aggression is outlawed (here, here and here), it's been signed and ratified many times that we are not to become aggressors. A bombing of Iran would be (yet another) gross violation of the duties of a NATO member (while not being crazy for the Afghanistan adventure isn't even close to one according to the North Atlantic Treaty's Article 5!).

Finally, it would be a participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace and the planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace.
These were quotes; from here.

Western major powers have defined this themselves and any government that attacks Iran under the given circumstances is going to make itself equal in this regard to the Nazi regime. Yes, I'm serious about it, it's a fact.


Neither a government in Tel Aviv nor a government in Washington DC has to decide about an attack on Iran; the only legitimate institution for this is the UNSC in New York. The media supposes the former two as if that was normal, not about crimes.

- - - - -

I have absolutely no illusion about the rejection by most of the about 50% readers from the U.S.; such thinking that one has voluntarily accepted rules and is thus bound himself to rules is quite alien there. The U.S. foreign policy is grabbing claims for power and for other's behaviour in treaties while playing the rules-disrespecting international anarchist whenever it wants.

Anyone who doesn't think that the points mentioned here by me are heavyweights should ask himself/herself: 
"Might my opinion related to the fact that my countries' media never reports on such once-set rules and conventions in the context of my countries' actions, but always in the context of some far-away countries' actions !?"




S Ortmann

P.S.: Yes, I am pissed at the near-constant warmongering about Iran that's been going on with interruptions for three decades, including nuclear weapons program allegations for two decades. It is despicable and utterly non-helpful for actual defence. People should turn their attention to actual defence; defence against an actual attack by an actually dangerous power. This occupation with bullying weak distant countries misleads the public about the actual raison d'être of a military force and budget - and it wastes lives and resources (including a share of the short and valuable attention span).
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2012/03/15

A look back: An amazingly bad gun design

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Back in 1896 the German army introduced the 77 mm light field cannon 96; it was a normal cannon design with a recoiling carriage. The latter feature is and was widely criticized for being obsolete: The famous French 'soixante-quinze' revolutionised field artillery with the first recoiling barrel carriage which did not require to reset and aim the carriage after every shot (this made a shield practical, too). The 77 mm Fk 96 was consequently rebuilt with a recoiling barrel design carriage and renamed with suffix "n.A." (AFAIK = neue Art; new model).

7,7 cm Fk 96 n.A. in the field, 1918, (Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1974-054-18)


The common literature on the new version supposes that it was now a useful field piece, albeit less useful than about as heavy and about as expensive 105 mm field howitzers.

I am quite sure that this falls well short of being an accurate appraisal.

This gun was in use prior to the First World War and during it and a successor design was introduced in 1916.

The list of shortcomings was huge, let's begin with the major difference with its successor type: The maximum gun elevation. 77 mm Fk 96 n.A. had -13/+15° gun elevation, 77 mm Fk 16 had -10/+40° gun elevation. The maximum range can be achieved at about 43° (would be 45° if there was no drag). The old design simply threw away a sizeable chunk of its potential range. Why? Well, the importance of indirect fires was not fully understood before WW1. It was known that the shell is more effective if it descends near-vertically, it was known that you cannot really do much with 15° elevation if you're in an area with woods or on rolling terrain and it was known that indirect fires were valuable not the least thanks to superior survivability (otherwise there would have been no field howitzers). Still, the maximum elevation of the cannon was only suitable for flat lands, preferably with hard and even soil (for bouncing shots with delay fuse).

Next issue; the gun traverse. The carriage was such a primitive box trail carriage that the traverse was only 8°. 8°! This basically means you need to turn the entire carriage after every shot unless your target is stationary. This, BTW, was supposed to be a solved problem with the introduction of the barrel recoil. The successor was even worse; 4°! Clearly, nobody was anticipating or understanding the utility of being able to react quickly to calls for indirect fires and was in a position of decisive influence at the same time.

Another weakness or such cannons at that period was the widespread use of shrapnel ammunition. This meant the shells needed elaborate time fuses for any hope of accurately timed shrapnel release. A bit too early or a bit too late and the shrapnel shot was quite useless. As a consequence, shrapnel was indeed quite useless in most engagement. You simply couldn't get the timing right. Many fuses weren't even accurate enough if you knew the perfect timing!

Next weak spot: Assuming a good maximum elevation, you'd want to make use of it on more than long range shots. As mentioned before, HE shells produce the best fragmentation patterns if they fall to earth almost vertically. This happens only if they were fired at high elevation angle. Howitzers vary the strength of their propellant charge to make use of this effect even on short ranges. The cannon had fixed ammunition with fixed propellant strength.
Maybe you think that it's not possible to vary the propellant charge in a cannon, but a cannon can be turned into a cannon-howitzer (more usual term is AFAIK gun-howitzer) by simply using semi-fixed cartridges. Those are cartridges where you can detach the case with the propellant, adjust the propellant strength and re-attach the case to the shell again.

Then there's another issue with ammunition: The shells were made of rather sort iron. This produces impressive large fragments, but only few of these and irregularly so. A much better frag pattern is possible with harder steel. this also allows for thinner walls and thus more explosive content and force. Oh, and it would have been able to add engraving on the interior in order to make the frag pattern even more regular and effective.

Next issue with ammunition; driving bands. Copper driving bands were incredibly expensive, for copper was in short supply. Soft iron proved to be a fine substitute in time for WW2; engineers might have figured this out earlier if more attention would have been paid to the military-economic challenges of industrial warfare before WW1.

Another ammo-related issue: The cases were AFAIK made of brass (copper and zinc). Again, later research yielded perfectly fine lacquered steel cases.

Finally the shell size; due to lack of interest in squeezing out a good range, shells were commonly of a very poor aerodynamic shape. The armies of WW1 only introduced superior shell shapes in about 1917, yielding about 15-20% more range with the same propellant and barrel.

It's astonishing that most reports about ammunition supply shortages in the Germany of 1914/1915 focus on the availability of nitrogen (previously made of imported saltpetre, during the war exclusively made with synthesizers that used the 80% nitrogen in the air). The use of synthesized nitrogen solved the ammunition crisis of 1915, but it also contributed to the famines of 1916 because the agriculture needed nitrogen as fertilizer.
It appears the entire ammunition was about the use of scarce or wrong materials.

- - - - -

Maybe you think they couldn't have done better with the technology of their time, but the ammunition-related issues were all about paying attention to them in the first place and there was in fact a vastly superior gun concept:


Cannoni da 75 Mod. 1911 Déport
It introduced the revolutionary split trail (54° traverse!) and featured a fine maximum gun elevation (not sure if 45° or 65°). This allowed even for a secondary use against aerial targets (most importantly the rather easy shrapnel target of tethered artillery observation balloons).


The difference between a really well-done light field artillery piece and what was in service in the thousands is astonishing. It's yet again a reminder about how poorly even the great powers were prepared for a great war in 1914 after up to 43 years of no involvement in European warfare and just a handful to dozens of expeditionary/colonial wars for two generations.

Now guess what time period does this remind me of?

S Ortmann

P.S.: I wrote this in mm instead cm. Not sure what was preferred at the time, maybe cm. "7.7 cm" is still awkward to me, as in German we'd actually write "7,7 cm" and no-one really needs this confusion.
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Top ten media failures in the Iran war debate

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I think this deserves a thumbs up and a link.

The warmongers are also hard at work over a possible intervention in Syria and are now applying the 'salami slicing + mission creep' strategy now, but that's another story.


S Ortmann
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2012/03/13

A video about morale (kinda)

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I love such anecdotes. This one touches on so many morale-related topics...simply fantastic!
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New blog: Why Nations Fail

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Blog recommendation:



It's a new blog about (not so much) developing countries and I gotta say, it has a promising start!

S Ortmann
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Somehow our military-themed magazines look different than this

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Reminds me of the world-famous naked karate Russians...

S Ortmann
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2012/03/08

Mr Hammond is too incompetent to avoid the sunk costs fallacy

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The title (!) of his article:
"Afghanistan: we owe it to all those who have sacrificed their lives to see this mission successfully concluded"

Compare sunk costs fallacy (quote Wikipedia):

Many people have strong misgivings about "wasting" resources (loss aversion). In the above example involving a non-refundable movie ticket, many people, for example, would feel obliged to go to the movie despite not really wanting to, because doing otherwise would be wasting the ticket price; they feel they've passed the point of no return. This is sometimes referred to as the sunk cost fallacy. Economists would label this behavior "irrational": it is inefficient because it misallocates resources by depending on information that is irrelevant to the decision being made. Colloquially, this is known as "throwing good money after bad".

The man is the Defence Secretary of the United Kingdom and he's incompetent. 

Get rid of that fool!


S Ortmann

related:
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2012/03/06

The missing information on equipment

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You can usually read about physical properties or equipment, about its intended mode of operation, about what it can do / 'achieve'.

What you don't get so easily is the rather complex information about the difference between theory (PR claims of program managers and corporations) and practice.

Let's look at the Vulcan CIWS weapon system, for example. In theory, it's meant to put an almost impenetrable wall of projectiles in front of missiles that attempt to hit a CIWS-equipped ship.
IIRC, ships with such a system were attacked three times by a missile:

(1) Once another ship's missile intercepted the threat in time. The Vulcan Phalanx CIWS preferred to shoot at some chaff launched to deceive the missile on this incident.
(2) Another time, Vulcan did nothing.
(3) Yet another time, Vulcan did nothing (was shut off, probably because of false alarm problems).
On its kill list is one "victory", though; Vulcan Phalanx CIWS DID shoot down an aircraft once - a friendly one.

Practice versus reality.
The difference is more remarkable than the spec sheet.

Another example; vehicle off-road mobility.
The global favourite method of testing military vehicle off-road mobility appears to be to drive it on a standardised obstacle course and then to test a handful of such vehicles in less standardised exercises.
This produces data sheets about maximum angles et cetera and videos about how the vehicle moves through snow and mud. It does not produce insights about the practical off-road mobility (at least not directly).
A vehicle that negotiates a ditch 99 out of 100 times easily and runs into troubles only once - is that a good off-road vehicle? Sounds like it, right?
I disagree (and I think I did so before on the blog, just don't remember where). A battalion battle group may have about 100 vehicles. What do you believe the battalion commander will do if there's a one per cent chance times 100 events that a vehicle will get stuck in a single ditch? Will he drive cross-terrain six ditches in two kilometres?
Hardly; he'd expect to leave behind up to ten vehicles with some bad luck. Each of them would be at grave risk, in some situations stuck vehicles would even need to be destroyed in order to avoid capture. Unacceptable.

In the end, lots of vehicles that negotiate obstacles well in training and during tests end up being too off-road-immobile in practice.

Another example (and I definitively blogged about this once; no - twice!) are anti-radar missiles (ARMs). In theory, these missiles guide themselves onto hostile radars and blast them to pieces (or at least do so with the antenna).

In practice, this usually only works against incompetent hostiles. Competent hostiles are merely forced to adapt in order to let the missile miss, and the expensive expenditure of ARMs only buys a very temporary, very small advantage - if any.

- - - - -

This difference between theory (advertisement) and reality needs to be considered whenever one attempts to get a grasp on some equipment's utility. A lot of poor strategy, poor tactics and budget waste can be traced to poor ideas about the practical utility of equipment versus their theoretical utility.

The supposed increase in anti-tank helicopter effectiveness is another shameful example. The first ones were supposedly the equivalent of an entire company of tanks, later marks were vastly improved, a new model was even better, its upgrade was yet another huge improvement - by now a single attack helicopter should be able to wipe out a tank battalion if their advertised utility (gain) was correct!
Attack helicopters are very expensive now - you need to understand their practical utility in order to make a sensible resource allocation between them and tanks, for example.

- - - - -

Finally another example, this one about radio communication, courtesy Stan:

We ran around in the heart of darkness with a SATCOM. Something similar to a large suitcase that weighed in at a brisk 35 keys

So, picture this: You're in relatively hostile territory and you stop in the middle of nowhere and start setting up the SATCOM. You've got this senseless looking antenna that you start aiming into the blue yonder based on compass readings. About 15 minutes has gone by and you finally get a decent signal and connect your "secure telephone" and attempt connection. Once connected you plug in this plastic cryptographic key and the whole enchilada goes dead
The equipment in question was AN/URC-101, TSEC/KY-57 and this antenna. You wouldn't get the idea that Satellite comm can be so difficult if you only read the military journals' articles about it and got briefed by program managers - not at all.

- - - - -

The gap between theory and practice appears to be the bigger the more technologically complicated the item is. A spoon rarely fails to live up to its promises (I love the super-practical Bundeswehr cutlery!).
This is one of the things that saves conservatives (the people who are not inclined to take risks with something new) from being totally useless in military organisations.

The understanding of the difference between theory and practice in regard to equipment should be made available to political decision-makers, force planners, military thinkers, non-veteran troops - everyone who needs to have an idea about the actual utility of hardware (the politicians need to allocate the funds; a very important task).

S Ortmann
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