Exotic ancient weapons: (V) Shark tooth weapons

Try to recall how you imagined "Friday" and the other savages when you read "Robinson Crusoe".
Half 100% naked as on the painting on the right, probably?

Well, warriors of the Pacific Ocean were a lot more awesome, that's for sure.

For starters, there's a simply awesome weapon, better than a horror movie author could imagine it: The shark tooth sword.

Iron, tin and copper, Obsidian and even flint stones were unavailable on the Pacific Islands, but one sharp,  hard object was available in abundance: Teeth. Shark teeth were best-suited for a slashing weapon, obviously.

Voilà, the shark tooth sword!
No really, these things exist and were in use!

There were apparently kinda Nagamaki-like shark tooth 'lances' or rather polearms  ("Trunun"?), Macuahuitl-like shark tooth swords ("Tetoanfa"?), shark tooth short swords/clubs and finally shark tooth-armed gauntlets.

The longer weapons are most awesome in my opinion.

I may begin to sound a bit as the obnoxious "Future weapons!!!" guy, but I think this topic is really close to what by genetic design men are programmed to think is awesome.

- - - - -

A vicious slashing weapon such as a shark tooth sword does of course provoke a countermeasure. We're seeing countermeasures everywhere in mankind's warfare, so there had to be one on those Pacific islands as well. Again, few materials were available - no iron, no tin and copper, no silk, no leather, few large bones, poor wood - one thing was available in abundance, though: Coconuts.
Last year I bought one for Christmas time. That thing was really tough, I finally resorted to using an electric borer to create two holes in order to get the liquid out of it. The primary idea was to eat the white stuff, though. To open this tough (pseudo-)nut was tough. Finally, I left the house and decided to simply throw it at the wall (this worked). Obviously, I never cared to learn how others open these tough things in a more civilized manner.

The toughness of the shell stems in large part from the fibres embedded in the shell. They're quite durable and decompose very slowly. They were apparently fine enough for woven armour - armour unlike most if not all types of armour used elsewhere.

Sword, knife and vest source

Oh, there was another thing available in abundance: Fish. Guess what, you can make a helmet out of some porcupine fish. Again, no kidding!

So there it is; a fully equipped warrior from the Gilbert Islands.



Obviously, a couple images say more than a thousand words, so I did largely shut up this time. I gotta say that this kind of equipment is really interesting, though. Humans really, really go inventive and to great lengths in order to have an advantage over others when it comes to deadly violence (or to at least not be disadvantaged).

Btw, elsewhere I found the words "Tebutje" and "Pacho" as designations of a shark tooth sword and a shorter shark tooth sword. Both sound rather Spanish to me, so I guess it's not indigenous language.

The other "exotic weapons" posts can be found under the label Exotic (on the left side of the blog).

P.S.: I have absolutely no idea why everyone calls them "shark tooth" weapons instead of "shark teeth" weapons.


North Korea's military capabilities and deterrence

I'm not concerned about North Korea's military (and don't think anyone should be unless professionally obliged to or obliged to pay taxes in South Korea). It's nevertheless an interesting case study.

North Korea's military was built up with foreign help and WW2 vintage equipment within a few years, and became capable of independent warfare in only half a decade.

By mid-1950 North Korean forces numbered between 150,000 and 200,000 troops, organized into 10 infantry divisions, one tank division, and one air force division, with 210 fighter planes and 280 tanks [...]

That is in itself astonishing. Keep in mind that North Korea was not exactly rich in car mechanics or even aircraft mechanics, despite being the more industrialised half of Korea.

- - - - -

Korean War map, (c) apparently "Roke"
North Korea overran South Korea's defences in June-July 1950 with superior (light) infantry on the hills/mountains and superior WW2 vintage T-34/85 tanks in the valleys.

The latter were mostly lost and the former was badly decimated when the last South Korean troops and foreign intervention troops defended the area at Pusan.

The details of these battles would make most interesting fodder for this blog post, but I'll abstain because that kind of stuff would only lead to stupid "anti-Americanism" charges and almost nobody would believe me anyway. So whoever is interested; look this stuff up elsewhere, preferably in a non-American and non-Korean source.
The long story short is that North Korea's infantry divisions had already lost most of their combat troops and were defending successfully against numerically and even more so materially superior foreign force with a tactical offence that included heavy use of infiltration tactics. The whole episode was thoroughly amazing and -to some- thoroughly embarrassing.
(Keep in mind that Western-style divisions of the time and even nowadays had up to 1/4th of their troops allocated as drivers of motor vehicles and unavailable for night-time rifle combat!)

Eventually the Inchon landing turned the front-line and the exhausted North Korean military was on the run till the red Chinese intervened and pulled off the whole "superior light infantry on hills/mountains + infiltration attacks" routine anew, with similar results.

The 'hot' war finally ended and the whole deadlock mess became part of the then Cold War.

- - - - - -

Afterwards, North Korea still had a strong claim for being a very proficient opposing force in Korean terrain (not much unlike Italian geography), and this seemed to suffice for a while.

The Cold War finally ended sometime around '86 to '92, and North Korean leadership had to realise that its deterrence was deprived of the PRC's nuclear umbrella, the whole Cold War mutually assured destruction insanity and on top of that North Korea wasn't able to keep up with military technology advances.

The critical weakness was in my opinion about night vision devices (the near infrared passive low light goggles). The Soviet Union had slept over this development and was lagging in military modernisation with the latest night vision gear during the 80's, the Chinese were lagging even more and the North Koreans lagged so hard it's not even clear that they had arrived technologically in the 60's (which featured night vision devices that had to emit near infrared light themselves such as this toy).

The whole night vision thing was terribly dangerous to North Korea, even if it had the newest toys itself in quantity. The light infantry infiltration techniques depended a lot on the concealment of darkness, and became much less credible due to the improved surveillance at night.

So North Korea changed its deterrence fundamentally. It stopped paying attention to impressing officers in-the-know (who were increasingly rare anyway) and turned towards impressing politicians, pundits and journalists.
This required different things than light infantry skills; something spectacular* was needed.
(1) North Korea turned towards long-range artillery in useless bunkers situated close to Seoul in order to threaten with shelling the city.
(2) North Korea turned towards the ballistic missiles that had scared people with no or superficial knowledge of military affairs so much during the Gulf War in '91.
(3) Finally, it turned towards the ultimate attention-grabbing device: A fission nuke.

They succeeded in impressing enough - and more importantly, the right people. Now they're being left alone, even supported with food deliveries. Deterrence mission accomplished.

Maybe - just maybe - the next time I fail to be impressed by North Korean (or for that matter Iranian) signals of "threat", readers of Defence and Freedom will remember why.

*: There was a 4th spectacular ingredient of the deterrence strategy: They declared a huge portion of their troops to be "special forces". Saddam attempted the same, but his bluff was called. Most North Korean "special forces" were and are apparently simply the continuation of their trained light infantry of summer '50. In other words: They're probably freed form being sent to rice harvest, or to work in mines and factories. They have definitively no waiver for the huge ballets known as military parades.


Early self-propelled guns

Mitch has added an experience report from the Eastern Front to his blog post about the Wespe.

surviving Wespe in museum
It's the second half of the blog post and very interesting concerning the effects of having protected mobility for howitzers, especially concerning survivability and availability.

Some of the conclusions (ignoring counterfire in firing position)  were partially obsolete already by late 1944, when American heavy anti-air artillery was employed in ground battles with VT fuzed HE (above ground explosions, taking advantage of open-topped nature of vehicles such as Wespe and especially of most field fortifications) for the first time.

Wespe, with good enough camo to make it
difficult to tell from a cannon-armed tank
S Ortmann


Arty ammunition basic load '91

I looked up something that I wanted to use for a footnote in my book (found it) and stumbled on this:
[...] one artillery battalion [1] that served in the Gulf War [2] had a basic load of 5,690 shells. Of them only 599 were standard high explosive (HE) [3], with another 307 rocket-assisted HE (intended for long-range missions)[4]. In other words, less than 16 percent of the basic load was usable in close supporting fires. Almost 60 percent was DPICM, while another 21 percent was scatterable mines, most often used by brigades and higher-level organizations. The remaining were white phosphorus (3 percent), illumination (less than 1 percent) and Copperhead laser-guided antitank rounds (less than 1 percent). With so few high-explosive and smoke rounds, the artillery clearly has a different focus from small-unit fire support [5].
"The Art of Maneuver", Robert R. Leonhard, 1991, p.287

[1]: M109A5 self-propelled howitzers, calibre 155 mm
[2]: of 1991
[3]: about 24 km range
[4]: about 30 km range, increased dispersion
[5]: This is why.; add some dispersion to the graph to imagine the actual minimum safe distance. It's about 300 m with HE if the army is not obsessive about avoiding accidents.

Some mil porn to keep readers awake and from closing the tab

The figures are a bit uncommon, for this kind of stuff is rarely published, and I think it's thus worthy of repetition. The ratios are certainly obsolete, and totally off for those armies which are subject to the cluster munitions ban. Consider it a bit of info about the U.S.Army of 20 years ago.

- - - - -

Leonhard's stance back in that '91 book (in which he was a 3GW guy, as opposed to being a RMA guy in his later book - a very confusing career) was to complain about counter-artillery focus and about lacking support of manoeuvre units.

He overshoots the target a bit by writing "small-unit fire support" (my emphasis) at the end*, for as a maneuvrist he should have understood that arty is not meant to support small units in general. That's what mortars are for. Arty is meant to be the formation commander's ultra-quick Schwerpunkt weapon. Arty can move its effect around on a map much quicker than tanks can move, and it can do so without signalling the location of its focus in advance. Arty can first support a deception move ad then switch all its firepower to support the main effort.

Leonhard wrote this inaccuracy into his book before small wars became all the rage and individual platoons once again began to receive fire support greater than what almost all WW2 infantry regiments could have expected.

I remember a complaint in some 80s or 90s literature about a Vietnam-era tactical vignette, in which an infantry captain was meant to practice how to allocate multiple mortars, artillery fire missions and even strike aircraft support for his company's fight. Back then, small forces received disproportionate fire support and many people's idea of what skilled company leadership looks like became warped into the image of a super-forward observer.

I suppose we're partially back to that point, as many veterans from Afghanistan have become accustomed to a degree of attention by higher level support that would simply not be available in a war against a real threat (a "peer vs peer conflict") or any other kind of conflict with many forces engaged in fighting simultaneously (the infantry captain from the Vietnam War scenario would almost certainly not have had such support during the simultaneous engagements of the Tet offensive).

I wrote this because the idea that close air support and artillery support ought to be always available for infantry or mechanised forces in combat is on a high tide, and it's simply not a good idea. Sure, it's a nice to have, but it will very often simply not be available, and this means infantry and mechanised forces need to be effective without.It would often times be outright wrong to distribute higher level support that much, it's higher level commander's responsibility to prioritise and assign his assets accordingly.

This is in part the case for 120 mm mortar support organic to manoeuvre groups**, something that has atrophied in Germany a lot. Even the new army structure adds only token 120 mm mortar support to entire manoeuvre brigades (in the added infantry battalions).

link: slightly related article of mine about arty

*: squad, platoon
**: Battalion-sized battlegroup to small brigade.

edit: I forgot to mention that there's an exception. Troops (hardly small units other than forward observer teams) far away from a Schwerpunkt might be extra reinforced by artillery fires in order to save line-of-sight combat troops (economy of force).


Wheels vs. tracks on soft soil

... or "Why wheels will never win the debate for good!":



Blog: Crazy day

The internet is crazy. I checked on the site stats to learn about what the frenzy of recent activity has done to visitor stats, and what do I see? Yesterday there were about 1,400 to 1,600 visitors in a single day (a record by a wide margin; figures vary between Google and StatCounter).

Look at the crazy spike on the right!
I became curious and looked up the referring sites, and as it turned out this page (apparently a simple Asian forum post) has been responsible for almost a thousand Asian visitors in a single day. It links to a July post of mine.

The internet doesn't make much sense.

Or in other words; don't underestimate the Asians if you want traffic. 

Maybe I need to change my banner more to this kind of look?

Or this?

Brain fart camo scheme
S Ortmann

P.S.: The latter part was meant to be fun, not serious.


Interdiction today

Back in World War Two, fighter-bombers, light bombers, Stukas and more or less armoured Shturmoviks attacked the difficult ground targets; supply transports on the ground (rail, trucks, horse carts), troops on the march and deployed troops.

These small targets were impossible to detect and identify from high altitude, were difficult to hit, moving (= position not known when the aircraft took off) and at least troops on the march were even dispersing and firing back in reaction to attacks.

The munitions used were machine gun bullets, bombs of different kinds and especially late in the war cluster bombs and unguided rockets.

It was possible to use spiked bombs to leave a bomb as a mine at a railway track, and railway traffic was generally quite easily disturbed because of the indefensible, exposed static rails. Trucks weren't ubiquitous back then, so railway traffic was most important in the rear areas. Most ground attack aircraft on the Eastern Front didn't penetrate deeper than 10 or 50 km, though. It was usually more efficient (fuel, pilots) and less risky to fly two short incursions than one deep one.

The one thing that did not change much from 1944 to 2012 is the continent. Landscapes changed (especially by urbanisation), but railway networks are still similar and the size of the territories did not change (except the coastlines).
Modern army logistics changed more; logistics are much more about heavy trucks than in '44; railway connection got busted? No problem, just use more trucks. Many armies rely almost entirely on truck logistics anyway. We can do this easily, thanks to millions of heavy trucks in Europe. Back in 1944 a few thousands of much less capable trucks was a major effort.

So nowadays we couldn't cut off supply traffic (do interdiction) so well because
a) the vulnerable railways can easily be substituted
b) there's a practically endless supply of capable trucks
c) modern 24/7 attack sensors make the night no less dangerous than the day, so the enemy is not provoked to constrict his supply runs to the night. They just keep moving forward, damn the torpedoes bombs.

Supply interdiction would likely only have a very short-term effect, by producing supply delays. A rare exception would be a main supply route on land into Lithuania because of an extreme shortage of roads and anything resembling roads.

- - - - -

What about troops on the march?

Today's ground troops are at least motorized, if not mechanised. A brigade column may be many kilometres long, but it would have spacing between vehicles (50-100 m, it depends) and the column would usually reach its destination within a few hours.
How many attack planes would engage this column in two or three hours? Certainly only a fraction of those which are in the air during that period, for most will be on combat air patrol, suppression of enemy air defence, reconnaissance or structure attack mission (with poorly suited munitions) or be forced to abort due to aerial opposition.
Back in WW2, all pilots had the choice whether to strafe a column or not, for their machine guns were adequate weapons. Today's combat aircraft have 20-30 mm autocannons, but only the A-10 has a really meaningful amount of ammunition on board. The others could not strafe much better than an average WW2 fighter; clearly unsatisfactory considering the inexhaustible supply of vehicles and the small quantity of modern combat aircraft.
What's more; back in WW2 troops on the march were rarely well-armed to fend off air attacks. Nowadays there's the ubiquitous ManPADS missile threat and there are still SPAAGs (anti-air vehicles), too. The old strafing attack is simply not worthwhile any more against capable opposition.

Well, maybe you remember the photos of burned-out wrecks from Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in 1991.
* no modern ManPADS
* no effective SPAAGs
* no concealment
* only one major route available
* long-lasting troops movement
* poor march discipline (spacing)
* extremely lopsided conflict in general (training, equipment)

As so much else that happened on Arabian terrain, it's simply not representative for what would happen in higher developed warfare on more cluttered terrain. Consider those photos as as representative for modern air interdiction as was the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot for modern air war.

- - - - -

Last category; troops in the field (close air support).

Clearly, air power has huge challenges in CAS because of fratricide and generally chaos problems. It helps a bit that ground observers help air power, but the more close air power is bound to ground observers, the more it becomes a substitute for artillery. 100 million € aircraft are a really, really expensive substitute for artillery. That is part of the reason why  there won't be enough CAS missions to satisfy high expectations.
Air force leaders are not inclined to allocate much air power to CAS in a conventional campaign because it's rather inefficient and there are too many fixed demands (combat air patrols et cetera). The exception are emergency concentrations of combat aircraft on CAS missions on the spot of a local crisis (=battle not yet won; see Battle of Khafji).

Why did I write this?
I've encountered more than once the idea that air power has become so powerful, so accurate, so all-seeing today that it could, no, WOULD wipe out entire brigades at ease and cut off supply as well.
This belief was already present in "Air-Land Battle" doctrines, which were "very optimistic" about air power.
I don't trust this idea at all. The now effective defence against simple low-level attacks, the huge supply of motor vehicles, the complexity of the clustered European terrain in comparison to Arabian (half) deserts, the moderate quantity of combat aircraft and the rather specialised munitions even of multi-role combat aircraft oppose the idea of the all-powerful tactical air.

True, a brigade could be wiped out from the air IF a hundred Typhoons laden with almost only Brimstone missiles attack it. The problem is that a Polish infantry division was practically knocked out at a railway station by a Stuka wing in September 1939 as well, a feat that rarely had equals later on. Perfect storm events such as this are rare and should not dominate our appraisal of tactical air power's utility.

S Ortmann


Why do and did divisions exist, ever?

This text is not going to end with a reasonable answer, that's for sure. The journey is the reward.

One of the first if not the first standardised military formation was probably the Roman legion of the early Roman Republic (about 500 BC). It is no doubt the best-known early example of a well-defined army formation.
It was roughly comparable to today's brigades, with its cohorts being roughly comparable to battalions and centuries comparable to companies. It featured the combined arms of the horse-poor Northern coasts of the ancient Mediterranean regions: Heavy infantry, light infantry and a handful of light cavalry. It was a basic building block for armies, later on (late Republic and early empire) usually reinforced by allied auxiliaries or mercenary auxiliaries to augment the force - often times bowmen or cavalry (also rather dragoon-like double riders).

A wide range of missions can be handled by a force thousands of men strong, and this hasn't changed even as of today.

- - - - -

Armies had a practical limit which varied a bit, but it was in Europe usually in the 25,000 to 30,000 men range. Larger armies were much more cumbersome. The reason was that troops usually marched about 25 km a day on a decent road or path, and at about 4-5 km/h. Breaking down camp, marching, breaks and setting up camp* led to these variables during the usual campaign seasons (winter would have allowed for even less).

Well, the art of war progressed, armies grew by the time of Napoleon to previously unknown sizes and thus it happened that the multiple armies of the Napoleonic Age became known as corps. The were still foot- and horse-mobile and operated under nearly the same limitations as did the Romans two thousand years earlier.

There we had basically the same building blocks as we could still use today (without the intermediate division): Corps made of multiple brigades and a few specialist forces to augment them.

So why did the division appear at all?

I don't know, honestly. Its origin was pre-First World War, so the supreme chewing of formations in 1914-1918 that led to divisions of about 20,000-24,000 size (in order to have enough bodies for sustained massacring of the same) was not the reason. It could have been one with brigades much easier, anyway. Brigades were actually superior in regard to the process of exchanging a worn-down formation with a fresh one. This troublesome move (almost as troublesome as adding a formation in between two existing ones to reinforce the line) is easier with smaller formations.

The division's origins can easily be traced to the Seven Years War period, when the Frenchmen Jacques de Guibert, Victor François de Broglie and Pierre Joseph de Bourcet promoted the idea of a permanent heterogenous army formation known as division (albeit I' not sure what size they had in mind, so maybe they would have been happy with what we would call brigades, too). Earlier thoughts on the subject were still under influence of the smaller Roman legion.

Permanent divisions were created during the French Revolutionary Wars, had varying tables of organisation by the time of Napoleon and by the end of the Napoleonic Age there were at least some divisions as strong as about 18,000 men. Two of these already large divisions were marching as one corps (which was thus already bigger than optimal at least on paper, but formations were rarely at full strength when on campaign).

The divisions back then had at times two brigades as subordinate formations, but it appears as if that level played only a small role and divisions were rather groupings of large battalions. The span of command (usually believed to be optimal at less than five subordinates) did not appear to be the reason for the size of a division.

The division as a standard building block of armies floated through the 19th century towards the first World War, usually with regiments as subordinates and with Corps as being the much more important level of command. References to 19th century army strengths tend to count either men and artillery pieces or army corps and independent cavalry formations, not divisions.

Divisions did not enter the focus of attention until the Second World War. Reports about he First World War's main theatres of war usually focus on corps (for the first weeks) or armies (forces of multiple corps) later on.

- - - - -

The original rationale about the size of corps (25,000 to 30,000 men marching on feet) has become obsolete long ago, but the experiences of WW2 still showed that a corps-sized force was (then) necessary for independent offensives. A single spearheading division would be too easily cut off. The same experiences revealed that divisions are really too cumbersome. Most German Panzer Division commanders were apparently with their even less than brigade strong vanguard on offensive operations. That was to be expected since commanders were supposed to be at their Schwerpunkt more than at their staff. Still, it meant that actually leading a field formation was only possible up to the size of a small brigade. Other armies made similar experiences, such as the Americans with their Regimental Combat Teams and Combat Commands, variations of the concept of a modern brigade.

The German army of the post-Cold War era has divisions, but our division HQs are merely a remnant of Adenauer's early 50's promise to the Western Allies that Germany would provide "12 divisions" for the Central European frontier if re-armed. The WW2 veteran officers preferred a brigade-based army, but politicians still spoke in terms of divisions during the early 50's. We established a brigade-centric army with our 2nd army structure during the early 60's, reducing the divisional level much in its significance.
We could have eliminated the divisional HQs post-1992, but that would have "lost" even more officer posts, in times of major downsizing even without such a cut.

- - - - -

I have definitively read too much on military doctrine, history, tech and related stuff, but I am at a loss regarding the question why divisions exist at all. Something weird happened during the early 19th century, and I have no idea why. I'm even more at a loss why the phenomenon became so extremely sticky.

Isn't it weird that divisions are widely accepted as something self-evident while it's so damn hard to find a reason for their existence?

S Ortmann

*: Plus of course a substantial dosage of wasting time, which is almost by natural law an unavoidable  component of military life and warfare.


The soldier load problem

The problem of overloaded warriors / soldiers is a very old one. Strangely, reports about overloaded mercenaries are less easily found.

Some Western nation is issuing he gazillionth study about optimum / maximum soldier loads.
The result is usually the same. 25 km road march per day, up to 40 on one day with degraded combat capability immediately after the march. Maximum fine load is 30% of body weight, slightly less for tall people and slightly more for short ones. Long road marches and patrols only with reduced load.
Troops in battle loaded no more than about 25% of body weight (heavy weapons such as machineguns), preferably much less. Even less load in hot climates.

The gazillionth stud won't provide insights worth its money, that's or sure.

Now what's a solution to the problem? Thinner, lighter textiles (also less durable) are a hype gone by. Smaller calibres for lighter cartridges are only acceptable for those whose primary job in a firefight is not to shoot (combat medics, radio guy, leaders, forward observer, commando mortar guy et cetera).

Less protection is politically and bureaucratically tricky, and even dropping passive protection altogether would not suffice. It would be a good compromise in few situations only anyway.

- - - - -

This problem finally made me remember what Vegetius wrote in De Re Militari:

We are informed by the writings of the ancients that, among their other exercises, they had that of the post. They gave their recruits round bucklers woven with willows, twice as heavy as those used on real service, and wooden swords double the weight of the common ones. They exercised them with these at the post both morning and afternoon.
To train with heavier equipment means to develop a safety margin that ensures melee combat will not as easily exhaust you as your enemy who trained with normal weight equipment. Admittedly, it also affects the appraisal of quick moves, for those become less possible.

The concept could be transferred to the modern soldier load problem.
That sounds counter-intuitive, for sure. Why make the load problem even more excessive?

Well, it would force leaders to learn in peacetime that they need to compromise and need to require a limited set of equipment only. Second, once the leaders learnt to make do with the lesser capabilities they might be more tolerant of having the same only in actual warfare - except that the troops would have to carry less weight for said capability.

Doubled of 50% increased weight of equipment would simply force the leaders to tackle the problem, instead of skimming the abyss all the time.



The United States' selective belief in international norms



As the end of the article indicates the United States appear to consider international norms, laws and whatever only as disadvantageous to others, but never as a constraint to themselves.

I wonder why any party still enters any kind of contract with a entity that does so blatantly and obviously does not feel bound by anything even if it itself stated so with ink and seal.

I myself consider the United States as a useless ally (even a highly troublesome). As mentioned before, the main utility of NATO is in my opinion to keep European powers and the United States allied in an effort to keep them from becoming over rivals. Cooperation yields better fruits than confrontation, but I would never rely on the United states meeting some once agreed-upon obligations. Ever.

S Ortmann


Free the troops in the field from tactical red tape!

I railed a while ago (repeatedly) against the deconfliction craze.

The underlying thing is that I'm convinced of the need for agility, responsiveness, elusiveness. A force that doesn't allow a commander in the field to do what he deems necessary (launch a small UAV, send a helicopter in, shoot with mortars) shackles him and slows him down.

Such a kind of red tape originates from a desire to perfect the techniques of warfare. Friendly fire and accidents ought to be eliminated if possible and thus all the red tape meant to prevent them. What's lacking is an optimization of the overall outcome.

The mortar not fired until minutes later might have saved a patrol from being slaughtered, but it also might have hit a second friendly patrol mistaken for hostiles. Grown-ups are supposed to accept that life demands compromises and optimizations. They are supposed to understand that perfection isn't achievable. This expectation doesn't seem to be applied to military bureaucracies with much vigour, though.

In case you think it's not all that bad, and military bureaucracies are sensible enough, especially in wartime: Look at this quote, which stems from an old article (2004) that I read again recently:

In OIF, with thousands of designated no-fire areas (NFAs), it only took about six and one half minutes from the time the Firefinder radar acquired the target through the battle drill to clear the fires for NFAs and friendly forces and vet them for the rules of engagement (ROE) until the cannons or MLRS fired.
"Why Organic Fires?" By Colonel Robert F. Barry II
Field Artillery (journal) March-June 2004

"OIF" of course being the War of aggression against Iraq in 2003, a real war in which a sensible military bureaucracy would have dropped its peacetime BS deadweight.
6.5 minutes. About two minutes (+/- a lot, depending on many factors) could be expected from a moderately trained and streamline organisation without the tactical red tape. Keep in mind that the time of flight for the shells or rockets may easily have lasted about 30 seconds on top of the delay mentioned here. Furthermore, most (even towed!) somewhat modern artillery pieces can be moved out of their firing position within about two minutes by a well-trained artillery unit. The American counterfire efforts in OIF would have been near-100% impotent against a quality opponent, and mostly so due to tactical red tape

S Ortmann

P.S.: I am most disturbed by the "only" in the quote.


(V)SHORAD limitations

This press report provides some info that's extremely uncommon in regard to light air defence missiles.

I advise to read it and pay extra attention to the info on dead angle degrees.
You won't usually learn about this when looking at info about the common missiles such as the famous Stinger. What the article doesn't mention are certain restrictions regarding a laser beam rider missile's agility.

The graphics on top of this even older internet page add further to the public understanding of what missiles' range figures actually mean. Coincidentally, it's about an earlier version of the same RBS 70 missile.

This (pp 24-28) may serve you as a superficial intro to VSHORAD if wanted.

Btw, in case you wondered about the anti-tank potential of laser beam rider missiles (there's some disinformation about Starstreak, for example: Bolide at least 200 mm RHA, ADATS "more than 900 mm" RHA (with high susceptibility to reactive armour effect due to single-stage HEAT warhead) - all figures of limited reliability due to being public, of course.

related blog post: link

S Ortmann


Almost no response to mass atrocities

Let's say there's a threat that kills five million people every year, tendency growing. The economic damage done is correspondingly mind-blowing. It's worse than the First World War in regard to human suffering.

Now do you suppose this would lead to drastic action?

After all, a couple thousand dead and few hundred billion bucks economic damage has pushed much of the West into a hysteria and multiple wars, right? Now how drastic would our response be to a 5 million dead per annum threat?
Total mobilisation, hunt all the assholes down till their evil organisations are wiped from history?

I tell you what we would do - no, what we DO. Almost nothing.

Something can be done about it, though.
And it ain't so hard at all.

S Ortmann


More on self-organisation

... and on what they tell us about non-self-organised units.

Older, related posts:

I had recently the (not very entertaining) opportunity to look more closely at rather temporary self-organising. The previous posts were about self-organising into an actual organisation; this time I'm thinking of very short-term self-organising  i.e., working together for a few minutes or hours in pursuit of a common goal.

Problem #1 to overcome:
Is there really a common goal? Often times there isn't. Some dudes are just too stupid for that.

Problem #2 to overcome:
Does a standard template for behaviour exist?
Multiplayer games often have this in PvE (player versus environment) settings, for example. Self-organisation along a consensus template appears to be really easy and common.

Problem #3 to overcome:
It really takes some confidence to pull on one string. It's amazing how much one person with a reputation can turn a disorganised group into a team following his or her tactical directions. The success rate is fine if the group pulls on one string, which makes it even more astonishing that they usually don't.

The confidence and template things have interesting parallels in the top-down organisation of a military.

Trust / confidence is a major component of good leadership and of effective co-operation between leaders of one level. One of the advantages of the German army in WW2 was that its officers were very often trusting each other because they were able to anticipate the other's behaviour. This also touches on the template thing. German military writings of the pre-'45 period often had tactical examples, but many of the drawings had a "Kein Schema!" on it, indicating that it was not a template to be used at all times. Still, there was so much of a tactical consensus after the summer of '40 that many actions were much smoothed because the involved leaders already knew the tactic's basic features and the thinking behind the tactic in advance.

The best ways for short and temporary self-organisation appears to be an earned reputation or a rather simple and standardised challenge. The military can make use of the reputation in temporary small units, but it often has to replace it with the artificial authority of a superior rank. Simple and standardised challenges are rare and rather relevant for support troops than combat troops.

It's intriguing to think about how a dedicated reputation system in a military organisation would work out. Imagine you complete your basic NCO course and get the choice to which unit you want to go. You get to know some basic information about different company commanders; which courses they completed, their scores, their reprimands (not necessarily a bad thing!), their track record in simulated free play exercises including the debriefings...and said company commanders would get the same data on you.
The result would probably be a lot of gaming the system and a information overload-induced limitation to the own formation, but it would also result in some crack units and some crap units. That would be an invitation for creative destruction; the 10% worst units (judged by their free-play exercise results) could be destroyed ("disbanded") with all personnel fired ("retired"). Next period; new fresh company commanders create the desired qty of companies again. This sounds a bit like soccer leagues to me.

S Ortmann

P.S.: I found this in my draft article list. It may have been published otherwise and be accidentally reverted to draft when I fixed a typo or such.  There were no comments archived yet, so I'm not sure but I think this is an old text, likely 2011. It's not great, but doesn't need to be lost in the drafts archive either.

[Fun] Tacticool parody

The "TACTICAL (!!!)", Gucci gear fanbois had it coming for a while, now this parody of ridiculous obsessions about individual (pseudo-)military gear is totally deserved:

...and they didn't even parody the Multicam fanbois yet. 
There's so much inspiration for ridicule nowadays ...

P.S.: You cracked up when he mentioned the "tactical toilet paper"? Wait till you see this.

P.S.2: In case someone googled my name and found photos of some fat guy; that's not me. I look remotely similar to the sunglasses guy in the video. I'm rarely that well-shaved, though.


Too indirect legitimation

Yesterday I pointed out issues about the accuracy of representation at the very first level - in a constituents/representatives topic.

The German political system knows an indirect election of the head of government (17 in Germany; 16 states and federal level). This has the advantage that head of government and majority of parliament are from the same coalition and parliament does not obstruct governance or deprive it of funds.

This indirect legitimation of the cabinet is semi-problematic. Germans have become accustomed to think of parliament elections as elections who shall lead the next cabinet, but this is clearly suboptimal. It decimates the perceived and actual role of the parliament in the democracy (many if not all German parliaments are obedient to the cabinets and de facto small cliques of top politicians rule while the representatives are their pawns). The other problem about it is that this indirect legitimation is quite ridiculously weak.
We cannot even be sure we get what we voted for when we vote for a party or representative. How could we assume a strong link between voting-representative-head_of_government-minister? That's three steps, when one alone is already an unreliable link.

The de facto direct election of the head of government doesn't improve this by much. Remember the green betrayal of their base with their militaristic foreign policy since 1999, the red betrayal of their base with Agenda 2010 and Merkel's many U-turns.

Reader will probably not follow me when I write that the democratic legitimation of ministers along the common route is very indirect and weak. I do suppose that the majority will follow me after this preparation when I write that the democratic legitimation of chief executives of government agencies, government-owned corporations et cetera is ridiculously weak.

One example:
An international airport, a classic case of natural monopoly for a city of typical European size. There's usually only one profitable international airport per Central European city. Natural monopolies don't belong into the market - it's better to run them publicly to avoid at least some of the monopoly issues, and a non-profit company would be the best version.
Now who would become CEO of such a publicly-owned NGO? That is usually a well-paid and important job. The airport would be owned by the people, so whoever is CEO would need to be legitimised by them.

The common path is that we elect representatives, they elect a head of government, (s)he chooses a minister whom the representatives formally accept, said minister chooses the CEO.
That's ridiculous. The end result is that incompetent party soldiers or golf buddies of the minister of head of government get the job, not a competent candidate. We Germans know how "well" this served us in the WestLB, KfW et cetera.

Isn't it obvious that not only legislators and possibly government officials, but also important technocrats from state- or federally-owned or at the very least our representatives in the board of directors (when partially privately owned) should be legitimised by public election?

There's of course even much less than a snowball's chance in hell that this will happen. It would ruin lots of cushy privileges and quasi-retirement options of the political class. Moreover, the very idea that the CEO of a nationally owned corporation requires democratic legitimation is one that's probably simply not on the public's mind. We're not ready for the concept anyway, for lots of our options to actually give our vote (such as for our representatives in the social insurances) are badly lacking interest, media information on candidates / party programs and voter participation.

This was therefore no proposal for an immediate improvement, but rather an effort to point out how much room for improvement a rather modern democracy as ours (in Germany) actually still has. Let's hope that we'll sooner or later go forward, and not stick to this unsatisfactory state of affairs forever.

S Ortmann


An election system for more accurate representation

Germany is bound to get a new law regulating its federal elections, as mentioned before. I would accept almost any bet on it not going to be a big leap forward, but some minor mathematical compromise.

That's sad, for the old mode was already a nice leap forward from the more primitive election systems of earlier times (and of other countries which stick to older systems).

We have a federal parliament with both representatives from voting district and from party lists, so neither the disadvantage of a primitive majority "winner takes it all, loser votes are negated" plurality voting system nor a detached party lists-only proportional representation with no anchoring of representatives in regions. To get this combination right mathematically isn't that difficult, but it was apparently too difficult for our politicians so far.

The existing election law has been criticised for major deficiencies, but it hasn't been criticised to much public effect for a more general problem: The voters have horrible choices, for the voting system is still too primitive.

Let me explain with a simplified model:

There are two issues, Economy and Defence.
There are two parties, Whites and Purples.
A voter trusts Whites on Economy and Purples on Defence.
The same voter thinks Whites' defence policy is evil and Purples' economic policy will ruin the country.
He goes to the voting booth, looks at the lists and has the choice between voting for a Whites candidate or a Purples candidate.

There's no way how he could actually lend his authorisation, his democratic bit of legitimation to the White on economic policy and to the Purples on defence policy.

This does probably not look like a real-world problem to people who are ideology-driven partisans and happen to favour one party in all policy fields, but I assure you I'm living proof that other people are indeed in this model's dilemma.

This systemic inaccuracy is a major deficiency of our political system, one that will probably (hopefully) be looked down at in the future as we look down at non-universal suffrage systems today.

It would actually be possible to split the parliament into several specialised parliaments and one larger general (conciliation) parliament.

The general parliament would be responsible for the budget (not necessarily for revenues) and conciliation of conflicting decisions of the specialised parliaments. It would be the biggest parliament (maybe 100-200 representatives) and would be based on the plurality voting system.

The specialised parliaments would be smaller (more akin to modern parliamentary committees, maybe about 30-50 representatives). They would each be responsible for oversight over the respective member of cabinet (defence parliament overseeing the minister of defence, for example) a and their field of policy. A natural consequence of their specialisation would be an increased expectation of actual competence in the specialisation. The specialised parliaments would employ proportional representation.

This way we could finally resolve the permanent dilemma of liking some political ideas of certain parties, but not trusting any single party all-round.

- - - - -

The conciliation of conflicting decisions of different specialised parliaments will probably appear unsolvable to some readers, but such conflicts already exist between the existing ministries and parliamentary committees. The existing social policy committee and minister for social and family affairs are rarely in full agreement with the constraints imposed by financial affairs committee and minister of finance, for example.

The conflicts between different entities would not be changed much, but the accuracy of representation could be improved a lot.

Some obstructions against progress that are being caused by party lines could be overcome when the constituents could actually get their way when there's a strong popular majority* in conflict with the coalition line of all feasible party coalitions. We could have gotten out of Afghanistan long ago, for example.

There is a snowball's chance in hell that this is going to happen. I will be stuck in the dilemma.

*: In case you don't think popular majorities should have it their way within a constitutional framework:  You're mistrusting the masses and no supporter of democracy at heart, period. Democracy means exactly that; rule of the majority with constitutional protection of the minority.

Satisfied, Tim? ;)

By the way; the impression of one single parliament could be maintained if the parliamentary committees were equipped with the powers described here by the constitution and the election of their members would be done like this.
Small, specialised parties could rise more easily and address specific issues without a need to evolve into an all-round party with a 360° manifesto. They could even gain an absolute majority and dominate their speciality field of politics only while otherwise being unable to get more than a few per cent votes in a normal system. Policy would truly have to follow the missions it received from the electorate.


Putin's loud mouth or arms race?

“We are talking primarily about providing our forces with state-of-the-art modern technology,” Putin said at an air show in the Moscow Region ahead of the 100th anniversary of the country's air force. “Over 600 new warplanes and 1,000 helicopters will come into service by 2020 – not mentioning the upgrade to already existing systems.”

(I found no much more reputable sources so far.)

Russia's nominal GDP is USD 1,850 billion according to wikipedia.

PAK-FA prototype (T-50)
723 billion $ divided by seven remaining fiscal years is about 103 billion $, which would be in excess of 5% of current Russian GDP, probably in excess of 3 or 4 % GDP in later years assuming an even distribution and good economic growth.
The figure of 600 new warplanes is furthermore much greater than the earlier figures for planned PAK-FA procurement.

I see three interpretations, in order of descending probability:

(1) That was a wrong report.
(2) Putin is a loudmouth.
(3) This is going to be a full-blown air power (catch-up) arms race.

S Ortmann


Note: Book progress

In case someone is wondering: The book progresses at a pace of two pages per day now since I have more free time than before. The book's skeleton is supposed to be finished by October, but there's not a snowball's chance in hell that it'll be published this year.
I strive for a real book, not for a PDF file. My minimum goal is a listing on Amazon and a sold-out production run of at least 1,000 hardcover copies. Everything less would be a failure in my opinion (unless it yields a better job).

The working title so far is "Modern War and Skirmishing". An early chapter is about general issues, all of which are important to the main chapter which is about my concept for a "Skirmish Corridor". That concept is as encompassing and 'different' as Blitzkrieg and Deep Battle were at the time of their genesis: A radically different way of doing land war between great powers, albeit based on lots of sound historical and technological roots.

(I'm obviously full of it, being arrogant enough to attempt such a thing on my own. Well, I'll insist that it's primarily meant to inspire thought. That's probably a necessary antidote to keep the arrogance from spilling over.)

S Ortmann

P.S.: I re-started turning the "S Ortmann" at the end of posts into an e-mail link long ago, but apparently no-one makes use of it. Unlike before I ceased to create the link, I get almost no e-mail messages. Instead, the comments section appears almost crowded in comparison to 2011, 2010. Strange.


Sinai troubles and how our world works

Extremists on the Sinai peninsula have finally attained global attention through quite really brazen violent acts. For many, this seemed to come out of nowhere, while for others it's a consequence of the revolution in Cairo.

Well, neither is correct as far as I know, and the case rather reveals how our world works.

Years ago, when a German permanent Near/Mid East correspondent finally got some attention during the Egyptian revolution (early 2011), he took the opportunity to vent his frustration. He had observed the increasing radicalisation of people on the Sinai peninsula (not all of them, of course) and had suffered repeated rejections from the German newsrooms and program planners for every one of his reports about it. He was really concerned. Obviously, he wasn't the only one.

The issue slowly crawled into the news later in 2011 when general interest in Arab internal affair had already risen and early acts of violence made it easier for newsroom people to publish about the issue.

example link of summer 2011 (German):

Attention is a limited (albeit renewable) resource. We can waste it on a seemingly unlimited supply of nonsense stories - and the consequence is that we'll be surprised when shit hits the fan. 
It's even worse: The shit might hit the fan BECAUSE too few people paid attention.
This is part of why I'm very much frustrated with what the mainstream of security policy / military -interested people wasted attention on for the past 12 years. First bogus scaremongering, then wasteful stupid wars of choice, lots of exaggerations about errorists.

Aside from that, the Sinai story could also remind us about how newsrooms work, that they filter news in favour of short-term sensational stuff and in favour of what's called "elite countries" (Bulgaria or Malaysia politics would never get the same attention in German mass media as do U.S. or France politics!).
They also tend to have a huge herd instinct: Classic mass media institutions employ a similar or identical lens and narrative as their competitors, at most with some partisan political leanings. The difference isn't as great as the theatre suggests, though.

OK, for once I chose a blog post title of the kind that I dislike so much on other sites (*cough* FM */cough*). I cannot explain how the whole world works grand the topic isn't that grand either. Still, it's a peek into how our world works. In my opinion that's the much more interesting bit than the news from Sinai themselves. A single bus accident can be worse than said violence, and I don't really care about distant bus accidents. There are seven billion people, and my attention is a limited resource, too.

S Ortmann


[Fun] True commitment to camo

Recovered from the depths of the intertubes:

I don't know who that guy is, but for two minutes he was my hero!