Boeing reaffirms: Artillery and CAS are near-perfect substitutes


This isn't the very first attempt to mate rocket artillery and bombs; the SDB was already considered (actually, 3 of them) as a payload of a cargo container version of the ATACMS missile system.

The blurring of the lines between artillery and close air support actually dates farther back; artillery guns were used in aircraft for ground attack purposes (not only gunships, but also several light and medium bombers of WW2 with 75  mm cannons such as Ju 88 and B-25).

The employment of aerial sensors for observation of artillery fires (such as forward air controllers or drones) blurs the differences as well; artillery is in theory capable to hit moving targets hundreds of kilometres away from friendly ground troops. Just as air power. Actually, this used to be one of the main justifications for costly air attacks.

The relationship of artillery and close air support (maybe even interdiction) as near-perfect substitutes appears to be largely established.

This fits well to the waning of air power's preference for bigger and fewer munitions than practical for the artillery. 50 kg bombs were small bombs by WW2, while at the same time a 42 kg shell was a heavy one for divisional artillery. Artillery largely gave up its relatively unwieldy heaviest (siege or long-range) artillery (beyond 155 mm calibre) during the Cold War and standardised quite close to the 42 kg shell mentioned before. Meanwhile air forces became to consider 227 kg bombs as "small" because dropping a huge munition is easier than lobbing one. This was largely responsible for the demise of heaviest artillery.
This trend towards bigger aerial munitions has reversed, with guidance allowing for many small munitions to score direct hits. The reduced power of the individual warhead is overcompensated b the directness of hit and the reduced probability of hitting someone (friendlies, civilians) or something you don't want to hit. Finally, the smaller munitions allow for lower payload carrier vehicles, such as modestly-sized drones. The BAT (sub)munition lead in this regard IIRC.

So in the end, artillery and air force munitions against ground targets can be technically identical or near-identical. Artillery prefers the long barrel howitzer for anything up to about 45 kg, and rocket launchers for bigger warheads. This preference is easily explained by the ease with which rockets allow the lobbing of very large payloads. You can move and launch an intercontinental ballistic missile with a dedicated truck. Guns on the other hand grow really big very quick.

biggest railwaygun ever: 80 cm "Dora"

It's best practice to choose between perfect substitutes based on price. Shall we?

Well, at this point the differences become highlighted:
Artillery either needs ground troops in the vicinity (which nowadays means within about 100 km radius) or it needs a rather inefficient method of propelling the warhead to the target (rockets).
Aircraft missions may cost ten thousands of Euros per flying hour, but a single 400 km-ranged missile is still more expensive than that.

Then again, you don't have such high peacetime operating costs with artillery. No training flying hours.
It's also rather unlikely that you will lose the launcher, and even if you do it might be worth less than the missile. Aircraft on the other hand have become so expensive that losing a single one is the equivalent of doubling of some city council's total debt. There's also -still- the crew's life at stake.
Artillery fires with non-nuclear warheads beyond more than  about 500-1,500 km range are still most likely fiscally irresponsible compared to the ability to do the job with an aircraft. That is, IF you can do the latter. Few countries actually have this choice. For others, it's missile strike or no strike.

The Afghanistan nonsense has in my opinion delivered misleading indications. The availability of air power to the few ground forces outside of major forts has been luxurious, and the threat to air power has been negligible and thus not driven up the risk and expense. The biggest problem for air power was range and endurance of aircraft based outside of the theatre or logistics for aircraft based in the theatre instead.

I doubt that artillery will actually replace air/ground attack. The last years did nevertheless reinforce my opinion that the balance should shift between air power and artillery, especially between air power and missile artillery.

Air power could focus on versatile aircraft which wage their fight against hostile air power and hostile area air defences, while being able to be the digital eye for long-range missile artillery in between. Combat aircraft don't need to carry lots of ground attack munitions 'just in case' or be focused on one specific kind of ground target (with specialised munitions). They can instead be the sensor, and artillery delivers whatever is suitable at the moment. This could work at up to 300-500 km, depending on which missile system is being used. This could be the air interdiction of the future.

Meanwhile, artillery should be clearly preferred for close air support, or rather for support fires within 50-100 km of army formations (brigade or bigger). Classic, manned air power will probably vacate this niche entirely in the high-end fight, for drones are much superior in this realm - especially the 24/7 capability that stems from lower loss aversion.
Combat aircraft cannot maintain a patrol close to a hostile army brigade for long; such an undertaking requires much support to ward off the threats of fighters and surface-to-air missiles. Small and cheap drones on the other hand might be able to do exactly that; their loss is about as predictable and tolerable as the loss of munitions, and thus you need to spend much less effort to make their presence safe.

The combat aircraft of the future should probably no longer be described with munitions payload (the simplistic x,000 kg info on existing combat aircraft is mildly representative of actual wartime payloads for all but weapons bay-equipped aircraft anyway!). Instead, a description of the air/ground sensor suite and communications robustness should be much-appraised. Likewise, weapons bays should probably not be meant for ground attack munitions.

The 2009 blog post "TacAir of the future (?)" has already covered this to a large degree. I just wanted to reaffirm this.
Institutional inertia and inertia of perceptions will ensure that the change -if I'm kind of right- happens slowly, over time. Well, unless the shit hits the fan real big, for then everything happens in time lapse.


2011/02 Operational-level air warfare: Both the air force's and the army's perspective count

2009/11 TacAir of the future (?)

2009/05 Close air support

P.S.: I'm amazed the AviationWeek article is already on Scribd. That's not supposed to happen, I guess. Added the link to it.


The four real topics on Defence and Freedom

I gave it away in an e-mail, so can just as well share them openly: My evil, secret agenda. Yes, the header is but a disguise:
This is blog about the defence against external threats and about the defence of civil liberties. Most topics are about the art of war, military history or military technology.

Well, this is what the blog is REALLY about:

Promote peace.
War is extremely wasteful, as is excess preparation for it. There are many milbloggers ready to go into warmonger mode at the moment some political operatives make warmongering the topic of the day (and attempt to keep it that way as long as necessary for preparing some stupid war). MilPub, Ranger against War and Defence and Freedom are the only decidedly pro-peace MilBlogs known to me. More counterweight to all the idiots who push for crappy wars and bullying of sovereign nations is needed among Milblogs.

Fight against the encroaching of authoritarian features in Western societies, especially Germany.
We don't need the spying, databases, censorship attempts and all the other crap that popped up with the AQ hysteria. Authoritarians in both left and right wing, in bureaucracies and political parties have wanted this nonsense for a long time, and AQ is but their excuse. Previously, they were all excited about the dangers of organised crime, and since a few years, supposedly oh-so scary errorists have been partially replaced by paedophiles as bogeymen. These authoritarians will always build up some supposedly scary bogeyman to push their agenda, and that agenda is dangerous to our freedom.
We should not be content with stopping these authoritarians who see us as masses to be observed and controlled - we need to roll back their crap or else they will win in the long term, salami slice for salami slice. 

Warn about mediocrity and complacency, an unsatisfactory state of affairs in regard to Western military forces armed bureaucracies.
We should be fit for a two-year arms race towards fitness for a great war; a war between great powers. I don't care much about small wars. Small wars are about opponents who are no real threat to us unless we go to their place.
My concern is that the current situation is much too similar to the pre-1912 situation for being comfortable. The Western military forces saw several small wars, but almost no great wars for a long time. Attempts to address the changes in the world with military theory updates are unconvincing to me. The dominant course appears to be but a military theory fig leaf for the expensive gadgets the industry wants to sell the taxpayer. Search for a really high-tech independent advance in military theory and you'll see what I think of. There should be non-high-tech solutions to challenges brought largely by technological advances, but they're rare, for the arms industry cannot make a big buck with them.

Share interesting or amusing stuff
I do this because I want to - I love humorous stuff and feel that it should be almost everywhere. Thus I plant a lot in here as well.

Writing of it...:

Now it's out. These four points are my 'hidden' agenda.
I want to turn you into a laughing dove concerned about military theory and domestic authoritarians.
Like me.

S O (e-mail contact)


[Fun] Troll

A truly reality-challenged troll has apparently decided to unleash a comical shitstorm in the comments of this blog today.

In case you're interested in some of this fun, look up his "comment" here (the Oct 25 post).

There's no point in hitting the "publish" link on any other of his drivel, but if you're interested in some talented, yet unintentional tragicomedy, send me an e-mail (link). I suppose he'll stop piling up comments in a few-minute staccato sometime in the next 24 hours, so I'll afterwards be able to make a compilation of this evil twin universe hilarity.

(In case you have the suspicion you share nationality with the retard and want to apologise; don't bother. I'm aware that a few per cent of every country's population are nuts.)

S Ortmann

P.S.: I don't make empty promises here. "Solomon" was a polite rationalist in comparison to this guy!

Steel production: Ouch!

Back in 2008 I posted a list of the global top steel producers. Steel is, after all, very important in case of a major arms race or a major war. Modern production levels may exceed the amount of steel that could possibly be consumed by warfare, but that could just as well be a very optimistic assumption.

It's about time for an update:

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Most of the Chinese steel production is mild steel / construction steel / structural steel, though. Also much steel for railroad construction and repair. This does not mean that they couldn't produce enough more militarily relevant steel grades, of course.

The Japanese production is also noteworthy. Nowadays THEY would win the Pacific War shipbuilding race (assuming no decisive interference with their economy)!

I love being a Central European. China only turns into a national security problem to us if we tolerate stupid foreign policy.

S Ortmann


A good day of mine is...

... when I write a chapter in my book draft which I hold in high regard AND which is new, not based on stuff I developed going back up to 2008 and merely written down.

A bad day for my blog is ... the same one. It lost a post.

BTW, no post for today other than this one. :)


Military Theory and yours truly

I haven't written much about military theory recently. This is in part because I reserve same thoughts for another publication, in part because military theory is simply not suited or regular posting. It's most importantly simply ill-suited for quantity production.

Today I'd like to write instead about the background that goes into such military theory thoughts, something about myself.

Over the course of several years, I have learned about certain biases of my own. 
I tend to overestimate my opponent's creativity a lot. I worry about courses of action that my opponents don't take - they usually take much simpler, more straightforward courses of action.
This applies from things such as influencing someone in a discussion up to wargaming. The actions I encountered back during my time in yellow olive were never as elaborate as expected. Most often the other team simply exploited some mistake done by my team elsewhere; they seized opportunities instead of creating them.

I did detect another bias in myself as well: I underestimate others' abilities in techniques. I was never really good or interested at anything rote, and this may contribute to my underestimation of others in this regard.

So whenever I write something detailed about military theory, keep in mind I am striving for creating opportunities knowing that often times just seizing opportunities does the trick as well. I just inherently don't like to depend on other people's mistakes for my success, because quite frankly, those "other" people may be in my team.

Even if somebody would ask me to write an article or a book on seizing opportunities that just happen to pop up and offers to pay up front: I would be the wrong man for it. Totally different story when it's about creating opportunities and then exploiting them (albeit my interest in the latter is lesser)! 

S Ortmann


Friedrich (CSU) und die Überwachung

(German language Article on a German politician's remarks for more CCTV surveillance.)

Es kann kaum überraschen, dass solche Töne wieder mal von einem Politiker einer Partei kommen, deren Name mit "C" anfängt. Man kennt es ja, Stasi 2.0 und so. Diese Parteien mögen für Manches zu gebrauchen zu sein; in Bezug auf die Wahrung von Freiheit und effektive Schaffung objektiver innerer Sicherheit liegen sie im negativen Bereich der Nützlichkeit.

Die Äußerungen des Herrn Innenministers sind populistischer Humbug (und vielleicht nicht einmal geeignet, populistisch die gewünschte Wirkung zu erzielen).

Friedrich, CSU:
Videokameras seien ein sehr effizientes Mittel, das auf viele abschreckend und präventiv wirke. „Gewalttäter wissen so, dass sie gefilmt werden. Videoüberwachung kann dazu beitragen, dass die Kriminalität zurückgeht“, sagte Friedrich.
Australian Institute of Criminology zitiert die Schlussfolgerung einer australischen Studie (nach einer nicht in Konflikt stehenden Zusammenfassung von 41 weiteren Studien):

The effectiveness of CCTV as a crime prevention tool is questionable. From this research, it appears CCTV is effective at detecting violent crime and/or may result in increased reporting as opposed to preventing any type of crime
source: Effectiveness of public space CCTV systems

Friedrich, CSU, laut Focus online:
Der CSU-Politiker sprach sich zugleich für mehr Präsenz der Polizei aus. „Je mehr, umso besser. Mehr Polizeistreifen und mehr Präsenz im öffentlichen Raum tragen ganz wesentlich zum Sicherheitsgefühl der Bevölkerung bei“, betonte Friedrich.

Herr Friedrich ist Bundesminister des Innern, um für Sicherheit zu sorgen - nicht um für Sicherheitsgefühl zu sorgen:
Sein Amtseid lautete "Ich schwöre, daß ich meine Kraft dem Wohle des deutschen Volkes widmen, seinen Nutzen mehren, Schaden von ihm wenden, das Grundgesetz und die Gesetze des Bundes wahren und verteidigen, meine Pflichten gewissenhaft erfüllen und Gerechtigkeit gegen jedermann üben werde. So wahr mir Gott helfe."
Es heißt da "Schaden von ihm wenden", und kein Hinweis darauf, die Gefühlslage zu beeinflussen.

Es kann also nur als Verletzung des Amtseides betrachtet werden, wenn zugunsten einer minder effektiven Maßnahme und des daraus resultierenden gesteigerten Sicherheitsgefühls zusätzlicher Schaden für das deutsche Volk in Kauf genommen wird.

Genau das bedeutet die Steigerung der Patroullientätigkeit der Polizei gegenüber einer entsprechenden Stärkung (oder nicht-Schwächung) der Kriminalermittlungen.

Die Polizei - möglichst noch in Uniform, manchmal gar mit Schutzweste und MPi - auf Patroullie zu schicken ist eine bei Politikern beliebte Show. Im Vergleich zu Kriminalermittlungen ist das Zeitverschwendung.

Mein Auto wurde vor ein paar Jahren aufgeborchen und ich konnte nachvollziehen, dass nicht einmal auf Fingerabdrücke hin untersucht wurde. An den entsprechenden Stellen lag noch Dreck vom Baum. Andere Erlebnisse bestätigen diese Erfahrung.
In diversen Bundesländern werden viele Kriminalermittlungen von dafür nur oberflächlich ausgebildeten Schutzpoplizisten geführt, oftmals dann nur an wenigen Tagen der Woche, neben ihrer Hauptaufgabe wie z.B. Papierkram zu Verkehrsunfällen (ungefähr so, wie Apotheker nur in manchen Nächten Notdienst machen - dann allerdings in ihrem Fach).
Polizeihubschrauber fliegen kaum noch und sind für schwere Verbrechen - Banküberfall aufwärts - reserviert. Beim Zuschnitt mancher Siedlungen braucht man sogar nahe an mancher Landeshauptstadt so nur noch jemanden zum Schmiere stehen, um praktisch risikolos in Villen von Urlaubern einzubrechen.
Kriminaltechnische Ermittlungskapazitäten reichen auch nur noch für schwere Verbrechen.

Es gibt massenhaft dieser Unzulänglichkeiten; reichlich Ansatzpunkte für tatsächliche Verbesserungen der objektiven Sicherheitslage. Stattdessen macht ein Bundesminister eine Showeinlage.

Der Mann liebt nicht nur (mindestens) ein Charakteristikum totalitärer Regime -viel Überwachung-, er ist auch verbal hart an der Arbeit, das Gegenteil seiner Aufgabe zu erreichen.

Ein einfacher erster Schritt gegen solche Probleme:
CDU/CSU Politiker in Ministerien des Innern oder Ministerien der Justiz müssen genauso öffentlich inakzeptabel werden wie Die LINKE Politiker in diesen Ämtern. Sie haben hart dafür gearbeitet und anders als bei den Linken ist der Beweis für die Gefährlichkeit nicht mehr als zwei Jahrzehnte alt, sondern frisch und leider ständig anwachsend.

S Ortmann


The price of speed at sea - historical dimension

Ship developers went at times to great lengths to increase warship speeds. A single knot more or less required a dramatic change of installed power, though: For example, the Iowa (BB61) class improved the armour protection only a bit over their predecessors the North Carolina battleships (BB55). 
 This and the increase of displacement were largely compensated for by the vastly improved hydrodynamic shape of the hull. The requirement that drove the installed power upwards by 75% was the increase of speed from about 28 kts to about 33 kts. The much-enlarged boiler and turbine rooms drove the displacement and costs up by a lot, of course.
As so often, the obvious specs got all the attention, whereas the hidden values of navies got little. 

The following quote should make obvious why certain utterly un-sexy tasks may in wartime actually trump the expense and attention-grabbing boasting of peacetime: 

A most complete towing test of hull resistance was made on the Japanese ex-destroyer Yudachi. This 234-foot vessel was docked, painted, and had the propeller removed in March, 1931. Immediately after undocking it as subjected to systematic towing tests which were repeated at intervals to show the effect of fouling. The results of the tests on the Yudachi [...] demonstrate the very great increase in resistance which developed while the ship remained at anchor. [...] In 375 days the total resistance is exactly doubled. [...] In Figure 3, the loss in speed with a towing force of 10 tons is plotted against the time at mooring. This force produced a speed of 20 knots with the freshly painted hull. After 375 days the speed had fallen to 15.4 knots [...].  


Developers, bureaucrats, politicians and naval enthusiasts accepted great expenses in exchange for a single or few more knots top speed. Yet during actual task force movements the slowest ship always dictated the pace and thorough maintenance was often times much more important than spec sheet glory.

related: The price of speed at sea

S Ortmann


It's apparently difficult to predict the next war

Yet again, another author is concerned by the U.S. military's inability to predict the next war maybe 5+ years ahead.

by Michael Zenko, Foreign Policy

I suppose that's not an uncommon human and institutional imperfection.

At the same time, I do care about it 100% in 0% of the time.

Focus on deterrence for peace and eventual actual defence and you don't need to worry where you'll go to for the next stupid war. The next war will come to you, and battles will be fought on a battlefield you know well and in a mode you know well.
That is, if war happens at all. You might be successful in winning the peace instead. The U.S. military had a much better track record at this, with only two exceptions (one was about imperial policy and an attack on a mere overseas territory while the other was a mere crime).

S Ortmann


Ein Gerücht über unethische Einflussnahme auf die nächste Bundestagswahl

(This is about a German federal elections rumour that I suppose is of marginal interest to foreigners.)

Wer ein bisschen mehr auf englischsprachien Webseiten unterwegs ist, hat sicher schon von den gegenseitigen verdächtigungen der Wahlmanipulation in Amerika etwas mitbekommen. Ausschluss von Vorbestraften von der Wahl, erschwerte Zulassung zur Wahlurne, Anfechtung der Registrierung on Wählern, leicht manipulierte Wahlautomaten von politisch verbandelten Firmen, Roboteranrufe mit Desinformation zum Wahldatum, umstrittene Neuabgrenzung von Wahlbezirken, verschwundene Wahlurnen, verdächtige Aktionen von Offiziellen von Wahlen auf Landesebene, Doppelregistrierung von Wählern in mehreren Staaten - drüben wird fast das gesamte Repertoire unterhalb der blatanten Wahlfälschung abgezogen oder zumindest unterstellt.
Leider schauen unsere Politiker sich dort hin und wieder etwas ab.

Hierzulande ist nicht zuletzt seit dem mehrfach beim Bundesverfassungsgericht zurückgewiesenen Bundeswahlrecht mit seinen Überhangmandaten auch offiziell, dass nicht alles rund läuft.

Die in den verlinkten Artikeln angesprochene Terminfrage ist eine interessante (und bedauerliche) Variation des Themas der Manipulation durch gezielte Wahlkreisdefinition (~"rotten boroughs") im Mehrheitswahlrecht:
Es wird (angeblich) angestrebt, als klar mehrheitlich politisch feindlich bekannte Wählergegenden in ihrem Einfluss auf das Gesamtergebnis der Wahl zu beschneiden. letztlich wäre das ethisch (obgleich wohl nicht juristisch) ein Verstoß gegen das Prinzip der Gleichheit bzw. der Allgemeinheit der Wahl.
Noch präziser wäre vielleicht, es alsUnterdrückung der Stimmabgabe ("vote suppression" zu betrachten.
Glücklicherweise geht es aber erst mal nur um ein Gerücht.

Wachsamkeit lohnt sich hier!

S Ortmann


Turkey and geostrategy - again


Recent events have added yet again a small piece of confirmation for this: Turkey has turned away from good neighbourhood policy with Syria's government towards good neighbourhood policy with the apparent majority of Syria's people.
The recent intercept and forced landing of an aircraft en route from Russia to Syria was more than a petty intercept of some military supplies: It was also a confirmation of the fact that due to Turkey's central role (including control of the Bosporus) Turkey is the decisive brick in the wall that separates the great power Russia almost entirely from its protégé, the Syrian government.

The only access Russia still has to Syria is a long trip through the Strait of Gibraltar, either with a very long range military aircraft or with a warship, for all other kinds of vehicles could be intercepted without too much of an éclat.

This is a reverse replay of the U.S. predicament during the South Ossetia War, when the U.S. was geographically too far away to intervene with anything meaningful but long-range bombers (while Turkey had its rather large military right next door). It chose not to intervene with (little) force, just to send a paramilitary ship with IIRC "humanitarian supplies" as a mere gesture.

We can take this as a reminder about Turkey's central geostrategic situation in European and Mid East affairs, but we could also take this as a reminder about the importance of geostrategy in general. Both might be done in great power capitals and the former version may be preferred in Ankara. 

In the end, such reminders may lead to more effort spent on geostrategic great power gaming. This, of course, is unlikely to be good news, for effort spent on such government pastimes does not tend to benefit the represented people much.



An application of the repertoire-centric military theory framework

There was a certain logical simplicity to the way the U.S. military trained for war prior to 9/11. During training exercises, successful units engaged the enemy, achieved their objectives, and arrived at the limit of their advance. The exercise ended and everyone broke out cigarettes and congratulated each other on a job well done. Fast forward ten years, and U.S. military forces are driving on Baghdad. We engaged the enemy, achieved our objectives and reached the limit of our advance. Everyone congratulated each other on a job well done. But eight more years of war followed. We achieved all of our military objectives, but the rules of the game seemed to have changed. (...)
Herein potentially lies the great paradox of the U.S. military: the better our conventional capabilities, the more likely we are to face increasingly irregular and asymmetric threats. Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan not only demonstrated that we must be prepared for the unexpected; they should also remind us of the importance of history.
by Andrew Lembke

This is a fine example for how some things in warfare are only mysterious, difficult to predict and seemingly paradox if you don't understand - or rather fully absorbed my framework about repertoires in warfare:

There's everything in it:

The better the conventional capabilities (or rather the relative superiority therein), the less practical repertoire is left to the enemy. He'll use what makes sense, so the more advantage you have in combined arms battle, the less likely he is to offer such a thing and the more likely he is to focus on different tactics.
This is predictable for now, for the future - it makes simply sense. The separation between "conventional" warfare, "hybrid warfare", "irregulars" and "asymmetric threats" is a symptom of experts and other writers not grasping the real difference. The Taliban are not so much an asymmetric threat per se - initially they were quite on track to fight pitched battles. No, what happened is that the Westerners were so much better at so much that they squeezed most out of the repertoire of the Taliban - and now we see what's left, as the Taliban are forced to focus on this.

The very same Taliban will likely return to pitched battles once the Westerners are gone from Afghanistan.

It makes little sense to train now even more against the tiny repertoire that's left to the Taliban in preparation for future stupid wars.  We would only squeeze the repertoire of future enemies even more. Sure, they might drop road mining as tactic as well - what would be gained? Almost nothing. They wouldn't expose themselves during the mine production/transportation/emplacement process any more, and in most extreme "success" of ours they would revert entirely to a political opposition. Would we be able to achieve war goals as the one in Afghanistan, where we're trying to make sure Taliban don't return to power? Hardly. Instead, our success in squeezing all of their repertoire into the regions of impracticability would only ensure we would have no legitimate targets left, no point of attack at all.
So if we did now train for the next war in order to be able to negate 100% of the opposition's armed resistance repertoire, we would afterwards read how pundits claim we need to prepare political oppression for the war after next...

And that's really off-limits, for we don't want our governments to prepare for political oppression, right? That would be stupid. Terminally stupid.
It's already bad enough what they learned about oppression in a decade of occupation warfare:

Instead, the lesson should be not to fixate yourself on most extreme war goals. Be content with moderate achievements.
The Taliban had lost power by early 2002, their role as hosts to AQ was history by spring 2002. Only few dozens of AQ personnel was estimated to remain in Afghanistan afterwards, and this did not change.
We had achieved a lot by then, and nothing noticeable afterwards. A "lessons learned" insight should be that we would have been better served by being content and call it a day in summer of 2002. We would not have added any noticeable progress after 2002 if we had perfected warfare against harassment tactics and road mining; instead, the Taliban would have focused on political opposition and us leaving would still include the scenario of them returning to power as much as it does today.

Those who attempt to learn entirely military-tactical lessons from the occupation wars are widely missing the mark.

Superiority in 100% of the imaginable repertoire of violent organised conflict is not achievable anyway. It exposes an extremist mindset to strive for it.

S Ortmann


2-year spending frenzies prior to a great war


A diamond of an old journal article!

Some 13,000 military vehicles a month are being built by the automobile industry, with 195,000 already delivered and 60,000 others scheduled for early delivery.

In addition to 5,900 passenger cars and 27,000 motor cycles, the vehicles ordered are 4,500 quarter-ton scout cars from Ford, Bantam, and Willys; 69,000 half-ton pick-up and reconnaissance trucks from White; six-ton and heavier units, from Autocar, Bied-erman, Chevrolet, Corbitt, Diamond-T, Dodge, Federal, G.M.C., International-Harvester, Mack, Marmon-Herrington, Reo, Sterling, and Walters. Practically all military trucks are four-wheel drive, many are six, and others are half-track. The total does not include 37,800 trailers for 2-1/2-ton trucks, being built by Nash.

The reported monthly production was far in excess of what Germany + Japan + Italy ever had while actually being in war. The mentioned orders are in one league with total German production of soft motor vehicles during WW2.

All this even BEFORE the U.S. was even at war.
With such figures, there's no point in blaming a certain event for the U.S. entry into WW2; it can only have been a question of "when, not "if".

It's remarkable how this frenzy of procurement happened in addition to the many British orders and until 1940 also French orders - many of which were taken over by the British in summer of '40.
The U.S. had entered WW1 in part because it had to make sure its debtors were able to repay their debt accumulated during the war; back in '41 the U.S. was manoeuvring into the same quasi-trap again. The huge orders for the own military (the article is but an example) were pointing at an intent to go to war anyway, though.

Another remarkable thing; both world wars started after some powers were building up military power for a long time (such as the French army for decades prior to WW1, the German navy after about 1898, the Soviet Union after about '34, Germany since '33 and more seriously since '35). This does commonly get a lot of attention in writing. What doesn't get so much attention is that both in 1912-1914 and 1938-1939 (1940-1941 for the U.S. and Soviet Union) there was an arms racing sprint on almost another order of magnitude compared to the earlier military power growth. Long periods of much, yet sustainable military spending (such as the old War, which was at least sustainable for NATO and the East Asians) are probably less to be blamed than often done. I suggest to pay more attention to the short-term spending frenzy, for this appears to really point at the expectation of imminent war or the intent to go to war soon.

The article shows how extreme and quasi-warlike such a spending frenzy looks in practice. The country is not yet at war, but it behaves as if it was.

S Ortmann

P.S.: Concerning the title: "I used "great war" in its antiquated meaning; war between great powers. It's what's usually meant when people talk about "conventional warfare", but I found that term to be too unspecific. It also includes incompetence competitions such as the Iran-Iraq war in which both sides competed for the most inept replay of the First World War.


Wasteful budgets and reforms of rotten institutions

Think Defence raised the Question "Has the MoD Too Big a Budget?" and remarked
Too much money encourages waste and actively discourages efficiency. The scale of waste in the MoD over the last few decades is truly staggering.

Maybe if the Army had a smaller budget it would not have spent a billion quid on FRES without putting a single vehicle into service, or the RAF spending several billion on Nimrod and of course, the recent F35 switcheroo that has wasted the equivalent of 10 years running costs for RFA Largs Bay.
*economist's point of view*
Well, from an economist's point of view the budget isn't the key for this. It's the perception of the budget. Decision-makers with a sense for the scarcity of resources (because of cuts, for example) tend to expend their resources with more care.
*/economist's point of view*

Now how could a government with a rather steady (or growing) political demand for military power possibly induce this perception of scarcity into armed bureaucracies? Training (indoctrinating, if not brainwashing, a distaste for waste into public servants) and institutional culture help a lot. Not all countries are blessed with an efficiency culture in any of their armed bureaucracies (actually, almost none). To re-train a ministry's public servant force against the bureaucracies' tendencies is difficult, slow (= will last a generation) and prone to fail.

There's another possibility, though: Cut them so much it hurts. Again and again. Finally, if you've cut them so small they become impractical, destroy* what's left. Never allow them to feel well-funded.
This doesn't sound like it allows to meet "a rather steady (or growing) political demand for military power", right?

Well, there's the charm. You can still reconcile both by having multiple, parallel armed bureaucracies. Found them with a fine budget, then cut it, cut, cut, cut, torture the bureaucracy and finally when it becomes impractical due to small size destroy what's left, send the employees home or to work in some non-armed bureaucracy. They will always feel the pain, will always lack the resources and will always be focused on doing the best they can with what they have.

They might also collapse in their morale and just give up - fatalism in a bad way. Then destroy the armed bureaucracy outright, so the other parallel bureaucracies' public servants understand: The only option is to focus on making best use of what they get.
By now, some readers may be reminded of a certain rule of thumb of some billionaire, who famously advocated to destroy 10% of a corporation every year in a perpetual creative destruction and recovery process. Well, there' another -much more interesting- parallel:

Rotten institutions (say, Italian army of the 1930's) are so extremely difficult to reform that it rarely happens at all. In the case of the old Italian army, it would have been possible to build a marine corps, a colonial army corps and air force parachute troops as parallel and hopefully better new ground forces, and after a while the army could have been destroyed. It could have been replaced with a new army whose leadership would have been composed of more NCOs and officers from the parallel ground forces than the old army. The new institution could have replaced the old, rotten one - hopefully with a better institutional culture. Later on, air force paratroops, colonial army corps or marine corps could have been destroyed once they show signs of inferior institutional culture.

Governments rarely do such a thing. The few attempts that resemble the described procedure were rather about building up more ideologically aligned forces (NKVD, Waffen-SS, Fedayeen, Republican guard etc) than about building a more efficient alternative.
Radical approaches that involve actual moves against institutional inefficiency are unpopular. Many people are conservative in their thinking, as "they don't like experiments" and rather tolerate mediocrity or even lesser performance. Low performance bureaucracies are furthermore often adept at disguising their failures with shiny uniforms, displayed pretences and disinformation. An existing bureaucracy furthermore has its lobby, while a not-yet-existing bureaucracy hasn't.

The concept of redundant multiple bureaucracies with a predetermined life-cycle of raising, cutting and finally destruction will thus never see practical application, that's for sure. Well, for the reasons mentioned above and because it's a rather crude concept that's not going to convince more than a few people, ever.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to think about the "Has the MoD Too Big a Budget?" problem and the inefficiency of armed bureaucracies in general along these lines.

*: I chose the word "destroy" instead of "disband", or "dissolve" very intentionally in order to signal a radical and decisive approach to a very resistant problem. .


European Unification

Today is the day of German unity, a national holiday in reference to the long periods without a unified national state. (Almost nobody -and nobody official- still considers Austria or East Germany east of the Oder as "German", a distinct change to the state of affairs 150 years ago).

This is probably a good time to write about political unity (with some token reference to defence). The project of European unification began during the 1920's as German-French reconciliation talks which ultimately failed because France didn't want to forfeit its reparations claims and Germany changed governments rather quickly at that time. The next approach during the 1950's worked, in part because de Gaulle in his own way heeded the wisdom of having friends close and foes closer. The first attempts at cooperation and common handling of issues later grew to a real European unification project. 

European Unity took a monumental step to succeed; it had to move from pragmatic, advantage-driven policy towards an ideology. Ideologues can easily muster a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of tolerance for shortcomings of the own ideology in action, and were thus ideal cheerleaders for the project. Sadly, ideologues also bring a long a lot of simplistic thinking (such as unification = always good) and an intolerance for steps backward (even if a mistake was made, which of course they wouldn't recognize).

It all went well for a long time, and the European Unification behaved like a bureaucracy does in theory; it grew as much as possible, but always intent on adding more benefits than costs. There was no cost/benefit or "cost minus benefit" optimisation, but legitimacy and majority support was maintained by providing a net benefit at least. 

Then came the European Unification step of a common currency, and the ideologues (among them German top politicians) made one gross mistake: They misunderstood "commonality" for "unity". "Commonality" is a subset of "unity", but it doesn't necessarily support the latter. The common currency removed market mechanisms that provided balance and automatic corrective forces, in favour of commonality - misunderstood as unity. The problem is that the removal of these automatic corrective forces (mostly the function of flexible currency exchange rates) did lead to an ever widening gap of imbalances. Europe wasn't uniting -even though a lot of naive people trusted with much of other people's money believed so, too. Europe was and is being divided by the common currency. 

Style (commonality) had won over substance (unifying forces). The ideologues are still out there, though. They don't get the birth defect of their creation and decry even thoughts of going a step back from a hell of a mistake. 


As a consequence, we're facing another monumental challenge: In order to actually save and propel forward the European unity and thus our best long-term hope for peace in Europe, we need to break the ideology of European Unification. Europe has to move from a style-obsessed and ideology-driven bureaucracy to a common interest-driven project with emphasis on actual benefits again. This will bolster the legitimacy of European unity, and help us to make the next steps.

One of which needs to be that we perceive the world similarly. We simply need European news.
There's not going to be a sense of unity as long as a red line on a map determines whether a scandal about a poorly constructed public building makes it into our news. As of today you can move the building site by only 50 metres across the magic red line on the map and this way decide whether a German or a Frenchman in the respective capital will read about the scandal in his newspaper.

So here's a commonality that might actually foster unity: Common news.  


This was actually A LOT about national security, or "war and peace". European unification may turn out to be the thing that eliminates warfare on European soil for decades if not generations to come. It could play out as one of the biggest national security achievements ever. It might also turn towards ugly real quick, though.
The challenges of our time appeared to be to (re)gain full employment, handle the demographic change (if possible to no growth), handle the transition to a sustainable energy economy and such. The Euro currency debacle has added saving the European Unification to this list.
The petty small wars are stupid distractions by comparison.
S Ortmann

edit: fixed awkward typo