Everybody knows GPS, that satellite navigation system that allows even phones to determine the location with a few metres inaccuracy, and centimetres for military-grade GPS receivers (similar for Galileo, Glonass). It sure allowed for many new and relatively cheap guided munitions, made positioning for indirect fire weapons and ships on oceans much easier and also enabled systems such as Blue Force tracker, which help troops to stay aware of where comrades and subordinates or simply off-limits locations such as hospitals are.

Less well-known are inertial navigation systems (INS), even though they're older. It began with big, heavy and expensive black boxes like this (LN3)

LN3-2A, (c) Klu andre at en.wikipedia
and now we're down to this

and "This" actually includes a GPS receiver as well. It doesn't use the most accurate INS technology, though. Currently an error of 5 metres after one minute is achievable with such MEMS technology.

Such miniaturisation (and cost reduction) isn't uncommon; it happens often that new technologies are first used on ships (if heavy and bulky) or airplanes (if price is the greatest problem), then descend towards tanks and finally become portable. We've had this with radios already, and hard-kill active protection systems appear to follow a similar route.

INS already made it down to chip size, weight and cost - and thus qualifies for use in munitions even.
The accuracy of guided munitions can be summarized like this:

semi active laser (SAL) > GPS > INS

The combination of SAL + GPS + INS appears to become a widespread choice in guided munitions, in which SAL is only available if someone can illuminate the target (suitable for moving targets), GPS is sufficient for hitting stationary targets and INS is the backup to GPS in case GPS fails due to jamming.

So even perfect GPS jamming will only increase the CEP (circular error probable, a metric for shot dispersion) modestly. 

The small size and low cost of modern INS is beginning to make itself felt, for such chips have been available for a few years only and development cycles for munitions and drones are frustratingly long.

We'll likely see such chips in individual infantry (and even more so scout) equipment, and even in perfect GPS/Galileo/Glonass conditions future troops may receive timely warning of incoming threats because their personal radio received a warning message and the navigation by INS allowed some tiny central computer chip to determine that the warning was relevant, creating an audio warning with the headphones.



The economic case against OPVs

For  mysterious reasons the idea of OPVs is incredibly 'sexy' and intuitive to many people. This nonsense justifies a dedicated post:

What do you need in war (and for deterrence of war)? Combat capability. Warships are built for it,  OPVs are mere targets in combat.
What do you need in peacetime?  Policing and rescue ships. Both warships and OPVs can meet this need.

Italian Coast Guard patrol boat U. Diciotti, CP-902 (c) A. Deligiannis

Scenario A: A fleet with warships, no OPVs.
Result: Enough warships for war's needs, enough ships for policing and rescue.

Scenario B: A fleet with OPVs, no warships.
Result: No ships for war's needs, enough ships for policing and rescue, least costs.

Scenario C: A fleet with many warships and many OPVs.
Result: Enough warships for war's needs, more than enough ships for policing and rescue.

Scenario D: A fleet with few warships and many OPVs costing as much as in scenario A.
Result:Not enough warships for war's needs, still more than enough ships for policing and rescue.

Scenarios A-D point to an all-OPV fleet (scenario B) being a decent (cheap) choice for countries that won't muster enough warships for war anyway.

Table: Comparison of expenses of a warship and an OPV for policing and rescue duties:
(naval warmaking capability required)
warship OPV
development sunk costs sunk costs
production sunk costs sunk costs
fuel sunk costs yes
manning sunk costs yes
munitions negligible negligible
Why the warships' manning and fuel expenses are sunk costs? Simple; the warship would be out at sea for training anyway.
Warship fuel and manning expenses may be (slightly or very much) greater in this case, but they're sunk costs!

Now a table about a situation in which warships are on duty and the purchase of an OPV is being considered:
warship OPV
development sunk costs yes
production sunk costs yes
The introduction of an OPV is not cheaper, but truly expensive if your country already has warships!

People who just L O V E the idea of OPVs fall for the sunk costs trap. They don't get that sending a 10,000 ton warship to deal with some illegal fishing boats is actually cheaper than to develop, purchase and send a 1,500 ton OPV to do the job. They don't get this because they look at total costs - including the costs that are not being influenced by the decision. That's about the most fundamental mistake you could do in an economic decision.

To avoid total costs (except in investment decisions) and look at the relevant costs only is extremely counter-intuitive to people in uncommon decisions and incredibly difficult to hammer into their brains.

After all, frigates and destroyers can easily do what the best and biggest OPVs can do:
Patrol, withstand severe weather at sea, search and rescue, boarding, sea search, ship identification, helicopter operations, launching and recovering small boats, treat minor injuries, tow a ship or boat, extinguish fires with water gun. A few policemen instead of marines on board would suffice to meet legal authority requirements.

Warship crew training would not suffer much from offshore policing duties: All those activities listed above need be mastered by a warship crew as well. Only the training of warship crews for combat as part of a battlegroup would differ, and this applies only to tactical centre and bridge teams. It can also be done in a small fraction of the overall time at sea.

In fact, navies did all those "OPV" jobs with warships for centuries. That's what the original "frigates" and later "cruisers" were for, albeit smaller sloops (useful as scouts and messengers in wartime) were used in even greater numbers for it during the age of sail.

Not convinced?

To take into account the costs called "sunk costs" above is the same as if you choose whether to ride the bus or your 30,000 $ car to the cinema and conclude that driving your car is too expensive "because its purchase price was 30,000 €".
The purchase price does not matter! Depreciation (wear & tear) and fuel costs matter only - the not-sunk costs!

Example U.S.Navy and U.S. Coast Guard: It's unthinkable to have a navy but no or hardly any Coast Guard, right? Yes, it's unthinkable because the U.S.Navy doesn't care about its home waters. They care about all other waters, it's the cult of "forward deployment" instead of "defense".
The U.S. Navy could easily replace all large USCG cutters in action with frigates and destroyers.

Even more stupid than adding OPVs to a fleet of warships is what Germany did and does:
It buys ships with hardly more than an OPV's capability at the price of real warships. K130 and F125 are outright scandals.

I can guarantee - GUARANTEE - that even if not today, some readers will still favour OPVs sooner or later. This irrational, intuitive nonsense will not die.

I arranged for Chuck at Chuck Hill's CG blog to prepare a pro-OPV rebuttal to this, so feel free to look at it. He's the coast guard expert in comparison to me. Comments are closed here, open there.



Indirect fire shot dispersion

I noticed some of the things I wrote make more sense with some background knowledge about shot dispersion. Well, this is what the dispersion of artillery shells (and rockets or mortar bombs) looks like in practice, without trajectory correction or guidance:

shot dispersion pattern diagram from U.S.Army FM 6-40
"CEP" (circular error probable) figures pretend that the dispersion  pattern is circular instead of approximately oval. It would be more interesting to have two figures; one for length and one for width of the dispersion.

Shot dispersion depends on range and elevation angle. An example dispersion of a 155 mm howitzer (M777):
"Range Precision PE: .35% (assisted), .30% (unassisted) of range
Deflection Precision PE: 1 mil (low angle), 2 mils (high angle)"

Depending on the fragmentation characteristics, there should be no friendly troops within 300-900 m to the left or right  (wartime safety distance), somewhat less upper and lower side (of this diagram as shown here). This is usually defined by a combination of inaccuracy (mean point of impact deviation from the intended one), dispersion and how far the biggest fragments travel. Modern software-based artillery fire control systems can take into account that the wartime safety distance depends on direction of shot, range, elevation angle and munition and could thus correctly give a "go" for salvoes that would not have been permissible with the old simplistic rules.

Modern HE munitions with pre-formed fragments have less if any large fragments that are dangerous far from the explosion and thus have lower wartime safety distance requirements (see here, for example).
A further possibility is to reduce this wartime safety distance with the use of trajectory correcting munitions. These get aimed a bit too far, and then an airbrake deployed by the fuse at the right time to reduce the dispersion in range by very much (SPACIDO seems to be an extraordinarily versatile and GPS-independent example, but it depends on the use of a muzzle velocity radar and a directional radio data-uplink):

reduction of shell dispersion in range by trajectory correcting fuse
The aiming at a too far point ensures that overshot friendly troops are safe even if the airbrake doesn't engage.

Another possibility for firing more close to friendly troops is to not overshoot them, but to use flanking fires - to shoot at something in front of them from the side. This makes the use of multiple firing positions particularly useful, and thus the concept of horizontal cooperation in which one battalion battlegroup provides support fires to another one if its guns are better positioned. The dispersion in range can (occasionally) be exploited to good effect when firing smoke rounds in order to create a smoke wall at long ranges without adjusting the aim.

The Soviets used (among other artillery tactics) a barrage technique during WW2 in which they left a (relatively) safe path through the battlefield for their assaulting troops, which were protected against flank shots by the suppressive effect and dust thrown up by the shell explosions to the left and right. This required them to set up batteries of suitable types at the right places, so the path would really be quite safe. The knowledge of the ordnance's dispersion patterns was of great utility for this (and so was the knowledge about which batteries had the least worn-out barrels).
_ _ _ _ _
Artillery topics gain less attention than tank or infantry topics, but modern warfare (WW2 and later) has shown that more often than not indirect fires (by howitzers, rockets, mortars, cannons) are the biggest killer, and often more decisive than the supposedly decisive manoeuvre of tanks. The implementation of indirect fires in exercises has been difficult (albeit it should be easier now since radios and GPS receivers are widespread and infantry or tanks caught at the wrong spot at the wrong time could receive a "you were killed by indirect fires" message). To our (NATO, EU) disadvantage, the Russians were and still are very fond of artillery and indirect fires in general. Reports from the Ukraine indicate a 80-95% share of kills by indirect fires, for example. They didn't need to use many guided rounds or even only cluster munitions for this effect. Old-school steel-walled HE rounds without guidance or trajectory correction, often even without muzzle velocity measurement, appear to provide the most volume of fire in the Eastern Ukraine.
It's important for our deterrence to get indirect fires right, and this should also have much effect on procurement and force structures. We shouldn't want to use this firepower, but to have it is useful for deterrence. Moreover, the smarter we spend on indirect fires, the less we need to spend for the same military power and thus deterrence.

2013-08 Soft recoil artillery, and electronics-coined artillery in general
2011-10 An article about artillery



From the UK:
The "Big Brother" comprehensive national database system feared by many MPs has been built behind their backs over the last decade, and even has a name for its most intrusive component: a central London national phone and internet tapping centre called PRESTON.

Duncan Campbell, theregister.co.uk

The only way to keep intelligence services under control and working for the people appears to be to create a dedicated agency with directly elected officials* that have 100% access power comparable to a permanent search warrant and subpoena power against the intelligence agencies (and the authority to take the police with them to enforce this access by force if necessary). And of course they would need to be authorised to publish whatever they want, the intelligence services' ability to simply classify their fuck-ups is


*: With at least two elected officials of equal power, the one with the most and the one with the second-most votes. This way even a submissive, authority-believing public could end up having at least one true champion for civil liberties in that office.


Bomb, bomb, bomb - bomb, bomb, Agrabah!

"Almost one-third of Republican primary voters would support bombing the fictional kingdom of Agrabah, according to a report released by Public Policy Polling on Friday."




The three faces of Daesh

This is not going to be a comprehensive description of Daesh; it's rather an analysis that breaks Daesh down to an abstract level that's of interest from a particular perspective.

Daesh is commonly referred to as if it was a homogeneous entity, and from this fallacies such as the idea that bombing Daesh in Syria and Iraq would help fight errorism in Western countries stem from.

There are (as far as I can tell) three distinct faces of Daesh from the counterterrorism point of view:

(1) Daesh, the civil war faction and proto-state in Syria and Iraq

(2) The largely Daesh-indipendent jihadists (in the broadest sense, including loudmouths) overseas, and of particular interest:In the Western world.

(3) Daesh agents; charismatic zealots sent abroad by the Daesh leadership to build cells if not entire civil war factions in some Muslim country

It's noteworthy that #2 includes all those people who would have sworn allegiance to AQ and Usama Bin Laden only a few years ago. 

Daesh has a problem in its civil war activities; it's killing almost exclusively Muslims, and at most some Muslims of a different sect or with less radical spirituality. This is bad from a Jihad point of view; from that point of view, they ought to kill non-Muslims, not followers of Muhammed. They're thus desperate to build the fight against such infidels into their brand, and category #2 provides the useful idiots who do this. The more attention they get for their activities, the better for Daesh recruiting of zealot mercenaries for the civil war forces in Syria and Iraq.
Category #3 is divided between those agents sent to Muslim countries and those sent to Western countries; so far the latter group is almost negligible. It's only this tiny latter group (and charismatic zealots who are not totally known to Western intelligence services are extremely rare) that's potentially going to cause trouble (errorism) to the Western world. The charismatic zealot agents sent to create a Daesh metastasis in a Muslim country are not the problem of the Western world, except potentially Turkey, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia. And frankly, I don't think they would last long in Kosovo considering its powerful underworld.

The allergic reaction of the Western world to the murders in Paris is playing into the hands of Daesh. Daesh WANTS us to oppose them because they WANT to be seen as opposing us. Nothing would be worse to them than 24/7 news reports about how Daesh kills scores of devout Muslims in a perfectly secular struggle for individual power of its leaders!

The West's primitive allergic reaction also fails to reduce the threat from errorism (much less being efficient compared to other life-extending policies) because bombing category #1 means to bomb a civil war faction and proto-state, not bombing noticeable quantities of terrorists that would strike against the Western world.

Then again, it's not strategy what the Western countries do. It's the primitive, intuitive reaction of cavemen. They got and get played by a Daesh leadership that's smarter than them. Daesh will ultimately fail with its outright ludicrous exaggeration of the German mistake of accumulating too many enemies at war in parallel, but it does much more harm to us in the West in the process than is unavoidable.



Study: Elite scientists can hold back science

"All this suggest there's a "goliath's shadow" effect. People are either prevented from or afraid of challenging a leading thinker in a field. That or scientific subfields are like grown-up versions of high school cafeteria tables. New people just can't sit there until the queen bee dies." 

Vox, Brian Resnick

Now consider this:
In military theory, most dominant documents are field manuals that don't die. They get revised after a decade or two, but usually only incrementally. The few dominant authors who publish independently (the likes of Jomini, von Clausewitz, Fuller, Mahan, Corbett) die, but in many cases they reach the greatest fame only after their death (CvC being the most obvious example) and many of them keep being famous and dominant after more than a century. In some cases it's the death of the originator that unleashes the teaching because the acolytes are then free to interpret vague ideas themselves and claim that it's still the real thing (examples Boyd, CvC).

Military theory "may" have a systemic innovation problem.



Mechanised forces and flat woodland

Woodland is largely considered to be no good terrain for tanks, but that's only partially true. Tank forces made much use of woodland (including the famous dash through the Ardennes in 1940) for resting, as marshalling areas and for concealment. ATGMs are no threat in woodland, for example.

Flat woodland with young trees offer little resistance to tanks 30+ tons heavy with 400+ hp power - particularly if the roots are deep. Flat roots may push upwards to the belly and cause trouble while deep roots stay in the ground when a tank rams the tree.

T-34 passing through woodland, 1945

These training  videos show tests (mostly done with Leopard 1 tanks) about the ability of MBTs to pass through woodland, including the effect of slopes:

Stronger trees tend to grow with greater spacing, and often allow tanks to pass in between. Only a few of them would need be cut down to allow passage for MBTs or even cars.

Typical German forest aisle
Eastern European woodland is very different from Central European woodland, with greatly different consequences for mechanised forces' manoeuvres.
Central European woodland is often very hilly (typical German woodland is on hill top and crests), has many unpaved forestry roads and to limit fire hazards there are many forest aisles.

Eastern European woodland meanwhile is largely flat, and as the videos above showed, this makes a huge difference. There are different trees as well, but I'm not well-informed on which exactly.

So the relevance of Eastern European woodland as obstacles may differ greatly from Central European ones'.* I'm not aware of any doctrinal or equipment adaptation to this on part of the German army. Maybe we should pay much attention. The following video is interesting:

There is actually such a thing as a forestry mower.
A kind of lawn mower on steroids, to cut through woodland:

It is imaginable that armoured engineers could cut through most Eastern European woodland at a walking pace or more, leaving behind an unpaved (or even paved!) road for combat and supply motor vehicles of all sorts. Even plain tank battalions might be quipped to move at a bicycle's speed through woodland with stems of up to 30 cm diameter (deep roots).
Such efforts would be loud and may attract artillery fires, but they're nevertheless really bad news for everyone who hopes to gain any defensive effect from woodland in the Baltic countries, for example.

Maybe the tank and engineer troops in NATO countries should be equipped and trained differently in order to adapt to Eastern European woodland characteristics, but this might take a long time. The West German army's requirement for a mine sweeping tank (using a technology improvised in 1942!) took almost 35 years to produce an operational capability and that need was much more self-evident.


*: Similar with rivers and lakes: Those tend to freeze over and allow even vehicles to pass much more in Northeastern Europe than in Central Europe.


Gyrocompasses in tanks

I'd like to direct attention a bit towards an incredibly tiny, yet influential piece of technology: The gyrocompass.

The difference between a tank battalion getting disoriented, scattered and utterly embarrassed in fog or night conditions or beating a hostile force with very lopsided combat was often rather rooted in the availability of this tiny piece of mechanical and electrical parts, not in training, good fortune or commander's genius.
This applies to real tank warfare 1942-1945 just as much as to exercises during the 1950's and 1960's.

A tank consists largely of non amagnetic steels, and it takes approx. 30-50 m distance from any such metal mass to get a proper magnetic compass reading. By the time you found your way back to the tank after reading your pocket compass you've probably a 20° error again.
The best way to use a compass in a steel ship, aircraft or tank is thus to use a gyroscopic compass that's not affected on the earth's magnetic field and thus not disrupted by the vehicle's magnetic field distortions: The gyrocompass.

It's not uncommon for people with interest in or passion for military technology to discuss historical tanks and their relative quality. The typical spec sheet figures and more elaborate main gun penetration tables and armour layout drawings are used to found opinions on this. The awareness for the gyrocompass' importance is still a rarity by comparison. It's one of the historical hidden values of military combat vehicles and even today in the age of (unreliable) satellite navigation and inertial navigation systems it's probably not entirely superfluous yet.

(from U.S. Army intelligence bulletin, 1942)




Battalion battlegroup organic indirect fire support

In the post "An army corps for Germany" I preferred 105 mm guns over 120 mm mortars as battalion battlegroup-level organic indirect fire support:

"155 mm howitzers are not enough, though. Their range makes them a too high-level asset, only short-ranged fire support that's not available for helping at great distances will be reliable support. This is the case for organic, range-limited fire support. Mortars did meet this requirement for generations. Their issues in face of counter-mortar radars and long time of flight never really went away and the French rifled 120 mm mortars provide but a limited relief. Maybe it is about time to say goodbye to mortars and add a battalion battlegroup-level artillery support of organic artillery, akin to WW2-era infantry guns and 18th century Regimentsstücke.

This could take the shape of 105 mm soft recoil guns or high-low pressure guns, for example. The smaller calibre would make support with illumination rounds, pinpoint shots at identified positions and the like much more economical. At the same time, the limited range of less than 20 km would ensure the gun crew would rarely be expected to assist other units than the one it's moving with (155 mm L/2 artillery range is in excess of 30 km)."

The once excellent British FV 433 Abbott 105 mm SPG, based on the FV430 (APC-style) light tracked AFV family. It became obsolescent when 155 mm SPGs began to outrange it badly and received very effective cluster munitions. 105 mm SPGs are obsolete as field artillery, but is still much superior to 120 mm mortar carriers.

This time I'll offer a more detailed rationale for this. One reason is the demand for range, driven by low force densities as I call it.

"Low force density. Modern intra-European conflict can be expected to have low force densities in an early stage, and a quick decision should be sought (to avoid the greater damage of protracted conflict). Military theory should thus pay much (more) attention to the scenario intra-European conflict with a low forces/area ratio. This applies to the loss of the former functions of a front line, too."

Low force densities were observed up as a symptom in the Eastern Ukraine:
"A third trend, manifested uniquely only on the Russian side, is the centralization of artillery down to the level of maneuver battalions. Historically, since the end of the World War II most armies have placed their artillery fire support at the brigade (US and NATO) or regimental (USSR) levels. However, in the Donbas, the Russians are permanently assigning (not cross-attaching) artillery batteries to mechanized and tank battalion battle groups. As mentioned earlier, many of these systems are the self-propelled 2S1T Godzik 122 mm or towed D-30 gun-howitzer, which makes sense, given their dual direct/indirect fire role. However, there are many examples, where the Russians are providing either a self-propelled 2S3 Akatsiya or towed D-20 152 mm howitzer battery and/or BM-1 Grad MLRS. At first glance this appears to be an anomaly because the 18km range of the 152 mm artillery exceed the normal operating area of a maneuver battalion. But there is a unexpected rationale for this trend - it is necessitated by the abnormal dispersed nature of combat where the battalions are operating on a much broader front and thus the area typical of a Cold War brigade. The increased operating area of Russian maneuver battalion reflects both the condition and the imperative: the Donbas battlefield has a relatively low force-to-space ratio; and the increase lethality on it mandates wider dispersion for survivability."

source: DRAFT "Lessons Learned from the Russo-Ukrainian War" Dr. Philip A. Karber, 8 July 2015
All grammar disasters in the quote are explainable with the draft quality of the document.

Polish Land Forces 2S1 Gvozdika

2011-08 The underrated genius gun  (D-30)

105 mm GIAT/Nexter LG-1Mk II

A typical Western 105 mm gun reaches up to 18.5 km out, with 15 km being a more relevant maximum range (with normal HE rounds without rocket assistance) and the shell has a similar weight as a 120 mm mortar bomb (both usually 15 +/- 2 kg with outliers). Some exotic mortar munitions aim at up to 16 km range, but the most high-powered 105 mm howitzer could go past 30 km range with exotic ammunition. In the end, 105 mm howitzers with ordinary HE munitions badly out-range 120 mm mortars with ordinary HE munitions.
_ _ _ _ _

The study draft cited above also mentions the dual direct/indirect fire role (assault gun-like fire support from safe distances in case of the Russian 2S1) of 122 mm self-propelled guns (SPGs), and 105 mm is much better at this than 120 mm mortars (safe for turret mortars) as well (normal mortars can only fire at higher elevations than about 43°, and 120 mm calibre mortars usually have a minimum range of 400 m for this reason).  The same study mentions that the Ukrainians use the 2S1 as anti-tank vehicles with some success, and 105 mm calibre howitzers can indeed make use of 105 mm HEAT and HESH shells developed for tank cannons originally. 105 mm SPGs could thus self-defend against armoured reconnaissance vehicles and even add some security to support troops (since likely the SPGs will be somewhat distant from the tanks and infantry much of the time - just as the support troops).
_ _ _ _ _

Typical 105 mm howitzer shells are also much higher than 120 mm mortar bombs (~490 m/s and 320 m/s) and unlike non-turreted mortars it can often be employed in the lower elevation group (below 43° angle) for a short time of flight. A 105 mm shell may thus easily arrive at the maximum range (about 6.4-9.5 km) of a 120 mm mortar bomb at about half the time (I lack the tables to exactly calculate this right now).
A short time of flight is of great interest in rapid responses to calls for assistance by troops in trouble and against moving or fleeting targets.
_ _ _ _ _

I mentioned an increasing overlap of field artillery and air defence before, and 105 mm guns - particularly the extremely high muzzle velocity G7 "howitzer" from South Africa) would be usable as an air defence weapon against easy targets (drones; or more difficult targets with guided munitions) if installed in a turret (as SPG, the maximum elevation will not be less than 65°).
_ _ _ _ _

120 mm mortars are in a dire state and a situation of neglect and resulting obsolescence in the Bundeswehr anyway, so switching to a different approach would be less inhibited by path dependency than if we had a prospering mortar arm.
_ _ _ _ _

Fin-stabilised mortar bombs (spin-stabilised ones from rifled mortars are quite uncommon, but exist) are notorious for their susceptibility to counter-mortar radars. Such radars extrapolate the mortar position from the mortar bomb's trajectory. The shape of the mortar bomb (its fins) and the typically high angle firing (upper elevation group only) are the main culprits as far as I know, and both can be avoided with 105 mm howitzers. It would be possible to 105 mm howitzer users to avoid detection by radars at times
_ _ _ _ _

Mortars used to be cheap and simple, easily mass-produced even during wartime. This is a thing of the past now, since such simple mortars are too easily hit by counter-fire. Even adding a mere 4x4 car for towing (instead of a horse in WW2 style) adds substantially to its costs, and at the upper end we see the 120 mm Twin mortar turret called "AMOS" costing more than a million EUR, installed on armoured vehicles costing about two million apiece themselves. 120 mm mortars are now either obsolete or expensive - just as 105 mm howitzers, and thus not substantially superior in regard to costs any more.
_ _ _ _ _

Specialised munitions such as illumination, IR illumination, smoke and multi-spectral smoke shells are available for 105 mm howitzers, so it's possible to substitute for 120 mm mortars in this regard.
_ _ _ _ _
MRSI (Multiple rounds simultaneous impact) is a howitzer capability. This style of shooting a howitzer allows for several shots fired in quick succession with different elevation and propellant charge sizes, with shells arriving almost at the same time (within few seconds) at the target. The idea is to surprise the target and hit it with multiple munitions before it adapted by moving out of the targeted area, closing hatches or seeking cover.
Mortars are nowhere as good at it, and admittedly, 105 mm howitzers with their modest range (in comparison to modern 155  mm howitzers) are not very good at it either, but still better than the mortars. The mortars crews' approach to achieve the surprise effect is rather to exploit the high rate of fire with constant ballistic settings, but mortars suffer from another problem with surprise: The subsonic mortar bombs announce their arrival with sound, whereas howitzer shells stay supersonic out to useful ranges. The howitzer thus adds one or two seconds to the duration of surprise.
_ _ _ _ _

There are disadvantages of 105 mm howitzers compared with 120 mm mortars as well, albeit of limited relevance: 120 mm mortars are better at manual burst fire. Both 105 mm howitzers and 120 mm mortars have low sustained rates of fire due to thermal issues, but the 120 mm mortar's simple dropping of mortar bombs into the muzzle is quicker (up to 16 rpm with best-trained crews) than for 105 mm field howitzers (up to 12 rpm).
_ _ _ _ _

Another drawback is that 120 mm mortars commonly shoot at up to 80° angle, whereas howitzers at up to 70°. I understand this is because of issues with the spin-stabilised shell's dispersion at higher elevations. The difference in elevation leads to restrictions regarding reverse slope engagements and generally the reachability of advantageous angles of descent (for best fragmentation effect of HE shells). This is a small firepower disadvantage of howitzers in these niches (not very relevant in the Eastern European flatlands).
_ _ _ _ _

Finally, the howitzer itself that gets built into a vehicle tends to be somewhat more expensive than a mortar, making the whole system a few per cent more costly.
_ _ _ _ _

The use of 120 mm mortars as battalion-level indirect fire support was the best choice during WW2, became questionable during the 1970's when the Warsaw Pact introduced its first own counter-mortar radars in quantity (SNAR-10 "Big Fred") and has become unsatisfactory during the 1990's when shrinking armies led to lower force densities and thus a greater importance of range.

I favour a 105 mm SPG based on a protected vehicle family (same as APC etc.) with a turret and a 105 mm gun-howitzer capable of somewhat higher muzzle velocities than the lightweight 105 mm pieces have (for a range of about 20 km with normal base bleed shells and for better effective range in direct fire defence). That would be the mixed battalion battlegroup's organic indirect fire support, its most responsive fire support for smoke, illumination and engaging small targets. Meanwhile, brigade and corps artillery with 155 mm SPGs and multi-calibre MRLs can specialise on Schwerpunkt indirect fires, counter-fires against artillery, cooperative engagements with air power and generally longer-ranged strikes.

2008-07 Mortars and howitzers
2008-11 Cluster munitions ban
2011-10 A history of the infantry gun in the U.S. (and elsewhere)
2013-11 Mortar bombs and countermeasures
2014-01 Truck-mounted artillery
"Why Organic Fires?" Col R.F.Barry II


edit 2015-12-22:
I think I didn't clarify one important issue: 120 mm mortars can engage targets with a minimum range of 400 m, while 105 mm howitzers with 70° maximum elevation can do so at minimum indirect fire range (as usually defined for Western guns) of 2,500 m (using drag rings on the shell nose and minimum charge). 105 mm guns can engage targets below 2,500 m in direct fire mode, though. So there's a gap in indirect fire capability between 400 and 2,500 m in favour of the 120 mm mortar, which can only be addressed by having 105 mm firing units spaced at all times (a doctrinal remedy). This creates security effort challenges, of course - unless you intend to have some 105 mm SPGs with the combat troops and 4+ km away other 105 mm SPGs (along with your more safely positioned support troops) anyway. Even then there's still the disadvantage that you'd need a 2+ km long radio link (capable of text messages at least) in order to engage targets in defilade less than 2,500 m away from combat troops (while 120 mm self-propelled mortars with the combat troops could in theory open fire on basis of shouted commands). A "rear" position is common for mortar troops as well, though.


On responses to terrorism

Apparently it's conventional wisdom that bombing Daesh/ISIS in Syria and Iraq is an appropriate counter to the attacks in Paris.

This is regrettable in my opinion because it shows how irrational and primitive policy has become (or always been?) in the Western world:

How could bombing a civil war faction on another continent possibly be a counter to French and Belgian nationals committing mass murder in France?

Can there be any doubt that they could do exactly the same if said civil war faction was gone?

To think of Daesh/ISIS as one hostile clan that attacked our hunter-scavenger clan's cave and killed a few people there before our hunter-warriors at the cave killed the attackers appears to be the most intuitive and thus the most powerful interpretation of events.
Too bad it's also a wrong one. The killers were from the own clan, and had merely communicated with some other hunter-gatherer clan which subsequently claimed the kills as its own success.
Is a clan war a promising strategy for increasing security at the own cave?

Sadly, Hollande grossly failed as a leader and went all-caveman and the other clans reluctantly (symbolically) stood by him, everyone is now at a tribal war against that really, really distant Daesh clan that already made more than enough enemies to doom itself anyway. 

On top of that, terrorism is almost entirely propaganda, and very little action. Its damage done is almost entirely in the (over-)reactions, hardly any damage is done directly. 14 people were killed by mass murderers recently in the U.S. - a mere flea bite to a nation of about 320 million people. Tobacco alone accounted for about a hundred times more deaths that day and on every day since, and will likely continue to do so every day for the foreseeable future.

I don't care about those 14 deaths, or the 130 in Paris. Without mass media, I wouldn't have learned about it, much less felt it. I'm not scared that easily.
Many - probably including you, dear reader - now think that I'm heartless or in some other way despicable for not caring.
I hand this accusation back to them (and probably you) a hundredfold, for I'm almost certain they/you didn't care about the more than 2,000 victims of Big Tobacco in the Western World on that day, or every day since.  It's primitive caveman thinking that leads us to pay excessive attention to what amounts to a flea bite.
_ _ _ _ _

Back to action and propaganda. What's an appropriate response hostile party that's 99% propaganda and 1% action so far as it concerns you? It's certainly not 80% action and 20% propaganda - knowing full well that any of our action only fuels their propaganda.
Yet that's what Hollande, his allies and notably the vast majority of U.S. president wannabes intend or already do.
They grabbed their flintstone hand axes, their wooden clubs and charged towards that distant clan. Or more accurately, they told some others to do so, themselves preferring to sit on comfortable pelts next to the camp fire, awaiting the stories of brave combat.
_ _ _ _ _

This leaves one question:  What consequences should be drawn from looking at the mass murderers as members of the own society?

Again, the dominant (most publicised) reaction appears to be caveman-level aggressiveness. The difference is merely that the offending clan is being considered as part of the own tribe and thus some limiting norms have to be observed (unless you're a wannabe U.S.president, apparently).

The central question is thus whether to uphold those (civilisational) norms or not. To not uphold them leads straight to nazi-level discrimination against minorities in my opinion.

Legally, there are few categories of people:
(1) innocents
(2) presumed innocents suspected of having committed a crime
(3) convicted criminals still enduring the punishment
(4) convicted criminals who already endured their punishment

Effort such as "no-fly lists" or the "Gefährder" talk in Germany add an unofficial 5th category: Those who are considered hostile, but not found to be hostile (or criminal) in a due process.

Frankly, I advise against ANY such efforts* because the actual effect of terrorism, the action part, is truly negligible compared to the severity of demolishing civil rights that protect us all. I'm not hysterical enough in face of terrorism to trade substantial freedom for unproven and negligible, likely not even merely subjective, security gains. There's not much real security to be gained because the actual damage done by terrorism is very little anyway, and all the terror hysteria only decimates the subjective (perceived) security.
Terror hysteria serves certain bureaucracies and politicians, not the population.

The Western world with its countries of millions of people needs more sophisticated policy, politics and national discourse than a stone-age hunter-gatherer clan. Sadly, we don't have it when it comes to terrorism.


*: I'm nevertheless fine with airport-run security using an non-government list of people descriptions that leads to more intense security inspection if not addition of non-government onboard security personnel when met by an airline customer.


How to: Build an army from scratch

Let's pretend there's a new country, luckily not born from a war of independence, but in a peaceful secession. A policy for security against external threats has to be developed and implemented.

The first question is thus "Shall there be a military?
This is no trivial question. Some countries such as Costa Rica and Iceland have no military, and many tiny countries (San Marino, Andorra et cetera) couldn't even have a meaningful one if they wanted it. To be unarmed and small might compel other countries to consider an aggression against your country as an even more despicable act, with probably greater responses on their part.

The choice may be in favour of having a military, and most likely there would not be enough fully trained soldiers available to set it up right away. The new nation could set up an entire tank army if it wished, of course - but it would exist little more than on paper only.

Thus here's a quick guide how to grow an army quickly:*

The first volunteers would be 'inherited' officers and non-commissioned officers who volunteered for a set quantity of years, possibly including foreign mercenaries. At first, many administrative tasks would be handled by civilians (to not waste any of the scarce experienced soldiers in non-training roles).

Independent militia battalions proportional in quantity to the available volunteers** would be set up under command of a single HQ.

It takes approximately six months to set up the skeletons of these independent battalions, purchase (mail order if need be) basic equipment, prepare provisional barracks, choose shooting ranges, write (or translate) some basic field manuals and recruit additional volunteers for a six month basic service. I  once compiled a list of field manuals that would be needed for such a militia force, and came up with approximately two dozen necessary field manuals.*** These could be generated by a few dozen officers and NCOs within two years, taking inspiration from foreign field manuals.

The recruits would receive a good pay - enough to afford the first (used) car owned by the 18-20 y.o. (wo)man. This is an important influence on the public opinion about the military. The police departments could help procuring and testing some of the equipment during this early phase.

During the second six months cycle these fresh recruits would undergo basic training (four months), enjoy a brief vacation and finally unit-level exercises for a few weeks. They would be screened for promising candidates, which would then be approached and asked to volunteer for six more months.

During the third six months cycle additional fresh recruits would be trained, and so on. The volunteers who extended their service join a NCO course (with a set percentage passing) and those who passed would be asked to sign up for another six months - for the next cycle, during which they would serve as squad leader / trainers themselves.

Finally, some of these new junior NCOs would prove promising and be approached for a longer-term volunteer service (years, with possible promotion to a senior NCO or officer course).****

This way the country would create a militia that could not be destroyed with firepower or manoeuvre quickly, and would rather turn towards guerilla warfare than surrender or self-disband. Within approximately five years there would be enough newly-trained militiamen to run the militia almost without veteran soldiers (battalion command and higher posts should be reserved for more experienced officers at this point).

This frees up the relatively few long-time soldiers to create regular army infantry battalions with militia-trained volunteers. These battalions could later be joined and developed into simple manoeuvre brigades, including (for the first time) heavy weapons such as artillery and armoured vehicles.
Alternatively, one should set up one or two brigades from the start if there are enough experienced soldiers available right away. This is unlikely, since a rapid build-up requires a greater training effort in the early years than to sustain the force does a decade later. A rapid build-up of 'regular' brigades might be forced by political considerations, of course.
This regular army could still use the militia as the training establishment, but advanced 'branch'-specific training and senior officer training would be done in regular army schools, based on regular army doctrine.
Additional brigades could be creates by splitting each one into two brigades and filling it up with replacements.
Finally, the officer corps and technical troops would have developed far enough to create a division or corps and specialised support units within the first decade.

I suppose it should be feasible to grow from a thousand initial soldiers into 100,000 personnel-strong ground forces (mobilised strength far greater) with a small regular army corps and dozens of independent militia battalions in approximately 10 to 15 years if the population responds favourably and produces enough volunteers given the incentives. A country with a small population could stop the expansion much earlier, of course.

At that point further growth in quality would be difficult to achieve unless these now respectable army and militia troops engaged in scripted and free-play exercises with and against foreign forces, always asking for pitiless feedback and trying to learn as much as possible. Most of the best practices identified during these exercises would be joined into a coherent national doctrine and inferior original practices would be eliminated without remorse.
This is more important for avoiding being a paper tiger than is the purchase of prestigious weapon systems and expensive munitions.

A new country should under no circumstances accept a training mission from the usual suspects. Most countries that provide military trainers to others are utterly incompetent at training a new army, particularly from a culture alien to them or in a much poorer country. They lack self-awareness about their near-perfect incompetence, and may thus still offer such a training mission in order to gain influence and grow intelligence service connections, ultimately compromising the new country's security.

A militia-heavy military would provide greater deterrence against a violent attempt at reunification than a mostly regular army whose brigades would more likely than not be outnumbered anyway. Newly independent countries could seek membership in an alliance or a guarantee of sovereignty to blster their national security.

An alternative approach for a country that's not really feeling threatened, but wants to retain a basic ability to raise a military force quick (in case there's a civil war in a neighbouring country or similar challenge) was described in 2011: 2011-9 On Third World militaries This one was about having a paramilitary as the country's sole enforcer agency, designed to inhibit corruption as much as possible.

I wish all people who (re)gained independence and freedom all the best. Hopefully, they didn't so after a terrible secession war, for a country born with such pains often turns into a dictatorship if not tyranny.


*: The original inspiration was me looking t the recreation of the West German army in the 1950's and early 1960's, which was done rather poorly. We went straight for a rebirth of tank divisions and didn't have first rate divisions till the mid-1960's as a consequence.
**: Or equally well-paid conscripts.
***: I assumed that a field manual for the tactical employment of a heavy weapons team would include the technical description for the heavy weapon and its munition and also the training guidelines.
****: Some countries, such as Germany, found it reasonable to demand a minimum age (24 years, for example) for officer rank (for reasons of maturity and experience). Others (Commonwealth and U.S.) see no problem with having extremely young officers with less than two years of military experience. A new country could pick between these approaches.


Montenegro and NATO

I'm wondering about the motivation regarding the apparently imminent addition of Montenegro to NATO.

I figured myself there might be four rationales, since Montenegro doesn't add significant military power of bases:

(1) The "European unification is good" ideology
(2) Prevention of Montenegro becoming a Russian naval and intelligence base
(3) Part of Serbia strategy, encircling Serbia and thus neutralizing its option to be close to Russia politically
(4) Payback to Putin for Ukraine et cetera

(4) was ruled out quickly because the process lasted for years already, and such a long process would be a poor fit for a payback for the South Ossetia conflict as well.

(3) seemed unnecessary since Serbia is tilting towards NATO heavily already

The motivations (1) and (2) still make some sense, and can indeed be found in an influential study on NATO enlargement of 1995, hosted proudly on the NATO.INT website:

Therefore, enlargement will contribute to enhanced stability and security for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area by :
  • Encouraging and supporting democratic reforms, including civilian and democratic control over the military;
  • Fostering in new members of the Alliance the patterns and habits of cooperation, consultation and consensus building which characterize relations among current Allies;
  • Promoting good-neighbourly relations, which would benefit all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area, both members and non-members of NATO;
  • Emphasizing common defence and extending its benefits and increasing transparency in defence planning and military budgets, thereby reducing the likelihood of instability that might be engendered by an exclusively national approach to defence policies;
  • Reinforcing the tendency toward integration and cooperation in Europe based on shared democratic values and thereby curbing the countervailing tendency towards disintegration along ethnic and territorial lines;
  • Strengthening the Alliance's ability to contribute to European and international security, including through peacekeeping activities under the responsibility of the OSCE and peacekeeping operations under the authority of the UN Security Council as well as other new missions;
  • Strengthening and broadening the Trans-Atlantic partnership.
This doesn't fit to my own stance that enlarging one's alliance or founding one should first and foremost have the net effect of improving the security of the own country. Instead, the Cold Warrior smell is powerful: NATO as the "Western" bloc facing pseudo-communist dictatorships running planning economies. Several of the reasons listed are furthermore very vague.

The list of requirements for joining from the same study doesn't fit 100% to Montenegro, nor to the existing NATO members (Portugal and Greece were dictatorships for much of their membership in NATO and Iceland still doesn't have a military).

Russia's voiced concerns about Montenegro's are laughable because adding such a small country to the behemoth NATO is negligible, but on the other hand Russia could (or does) correctly claim that the attitude behind such an enlargement is close to the Cold War's attitude of rivalling blocs.




Barracks for volunteer soldiers

The Bundeswehr is in the process of selecting a new design for a one-man Stube (single room apartment).
(link, hat tip to Augengeradeaus). It's belated, but they finally appear to intend to make life more attractive in the barracks. They didn't need to for decades because they used forced labour (conscripts) for most jobs.

Single man rooms such as the ones shown in the video are the equivalent of the cheap rooms rented by university students, and thus probably appropriate for a few years for men and women in their early 20's. It's surely better than even the best-equipped 2-, 4- and 6-bed rooms that I remember from the 90's.
I doubt the barracks modernisations will really yield such rooms because the buildings have different and not really standardised internal layouts.

The social aspect of this is interesting: It's quite a challenge to build and maintain cohesion in a (small) unit, and everyone living in his own mini apartment is probably not going to help. It's my experience that the large 6-bed rooms turned out to be the de facto social rooms where the soldiers of several rooms met, played consoles or watched TV. That's where the real bonding happened, and if the Bundeswehr bureaucracy is still as I remember it, it will try to squeeze as many one-man apartments into barracks buildings as possible for otherwise they'd need many more new buildings. This would leave hardly any space left for dedicated social rooms (with TV, couch, pool table and the like) - and social rooms that aren't inhabited may be left largely unused anyway. All it takes is a broken TV set or other damage that's not getting repaired ASAP could render such a room unattractive and unused. This would leave the inns (segregated enlisted personnel / NCOs / officers), which are frequented by soldiers from the entire garrison, not only one company. Not a good place for bonding.