I do play videogames for recreation, and in this well-defined environment one strain of character became more obvious than anywhere else: Self-restraint. Often times I make use of less than I could to keep a videogame that became easy more interesting. I assume that I tend towards self-restraint, and apply it in much of my life and thinking.

Examples are plentiful even on this blog. There's the "elegance in warfare" thing, the railing against extremist war goals.

Then there's the intense interest in 'economy of force' and the railing about power fantasies that drive demands for more military spending well beyond what's evidently enough to deter aggression against us.

I'm also frequently outspoken about a distrust in problem solving approaches that mostly involve throwing additional resources at a problem. Finally, there's my aversion against excess safety, such as airspace deconfliction that goes so far that it accepts poorly linked casualties and failures in order to eliminate a tiny quantity of directly linked accidents.
Unlike some others, my kind of self-restraint hasn't led me to a fanatic preference for 'small & lightweight' as the answer to everything, maybe seeing a repelling example of such a bias early on warded me against it.
_ _ _ _ _

Naturally I am convinced that a good dosage of additional self-restraint would greatly benefit our nations, particularly if applied to foreign policy of great powers and to military affairs/spending.
It would be interesting to learn what psychologists would uncover if they were to profile the personalities and groups that coin actual policies or public opinion on military affairs.
Would they find that rather basic motives like greed, playfulness and fear drive the outcomes? What educational and professional background correlates with which preferences and approaches?

In the end, people should understand a very, very important and very, very fundamental truth:

Military power is an expensive means to an end (security). Once that end is achieved any more military power would be a waste of resources, since military power does not yield profit. 

We're not fighting wars for arable land in a subsistence economy any more. You cannot really conquer natural resources any more in Europe (or Northern America), that concept has died in its last stand in 1945. The sole exception - Israel's attempt to hold on to occupied territories since 1967 in spite of repeated UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal - is in my opinion bound to fail, and it has already proved to be excessively expensive.

Self-restraint is necessary to stop at the point where peace is maintained or the nation defended. Those who lack this self-restraint will favour more extreme military power and more applications thereof - and may cause more economic damage to their own country and lead to more deaths than all of their country's criminals combined. The most important virtue in regard to military policy is thus self-restraint.



Thoughts on years lost

I watched a music video compilation of 'best' pop songs of the year 2000 recently, and I have to say unlike some early 90's songs the pop songs of 2000 did age rather well. It certainly was a fine summer.

What struck me was a comment on the video, though:
"best thing about this year is that it was before 9/11"

So true.
It's difficult to find anything that changed to the better for Europeans since (save for internet connection speed), but it's very easy to compile a long list of things that turned to the worse. This is due to both the allergic overreaction to 9/11 and the bursting of several economic bubbles in the Western world.

So basically what happened is that the people of the Western world failed to keep what they had; peace, prosperity, calmness, confidence. 

The failure wasn't exogenous, it was not some natural disaster. It was man-made, and thus should trigger learning to avoid a repetition under similar circumstances.

There are developed countries with little if any bubbles in their economy for decades, so it's possible to get this under control. The allergic overreaction on the other hand - that's a difficult one. I suppose this requires to elevate the right people into positions of prominence in politics and media.


P.S.: This was originally written in 2016, I just held it back for months. Now I am additionally concerned about what consequences these years will have in the long term. The direction the Western World is heading to may seem promising to some, but I have rather mixed expectations. Another lost decade isn't unlikely. That would be two lost decades for some countries, others had earlier problems and may experience a third lost decade in a row. There's much more potential for the advance of societies.


German military expansion till 2032?

Just so foreign readers take notice; there are kinda official rumours about an enlargement of the German military with planning horizon 2032 or so. These rumours follow a change in long term federal budget plans that points at growing military spending. A reorientation towards collective deterrence is obviously the current fashion, though I doubt that this is instead of the great power games like the Mali mission. Judging by the current minister I and what remarks and attitudes have become known I would rather expect the serious collective deterrence thing to be an addition rather than mostly a change of direction. Such a military expansion would also have the ugly side effect that we'd be better equipped for participation in bollocks like the invasion of Iraq in 2003.*

The info is unspecific and not definitive (all of those plans may become meaningless this autumn because of elections) and what few details have been given don't sound particularly realistic (for example way too many artillery battalions planned).

This is no news blog, so I won't write much about these rumours at this early stage. 

Those who can read German may want to read the "Augen geradeaus!" blog's posts on the topic if they didn't do so yet:




*: That,'s also an ugly side effect of my proposals, of course.
What matters more in this context is the minister's attitude to such great power games. The minister did not yet learn the lesson that Chancellor Merkel learnt in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and thus should be considered a chickenhawk.


War doesn't work THAT well for Trump

I saw a seemingly viral picture claiming that Trump's bombing in Syria pushed his job approval ratings greatly, and the picture claimed that war works.

Well, I didn't jump on this and checked the supposed source and see - no, it didn't work, at least not like that. The job approval rating was not impressed by martial stunts. The people in the U.S. are not THAT stupid.

(The cruise missile strike happened on April 7.
The MOAB stunt happened on the last day of the shown graph only.)


P.S.: I won't show you the pic with the fake claims. The mere exposure to a visualised lie already stands a chance of leaving an imprint in memories.

The Syria ‘Chemical Attack’: Cui Bono?

Cui bono – "who benefits" – is the first question an experienced detective asks when investigating a crime. (...)
The civilian population in a rebel-held town called Idlib was hit with poison gas. Dozens of civilians, including children, died a miserable death. Who could do such a thing? The answer was obvious: that terrible dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Who else?
And so, within a few minutes (literally) the New York Times and a host of excellent newspapers throughout the West proclaimed without hesitation: Assad did it!
No need for proof. No investigation. It was just self-evident. Of course Assad. Within minutes, everybody knew it.
 The Syria ‘Chemical Attack’: Cui Bono? by Uri Avnery, April 15, 2017 


Planning and plans

"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable."
"I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning."
These are two Eisenhower quotes, and they point at one of the most important things in the conduct of military operations and they preparation for warfare by the officer corps.

It is of great importance to have red teaming (trying to figure pout possible hostile actions) and to understand the terrain, forces and especially the possible routes and their characteristics. It's very useful to calculate in advance whether something may possibly work out well.
This is essential about planning.

What's not essential is the detailed plan, for

"The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon's saying: "I have never had a plan of operations." Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force."
That was Moltke the Elder speaking.

I think these insights should guide what to expect from campaigns, how to design staffs from (manoeuvre) battalion to theatre level, doctrine and training of staff officers and COs in general.

The biggest challenge is probably not how to say or write a sufficiently concise order, but how to transfer the insights gained from meticulous planning to the actual leaders. 

Imagine officers looking at three possible routes. They learn there's swampy terrain left and right of the road, another route has Central European noise emissions walls left and right and the third one has woodland left and right - visible on a map and seemingly indicating an obstacle there, but actually the woodland allows even heavy lorries to pass. A quick look might have made the 3rd route look worst, when in reality it's the one that's ceteris paribus the best one. That insight is a result of the planning, but how to communicate it best among hundreds of other things is not trivial at all, particularly if there's only 30 minutes for a briefing about 50 different insights.

Planning should also include a coordination of callsigns, map updates, radio frequencies et cetera - things that commanding officers don't necessarily need to know about and thus I suppose they shouldn't be so much part of an order to the CO as simply included in orders directly given to his staff. No CO reads stuff that's not relevant to him when he or she is in a hurry. 

I've read doctrines of several countries' land forces on how to do staff work and orders* and I've never seen any such doctrine guided by the insight that planning is important, while plans don't last long and thus don't mean much. Nor have I seen much emphasis on letting manoeuvre forces commanders react to developments quickly and by being on the spot themselves.** It was often written in old (1920's to 1950's) German writings on the subject, but the attitude seems to have shifted hugely after decades of peace in Europe and bombardment of infantry-centric or otherwise low quality Third World ground forces.

There seems to be an exaggerated belief in plans - maybe because real warfare didn't quite challenge this belief. It might do so in the future, though.


*:  Honestly; I read none from page one to last page. 
**: I have seen much lip service that was crowded out by undue emphasis on the topic of plans.


No link between cause and effect required

Over at MilPub FDChief wrote
"The possibility that the idiot Trumpkins think they can "solve" [the North Korea issue] makes my blood run cold..."

And my reply grew so long and fundamental that I decided to write it here instead:

I don't think they want to solve anything. Some people aren't in the business of solving problems. They are in the business of rearranging things so they please them.

That's not necessarily a solution, nor necessarily for a better life in objective terms.

More like a cat thinks that this cup really doesn't belong on the table - bam on the floor it is. Trump et al (including many of his voters) may be the kind of people that think governments such as the one in Iran, the one in NK, or the one in Germany for that matter should be treated with a certain attitude and disrespect - kinda like dogs think that tree really needs to have their own smell of piss now.

The idea that everyone is seeking solutions to better life, "to form a more perfect union" or any other strictly objective, measurable improvement. Some people are really not about the end, but all about the means.

I see this in military affairs very often. People dream up fantasy navies and when I ask them to justify the expenses for this or that they have no clue what utility their fantasy navy would offer for all of its increased costs whatsoever. They simply don't require a link between cause and favourable effect - they just prefer the cause by innate preference.

Scientists and science pundits despair over the utter link between proven unsuitability of policy proposals and their longevity. "Zombie economics" etc. Proved to be a horrible idea again and again, still brought up as a proposal if not even as a supposed necessity again and again.

MilPub is one of the very, very few (moderate) pacifistic MilBlogs, so worth a visit.



'Crazy, erratic leader' deterrence and Syria

After a while of thinking about what Trump did in Syria I gave his team (not him) the benefit of a doubt and came to a possible explanation.

He did not tweet much about the strike, which makes it look a bit deliberate (though deliberation was likely a mere hours long).
He may play the 'crazy, erratic leader' deterrence play that the Kims of North Korea have been playing since the end of the Cold War.

The military strike makes Trump and his staff incalculable for future conflict, and thus creates some deterrence effect in itself. This is, unless it was agreed-on in advance with Putin*; in this case at the very least Putin would not be deterred from anything by the bombing.

I don't think Trump even only understands the concept of deterrence in its variations and details. He would only create 'crazy, erratic leader" deterrence by accident (or rather nature), but someone on his staff may have come up with it through actual thinking (though I don't think it was McMaster).


*: Which by now is a conspiracy theory or rumour only, though somewhat plausible considering the marginal destructiveness of the strike. The use of gas may have been unauthorised by Assad and the bombing an agreed-on scheme to save face and score points with the hawkish U.S. media plus it distracts from ongoing scandals and domestic failures.


Gerrymandering in the U.S.


reporting made sufferable by comedy


"NATO Draht"

Something small and simple for a change.

I leave this here because every now and then I mention this privately and it's handy to have the stuff compiled in one link:

Military 'barbed wire' isn't barbed wire any more, and hasn't been in decades. It's rather a stamped steel sheet. The exact shapes vary (multiple types can be seen here), but they have in common that
  • they're much more difficult to cut than actual barbed wire
  • they're usually stored and applied in coils
  • sometimes even a single deployed coil can stop a light AFV while 10 coils can be considered a convincing obstacle to all kinds of AFVs*
  • you rather don't try to jump over it with all of the weight of your individual infantry equipment
  • nobody likes to handle this stuff, it's a mess even with special gloves and tools
  • to deploy such obstacles is rather slow
  • its difficult to cut these obstacles silently, even with appropriate tools
- - - - -

I've heard different claims about how well such obstacles resist explosive charges. My personal guess is that 120 and 125 mm HE-frag shells should be satisfactory at clearing, while small charges such as hand grenades may not be.
A promising clearing method would likely be small continuous rod charges or linear explosive formed penetrator charges (there are linear shaped charges, so I suppose at >110° cone angle linear EFP would work as well, but maybe the linear shaped charges themselves suffice already).** I have never heard of either in service, so I suppose I'm either poorly informed on post-1980's engineer demolitions equipment or nobody really bothered to go much past 1940's solutions in this area.

I tried to check this, and the U.S. Army knows linear shaped charges, but doesn't seem to use them itself. Military engineer demolitions equipment really doesn't seem to have experienced much improvement after the 1940's, safe for plastic explosive sheets and the 1950's invention of explosive foxhole excavators.

Well, the least messy method of making a S-Draht obstacle trafficable may be to simply lay a bridge or carpet over it. Blowing stuff up may merely be the male-typical approach. ;-)


*: There's a rule of thumb in a German field manual, but I am not sure I memorised it correctly. A standard obstacle would be 3 coils, two on the ground and one on top of them - all linked. Nobody even thinks of trying to jump over or crawl below that without tools.
**: Bangalore torpedoes are more bulky, and about 2 kg of bundled or  stacked hand grenades seem inefficient and are no good answer to some other obstacles and structures that might be in need of explosive problem solving.


Europe's defence in the long term in light of events in Turkey and the USA

The evidence for Turkey being a dictatorship since the failed coup d'état attempt has become overwhelming. The evidence is also suggesting that Turkey's economy will crash or stagnate over the next decade (as a whole, not every year) unless the AKP loses power.

Yes, I did write that Turkey is in an extremely important geostrategic location (repeatedly) and I also did write that the Greek's Little Cold War with Turkey was silly and that Greece should greatly reduce its military spending.

Still, we might find ourselves in a position where Europe does NOT stay allied with Turkey (maybe not even with the U.S., for similar reasons), and Turkey instead allies with Russia (autocrats seek comfort by and cooperation with other autocrats when facing democracies).

Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus would not be capable of bearing the deterrence and defence against Turkey on their own, stagnant or not. Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and the still fractured Bosnia Herzegovina would not be huge factors either due to the small size of their economies.

I usually suppose that Poland and Germany should focus on defending the Baltic and Polish frontier of NATO/EU, and will stick to this; Germany should not reorient its military for Balkan/Greek defence, even if Turkey would turn into a threat. We might help with intelligence efforts (I expect many Turks and Kurds to seek asylum from the AKP regime in Germany in the future), but even a worst case Turkey would not be a military problem to the EU on its own. It would be so only if allied with Russia - and German military strength would still be needed in NE Europe if that's the case.

So I see multiple rather self-evident, successive strategies:
  1. Try to tolerate Erdogan's more or less dictatorial rule in NATO
  2. If this fails, try to keep Turkey neutral (if need be by tolerating them doing regional great power nonsense on their own as a bloc-free great power)
  3. If this fails, move on to deter if not defend against Turkey
The geography is most troublesome in this regard. It might be necessary for the UK to permanently garrison Cyprus with relatively strong forces (~ two brigades that fit the terrain) including area air defences and subsidising Cypriotic armed services (focus on wartime strength, not peacetime strength) through the EU might make sense as well. Cyprus is terribly isolated once you don't consider Turkey an ally any more.

It might also be most cost-efficient to subsidise the military budgets of Greece and Bulgaria. This could even be done through forgiving public debt of Greece instead of through direct military subsidies from the EU budget. Such subsidies would only be sensible if the fiscal freedom of action generated thereby would be used well, of course. Huge pay rises for officers, growth in staff sizes, amphibious warfare ships, purchase and operation of obsolete ships as toys and other expenses that contribute nothing to deterrence and defence should not be supported by a direct or indirect subsidy scheme.

Italy might orient its armed services (air force and corps-sized peacetime army) at the Balkans, which means that Central and West Europe would need to suffice for both first week and total reinforcement of the Baltic countries & Poland without support from Italy. This is most relevant regarding the air war, where Italy contributes good area air defences and Typhoon fighters.

Maybe a EU or NATO land combat training centre in Bulgaria with permanent presence of 2 allied brigades (rotation of personnel, maybe a total of 6-8 prepositioned mechanised brigade sets could be present*) would be a cost-efficient and welcome reinforcement.

I suppose a plan to invite the Ukraine and protect it immediately through deployment of  (invited) forces worth at least an army corps to the Ukraine might be a geostrategic counterweight plan in case that Turkey turns anti-NATO/pro-Russia. It couldn't be used to deter such an outcome because this would be too escalating, risking an all-out Russian invasion of (all of) the Ukraine.
Armenia and Georgia might want Western protection when stuck between Russia and Turkey, though their involvement in a hot conflict would put them in a terrible place. They might still judge this worth it if they perceive puppet status or annexation by Russia as the alternative.

Turkey's geographical location enables it to cut off both Suez Canal shipping and (together with Egypt) Israel's maritime trade. This would - in case of Turkey as threat to rather than reliable member of NATO - create a case for powerful convoy security capabilities, primarily against air threats.
Israel's air force might - even in the long term - be able to secure Israel's maritime trade in about 1,000 km radius against all but powerful saturation attacks, but only so if the USA keep subsidising Israel's military with several billion dollars per year.
Cyprus would be an unreliable air base for operations in such a case, so there wouldn't be enough fighter support to secure such convoys, and aircraft carriers would be a terribly expensive means to change this. This creates one of the best cases for dedicated naval AAW. AAW warships like Type 45 (UK, 6 ships), F124 (GER, 3 ships), HORIZON (ITA, 2 ships), F100 (ESP, 5 ships) and FREMM (FRA, 2 AAW version ships planned) would get a critical job after all**, though I suppose their numbers wouldn't suffice to protect more than one convoy per month. The Type 45 destroyers would not all be sent to East Med, particularly not if the British carriers operate in the North Atlantic. The same would be true of the French AAW destroyers.

EH 101 Merlin with Crowsnest AEW radar (UK)
We would also need AEW helicopters to complement whatever AAW sensors and firepower are in such a convoy. AEW aircraft would be too endangered; they couldn't even try an emergency landing/ditching to escape missiles unless one of the extremely expensive (cost inefficient) carriers was part of the convoy.

A Russia-friendly if not Russia-allied Turkey would make Russian Black Sea submarines a likely factor in the Mediterranean Sea rather than having them largely locked into the Black Sea. The Europeans might feel compelled to invest more in ASW capabilities in the Med to counter this, albeit it would require a much larger Russian (and Turkish) submarine fleet to justify this.

The land defence topic is much simpler; the terrain doesn't lend itself much to rapid advances of armoured troops and the relatively short land border (only about 200 km depending on where you draw lines) allows for using overwhelming artillery firepower as the backbone of the tactical defence. Islands taken by an aggressor wouldn't need to be taken back; an Istanbul in range of howitzer HE shells would be the bargaining chip of greater value than any Mediterranean island short of (Italian) Sicily. That's not a nice statement, but it's nice that expenses in amphibious warfare capabilities are unnecessary for deterrence & defence.

- - - - -

Maybe you noticed that I didn't count the USA as a reliable asset in Europe's deterrence and defence here. That's because under this president it's simply no such thing, and nobody knows the duration or long term effect of this presidency. I think of the alliance with the USA not so much as of an alliance with a military power that helps to deter attack on Europe or to defend Europe as of a treaty that keeps Europe and the USA from becoming adversaries. The USA haven't been interested in the defence of Europe and are largely irrelevant to it, with army forces in Europe being of little value and most of the U.S. armed forces geared towards cruise missile diplomacy and occupation warfare on distant continents. The USAF would be of much value, but only after 1-3 weeks of deploying and then 1-3 weeks of intel preparation & attrition of opposing air defences before air power would take full effect on land warfare.

- - - - -

Anyway; Turkey's armed forces are 2nd rate in equipment and apparently also in skill (at best, and this might have become worse due to political purges), and 1st rate only in size (about 2/3 of Russia's military and paramilitary personnel strength). They would need a thorough modernisation and improvement over 5-10 years to become a threat. To sell them arms that we produce (and thus understand) to avoid them buying Russian (or Chinese, Pakistani) arms might be a good strategy, even though they keep using their land and air forces in questionable ways, particularly against the Kurds.
This would help step 1 and 2
  1. Try to tolerate Erdogan's more or less dictatorial rule in NATO
  2. If this fails, try to keep Turkey neutral (if need be by tolerating them doing regional great power nonsense on their own as a bloc-free great power.
and wouldn't hurt step 3 either, particularly if we sell them monkey model software for electronic warfare components and put backdoors in IFF and datalink subsystem chips.***


*: Ideally all exercise deployments would be surprise deployments with the troops involved not knowing in advance; this would train the rapid reaction deployment (in 48 hrs, by air into Romania and by road to the depots) in addition to the skill in employing the hardware.
**: I still think that all functions of AAW destroyers could be substituted for by a distributed containerised air defence system based on the container transports that are the convoy themselves; armed merchantmen. AAW destroyers need to beat this alternative in cost efficiency to justify their existence. 
***: It is much harder to investigate algorithms in chips than to investigate software code.


The U.S. blatantly violated the North Atlantic Treaty AGAIN

The recent act of cruise missile diplomacy is a violation of article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO treaty).

This shows ONCE AGAIN that the United States of America lack the moral high ground to demand anything from its NATO allies.



Political satire and mainstream media


This may be - in addition to the much smaller market size - be a reason why political satire doesn't prosper as much in Germany these days. Our politics are not only boring by comparison, but also fairly straightforward. One could satirise much of what the greens say, and also apply stale communism jokes on the far left, but other than that there's little but some centrist (SPD) hypocrisy, a couple inevitable government officials missteps and of course the conservative infighting between Bavarians and the rest of the country.
B.S.-wise we lag behind the U.S. by many years, and I won't complain about this.



Almost "no comment"


I always thought of this slingshot guy as the kind of guy who has fun with stuff that only men seem to have fun with. Quite similar to this fella.

The accusations are obvious B.,S. and more importantly, the very notion that asswipe/errorist activity should keep us from doing things that are otherwise fine is 180° wrong.

Just think about it; the guy in the 2nd video did tests with medieval iron helmets (or rather reproductions thereof made of a most likely better alloy). This B.S. storm could have hit him as well if the stabbed policeman had worn some kind of helmet! Ridiculous.

No power to errorists!


Update: With strike removed, he's on the counterattack now:


The greatest deterrence & defence challenge world-wide

Since yesterday I'm in the mood to try my skill at the greatest challenge in deterrence & defence on this planet; how would Iran deter its (potential) enemies and defend itself in case this fails?

Iran is playing regional power out of an underdog position. It's a large and populous country in its region, but its list of potential enemies is peerless:
  • Saudi-Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • UAE
  • Qatar
  • Bahrain
  • Oman (not sure)
  • Pakistan
  • Turkey
  • Israel
  • U.S.
  • Russia
  • Afghanistan/Taliban
On top of this there's the potential for internal strife. This civil war potential (with ongoing low level insurgency in Balochistan) kept many more or less sane potential aggressors from invading Iran. Seriously, the internal divisions of Iran are so many that you need to pile Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria non top of each other to have an equivalent.

This map shows only the two biggest religious groups.
There are eight more substantial religious groups in Iran!
(The second map is from 1964.)

The biggest relief from the long list of potential enemies with no real ally in sight is that many potential aggressors have no interest in unleashing civil war chaos by breaking the Iranian state, so presumably they won't do it unless their leadership is idiotic or super ignorant *sigh*.

Now, let's group the potential threats:

Air raid threat
  • U.S. (cruise missile diplomacy)
  • Israel
Air war and naval blockade threat from the South
  • Saudi Arabia
  • UAE
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • U.S.
Insurrection threat
  • almost all domestic groups except very devout Shia Persians and beneficiaries of status quo
  • U.S. (possible foreign sponsor)
  • all Persian Gulf pseudomonarchic kleptocracies (possible foreign sponsors)
Civil War spillover effects
  • Afghanistan (Taliban/Pashtu)
  • Iraq (Sunni insurgencies)
  • Kurds (from Iraq, Turkey)
  • Pakistan (if the Balochi rise up there for real first)
Distant scenarios
  • Russia (realistic only once quasi-imperial control of Caucasus region was regained)
  • Turkey (if Turkey becomes great power ~ Ottoman Empire again)
Full scale invasion threat
  • international coalition (only if they are really mad)

The current Iranian military is complicated and in large part a joke, with ridiculous claims and displays ranging from photoshopped missile launches to RPG gunners standing on motorcycles during parades to HAWK SAM repurposed as air-to-air missiles and a fake "stealth" fighter design.
So far this still served its purpose, though the air war inferiority across the Persian Gulf is no doubt unsatisfactory to the Iranian government. One should also keep in mind that the armed forces of such a state need not only serve legitimate purposes, but are also tasked more or less (varying by agency) with perpetuating the current political system (a theocracy with lots of democratic elements that are limited in their reform ability).

Again; even countries like North Korea, Russia or even Jordan have a simpler security environment!

Well, what would I recommend?

Air raid threat
This cannot really be protected against, for strategic and tactical surprise has to be expected and attackers would likely use the best equipment available to them. To go underground with the most likely targets is very expensive, and rather not feasible for many such targets (particularly the national government).

Air War and naval blockade threat
Iran's most important harbours are deep in the Persian Gulf. It's unrealistic to hope for the ability to export oil from there to world markets with less than about € 20 bn military spending for this air/sea war defence capability alone, and that's before taking into account a possible arms race with Saudi Arabia.
The threat of a protracted air war is a little different. The hostiles' air bases would mostly be in missile range (Iskander etc), so Iran wouldn't need to gain air superiority in the air or buy many expensive air defence systems. It could send an aircraft on a high altitude high speed run to quickly make some synthetic aperture radar imagery from afar, transmit the data to a ground station where officers decide which coordinates to shoot at with accurate missiles within minutes. The small combat aircraft inventories of Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain could be defeated this way. Saudi Arabia's air power is in a different league, of course.
The best defence might be a surprisingly cheap strategy; the less offensive air power potential Iran has, the less motivated the Southern neighbours might be to build up their own air power. This isn't reliable (who knows what the kleptocracies build up their mini air forces for at all?), of course.

A promising route might be to build a respected air defence cluster at Tehran (S-300 and short range SAMs, meant to limit the damage done in an air war), pursue some ballistic PGMs (instead of inaccurate 1980's style "War of the Cities" rockets) and once possible get some 40ish Su-3x fighters or Chinese equivalents* with air combat munitions only (but also SAR and datalink capability).

There's little point in trying to use anything of lesser quality (older SAMs, inaccurate rockets or worse fighters), for it would fail to deter and fail to defend unless procured and operated in uneconomical quantities.

Insurrection threat

The best way to address this threat would no doubt be to treat minorities well, and to ensure loyalty of the armed services (to the government). There is likely a tipping point of damage to the state and insurrection activity that would lead to multiple more groups rising up, so even though or if minor insurgencies may be unavoidable (or couldn't be ended, as in Balochistan) at least that tipping point needs to be avoided.

It makes sense to prefer Shia Persians for key positions in the armed forces, and even for basic training. The less military and paramilitary competence is available to potentially revolting minorities the less likely is their revolt (well, that's what I suppose). Munitions depots need to be guarded and locked up well, and the vast majority of munitions should be stored in territories that would rather not revolt (Shia Persians areas). Certain very reliable units need be positioned at or near Tehran, and be suitable to secure the capital and especially government organs. Western countries need such protection against airborne raids only, but governments such as the Iranian one also need to have domestic revolt in mind.

Low level uprisings should be countered with policing, with military forces in the region but only held in reserve as quick reaction force to back up the police forces. Police can investigate well with the training and equipment required. Intelligence service-like methods of intelligence gathering on (violent) opposition groups and their supporters without link to specific crimes need to be part of the repertoire, but preferably so in separate police units (not the investigating ones). Foreign sponsorship of insurrection or terrorism would need to be detected, investigated, understood, proved, potentially interdicted and then exposed.

Civil War spillover effects

This includes all measures from dealing with the insurrection threat plus no provision of safe harbours (no toleration of recruiting, fundraising, arms purchases) for foreign civil war factions and a lot more military presence. Refugee camps would be operated by the Red Crescent or whatever humanitarian NGO is available to do it, but these camps would need to be policed with proper identity checks and documentation of at least all male refugees. Ideally the camps would be created at some place where public construction projects provide employment opportunity for most adult male refugees. Lots of military-secured road police checkpoints, surveillance between roads by military-reinforced police or border guards and other visible measures would be taken to keep the peace on the Iranian side of the border. Border transgressions by armed forces would be dealt with by making an example on the first occasion; excessive firepower involving artillery fire should communicate a zero tolerance attitude towards armed border transgressions.

Distant scenarios
Back in the Shah's days Russia was kept out by buying large amounts of sophisticated weapon systems (F-14, F-4, F-5, tanks) from the U.S.. This was in part an effort to actually possess a conventional warfare capability and in part a signal of bloc membership; the latter was probably a better deterrent in combination with the ethnic and religious composition that would have made a forced "communist" takeover a worse quagmire than Afghanistan would become after 1979.
Russia might be deterred like this again in the long term, though cooperation (in regard to oil industry, arms purchases and even a real alliance) seems more achievable than getting a Western big brother to deter a schoolyard bully.
Long-term conflict with Turkey could not be deterred this way, for it would more likely than not be about the Kurds. Turkey has made military incursions into Iraq and Syria without those governments' public approval or even against their public disapproval. These incursions were mostly aimed at harming Kurdish separatist forces. The Kurdish successes in Northern Syria and the Kurdish proto-state in Northern Iraq may lead to a declaration of Kurdish independence, which might lead to all out war with Turkey. This might involve Iran with its sizeable Turkish minority in its Northwest, and might so at a scale that would be ill-described with a mere "civil war spillover". I suppose the ability to make a stand at the border with conventional forces would be required to protect Iranian sovereignty in such a case, regardless of how Iran deals with the Kurds itself.

Full scale invasion threat

This cannot be defended against, but it can be deterred. The public of the potential aggressor countries in question could be informed about Iranian ethnic and religious diversity and fracture lines. The risk of causing civil war and breeding ground for extremism that would last for decades should be too great for any invader coalition. This can be reinforced by ensuring that enough Iranians (Shia Persians) are trained as light infantry, and by a promise to open the arms and munitions depots in time to arm the people for a powerful insurgency against any occupation force.

Now, what forces would be advisable?
  1. Border guards with light arms (up to recoilless guns and mortars) and decent equipment for surveillance as well as sufficient border policing skills.
  2. An air force of 40+ Su-3x fighters, hundreds of ballistic PGMs (300-499 km range, warhead effective against hardened aircraft shelter), ground radar stations that could support the Su-3x, 20+ ground attack aircraft for counter insurgency (Su-25) and maybe two regiments of S-300 at Tehran supported by additional low level air defences.
  3. An army of maybe six mechanised brigades and ten small infantry-heavy brigades.
  4. A kind of national guard (not the current Basij or Islamic Revolutionary Guards) that ensures enough males of loyal demographics are equipped and qualified as light infantrymen and NCOs. This would help deter invasion and provide a foundation for a quick expansion of the regular army. These forces would -when mobilised- also allow the regular army to be massed in one region if necessary, taking over its security missions elsewhere.

Furthermore, an alliance either with Russia (in the medium term) or India (in the long term, particularly if Russia doesn't agree) would make much sense. An alliance with Shia-dominated Iraq should be self-evident and might - if approached with great skill and care - even create an open door to the West if and when Western leaders are not too close-minded.
The current Iranian policy of playing protector and supporter for more or less oppressed Shia abroad does more harm than good for Iran, in particular it ensures the hostility of the Persian Gulf kleptocrat states and provides excuses for Israeli and U.S. political hostility.

The old and by now obviously given-up strategy of deterrence though being close to becoming a nuclear power (essentially enriching Uranium more than needed for civilian energy purposes, but less than needed for fission warheads) should not be revived. The Iran nuclear deal framework is a huge success for everyone except the fearmongers and warmongers in the U.S. whose plans it sabotages.

The one thing that Iran needs to guard itself against the most are great power ambitions. Those can only cause trouble given the hardly permissive international environment. Great power ambitions would also be very expensive, and Iran has great need for investment in domestic economic development instead. It is also extremely wasteful to purchase and maintain capabilities that would not be critical to deterrence or defence success, such as old fighters or rather pointless naval forces. Unnecessary offensive systems are an even greater waste of resources, for they provoke additional political hostility and arms racing.

Last but not least; Iran needs to work for a better opinion of it in the Western world, or at least in Europe. Substantial domestic improvements (such as an end to the de facto Apartheid against the Bahá'í minority and some more womens' rights) and no more stupid sabre rattling would create a fertile soil for a ten-year image improvement campaign.


*: That's tricky. The PR China is close friends of Pakistan, and I don't know enough about the international relations between these three to guess whether the PRC would deliver Chengdu J-10B fighters, for example.

edit April 2017: I was surprised to see the U.S. governmetn to be in agreement with my assessment /assertion that the NK regime acts rationally within its own system of preferences.

[Blog] Blogger visitor stats are now officially useless


This daily spike is nowhere near the behaviour of real visitors.

edit: The daily spikes disappeared on 15 april 2017, after roughly a month.



Anti-ship strike from the air and European NATO

I mentioned air strikes on surface warships a couple times, including when I wrote about the Italian navy and how superfluous naval power is for countering threat surface warships in the Mediterranean Sea.

Back then I also mentioned that while this should be very much possible, I also mentioned that the Italians actually don't seem to be equipped for it. Thus let's look at this in regard to Europe as a whole.

The most famous air/ship missiles are no doubt the Exocet of Falklands War fame and Persian Gulf (USS Stark hit) infamy, but the Harpoon is quite well-known as well.

I'll ignore the short-ranged or tiny missiles here (Sea Skua, Marte, Penguin) and focus on those that could be used to engage a fully operational anti-air warfare destroyer, for example. I also ignore the Swedish RBS-15 here, since Sweden isn't in NATO.

A couple more missiles were in use, but have become rather or entirely irrelevant by now (Kormoran, Sea Eagle).
Rafale with AM.39 Exocet
Spanish and Portuguese air forces use Harpoons and the German air force still uses Kormoran 2 (at most 140 in storage if at all). The French use the AM.39 Exocet on naval Rafales and land-based Mirage 2000 while the Greeks use AM.39 from Mirage 2000s. NSM isn't in use as air/ship munition yet.

I doubt the Portuguese ever purchased significant numbers of AGM-84 Harpoons, the Spanish seem to have purchased only 20 AGM-84D Harpoon ever and about the AM.39 Exocet I only found out that the total production run was about 1,100 (it was quite an export success outside of NATO) and a mere 34 were ordered in the 1992-2014 time frame at all. The missiles in stock are thus technologically old and may be in poor shape due to very long storage.

In short; I didn't find out even only the approximate quantity of operational air-to-ship missiles in European NATO (it's certainly three digits), but I strongly doubt that saturation attacks with hundreds of missiles are feasible with only European air power at all.

This is in part justified by confidence in submarines and in part by the pitiful state of the Russian Navy. Several fairly modern types of air/surface cruise missiles may be relevant for anti-ship strike even though they were primarily developed with structures on land.

- - - - -

We will likely see JSM and LRASM to become important future air/ship missiles in Europe, and the French may go on with their Exocet Block 3, though maybe mostly so in export markets beyond NATO. 

The MBDA Marte ERP missile (range now supposed to be over 100 km) is meant for the Typhoon and may be introduced into the Italian Typhoons, though the parallel operation of F-35 versions (which will likely have JSM integrated without extra expenses for Italy) puts this in jeopardy.

The once promising French-German ANS project was cancelled long, long ago and France doesn't seem to want to develop a conventional air/ship version of its ASMPA missile (it didn't do so with ASMP either). Many current anti-ship missile projects are rather anti-boat missile projects with missile weights of less than Exocet's warhead mass. MBDA's Perseus looks stillborn to me though the submunitions could be interesting for radar countermeasures.

This means there's no supersonic anti-ship missile in European service and there will likely be no such thing in service before 2025 unless one counts anti-radar missiles (particularly the new AGM-88E).
An all-subsonic threat makes it easier to devise defensive systems than a mixed subsonic/supersonic threat would, of course. The current emphasis appears to be on surprise attacks using radar stealth (though still often with emitting radar seeker) to detect, identify and lock onto the target before countermeasures were deployed. Then the missile needs to penetrate the soft and hard kill countermeasures somehow to score the hit. Supersonic missiles could also strive for surprise (supersonic seaskimming is possible) and are meant to overcome defences by leaving them too few seconds for an effective reaction.

A quick fix for the lack of supersonic air/ship missiles would be to introduce the rather heavy Taiwanese Hsiung Feng III in an air launch-qualified version (or "to import the technology" to quickly build a clone), but Taiwan would no doubt expect arms deliveries in return. I suppose only those countries who wouldn't jeopardise much trade with the PR China would consider this worthwhile.

European NATO members COULD build up an inventory of 2,000 capable air/ship missiles at expenses of less than € 3 bn within a few years IF there was a need for it. The missiles are expensive per copy, but the expenses would still be rounding errors in the overall picture of European NATO's multi-year military spending.
The current lack of such munitions means that the ability to dominate the seas from the air is rather limited, but the security situation seems to excuse this.



P.S.: I link to Wikipedia for convenience, but I have become rather estranged by it. I once had a heated dispute when I tried to remove counterfactual nonsense and was overruled by a majority who preferred to maintain a sympathetic myth even though the primary source that was found proved them wrong. Thus my Wikipedia links mean "I am writing about this thing/event", they are no a recommendations of any kind.


Technological lag

The West has a high confidence in its military technology. There are instances of equipment lagging behind state of the art by decades, but at least the vast majority of the public is oblivious to this, and rather enjoys the infotainment of 'Best weapons!' TV shows that preach the 'wonder weapons are ours!' gospel.
At the same time there's a very common excuse for when some development project failed miserably; presumably the project included too many revolutionary, unproven technologies - but "revolutionary" and "leap ahead" buzzwords are still very commonly used when marketing military development projects to the taxpaying public.

Today I'd like to point out one example where we may lag behind by years, and will likely lag behind by well over a decade by the time we caught up. This isn't even an extreme example, for a very similar hardware lagged behind of what's possible by more than two decades. It is an important example, though - for it aims at the very heart of the belief in Western superiority in the air.

Most readers will have heard of AESA radars. These radars use constructive interference of radio waves and slightly phased timing of emissions to steer the direction of the strongest radio signal without needing to physically move an antenna. This allows more rapid steering and is actually almost as old technology as operational radars as a whole. The emitter technology also allows for very rapid changing of wavelengths and is generally credited with being much more resilient to radar jammers (thus delivering a longer range against targets in a jamming environment) and at the same time being less easily detectable by passive radars.

I won't go into much more detail about AESA; the summary is that AESA radars are considered superior in most applications in warfare.

AESA radars were curiously absent from one category of radars until a few years ago, though; active radar seekers in missiles. The introduction of active radar seekers in mainstream missiles targeting aircraft (other than AIM-54, for example) happened in the early 90's with the famous AMRAAM missile, and the concept has proved successful for many reasons.

But it wasn't us Westerners who made the next step to use an AESA radar in missiles meant to kill aircraft; it was the Japanese who -save for some technology transfers from the U.S. - are developing their own military equipment largely in separation from the (rest of the) West.

They worked on an AESA missile seeker and made it operational by 2010 in the AAM-4B missile.*

The AESA antenna is presumably using many small modules.
This may of may not be the path to the future. The intricacies of radar physics and radar engineering are beyond me. There are two indicators for AESA radars on missiles being considered the way to go for killing aircraft, though:
  1. The Japanese seem to believe in it
  2. The British seem to believe in it
  3. The Russians seem to believe in it
Russian combined electronic steering & mechanical steering 64 module AESA antenna for K-77M/K-77ME.
The Japanese approach uses a larger antenna with more modules. The only difference I can tell for certain is that the Russian design will have a superior field of view. AESA antennas without mechanical steering have only about 100-110° field of view. A simpler method of mechanical steering for an AESA antenna is to mount the antenna angled, and then rotate it along the longitudinal axis of the missile (or fighter). This is being used for the new AESA radars for Gripen NG and Typhoon. This approach allows for a larger antenna area (more modules of same size).

The AIM-120D is regarded highly for its mature seeker and its extended range, though somewhat under pressure by the European Meteor missile design on export markets. Both may be well behind the curve compared to the Japanese and Russian seeker technology, though.
The raw range will likely prove important against easy targets such as support aviation (AEW, tankers, large jammer and electronic intelligence aircraft), but seeker technology will likely prove decisive against the most difficult manned aviation targets; the latest fighters. This is an area in which NATO may lag badly, and this may remain an issue till the mid-2020's at least**, judging by the general slowness of development and production. A possible quick fix would be to purchase Japanese AAM-4B, just as buying Taiwanese Hsiung Feng III missiles may be a quick fix to NATO's neglect of modern anti-ship missile development.***

It's not what we think of ourselves in NATO, but we often lag badly behind the state of the art and even systems introduced elsewhere. This began with Sputnik, continued with repeated failure to keep our tank guns capable of penetrating the latest Soviet main battle tank frontal protection during the Cold War, the failure to deploy land-mobile ICBMs in NATO, the R-73 shock of 1990, the failure to deploy an Iskander equivalent in NATO, the failure to deploy a S-400 equivalent (though SAMP/T is looking fine for most purposes), the failure to keep NATO's anti-tank guided missile inventories capable against Soviet/Russian countermeasures (Shtora against our SACLOS-guided missiles, laser warner + smoke effective against laser-guided missiles and misisle warner + multispectral smoke effective against imaging infrared guided missiles). 

The attempt to always stay at the top technologically would be excessively expensive and we would likely fail anyway; that's the nature of arms races. The failure to keep everything up to date is still worrying because this may create windows of opportunity to a potential aggressor who might decide to attack in a fleeting moment of multiple critical superiorities of his forces.
We should at the very least be ready to use stop-gap measures, even if this means to test and possibly introduce not-invented-here hardware.


*: The AAM-5B shorter range missile counterpart with infrared seeker is among the best of its class or maybe the best. 
**: Till there's a possible Meteor with AESA antenna.
***: Save for the Norwegian effort, which used a very different approach. Hsiung Feng III combines supersonic cruise with radar guidance, NSM combines high subsonic speed with imaging infrared guidance.


What I would like intelligence services to know and publish

(1) The CIA World Factbook was often a nice source because it's not suspected of being biased against the U.S.. Whoever runs this thing in the agency did decide to remove the information on military age males. There's some info on age groups, but categories like "15-24 years" and "25-54 years" are not helpful when the topic is demographics and military personnel potential. Nor does the factbook feature figures about the quantity of reservists. I'd like to see the military age males figures (total and new per year) again.

(2) Stored Russian tanks. The IISS and some other sources publish figure about what quantity of tanks of what types Russia has in storage, but there's very little indicator of quality other than types. I'd like to know how many are really in storage (not sold on black markets long ago already) and in what conditions. I strongly suspect that the Russians did not put many tanks in storage without cannibalising them for spare parts, and mere steel shells with worn-out gun barrels, worn-out tracks about to break, engines in need of overhaul and hardly any electrical equipment would constitute a very different material reserve than tanks in operational condition.

(3) Quantity of modern Russian air combat missiles. Rumours are that they purchased only pitiful quantities of modern air combat missiles post-1992 and are largely stuck with 1980's missiles that are way beyond their shelf life.

(4) Russian brigades involved in the aggression against the Ukraine. As far as I know most Western Military District and all Southern military district army brigades have detached each one battalion battlegroup for combat in or threatening the Ukraine. They rotate personnel between the brigades and their detachments. My question is did they cannibalise the brigades or are the left-behind elements of the brigade in fully operational condition?

(5) Info on military and paramilitary spending in purchasing power parity. I think this was in the CIA world factbook at some time as well.
I can look up the military spending in IISS "The Military Balance 2016" (European NATO spending 5x as much as Russia), but only so in currency exchange rates (and even that's a bit tricky because the exchange rates aren't stable). Some hidden military expenses aren't necessarily included there either.
I would like to have stats on PPP military spending in Europe and Russia. The fivefold relationship won't be turned around into Europe spending less in PPP, but we lack accurate and quotable figures.

(6) Overview over Russian and Chinese naval shipbuilding plans (not really relevant for Europe, just curious)

(7) Overview over Western naval shipbuilding plans (not really relevant for Europe, just curious)

(8) Availability of night vision devices in Western and Southern Military District ground forces of Russia, and in VDV.

- - - - -

Very easy:
(1) (7)
Should be easy:
(4) (5)
Not easy, but should be known anyway:
(3) (6)
May require good insider sources:
(2) (8)

Intelligence services are often thought of as providing information to the top of the government. I suppose in democracies they should provide much of their information to the sovereign - the people - as well. Few do so (the CIA World Factbook is a small, laudable effort), and I think they owe the people for all those public funds (previously taxpayer money) they get.



[Blog] Visitors change

I noticed a huge change in my viewership. For reasons unknown I have suddenly astonishingly high viewer counts from France and New Zealand.

I'd like to ask readers from those countries to tell me WTF happened, for I am really curious. 
And yes, I  would also understand a French explanation if it was in simple French. :-)

Both comments and e-mail would be fine.

page views all time, as counted by hosting service

page views last month, as counted by hosting service
(The drop in UK viewers relative to Germany and US may be due to the much-reduced activity of the Think Defence blog.)

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P.S.: Since we're at blog topics just a quick message to Indian spammers:
This is not a good site to advertise for escorts in Mumbai, Hyderabad or whatever in comments.
is how escorts look in the context of this blog!


The usual prioritisation



How to identify room for improvement

This is applicable in general, and thus I'll begin with a simple, but very powerful example:

Think of legislation. How could one identify a need for reforms?

One way is, I suppose, to look at popularity and effectiveness.*

popular & effective policies
are already enacted

popular & ineffective policies
are likely** already enacted but shouldn't be (need for repeal)

unpopular & ineffective policies
are likely not enacted and shouldn't be

unpopular & effective policies
are likely not enacted but should be (need for constructive reform)

... and if you draw this as a matrix don't forget the wide gray cross separating the four cells.

The inability to repeal popular & ineffective policies and the inability to enact unpopular & effective policies is what marks the phase of stagnation or slow development that democracies move into after enacting lots of popular & effective policies and getting rid of lots of unpopular & ineffective policies. That's when people begin to take the achievements as self-evident, become dissatisfied with stagnation and willing to experiment.

Add my frequent remarks about how armed services are bureaucracies that pursue their self-interest over the nation's interests as well as people being guided by their preferences*** and you have a powerful framework for a hunt for inefficiencies and room for improvement in the armed forces.

What ways and means are aligned with the bureaucracy's self-interest or decisionmakers' preferences (popularity)?
What way and means work elsewhere or worked in the past or in experiments, but are not implemented in the armed forces or a specific branch thereof (effectiveness)?


*:Effectiveness regarding pursuit of the nation's well-being.
**: This applies in both democracies and dictatorships. people in democracies underestimate how most dictators are busy building and sustaining the critical mass of support. They don't necessarily seek the popular support, but at the very least the support of influential persons (security apparatus, industry captains/oligarchs, tribal chieftains, high-ranking clerics). Dictators who reign with an iron fist and simply break all opposition by "terror" like Stalin, Mao or the Kims are quite rare. Even Hitler and Mussolini weren't of that kind.
***: Such as generals who were fighter pilots being biased in favour of solutions that involve combat aircraft over solutions that involve missile launch containers.