The brigade's ideal MRL

First, let me dump a lot of links to previous and related blog posts (not last, as I do usually):

I also wrote before - and stand by it because physics didn't change - that traditional (area fires) multiple rocket launchers are a poor choice for mobile warfare. Their munitions are much more bulky and also heavier than howitzer munitions of equivalent effect - with and without packaging.
It's extremely difficult to reliably resupply a battalion battlegroup engaged in mobile warfare on every 2nd or 3rd day (forget daily resupply if you're in a defensive war*). Any force structure choice that makes logistical support even more difficult and/or less reliable is at least highly questionable. 
NATO armies largely gave up on multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) as area fires weapons, though; there's still no "dumb" HE rocket for MLRS in widespread use, even though the old cluster munitions were banned and phased out of service by most MLRS users in NATO.

Instead, the modern MRL tends to be a (not even necessarily well-protected) truck with a limited choice of guided missiles (PGMs) for point targets, often well out of range of conventional howitzer munitions (though this may change). PGMs are expensive and thus relatively few - compared to the old warstocks of DPICM rockets. The logistical concerns don't apply to MRLs in manoeuvre forces any more if the main munition are PGMs.

Years ago I mentioned - without appropriate emphasis - that a MRL could also be employed for area air defence (actually, modern 155 mm L/52 SPGs also have some serious potential in that role with PGMs). I'll put proper emphasis on this detail now.

The Western area fires weapon systems of today are - if there's any such thing left - most of the time self-propelled guns (SPGs). You can coordinate fires of dozens of dispersed SPGs to cover a large area with lethal fires, with all impacts arriving in a time window as short as 20 seconds. Modern communications, navigation systems and computing make this relatively easy. It once was almost an art and required detailed planning from 1916 till the early 1990's, but nowadays it can be done in a few minutes.
SPGs are also - as mentioned before - the logistically sound choice for the task. The increased rates of fire and the ability to concentrate "many" SPGs in one fire mission due to their much-increased ranges can substitute for the MRL's rate of fire advantage in the area fires mission. You do not need a high dispersion, inaccurate weapon such as a conventional MRL for an area fires mission; you can also use many accurate, small dispersion weapons and aim them at different points for the same effect with much less waste of munitions.

In short; SPGs have de facto taken over the area fires mission in the cluster munition ban countries and NATO as a whole, while the remnants of Western MRLs have escaped into a long range precision fires role.
This is hugely important, for it means that MRLs will rarely shoot, while SPG crews will be so busy 24/7 that we should consider double manning for them.

MRLs can take over other roles as well since they won't be dragged into hectic, ceaseless 24/7 activity.

One of these roles is battlefield air defence.

I wrote before about how lock on after launch missiles can engage targets without a line of sight between target and launcher, and how external sensors can deliver the necessary data for firing solutions (networked combat). This greatly reduces the expense for air defence hardware other than the munitions themselves and makes powerful battlefield air defences kind of affordable.
I also wrote about how the portable and barely-not portable air defences lack an effective ceiling to protect against strike aircraft that can detect, identify and engage with great precision from well above 15,000 ft altitude. Old school battlefield air defences such as the German Cold War systems Gepard and Roland can still push the opposing air power up, but then they can't do anything about it. Lock-on after launch/NLOS capability means that area air defences don't even need such short range complements; they can engage targets at low and lowest altitudes by themselves now.

Long story short; I'm in favour of introducing AMRAAM-ER as brigade-level air defences, launched by a MRL with a 360° traverse and +90/-0° elevation (minimum +60°/+10° elevation**).

AMRAAM-ER combines the ESSM's rocket motor (which is optimised for ground launch, unlike AMRAAM's) with AMRAAM's active radar seeker. The development costs till introduction into service could be limited to a tolerable level, and the costs per missile would be somewhat but not necessarily too much greater than for an equivalent seeker AMRAAM. The employment of AMRAAM's seeker means that any further upgrades for it (such as an AESA antenna) could be transferred with less development costs than a stand-alone design. AMRAAM-ER will likely be the best choice for brigade-level air defence against high value air targets until ESSM Block II is available.
An imaging infrared seeker missile would be a good complement, in order to mitigate the risk that AMRAAM's seeker may be defeated by countermeasures. IRIS-T SL would be the natural choice for Germany, but I suppose VL MICA IR is the better choice overall.

The launcher should be modular, mounted on a MULTI / EPLS rack, so many different platform vehicles (15 ton 8x8) are available AND it could be dropped on the ground (with its own power supply and secure digital radio). It could also be picked up by a tracked  and protected MULTI / EPLS vehicle, of course. Ideally, the 15 ton 8x8 MULTI vehicle would be able to disguise itself as a much lower-value container-carrying vehicle. The launcher rack could hydraulically-folding walls to achieve this. Long-range radar sensors could then not tell it apart from ordinary logistics vehicles.

I suppose the computer & control tasks could be handled with laptops and a radio kit (with LINK 16 mode) from within the vehicle's cabin. We would not need additional dedicated command & control vehicles or containers to add the air defence role to such MRL-carrying 8x8 vehicles.

The very same launcher could also be used to launch many other munitions, of course:
  • a 499 km PGM with HE warhead (~LRPF, MTCR-compliant by having a lighter than 500 kg warhead)
  • a 70-100 km PGM with HE warhead (P44, GUMRLS)
  • a 200-300 mm calibre short range (~10 km) rocket with thermobaric warhead
  • a 160 mm rocket with HE warhead and trajectory correction, range similar to SPGs
  • a 127 mm rocket with HE warhead (most efficient dumb munition in weight and volume)
  • a cargo rocket with smart AT mines 
  • a cargo rocket with leaflets
  • drones that lack an undercarriage (including decoy and RF jammer drones)
  • air-to-air missiles phased out by the air force in favour of better ones, also current missile types
  • surface-to-air missiles phased out by the navy (except SARH guidance) in favour of better ones, also current missile types
I mentioned dumb munitions in this list; not all warfare is mobile warfare, that's why. The dumb rounds would make much sense in the reduction of pockets.

- - - - -

Think about this; opposing forces could never know how much of the brigades' air defences they have knocked out because there would be no fixed amount of such air defences. 
Every brigade would have its ~50 km radius umbrella of air defences around every launcher, and with some dispersion the battalion battlegroups, the support elements and even some part of a main supply route could be protected against air attack to some degree.
The expenses would be largely limited to the launcher racks (about a million € per copy) and the missiles (might be less than a million € per copy for AMRAAM-ER). 200 launchers & 2,000 such air defence missiles could make a huge difference in Eastern Europe, and the program cost would be about two billion Euros in addition to what's being spend on MRLs anyway.
The air forces would need fewer missiles carried in the air (fewer per fighter and/or fewer fighters), as they could call on surface-to-air missiles of quite forward-located ground forces at least on defensive missions. They could themselves stay at a safe distance to the threat. This support would give the own side a substantial geographical advantage in defensive air warfare, which allows to make do with less fighters on defensive missions (or rather less distraction of fighters by defensive missions).
Opposing air forces would need to defeat two very different seeker types (which are the dominant air combat missile seeker types) to enable air attacks without expensive standoff PGMs or prohibitive attrition rates.
The crews and the launcher racks could shift their focus to the classic MRL role of area fires in support of  ground forces once the (few) expensive PGMs are expended and the threat of air attack much-degraded by successful air warfare. They could also focus more on the air defence mission if the air warfare went poorly (such as after surprise strikes by cruise missiles on air bases on day one). They could even use the air force's inventory of air-to-air missiles if the air force lost most of its fighters without expending many missiles.

This versatility means that a launcher couldn't do all missions at the same time, but its purpose could be adapted to the situation.

Such a launcher could establish itself as a more widespread and more important standard than the MLRS pods, which would greatly lower the bar for new PGM and rocket-assisted launch drones. These would not require any dedicated vehicle, but could be introduced into the forces with little more than a software update and some technical manuals. This could help keeping the forces' edge sharp at acceptable expenses.

- - - - -

I suppose that well-budgeted Western ground forces brigades should have a minimum of a dozen such MRL racks, with additional such racks as corps-level assets and in storage as a national attrition reserve. Less well-budgeted NATO brigades could enjoy support from such an air defence umbrella, particularly in fluid mobile warfare where adversaries would not know where the umbrellas end.

It would be a much more convincing concept than to keep MLRS with its few usable munitions, slavishly obeying organisational inertia. The current path-dependent force structures are lacking a good case for their weak MRL components and the all-too-often de facto absent battlefield air defences.
You may feel uneasy about the lack of organic sensors for air defence, but that's a topic for a different blog post.


P.S.: Needless to say, I was never a fan of MEADS or TLVS.

*: There's no point in preparing for wars of aggression, and aggressors are usually confident in their relative military power. This confidence is usually enough based in reality for them to really be a powerful adversary - nothing like Westerners beating up Arabs.

**: The elevation range may be reduced in the sector of the cabin.

The "modular" racket

I have a couple texts planned that have "modules" as commonality. I'd like to push this remark on "modular" approaches first, to clarify that I'm not fooled by the usual racket.

Armed services often lie and deceive to politicians and the public when it comes to "modular" approaches because they hardly ever purchase many more modules than fit on dedicated platforms. Thus very few if any "modular" approaches actually benefit from the theoretical ability to swap out one module for another to suit the platform for a different missions. Swapping modules is even impractical in some "modular" approaches.
The typical outcome looks more like '10% more modules than fit onto the platforms were purchased', while a sensible surplus would rather be in the range of 100%-500%, depending on the program.




"Majority of terrorists who have attacked America are not Muslim, new study finds"

independent.co.uk, Mythili Sampathkumar

"Right-wing extremists, often white supremacists, were responsible for 115 incidents within the same period. Events like Robert Dear’s killing of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood women's health clinic in December 2015 for offering abortion services would fall into this category.  In terms of police action, 76 per cent of the Islamist incidents were thwarted versus just 35 per cent of the right-wing extremist incidents.  Sting operations were used in nearly half of the Islamist-related incidents, a rate four times higher than police operations on right and left-wing extremist acts."

Keep in mind "sting operations" are under criticism because they may provoke people into becoming terrorists who wouldnot have done anything like that without such motivation by the FBI. The statistic may thus be inflated by "sting" ops.

"More people died in the Islamist incidents, a total of 90 due to mass shootings like the one in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. However, around 33 per cent of right-wing extremist incidents involved deaths versus 13 per cent of Islamist terror acts. They also caused 79 deaths."

The notion that Islamic jihad ideology terrorism is much more lethal is actually widespread, and efvidently wrong. The attention paid (most of the time, not these few days) is also out of proportion regarding the lethality.

"The evidence appears to belie Donald Trump’s rhetoric, however.  The report said that Mr Trump’s “fixation” on “radical Islamic terrorism” is “irrational”."

It is, and that's important. Such evidence reveals who has the capacity to understand the real world & its problems and potentially devise and enact solutions to problems, or exploit opportunities for progress - and who's easily mislead by prejudice, feelings and/or ideology. It's a marker for the difference between a politician who may be of great use to his people (who these people are is another issue) and a politician who's no better than the figurative drunk ranting uncle at the family barbecue.
Ideally, we get to observe politicians in positions of little power (such as sub-national legislatures, as mayors et cetera) where we can weed out the bad ones, then they gain additional experience and exposure as national-level politicians where we can weed out even more so we have a certain pool to choose from for the highest national-level and supranational offices of great power. Populists who propel entirely untested "charismatic" politicians and their followers into highest offices lack this multi-level vetting, just as do 'shooting stars' in established parties who rise too quickly due to help of some top politicians.
The aforementioned vetting by the public is far from perfect, but still better than nothing.

Even reformist / populist parties should march through the political instances slowly - there's hardly ever a crisis so bad that a slow (~4-8 years) advance would be too slow. In fact, they may have the most thorough success if they are particulalry slow (~10-20 years) as were the greens in Germany, who achieved participation in a national-level cabinet for the first (and so far only) time after almost two decades. By then their original environmental protection focus had affected the policies of other parties; they had achieved most of their original aims without being in power.
They also had some extremely questionable personalities and political viewpoints in their early years, which they now regret. This went as far as tolerance for pedophiles. In hindsight, them advancing to national level power in the early 80's would not have been a good thing. They had not weeded out their misfits. The AfD (new right wing party) of today was even overwhelmed by its misfits - now the vast majority of Germans seems to be glad that the AfD missed capturing national parliament seats months after its foundation.


*: Such as the former German minister of defence von Guttenberg, who shouldn't have made it past a town council level of responsibility.



[Fun] Now drive backwards!

(It would actually not matter all that much because such T-72/-80/-90 tanks
have a walking pace-like maximum reverse speed).

In case your browser cannot show the video; link.


Blogger issues

Weird things are happening with new comments now (the list of comments awaiting moderation is empty even though I receive e-mail notification of a new comment), so don't think too much about it if your comment doesn't appear quickly or at all.



Morale, endurance and the budget

Lightweight equipment isn't enough to keep dismounted combat troops from becoming too exhausted for their missions. Let's think about other factors;
  • selection and allocation of suitable recruits*
  • physical fitness
  • cohesion (including good enlisted-NCO relations)
  • sufficient (hot) food and water supply
  • prior training in enduring stress, exhaustion and adverse conditions *
  • sleep discipline*
  • good leadership
  • companion/mascot animals (especially dogs)*
  • comfortable clothing
  • protection from elements (suitable clothes, tent, use of buildings)
  • personal hygiene
  • replacement boots & clothes
  • uplifting moments
  • good CASEVAC and medical care
  • ideally daily communication with family (digital text messages as minimum)
Such things are relatively affordable and can thus be mastered by poor budget forces even though some high budget armed services fail at providing such favourable circumstances.
Military history shows that endurance under great stress is a hugely important determinant for battlefield success. Armies tend to become better at preparing troops for combat during wartime, and usually they pay more attention to the factors listed above than before war, unless they feel forced to cut training down in order to fill the ranks.

Such non-combat background issues are likely even more important than other pivotal questions such as:
  • Can we penetrate their tanks head-on? Can they do it?
  • Can we maintain our radio comms in face of their ECM? Can they do it?
  • Are our radio comms secure? Are theirs secure?
  • Who has air superiority? 
  • Do we need to ration fuel and munitions? Do they?
  • Do we have sufficient night vision? Do they?
  • Do we know where we are and where we are heading?
Overall, I think there clearly are diminishing returns from investment in land power quality. Improvements beyond getting the two lists above right will yield little additional benefits.**

A good approach for sufficient deterrence and defence on a tight budget would thus be to get such essentials right and keep ambitions in check for almost everything else. This would be a kind of Schwerpunkt applied on budgeting; get right what needs to be right, be frugal on luxuries.


*: These are the points at which the German Heer fails as far as I know, but I am not an active soldier and really only have an outsider's vantage point these days.
**: Plus effective artillery support, but I'd exclude air superiority and be satisfied with a good air defence instead.


A proposal for infantry modernisation

I wrote a summary post on soldier (infantry) modernisation programs back in 2009. Such programs range from simply new clothes, helmet, guns and night vision equipment up to super-ambitious 'electronic infantryman' approaches with helmet-mounted display, camera on the rifle, lots of wearable computer tech if not even exoskeletons.

The components are usually not ready for introduction at the same time, so whatever hardware finds its way from development into service does so in a trickling fashion. The procurement agencies have fancy buzzwords ("increment" and so on) for this, as if it was perfectly compatible with the ambition of having one big modernisation program.

That's actually something I'd like to see changed; I don't want to see "one big modernisation program", regardless of how many phases, increments, cycles et cetera it has.
I would like to see the different programs of allies competing in troops testing with realistic and at most partially scripted mock battles. I'd also like to see a competing infantry modernisation program in the same major nation as one of those 'electronic infantryman' programs - and they, too, should compete. I'd like to see - in troops testing mock battles - the concept of agile lightweight-equipped infantry tested against the concept of 'electronic infantry'. Agility and mobility versus more communication, more night vision, more digital maps.
These mock battles should include scenarios with heavy ECM influences.

It's striking that while program managers pay lip service to lightweight products, no infantry modernisation program (the 2009 list is outdated, obviously) appears to focus on reducing the weight of equipment and NOT considering those weight savings as potential for additional equipment.

There's very little insight to be gained by yet another 'electronic infantryman' program, but much insight could be gained by pitting those against a properly lightened load infantry for a change. Besides, the lightened load equipment would be hugely relevant to non-infantry troops as well (while with conventional programs that's mostly limited to clothing), and they comprise well over 2/3 of a deployed army!


A doomsday timeline

There's one old (German, 1985)  book on late Cold War issues - especially nuclear war - that impressed and no doubt also influenced me much. For German readers; ISBN-3-922508-33-2. It appears to be a translation of a Scientific American publication.

The most interesting page of it is about the timeline of a hypothetical Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S.. This surprise first strike scenario includes submarine-launched missiles launched from not far off the East Coast and a huge ICBM strike. It's interesting because the timeline shows how illusory the idea of an immediate retaliation (before ICBM silos were hit) was, and how very much the nuclear deterrence rested on the ability to command and execute a second strike well after that first strike.

long exposure photo of an ICBM test

I referred to this timeline several times in discussions over the past and now that I rediscovered the book in my way too big private library I will reproduce it here. Next time I refer to the timeline I can simply drop a link to this.

first few seconds:
coordinated launch of hundreds of ICBMs from Soviet silos as well as 4 to 5 SLBMs from a SSBN off the coast

after 2 minutes:
first transmission of attack warnings by satellite-based infrared sensors and early warning radar chain

after 2 to 7 minutes:
period available (5 minutes) for decisionmaking and ordering of a non-disrupted "launch under attack"
after 7 minutes:
exoatmospheric explosions of 4 to 5 SLBM warheads over the North American continent (about one Megaton TNTeq each at abut 480 km altitude); likely damage in U.S. landline and radio communication devices by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) created by the exoatmospheric explosions

after 8 minutes:
latest possible time for arrival of the order for retaliation attacks in command centers in order to complete the launch procedures in time before x-ray radiation becomes too intense for launching missiles

after 8 1/2 to 21 minutes:
launches of additional SLBMs (then still too inaccurate to defeat ICBM silos, launches delayed to maintain surprise)

after 10 minutes:
last possible moment for launching ICBMs to avoid damages by intense x-ray radiation during flight at high altitudes

after 12 minutes:
first probable confirmation of the ICBM attack by BMEWS radar

after 12 to 15 minutes:
available period to make the decision for a retaliation strike after confirmation by BMEWS radar (x-ray issues may not be avoided any more, ICBM counterattack may fail partially or entirely)

after 14 to 27 minutes:
explosions of thermonuclear warheads of SLBM missiles above ICBM silos to suppress them with x-ray radiation (waves of explosions with one minute spacing)

after 15 to 21 minutes:
required period to relay the launch orders through emergency communications

after 21 minutes:
last possible time for the retaliation launch orders to complete launches prior to thermonuclear explosions of ICBM warheads close to the ground

after 24 minutes:
last possible time to avoid damages by thermonuclear explosions during the boost phase

after 25 to 30 minutes:
first thermonuclear explosions of ICBM warheads at U.S. ICBM silos

One can see the concerns about detection delays, suppression of communications, damages to ICBMs by x-ray radiation and damages to ICBMs by nearby thermonuclear explosions. Launches from the 31st to the 50th minute would furthermore face the problem that the (few?) surviving and 100% functioning missiles would need to rise through the dust and debris clouds of those explosions.

The attackers would have their own set of problems, mostly with reliability, dispersion and the difficulty to place multiple warheads on one target without the first explosion and its effects causing harm to the later strikes on the same target. One missile per silo would yield an unsatisfactory probability of silo destruction due to the reliability and dispersion issue.

The whole scenario did not include a first strike on the SLBM force or nuclear warheads in relatively dispersed storage. The easily-destroyed strategic bomber force was ignored as well (think of it as easy prey for SLBMs).

In the end, the wargames and operational research showed that both an immediate retaliation was unrealistic AND a satisfactory disarmament in a first strike was unrealistic. This may have kept the peace in the 70's and 80's.

The issues of the scenario did no doubt change in the meantime. The sensors used were changed, and more importantly SLBMs could have been upgraded with satellite navigation (GPS, GLONASS), so the entire attack could be completed within 8-9 minutes with an all-SLBM strike. The Cold War ended just in time before this became a practical possibility.



"Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens"

There's an old (2014) study about the alignment of actual policy with the desires of interest groups in the United States, and I meant to write something smart about it for years. Sadly, I found no particularly smart comment in face of so much obviousness.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, 2014

Essentially, voting doesn't matter there. Money, affinity fraud, socio-ethnic group identity (old white rich men) and networks appear to be in power constantly.

It's sad that the attempts to break this system pushed hardly competent and benevolent champions for change to the better into high office. To elect a self-proclaimed billionnaire known for selfishness strikes me as the most stupid possible attempt at ending this gilded age.



2,000 blog posts

This blog has reached 2,000 blog posts, and I'll use this figure for some celebration after sleeping over the 10 year anniversary in May, 2017. (Nobody reminded me! -.- )

I'm still on my mission:
  1. Promote peace.
  2. Push back against the encroaching of authoritarian features in Western societies, especially Germany.
  3. Warn about mediocrity and complacency, an unsatisfactory state of affairs in regard to Western military forces armed bureaucracies.
  4. Share interesting or amusing stuff
... though I admit I somewhat neglected #2 and #4 recently.

By the way, as part of #1 I guest-blogged once more:

ASPI - The Strategist blog


Split trail howitzer carriages and hyped weapons in general

I have pointed out that split trail howitzer carriages have a responsiveness problem beyond their (no more than 62°) traverse. They lack the unlimited 360° traverse because of their carriage. The split trail carriage was a huge improvement over the box trail when introduced in the Déport gun, but it's no good if you need to respond to a call for fires outside of the ~60° traverse. A well-drilled team takes about two minutes to lift up an otherwise well-designed split trail carriage tail and turn it around for a fire mission beyond the previous traverse. For comparison; a self-propelled howitzer with a 360° traverse turret may execute a 3 round fire mission on the target and redeploy by hundreds of metres in those two minutes.
There have been platforms used (in times long gone) to give box trail carriage guns a 360° traverse, for example the Arbel platform. The British 25 pdr gun of WW2 fame was such an example. This solution isn't a good one either. The platform adds a lot of weight, slows down deployment and redeployment and mobile platforms of this kind do not transfer the recoil force into the ground. That's still being done by the tail of the carriage, typically some spade.

And this is one more problem if you need to turn around your gun like that. Look at 1:25 of this video:

You can see how the spades are not fully embedded in the soft soil until after the first shot. Thus either you have to accept several seconds additional delay between 1st and 2nd shot (which ruins the surprise effect on the target and makes HE fires much less effective) or you have to shoot a charge without a shell arriving at the target, only to produce enough recoil force to set the gun. This adds additional seconds to the two minutes mentioned above.

Let me explain why this is so important; I wrote in several of my articles on infantry tactics and survivability that infantry should move or even break contact within 2 (at most 4) minutes of being detected by opposing forces. The reason is that opposing forces' indirect fires may arrive after such a short delay. Very competent readio-networked artillery with SPGs, electronic fire coordination, not too far away, minimal if any deconfliction requirements and can deliver a devastating multiple round multiple firing position simultaneous (within seconds) impact fire mission that quickly. The state of the art squeezes infantry into such tight limits; two, at most four minutes to pull off what they ought to do, then move or die. Poor quality armies may take 10 or 15 minutes to do the same, but one shouldn't orient yourself against such opposition; they won't dare to attack NATO anyway.
Now imagine our arty has an additional, unnecessary delay of two minutes on many fire missions. This may easily halve the quantity of elusive infantry platoons that they can catch. It wouldn't matter against cumbersome and poorly led infantry, but again, arty officers who intend to prepare against those only would have pursued the wrong career.

It needs be mentioned that split trail guns also take painfully much time to redeploy compared to self-propelled guns, making them much less suitable for shoot & scoot high survivability drills (= unsuitable, sitting duck targets).

Few modern armies still use many such towed, split trail carriage howitzers. They're mostly in use as helicopter-portable light guns for airborne forces, as artillery ordnance for reserve forces or in the U.S.Army. The U.S. Army failed to develop or accept a proper and already developed self-propelled gun for its 'medium' ("Stryker") brigades, and is still stuck with these towed howitzers. They even want to increase the range of the M777 (which has the barrel length and range of 1970's howitzers of its calibre), that's how much they're invested in the M777's basic design.

WW2-style howitzer with split trail (and a gunshield)
German WW2 experiences led to requirements for howitzers
with 360° traverse and about 70° maximum elevation.
Only the increase of maximum elevation became a
dominant design choice post-WW2 save for the
Soviet 122 mm D-30 and a Swedish howitzer.
I consider this an example of how hyping and overhyping weapon systems and military procurement programs can badly hurt an armed service. The M777 was hyped for years because it was new, it was American, and it was made with expensive alloys to cut down weight (supposedly to allow UH-60 helicopters to lift it, which is hardly ever done). It did not deserve any praise. The weight reduction served no real purpose to its current users but inflated costs. The dispersion is not extraordinary good compared to other modern howitzers, the attached muzzle velocity radar is nothing extraordinary for new arty guns either and the range is stuck in the 1970's. Still, there was about a decade of hype for this gun.

This hype has blinded the public; hardly ever do I read any harsh criticism of the obsolete towed split trail approach. Sure, the Taliban and other "light infantry, motorcycle & technicals" opposing forces were not able to overmatch the M777, but they would have failed to overmatch a WW2 howitzer as well. A modern conventional land power ('peer enemy') such as the Russian army could do so easily, especially in mobile warfare. They don't even need to be able to operate counter-artillery radars; old school flash spotting and sound ranging still work and they even develop new devices for it, and the M777's relatively poor range makes it more susceptile to this than the longer-ranged 52cal 155 mm SPGs are.

The organic artillery of the light and medium brigade combat teams of the U.S.Army and of the USMC is poor, and the hype blinded the nation to it so the weakness lasts. Higher level support artillery (MLRS) doesn't compensate for this; the U.S. did not sign the cluster munitions ban, but it's still getting rid of its ICM/DPICM munitions. There are no unguided HE rockets for MLRS.

A nation should avoid hyping military hardware, period. It serves no other purpose than entertainment, and that should NEVER be a purpose of the military. Hyping military hardware risks to cover up its weaknesses and thus inhibits actions that would mitigate or eliminate such weaknesses. This appears to be true regardless of insider experts understanding the true deficits.



North Korea and a pacifism litmus test

I consider myself a moderate pacifist, which means deterrence and defence - national or collective - is fine, though wastefulness in it is to be avoided. Wars of aggression and military adventures are not fine at all.

This doesn't seem all that pacifistic to radical pacifists, but it's already a far cry from most people who get involved in publishing blogs, journal articles, studies or books on war, "security policy" and military affairs in general.

The often months-long propaganda barrage that builds up political support for wars of aggression or major military adventures is a fine litmus test to see who's a true pacifist - moderate or not - and who's not. Many people who claim to be against war end up being fine with war if only it hits some vilified country or leader.
I suppose we would see just another such litmus test now and in the next months if only the Trump administration wasn't so incompetent and ineffective at communicating beyond a narrow base of pro-Trump extremists. That bunch would rather stumble into a war of aggression with less preparations than even a Neocon clique.

On the one hand this is regrettable, for the masks are not taken away from everyone, but on the other hand I'm really glad that no war prepared and launched by the West seems to be in the making.

I don't consider the crisis around North Korea as a prelude to a real war anyway; it's rather a build-up of tensions where Trump thinks he can bully someone else, and eventually he will likely seek a "deal" that he can communicate to his base (via Twitter, of course) as a successful "solution", regardless of how much the fine print will actually benefit NK.
The risk is in what happens if he doesn't get a deal to speak of, nor can make one up for a change.

The future is unpredictable, but when it comes to conflicts and arrogant, stupid leaders it may get very uncomfortable. This time without the slightest upside.



Military professional training

I have obsessed about learning about history for more than two decades. There are downsides to it and there are upsides.
Some benefits that I came to recognise are that I don't mistake many news about petty things as news about hugely important things, another benefit is that I don't fall for terrible politicians easily (though it happened once when I paid attention to but a few of his policies) and finally, knowing history teaches about the dominance of path dependency in our world. Just about everything is a product of the past – and what path was taken years, decades or even centuries age has a lasting impact on the present and future.

History also shows us how things have changed; the military used to be the single biggest organisation in almost every European society only a couple decades ago, and accordingly it had the most demand for innovation in how to run and grow an organisation. Some management and personnel affairs tools of today have their roots in 19th and early 20th century military organisations' innovations. The civilian world became more innovative at the latest shortly after the Second World War, and the newer management tools have almost all been devised in large civilian corporations, civilian start up companies, universities or (these are the most stupid ones) business consulting companies.

Enough of the introduction – did you ever think about what training for the job as a soldier would look like if the very concept of a military was invented only recently? Would it look as it does or would it look very differently (which would mean that the current training orthodoxy is a product of learning AND especially path dependency).

I suppose if we had to start from scratch we would look for an analogy – such as the police – and adapt their professional training model. Police forces and the military have a lot of similarities, including the rank system and uniforms.
Police forces in Germany have a thorough education and training program. You need to study for years at a university of applied sciences to become a basic police(wo)man and, and then you typically spend some time at the Bereitschaftspolizei, which is a kind of mobile reserve of the police forces. You may encounter them patrolling at crime hotspots, but more typical uses are security at football matches, security at demonstrations and other missions that require lots of law enforcement manpower in one place.
Another path is that one may study law for even more years and enter the upper career group of the police (equivalent to officers).

Let's compare this to a typical Western military professional training.
First, you enter a basic training that typically turns you into a rifleman (at least if you join land forces), and it lasts typically two to four months. Then you are sent to many different courses or attend smaller courses First Aid et cetera) where you're stationed at. Noncommissioned officers and officers usually attend especially long (months) courses to become an NCO or officer, and senior officers may do so as well to be promoted past a certain NCO grade. Studying at a university of any kind is typically reserved for officers, and the timing and nature of such studies varies greatly. There are also military academies in some countries which unleash very young men as lieutenants onto the armed forces after months or few years of (para)military education. 
(The watered-down personnel system and requirements of the current Bundeswehr are so painful to think of that I won't describe them – in fact my description above is rather representative of careers in the early 1990's, things have gone downhill since.)

Overall, it can be said that only (soon-to-be) officers get a professional training with a broad theoretical base that's somewhat similar to what's typical in the civilian world.

NCOs and especially enlisted personnel on the other hand get hardly any professional training, and all of it is AFTER they entered the active forces.
Compare this to two years professional training (part time on the job, part time school) that you need to become a hair stylist in Germany, and two years worth of university studies to become an NCO equivalent in a bureaucracy!
_ _ _ _ _

At some point the armed services world-wide seem to have begun to lag behind equivalents in the civilian world in their ambitions for professional education and theoretical competency of the noncommissioned officers and especially the enlisted personnel.

I don't think that soldiering is so much easier than hair styling that there's little to no room for improvement. It's also rarely very different from civilian bureaucracy jobs

I suppose there were multiple reasons for why the armed services began to lag:
  • They didn't need to compete with civilian careers because of conscription. School graduates prefer a job with a respected and useful training over a similarly-paid job with a pointless training – the armed services simply grabbed personnel by threatening them with jail.
  • To be an enlisted soldier is no good for the long term due to poor pay. Theoretically enlisted soldiers could serve in physically demanding specialties until hey lost fitness due to injury or age and proceed to more cushy support specialties afterwards. There are enough of the latter that enlisted soldier could be a lifetime career. It's the poor pay that rules this out.
  • The armed services don't think that two years university of applied sciences training makes sense for enlisted personnel that typically enlists for two to four years due to their tunnel vision on active strength (which makes perfect sense if you think of them as a bureaucracy). It doesn't matter much to them that this personnel would continue to be reserve personnel for two more decades.
  • There were no wars between great powers in which one power benefited from a substantially lesser lag. There's not enough incentive to overcome inertia as long as the benefits of it are not demonstrated to good effect. Much of the private sector is in a fierce competition or at least able to compare profitability, and thus has much more incentives to improve itself.

I admit it may be disputed that they began to lag in modern times and that they lagged - save for professional warrior castes such as knights - since the invention of standing armies. I think they began to lag because in Germany the dual system of training for jobs  has begun to vastly exceed the training and education of enlisted troops at the very least. The terrible post-Cold War changes in the personnel system of the Bundeswehr (I don't mean the end of conscription here) also meant that reaching officer or NCO rank requires much less (if any) previous relevant education than to reach equivalent civilian positions.
The armed forces have improved the overall approach to professional education little post-WW2, while the civilian economy and civilian bureaucracies have greatly increased their expectations of candidates.

Well, what SHOULD professional military education look like today?

This depends greatly on how you sources your NCOs and officers. It's been a very successful model to let everyone begin as enlisted (wo)man, advance to junior NCO if suitable and then advance to either senior NCO or junior officer if suitable. Training models in which "gentlemen" get a quick intro about how to behave as officer* and then join the ranks as officer have been less successful.
The 'through the ranks' model on the other hand appears to have collapsed in all-volunteer forces where the smartest candidates can only be lured into military service by promising good pay from day one – and the inflexible bureaucracies and politicians have found but one way to do so; they handed out advanced ranks ("Neckermann Stuffz") – NCO and lieutenant – as entry positions. This is understandable for emergency room-experienced medical doctors, bridge engineers and the like – but it's idiotic rank inflation if applied as widely as nowadays in many Western armed services.

I think we should go back to the West German model of the Cold War era; you can advance to officer rank through the ranks, but many promising recruits enter the force knowing that while they're at the lowest rank, they are officially o track towards NCO or officer positions and will become NCO or officer unless they fuck up. We have the rank suffixes UA and OA (Unteroffiziersanwärter and Offiziersanwärter; NCO candidate and officer candidate) for this.
I don't think that basic military training has to happen at a university of applied sciences. It should rather take the German model for craftsman education and training as a model. Three days active service at a military unit per week, two days theoretical studies at a school per week. There's plenty theory to learn; safety rules, navigation, don't rape your comrade (sigh), driving theory, radio operation, friend or foe identification, reporting, supply system, hierarchy – armed services have hundreds of field and technical manuals full of theory, dozens of which are more or less relevant to every soldier. The practical part would follow the concept of trainees in major corporations; they would be sent to different units to do different things and learn about the organisation in general.
After two years of such studying we would have a well-rounded basic soldier, and the armed service would have enough test results and superior's reports to judge how best to allocate the (wo)man. This might include him or her being sent straight to NCO school, another year of theory and practical experiences.
Juniors NCOs who served well and showed promise for much more could be sent a university of applied sciences for three years. The outcome would be training for and promotion to senior NCO or lieutenant rank and a bachelor's degree in business/administration/logistics/psychology.
Enlisted personnel that did service well but didn't show enough promise for more should instead receive a proper job training that's respected in the civilian economy as well; car mechanic, aviation mechanic, gas turbine mechanic, heavy lorry driver, nurse and so on. Enlisted personnel of the active force should have an option to serve till retirement at enough pay to sustain a family of four if the spouse works half time on minimum wage.

Medical doctors could and should be hired differently. I suppose one should give soldiers who passes the basic two years training an opportunity to get a subsidised civilian university education as a general physician, emergency surgeon or oculist followed by a mandatory one year emergency room experience and then they could be reservists with several weeks active service per year till the age of 60. This should yield enough of them on active duty at any given time for the actual needs of the armed services.**
A parallel militia system could still make do with a 6 month basic training with standardised six month militia NCO and militia officer courses more akin to the current active forces personnel system. The reason for this is that quantity helps a lot and many young men could be motivated for such short reservist duties who could not be motivated to enter a military career. The compensation for the short training would be a severe limitation of missions they would be considered capable of. The militia level of competence would likely be comparable to air force security units' competence.

_ _ _ _ _

Well, that's just my opinion, man. Other opinions differ, and no doubt wildly so.

Nevertheless, I think I made it clear that the current professional training models in use appear to be obsolete remnants caused by path dependency and sustained by inertia in absence of exogenous shocks. They are NOT optimally designed to prepare young men and women for high effectiveness on the job as a soldier in an army or air force.


*: A little bit of exaggeration here.
**: The current medical branch of the German armed services is inflated and oversized beyond belief. Its personnel figures are worthless as an indicator for how much such personnel armed services actually need in peacetime.



Election platforms on the federal election in Germany

I compiled summaries of the election platforms of the relevant German parties for the federal elections 2017. The whole work was done in German language and can be accessed on the German language twin blog:

 S O


Link collection June/July 2017

"Based on my experience at JMRC and by talking to company commanders who come here to train, I believe  U.S. Army tactical proficiency at company level and below is lower than  many of our multinational partners due to a lack of emphasis on collective training and tactical proficiency at home station prior to training at combat - training  centers (CTCs)."
(from U.S.Army's own eArmor journal)

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The Russians are paying attention to non-radar detection of artillery firing positions and impacts. That's the old way to which there are few technical countermeasures.


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Old (1998) interview, still worth some attention:

Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski,
President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser

Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?
B: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?
B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
 (copied from here)

P.S. I found this in the list of my draft articles as a June 2017 link list. My apologies if I had published it in June before and accidentally reverted to draft. I truly cannot remember if I had published it or not.



Proposal for a (partial) nuclear disarmament treaty

... that eliminates the near-term possibility of mankind destroying civilisation through thermonuclear war.

As of today, only the United States of America and the Russian Federation possess enough nuclear munitions to ruin mankind. They couldn't wipe out mankind even if they tried, but they could crash civilisation world-wide.
  • The United Kingdom, French Republic, People's Republic of China, Republic of India, Pakistan and Israel possess enough thermonuclear munitions to ruin a single large country, though some of them couldn't do so beyond their region.
  • The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has few nuclear munitions, likely those are at most 30 kt TNTeq yield munitions.
  • The Republic of Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Republic of South Africa once possessed nuclear warheads and gave them up peacefully.
There's a stark difference between the very large American and Russian arsenals and the obviously sufficient smaller arsenals, which provide nuclear deterrence at much lower cost and despite the consequences of failure of deterrence would be much less catastrophic. The two very large arsenals are remnants of the Cold War, and their very size makes certain cost-saving methods of nuclear deterrence impractical because the wealth in warheads would enable a disarming first strike. Smaller inventories would not be able to take out all ballistic missile submarines in the Great Lakes or Caspian Sea for want of power, and would thus make disarming first strikes practically impossible.

My proposal is thus to turn develop and pass a nuclear munitions limitation and cooperation treaty:

A uniform warhead design of relatively modest and variable yield would be developed and tested once (with UNGC approval) and all existing nuclear powers except North Korea would be limited to a certain quantity of warheads, preferably USA and Russia each 200 and all others at most 100, but no more than they have now. Only North Korea would be excluded from the entire treaty and be stuck with its even smaller arsenal.

A warhead of 100 kt TNTeq or more yield is what people commonly think of when they think of the great power's nuclear weapons. Most people would be surprised at how small the lethal radius of a 10-20 kt warhead is against troops in typical dispersion or how small the effects would be on a city. You can do your own calculations here if you doubt me on this.

The strategic deterrence could thus be achieved by a ~100 kt TNTeq warhead, which could have a variable yield, allowing for an alternative 5-10 kt yield for "tactical employment" at a short distance from friendly troops or to knock out air power on an international airport without massacring most people in a city right next to it.

The risks associated with handling and transportation (accidents) would be reduced by using a uranium 235-only pit for the first (implosion) stage. U-235 is somewhat less hellish than Pu-239.

The fallout could be limited by using a two-stage thermonuclear warhead design with 95% or more fusion share of output. The first stage might be boosted to reduce the fallout further. A doctrine of employment at altitude (with fireball not touching the ground) would also reduce the fallout while retaining if not improving the ability to destroy the target compared to a low altitude or ground level detonation.

Every warhead would be "locked" by a suitably long and real passcode, which would need to be stored at a distance and be part of the launch code (launch code = encrypted target coordinates and passcode). The codes would only be known at highest levels, but encrypted files would be stored at many lower commands, requiring the combination of any three such files to create one file with the real passcode list so a decapitation strike would be discouraged.

Said warhead would be suitable for many forms of delivery
  • free-falling bomb
  • cruise missile (air/sea/ground launch)
  • ballistic missile (air/sea/ground launch)
Finally, to further discourage an attempt at a disarming first strike, both a warhead storage container and a decoy container would be developed that could not possibly distinguished without opening (breaking a seal & raising an alarm system). Thus thousands of decoys could be stored along 100 real things in hundreds of locations and nobody would know which is which until an order to open the containers in war or crisis. No list would need to exist that enables to determine where the real warheads are. A disarming strike would need to be able to destroy hundreds of dispersed locations (mostly military bases) with less than 200 warheads - which would be impossible.

An exception may be the standoff between India and Pakistan: The unified warhead design might actually equal an increase in capabilities if Pakistan's and India's nuclear warheads are actually less monstrous than the proposed unified warhead. In this case the quantity could be reduced or these two countries could be exempt from the unified warhead design. The 'cleanliness' of the unified warhead design means that a simple kiloton rating comparison would not suffice in this case, though.

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Russia and the United States could deploy each 100 warheads in conventionally-powered submarines*
  • in the Great Lakes (Trident IID-5 missile with one warhead + 7 decoy MIRVs) and 
  • in the Caspian Sea. (R-39RMU missile with one warhead + 7 decoy MIRVs).
Both would keep 100 warheads in dispersed storage containers for use in various delivery munitions, along with 1,000+ decoy containers.

The other nuclear powers (save for North Korea) would store essentially swap out their existing warhead inventories with the new 100 kt warheads and discourage first strikes as without the treaty. The UK and France would mount each one warhead on each one of their SLBMs, for example (France: 4 Triomphant SSBN with 16 SLBM each and UK: 4 Vanguard SSBN with 16 SLBM each, other warheads stored on land for free-falling bombs and in France's case also in ASMP-A).

The plutonium and uranium from disassembled nuclear munitions that wouldn't be needed to create the unified warheads would be diluted and be turned into nuclear fuel.

A proper surveillance and verification regime would be set up and executed by the IAEA.

- - - - -

The steps forward from the status quo would be
  • no threat of global civilisation-breaking thermonuclear war
  • much reduced expenses particularly in the U.S. and Russia
  • much reduced nuclear fallout in the event of thermonuclear war
  • reduced risks from accidents with nuclear munitions

Meanwhile, nuclear munitions would still
  • act as deterrence through their ability to destroy a society (for example by de facto destruction of all cities of any great power if the attacker has that long reach at all as of today)
  • act as a deterrence against attempts at "conventional-only" wars of aggression by retaining the ability to destroy entire formations of land forces as well as entire airbases
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This kind of treaty would meet the NPT's requirement of working towards a nuclear disarmament. It would not eliminate nuclear arms entirely, but greatly reduce the damage possible in worst case thermonuclear wars. 

The time to  commence talks for (partial) nuclear disarmament is now. We should not wait till conflicts heat up to another Cold War for real and  one or two near-thermonuclear war crisis situations convince the politicians to work towards (partial) disarmament again, as happened in the 80's after the Able Archer 83 near-disaster.

A second step after this treaty could be to move towards total nuclear disarmament, but that's a MUCH larger leap because of the in my opinion well-justified (though not necessarily correct) fear that we NEED nuclear deterrence to keep the peace between the great powers.



P.S.: I know this is a distasteful topic; no pacifist wants to look like a proponent of nuclear arms, an the proposal would require a development, production and testing of a new warhead. Some might even argue that such a "cleaner" warhead would lower the threshold for its use (though a 100 kt TNTeq explosion is still terrible). Radical pacifists will think that partial disarmament is not orthodox enough. Yet some distasteful activities - such as sewage cleaning - simply have to be done for the society's good, and I think new proposals for a partial nuclear disarmament are overdue. The more such proposals pop up and the more public discourse there is on this topic the more politicians will sense that the time is ripe for getting rid of thousands of nuclear warheads - even if hundreds will remain.

*: It's possible to store the missiles in silos extending into the fin as shown in this speculative article. A row of 10 such silos in a long fin should be possible. The submarines need to be shock-hardened with a tough pressure hull and have robust radio message reception abilities, but they need no normal combat system or any silencing in those inland waters. The quick launch procedure could be done after surfacing. Submersibles (with some cheap long endurance air independent propulsion such as closed cycle diesel engines) are preferable to surface craft because of the possibility to track & identify surface craft with satellites. Cheap snorkeling could be used regularly, with all-AIP operation used in crisis or wartime. A slow cruise speed of about 4 kts and resting on the bottom of the sea for days or weeks would eliminate the wave patterns and other signatures that could be discernible by satellites.


One annoying NATO myth

I'll do my part fighting a stupid myth:

France never left NATO.
It merely withdrew its forces from NATO's command structure, period.

I've read this annoying myth about France supposedly having left NATO in 1966 (and returned in 2009) so often, I have really no excuse for not pushing against it here a decade earlier already.



Somaliland and Puntland

I meant to write about the two unrecognised states in Northern Somalia (that appear to be somewhat more functional than the recognised government of Somalia) for a while.

Or to be honest; I meant to do a proper literature research on them for a long time.
No, that's still not honest. To be REALLY honest; I learned only recently that there is not one but two kinda functional proto-states at the Horn of Africa.
It's a quite embarrassing state of affairs on my part, but not just for myself: It's also embarrassing for the news media in general. I'm not a news junkie, but I sure would be better informed if Northeast Africa would rank a little higher on the priority list of German or anglophone news media. 

Their low priority in regard to reporting seems to be proportional to their low priority in foreign policy and foreign aid. I keep having a hunch that we could have done a lot good if we had helped those proto-states instead of pretending that Somalia is still one country.

One example; the EU could have given them most favourable trade terms for copper and tin (the region really hasn't much else that could be exported). We could also have helped equip and supply the Puntland coast guard instead of doing those stupid Atalanta patrols ourselves. Maybe we could have had enough influence with both proto-states to avoid the stupid border conflict of 2016 and could have served as a respected arbiter?

Instead, countries like Saudi-Arabia and UAE have gained influence in the area. No doubt nothing bad will come from that, right?