Another natural experiment about the defence of Europe

I already wrote about the natural experiment of Greece crashing its extremely high military spending for fiscal reasons, but nobody invaded, bombed or blockaded Greece afterwards. The higher spending was not necessary for defence. It was bollocks from their stupid little Cold War with Turkey.

We saw another natural experiment this year; there's some reason to believe that Putin can blackmail Trump, Trump does absolutely no criticism of Russia, talks shit about NATO allies repeatedly and gives practically no signals that the U.S. would defend NATO members like Estonia.

Yet European governments did not rush to compensate the sudden unreliability of the U.S. as an ally. They surely could have done this. It doesn't take a year to stand up an alternative multinational HQ that makes do without Americans if you're in a hurry. A sudden expansion of land and air power is possible within a few months as well; you can quickly order more spare parts, improve personnel retention with big boni and - in the case of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - even a partial mobilisation would be possible. Practically nothing of this happened.

This leaves at least three realistic explanations:
  1. European governments do not REALLY believe that the U.S. is a necessary ally even only for the most vulnerable NATO members
  2. European governments just failed a lethargy test; the time lag between input and reaction is longer than half a year
  3. They simply don't care about the Baltics
I really hope it's #1, but #1 may be correct for some countries, with #2 or #3 being correct for others.



The mechanisms of delaying actions (I)

I mentioned a couple times on this blog (and elsewhere even more often) that I place a great emphasis on delaying actions in conventional warfare. The central reason is my opinion that battles should be won before they're being fought; the shaping of circumstances (the battlefield) prior to a battle between (temporarily) massed formations should predetermine the outcome. To not do so means to accept avoidable risk and avoidable losses (or to have failed to hone the battlefield-shaping abilities in peacetime).
It should be obvious that such shaping ops take some time before they achieve much effect. Efforts to cut off opposing forces from supply may take three days till there's much effect, for example. Efforts to tire out opposing forces' personnel requires to delay the battle for more than the four days that troops can go with "go pills" and little sleep until they become apathetic. As a rule of thumb you should expect anything from two days to three weeks (~the aerial bombardment that preceded the liberation of Kuwait).

The opposing forces' headquarters would notice if the shaping ops built up advantages for our side and would decide to seek battle quick. It might even be led by some Suvorov fan and rush with great haste, relying on pre-campaign preparations instead of shaping ops.

Either way, one would need to buy time for shaping ops to take effect. The tactics for this are deception and delaying actions (outright withdrawal only works if one has much area to give up).

A delaying operation trades land for time and tries to inflict losses. Ambushes and limited localised counterattacks are the typical tactical actions within a delaying operation.*

Sadly, even after years of studying the matter by reading literature including field manuals I'm still dissatisfied with my knowledge about delaying ops. So either the state of the art is unsatisfactory or  I missed something or I judge my knowledge incorrectly. Anyway; below is some of what I figured out:

How does a delaying operation buy time?
It relies on the opposing forces' fears and punishes first and foremost fearlessness!

One mechanism of delaying actions is that advancing opposing forces are motivated to maintain a security effort. To move with security elements on the left flank, right flank and a vanguard is noticeably slower than to simply drive forward in a convoy. The threat of ambushes and flanking counterattacks forces them to maintain such a security effort. The security effort in itself weakens the tip (an advance guard is usually small, typically one organisational level smaller than the main force - such as company-sized vanguard for a battalion battlegroup) and makes ambushes against it easier, which forces the vanguard to be more careful, which in turn slows it down. Entire battles were lost in military history  because powerful forces that had no proper security effort arrived too late after deploying against probing or even phantom flank attacks.

A second, very simple, mechanism is to force the advancing party to avoid the best routes. Harassing artillery fires on roads can achieve this, for example.

Yet another mechanism is to create obstacles (cratered road at bottlenecks, minefields, fake minefields, flooded areas, barricades (easily removed by MBTs, not so easily removed by autocannon-armed scout vehicles) and even crowds of civilians.

Another mechanism has its roots in the fact that battle-ready forces are typically slower than forces ready for an administrative march. This is not true on steppes and in deserts, but it's true in most more movement-restricting terrains. Ambush positions or nearby defenders force the advancing opposing forces to deploy for battle. They leave the road and instead of driving forward at 60-90 kph they go offroad, avoid the shortest route, wait till other elements report readiness and they may even probe, plan, disseminate orders, prepare ... and by the time they're ready to push forward against the delaying defenders the defenders are gone.

Delaying forces need at least two groups in most doctrines; one group is actively delaying, the other one gets ready to delay farther back. The forward delaying group withdraws before it becomes engaged in decisive combat, goes past the other group in a prepared fashion (no friendly fire if possible). Now the already prepared second group delays, while the other has enough time to find the next opportunity for a good ambush or counterattack threat.

Delaying forces can thus delay even - if not especially - when their ambush or counterattack preparations were detected by the advancing opposing forces. They just need to avoid getting engaged decisively - which includes that they should not be caught by accurate artillery fires.

A good tactic against delaying actions is to advance along several axes of advance. This may allow flanking actions against the delaying force, but the proper answer is to maintain parallel delaying action efforts - one on every axis of approach. Still, this parallel advance devalues some ambushes and counterattack threats, for a delaying force that delays better than its left and right neighbour forces would need to fall back due to the threat to its flanks.

A most interesting twist to delaying actions is that you do not necessarily have to follow the classic retrograde leap-frogging that I mentioned above.** You might also delay by get behind the advancing opposing force instead of falling back. Stay-behind forces could even achieve this without moving. To get behind opposing forces may compel them to turn and secure their 'rear' support services and supply lines first.*** This may even be an utter necessity if for example a pontoon bridge is threatened and the advancing force risks stranding on the far side of a major river.

Delaying actions done right can blunt the opposing forces' advance. Ambushes can take out some combat vehicles, but also some mobility enhancers such as bridgelayers and mineclearing vehicles. Counterattacks may be aimed at air defence vehicles (this may force them to prioritise survival against air threats, which may greatly affect how they move).

A few days (or even only hours) of delaying actions are extremely likely to reduce the dedicated scouting units and small units of the advancing force so much that regular combat units and small units need to be employed as scouts.

Opposing forces may even be 'trained' to become slower by punishing quick movements. Their scouts passed through a village and reported it to be vacated? Have some forces hide into buildings of another village. These forces can then wreak some havoc on a passing support unit, and those hasty scouts may then get orders to search villages more thoroughly.

The more the advancing force disperses to counter the risk of ambushes (and air/artillery attacks) the less it will be able to resist local counterattacks and break through temporary defensive 'lines'.

Part II: Much later.****


*: I generally use the three levels of warfare that are strategic level, operational level and tactical level. "delaying operations" sounds like operational level and that sentence up there makes it sound so even more, but delaying ops belong to the tactical level, just as counterattacks and ambushes. 
**: I wrote about this before, but didn't find where. It's not a new thing.
***: This happened in 2003 OIF when some leave-behind Iraqi forces actually attacked support units and disproportionately more effective combat forces were afterwards tasked to secure this axis of advance way behind the tip.
****: This blog post had already more to say about delaying actions than many tactics field manuals that feature a chapter on retrograde actions.


Recruitment videos

I'm in the mood for some videos, particularly funny ones:

Something serious for a change:

That's enough seriousness already!



Link drop November 2017

"Saudi Arabia’s Incompetence Would Be Comical If It Weren’t Killing So Many People"

"Navy grounds two aviators behind penis skydrawing"
This reminds me of remarks about how 18 year olds are allowed to kill and die in war in the U.S., but not allowed to drink alcohol. There's an inordinate amount of immature crap in a normal military, and almost all of it is harmless IIRC.

"Over-friendly, or sexual harassment? It depends partly on whom you ask"
This is about liberty; both society norms and laws can reduce the freedom of action, which equals a loss of some freedom. It's interesting how laid-back Germany is, though some people would probably call that chauvinistic (females in Germany are more laid-back as well according to the poll, though).
I suppose looking at boobs and other female curves is hard-coded male (non-gay) behaviour and a line between sexual harassment and things that one has to accept as a price for being alive has to be drawn someplace before that's getting people in trouble. We should probably draw that line even before sexually charged compliments, for the very same words are very different in their perception depending on how attractive the speaker is.

"Level IV Armor, and the Future of Small Arms: Brief Thoughts 001"
Disasters like this happen when firearms fans think about infantry combat. Infantry combat is NOT all about infantry killing each other. In fact, there's lots of evidence that infantry repels infantry to some degree, and almost all killing (80+ %) is done by other arms in modern conventional warfare.
Infantry that's optimised to resist opposing infantry's bullets while penetrating opposing infantry's armour plates won't make much sense until exoskeletons become practical and affordable en masse.

"What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Fight For  Information’?"
Just an example of U.S. professional military journals trying to foster thought about doctrine even on a published platform. The majority of military theory writing before 1914 was likely written in German with a gazillion of Prussian, German and Austro-Hungarian military journal editions, books and widely circulated memos. It appears that the effort put into getting military doctrine right is nowadays much smaller. This is horrifying because even after all that effort the officers of the 1900's still erred badly and mostly blundered into the First World War.

A new training centre in Germany for training in settlements of different types, including sewers. It's still missing a lot of clutter, especially furnitures, balconies and fences.

Multi-mode radar with 360° field of view and on-the-move operation in a small package. The concept justified high hopes (except that "low cost" was a ridiculous claim coming from Northrop Grumman), but it's been years since and there's still no series production. A brigade designed on a blank sheet would certainly have something like this, but path dependencies and other reasons make sure NATO armies don't have many nice things like that. Personally, I wonder if the Swedish SAAB Giraffe 1X could be adapted for on-the-move operation. It should be possible.

"HISTINT: Unearthing declassified Soviet military journals in CIA archives"





People sometimes ask me why I'm interested in U.S. politics.
The answer is always about the same; they start too many bad things there that eventually spill over the Atlantic Ocean and become Europeans' problems, too.

To pay attention provides early warning.




German nuclear participation

There's occasionally a minor debate about whether the Americans should withdraw their about 20 nuclear bombs from Germany. This is more than a debate about the storage location for a handful of nukes; it's a debate about German nuclear participation.

So what's "nuclear participation"?

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty limits which ratifying countries may be nuclear powers and it does also prohibit transfer of control over nukes to non-nuclear powers.
The Cold War arrangement in NATO was that the Americans would hand over nuclear warheads (for example for ballistic Honest John, Lance, Sergeant & Pershing missiles as well as free-fall nuclear bombs) to allied non-nuclear powers such as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). This made a lot of sense because in the event of WW3 the NNPT wouldn't matter any more and the Central European front(ier) was divided by nationality of forces. There would have been impractical friction and lags if an American rocket battery or strike fighter wing would have been designated to support a German army corps with battlefield nukes.

Bundeswehr Honest John SRBM with launcher vehicle

What was the (West)German motivation?

The basic law (constitution) of West Germany pretended that the West German government represented all of Germany and East Germany was no state, but a mere Soviet-occupied zone. The FRG government thus strived to represent the interests of East Germans as well. American and British plans to blow up all of East Germany with nukes were not in the best interest of East Germans.
Nor was it in the best interest of West Germans that French, British and Americans planned to blow West Germany up with battlefield nukes in defensive land battles.

To participate in the nuclear warhead delivery chain of events meant to be able to abort it. To provide alternatives to nuclear strikes (such as a strong army and the otherwise rather inexplicable Tornado IDS interdiction role) did help to avoid some nuclear strikes on German soil in the event of WW3.

(From this point of view it might irritate that the Bundeswehr wasn't located in Northern Germany only, opposing East Germany and the Soviet armies there. There are explanations for the actual locations; 
(1) a conscript army is much more sustainable if the conscripts serve all over the country. Southern Germany would have been pissed if all its conscripts had to serve 100-900 km far from their homes while Northern Germans would serve never farther than 500 km from their homes.
(2) the federal nature of the FRG meant that the Southern German politicians had much influence on this affair, and military bases were considered a good way to help the economy especially in rural areas
(3) the Bundeswehr provided the backbone to all allied forces in West Germany through its territorial (mobilised) army logistical and security forces
(4) the locations of the British and American forces were path dependent on the original occupation zones; Bundeswehr forces were squeezed in between
(5) the early Heer (pre-mid-60's)was quite fragile with training and spare parts issues in particular. It would have been unacceptable to have the entire northern half of the FRG guarded by the Heer alone
(6) the Belgians and Dutch preferred to have their forces not far away in Southern Germany, but in Northern or in the Central FRG.)

It wasn't the only point of view anyway; the early West German minister of defence (insert expression of disgust here) Strauß was all-in on throwing around nukes. He apparently focused on deterrence, not on mitigating how very much devastating WW3 would be to us. This was one of his few reasonable stances, actually.

- - - - -

The original motivation for the German nuclear participation is gone. If WW3 or WW4 still happens in Europe, it would likely begin and have its most extreme effects in Eastern Europe. Germany might still be affected (airbases, airports, Oder river bridges, ports), but not by NATO's nukes. As of now it's fairly unlikely that NATO would nuke locations in Eastern European NATO members even if they were overrun by Russian forces.

I strongly suppose nobody is seriously contemplating to seize the handful of American nukes (B61 bombs) stored in Germany. 

So what's the continued nuclear participation of Germany good for?

I suppose there's no "pro" side here, save for nebulous "transatlantic" ideology.




Square or triangular - my two Euro cents

Yesterday I wrote that I have very little if anything to add to that old debate, so this is a sorry excuse of "very little to add":

Nowadays battalion battlegroups are important as elements of manoeuvre. This begs the question what would a formation of four such battlegroups and one separate support group (with its own security effort) be? It would be rather too big for a brigade and too small for a (Western style) division.

The triangular or square issue may also be overridden by a completely different consideration.
Think of a brigade/division defined as the forces that operate in an area where the brigade/division support assets can cover entirely. Think of for example one area air defence missile battery, or one anti-J-STARS/ASTOR radar jammer, one field hospital with a radius of acceptable MEDEVAC/CASEVAC delays, or in an extreme case of motorcycle messengers as backup for jammed radio comms. There are support assets and they may be effective in a radius of for example 40 km.
Furthermore, a certain quantity of battalion battlegroups are a given and a certain area of conflict is given (such as Northeast & Eastern Poland + Lithuania for NATO deterrence/defence) as well.
With these fixated variables you might end up needing 20 divisional/brigade support assets of one kind to cover the region, and have only 43 battalion battlegroups of what's determined as ideal battlegroup size before.
The average would be 2.15, not three or four. The entire triangular or square structure debate would be moot in such a situation unless one is convinced that two support nodes per division and four BGs is the answer in such a case. But what if a different threat scenario leads to 15 support and 45 maneouvre elements?

These figures were arbitrary, but they show that once you look at a higher level and the resources constraints, you might end up with a whole different picture than a mere tactical debate about perfect fantasy formations would yield.

One might instead arrive at a doctrine in which the support nodes are kind of predetermined by the areas, and the manoeuvre elements would fluidly shift between benefiting form one node and then from another one.

This mirrors what I wrote about dedicated reconnaissance assets and how they shouldn't be organic, but rather defined by the theatre size and under theatre command.

Back in 2014 I wrote
An unusually blunt way of reinforcing the point of this text: "The demand for area reconnaissance is exogenous and independent of the strength and quantity of manoeuvre combat formations in the area." Think about this, for its consequences are huge!
Indeed, they are huge once you remember that reconnaissance is but one form of support to manoeuvre elements, and the principle may apply (to some degree) to other forms of support as well!

So in other words I'm moving in circles and merely applying an old idea of mine on a different issue. And that's why I have the feeling to not have anything substantially new to offer here.
Or maybe I have a lot to offer, it all depends on how good the old idea (or observation) actually was. I certainly didn't do much research on the voluminous triangular/square debate, so I could hardly debate someone who researched and wrote a master's thesis on the subject.


P.S.: Clarification; battalion battlegroups are not perfect. Regular companies or mixed ad hoc companies may often be sent on independent missions. There's just not nearly as much combined arms integration in such independently manoeuvring units. They would typically not have organic indirect fire support better than light mortars and very little of engineers' capabilities, for example. On a theatre map it makes sense to pay attention to battalion battlegroups, and ignore whatever unit and small unit ad hoc elements of maneoeuvre these battlegroups dispatch temporarily.


The square structure issue

There's a rare and very interesting category of books on military affairs that appears to be provoked by defeat in war: Veterans who write about the war with the intent to preserve knowledge for a future generation. German WW2 officers - mostly officers who served in higher HQs (such as Middeldorff) - and American Vietnam vet NCOs wrote such books.

These books are unique in touching on aspects that the entertainment books for enthusiasts, research books for historians and official military professional training literature do not cover.

I'll quote one excerpt here that's most interesting. It deals with mechanised infantry / Panzergrenadiere and is from "Die Panzergrenadiere" (1961) written by later Bundeswehr general Dr. F.M. von Senger und Etterlin, a low level aristocrat born into a family with hundreds of years of military tradition.
(German original from page 99 first, BE translation follows)

"Die 3 Grundprobleme

Mechanisierung bedeutet Einsatzmöglichkeit aller Waffen zum Kampf vom Fahrzeug. Mechanisierung bedeutet aber nicht die Aufgabe der Befähigung zu allen Kampfarten im Fußeinsatz. Die harmonische Vereinigung beider Fähigkeiten ist das Ziel der Entwicklung. Dabei ist klar, daß die Kampfweise mit Fahrzeugen  von der Kampfweise zu Fuß erheblich verschieden ist. Jene ist der Kampfweise der Kampfpanzerverbände sehr ähnlich und wickelt sich in der Hauptsache in enger Zusammenarbeit mit diesen ab. Jede Überlegung zur zweckmäßigen Gliederung der Panzergrenadiere wird daher auf die geltenden Grundsätze für die Gliederung von Kampfpanzerverbänden zurückzugreifen haben. Dabei tauchen im wesentlichen drei Hauptprobleme auf.
Einmal bedingt der mechanisierte Kampf erfahrungsgemäß grundsätzlich die Viergliederung, während sich für den Fußkampf die Dreigleiderung bewährt hat. Der Panzerkampf spielt sich zangen- und schachbrettartig ab, zur Raumausnutzung müssen die Verbände auf das ganze Gefechtsfeld verteilt sein und die Ausscheidung von Reserven spielt nicht dieselbe Rolle wie im Fußkampf oder in der Abwehr.
Zum zweiten ist der mechanisierte Kampf vornehmlich Angriffskampf. Das organisatorische Element der schweren Schnellfeuerwaffen in Gestalt von sMG-Einheiten wird hier nicht benötigt. Zudem ist es möglich, die Schützenpanzer mit einer großen Zahl von sMG als Bordwaffen auszustatten. Besondere sMG-Einheiten für den Kampf vom Fahrzeug sind deshalb überflüssig.
Beide Probelme heben sich jedoch gegenseitig auf, indem unter grundsätzlicher Beibehaltung der Viergliederung für den mechanisierten Kampf der vierten Einheit eine Zwitterrolle zugeteilt wird. Beim Übergang zum Fußkampf kann sie nämlich als sMG-Einheit zur Unterstützung der übrigen drei Einheiten auftreten.
Das dritte Problem liegt darin, daß die Gliederung und Ausrüstung zu Fuß kämpfender Infanterie gewöhnlich verhältnismäßig starr zu sein hat, während der mechanisierte Kampf vermöge der Ausstattung mit Panzerfahrzeugen eine weniger starre Gliederung erlaubt. So müssen für den Fußkampf jeder schweren Infanteriewaffe von vorneherein eine gewiße Anzahl Träger oder Munitionsschützen zugeordnet werden. Das Verhältnis der schweren Waffen zu Normaleinheiten muß ebenso bereits kriegsgliederungsmäßig festgelegt werden. Die Mechanisierung erlaubt es jedoch demgegenüber, z.B. schwere Waffen und Munition durch die Fahrzeuge bis in die Stellung bringen zu lassen. Der Munitionsnachschub ist sehr erleichtert, die Gepäckfrage kein Problem."
("The 3 basic problems
Mechanisation means the ability to use all weapons from the vehicle. Mechanisation does not mean to give up the ability to fight in all modes when dismounted. The harmonic fusion of both abilities is the aim of the development. It's obvious that mounted combat and dismounted combat differ very substantially. The former is very similar to the way of combat of main battle tanks and mostly happens in close cooperation with these.
All reasonings about the purposeful structure of mechanised infantry thus has to be based on the structure of main battle tank formations. Thus three main problems appear:
First, according to experiences mechanised combat does in principle lead to a square organisation, while the triangular organisation has proven itself for dismounted combat. Tank combat happens with pincers and chessboard-like, the formations need to be dispersed across the entire battlefield to exploit the space and to create reserves does not play the same role as in dismounted combat or on the defence.
Second, mechanised combat is primarily offensive combat. The organisational element of heavy support weapons such as heavy machinegun units is not needed for this.Its furthermore possible to equip infantry fighting vehicles with a large quantity of machineguns as vehicle weapons. Dedicated HMG units for mounted combat are thus dispensable.
Both problems neutralise each other if one keeps the square structure for mechanised combat and assigns a hybrid role to the fourth unit. It can act as HMG unit in support of the other three units after a transition to dismounted combat.
The third problem is that the structure and equipment of dismounted troops has to be rather fixated, while mechanised combat allows for a more flexible structure thanks to the equipment with armoured vehicles. All heavy weapons require a certain quantity of porters or munitions gunners in dismounted combat. The relationship between heavy weapons  to normal units has to be fixated in the wartime TO&E. The mechanisation meanwhile allows to move heavy weapons into the firing positions with the vehicles. The resupply with munitions is much easier, and the baggage issue no problem.")
There's a lot of obsolete things in this text, but the quality and obvious intent is remarkable compared to both the professional literature (which hardly ever explains anything and tends to simply present doctrine) and the entertainment literature (which would have neglected the "why?"as well, and the authors would usually not notice such issues at all).

I'll summarise the obviously obsolete things quickly to avoid disinformation;
- modern infantry battalions do not make use of HMG units
- modern mechanised infantry hardly ever uses its weapons while mounted
- modern IFVs hardly ever have multiple machineguns

The chapter still motivates me to write about the triangular/square structure debate after all.
There was a nice article by one of the usual suspects in one of the American journals - sadly I cannot find it again. Essentially, it made the case that a square structure offers much more tactical flexibility.
With a triangular structure you can distribute between left wing, right wing and reserves as follows:
1-1-1 / 2-1-0 / 1-2-0
With a square structure you can do
2-1-1 / 2-2-0 / 1-2-1 / 1-1-2 / 3-1-0 / 1-3-0
(v.Senger-Etterlin counted a triangular structure with a fourth heavy weapons support unit as still triangular, for only the manoeuvre elements are counted, not support elements.)

Much has been debated and written about this for over a hundred years, and I have little if anything to add. What I do want to comment on the issue is that there's a systemic bias in favour of the (nowadays dominant) triangular structure that may have caused us to deviate from a possibly superior square structure.
This bias is that even if you have a square structure based on experiences and reasoning, you may still end up with a triangular structure after a round of cuts. I already wrote that cuts are not necessarily done in a way that optimises efficiency or effectiveness. German mechanised infantry battalions even lost their heavy weapons (mortar) company years ago, leaving them with nothing in between 40 mm grenades and 155 mm divisional artillery in terms of high angle fires and even no brigade-organic high angle fires above 40 mm.

Neither any high ranking officer jobs nor any headquarters need be cut when battalions are changed from square to triangular structure in a round of cuts. Divisional and even army organisational structure charts still look the same, with identical quantities of battalions, for nothing changes at the formation level. It's only units (and possibly small units) that are cut if you reduce from four to three companies.

It's difficult if not impossible for an individual to make a case that the seemingly collective wisdom of professionals has lead to a wrong result based on pro and contra points only. Yet it's a fairly powerful tool to identify suspected inefficiencies based on looking at biases. Theories of bureaucracies can help in this, and this blog post showed another way.


P.S.: In case you consider blogging; blogging doesn't need to be super time-consuming. I wrote this blog post in 70 minutes after occasionally thinking about the two main topics covered. Originally, I meant to describe more categories of mil literature, but that may become a different topic sometime.