Arms racing; escalatory or de-escalatory?

Weeks ago I made a case for an intermediate legal situation between true peace and mobilisation. The idea was that deterrence (which is assumed to preserve the peace) is more effective if a potential aggressor doesn't major expect time lag advantages from moving first.
Alternatively, we could look at it as a cost-saving measure; you don't need to have all the military expenses to counter what a threat has AND it can build up in strength over two years of arms racing if you can credibly expect to be effective at counter-arms-racing in those two years. That capability means you only need to deter against what capabiliteis the threat has plus what it can build up in six months of arms racing.

It's a bit odd for a German to write about this and on this side of the aisle because our news media, historians and politicians appear to have a consensus that arms racing is not deescalatory, but escalatory. 

That may very well be true (which means we should find ways to change this), but arms racing and being prepared to arms-race are as different as are warfare and deterrence. The ability to grow much military power during a short arms race may (should) discourage any plans of aggressions that would be built on the assumption of creating an advantage through a superior arms-racing effort.

On the other hand, the possibility of for exmaple a 30% growth in military power during a mere two years peacetime might be perceived as threatening and provoking higher military expenses by another power. This could be mitigated if only countries known to be rather defensive (not meddling, bombing and invading on distant continents all the time) establish this enhanced arms-racing capability.

I'm not irritated in the slightest that this turns out to be an argument against participation in stupid small wars (= all small wars).


P.S.: I understand that I made up "arms racing" as a verb. I found no better alternative to express the concept.


Iceland security

I meant to write a normal-sized blog post about this for a while, but I'm simply not very motivated to blog these days.

So have a look at these




keep the previous post on OTH radars in mind and stuff like this

and this

and have your own thoughts about whether we (NATO) maybe neglecting the Northern flank's security these days and what should be done instead.



Why should we have a military?

"What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"
Madeline Albright, 1992

 Yes, what's the point of a military?

I suppose to answer this properly you need to go back to the question of what's the point of having a government.

The Western view since the the enlightenment is that government serves the people. We, the people, by majority agree to do things together for our own good - we are a community.

There were other reasons for governments in the past. Some motivations were
  • to seek security in greater numbers.
  • to do things together in order to be able to exploit others.
  • to organise an effort of many to worship some deities.
The enlightenment view  - as documented in the philosophical construct of the contrat social - has been the dominant in Western circles on the surface. Another rationale ("To do things together in order to be able to exploit others.") has been more of an undercurrent, particularly in countries that had a rather dysfunctional political culture or a dictatorial regime at the time.

"to seek security in greater numbers" became rather the motivation behind supranational alliances than behind individual governments.

The hawkish party (which is not necessarily congruent with a political party) tends to emphasise "to seek security in greater numbers" as a key purpose of government. This is particularly evident in the utterly ignorant nonsense that government is merely meant to provide security against criminals and foreigners. And I call this utterly ignorant because it is - the function of providing rule of law regarding properties is completely essential to any wealth, for example. There would be no private property and hardly any functional markets without enforcement of rules regarding property and trade.
So the hawkish party espouses that security is what government about (not social security, of course). The problem with this is that their actions betray them. They behave according to another paradigm - "to do things together in order to be able to exploit others" at any opportunity given, though with a minor variation nowadays: They're not so much proponents of exploiting as of harming, dictating and at times eliminating others. This variation is but a cosmetic one, though. Nowadays exploitation isn't about taking away more wealth than is effort required to take it. Exploitation is nowadays at best about exploiting the capacity of others top take a beating in order to make oneself more comfortable psychologically. Many "problems" that can supposedly be addressed with aggressive military power are not material problems to the hawkish party. Defiant loudmouths and people with a very much different culture seem to be outright favourite targets to the hawkish party.

To princes of old government served their own and their dynasty's well-being, to modern 'hawkish party' partisans it appears to serve to alleviate their psychological stress.

My line - as repeated again and again on this blog -  is a very different one, one rooted in economic theory. I follow the notion of government by and for the people
Government action for the people must not do more harm to the people than good - which leads to a simple (though only theoretical) criterion for judging government action: The net benefit (benefit minus costs) should be maximised.

To conquer in order to exploit is simply not profitable any more, and thus cannot be considered a subset of government by and for the people. The benefits that government can bestow on the people with military power are mostly keeping peace (sparing the people the damages of war) and in worst case restoring the peace at minimised costs. Deterrence and defence.
There's sometimes a little benefit to be gained by the entertainment factor - parades, fascinating videos of war (remember the 1991 war porn?), positive feelings of pride. There are also a few other benefits such as disaster aid. No such secondary benefits come anywhere close to the benefit of keeping the peace, and such secondary benefits can either be provided at lesser costs by civilian organisations or the military is the most efficient institution to deliver those because their costs are sunk anyway.

All this leads to another cornerstone of what I write a lot about; the benefits from military power are limited. You don't get much more benefit from spending more once you succeeded at keeping the peace without concessions. This leads to much criticism of overspending, inefficiencies and spending that's not cost-efficient for deterrence or defence.

There is one philosophical uncertainty in all this, though: Benefits are not absolute. Even famous economists like to pretend they are, and pretend that one currency unit means the same to one person as to another, but there's no evidence to back this up. It's merely an assumption that makes matters calculable.
Philosophers have not yet found a definitive answer to how to value benefits (or even only money). They have theories, but none are fully satisfactory. There's also the information problem - only a god-like being would know how much value goods and services truly have to a person.
This keeps us from being able to claim with 100 per cent certainty that the satisfaction from seeing things getting blown up is less important than the suffering of the people who used to live or work in those buildings, or lost friends and relatives in there.

The "for the people" aspect adds another complication; how would we weigh the suffering of foreigners in a cost-benefit calculation?

Philosophy, economics and rational thought don't necessarily matter to people, of course. Some people are simply locked-in in opinions that were built on fears, aversions, disrespect and emotional needs. They would be fine with giant government expenses to beat up some loudmouths on another continent if only the government dudes don't show up on the doors and take share of the costs right away. Abstract public debt (delayed and magnified costs) is a much more comfortable price to pay. The connection is rarely seen this way - just as a dog doesn't understand why it gets punished for something it did hours ago. We, too, are animals with limited ability to process complex affairs.

Maybe you - the reader - are one of those who think (and write) that I should stick to military stuff and stay out of political issues because I'm "idiotic" about those.
Well, I like to think that the gargantuan efforts that sustain governments should be worth it. I do not see any evidence that aggressive military/foreign policies are worth it - but I see a lot of people whom I do not trust when they pretend that they have solid, conclusive reasoning behind their opinions.


P.S.: This was meant to be about inter-state warfare. Wars of independence are much less clear-cut. 

P.S. again: Well, I attempted to keep this blog post at an easily readable length.  That was probably a mistake, there's much more that should have been mentioned. I'll think about other ways to get the thoughts across.


OTH coverage for Europe

Typical over-the-horizon radars use many spaced antennas and achieve thousands of km range, but at the price of several hundred km minimum range. The Australian and American ones are apparently looking into certain directions, while the French have deployed an experimental one for 360° surveillance (and research). It's a skywave OTH radar.*


I cannot tell how much of a technical success NOSTRADAMUS is, so this blog post is all built on the assumption that it's a thorough technical success and thus justifies its expenses.

It's nice of the French to build such a radar, but it appears to be unable to detect and track much or anything over France or its coastal regions. It's furthermore questionable how reliable detection and tracking are close to its maximum range. It's certainly dependent on atmospheric conditions.

An overlapping OTH line operated by NATO might make a lot of sense. Two more NOSTRADAMUSesque radars would likely suffice; one on Iceland and one in Southern continental Greece or in Southern Croatia.

The three OTH radars could operate in coordination, avoiding interference.

Such a radar coverage in the HF band might prove very troublesome to Russian war planners particularly in surprise air attack scenarios, and thus add a lot to European deterrence.


*: Surface wave OTH radars have a very disadvantageous limitation; they cannot detect aircraft at high altitudes (they're still good for tracking maritime traffic).


Luftwaffe: F-35 or Typhoon for air/ground?

There's an ongoing debate about how to equip the Luftwaffe (German air force) for the air-to-ground mission.
The German Eurofighter/Typhoon has very limited A2G capabilities, and those are very recent additions that don't affect most planes.
a more practical A/G load for a Typhoon would be 4 guided bombs
The old Tornados are mostly limited to SEAD and recce, with very limited and mostly very old-fashioned general ground attack capabilities and they're getting really old.

The most-mentioned alternatives are
  • Typhoons properly equipped for A2G (this may be upgraded existing airframes or new airframes or a mix or upgrading old ones and buying new ones dedicated for A2A) and
  • F-35A.
The ministry appears to favour Typhoons, the head of the Luftwaffe publicly favours the F-35A.

My superficial comment on this is that it's utterly wrong to favour either in public. You need to exploit alternatives for a price-reducing competition. Anything but such behaviour is either malign (trying to gift money to for-profit businesses) or incompetent.
_ _ _ _ _

I have a very different comment on this on a  level more removed from such superficial news:

Let's face a fact: The Luftwaffe would love to have many gold-plated A/G aircraft, and it would be guaranteed to neglect stockpiling PGMs for all those gold-plated A/G aircraft. To do what Luftwaffe leadership or ministry of defence would do is all but guaranteed to be inefficient. Efficiency is not their primary criterion for what they favour AT ALL.

"Red" area air defences and fighters would make A/G missions without standoff munitions very risky and thus rather unlikely in the first days if not weeks of conflict. Yet to launch some cruise missile doesn't require a high end strike fighter. You may even make do with transport aircraft if the missile is long-ranged enough. The F-35 would not change this much; I expect it to be used in recce up close, but not without punishing losses. A/G up close is unlikely in the first week even above 15,000 ft - unless there are some mechanised raids that went well beyond the protection of area air defence umbrella and fighter cover. Allies will likely have enough F-35A to exploit what favourable opportunities for up close A2G exist in the first 1-2 weeks.

Germany is fairly close to potential war zones (NE Poland, Baltics) and should in my opinion focus on what defence requires in the first few weeks. This means rather fighters, very good area air defences, DEAD (destruction of enemy air defences) and SRBMs (ballistic missiles of less than 500 km range, accurate to few metres). So far we have fighters (dozens of 100% mission ready Eurofighter Typhoon, dozens more usable ones in a in less than perfect state of repair).

There's something else the Luftwaffe could do to greatly bolster deterrence & defence: Provide more and better infrastructure in the right places.
approx. range of Iskander SRBMs
Think about it; where would hundreds of Rafales, F-35, F-22 and Typhoons be based in the event of conflict?
Western states of Germany, France, Benelux, Austria, Italy? Those places are awfully far away from NE Poland, and even much farther from Estonia. There's not even close to enough (expensive) tanker capacity for 3 sorties/day from such distant bases.
We need bases in the Eastern German states and in the Czech Republic; as close as it gets without entering the range of Iskander missiles based in Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia could have hundreds more such missiles in there within 1-3 years).

To build air base infrastructure and to maintain it is not glorious, it's not fun, it's not satisfying - which is why it is almost certain to be neglected. Find me one Luftwaffe general or Luftwaffe fanboi who would like to see this done. Their all-natural aversion to this is entirely irrelevant to the question whether it would be wise to do it or not, of course.

There's deterrence & defence and then there's the stuff that makes 'top' leadership happy. The overlap is systemically small.

I say; the Luftwaffe should forget about F-35, give up on A/G Typhoons! *

Instead, the Luftwaffe should go for
  • improving the readiness of  the Typhoon fleet by building up stockpiles of spare parts
  • building additional air bases in Eastern states of Germany for 500+ combat aircraft
  • building facilities adjacent to some civilian airports in Eastern states of Germany for 200+ combat aircraft
  • building some of the special maintenance facilities required by F-22 on existing air bases in Western German states
  • exercises to deploy Typhoon wings from Western states of Germany to some of those new air bases within 24 hrs without early warning
  • encouraging similar deployment exercises by allies, for example by refuelling them for free for a week after a 24 hrs quick deployment of all the wing's ready aircraft
  • investing in 500+ SRBMs with CEP better than 10 m
  • creating very capable soft kill defences and area air defences to secure the main air bases, particularly the ones with forces present in peacetime
  • investing in soft kill (multispectral smoke, Pandarra fog (if it really works), GLONASS jammer) and a perimeter of ShoRAD for some road bridges at the Oder river
  • investing in better electronic warfare capabilities that could lay the groundwork for a DEAD and air superiority campaign by reconnoitring 'red' area air defence and fighter behaviour in wartime mode
  • investing in having almost all Typhoons fully equipped for A2A missions** including enough Meteor missiles and a Meteor upgrade with AESA radar

It's incredibly counter-intuitive to tailor one's forces to deterrence & defence, apparently. Almost everyone - no doubt most readers included - gravitates towards 'balanced' armed forces, regardless of how irrelevant some parts would be and regardless of how miniature the end result would be. Such behaviour is very wasteful.



*: Though I admit the versatile GBU-54 is extremely enticing. It it takes quite an effort even for me to resist its promises.
**: Some of them - particularly two-seaters used for type conversion training and the oldest machines - wouldn't need to be upgraded.