Ukraine and the tank survivability argument


Tank forces don't quite shine in the Russo-Ukrainian War, and losses are (slowly) piling up. The Russians and to a seemingly lesser degree also the Ukrainians appear to use (mostly old) tanks for indirect fire support as an alternative to more exposing tactics.

Some people chime in from more or less far away from the battlefield; they suggest (or are strongly convinced) that the tank is in a survivability crisis. Maybe its days are soon over altogether.

That argument can be made with a look at technology, but the Russo-Ukrainian War doesn't provide decisive evidence that tanks are obsolete.

Evidently, neither Russians nor Ukrainians are competent at employing tanks the way they give best results (akin to 1940 & 1941). They also lack what it takes to employ tanks in the way they crushed hostile forces in brief and brutal battles (1967, 1973, 1991).

The Russo-Ukrainian War shows the demise of the tank no more than did the quite similar Iraqi-Iranian War of 1980-1988.*

Yes, remotely-piloted vehicles (flying drones) with cheap RPG warheads hit and destroy moving tanks, but those drones could be defeated easily by jamming. Have a look at the range and proliferation of counter-IED cell phone jammers that were deployed in response to roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those roadside bombs did not make road-bound motor vehicles obsolete, did they?

Tanks were always very vulnerable. They were no more than bulletproofed until 1937. The U.S. introduced and successfully used a light tank (M24) during the Second World War in Europe that was easily pierced and destroyed by all anti-tank guns ever built on some of its surfaces even by anti-tank rifles. Light anti-air guns (especially 37 mm calibre) were a terrible threat to it as well. A 16 year old boy could carry an anti-tank "Panzerfaust" that would defeat a M24 light tank at 60 m distance.

Tanks formations don't need near-invulnerable tanks to be successful, but they do need certain tactics of employment, and we don't see much of that in Ukraine.

  1. Blitzkrieg-style rapid advances possibly over hundreds of kilometres for encirclement, inciting chaos, overrunning forces unable to resist tanks or to seize key objectives such as an important bridge: The Russians tried this early in 2022 and failed where they faced much resistance. The terrain Northwest of Kyiv did not allow to move much off paved roads and in Northeast of Kyiv the Russians largely stuck to the main roads as well. A tank gives protected mobility with great firepower. The Russians failed in these deep penetration attacks because they did not use mobility to good effect.
  2. Liddel-Hart's indirect approach of cruiser tanks that seek to attack non-infantry and non-tank forces after breaking through a frontline: Didn't happen.
  3. Breakthrough efforts or battles with massed and overpowering forces in Israeli, American or 1943-1945 Soviet style: Didn't happen.
  4. Infantry fire support for very many infantry platoons attacking along the front: Didn't happen most of the time; such attacks have been limited to relatively small sectors.

The large and persisting area gains by the Russian armed forces in the South of Ukraine during Spring 2022 happened mostly because Ukraine had very, very few troops defending in the South. The advance stalled once the Ukrainian reserves arrived and the Russians had to withdraw to the Kherson bridgehead for months until they had to give that up, too.

- - - - -

Again; a case can be made that (autonomous!) drones render mechanised forces obsolete in a couple years, but the 'moderately competent' forces fighting in Ukraine don't prove it. We saw that kind of blundering before (Soviet Union 1941, Iraq-Iran War). Tanks do only produce great results with very competent forces.

A case can also be made that manned combat aviation is obsolete (for several reasons), but the very largely unsuccessful employment of airpower over Ukraine does not prove this, either.



*: Misnomered in English into "Iran-Iraq War" to hide the fact that the subject of American hate, Iran, was the victim of aggression rather than the aggressor.


Road march speeds in WW2


I remembered some data from road march speeds during WW2 (and the 50's) and found something curious. First, let me tell you  about the data:

The historical daytime road march speeds* varied from event to event, but the rules of thumb were


4 kph ~ 30 km/day

marching on foot, horse-drawn carts and artillery (not taking into account resting times)


60 km/day

European-style horse cavalry (10 kph for slow canter and up to 20 kph for fast canter for a brief forced march)


18...20 kph

bicyclist troops


20+ kph / minimum 200 km/day (rarely done 150+ km)

This applies to both tracked and half-track motor vehicles. Crew and passengers were exhausted by vibrations and noise. Both troops and vehicles needed many maintenance stops.

This speed probably also applied to motor-towed artillery, as artillery ordnance had poor suspensions and was thus often speed-limited, such as up to 30 kph except in emergencies. Even today most towed artillery is limited to 60 kph.


40+ kph / minimum 300 km/day

wheeled motor vehicles (likely 50...60 kph on good paved roads)

Wheeled motor vehicles had a substantial road march speed advantage (likely more pronounced compared to tracked vehicles than just 3:2*). Yet there was no substantial use of all-wheeled motorized formations as quick reaction reserves. They weren't even undisputedly dominant among armoured reconnaissance in Europe.

The disadvantage of a-wheeled armoured fighting vehicles goes beyond just inferior soft soil mobility compared to tracked and most half-tracked vehicles. The first tanks became shell-proofed instead of just bulletproofed by 1937, a move that wheeled armoured vehicles never matched. They have a too large armoured area compared to the more compact same-weight tracked designs (same problem as with half-tracks unless you reduce the wheeled front to an unprotected skeletonised structure). Armouring wheeled vehicles up to 60+ mm steel would make their ground pressure unacceptable on soft soil (true to this day, despite much better tires and CTIS).

So the wheeled armoured vehicles were not able to prevail in the gargantuan military experiment of the Second World War, despite attempts and already-understood hard soil/road mobility advantages. Even the ability of 4x4 motor vehicles to tow anti-tank guns and the ability to move even divisional field artillery portée (carried for march, set up like towed guns for firing) or as self-propelled guns on wheeled motor vehicles did not lead to such quick formations.

This begs the question why exactly they became such a fashion in 1999...2003 and later (post-2003 rather 4x4 and 6x6 MRAPs than 8x8 APCs). The Kosovo and Pristina deployment embarrassments and armies panicking about "relevance" cannot be the full explanation. Buying all those vehicles was really expensive, so I doubt the advantage in operating costs over tracked vehicles was a strong real argument, either.

The introduction of central tyre inflation systems, wider tyres and improved self-locking differentials did reduce the disadvantage of wheeled vehicles on soft soils, but their rise in weight more than countered this.)




*: I mostly remembered these, but checked Middeldorf/Handbuch der Taktik just to be safe. The minimum 200 km and minimum 300 km figures stem from it, I think both downplay the wheeled motor vehicle mobility of the time. A ratio of 200:450 seems much more plausible during that period. The cruise speed was double and the need for maintenance breaks was lesser with wheeled vehicles. Both tracked vehicles at 200 km an wheeled vehicles at 400+ km would have required one refuelling break, but refuelling was possible by decentralised use of jerry cans and fuel drums.



SEAD, Russian style


I don't know much about how the Soviets intended to attack Western air defence radars. I know they had a couple radar jamming helicopters that were highly effective against IHAWK and they had a MiG-25 version that would fly at very high altitude at very high speed and launch some big anti-radar missile before running away.

The French had a less spectacular approach. They used their own anti-radar missiles for use by ordinary Mirages and Jaguars and had Elint suite to support their employment. They had no dedicated anti-air defences aircraft.

The Americans developed their sophisticated and expensive SEAD/DEAD (suppression enemy air defences / destruction ...) over North Vietnam. It included dedicated wings with specialised antenna-laden two-seat aircraft and two different anti-radar missiles (one of which was terribly expensive and the other had a variety of seekers against different radars). Standoff Elint and jammer aircraft supported all this. The dedicated anti-radar aircraft would find and engage radars, but the actual destruction would often be left to accompanying fighter-bombers that went close in and bombed the air defences similar to how American fighters of WW2 strafed and bombed Japanese air defences to reduce the threat tot he following bombers. This American approach was developed further and they now have a versatile anti-radar missile, satellites help with finding radars and they mess with the radio communications of an integrated air defence. The American approach excelled over Iraq in 1991, but it failed to destroy most of the old Yugoslavian air defences in 1999.

The Israelis used quantity low level strikes to roll up the Egyptian air defences in 1973 and later introduced ground-launched anti-radar drones and ground-launched anti-radar missiles to their DEAD mix.

All this is public knowledge. So what do the Russians do over Ukraine?

  • They sometimes targeted air defence high value targets with a precisions trike by ballistic PGM  Iskander.
  • They provoke air defences with cruise missiles and drones. 
  • They sometimes use remotely piloted vehicles (Lancet drones) to attack air defence high value targets close to the front
  • Some of their fighter patrols and strike fighters carry a (rather big) anti-radar missile, ready to shoot at targets of opportunity and presumably hoping that this capability also protects the aircraft itself.
  • They fail to overcome Ukraine's Soviet-era air defence systems even though they know them to 100% detail and had 30+ years time to train against them.
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective airborne jamming of Ukrainian air defence radars
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective airborne jamming of Ukrainian air defence communications
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective use of satellites (presumably because the Ukrainians change positions briefly after certain Russian reconnaissance satellites passed them)

Even the German air force might be more effective than that in DEAD (using its few Tornado ECR, a couple radar satellites, commercial photo/IR satellites, GUMLRS PGMs, Taurus and a small stock of old HARM missiles)!

I could draw up a fantasy force with an extremely resilient yet still affordable air defence. It would be necessary to deny the Americans effective use of bomb runs, even against their strike package tactics. Yet it's entirely unnecessary against the Russian armed forces, which are so crappy that they fall well short of meeting expectations based on a 1991 air campaign that lasted a few weeks. They had one and a half years. 

We need not look further than the 40 years old Buk-M1 system if we want to see what an effective counter to Russian combat aviation looks like. You'd at most need some gun-based system to keep them from being effective at terrain-following flight (less than 200 ft altitude).

Meanwhile, the Western military-industrial complexes focus on gold-plated cutting edge air defences. This makes sense to some degree (you need lock on after launch missiles to engage targets at very low altitudes and modern datalinks and processors sure make sense), but it's also very expensive. I'm guilty of this as well, but in my defence; at least I saw the need for some cheap missiles to defeat munitions (cruise missiles, smart glide bombs) in the mix.








The direct/indirect fires armour battalion - tactics


I realised that I didn't describe the tactics for the armour battalion for the exploitation brigade properly.

That battalion has four companies of tanks that are very good at shooting with high explosive rounds in indirect fire (up to 42° maximum elevation, with sufficient accuracy out to 15 km).

The idea is this:

The companies tend to manoeuvre as such (platoons maybe spread over 3x2 km). A pair of companies is close at all times, so there are two pairs manoeuvring around.

Now one company gets into contact with dangerous hostiles. The nearby other company of the pair moves into flanking position. They might also act as a leapfrogging couple in a delaying mission or during advance.

The other pair can do the very same, and whenever a pair is ion contact the other pair (about 4x3=12 tanks per company) would be available and be at a good distance for giving indirect fire support with good effect (this would be difficult at short distances in many terrain forms).

This is part of the reason why it makes sense to have four tank companies in that battalion, not three. With three you'd have either two companies giving such indirect fire support or one indirect and one direct fires (line of sight) support. That's A LOT less and would not suffice, as the brigade was designed to not require a separate artillery battalion (there are a few mortars in the concept, though).





Exotic ancient weapons: (X) The sasumata


I did consider to continue the series with the sasumata or the (not terribly exotic or ancient) boar sword, but did put this off for a long time because the sasumata seemed too impractical, too weird to me. I saw a lot of weird weapons from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, but the sasumata seemed too weird.

Yet I saw it's actually still in use. That blew my mind. It's one of those things that are truly alien in some other part of the world.






It's even worse; this to me totally alien concept of a weapon/police tool was actually also a thing in Europe: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_catcher

It would (in a non-thorny version) probably be useful in the UK, where many suspects are armed with a knife.







Coaxial machineguns are machineguns that point the same direction as a tank's (or IFV's) main gun. This makes aiming simple and the vehicle needs no additional means for training and elevation of the machinegun.

Coaxial machineguns use the mass of the turret for cooling and can be reloaded from under armour. Their biggest downside is that most coaxial machineguns allow burnt propellant gases to pollute the air within the turret, but that's an even bigger issue with the main gun, so ventilation is a must in crewed turrets. Coaxial machineguns have been common since the 1930's.

A special (and rare) kind of coaxial machineguns are retrofitted heavy calibre machineguns that are mounted outside of the turret.

You've very likely read about the threat of remotely-controlled flying drones to tanks. They're radio command-controlled and susceptible to jamming, but few tanks have such jammers. Netting is used to counter such drones, but purpose-built fuses would easily counter any such net.*


The answer to such drones is mostly jamming, though you may also shoot them down or burn them with lasers. Jamming can be done with quite simple means; you merely need power supply, a radio transmitter for the correct radio frequency band and a (directional) antenna that fits said band as well.

The whole package can be compact enough to be a one-man 'weapon'.


It's obvious that Western MBTs and IFVs are not prepared to deal with such a threat, and they are VERY vulnerable to it. We could equip them with jammers with omnidirectional antennas, but the permanent emissions by such antennas would be very easily triangulated and inform the enemy about tank locations and movements. We could switch such jammers on only when needed, but this requires the knowledge when they are needed; the detection of the drone.

You may use a weaker (or at same output power more effective) jammer with a directional antenna when you know where the drone threat is. So there's a case for directional drone jammers to be added to armoured fighting vehicles.

We already have quite a garden of antennae, cupolas, sensors and guns on top of tank turrets, though. A coaxial installation of a drone jammer antenna may thus be the way to go IF one decides against an omnidirectional antenna jammer. It may also make sense to have omnidirectional self-protection jammers and one tank or infantry fighting vehicle per platoon equipped with a longer-ranged directional jammer. The longer ranged one would be against observation drones, while the self-protection jammers would only affect the much more close attack drones.

I didn't write much about such jammers in the past because I consider remotely-piloted vehicles as a transitory thing. The really big deal will be drones with a degree of autonomy that allows them to do their job without an intact two-way datalink with a human operator.

My preference remains the use of mass-produced standardised remotely-controlled weapon stations (RCWS) on almost all battlefield vehicles (80+ % of the vehicles of a mechanised infantry brigade, for example). I hope we can make do without onboard search radars.



*: Drones with simple impact fuse can be countered, but a fuse can be built with an acceleration-measurement chip that sense the sudden deceleration when the drone gets caught by the net or cage and initiates the shaped charge explosion. The result would be a shaped charge attack with near-optimum standoff distance; even worse than a textbook impact fused shaped charge attack.


"Sanctions don't work!" (That's bollocks!)


Certain people on the intertubes are claiming that sanctions on Russia don't work, that sanctions circumventing renders them moot. It appears to be fashionable to cite trade statistics with Central Asian countries to provide supposed evidence for this assertion.

I'm not going to publicly guess why these people do so, or what their sources of income are. Instead, the economist in me found the topic a bit interesting from an analytical point of view:


Suppose you want to buy a used car. You spend time looking at offers on the internet, you drive to car sellers, discuss with friends, finally you travel to a specific seller and actually buy a used car from him for 10,000 currency units.

What was the cost of this purchase? I suppose the average economics layman will say it was 10,000 currency units. The average economist should be ashamed if he/she/it gave such a reply. Economists know about the concept of transaction costs. All those other activities around the used car purchase deal caused transaction costs; currency units and time were spent on that deal beyond the purchase price.

Now let's look at a hypothetical case of a 250,000 CU machine being purchased from a Western company by a Russian company through a middleman in some Stan-country. That purchase has a long rat's tail of additional transaction costs; middlemen, briberies, additional transport costs, a greater time delay, additional risks.

So we know for sure that circumventing sanctions like that imposes extra economic burdens on Russia(ns).

Furthermore, economists know a concept called price elasticity of demand. The usual case is that less goods will be purchased if the price increases. The opposite is so super rare that these freak cases have their own name (Giffen goods).

Imagine a 10 € spare part for a 250,000 € machine. Its price could triple and it would be purchased just as often. Imagine the machine's price increased from 250,000 € to 750,000 € and the quantity sold will plummet.

So what's the effect of additional transaction costs on products that Russia(ns) want to import from the West? The quantity will be reduced by this change, as many of the import goods have a price elasticity of demand that means less purchases at higher costs of purchase. Moreover, Russia(ns) not only get less, but they pay more for it per copy.

This was a "ceteris paribus" analysis. We considered how the outcome changes if one input variable is changed. The overall outcome may be influenced by a gazillion input variables and others may override this one input variable's influence, of course. Trade statistics of poor countries have a lot of statistical noise. There may be a mighty influence for less trade and the end result of all input variables may still be an increase of trade for a while.

A certain input variable has recently been very powerful, though; inflation. The "Sanctions don't work!" crowd doesn't attempt to convince people of their opinion by using trade statistics that were  corrected for inflation, currency exchange rate issues or even things such as population and economic growth. A serious economics scholar would be expected to do so if he/she/it proposed a paper on the subject for peer reviewed publication. No, that highly opinionated crowd uses relatively short run and raw trade statistics (nothing like 'since 1991', no 'real', no 'per capita', no '%GDP').

In short; they're not in the information dissemination business. They're in the propaganda business.


Long story short; sanctions don't work as absolutely as desired, but they hurt. Adjustments can be made to the sanctions regime, and it can become ever more restricting, an allegorical anaconda strangling an aggressor state. Russia's quality of life won't plummet much, though. The cases of Cuba and Iran show that a country with decent natural resources luck can maintain regime survival and a low-but-not-starving consumption level for decades in face of severe sanctions.



P.S.: More could be written about this. I didn't touch on the subject of opportunity costs this time, for example. And the whole 'thinking' of the "Sanctions don't work!" crowd is somewhat reminiscent of the bollocks spreaders who claim that minimum wage increases get significantly if not fully neutralised by what inflation they (supposedly) cause.



Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part IV: Applications and consequencs of the new definition


Maneuver/manoeuvre is movement to exploit superior readiness.

  1. This definition is not limited to the age of firearms.
  2. It's giving manoeuvre a purpose, which helps guiding the mind to what's important.
  3. Manoeuvre does by this  definition not include almost all retrograde movements (withdrawal, delay, retreat), regardless of whether fighting goes on or not.
  4. As per the additional remarks in the last post, the movement may create the readiness advantage. Encirclement gives readiness advantage by cutting the enemy's supply lines (+ morale effects). A flank attack may generate surprise and may overstretch the defences. 
  5. The superior readiness may also exist prior to the manoeuvre, and the movement means immediate exploitation of superior readiness.
  6. Classic manoeuvre such as the oblique order attack at Leuthen or Washington's sneak night attack across the Delaware river would not qualify as manoeuvre under some definitions. They do qualify as manoeuvre under my definition.
  7. The definition is applicable at all levels from individual soldier to an entire corps moving as part of a theatre commander's plan.
  8. The definition includes a one-size-fits-all definition of relative fitness for the fight ("readiness"), which directs attention to creating an advantage in this.
  9. "to exploit" implies that manoeuvre is a voluntary leadership decision. Some other definitions pretend that it's also maneuver (manoeuvre) when a driver is running away from enemy infantry and occasionally firing at burst at their general direction.
  10. This definition does not render the "attritionist" vs. "maneuver warfare" discussion moot. Discussions are fine to attract people to military theory and to educate them. A discussion such as the aforementioned one may even make sense when the conclusion should have been obvious 40 years ago.
  11. The definition makes it almost trivially easy to recognise that manoeuvre will never be entirely obsolete or out of fashion. It made sense even in 1915, when trench raids with limited objectives were conducted with planning and surprise advantage with the limited objective of snatching some POWs for interrogation.
  12. It's also almost trivially easy to recognise  that manoeuvre cannot be the correct tactical answer at all times. You do not always have (or can create) superior readiness that could be exploited by movement.
  13. The definition does not show that manoeuvre is typically leading to a quicker conclusion of a battle than attrition by firepower without movement. A definition doesn't need to include the information about this fact, though.
  14. Regrettably, the definition required additional remarks to assist in the correct (as per the author) interpretation. "The movement can create or improve the superior readiness, for example by encirclement, by shock or by the morale effect of arriving reinforcements. The exploitation can happen in the near future, enabled by the movement." To avoid this would have complicated the definition too much IMO.
  15. Another downside is that it requires an understanding of the term "readiness" as defined by me.
  16. The definition appreciates the value of "shaping the battlefield", as it's an activity to create superior readiness.
  17. Definitions that tie movement to firepower emphasise firepower/lethality more, and thus lead thoughts astray. My definition emphasised movement and readiness. The emphasis on movement  (regardless of firepower) helps with recognizing the importance of rapidity for exploiting or creating opportunities. An ordinary definition would rather lead to thoughts about how much suppressive fires are needed.
  18. The Boyd apostles will likely not find this definition to be incompatible to their faith, but they'd likely want to add their 'quicker cycling' fixation to it. They might add (at the end of the definition) "by running the OODA loop quicker" or something similar.
  19. The definition can be applied to naval, air and space just as to land warfare. Americans may (as they're much more militaristic than Europeans) also apply it to business, as they did before with Sun Tzu and some other military theory.



This definition will not be used by armies in their field manuals. It's meant to advance & provoke military theory discussions, not as copy&paste content for a field manual revision.

 S O


Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part III: Definition of Maneuver / Manoeuvre


A definition serves the purpose to enable clear communication about an abstract thing or concept. A good definition also makes thought about it easier and gives it clarity.

I offer to you a re-definition of maneuver / manoeuvre for these purposes.

First, though, let's look at the definition of "maneuver" by the biggest Western military:

Maneuver is movement in conjunction with fires (ADP 3-90).
The purpose of maneuver is to gain and exploit positions of relative advantage to accomplish the mission.


It's also one of the most crappy definitions of "maneuver" I've ever seen if not the worst ever. It supposes that there was no maneuver before the invention of firearms. To sneak into the rear of a n enemy position is not "maneuver" according to the U.S. Army. That's ridiculous.

You may also note that the maneuver vs. attrition debate was 'solved' by the official American (Army) definition of maneuver in a most lazy way; maneuver was defined as moving in battle while someone non-hostile shoots. This didn't answer the debate that started in the early 80's; it sabotaged it. Americans cannot discuss maneuver vs. attrition if they stick to their official definition.

My encounters with such crappy professional insider works are the reason why I dare to voice dissent instead of being in awe of the established paradigms.

My definition for manoeuvre/maneuver:

Maneuver/manoeuvre is movement to exploit superior readiness.

Important remarks for interpretation:

  1. The movement can create or improve the superior readiness, for example by encirclement, by shock or by the morale effect of arriving reinforcements.
  2. The exploitation can happen in the near future, enabled by the movement. 

The next part of the series will look at consequences and benefits of this definition.



Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part II: Readiness


Back in September 1939 a section of German infantrymen entered a Polish barn and went to sleep in the straw. One man woke up the next morning from a separate and very high sleeping position, and what we saw was terrible: All his comrades of the section had their throats slit over night.

It doesn't even matter whether this anecdote from a book is true or not; it reminds us convincingly that even a granny with a kitchen knife (or a brick) is a match for a trained and armed infantry section if only the latter is not ready for a fight. They were definitely not ready for encountering even a single hostile while they slept.

This serves to illustrate the importance of readiness for a (particular) fight as a single variable descriptor of the odds of combat. Combat troops vs. support troops, first world vs. third world, gucci spec ops gear vs. self-made clubs - the readiness for a (particular fight) can be considered as a universal single variable descriptor. Training, equipment, health, morale, position, formation, terrain, time of day, weather and supplies all affect readiness, but there are many more input factors.

My definition for readiness for combat:

Readiness (for combat) is the fitness to succeed in a fight at this time and place.

The fight may be ongoing, commence right now or be started very soon (before readiness can be improved by much).

To have such a single variable description for the ex ante odds of prevailing in combat is hugely useful for the understanding of maneuver / maoneuvre in my opinion.

I understand that this definition of "readiness" is not practical for everyday use in armed forces training. It's relational; armed forces would want a metric that a unit can achieve by itself, and would include things like 'is qualified on equipment', has completed unit-level training exercise', 'has 80+% deployable and present personnel'. I'd rather call that "state of training" and "deployability", and the existence of such terms means that a definition of readiness doesn't need to answer non-battlefield needs.

The next part of the series will introduce a definition for maneuver / manoeuvre that uses "readiness".