An achilles heel of Chinese shipbuilding

I wrote before about how the world's shipbuilding industry appears to be concentrated in approximately even shares in PR China, South Korea and Japan, leaving little shipbuilding in Europe and almost none in North America:


The simplistic calls for American arms racing at sea are thus facing a terrible industrial base.


Now I'd like to add information that adds much to this, also reducing the alarm level:

The Chinese produce almost no marine diesel engines.

Ships are driven typically by one of two engine types; big marine diesel engines or gas turbines. Gas turbines are relevant almost exclusively to fast warships. It's possible to build warships with COGOG propulsion (combined gas and gas) using two cruise gas turbines and two sprint gas turbines, but gas turbines are less efficient for cruise than marine diesels.

I looked at the freely available information about the marine engine industry (not the expensive reports) and found that the main producers of marine diesel engines appear to be:

  • GE Transportation (US)
  • Caterpillar (US)
  • Cummins Inc. (US)
  • Rolls-Royce Power Systems (Germany)
  • MAN Energy Solutions (Germany)
  • Wärtsilä (Finland)
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group (Japan)
  • Brunswick (US)
  • Volvo Penta (Sweden)
  • YANMAR (Japan)
  • Scania AB (Sweden)
  • Deere & Company (US)
  • Deutz AG (Germany)
  • Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. (South Korea)
  • STX Engine (Hong Kong)

  • example list sourced from https://www.marketresearchfuture.com/reports/marine-engine-market-1988

    Some sources don't even mention STX Engine as a top company. STX Engine appears to have about 900 employees only and a turnover of almost 500 million $ (2023) in a global market of about 17 billion $.

    So the PR China's shipbuilding industry is a bit like Russia's arms industry; largely dependent on Western parts. This does not bode so well for Chinese arms racing any more, because welding together sheets of steel to form a hull is not as challenging as the production of those giant marine diesels.

    Then again, arms racing at sea could be done with China using STX Engine's (expanding) capacity and domestic gas turbines. They do produce some gas turbines domestically, but again, their capacity is not that great.

    And then I found crap like this that awfully reminded me of how intellectually unarmed and strategically illiterate German politicians are.

    edit: It was brought to my attention that foreign companies have joint-venture factories in PRC. So the real question may be whether the PRC could keep those running (short and medium term) if the Western companies become obliged to try to pull the plug.

    S O




    Reviewing my theses on air power in light of the recent wars


    Well, how did they stand the test of time?

    (1) Missiles such as Iskander, LORA et cetera can and should substitute and complement strike by combat aviation, particularly early in a conflict. They require much lower operating costs due to no flying hours required for training. At the same time they don't serve the officer corps' interests well because they're not 'sexy' like fighters and missile units require few officers.
    This looks very fine, even though the recent reports about GPS guidance issues after two years of conflict restrict a bit what can be done with missiles. 

    (2) MEADS is overpriced nonsense. The IRIS-T-SL addition is actually interesting, but I greatly favoured the SAMP/T area air defence system (with by now substantial missile defence capability) as it could have been bought military off-the shelf after its introduction by France and Italy. VL MICA could have complemented it the way IRIS-T SL is a short(er) range missile component in MEADS.
    MEADS has a ridiculous program cost: batteries planned for purchase ratio.
    The CAMM ground variant may become another alternative if we regain senses and finally cancel MEADS after all.
    MEADS was cancelled. Patriot looks better than I expected in Ukraine because PAC-3 actually performs well against SRBMs and the Russians are too stupid or too cowardly to effectively go after large air defence radars.

    (3) Air power will compete with ground forces for airlift capacity, particularly early on in an unplanned hot conflict. It will also be very busy with its counterpart and ground-based air defences early on, and likely possess little ability to decisively affect ground operations in the first days or weeks. I think air power fanbois such as British folks who point at the theoretical load carrying capacity of 18 Brimstones under a Typhoon - theoretically enough to wipe out a tank company - would be very disappointed if modern combat aircraft were ever used in the anti-tank role against a great power's army.
    The air/ground has certainly been unimpressive over Ukraine, but they don't use Western weapons. Brimstone was delivered to Ukraine for ground/ground use, but I have not seen much effect or praise for it.

    6x3 Brimstone missiles under a Typhoon
    Actual airbases in German: Path dependency rules!
    (4) The German Luftwaffe isn't a necessity for NATO or EU or even only Germany, but -if done well- it can be useful because it would be (a) barely at a safe distance to survive a  surprise attack and (b) barely still close enough to the Eastern frontier to help Poland and Lithuania from German airbases. The usefulness of airbases and auxiliary airfields in Eastern Germany is much higher than the West German ones'.
    The Russians weren't able to fully suppress the Ukrainian Air Force. They waste missiles on irrelevant targets and had for two years of conflict a too long process from collecting sensor data to strike a fleeting target (such as a parked operational aircraft) on the ground. So I underestimated the usefulness of Polish airbases, but my point about the desirability of airbases in East Germany and Czech Republic stands.

    (5) It's still up for debate whether the next fighter generation will be manned, unmanned or optionally manned, but this is missing much of future air war anyway (in my opinion). Traditional air war is about growing aircraft flying high and fast, while in future much of the air war may or will be about small, low-flying and short-ranged drones that may even mimic birds. Thousands of these could be unleashed into an area for attack and/or reconnaissance. It's not apparent that ground forces have adapted to this with appropriate changes in battlefield air defences, but it's astonishing to me how Western air forces appear to ignore the entire possibility and thus cede this probably more decisive air power element to the ground forces. Current fighter types and designs certainly don't incorporate counters; the missiles in use cost 10-100x as much as a small drone needs to cost.
    I was proved correct.

    (6) Air combat will consume a terribly high quantity of expensive missiles. The kill probability will be terrible (AMRAAM has a 50% pk track record, and that was gained in very advantageous situations). We may need more than 30 air combat missiles in stocks to kill a single top quality fighter, which means we should purchase 40+ missiles per air combat kill expected to be necessary. Foreign powers that shall be deterred are likely aware of this, and they're likely aware that such munitions purchases have a low priority in air forces that stare on aircraft quantities and where the officer corps in control doesn't benefit from higher ammunition stocks directly.
    It appears that both Ukrainian and Russian combat aircraft have little air combat, as S-300 and S-400 area air defences repulse them so far back (above 200 ft) that they rarely come no escape zone ranges with hostile aircraft.

    (7) It should be obvious once again by now, but let's spell it out: I think of air forces as bureaucracies. The caste in control is the officer corps. The junior officers are typically fine, but beginning approx. at Lt.Col. the officer corps begins to follow the descriptions of the principal-agent problem when it comes to resources.
    I moved my blaming for poor decisions from the industry profit motive to the principal-agent problem in the bureaucracy (and its political overseers) years ago already.
    The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO.

    (8) The public is poorly informed about air power matters because important info isn't communicated (mostly for obvious reasons). We learn how many aircraft of a particular type were purchased and in service, but we rarely learn how many daily sorties they could generate, for example. The difference between two and eight daily sorties changes the utility of the aircraft in question by very much, of course. Higher sorties rates can be generated with aircraft meant for shorter ranges and of more simple technology - that is, aircraft that run against the actual procurement trends.
    The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO. 

    (9) Many mistakes have been made in procurement by air forces. There's no reason to trust the bureaucracy's expertise in future procurement projects, even though we don't learn about many important variables.
    The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO. 

    (10) The trend towards using air bases far away (much farther than 500 km) from the targets and the thus exaggerated need for tanker aircraft is worrying. NATO appears to be so lazy that it rather adds a 500 km transit than to move a wing or detachment to a less fully developed but much better located airfield.
    The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO. 

    (11) Equally disturbing is the obsession about bunker-busting. I suspect that many "bunker buster" munitions are secretly meant to penetrate into reinforced concrete pillars of river bridges to blow them up from the inside, but even this enlargement of target options doesn't really justify the obsession with bunker busting. To penetrate aircraft bunkers on airfields would typically not even require a standard-sized bomb, much less a dedicated bunker penetration warhead as in the Taurus missile.
    Bunker busting was so far quite irrelevant in the Russo-Ukrainian War and bridge pillars weren't blown up.

    (12) Western air power military theory and campaign plans/command are utterly unimpressive. Strike choreography has been rather impressive since the 1960's, but the typical answer of air power to problems is still to throw more resources at the problem, to bomb more. I'm utterly unimpressed by supposed stars of air warfare theory, such as Warden whose theory is an utterly useless fig leaf for incompetence campaign ideas. I tried to criticise constructively, of course.
    The Russian air power strategy appears to be so dumb that they could do better if they asked ChatGPT for help. The Ukrainian air power strategy appears to be on about the same level, albeit there are rudimentary signs of a counter-oil strategy.

    (13) I don't like the assassination-by-drone campaign, but most of the time the country's government appears to have green-lighted it. Cruise missile diplomacy on the other hand is much worse; it's plain arrogance and aggression most of the time.
    The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO.  

    (14) Western air forces don't need bigger budgets. They should make better use of their budgets, oriented at (collective) defence and deterrence.
    The impotence of Russian air power in face of old (and totally known to them) air defences as well as the ability of Ukrainians to conduct 1,500 km long strike missions with cheap improvised cruise missiles kind of proves my point.

    (15) Close air support is overrated because it was available in a much bigger ratio to ground forces in contact than this would be the case in Europe. In Europe, individual platoons wouldn't be heard by the air force; maybe individual reinforced battalion battlegroups would be heard. CAS was also exaggerated because air defences haven't distracted and impeded CAS after 1991 any more.
    Close air support was not very important or very effective in the Russo-Ukrainian War until recently, when guided Russian glide bombs began to pound known Ukrainian field fortifications in an effort to do what Russian artillery is apparently too impotent to do. Still, it's only relevant at main efforts. Meanwhile, the classic CAS as Westerners think of it is absent and there's instead a drone plague in effect at up to 20 km depth. I consider such short-ranged drones to be more akin to artillery, not air force-like assets.
    (16) I'm no fan of large airlift capacity. I understand that the Americans need it to deploy past the oceans quickly, but Germany doesn't need any military transport aircraft in my opinion. Most needs can be (and many are being) covered by chartered aviation, some can be eliminated by doctrine and others are merely imagined. The A400M project was an embarrassing de facto subsidy to a most ungrateful (and unexpectedly incompetent) industry.
    The wars give no evidence in this regard IMO.  

    (17) Long-range radar aircraft (E-3 and E-8 as examples) are impressive, but would likely be pushed back if facing modern Russian technology. Once pushed back by fighters and batteries with long-range missiles, they could look barely or not at all into 'hostile' territory any more, and thus wouldn't play their huge potential roles in attacks and offensive operations on the ground. A possible countermeasure would be supersonic businessjets turned into radar aircraft since these could survive 50-100 km farther forward, but no such businessjets ever seem to reach the prototype stage.
    Electronic countermeasures add another big question mark behind the utility of air and ground surveillance radar aircraft.
    The Russian A-50 Mainstay AEW aircraft was able to operate for a long time, but a few losses in the air and attacks on their airbase appear to have neutralised these assets. They would sure love to have a survivable AEW aircraft, but they did generally neglect AEW and had too few of the ordinary AEW aircraft to begin with. ECM effect against Mainstay and electronic intelligence aircraft was not published AFAIK.

    (18) Maybe - contrary to Brimstone fanboyism et cetera - tactical air support of the future (CAS) will primarily be about detecting and identifying targets for ground forces' artillery that grew very much in range and precision during the last 20 years. This means that the old (since early 80's) Brevel/KZO or Aquila approach for an artillery spotter drone may still prove to be the way to go.
    This is what drones did and do; originally the TB-2, nowadays quadcopter/multicopter drones.

    (19) Airspace deconfliction has gotten out of hand.

    This event looked scary, but did no harm. I have not read about or heard of any losses due to lacking deconfliction between artillery and airpower. There weren't terribly many aircraft over the frontlines, though. The biggest deconfliction issue appears t be 'friendly fire' against drones (especially with jammers) and of Russian air defences against Russian combat aircraft.  


    So overall, I think my theses look pretty good, kind of above average compared to most publications about modern  war in the air.

    S O


    Survivable brigade artillery: Light howitzer

    A brigade of the line should be modestly ambitious, high end only in critical key areas (reliable instant communication in the field and ability to defeat any AFV type) and it can be designed to be very dependent on higher level support. This way we can force design a brigade of the line ('infantry brigade') that has the training requirements toned down enough that reservists can fill 99% of its jobs (all jobs except battalion CO, brigade CO and XO and some brigade HQ positions).


    It would be dependent on such support anyway, so the force designer can -in an act of self-discipline- drop the pretence that such a brigade could stand against a main effort attack on its own.

    Long range artillery fires are amongst what can be outsourced to above brigade level. Supporting fires on several kilometres front width and several kilometres front depth on the other hand is an every day need and should be organic, thus more reliable.

    There are two ways to address this; we could think at battalion level and require the range needed to support a battalion. This leads to a 120 mm mortar with usually much less than 10 km range.

    To address a brigade sector with all indirect fire support weapons requires more range. How much depends on many factors. A brigade sector is often assumed to be about 20 km wide, which requires about 15 km effective (with acceptable dispersion!) range. That's more than 120 mm mortar offer.

    One might say 155 mm could cover much more than that, but shells flying that far isn't quite the same as capability to support well at that distance. The dispersion gets ever worse with longer ranges (especially with RAP shells) and 155 mm shells have ceteris paribus a greater danger close footprint than 105 mm shells have. In combination, you could not give 155 mm fire support against targets close to friendly troops at much greater distances (if any greater ones at all) than with 105 mm guns.

    You can expect a dispersion better than 0.3% of range (30 m shot length dispersion at 10 km shot range) and better than 1% of range left/right (with gun set after first shot, about 10 m shot dispersion left/right at 10 km shot range) from a modern 105 mm howitzer.

    120 mm mortars are popular as battalion-level support, but they are largely unavailable for brigade main effort fires due to their short range (their time of flight and sensitivity to wind is bad at extended ranges). This makes them reliable organic weapons for the battalion commander, but suboptimal for the brigade. A brigade with 120 mm mortars would need howitzers (105...155 mm) as brigade asset to be able to move fires quickly in the whole brigade area of responsibility. 105 mm field howitzers can also be reliable organic assets; standing orders and hardcoded priorities in fire control software can ensure that a battalion in contact always has support by two ro three howitzers. A brigade with three infantry battalions and 18 105 mm howitzers would still have 12...14 howitzers available for the brigade CO's main effort this way.

    Moreover, think of the typical frontline deployment of an infantry brigade: Either one infantry battalion forward and two behind or two forward and one in reserve. Brigade fire support that consists 100% of 105 mm howitzers could be 100% available in such dispositions, while 1/3 to 2/3 of 120 mm mortars would either be detached forward or unavailable for fires at most of the line of contact. A one battalion forward deployment also shows that this battalion's mortars would be overstretched on a 15 km brigade frontage.

    - - - - -

    So let's look at 105 mm howitzers for affordable brigades of the line, brigades suitable for creating, holding and occasionally slowly moving a defensible (often entrenched) frontline.

    105 mm mountain howitzer OTO Melara Mod 56

    The old light (mountain) howitzer OTO Melara 105 mm Mod 56 may serve as an example. Its dimensions in travelling configuration are

    • 3.65 m length
    • 1.5 m width
    • 1.93 m height (can be lowered to 1.55 m)

    A more modern piece is the GIAT LG-1 Mk. III:

    • 5.20 m length
    • 1.85 m width
    • 1.62 m height

    Both fit into a normal European car garage, which has approx. the internal dimensions

    • 5.5 m length
    • 2.3 m width
    • 2 m height

    An ISO 20 ft container (which could be dropped in the landscape by the thousands) has the internal dimensions

    • 5.89 m length
    • 2.35 m width
    • 2.39 m height

    This makes it much more feasible to effectively hide with such a gun than with 155 mm or self-propelled guns.

    I say it's possible to design a more modern light howitzer that fits this description:

    • shorter than 5.4 m
    • narrower than 2.2 m
    • lower than 2 m
    • fits into a typical European car garage
    • fits into ISO 20 ft container
    • boattail shell range no shorter than 10 km
    • maximum elevation 70°

    I strongly suppose it's possible to add these features without exceeding the dimensions

    • integral accurate position- and northfinding equipment
    • integral auxiliary drive (battery-electric or 2-stroke diesel or a hybrid of both) for moving on flat hard surfaces under own power forward/backward up to running speed
    • hydraulic power from auxiliary drive can be used to raise the spades (getting them unstuck manually may take time)
    • boattail shell range 15 km
    • basebleed shell range 18 km
    • burst rate of fire 12 shots in one minute (as have L118 and LG-1 howitzers)
    • barrel (liner) durability (and carriage durability) better than 5,000 EFC (equivalent full charges)

    without it becoming too big to hide, to difficult to move or unsuitable for a 4x4 SUV as towing vehicle.

    This would give the howitzer fire support qualities against all line-of-sight threats that the friendly forces face. Most targets that are identifiable with small (highly expendable) quadcopter drones or mast-mounted sensors would be within range as well. Deeper fires would be left to 'real' artillery, while this 105 mm howitzer would be more of a 120 mm mortar (practical range less than 10 km) alternative. Some danger close fire missions would be executed with SatNav-independent trajectory-correcting munitions to reduce the dispersion in range.

    The howitzer could hide in a partially destroyed building, a 20 ft ISO container, a concealed trench, a garage or in woodland. The crew could receive a fire mission, move the howitzer into firing position in less than a minute, fire twelve shots in one minute (first shot least accurate and possibly self-destructing used for setting and measuring muzzle velocity only, others benefitting of now embedded spades and measured muzzle velocity of first shot) and go back into hiding within up to 2 minutes.

    The munition of such twelve shots would weigh less than 250 kg including fuzes and propellants. This means a transportation with some kind of wheelbarrows would suffice for 100 m, alternatively even a small car such as Suzuki Jimny could provide a platform for the munition, for a fire control laptop, a radio and also serve as a towing vehicle (towing capacity of Suzuki Jimny is 1.3 t).

    It might even be possible to hide the gun inside a shovel-dug trench (with overhead concealment if not cover and a ramp). The gun's auxiliary propulsion might drive an onboard winch to pull the gun out of the trench easily and quickly.

    Even a combination of counter-artillery radar, standoff observation drones and PGM for counterfires is not very effective if the opposition can move and hide its guns like this. You might need to hit 5...20 probable locations to hit one gun, and such guns are difficult to take out of action for good. The guns would be dispersed; counterfires could never hit more than one gun and its crew. Friendly forces and civilians would be banned in the general area and the gun would thus be deployed at a safe distance to important roads and villages.

    So what would be the jobs of such brigade artillery?

    • suppressing fires (105 mm is about as effective as 155 mm at this)
    • destructive fires at soft targets of opportunity (single gun or few guns on point targets, massed fires on area targets), including fires on mortar teams and triangulated radio frequency emitters
    • fires at marshalling areas
    • (IR) illumination shots
    • (multispectral) smoke fires
    • leaflet (propaganda) fires
    • occasional neutralising fires
    • possibly shooting down observation drones if they are close enough (using proximity fuses)

    This leaves especially deep fires, fires on hardened targets and most neutralising fires to the higher level artillery (divisional or corps artillery). This frees the brigade HQ of tasks, as they would not have to handle such activities. The forward observer teams and aerial observation would communicate targets for deep strikes and hardened targets directly o higher level fire support.

    The brigade HQ would not pay much attention to what happens beyond about 5 km of its troops other than receiving warnings about incoming hostile forces. This limitation of the brigade HQ is possible and driven by not giving the brigade longer-ranged artillery (such as 155 mm howitzers or MRL) and it helps with allowing a slim, quick and largely reservists-staffed brigade HQ.

    S O




    A reminder

    Considering this


    I'd like to recommend a couple past blog posts to you:





    Europeans need to wake up to more than one threat and we need to eject the tunnel vision "Atlantiker" (friendship with America ideologues) from positions of influence.

    S O




    About high-low army mixes for today's NATO


    Around 2011 I wrote multiple times about a scenario of a Russian surprise attack on NATO (at the only kind of attack that makes kinda sense, for it's the only scenario that gives the Russians a chance) and how this would lead to low force densities (very wide brigade sectors). This in turn would not allow to properly defend a frontline, and the benefits of a frontline (stability, safe resting area behind, counter-scouting) would disappear, the opportunities of a more fluid theatre situation would appear.

    Consequently, I wrote many blog posts relevant to that scenario. Now Russia started the biggest post-WW2 war in Europe and the Ukrainians defend the full frontline. Neither Russians nor Ukrainians appear capable of breakthrough. I suppose that's a matter of competence, not of state of the technology or art of war. The Russians even botched the "strategic surprise" part and stumbled into Ukraine as they did into Chechnya in 1994.

    My views seemed to be disproven (and I wrote about that a couple times).

    Now I would like to claim that the war we're seeing is very similar in many aspects to both World Wars, the Spanish Civil War and the Iran-Iraq War. So there's little new. Even the drones merely repeat the accelerated advance of military aviation in WW1 and the accelerated advance of electronic warfare in WW2.

    The concept of both sides appears to be to have a bulk of forces (80-90% ?) suitable for holding a frontline and a few formations set up for either breakthrough (Russian storm units) or main effort (Ukrainian mechanised brigades with Western gear).

    Neither side has the competence to do a proper combined arms breakthrough, and the Ukrainian tank forces resemble rather the 'fire brigade' Panzerdivisionen of late 1944 than the 'Blitzkrieg' Panzerdivisionen of 1940-1942. The Russian mechanised forces resemble the French tank divisions of 1940.

    It may not sound nice, but both sides suffer badly from insufficient reserves training prior to 2022 and are by now rather amateurish and incapable of combined arms warfare. Both sides are using armed forces that were ridden by corruption for three decades and are rooted in the at most modestly competent Russian army tradition. It's a common symptom that amateurish armies form when armies expand very quickly in wartime, with much of the pre-war experts killed in the opening stage. The American Civil War was such a amateur war. The British Expeditionary Forces were quite amateurish around 1916, too. Historians are usually too nice to point out that insufficiently-trained leaders and troops lead to amateurish, incompetent armies. They do usually research & write about their own country, after all.

    The upside of all this is that the Russians gt a demonstration of the limit of their abilities. They do now understand they cannot defeat a 80/20 low-high mix force in the field. They understand that they suffer higher material and personnel losses than a moderately well-done 80/20 mix army, and without the Chinese helping them by the millions of troops the Russians would stand no chance against NATO even if NATO used 80/20 instead of trying to go for all high end forces (in the richer countries).

    An all high end NATO might get swamped and overrun by a Sino-Russian force of three million troops in Europe, so maybe we need to counter mass with mass anyway, again leading to 80/20. The Chinese mobilisation potential is well in excess of 150 million men + millions of women for non-combat roles, so NATO might face a sustained incredible numerical inflow of PLA troops of low quality during a long war. We could defeat this only if we're prepared for it - this means at the very least have enough trained junior NCOs to do proper training for our own mobilised mass armies. The point of preparing for this scenario is to deter, avoid the scenario.

    The Western way of war proved to be overwhelming to the Soviet arms-equipped 80/20 approach during 1991, but it did so at a time when the West enjoyed a near-monopoly on thermal vision in ground combat and it was in featureless terrain. High-quality munitions were expended at an unsustainable rate. Moreover, most of the ground combat was actually against Iraqi troops already withdrawing in disorder.

    The fiscal argument is strongly in favour of 80/20. The 80% troops of the line would not need terribly much training and could be reserve troops. This would greatly save on the scarce personnel, as such reserve forces could have 1,000,000 troops mobilised strength with a peacetime active strength of less than 100,000. This reduces the high direct personnel expenses AND it frees up personnel for civilian, GDP-raising and taxes-paying jobs. A 100,000 € personnel costs soldier job has a true cost to the society of about 150,000...200,000 €. It's plain stupid to unnecessarily keep troops in active duty.

    Moreover, those 80% troops of the line would be technologically and fiscally as well as doctrinally feasible for almost all NATO countries. The challenges of a high end tank brigade may not be met by any Western countries these days, and with better effort (focus on conventional warfare) maybe half a dozen NATO countries could master the tank brigade/exploitation brigade pattern well enough for consistent success with it.

    So in my opinion 

    • We should prepare NATO defence against Russian strategic surprise attack by 2028 or later
      • This still means first weeks would have low force densities
      • This still means it's important to get combat-ready forces to the front en masse within a few weeks
    • We should prepare NATO defence against a 3 million men Sino-Russian land force 2026 or later
      • This requires enough mass
      • Facing demographic challenges and high costs of labour, we should make use of a hi/low mix with focus on mobilised strength after a few weeks. Peacetime military strength of most NATO members does not matter much for defence. To boost it is inefficient.
    • We should consider helping the poorer NATO members with equipping & training proper brigades of the line
    • We should consider helping the NATO frontier countries with equipping & training surprise-resistant 'first line of defence' forces that can delay incursions well.
    • I keep insisting that forward-deploying brigades and setting up multinational (poor cohesion) brigades and creating small pools of increased (not total shit) readiness forces was and is all bollocks. ALL forces should be up to their tasks. Set up a multi-brigade air/land warfare training ground in Poland with always three or four (rotating) brigades present and maybe entire brigade sets of equipment prepositioned if we absolutely need such a forward presence.

    Is there a place for my low force density ideas left? Well, yes, in the exploitation brigades. They do not need to be classic tank brigades or French-style 6x6 wheeled armoured car-based  formations.

    I wrote about affordable brigades with reduced expectations (accepting some dependencies on higher level support) before. There's one draft (~80% done) for a text relevant to this.

    S O



    P.S.: I should mention that the German, Japanese and Soviet forces of WW2 followed a similar pattern of bulk of forces being poor quality but 15...20% being either elite light infantry or fully motorized troops.  The only Italian troops of WW2 that were effective were concentrated in two divisions and the Bersaglieri battalions of the infantry divisions. Armies had no such high-low mix during the First World War (they thought they had it with the cavalry divisions being high end, but they proved to  rarely be of use). The German army started to be able to breakthrough the Entente in France once it created high end units (assault infantry with actual trench attack training and equipment) in combination with smarter artillery plans. Overall, a high/low mix proved to be the most cost-efficient approach through centuries in Europe. To go all high-end (as Americans with their fully motorised and tank-rich invasion force in 1944) is a luxury left to those with vastly superior industrial resources (or in peacetime: insane military spending).



    Russian vulnerabilities (I): Air defences


    The Russian air defences face a double problem; they are stretched thin and they don't get sufficient support by the flying air force, especially not by AEW aircraft (colloquially a.k.a. AWACS).

    Being stretched thin means that there is no redundancy; a radar forced to shut down out of caution by an incoming anti-radar missile means that there's a temporary gap in the area air defences. It also means that the area air defences have insufficient coverage of the front line against very low-flying targets. Cruise missiles can slip through such gaps, and mission planning of cruise missile missions based on passive electronic warfare (triangulating and identifying radar signals plus satellite data) can almost ensure a safe passage of high quality cruise missiles such as Storm Shadow.

    A-50 'Mainstay' AEW aircraft (c) mil.ru Sergey Lutsenko, Timofey Nikishin

    The lack of coverage by airborne radars (A-50 Mainstay AEW aircraft were few, had questionable readiness and were decimated during the war. Fighters cannot easily maintain a good coverage with look down radar searches because their radars are built in for forward search only), even though MiG-31 and Su-35 have (on paper) impressive radars.

    This means that modern cruise missiles can slip through and are most unlikely to be intercepted behind the frontline as well. It's thus not unreasonable for NATO to trust very low-flying cruise missiles for strike missions on stationary and semi-stationary (rarely moving) targets, including ships in port.

    The Russian air force's deficiencies extend to the defence against cheap cruise missiles (Shaheed-136 has become the embodiment of these after it was introduced to the Russo-Ukrainian War by the Russians themselves). The costs of such cheap cruise missiles appear to range form the price of an ordinary new car to the price of a cheap family home. This is less than the costs of area air defence missiles, which range from cheap family home price to small new mansion price. The Israeli Tamir missile appears to be the only exception, combing a Porsche's price with a low end area air defence footprint.

    Future small cruise missiles may be able to do what was envisaged in a West German combat drone program of the late 1980's already; patrol along roads, find and identify vehicles, engage high-enough value vehicles autonomously. This would add considerable battlefield interdiction ability (against mobile/moving targets).

    As a conclusion, cheap cruise missiles are also worthwhile, even if some or many get intercepted. Targets at ranges greater than 1,000 km can be hit by cheap cruise missiles. The warhead is usually rather small and their cruise speed is rather low (or very low), so the target categories for cheap cruise missiles should for now be stationary and semi-stationary targets that can be defeated by a warhead no bigger than 50 kg and require no high impact speed. V-1-styled cheap cruise missiles (pulse jets engines are super simple and cheap) could strike at short ranges (less than 500 km) with much bigger warheads, but impact only at about Mach 0.5 speed. Hardened aircraft shelters would thus largely be ruled out, but Russia doesn't have many of those anyway. Autonomous cheap cruise missiles might have a suppressive battlefield interdiction effect.

    All kinds of quasi-ballistic missiles appear to penetrate Russian (area) air defences at acceptable success rates. This means that (quasi)ballistic missiles are promising means of attack against time-critical targets such as aircraft on a tarmac, large radars, headquarters or ships that are just briefly in port. They may also be the most promising choice for very heavily defended point targets such as the pillars of an important bridge. A 'hypersonic'-ish behaviour of terminal manoeuvring from a near-vertical to a more horizontal approach for a pillar hit from the side might be advantageous for this, but many suspended bridges can be cut with a expanding rod warhead cutting steel cables as well.

    The poor performance of Russian air defences also requires them to be sited quite far back, as they cannot defend themselves well-enough against small quasi-ballistic missiles such as GUMLRS (colloquially a.k.a. as "HIMARS"). GUMLRS-ER has about 150 km range, so Russian area air defences will either be unable to protect forces at the front or will be limited to ambushes (no radar/radio emissions until briefly before firing to avoid getting found & hit) or will permanently be deployed forward at a high attrition rate. This gives NATO some hopes that the post-Cold War approach of bombing with precision munitions from too high for short range air defences would work against Russia.

    Finally, there's still the sophisticated and expensive capability of strike packages, an invention of mid-World War Two that got refined to almost its modern version over Vietnam in the early 70's. There's little reason to believe that the Russian air force could resist such strike packages for long, if at all. The quality displayed by its flying and land-based forces is so low that the Russian air force is probably not even on par with the French one overall. Strike packages can be considered cost-inefficient, though. They're furthermore merely a 'pulsing' capability. There would be strike aircraft over Russian ground  for some hours of the day, but not for most hours. Ordinary high frequency radio transmissions would suffice to alert Russian forces on the ground to hide rather than move on roads when such a strike package is nearby. So in the end, all that effort for strike packages is redundant to the abilities of cheap cruise missiles, cruise missiles and quasi-ballistic missiles (in the high value point target-busting role, not in regard to quickness).

    I should mention that some if not most problems of the Russian Air Defence appear to be the result of poor training and poor maintenance.

    What should Russia do to make its air defences fit?

    • improvement of training
    • improvement of maintenance, especially through large stocks of spare parts
    • introduce in quantity cheap area air defence means against cheap cruise missiles and drones, ideally Tamir-like and capable of taking on some quasi-ballistic missiles (such as GUMLRS-ER) as well
    • create a survivable (!) AEW platform, preferably a supercruise aircraft with decimetric AESA radars (possibly one rotating AESA antenna front and aft each for twice hemispheric coverage)
    • rely on battlefield air defences that can be hidden easily (and require no on-board radar)(example)
    • create area air defences specialised on ambushing (to protect the land force sin the field) rather than built for near-permanent observation of the sky
    • increased use of passive radars or multistatic radars with cheap emitters
    • plentiful use of believable decoy emitters and fake radio transmissions to make it hard to identify gaps in the air defences
    • localized on/off jamming of satellite navigation (GPS, Galileo, Beidou, even the own Glonass) to force the use of more expensive navigation and targeting electronics in cheap cruise missiles
    • use many cheap jammers to deny aerial and satellite radar reconnaissance
    • use lasers to dazzle photo and thermal imagery reconnaissance satellites
    • have long-range surface-to-air missiles to keep NATO AEW, tanker, standoff jammer, ELINT and air/ground radar reconnaissance aircraft at a long distance
    • minimise the need for radio communication by the air defences

    I doubt that Russia can do most of these within the next 15 years - before autonomous drones become dominant almost for certain. Cheaper forms of air defence, some passive radars, more and better decoys, distributed cheap jammers (untypical for Russia, but feasible especially with Chinese input) and laser satellite dazzling appear to me as the most probable measures till the mid-2030's. A series production of the Su-57 won't make much of a difference regardless of the quality of the aircraft type and its missiles.

    NATO may decide whether it's going to trust its ability to strike with stealth aircraft through gaps, to wear down air defences in a DEAD (destruction of enemy air defences) campaign or punch through defences with strike packages. The Cold War-style confidence in terrain following flight of manned strike aircraft appears to be the most risky and least favoured approach.

    Alternatively, we could skip all those expenses for F-35's, dedicated anti-radar aircraft ('Wild Weasel'/ECR) and anti-radar missiles. We could use long-range container-launched cruise missiles (turbojet, 3000 km x 500 kg warhead), container-launched quasi-ballistic missiles (solid fuel rocket single stage, 1000 km x 250 kg warhead), long-ranged cheap cruise missiles (piston engine, 3000 km x 50 kg warhead) and cheap cruise missiles (pulse jet, 500 km x 500 kg warhead) and combine this with (survivable!) passive electronic warfare assets + proper mission planning (separate planning teams for hasty and for deliberate strike planning). This would cover our deep strike needs pretty well.








    S O



    P.S.:  The question remains how to do battlefield interdiction against vehicles on roads. Their movement maybe dispersed rather than in convoys, and it's near-impossible to render a road network unusable for offroad-capable motor vehicles.

    The Ukrainian approach is to engage motor vehicles at up to 20 km depth with drones. This poses a persistent threat. Strike packages cannot persist like that. Aerial sensors (or sensors on very high vantage points such as mountains) could enable land-based fires (dumb HE, DPICM, 'smart' artillery munitions, drones) within their effective surveillance range (including ability to sufficiently ID targets as military targets). That would likely not be much farther than 20 km because the longer-ranged SAR/GMTI radars can be jammed and deceived cheaply. So how do we impede hostile ground forces & supply movements beyond attacking (semi)stationary targets? Can't we do anything about dispersed lorry movements 500...20 km forward of our troops? We used to have battlefield interdiction aircraft for this in Western Europe (Tornado IDS, Jaguar).



    Mobilisation Part IV: Industry


    I studied warfare for a very long time, and it's self-evident to me how much of an industrial effort both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were. I looked at tables showing how many rifles, pistols, light field guns, light howitzers, heavy howitzers, lorries, cars, tanks of various types were produced in 1942, 1943, 1944 for the German armed forces. The weapons counted by the thousands, munitions counted by the millions. I know of the ammunition crisis 1915 in UK, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia - and how Russia suffered from being unable to produce enough artillery for the war effort during the First World War. I know how very much the hands of the Italian military were tied in 1940-1943 because of insufficient of access to natural resources (coal, iron ore, oil). I know about the insanely high cargo shipbuilding rates of 1942-1945. I know about the huge arms imports of Iraq during the 80's, including the purchase of many millions of old Warsaw Pact artillery shells and rockets.

    I look at the Russo-Ukrainian War and it's been utterly obvious since about May 2022 that it turned into a war in which industrial output could prove to be decisive.

    By comparison, the typical Western politician in power at the national level has a very different background. The legislative types think mostly in terms of budgets (money) and the executive branch types may -if they are low-ranking enough- think in terms of procurement processes. PEACETIME procurement processes. And then there are the (expletives) in the EU politics who come up with nonsense like buying only European (something that the Czech president exposed by telling the public that he could get 800k shells from abroad right away).

    These types don't think in terms of mobilising the economy for war as it happened during the world wars. Their idea of buying artillery shells is to create a budget, run a tender, give a contract to an established armsmaker which then promises to deliver the required quantity within the next four years or so.

    World War-ish mobilisation of industry for war looks different. Factories were repurposed*, priority purchases of different machinery were executed, previously not employed people (women) were hired, trained and became proficient workers.

    The Russo-Ukrainian War entered its current phase 25 months ago. Germany could have launched a munitions production program by May 2022 that would have reached a production level of monthly a million 105, 120, 122, 125, 152 and 155 mm high explosive ammunitions plus propellants and packaging by summer of 2023. This is not disputable. The technology involved is fairly simple, Chinese lint export stop, months of curing time for certain energetic materials - nothing could have held us back more than one year from reaching such a high output.

    We could have flooded Ukraine so much with artillery and tank gun munitions that we would have been forced to shift production towards rockets and mortar munitions away from howitzer munitions, as howitzer barrel and howitzer barrel liner production might actually not have been expanded quick enough to match such a munitions program.

    The problem here is not just a Ukrainian problem; our politicians and bureaucrats would almost certainly have failed if we needed the munitions for our own defence.

    We should be better prepared. It's near-impossible to ensure that every new legislator, cabinet member or their aides get educated in the realities of industrial warfare.

    It might be possible to exploit the current near-awareness of the legislators to create a mobilisation law, though. A mobilisation law that reduces the challenge to a mere executive or legislative decision, similar to how we already cast certain emergency procedures for the event of Warsaw Pact attack into law long ago.

    We could have a law that can easily be activated by a cabinet decision (with obligatory legislative review and possible cancellation). This law could prioritise the production of goods and services for the military (and civil defence and repair of catastrophic damage to infrastructure) along the value added chain. A factory might be ordered (not asked) to produce munitions, it would issue an order for new machinery and the producer of the machinery would be forced to prioritise this order, a force majeure on all its other contracts that thus get delayed. These factories could also get priority access to labour (how to get that done would be much more tricky due to liberties). The normal paperwork needed to expend a factory would be waived entirely, save for precautions for hazards (particularly with energetic materials). Everything would be built right away, paperwork would be done after the fact if at all.

    We could have adapted such a law for the rapid production of FFP3 masks, air sanitizers and vaccines during the Covid crisis, so such a law on the books could have value well beyond the military realm.


    Most of all, such a law would be CHEAP. It would cost almost nothing. It would make our deterrence against Russia and China much more credible, though. They would understand that we would be able to quickly harness our industrial power and proficiency for a war effort, that we could repair damage quickly.

    S O


    *: All-new factories were also built, but they usually take longer to run up to high output than already existing factories. It's better to repurpose and expand a factory with existing backoffice than to build an all-new one.



    The Russian tactical nuclear threat card was spent


    I believe that the ability to end a RUS-NATO war with a RUS threat of using 'tactical' nukes against attempts of reconquest (and against airbases) is an essential requirement for Russia to dare attack any NATO member for real. They could not win in a conventional war.
    Exactly this nuclear threat has been eroded by the inflationary bluffing with nukes since 2022.*

    Thus IMO Russia wouldn't dare now to attack NATO anytime soon even if a fairy gave them back all troops and material they spent against Ukraine and all of Ukraine surrendered, handing over all its equipment.


    S O


    *: Reputation can be built up, but it can also be spent. Russia spent its 'nuclear threats credibility'. I understand that there are weak-minded pussies in positions of importance in the West as well and there's a bit of a 'Putin's 5th cohort' in power in Hungary and Slovakia, but an all-out stop of hostilities in a Russo-NATO or Russo-EU war just because Russia threatens with tactical nukes seems to be a ridiculous notion to me.



    Mobilisation Part III: Personnel


    Major wars usually show the very same thing; insufficient (quantity) training of reserve leaders pre-war leads to too short training of leaders in wartime. Well-known examples include the American Civil War, First World War, Second World War and the current Russo-Ukrainian War. The result is amateurish military actions leading to avoidable casualties, failures in offence and failures in defence against skilful attacks.

    It takes as a (very rough) rule of thumb

    • three months for a decent basic training to turn a civilian into a soldier,
    • (I say) about three more months for a specialisation training (this can differ very much and many soldiers need no specialisation training),
    • about six months for a good a good junior non-commissioned officer course (graduation rate well below 100%),
    • some experience as leader and six months to turn a good junior non-commissioned officer into a senior non-commissioned officer or junior officer in yet another course (these two courses should both have graduation rates not much higher than 2/3).

    So to create a reserves-grade senior NCO (assistant platoon leader or kind of chief of staff of a company leader) or junior officer (platoon leader) takes about two years in peacetime conditions IF and only if the ambitions are kept modest. Historically, the U.S. Army produced "90 day wonders" junior officers during WW2, almost all of which predictably didn't shine. To create junior officers with section leader competence takes around a year in peacetime conditions.

    Wartime training is more serious, more urgent, more streamlined, more motivated and rather devoid of vacations. It can thus be much quicker, but often times it's also less versatile. A tank commander trained during a desert war for desert warfare would not be taught about fighting in hilly terrain with woodland and swamps, for example. Furthermore, the duration of peacetime training courses may be inflated because the armed service is too bureaucratic, adding too much nonsense training, is lacking training resources (such as access to simulators or live shooting ranges) or lacking self-discipline in defining the course.

    - - - - -

    The armed bureaucracies, politicians and journalists have a suboptimal obsession with peacetime military strength. I don't care whether the current Bundeswehr personnel strength is 177k or 183k; tell me the mobilised strength, damnit! The last time I read that figure it was at 690k (according to my memory), and that was ages ago. Nowadays it's likely below 300k with almost no properly-equipped reserve combat formations.

    This focus on peacetime strength befits a military that doesn't fight with more than one finger - stuff like the farce in Afghanistan, for example. A military with a constitutional mission to defend the nation should be built for mobilised (wartime) strength instead.

    There are multiple metrics for that. We could look at strength on day 1, on day 4, on day 14 or strength after one year of warfare, for example. We could furthermore look at these dates once with the assumption of a surprise war and another time with the assumption that the war risk was recognised long in advance and there was a two-year buildup of military power.

    I'm in favour of paying attention to German military strength on day 14 of mobilisation, both with and without two-year reactionary buildup. The simple reason for this is that the geographic proximity of Germany to the NATO members under threat of invasion positions Germany naturally as a first weeks responder. The Spanish, British and North Americans could consider themselves as naturally inclined to bring most of their troops into action after (much) more than two weeks.

    This leads to an emphasis on personnel and material reserves. Strength on day four would be about active forces strength, but strength on day 14 is about mobilised strength. The peacetime strength should thus be but a means to credibly create that day 14 strength (and to prepare for a two-year buildup).

    We should also consider the "day 14 " strength after a two-year force buildup.

    The enlisted personnel can be trained quickly (in about half a year as mentioned above), especially if you have enough leadership personnel to conduct the training.

    A two-year buildup would give just barely enough time for creating many satisfactory junior leaders. This would require a diversion of suitably qualified leaders from the active army to employment as trainers, which runs counter to the generals' and politicians' primitive desire to enlarge peacetime combat strength in times of crisis. Germany can downgrade its "day 1" and "day 4" strengths like this, but directly exposed countries of the alliance such as Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania would probably not dare to do so.

    So far I wrote about the generation of trained personnel. There's also the issue of wartime attrition, which matters a lot if the war is protracted. Regrettably, wars are notoriously difficult to end, so a protracted war should not be ruled out.

    Land troops within about 30 km of hostile land forces suffer the highest rate of attrition, but it's not just the attrition by death or crippling that matters. Psychological attrition is just as bad, and remarkably predictable. Combat troops reach a zenith of combat effectiveness after les than 100 days of combat, but soon after 100 days of combat they become near-useless. The failures of particularly proven veteran troops in battle are legion in military history. Napoleon's Old Guard failed at Waterloo, British desert soldiers with experience since 1940/41 often failed to attack successfully in Tunisia and Italy in '43. Experienced German infantry (and officers!) failed towards the ends of both world wars.

    Rotation of troops should be self-evident, but even with a lavish rotation scheme and a defensive strategy you'll need a 100% turnover of personnel in combat troops within a year if you want to avoid a collapse of combat effectiveness for psychological reasons. I suppose we should at very least be prepared for one such full water change in the combat arms and generally all troops meant for within 20 km distance to hostile ground forces. This creates a justified but uncommonly high expectation for personnel reserve creation during peacetime.

    There's also the issue that combat troops junior leaders can be expected to suffer higher attrition rates than enlisted combat troops, at least if they lead in the German way.

    This is all without taking into account the creation of additional formations, as it always happens in large wars (ACW, WWI, WW2, Iraq-Iran War, Russo-Ukrainian War examples). The creation of new formations always dilutes the quality of the overall armed forces and was often driven well past the optimum. All-too often the creation of additional formation was pushed for at the expense of fully reconstituting depleted existing formations that have a proven and working skeleton cadre left.

    And then there's the issue of middle-level leadership. I have a low opinion of how much senior (above brigade command) leadership (or rather management) we would need at war, so middle-level is much more interesting. Company leaders (captains / Hauptmann) should have at least some platoon leadership experience as officers, so a total time in service of about 30 months is a reasonable minimum for them. The exceptions are very easy jobs (such as being leader of a clothing depot or a railway repair unit) and very tricky jobs (example company leadership in electronic warfare or armoured reconnaissance) and jobs that are very similar to civilian jobs (medical, road logistics).

    The training of a large quantity of junior leaders and larger quantity of reserve enlisted men has the nice side effect that you need company leaders and battalion commanders for this, of course. So that training program gives experience-gathering opportunities for mid-level leadership personnel.

    It's often said that it's the personnel that matters most. People should pay more attention to the fact that it's the WARTIME personnel that matters most, NOT the peacetime personnel. War after war military historians recorded the same issue that certain jobs in an army require long training and experience, but had to be done by quickly trained and not very experienced men. 

    We need guns and munitions and vehicles and electronics, but we also need to be credible regarding personnel. Even deep munitions stocks and thousands of reserve combat vehicles would not be of much value if we lack the personnel to make good use of them. The long-serving peacetime army concept cannot provide the required quantity of junior leaders. We should have many volunteers serving for six to 36 months. That would enable a powerful mobilisation (though not without equipment stocks) and it would be a fine basis for a roughly two-year race of training & producing to counter an aggressive power's race to become ready for successful aggression.

    S O




    A Ukrainian merchant raider


    Warships are peculiar; you do not need to commission them in a port. Prize ships were commissioned as warships at sea during both World Wars.

    This means that the Ukraine could take possession of a merchant ship (ideally a small container ship), load and equip it at sea, commission it as a Ukrainian warship and start raiding Russian maritime trade in the Mediterranean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and maybe even the Pacific Ocean.

    German WW1 merchant raider "Wolf"
    (first raider with aircraft onboard, 451 days patrol)

    Some additional fuel tanks, some containers and a helicopter for a boarding team of at least four (two for bridge and two for placing demolition charges with anti-tampering devices) would suffice. Most light turbine-powered helicopters (including almost all civilian ones) would be satisfactory. The helicopter would enable the merchant raider to be 30...100 nm away from the action and thus quite safe. Ships could also successfully be engaged with unguided rockets (bigger than 80 mm calibre) if and once counter-boarding measures are applied.

    Things such as fancy sensors for the helicopter or a radio jammer would be unnecessary. The 'military' equipment could consist of civilian pistols and carbines and rather simple demolitions equipment (linear shaped charges would be extremely effective). The costs could be quite marginal if an old ship was used.

    One could equip such a merchant raider much more lavishly, including recoverable high performance drones, multiple helicopters capable of dropping depth charges (torpedo-like effect of sinking a ship) with doorgunners and the like. There's no used one on the market, but imagine the propaganda value of using a black-silver Bell 222 as boarding helicopter.


    The West would not even be implicated by providing the ship, providing weapons, providing non-public maritime intelligence. It wouldn't even need to resupply the merchant raider, which could easily begin the patrol with a year's worth of food and could occasionally siphon fuel from a prize ship before sinking it. Theoretically, Ukraine would even be legally able to keep prize ships as bounties and sell them off for profit (which is much more environmentally friendly than sinking, especially with oil tankers). It might also occasionally keep a prize ship to create yet another merchant raider. New crew members could be taken in just outside territorial waters (3 nm off the coast) using cheap boats.

    I am not 100% sure, but it might even be possible in international law for Ukraine to issue letters of marque to privateers, but I suppose few people would risk a reservation on the GRU's assassination list by becoming anti-Russia privateers.

    The decrepit Russian navy and satellite fleet would have great difficulty to find, track and engage such merchant raiders if they stay far-enough away from Russian coasts and if Russia doesn't receive substantial intelligence aid by the Chinese. They would likely eventually catch a raider or two, but that would not mitigate the damage done much.

    The difficulties that Russia would have with such Ukrainian merchant raiders would create a giant embarrassment in addition to the economic damage.




    S O