Nuclear deterrence for Europe (Part III - A dirty solution)


A solution to NATO's nuclear deterrence credibility problem would ideally combine the following features:
  1. Keep NNPT intact
  2. No (additional) crazy person or moron with full control over a nuclear 'trigger'
  3. maintenance of second strike capability in face of extreme nuclear onslaught
  4. high, credible risk that employment of 'strategic' nuclear weapons against a NATO (or EU) country leads to a 'proportional' tit-for-tat second strike
  5. high, credible risk that employment of 'strategic' nuclear weapons against NATO (or EU) military targets on in NATO (or EU) territory leads to a 'proportional' tit-for-tat second strike
  6. moderate (additional) expenses
  7. not deemed to be of aggressive nature (no threat to the Russian second strike capability, for example)
  8. no excessive firepower for 'tactical' second strike (ability to employ a single warhead of at most 150 kt TNTeq)
  9. not destabilising international relations
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It's difficult to combine these, especially with the basic problem that a nuclear power cannot credibly proclaim to risk its capital metropolis only because of some nuclear attack on a country with less population than said metropolis. This and the preservation of the NNPT are most difficult to reconcile.
I may have a way how to cheat out of this dilemma:
Protect the NNPT in its wording, but effectively (and credibly) risk that in times of war, it does not limit us for more than a few hours.

I will describe how it might be done, but first I'd like to state my distaste for the whole affair. I hope mankind will get past nuclear munitions altogether in my lifetime, and without ever using any more of them.

The scenario: We (European NATO/EU) develop and deploy a nuclear triad in addition to the traditional great powers' SSBN/SLBM arsenals:
  • few road-mobile IRBMs with a single approx. one Mt TNTeq warhead without re-entry vehicle each
  • road-mobile IRBMs (same type, but with with decoys and other countermeasures against BMD) with a single approx. 100 kt TNTeq warhead each
  • short range quasiballistic (manoeuvring) missiles in semi-trailers with a  single approx. 100 kt TNteq warhead each
The one Megaton IRBMs would be an EMP threat. Five* such explosions 400...500 km above Western Russia would damage much of the electrical equipment there. This is the EMP tit-for-tat deterrent.
The other IRBMs would be the city-destroying tit-for-tat deterrent.
The short range missiles would be the 'tactical' nuclear attack tit-for-tat deterrent.
I suppose no deterrent against nuclear attacks at sea is necessary. That stupid tsunami/Tsar bomba torpedo would be covered by the city-destroying tit-for-tat deterrent, and nuclear attacks on warships are something where we should 'offer the other cheek'.
This was the mere hardware side of deterrence.

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The credible deterrence effect would stem from the dispersion of these nuclear forces (especially the 2nd and 3rd category): They would be scattered all over European NATO/EU (or rather all agreeing countries).
The nuclear power that provides these assets would be in control and not share control (thus no violation of the NNPT), but if Russia (hypothetically) wiped out Warsaw, the Polish government could get mad, order the evacuation of all other Polish cities, seize what nuclear arsenal is on Polish roads and then send an IRBM or two to St. Petersburg for revenge.
Likewise with 'tactical' nuclear attacks on land targets.
I suppose France itself would initiate the EMP tit-for-tat if Western Europe was hit in such a way first, so the few one Megaton warheads would not need to be dispersed in Europe.

The public might not even be fully aware of such potential sharing of nuclear second strike launch capability, but any realistic potential nuclear aggressor would be. That would be ensured behind the scenes.

So the technical (and organisational) side would need to include on one hand the ability of attacked countries to seize and use the nuclear munitions, and on the other hand no host country should be able to turn itself into a permanent nuclear power by simply seizing the nuclear munitions.** I suppose the warheads should become unusable if they hadn't received some 'keep alive' code for more than a month or were opened without first receiving a correct 'opening' code. The seizing country could still recycle the plutonium and some components, but it would take months or years to create a practical nuclear warhead with this without prior detailed knowledge of the warhead design's details.
Obviously, no criminal or errorist elements must be allowed to seize and use such nuclear munitions either, which can be ensured by spacing the launcher vehicles and the command & control vehicles (which would have to be essential for the employment).***

The necessary quantity of nuclear warheads would still be relatively small (maybe 100...200 for all of European NATO/EU). The costs for the warheads would have to be borne by France, but I suppose NATO could find an AWACS-like joint financing scheme for the missiles and the related hardware (launcher and control vehicles).

Now let's look at the criteria again:
  1. Keep NNPT intact formally yes, but complaints are to be expected
  2. No (additional) crazy person or moron with full control of a nuclear 'trigger' OK
  3. maintenance of second strike capability in face of extreme nuclear onslaught challenging, but possible
  4. high, credible risk that employment of 'strategic' nuclear weapons against a NATO (or EU) country leads to a 'proportional' tit-for-tat second strike OK
  5. high, credible risk that employment of 'strategic' nuclear weapons against NATO (or EU) military targets on in NATO (or EU) territory leads to a 'proportional' tit-for-tat second strike OK
  6. moderate (additional) expenses The cost could very well be dozens of billions of Euros.
  7. not deemed to be of aggressive nature (no threat to the Russian second strike capability, for example) OK
  8. no excessive firepower for 'tactical' second strike (ability to employ a single warheads of at most 150 kt TNTeq) OK
  9. not destabilising Maybe it is destabilising. Pakistan might get an idea about its "Muslim nuclear weapons". People might find the security against for example the Hungarian government seizing nuclear warheads (and thus possibly necessitating an invasion by allies to retake those) unsatisfactory. Another issue is the transition period (easily a decade) during which the first strike risk may actually be slightly elevated.
A return to an INF-like ban on MRBMs and IRBMs would be almost impossible once such a deterrence scheme was employed, but on the other hand it could serve as bargaining chip for a INF renewal if the great powers' nuclear deterrence was judged to be sufficiently credible again in the meantime.

I'm not really satisfied. It feels like a step backwards, especially if it's not accompanied by a reduction of SLBM warheads (though that's exactly where some of the warheads could come from almost for free!). I wish we could just get along without the damn nukes.


P.S.: The IRBM could be based on the French S-3 IRBM, though I'm not sure how well that design would handle being stored and moved on road while in a horizontal position.

Regarding Russia being used as a kind-of-bogeyman; remember that I'm generally in favour of stagnant or reduced military spending in Europe given the small and unlikely threats. There  is some remnant of justification for military spending, though - and for Europeans that's de facto only Russia. So what little resources we should spend on military affairs in Europe should be spent first and foremost with deterrence and if need be defence against Russia. More specifically, the least unlikely scenario of hot conflict appears to be an aggression against NATO's and EU's Baltic members. This blog post should not be mistaken for a conflict-promoting, or hawkish one.

*: Multiple warhead explosions for multiple EMPs because direction to the EMP source matters.
**: The current  nuclear participation regime does actually not provide such a protection, but it deploys American nuclear warheads in much fewer countries.
***: I suppose this would be no more a violation of the NNPT than was to store nuclear warheads that required no codes at all in foreign host countries during the 70's. The whole scheme is a violation of the NNPT in spirit, of course.


Nuclear deterrence for Europe (Part II - No easy solutions)

Part I described why nuclear deterrence may have poor credibility, notwithstanding the immense destructive potential that the three NATO nuclear powers have at hand. There's little reason why Estonians should trust any of the nuclear power to use nuclear strikes in defence of Estonia, for example.* To do so would risk the existence of New York, London or Paris.

A simple response could be a call for more nuclear powers in Europe. Nukes for Germany! Nukes for Spain! Nukes for Italy! Nukes for Poland!
That wouldn't solve the basic problem, though. Nobody would want to risk Berlin, Madrid, Rome or Warsaw over some NATO-peripheral attack either. The whole approach would risk the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NNPT) that so far appears to have been very useful at avoiding nuclear warfare. We wouldn't want to see some Saudi nukes, Indonesian nukes, Nigerian nukes, Brazilian nukes, Mexican nukes, Argentinian nukes, Chilean nukes, Iranian nukes, Japanese nukes, South Korean nukes, Taiwanese nukes, Algerian nukes or Turkish nukes, right?

Shared control of existing nuclear arms stocks also violates the NNPT (article 2). 

Another approach would be to build and keep ready and in range a conventional military that could successfully defend even against nuclear-armed invaders. This isn't impossible, but it would put greater demands for stealth, agility and dispersion on this force than on the invaders. This puts the defenders at a disadvantage at least according to 20th century military theory. This disadvantage could be overcome by greater allocation of resources, which is an undesirable condition. Nuclear-survivable conventional forces may be an answer to a tactical nuclear strikes-supported conventional aggressor, but not to a 'strategic' nuclear threat. The threat of 'strategic' nuclear attacks (on cities) could stall the employment of such conventional forces on the political level.

Another relatively simple solution is to bolster credibility again by putting an unstable person in control of one of NATO's nuclear arsenals. This person must not be a Russian asset or otherwise easily corruptible, though. This is another rather unsatisfactory approach for obvious reasons.

We could - what a weird idea(!) - also strive to reduce if not eliminate lingering conflicts and possible motivations for aggression. In all honesty, NATO doesn't appear to be capable of a much more serious attempt to do so than was already tried, and Russia doesn't seem to move towards such conflict relaxation, either. There's currently very little reason to believe in the imminence of a Russian invasion of the Baltics or other NATO territory, and it appears to be very hard to consistently further reduce the risk by addressing existing conflicts of interests or opinion.

To distract a nuclear threat by provoking a hostility or rivalry between the threat and some distant power (say, Russia vs. PRC) is difficult to pull off and unethical anyway.

Likewise, a return to the craze of the Cold War appears to be counterproductive. The own deterrence could become more credible because of the craze, but the very same craze could also trigger a war. Moreover, the associated arms racing would be extremely expensive and wasteful.

A distributed capability of devastating non-nuclear second strike (devastating enough to lead to a collapse of governance, such as by EMP or 'cyber' attacks that shut down the electricity grid for months) is an interesting idea.
Its deterrence value depends on its credibility, though. Any novel idea faces difficulty in getting respect, and reliably so.
For example, imagine every country in NATO and EU had a 'kill switch' for the entire Russian electrical grid, with a capability to outright destroy so much of it by overloading that repairs for restoring power to Moscow would take a year. That 'kill switch' would still be worthless as a deterrent if this capability was not believed to exist by the Russian president.

There don't appear to be any obvious, easy, elegant or otherwise really satisfactory solutions to the identified problem.


*: Estonians, stop producing fodder for Russian propaganda with your anti-Russian rhetoric and politics already! 17.9% for a party that's hostile to Russia and Russians (especially the Russian minority) as well as claiming territory from Russia - that's asking for utterly unnecessary trouble.


Nuclear deterrence for Europe (Part I - The problem)

There are three nuclear powers in NATO; United States, United Kingdom and United France.

The traditional Cold War view was that NATO's main nuclear deterrent to the Soviet nuclear might was the American arsenal which was capable of ending human civilisation several times over.
The British nukes were considered more of a national asset that extended British great power status claims to the post-Empire era and the French nukes were clearly meant as a national asset, France abstains to this day from NATO's (quite meaningless) nuclear planning group (it also extended their claim to great power status past their colonial empire disintegration, despite a weak army).
There were isolated statements about British and French nuclear power protecting all of (European) NATO, but this didn't change the perception or sentiment much.

Fast forward to 2019:

Now we've got an American president who may or may not be a Russian asset and certainly wouldn't consider risking nuclear attacks on his country by doing strategic nuclear strikes on Russia. Cabinet and Congress would take a while to depose him, and even if they did, they would certainly not destroy Russian cities in a retaliatory strike as a matter of principle if so far no American city was nuked. Such retaliatory strikes become less likely the more time people have to think (in my opinion).

Their Ballistic Missile Defence may protect them against small-scale tit-for-tat nuclear exchanges; Russia might not be able to respond to a single of its cities getting annihilated by doing the same to an American city, for a launch of a single or very few missiles might be defended against by BMD (and their stupid nuclear torpedo would be very slow to arrive). A nuclear exchange might step straight from battlefield nukes to total urban centres annihilation, even without the ingredient of Cold War craziness.
So in the end, the American nuclear umbrella over Europe isn't credible until 2021 at the very least. The American nuclear arsenal appears to join much of what other military power they have in the bin of what's outright useless and irrelevant for European deterrence and defence.

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The British are in a bit of political disarray and a moment of extraordinarily weak political leadership. Brexit signals their intent to decouple from Europe and pretend that they're something of a mid-Atlantic island instead of an island almost in line of sight to the continent of Europe. The whole decoupling policy puts giant question marks behind their credibility as an alliance-wide nuclear deterrent.
Their only nuclear 2nd strike capability rests in Trident missiles in nuclear-powered submarines, of which typically one is hiding at sea while often all but one are in port. These nuclear warheads are a terrible choice for intervention on a battlefield. The submarine would give away its position with the launch (not necessarily a problem) and there are multiple warheads per missile.
A single such submarine might be able to kill about 20% of the Russian population in an hour (if the Russian cities weren't evacuated in time).* This doesn't change that it's unlikely that they would risk getting London and Birmingham nuked out of existence only because this happened to Berlin or Warsaw.

French Rafale with ASMP-A (big white missile on centreline pylon)
copyright Ministère des Armées

The French are traditionally national-egoistical, and many of their foreign policy attitudes and ideas are poorly aligned with the attitudes and ideas in the rest of Europe. Germany famously attempts to find common ground with France first in order to get the EU moving on major issues. The French never clearly stated or established as national ethos that their nukes are a deterrent that protects all of European NATO or all of the EU.
Their nuclear force consists of a rough equivalent of the British force (up to 64 submarine-launched ballistic missiles) plus 54 supersonic air-launched cruise missiles* (ASMP-A with each a single warhead capable of destroying a city or about one normally dispersed mechanised brigade in the field). The latter can as far as I know be employed by their small and not always available carrier aviation force, too.
Yet again, it's unlikely they would risk getting Paris and Marseilles nuked out of existence after the same happened to Warsaw or Berlin.

The end of the Cold War craziness took quite a bite out of the credibility of NATO's nuclear deterrence.

Part II follows next Saturday unless something outrageous happens.


P.S.: I know that I wrote more optimistically about the European nuclear deterrence in the past. It's a change of mind. 

*: All three nuclear powers (and also Russia) appear to have substantial stockpiles of nuclear warheads that are not deployed and thus not readily usable. Some of those warheads are temporarily disassembled for refurbishment. I neglect these reserve stockpiles for the purpose of this article. Their relevance as munitions for nuclear strike is very questionable because they could fairly easily be taken out by a first strike.


Link drop March 2019


I'm not so sure how much rational thought may help to understand the conflict, or to find solutions for it.
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This is a combat footage video from Donezk Basin (Ukraine), about two years old. The Spray & Pray, the mostly old equipment, the sloppiness - it looks like some African civil war video. I wonder whether and if yes how much the regular Russian army differs.

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(edited in later:)
Draft isn't really a thing in most NATO, EU or OECD countries, but the issue is indeed calling for equality. And the "way out" mentioned is indeed a thing in the volunteer forces, merely shifted towards avoiding deployments.

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Die hier angesprochenen Unzulänglichkeiten können auch in Sachen "Krieg oder Frieden" zur Geltung kommen. Man kennt das leider schon aus der Vergangenheit. Die schwierigste Zeit ist da der Sommer.

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Ganz ehrlich; ich hatte tatsächlich geglaubt, dass die tatsächlich mal kapiert, dass sowas nicht OK ist, wenn sie selbst betroffen ist. Meistens funktioniert das ja so bei empathiearmen Leuten. Scheinbar ist die Lage aber noch übler.
Ich hatte mich mal bei einer Bürgerinitiative gegen Massenüberwachung engagiert, aber nach etwa einem Jahr aufgegeben. Das Problem ist ein principal-agent Problem, dem kommt man nicht dauerhaft über repräsentative Demokratie bei. Dafür braucht es Volksabstimmungen mit entsprechender Wirkmächtigkeit. Insofern bleibt das Engagement gegen den Abhördrang von Staaten auf Rückzugsgefechte beschränkt bis denn mal mit Volksabstimmnungen ein Weg an den Agenten (= der Exekutive und Legislative) vorbei verfügbar ist.

Deren Vermutung zu den Motivationen mag sehr wohl korrekt sein.



North Macedonia joins


Its military will be an irrelevant addition, and it posed no threat.

We could (and should) let North Macedonia cut its military expenses to a minimum (such as an infantry regiment with COTS motor vehicles and nothing else) and let them invest in developing health, education and infrastructure for the good of their young and future generations.

Instead, I fear, the bureaucracy of NATO and the national bureaucracy will do business as usual and push for a switch to NATO standard munitions, NATO standard communication tech, maintain a somewhat balanced mini army with tanks and artillery (without the appropriate spares or munition stocks, of course). Some particularly stupid politicians will blather about "2%" sooner or later.

The most ridiculous thing will be the Russian protests about North Macedonia's accession, of course.



Deterrence and Strategic defence in context of strategic surprise attacks

Back in 2010 I wrote "On defensive power". The core idea of that blog post can be described with a simple two-power model:

Country A has 80 units power when attacking and 120 units power when defending.
Country B has 100 units power when attacking or defending.
This imbalance of power is stable, as neither country has a reason to expect being able to win a war. It's even more stable than a 100:100 power equality would be, for that would look more like a toss-up.

So I wrote about how spending on military power that's more useful for strategic defence (than for strategic offence) can stabilise peace.

Today I'd like to add a different thought on deterrence and strategic defence, I referred to this thought before as well and this time it's rather about saving useless expenses:

The former model had country A with "120 units of power when defending". This is a non-trivial statement, for that figure of military power in the case of strategic defence (defending a country or alliance when another power chose to start a war) may differ very much depending on the kind of initial attack.

The most challenging case for the defenders would be a strategic surprise attack. I wrote about this a couple times before. A strategic surprise attack can be expected to knock out many high value targets (HVT) on the first day if not the first two hours. Examples for such high value targets may be bridges (such as the Vistula and Oder bridges), but also long span railroad bridges that are impossible to repair on short notice, which makes rapid deployment of tracked vehicles to the battlefield challenging.

Expensive combat and AEW aircraft are other high value targets and most of them could easily be wrecked by an opening salvo.

Egyptian aircraft destroyed by Israeli strategic surprise attack, 1967. The reaction was the construction of hardened aircraft shelters, but those are useless against precision-guided bombs, even the rather light small diameter bomb (mere 129 kg).
High value targets are usually high value targets because of the important role they're expected to play in wartime and because few of them are affordable. High value targets are expensive - much more expensive than an aggressor's preparation to knock them out in a strategic surprise attack.

To spend much on dedicated military high value targets is thus wasteful unless they are well-secured against strategic surprise attacks. Germany could base its Typhoon combat aircraft in Canada, for example. They wouldn't be wrecked there by a non-nuclear surprise attack. Key vehicles of air defence batteries could be kept moving as a 'Flying Circus', moving from military base or exercise area to another every day. Oder and Vistula bridges could at the very least get protection by some soft kill defences to render the success of a missile attack less reliable to foreign war planners.

We could also de-emphasize high value targets in favour of other military preparations. A reduction of spending on air force high value targets by two billion Euros combined with an increase of spending on non-HVT military assets could very well increase the aforementioned figure of "Country A: (...) units of power when defending". This could save expenses AND improve deterrence at the same time.

Let's summarise it with the model:

Country A has 80 units power when attacking, 120 units power when defending unless in case of strategic surprise attack when it has only 90 units of power.
Country B has 100 units power when attacking or defending.

The necessity of paying attention to this issue should be obvious. It requires to think in terms of us getting caught by surprise attack. Feelings of sympathy for cool supersonic jets or air force generals' bias towards piloting are poor guidances for force design.



Shilka, the revolutionary nightmare

(I exhausted my supply into the recent link dump, so I had to dust off and tweak an old draft about hardware history to maintain the weekly schedule.)

The most influential move in Cold War air warfare was probably the introduction of the ZSU-23-4 'Shilka', as it changed air warfare from the late 60's to the late 80's in conjunction with the SA-6 "Gainful"/2K12 "Kub" battlefield area air defence missile.
I'll try to substantiate this claim, of course:

Soviet(-style) battlefield air defences were never particularly respected by German or later NATO air power until the introduction of the Shilka. The habit of Red Army troops to shoot at attacking aircraft with everything they got (that is, with all rifles) was meanwhile dangerous enough to largely prohibit ground attack mission profiles which required much air time below 300 metres altitude. The German WW2 battlefield air defences (mostly calibres 20 and 37 mm) were plenty and dangerous, but they didn't prevent punishing air strikes either (German troops used their machineguns, but rather rarely their rifles against aircraft).

ZSU-23-4 Shilka, three ZSU-57 in background
All this changed when there were finally plenty self-propelled anti-air guns (SPAAG) / Flakpanzer in service with a 3D radar and ballistics computer. The Soviets had introduced the Shilka with four 23 mm autocannons, search and fire control radar and fire control computer in the mid-60's and battlefield air defence potential made a huge leap forward. They did not upgrade their older twin 57 mm SPAAGs with at least a rangefinder radar to complement the Shilka with some longer effective range (nor did they produce their expensive twin 37 mm SPAAG design). Instead, the SA-6 was about to deal with anything flying too high for the Shilka, at least in theory (or even more theoretically, the SA-9).
Meanwhile, the new portable Redeye (American) and SA-7 (Soviet) man-portable missiles were easily countered with flares and evasive manoeuvres (including exploiting the sun) and didn't force much of a change in tactics themselves (the same applies to the SA-9).

The common air/ground mission profiles which gave strike aircraft a great bird's view on the battlefield, road or fixed target had become very dangerous, for the aircraft would typically be engaged by ZSU-23-4 or SA-6 at those altitudes.
The best choices for ground attack on a march column had been a combination of unguided rockets and cluster bombs, maybe even use of autocannons (the Hunter's four 30 mm cannons were particularly effective) - applied in a shallow dive. The Shilka still allowed for this, but only from a rather high altitude, with associated loss of accuracy and increase in dispersion. The attack with 'iron bombs' was similarly reduced in efficiency.
This could have been compensated for with an increased usage of guided munitions, of course; laser guided munitions, Walleye-like and Maverick-like munitions. 
The reinforcement of the Shilka with the SA-6 after a few years reduced this possibility to a niche approach.

The Yom Kippur War showed the dilemma: Fly high and the SA-6 may kill you. Fly low and the Shilka may kill you. Fly very low and you're not going to see much, nor have much time between detecting targets and passing them. Otherwise very useful munitions such as unguided rocket pods were of marginal value at very low level and bombs had to be adapted, too.
The Shilkas were more numerous and mobile than the SA-6 radars, so the latter became the target of choice to crack this team. But what was possible on the Sinai peninsula would not necessarily succeed in Central Europe, against the numbers and training of the Warsaw Pact.
The problem was simply that WW3 - if conventional - was expected to last but weeks before all might be lost (similar to the Yom Kippur War), and air power absorbed by taking out battlefield air defences first would not help much.

Up to the late 60's the North German plains were a dream for strike aircraft, as they provide much simpler terrain in which attacking columns could quite easily be found and engaged. Meanwhile, Central and South Germany are rather hilly with many woodland hilltops and strings of buildings adjacent to roads. Many roads are furthermore in woodland and thus visible only from two directions (fore, aft) and straight above.
The arrival of Shilka meant that suddenly the hilly terrain became more favourable, as the hills made radar-based air defence much more difficult. SA-6 threats could be countered by going very low level for a few seconds, and Shilka search radars had an effective early warning range shorter than the line of sight to the surrounding hills; often too little for the full engagement sequence.
This then more favourable terrain was still the less favourable terrain of the early 60's, though: Air power had greatly lost in efficiency due to the Shilka (ceteris paribus).

The respect for the area air defence missile threat such as the SA-6 was high enough for NATO to not follow the guided munitions path fully, but only partially. The new Jaguar and Tornado strike aircraft designed for the 1980's European theatre of operations made use of almost no guided ground attack munitions, for example.
Instead, very low level flight including the use of terrain following radar became the big fashion, despite the fact that look down/shoot down Doppler pulse radars and matching missiles had been introduced during the 1970's already. The dominant ground attack profile proved to be awfully susceptible to modern fighters, and even worse: Any fighter escorts were pressed into roughly the same profile and thus inherently disadvantaged against modern defending fighters.

Some attack capabilities from convenient altitudes were maintained, though: The Yom Kippur War had also showed that the semi-stationary SA-6 batteries could not support ground forces with their protective umbrella during fast-moving campaigns. Armoured spearheads exploiting a 'breakthrough' would typically still be vulnerable, and there were never enough missile batteries on either side to protect the rear areas well (airfields, bridges, depots). NATO, for example, maintained a kind of SAM belt from the Austrian/Swiss border to the North Sea, with many rear locations protected only by fighters or low level defences.

NATO did ultimately bet on the ability to take out or suppress the vital radars of area air defence batteries with its anti-radar missiles: An approach initially invented during WW2 and introduced for good during the Vietnam War.
This didn't help much against modern SPAAGs, though; laser rangefinders soon potentially gave SPAAGs the ability to defend against low level attackers without any use of a radar. The second generation of portable very short range air defence missiles (famous Stinger and others, amongst them the very countermeasures-defying laser beam rider missiles) added to this.
As a result, NATO air attack doctrine went back to the 15,000+ ft (more than 4,500 m) attack altitude and began to make use of many guided munitions. The technological advance and large production runs allowed for some very cost-efficient guided munitions, especially cheapened laser guidance or satellite navigation guidance kits. Sensors (imaging infrared optics and modern imaging radar) allow modern strike aircraft to attack just as well form this altitude as earlier strike fighters were able to do from much lower ones with 'Mk1 Eyeball' sensors.
Post-2000, the Stinger-type missile threat appears to be largely defeated by sophisticated technical and tactical countermeasures, but the laser beam riders and the autocannon threat (with laser rangefinder, computer and automatic target tracking sensor) keep the low altitudes dangerous when present.

Without Shilka and to a lesser extent its successor and relatively few Western counterparts all this wouldn't have happened.

1970's strike fighters could have flown at a convenient altitude for spotting targets, diving and temporarily flying very low when a missile battery threat was detected. The modern strikefighter of the 1980's might have utilized an underbelly autocannon pod to easily take out anything but main battle tanks from a convenient altitude (maybe 2,000 metres) while circling the target area. Unguided rockets, Maverick-like anti-tank missiles and wind-correcting cluster bombs with timed release might have reigned and we would never have seen submunition pods such as JP233 or MW-1. The typical strike fighter might also have had a much larger wing area like the F-16XL, because there would have been few terrain following mission profiles in low altitude dense air (which create problems for low wing loading aircraft and thus led to relatively small wings). Area air defence batteries could have been engaged by triangulating their position and attacking them low and close, since they wouldn't have been protected against this kind of attack by SPAAGs.

Air and sea warfare are so very much dominated by technology despite the importance of skill, numbers, support and weather that a single technological progress is able to change the entire picture. In the case of Shilka, this progress was actually announced two decades earlier, when the combination of SPAAG with fire control radar and fire control computer (a search radar was still unnecessary due to lower aircraft speed) was first feasible and envisaged. The nuke-crazy 50's may have delayed the inevitable revolution by a few years.
The result was that the face of modern air attack  was changed, as it had to adapt to the threat.*


*: Strangely, the loss in efficiency was not followed by a shift in budget priorities; NATO had already given up the idea of countering Warsaw Pact tank quantity in a symmetric arms race despite the German experiences from WW2 which indicated that this was feasible with enough good arms. The result was that Western great power militaries have become dependent on aerospace superiority.
P.S.: I link a lot to Wikipedia, but don't mistake this as a link to sources. The links are meant for those readers who cannot remember the specific thing at the moment. I cover a wide range of topics and do not expect the majority of my readers to have a matching range of interests and knowledge, so I make the texts easier by adding these links.


Link drop February 2019


What happens when an Austrian goes to war?
The British blame the Germans! ;-)

I tracked the developments in Syria in part through the very high quality ISW blog and its maps. I saw the daesh territory shrink to nothing. This rather geography-minded narrative was very different from the 'news' media narrative, where daesh losing ground was reported in a very fuzzy and debatable way. I get that maps didn't show the full truth, but their fake clarity apparently allowed for more accurate reporting.

Recently, I caught myself wondering how exactly could the U.S. troops possibly fight daesh to eradication in Syria (even with their Kurdish allies)? All it takes for daesh to survive is to evade into some non-Kurdish-controlled part of Syria.

The safest territories may be Turkish controlled ones, but even the Government's territories are probably quite safe for a clandestine presence. The government has bigger necessities than to hunt for some hiding daesh followers. Those are defeated and waiting for the next violent salafist brand to take over, just as daesh did from AQ.

Once again, the U.S. armed forces appear to be in a stupid war with maximalist (extremist, eliminationist) objectives that cannot be achieved and even complete success in the territories where they actually have freedom of movement would mean nothing: It wouldn't mean that the U.S. government or the people in the U.S. recognise this as a good time to withdraw, but it would also be no 'victory'.

The least stupid excuse for the continuation of the mission appears to be a combination of occasional manhunting against people who are no real threat to CONUS combined with "buying time" for some allies who presumably first need to fortify their position before they could be left alone.

And the U.S. media appears to be (on balance) a cheerleader for continued stupid war participation.

It's really Afghanistan all over again.

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As so often, Scandinavians and Netherlands lead, and Germany gets a good place. (This ranking is about perceptions only. One could read it as describing public trust in the integrity of their government.)

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What the fuck?

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Oldie, but Goodie:

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The video has some of the worst land artillery muzzle flashes I've ever seen. Those muzzle flashes dwarf 120 mm tank gun APFSDS muzzle flashes!

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This made me wonder which of these anonymising techniques were, are or will be used in warfare. They're probably much better-suited to guerrillas than to conventional armed forces, but there might be valuable lessons for low force density land warfare. I'm thinking of pre-seeded 'dead drops' (as they call it) a.k.a. hidden supply caches for armoured recce or long range scout-observers. The supply flow could happen whenever the conditions allow it, and withdrawal of supplies from caches by the recce troops could happen when needed, after an encrypted inquiry (and reply) about the location of a cache with the needed items. The primary problem with this would by how to move and hide the supplies at acceptable risk.

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Last week, Trump told reporters that he was disinterested in stopping a Saudi Arabian “investment of $110 billion into the United States,” despite tensions over Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“I know [senators are] talking about different kinds of sanctions, but [Saudi Arabia is] spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs,” Trump said Thursday. “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”
While Washington has several arms agreements with Riyadh, it is unclear where the $110 billion figure comes from, aside from a potential wish list of future deals.
Presently, Saudi Arabia has put forward approximately $14.5 billion in purchases in the form of letters of offer and acceptance or LOAs, a Pentagon official told CNN.
What’s more, the State Department has announced only six contracts worth a combined total of $4 billion since Trump’s visit last year  [S.O.: that was in May 2017, 17 months before the article was published!] to Saudi Arabia.
CNBC, already written in October '18 (red is my emphasis)

I told friends that the lying moron's 110 billion figure was the usual nonsensical lying-bragging B.S. shortly after it was floated in May 2017. (Aside from that B.S., purchasing something from a country isn't the same as investing there.) The media considered the 110 bn figure to be good infotainment and ran with it. Some gullible people did believe it. I suppose most people simply ignore such obvious B.S., but it should be challenged every single time.
An embarrassing detail: The lying moron may actually believe his own made-up nonsense instead of knowingly repeating yesteryear's lie.

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What the fuck part II ?

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For Americans: /anti-defamation-league-report-right-wing-extremists-2018-murders
Compare to evil Mooooslim murders in the U.S. during 2018: Zero, same as in 2017

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The old geezers are at fault!

Caveat; it's but one study, so this study means little so far. Scientific findings become very reliable only a while after they were published. Peer review usually only weeds out the rather obvious crap, even if done well. Scientific discussion usually takes time to weed out (often by failure to reproduce experimental results) errors.

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BROACH - I wrote about it before. I still didn't (re-)find the article about the American Tomahawk test with a similar tech, though.

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Someone recently commented here that Western media had run propaganda for so long that this kept some of us from recognising Russian propaganda as something extraordinary. My reply was that Western media typically has a narrative bias and typically doesn't spew outright propaganda. There's a substantial difference. Here's an example for how this works (for those who don't know the "Manufactured consent" book):

It's not intentional propaganda, and certainly not a centrally coordinated propaganda effort. There's not necessarily any lying involved. It's simply about presenting news with a certain angle, using a narrative, and giving the different voices different opportunities to reach your audience. The end result is a strong and lasting bias in favour of one side of an issue. 
Many incentives and disincentives furthermore lead to a pro-establishment bias. Many extremists from both right and left mistake this for the media being left or right wing, for they are farther on the extremes than the media's biased narratives are.
The attention on politicians who are in office suffices on its own to distort debates about major policy decisions. The media prefers to repeat the statements of known people over the statements of unknown people even if the latter are less partial and more informed and more qualified. This also explains the terrible overreliance on universal dilettante reporters instead of proper use of specialised reporters and specialised journalists who actually know much about the subject.

A British blogger-economist coined the term "mediamacro" for the anglophone media's misrepresentation of economics that appears to be rather driven by pro-establishment bias and attention to CEOs and financial sector 'analysts' rather than to actual academic experts on macroeconomics. (We had something similar here in Germany when the discussion about the common European currency area was almost perfectly devoid of the economic sciences' state of the art optimum currency area models.)
He accuses the BBC of such bias quite regularly, but there's no reason whatsoever to accuse them of propaganda.

There are hardly any reporters or even journalists who can be accused of intentional lying to the public. One among thousands is a fraud once in a while, but there's little reason to believe that reporters or even journalists systematically produce propaganda. I doubt even that Springer press authors are lying intentionally despite the Springer press' known systemic contractual bias on some topics (I'm not so sure about the Murdoch empire, where lots of the less well-known TV personalities appear to be biased rather for the money than because of their individual background).

A bias is a systemic issue that can only be reduced to some degree, for bias is human.
A propaganda campaign on the other hand is something that emphasises convincing or confusing people regardless of reality over both profit and delivery of actual information. Bits taken from reality are but a plausibility- and deniability-enhancing ingredient to propaganda. Propaganda can be beaten back.
Reporters and journalists meanwhile take bits of reality as a good to deliver. I accuse almost all of them of delivering biased infotainment rather than information and analysis, but that's a far cry from them being lying propagandists.

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Germany concludes a bilateral treaty with alliance-ish component with France.
It's been signed on January 22nd, and will almost certainly be ratified soon. I don't expect an official English version of the treaty text, but there surely is a French one somewhere.

Article 4(1) is the relevant part. It doesn't appear to be a bilateral alliance in its own right as it merely confirms already existing obligations. I'm a bit discouraged by article 4(3) because it elevates joint missions (stupid small wars) to a kind of goal. Article 6 may be partially unconstitutional in Germany, because policing is within the authority of the 16 states, not the federal government. So article 6 may be limited to intelligence services and the federal (rail, airport, border) police.

Overall, the treaty is mostly reaffirming what's already known and is very vague on almost all of what's new. It looks like a letter of intent that may lose much of its meaning with the next French president.

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The longest I ever wore a NBC mask felt like hours.
Guess why!

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some more WTF, not very on-topic
This reminded me of the story of Western allies pilots having a compass hidden in a button.

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It's but one of many websites describing Bombentorpedos.

The 1946 U.S. report on this and other German explosive ordnance:
file page 48, original document page 44

They were meant to be dropped like bombs during very low altitude level flight, to impact in front of a ship, to travel by kinetic energy under water for about 50...70 m until they hit the hull under water or pass below the hull. It would have been a more accurate (especially against fast-moving and agile targets such as destroyers) and much, much cheaper munition than aerial torpedoes. Aerial torpedo attacks around Europe were quite unlike the ones in the Pacific region; they were often done at night or dawn (thus up close), and the main targets were cargo and landing ships.
No Bombentorpedos were used in anger, for the development of a suitable fuse wasn't completed in time (a combination of a simple impact delay fuse and a regular aerial torpedo magnetic fuse should have worked IMO).  The Allies had a similar approach with some 5" rockets, which were able to enter the sea without instant explosion and without bouncing - and then they could struck the hull underwater to cause a small leak with a small explosion.

I mention this because it appears that hardly anyone appears to publicly write of this as a possible mode for anti-ship missiles. The Bombentorpedos had a far from optimal shape for achieving a high explosive mass fraction, but they still did have a decent one: The smallest Bombentorpedo was BT400. The claims about its filling vary, but the fraction was apparently very close to 50%, comparable to general purpose free-falling bombs. A Bombentorpedo didn't need thick walls, for fragmentation effect was of no use.
A typical modern "500 lbs class" anti-ship missile warhead of Bombentorpedo design could very well have about 100 kg of high quality explosive - easily enough to ruin a frigate with an underwater hit. Meanwhile, we know from experience that above-water hits with warheads of that size are often 'unsatisfactory' (see USS Stark and INS Hanit as well as the disappointing effect of many kamikaze and Hs 293 attacks with less than 300 kg explosives each back in WW2).

A missile that dives into the sea for an underwater hit would not have the option of re-engaging if it was duped into engaging decoys, of course. That's a simila rproblem as with hypersonic and quasiballistic anti-ship missiles

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WTF part IV and V:

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This was for Americans who laughed at the France/Italy piece. ;-)

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...and this for the British ;-)

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(Ignore the title, it's about the carburetor issue and its fix. You may like it if you liked the previous blog post.)

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Military aviation history: The final air campaign that mattered in Europe

I spent much of the 90's as an aviation buff, soaking up ridiculous amounts of information about aviation (most of all historical military aviation). The internet finally offered me a horizon way past the few books on offer in local bookstores and libraries around 1997, but sometime around 2000 there still seemed little info of interest left to be learned in the field. Diminishing returns.

I still have this in the background and one topic is nagging me a bit; the dominance of attention on late-war hardware. The last campaign that really mattered was the air superiority campaign over Central Europe, which started for real with the introduction of P-51B as long-range escort fighters (first mission over Germany 11 December 1943, substantial involvement began in January 1944) and ended with the near-total destruction of the (aviation) fuel supply in the summer of 1944. The relentless bombing of oil industry and storage sites beginning in May largely devalued further production of German combat aircraft, tanks and motor vehicles in general. By September 1944 the German pilot training program had crashed and its output was reduced to low quality cannon fodder. New fighter pilots had much-reduced flying hours before they joined operational units, leaving much of the type familiarisation and tactical training to those supposedly operational units. Furthermore, all pilots had to become fighter pilots, whereas pre-1944 the less skilled pilots would get to fly transport or bomber aircraft.

We have thus very little reason to pay attention to what aircraft types and versions appeared  in service only by summer of '44 or later. The last militarily really relevant (NOT decisive) German hardware was the hardware of the winter 1943/44, at most spring 1944.

So, what was available as best German fighters at the time?

The Fw 190A-7 fighter with four good 20 mm guns (two of them synchronised electrically, which reduced rate of fire by about 10%) and two 13 mm guns (also synchronised electrically). Its engine was famously poor at high altitudes because of a single stage supercharger with a full pressure altitude* of less than 6,000 m (the U.S.A.A.F.'s 8th Air Force B-17 and B-24 bombers usually flew at about 7,600 m). It was outmatched by the two stage supercharger P-51B fighter (which also enjoyed superior aerodynamics) not only because of the supercharger issue, but also because the Fw 190A-7's BMW 801D-2 engine was essentially unchanged since 1942.** The Fw 190A-7 was generally marginally improved over the Fw 190A-4 version of July 1942 (biggest improvement was probably the thickening of armour to withstand .50BMG).

The Fw 190 offered great all-round view, great roll rate, very robust undercarriage, great firepower and great resistance to battle damage (air-cooled engine without vulnerable liquid cooling system except for the lubricating oil).

The Bf 109G-6 was the best available Bf 109 fighter version by New Year 1944. The G-6 version had been in production since February 1943 already and wasn't much better than the G-2 version of early 1942. The G-6 featured a single 20 mm or 30 mm gun (the latter had a slow muzzle velocity, but single hits often killed a fighter and 3...4 hits often killed a 4-engine bomber) and two 13 mm guns (synchronised electrically.
An "AS" designation was applied to the few and late G-6 with a DB 605AS engine (with DB 603's supercharger) likely beginning before February 1944, and there as also the /U2 modification with GM-1 injection (nitrous oxide, as substitute for the missing oxygen supply from the supercharger above approx. 5,800 m altitude). Only about 325 G-6AS and 324 G-6/U2 were produced in factories altogether (compared to almost 8,000 basic G-6).

The Bf 109 had no especially advantageous characteristics except that its power/weight ratio was fine (and it was a fairly small target), resulting in a high climb rate. It was plagued by an unsatisfactory undercarriage, which resulted in many accidents.
The basic Bf 109G-6 and G-6AS or G-6/U2 were rather unsuitable for the destruction of four-engine bombers, and probably even so with the 30 mm gun. Their firepower was quite poor; a problem that had plagued the Bf 109 since the F series in 1941.

Two additional underwing-mounted 20 mm or 30 mm guns could be installed, but this increased the weight, reduced the roll rate, reduced the climb rate and reduced the top speed. The E series' installation of older model 20 mm guns in slightly bulged wings was not reintroduced. There was a choice between a clean but still not really competitive fighter and a by comparison clumsy and in contact with hostile fighters even less competitive 'bomber destroyer'.

The obvious option would have been to go for a fighter group equipped with Bf 109G-6ASM (ASM = AS with MW-50 injection) as escorting force and a Fw 190A-7 fighter group as bomber destroyers by spring 1944, and something similar (more extreme) was attempted with the Sturmgruppen approach, to completely insufficient effect as the heavily armed (and armoured) bomber destroyers were not properly secured against the escort fighters.

Both Fw 190A-7 and Bf 109G-6 represented mid-1942 to mid-1943 technology and this didn't suffice even though the same could be said about the P-51B (the P-51's basic fuselage design was approx. two and six years younger than the German designs and this showed in the aerodynamics of the wing profile and the cooler design).

All the fancy technical advances made in summer 1944 to winter 1944/45 didn't matter any more. You wouldn't quite get that impression with the usual literature on the period and campaign, for there's an inappropriate level of attention on the irrelevant German aircraft variants and types that became available for service in relevant quantities only after the spring of 1944. There are 'too late, too few' remarks, but the authors don't resist paying excessive attntion to fancy very late war designs while largely neglecting the types introduced in 1942/1943 relative to their actual importance.

A one-year lapse in competitiveness of in-service fighter designs rooted in raw material shortages (which caused a failure of turbocharger development programs) and a way too belated counter to the Rolls-Royce Merlin 61's two-stage supercharger revealed in the summer of 1942 doomed the Luftwaffe to not only fight in a severe quantitative inferiority, but also in a severe qualitative inferiority situation during its last air campaign that mattered.

The Luftwaffe's fighter designs were usually very competitive and at times clearly superior before and after, but not so during the half year when the 8th AF finally employed some good ideas for offensive strategic air warfare in combination.

Moreover, one could ask whether we should trust our modern fighter arsenals with their about 40 year design lifecycles.


*: I translated "Volldruckhöhe" literally, as "full pressure altitude". I don't know the correct translation, though "critical altitude" and "full throttle altitude" popped up as a candidates. The "Volldruckhöhe" is the altitude at which giving full throttle usually makes sense for the last time during a climb, but that depends on engine control mechanisms. Aircraft usually reached their top speed a little above their full pressure altitude.
**: The usual statement (in literature) that the Jumo 213A of the Fw 190D series was superior to the BMW 801 at high altitudes does not square with its actual performance curves at all. 
Fw 190A (BMW 801) reached top speed slightly higher than 650 kph at about 6,400 m, with externel air intake it's a bit faster at about 6,900 m. A Fw 190D reached top speed about 670 kph at about 6,600 m. The Jumo 213A installation allowed for a little extra performance in general (especially with MW-50 added and in use by very late 1944), but it was no high altitude engine.

The Jumo 213A's full pressure altitude was 5,900 m, almost indistinguishable from the basic versions of the competing German engines. The Jumo 213A was no real high altitude engine. The DB 605 engine versions with DB 603's supercharger (such as DB 605AS) were the closest thing to high altitude piston engine available for German fighters. The only real alternative were DB 605 with GM-1 (nitrous oxide) injections systems (AFAIK BMW 801 with GM-1 were not used in fighters).
Some data:

Bf 109G-5AS and Bf 109G-5 speeds at different altitudes (equivalents to G-6AS and G-6, equipped with pressurised cabin and thus a little heavier) 

Fw 190A-6 speeds at different altitudes (very similar to A-7, graph also shows speeds achieved with an alternative external air intake)

P-51 speeds at different altitudes (in antiquated dimensions)

DB605AS performance at different altitudes
DB 605AM performance at different altitudes (This powerplant appeared in 1944 with MW-50.)

MW-50 did almost nothing for high-altitude performance (it made sense up to full pressure altitude only - there was but a few per cent power gain from the cooling effect above it), so we can compare contemporary DB 605AM and AS versions' high altitude performance: The DB 605AM's full pressure altitude was 5,800 m and the AS version had a full pressure altitude of 7,800 m. Performance steeply dropped above full pressure altitude. AM delivered 1080 hp at 5,500 m while AS with bigger charger still delivered 1050 hp at 7,800 m altitude.)

BMW 801D-2 performance at different altitudes with improved C-3 fuel and increased pressures (not relevant in first half 1944, used in Fw 190A-8); this shows the sharp drop in power above the full pressure altitude of the ordinary 5,800 m. The full pressure altitude wasn't changed by the summer '44 modifications to the engine.


Hat tip to http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/ and kurfurst.org - having such easily accessible free resources is delightful compared to the many unsupported statements made most of the aviation literature!



Personnel reform

There are traditionally three categories of active military personnel in (almost?) all armed services; enlisted personnel, non-commissioned officers and officers.*

The officers have their roots in the noble class that traditionally led troops into war from pre-historic times** to 19th century, continued in a watered-down way till about WW2.

The enlisted personnel has its roots in levied, poorly-equipped and poorly trained soldiers. 
The NCOs in between have their roots in professional men-at-arms training and overseeing levied troops, but in some modern armed forces the junior NCOs are merely a bunch of chosen, higher quality enlisted personnel who get entrusted with additional tasks and responsibilities.

The current division of personnel into enlisted, NCOs and officers is clearly a product of path dependency. This begs the questions: Is it appropriate, is it optimal?

The current recruiting has difficulties presenting enlisted service as attractive (especially in regard to personnel retention), as the enlisted personnel exists in an organisation where there are very many superiors way beyond the actual needs of a functioning hierarchy (chain of command) and enlisted personnel is officially bottom of the barrel.

There may be promise in a more fluid rank system, and both the civilian sector and the integration of civilians in many processes of the army (such as with mechanics) shows that this is feasible. Some glass ceilings exist that separate the least-educated workers of a large corporation from the top management, but no such three defined groups, and some manager from a faraway location doesn't have the authority to order a worker to do something only because he's within an enclosed corporate area.

A clean sheet of paper design for a new personnel system could address the many lessons learned and scientific findings that do not square with the traditional hierarchical system.

It would give us an option to introduce downwards mobility that appears unthinkable in the traditional system. We could have promotions on a trial basis and/or temporary promotions, so we can test whether an individual is not just promising, but actually capable of a different task. This would help get around the Peter Principle.

We could also offer room for self-organisation and groups revealing natural leader talents. Natural leaders become visible if you don't force a leader onto a group by artificial authority.

We might find ways to make improvisations official that have existed for generations; things such as competence before rank. This improvisation was (is) practiced among pilots and between trainers and students, for example.

We could also make full use of authority by qualification, such as already practiced with trainer certifications. Those are so far awkward deviations from the standard system.

I suppose the best way to test a different personnel system would be to have some small and not terribly important armed service test it in the alliance. Slovenia's military, for example.


*: Officers have quite sweeping authority of command over NCOs and enlisted personnel beyond the chain of command (exact regulations are detailed and vary between countries), and NCOs have such sweeping beyond-chain-of-command authority over enlisted personnel.
**: This is poorly documented in many areas and eras, and nobility may have been acquired by gaining respect of fellow men in some areas and eras.