A scary picture


I'm not scared by terrorists, Muslims, Arabs, Chinese, North Koreans, Iranians or Russians - in fact, our secretary for internal affairs scares me more than AQ.

But this picture scares me a lot.
It shows the full members (blue) and observers (green) of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Did you ever hear about this organization? I don't remember any reports about it in the past years and discovered it sometime in '07.
It's basically the nutrient solution for a new Warsaw Pact if we're unlucky.

Look at it - Russia, China, India, the Russia-friendly former USSR states and possibly even Iran. That's four nuclear powers and one wannabe. OK, Pakistan and India won't join the same alliance, so let's say three nuclear powers.

Russia has lots of raw materials and military technology, India and China have huge manufacturing capacity and unbelievable manpower.
If AQ scares you more than the chance that a SCO transforms into a real alliance, then you're really wrong here...

We better draw India into the Western camp or join the Indian camp soon!



Infantry survivability

I believe that infantry survivability in major war hasn't been addressed as much as it needs to be.
Many small wars have taught us that our infantry can be seen by the enemy and survive for months, with minimal losses.

That's not what we'd experience in a major war and it's not the experience of our opponents.

To be seen by the enemy means to play Russian roulette with several cartridges. Modern weapons have become too lethal. Modern infantry warfare in major war wouldn't be about better weapons, but about who sees whom first. The killing is the comparably simple part in most terrains. You need only to be calm and have some minutes of instruction to be able to hit someone at up to 300m distance with a rifle today.

That's why we need to enable our future infantry reinforcements to remain unseen even without long training.
Camouflage and deception of dismounted/infantry troops require good NCOs more than anything else, but we can help it also with equipment.
Our equipment has a remarkable emphasis on lethality/firepower; survivability has been enhanced in the past decades primarily by adding armour to the infantryman's equipment.

That's the appropriate reaction to the small war situation; you're visible anyway, so you add armour instead of deception or camouflage.

Well, this approach won't work so fine in major war conditions in my humble opinion.
The addition of so many, heavy armour plates is an extreme reaction for an extreme situation - an it will fail in other situations. Armour isn't worth much if you get shot at with machine guns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, mortars and possibly even (guided) antitank weapons. They'll eventually crack the plate once too often or simply hit the soft, unprotected body parts.

Deception and camouflage are not really reliable means, but they have huge potential that you don't see at all in small wars. Deception and camouflage are not only defensive tools; they are ingredients of surprise, and therefore very useful for offensive actions as well.

Camouflage is also quite lightweight - a full body camo suit like this

(example: Saab Baracuda Sotacs) weights only as much as a fragmentation protection vest and doubles as rain protection (general infantry suits can weigh less, this one is rather well-suited for scouts, snipers/observers and heavy weapons crews).
Such a suit increases the reload times and it generally takes longer to use equipment stored behind the suit, but the value of camouflage can hardly be overestimated when the lethality of a modern platoon is greater than the lethality of an entire 18th century field army.

Another important ability is to fight when concealed or even behind cover. Old-fashioned periscopes for machine guns and sniper rifles

(this is a periscope on Austrian MG74 - gloves would have made the camouflage even better) enable the use of the weapon without much exposure. That needs to be common, not uncommon.

Such equipment doesn't need as much training as conventional camouflage, deception and hiding does. Let's do the NCOs their jobs in teaching our infantry - but give them the right tools, and make sure that they don't use the wrong lessons.

We need to emphasize camouflage over armour; low intensity warfare has taught us the wrong lessons; we'd bleed a lot in the next major war if we don't prepare for it properly.


Foundation for discussion: Why to wage war?

Experts disagree on military art/science/technology just like in other areas of human expertise or art.

I observed that many of the disagreements are rooted in a fundamentally different understanding of the purpose of warfare.
Many of the presently evolving theories are simply useless if you disagree on the purpose of warfare with the theory's proponents.

Some people simply consider "to win" as purpose once the conflict/war has begun. They don't think along the lines of cost/benefit.
This attitude is especially prevalent among right-wing and uniformed thinkers. Soldiers adopt a culture that doesn't promote the thinking about the "why" at all. This highly political question hurts their in-job efficiency and that's why soldiers get conditioned on this and other topics. Sub-cultural conditioning keeps most of them from thinking about war in a comprehensive way.

Pacifists and near-pacifists are the opposite; by representing an extreme ideology they have the useful talent and motivation to expose many flaws, but fail to appreciate that in many people's opinion violence can be helpful in solving conflicts.

Some people invest years of creative thinking into theories about forms of warfare that are irrelevant to others.
Counter-insurgency theory and theory about the conflict category "state vs. non-state power" (4th Generation Warfare) are quite fashionable today.
For some thinkers (like me), this is a quite irrelevant form of warfare. Foreign non-state actors cannot invade us, they cannot infiltrate us beyond the limits of police responsibility. State vs. non-state warfare is most relevant if your own people fights its own government (this happens often for good reasons) or if you mess up distant countries with your troops.
So what's the point in mastering 4th generation warfare as state actor?

A lot of attention and effort is spent on forwarding military theories, theories about including political efforts into warfare and the likes; we should invest more attention and effort into discussion about "why warfare instead of co-existence".

This question is important at all times; in wartime as well as in peace.
We should not allow ourselves to stop thinking about it once we're at war; the results of such behavior have proved to be disastrous again and again.

The most important question about "war or peace" is the philosophical question about the value of life in comparison to other life and to property. The philosophers need to advance their thinking about this to enable the conflict theoreticians to create a conclusive model for a good decision about war and peace.

So let's reason about "Why to wage war?"

Sven Ortmann


Are we clueless about modern conventional warfare?

No army was well-prepared when World War I began. Nobody seemed to have a correct picture of how that war would look like. The world hadn't seen much major conventional warfare. Europeans were accustomed to comparably easy killing of native people who had no modern weapons - far, far away.

Two wars provided the most relevant experiences:

1) Russo-Japanese war 1904/05
At land this war had experienced slightly outdated firepower that failed prevent the capture of fortified places by the Japanese.
Naval warfare included the effective use of torpedo boats, mines and a conventional blue water battle of battleships and cruisers. The latter confirmed the expectations about increasing effective gunfire range at sea.

2) Second Boer war 1899/1902
This taught a lot about infantry tactics; marksmanship at long ranges and so-called open order tactics to reduce infantry losses were in the focus. It did also provide some interesting (and drastic) guerilla/counter-guerilla lessons.

Other conflicts of interest included the anti-Boxer expedition 1900 (interesting because of its logistical challenges especially for countries like Germany) and some Italian warfare at about 1911/12 (first use of aircrafts heavier than air for war).

But that wasn't enough to understand modern, major conventional warfare. It took about two years of full-scale warfare (1914-1916) to draw the basic lessons and almost two more years to apply them.

World War I was shaped by railroad mobility, extreme firepower, high force densities and total war industrial mobilization.

The technology advanced after World War I, but many military establishments were again clueless about modern warfare without major conventional warfare experiences in the inter-war years (the Spanish civil war wasn't typical).

World War II was shaped by internal combustion engine-driven road and off-road mobility, really effective air power and radio communications.

WW2 still serves for many people as the base for major conventional warfare, but it's likely untypical for modern conventional warfare as were the 19th century conflicts for World War One.

The Israeli wars, Vietnam war, Falklands war and the latest two wars against Iraq showed only small aspects of modern conventional warfare as well.
These wars might be as poor a guide as were the Boer and Russo-Japanese wars before World War One.

World War III was luckily cancelled in time.

What might shape World War IV? What might we have missed in our preparations?

Remember; conventional major war is the only category of war (besides nuclear war) that can really take away our freedom and sovereignty! Great power gaming and kicking some poor paramilitary troops' asses in remote places is not really defence - its offence. The major conventional warfare capability is the justification for our armies!

Back2topic: My guesses about what would shape modern conventional warfare today are:
- sensor effects (relevant for offence and defence)
- electronic warfare (much more than ever seen before; many radio/radar capabilities might be diminished)
- hard-kill defences against ammunitions (heavily dependent on sensor effects, but probably the decisive push in the defence vs. offence struggle)
- an inability to protect overt war-relevant infrastructure/economic power against destruction (not applicable to all nations, of course)

Our ancestors of 1913 weren't dumb; it's apparently impossible to really know the nature of modern warfare based on theory alone. Some interested civilians offered better predictions before World War I than the General headquarters did - but almost all were completely wrong, just like almost all "experts".
The complexity has increased in the past century and we didn't have a complete demonstration of modern conventional warfare since 1945.

It's a safe bet to assume that many 'modern' armies today are as clueless about the nature of modern war as were the armies of 1913.

edit: I focused on technological aspects, as these are most easily to communicate and do coin some tactical aspects as well.


The standing of the USA in the world

I've come across this quote - the source is unimportant, as quotes like this exist almost everywhere:

[The U.S.'s] status as a moral leader has been damaged by the war, the subsequent occupation of a Muslim nation, and various issues concerning the treatment of detainees.

That's the understatement of the month.

I scratched on the surface of this problem some months ago, but this time I cannot resist to show the great dimension of the problem.

A short list of what happened in the past ten years:

1) two questionable presidential elections (which would have had different outcomes under many European election laws)

2) great influence of lobbyists on national policy

3) unquestioned support for Israel

4) lying into the face of the whole world about Iraq's WMD

5) a war of aggression

6) installation of an Iraqi puppet government

7) occupation of Iraq

8) installation of an Afghani puppet government

9) occupation of Afghanistan (questionable for some people)

10) kidnap of free persons in Europe and elsewhere

11) torture

12) mis-treatment of prisoners as neither criminals nor POW

13) capital punishment

14) extremely high percentage of own citizens in jail

15) exertion of undue pressure on small countries

16) one-sided cancellation of arms control treaties

17) supporting dictators in exchange for their assistance

18) UN charter-violating threats to Iran

19) mis-use of IAEA to suppress Iraq before 2003 (It's impossible to refute a wrong allegation that something exists.)

20) strangling Iraq pre-2003 by keeping the sanctions active long after almost all other nations wanted to loosen them; civilians suffering

21) repeated withholding of payments to UN

22) repeated bad-mouthing of respected UN institutions

23) repeated misuse of veto rights in UN security council

24) repeatedly expressed lack of respect even for important allied nations (France, Germany)

25) disrespectful behavior to Russia

26) too much defense expenditures (half of global expenditures on military!)

27) asking even travelers from allied nations for fingerprints

28) extreme collection of data on European air travelers (in addition to fingerprints)

29) spying European corporations and private communications for years

30) exploitation of NATO for auxiliary troops, in fact degrading the national security of allies

31) undue pressure on North Korea, heating up the tensions there against the will of South Korea's government

32) unjustified bombing of a civilian goods factory in Sudan

33) heating up the Somalian civil war by inviting/supporting Ethiopia into the war (and a subsequent comeback of chaos)

34) huge arms sales into the Arabian crisis region (multiple sides)

35) wrong allegations against Iran concerning arms deliveries to Iraqi resistance

36) bombs on civilians in Afghanistan

37) bombs on allied troops in Afghanistan

38) backing the Saudi regime - although most 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi-Arabia and SA is the origin of Wahabbism - the radical school of Islam that is AQ's foundation

39) strong support for corrupt and undemocratic Arabian regimes in general

40) creation of an ideology-driven war on extreme Islam in general

41) export of a financial economy crisis driven by incredible greed and financial incompetence

42) an influential national TV station that's so biased that even people on other continents know about it

43) refusal to co-operate on disarmament or anti-global warming treaties

44) straining the environment and global raw material supply with wasteful behavior

My 40% American readers will likely beg to differ on these points. Well, bad news; it's by definition completely irrelevant what Americans think about these points. The rest of the world counts.
Better news; many people outside of the USA would beg to differ as well, and create shorter/longer/different lists. The problem here is; even a much shorter list would be too much for "moral leadership".

The USA needs to understand that it is at a very low level of respect and influence right now.

The expression of the belief that it deserves great respect and leadership will only hurt the USA among many relevant partner nations.

U.S. diplomats and foreign politicians should imagine that they represent for example Poland. That's about the correct moral and respect level right now.
Forget about "superpower", "leadership" or "moral superiority". The USA needs to redeem oneself first.

Sven Ortmann

Today's news in Germany; an Afghan-German visited his family in Afghanistan, went shopping and got caught by U.S. forces. Weeks later the Red Cross told his relatives what happened. The German intelligence service BND has apparently already interrogated him and considers him as harmless and not suspicious. The German government is apparently trying to free him since weeks... that's No.45 (but might be considered as a combination of 10 and 12).


Modern comm tech on the battlefield - opportunity for rapid learning?

Soldiers need a couple of fights to 'learn' the realities of their war - even after thorough training.
This is well understood - even well-trained troops are inferior to true veterans and are 'green'.

Less well-understood is that this also applies to whole national forces.
The armies of World War One needed months to learned he basics of that war and years to learn enough to overcome the enemy's defensive.
The French army understood what it had to do to stop a German offensive - when the war was already lost and numerical ratios left them no chance anymore.
The Russians took more a whole year to understand how not to become hopeless prey for German operations.
The British took almost three years in World War One and again almost three years in World War Two to finally blunt the German submarine force by improved tactics and procedures.
The U.S.A.A.F. entered the European war early in 1942, but didn't get strategic bombing right till early '44 ("Big Week").

Some armies in history never really understood how they could fight their foes successfully and didn't get favorable entries in our history books.

This learning process can be critical to success in warfare if you aren't lucky enough to have the better ideas right at the beginning.
Don't hope for that we'll have this kind of luck in the next conventional war. Hope is no substitute for preparation. It would be quite unjustified anyway, as successful forces are usually less innovative than previously defeated forces. Successful forces instead keep improving their strengths even when these are already outdated.

Enough introduction; here's the deal:

Imagine a force that has truly perfect communications. No radio silence, no jamming. NCW dreamland.
Now imagine that this force has enough self-control not to use excessive micro-management.
Imagine that instead, the info flows from and to troops in combat is used by advisers.
And these advisers 'attend' not only as much battles as the front-line troops do. These advisers attend many more battles in short time, and accumulate combat experience (sort of) much quicker than the real combat troops do.

That might actually accelerate the rate of learning and provide an efficient channel for quick dispersion of new ideas.
The remote battle adviser idea of science-fiction movies like Aliens might actually be much more than that - it might be the future centerpiece of the force's adaption to unfamiliar challenges.

Sven Ortmann


Threat-based force planning vs. adaptability

It's certainly more reasonable to base force planning on perceived future threats than on taste.
The construction of battle fleets because of a love for battleships was not proven as successful force planning, for example.

But threat-based planning has some problems as well.

Lobbyists are everywhere. They want others to spend money, so they'll create motivations to do so. This includes the ability of the military-industrial-media complex to overemphasize marginal threats. Scaremongers have a good time if the perceived threat defines the spending.

Threat is not the same as war. Being permanently ready to quickly overwhelm a potential aggressor once he becomes aggressive guarantees that you spend a lot and are quite strong all the time - and stress your resources a lot. The strength effectively deters the other powers, but it also entices to abuse the own power ... and in turn to create additional foes a.k.a. threats.

During the Cold War, the NATO prepared about 95% of its military power for a specific war: World War III against the Warsaw pact. The necessary military power was not defined by what was affordable or what people liked or by how many talented personnel was easily attracted to the forces. The NATO's military power was defined by an arms race with the Warsaw Pact.
The concept proved to be imperfect; the West fell prey to hopelessly inflated Warsaw Pact strength estimates by the intelligence services. The Warsaw Pact was at no time nearly as powerful as we believed it to be. Scientists could have known that to everyone after a brief look at some basic economic and demographic data, though.

Threat-based planning assumes readiness at every time as desirable. This means that you will likely be at high power and spending levels all the time - but this doesn't help every time. The French did it in the 20's and 30's. They had the strongest army and felt secure. They kept their army the strongest one for a long period, even when Europe was quite calm and Germany only had 100,000 soldiers. Italy was weak and the French border with Italy was easily defensible as it was mountainous. But their army power was not powerful enough to cope with a rather short seven-year rearmament of Germany. The German army had focused on growth potential as it was legally limited to 100,000 personnel.
The French felt too secure as they were used to having the strongest army, and their equipment became outdated. Their ability to adapt to the new threat was limited, they entered the arms race quite late.

Few (in fact, I know no-one) in the USA expected much warfare in mountains till 2000. Only one (10th) division prepared for mountain warfare, and it did so half-heartedly. Threat-oriented thinking did apparently not prepare the U.S. military forces for the Battle of Tora Bora - in mountains.

I propose to emphasize another variable much more. You can almost forget about threat expectations - they're like expectations on the stock markets where most people follow a herd instinct and never see the tops and bottoms in advance.

Let's emphasize adaptability.

This includes
- generalist competence instead of specialization.
- ability to quickly change organizations within months instead of within years (was done before, with typewriters only) and even do it just for training
- ability to grow. We need enough reserve leaders and enough industrial base to grow our forces.
- awareness and active efforts to cut the lags that delay reaction to new threats
- ditch all dependence on civilian service contractors (kitchen services, guards, logistics) that wouldn't follow our force into a hot war zone in full strength and without delay.
- prefer versatile, adaptable systems over niche equipment as a general trend

Adaptability enables us to respond to aggressors adequately - and reduces initiative advantage that an aggressor always has.


edit 2016: Eight years it seems a focus on Eastern European NATO defence against Russia appears to be fully justified regarding force structure, terrain etc. Still, I would rather not want doctrine tailored against what's perceived as Russian doctrine, or equipment tailored against what's known to be in the Russian arsenal (soon) only.

Reasoning about the Afghanistan war (commitment)

Sometime, several hundred years ago, Europeans did a remarkable step in social development; they invented the Enlightenment. Reasoning became supreme over faith and ignorance.

I've seen some hints that reasoning might indeed be applicable to military affairs as well. In fact, it might even prevent stupid mistakes and disasters. Maybe we should try it. It's not fashionable to use any other part of the brain than the fear center to think about military affairs, but I don't care.

Just as an experiment and a test of our newly-discovered ability to actually think in objective terms about war and warfare - let's think about the commitment in the Afghanistan civil war.

I believe we need to answer (at least) the following five questions with “yes” (all of them) to feel that our support for the Western participation in the civil war in Afghanistan is justified:

1st: Can we expect that the Taleban have a comeback if we leave?

2nd: Can we expect that the Taleban would again harbor/support terrorists after a comeback (who fight us)?

3rd: Are these terrorists significantly more dangerous if supported by Taleban than without this support?

4th: Can we expect that our presence there keeps the Taleban away?

5th: Can we expect that our participation there hurts us less than would otherwise do additional terror strikes against us (killed & wounded citizens, economic losses)?

I would answer these questions at least three times with “No.”

(If we wanted to help foreign people who are in a serious economic situation, we can do so with much higher efficiency (same money, much more helpful effects) elsewhere first.)

Sven Ortmann


Alliances and guarantee of independence

Sometime in 1831 several European countries guaranteed the sovereignty of Belgium. This became one of the major causes (/excuse) for the British entry into the bloody Great War 1914-1918, an almost civilization-shattering experience.

Such guarantees should not be taken lightly - they require very good reasoning.

It's similar with the addition of new members to an alliance. Such a move is equally important for the old members as it is for the new member.
It should be considered carefully and - worthy for a democracy - be subject to an intense public debate.

The prospect of Ukraine and Georgia being added to the NATO (a possible move that would probably be rather detrimental to the old member's overall national security) as an act of cabinet decisions is a horror idea.

We should really be aware that we might lose what we have (like peace, stability, good terms with Russia, no Russian-Chinese alliance) if we are too dumb with our alliance's grand strategy.

About Georgia; I don't see any positive relevance to our national security related to Georgia.
About the Ukraine; an agreement to keep it a block-free, neutral country comparable to Sweden or Finland would be perfect. We surely don't want it to become part or close partner of Russia unless Russia becomes our close friend. But its addition to the NATO (contrary to previous non-expansion agreement) could create a hostility with Russia that might hurt us a lot in the long run (an alliance with the PR China is not really unlikely).

I advise to at least wait with any decisions of that scale till the USA got rid of Dumbya and his neocon we-fail-at-everything crowd in 2009.

The political weight of Prisoners of war

Today we are pretty casualty-sensitive in small wars.
I appreciate that, it helps to keep the disasters of unnecessary wars smaller than their potential.

But what happens when the enemy takes a significant quantity of POW? The Israelis went mad due to two POW and used this as excuse for a war in Lebanon.

Imagine we were in just another small war, overrun an entire country, defeat its entire army, surprisingly no-one want an insurgency - but some hundred POW were moved into a nuke-owning befriended country of this defeated state.
Would a Western government accept that a thousand POW would be away forever? Would it withdraw as part of a trade for eh POW? What's the political weight of POW today?
Few (I know no-one) people seem to ask this question. That's obviously because our opponents didn't succeed in taking many POW, but the potential exists.

What would be the political weight of several hundred or thousands of POW in small wars today?

Sven Ortmann