European defense policy

Discussions about European defence policy usually concentrate on the issues of getting the diverging government intents and the different armed forces together.

That's a somewhat strange focus; so much effort required for such a dubious outcome.
Diversity offers advantages as well as inefficiencies, and the lack of a European identity that could challenge national thinking would make a common European monopoly army almost hostile to European ideas of freedom.

We have become lazy about alliance thinking during the Cold War; there was blue and red, no real alliance policy necessary besides adding some late-comers like Spain to the alliance. We merely administered the present alliance and the USA focused on containment.

Defence policy is foremost alliance policy; few nations are powerful enough to defend themselves in 'bad case' scenarios. I believe we should think preferably about allies, friends and conflicts. Budgets, ability to deploy a brigade to the end of the world and multi-national institutions - that should be secondary.

Let's have a look at the environment for European nations:

East: Russia, Ukraine
Classic opponent of the Cold War, dominant in Eastern Europe but only marginally influential in Central or even Western Europe till the end of WW2. Possible hot spots of conflict as long as the zones of influence of NATO and Russia aren't finalized.

A nation between orient and Occident, between Europe and Arabs, a NATO ally with 2nd class forces at this time, small conflict with Greece and Cyprus

South: Arab nations
The relationship isn't heartily at this time, simple trade connections (oil for industrial goods mostly), separated by the Mediterranean

West: North America
Economically rich countries, NATO allies at this time, close connection especially to the UK, separated by the Atlantic

North: Arctic
No nations there, but good terrain for resource war fiction.

Overseas: India & PR China as great powers
Too distant to be 1st rate threats.

I'm not really sure that the NATO alliance will last for one more generation. It has been detrimental to European national security in the past few years - the USA is acting as a shit magnet with its foreign policy, and its allies catch a share of the shit. I was 99% sure that GWB would lose in 2004, but it didn't happen. If McCain wins or Obama turns warmonger, the tolerance of Europeans for their Allies' actions would test the bonds of the alliance. WEU and EU are ready to replace the NATO as premier European alliance.

Let's use a NATO split along the Atlantic as a scenario.
How should European defense policy look in that scenario, or in preparation for it?

My best guesses:

A)Fair resolution of conflicts in the East. Keep Russia away from PR China in diplomatic terms. A Sino-Russian alliance would only provoke a costly and useless arms race.

Arabs as allies isn't necessary and considering the close relationship of some European nations with Israel not easy anyway. It appears as if the power of Arab countries (which isn't really big anyway) might enter a downturn in the next decades due to the consumption of their oil reserves. They're probably irrelevant in the (very) long term. It would be nice to keep them from becoming foes in the medium and long term, though. They might unite and become emboldened and more powerful by doing so, but even that would not change much if such an united Arab nation had no major allies (like Russia & PR China).

Turkey. That's a difficult case. To add them to the EU would pretty much remove the "E" of "EU" in the mind of many (if not most) Europeans. The critical border is the one between Orient and Occident. The Turks are on the other side - who cares about their possession of a tiny piece of geographically "European" soil?
The Turkish geographic and cultural position is still very interesting. It's (together with Iran) the connection between Europe, GUS, Arabia and South Asia (India).
Turkey cannot really be a problem in itself, but would be a very unpleasant part of any other alliance.
Turkey as an ally would be the most comfortable solution in the long term.

The unpleasant part of this is certainly that the largest NATO allies' (USA) foreign policy seems to be unnecessarily inflaming both at the Southern and Eastern frontiers of the EU. Being allied with the USA has become a burden for Europe.

The EU should take the lead and actively seek to minimize the troubles in places like Georgia and Ukraine. Let's acknowledge that Abkhazia isn't really Georgian and that the Russians are right in their support for the resistance fighters there. The case is strikingly similar to Kosovo. Such a reasonable behaviour might be part of a deal that includes a permanent neutralization of Ukraine.

The other - southern - frontier is even more troublesome. There's actually no real reason for the tensions between Europeans and Arabs. The tensions aren't significant on the state level yet, so it might be possible to revert the silly trend of hostility (terrorism, cultural).
The Mediterranean is an effective barrier, and even the Arab emigrants in Europe won't become politically decisive (no matter what some Americans seem to believe).
I believe that the hostility could easily be neutralized - but our politicians don't really try it.
How often do European top politicians speak to the Arab public? Think of some symbolic friendship moves, appearance in Arab TV channels, meeting/honouring some Arab intellectuals and artists and such. The participation in the Iraq war 2003 and the following occupation was a pre-1960's-minded idea, easily the dumbest one in European foreign policy of the past decades.

European defence policy shouldn't be about organizations, but about classic shaping of the alliance landscape and about care for international relations.

Btw, this was post No.100 on this blog (and I forgot to party)!


Addendum: Steel production

Some shocking steel production figures of 2007:

Wikipedia (easily readable)
International Iron and Steel Institute (source for Wikipedia article; has monthly 2008 data)



Industrial power

Back to my pet story; economic basis for military power.

I wrote about this before, especially here

National Security and economy

Shocking Shipbuilding industry

Our perception of national power is still influenced by what the nations were capable of in World War 2. But all involved nations changed a lot in the past two generations.

All the following data is from the CIA World Factbook and 2007 estimates

GDPppp = USD 14.38 trillion
industry: 27.1 % share of GDP

GDP = USD 13.84 trillion
industry: 20.5% share of GDP

PR China:
GDPppp = USD 6.991 trillion
industry: 48.6% share of GDP

GDPppp = USD 2.989 trillion
industry: 29.4% of GDP

GDPppp = USD 2.088 trillion
industry: 39.1 % share of GNP

*** calculating ***

3.897 trillion industrial value added, USDppp

PR China
3.398 trillion industrial value added, USDppp

2.837 trillion industrial value added, USD

0.879 trillion industrial value added, USDppp

0.816 trillion industrial value added, USDppp

(GDPppp= Gross Domestic Product in purchasing power parity)

That's not what we hear and read in the news. The news are rather about the economic output of nations in terms of absolute US-$. Well, a screw is a screw - even if it costs more in some countries than in others. Purchasing power parity corrects such distortions as well as possible. We need to look at industrial output in terms of ppp to see the real output.

Imagine this; if the USA would attempt to mobilize as in 1942, it couldn't even outfit its soldiers with clothes. It would need more than a year to set up the textile industry or would import clothes (as in peacetime) from the PR China.
The situation isn't very different concerning plastics, electronics or steel.
A fleet buildup as in 1942-1945 would be completely impossible. Even the peacetime shipbuilding of the 1930's would overstretch the U.S. shipbuilding industry.
Europe is in a slightly different situation and very diverse, but it did lose a lot of its industrial power (in fact, old industries like textile industry are mostly gone and new industries took over).

The de-industrialization is not only discomforting to globalisation skeptics; it's a relevant problem for long-term national security and sustainability of military power.
It's also a root cause of the disastrous U.S. trade balance deficit.

Europe isn't much better off, although its economic structure seems to be much healthier.

It's time to open eyes to reality and fix problems instead of pursuing dreams.

We'll have a new "Kranker Mann am Bosporus" ("Sick man of Europe" if the turn-around doesn't happen soon.
There might be even be more than one - but the biggest one will certainly not be in "Old Europe".


Marshall Plan

There's something bugging me. Sometimes I hear that people express their belief in a huge effect of the Marshall Plan. Some people truly think that it was the major and decisive driver of European recovery, the cause for the economic miracle of Germany and Italy.

Well, that's very, very close to nonsense.
The miraculously high growth rates in the 50's and 60's were caused by the availability of millions of well-educated, experienced and hard working citizens and a very low economic output level in the late 40's.
Even the most simple economic models for this like the Exogenous growth model indicate that a very high rate of economic growth is normal in such a situation.

Another reason why the Marshall plan wasn't nearly as influential as many seem to believe:
Western Germany and Italy - both countries with excellent growth rates - didn't receive much money from the funds per capita. Germany only got loans, and only late.
France and UK, two countries with less miraculous economic recovery, received much more money.

Western Germany actually paid more for reparations than it received Marshall Plan loans.

Check these two articles for further details.

So why do I rant about this in a national security blog? Simple; the Marshall Plan story is part of the modern belief that we (Western nations) can somehow build up foreign countries.
Sure, there's some truth in it, but we need to get the factors right.
The aid needs to be significant per capita, the education level needs to offer growth potential, the money needs to be directed into investments (infrastructure and productive businesses) and the conditions need to be promising (low inflation, political stability).

The driving force for European post-war economic growth was European, not the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan did not prove that economic aid can do miracles and turn an entire region into a prospering, friendly region.



A look into old journals is sometimes helpful to appraise recent history.

I looked into German '88 military journals - one top story; the new Bundeswehr structure 2000. That planning was outdated in less than two years.

Well, the end of the Cold War doesn't happen very often, so maybe other plans fared better?
Our exceptions in 1998 did certainly not look like the past years.

OK, so maybe today's expectations for the next ten years make more sense?
Doubtful. A look into 20th century history tells us that expectations about economic, political or military affairs are rarely accurate if they reach farther than one to at maximum about eight years.

Some apparently widely accepted assumptions irritate me most because they seem to reach farther than that:

"The next wars will be small wars, none against major national forces."

"PR China's economy will grow at a rate of x per cent."

I know also some assumptions that are so extremely accepted that few care to even mention them, like my anti-favourite ('no major conventional war in Europe in the future') or the assumption that the current global security alliance system won't be changed much.

And then there are some strange predictions whose credibility seems to be very regional, like the weird predictions of some right-wing Americans that Europe will be taken over by Muslims by reproduction (they know probably only suburbs of Paris and nothing else about Europe).

Disadvantageous predictions are sometimes proved wrong because the predictions caused some prevention - that's a good effect. Prediction of problems ("doomsaying") seems to have a purpose.

Prediction of "no problem" scenarios (like "no conventional war in Europe ...") does not seem to have a positive function (except temporary good feeling).
So let's not trust good predictions and stay alert.

Sven Ortmann


Thermal camouflage

Some companies offer suitable equipment to camouflage the thermal signature of troops on the battlefield - at least for short duration.

But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Non-camouflaged weapons give away the position of soldiers in daylight as at night. To camouflage the soldier's thermal signature alone won't suffice, as barrels of guns become hot when fired. A hot surface is visible as a suspicious very bright or very dark spot on a thermal sensor monitor.

Daylight camouflage of weapons is possible in classic sniper style with textiles wrapped around. Airspray technology offers further camouflaging possibilities, but that's for wartime only - difficult to train in peacetime.
But how to camouflage the thermal signature of a rifle or even machine gun at night?
The old water-cooled machine guns were probably best in this regard, at least during the first couple hundred shots.

Maybe thermal sleeves as seen on tank guns might help? Tank guns have these insulations to prevent accuracy loss by uneven thermal influences on the barrel. An insulation should help to keep the thermal signature down for at least the beginning of the firefight.

A special challenge might be posed by the necessarily exposed flash suppressors, whereas real suppressors ("silencers")might be covered with a thermal sleeve just like the barrel.

Thermal camouflage might also be interesting for other items, like the launching units of ATGMs and in general many metallic equipment items that tend to become very hot in sunlight.

We need to make a good all-round, full-spectrum job concerning camouflage to increase our troops' survivability in high-intensity conflict; the chain is only as strong as its weakest link!


Mortars and howitzers

Mortars have evolved significantly in the past years. Up until the 80's, crude automatic mortars like the 2B9 Vasilek (82 mm) and rifled mortars like the French TDA MO 120 RT (120 mm) were exotic exceptions.

These days, it looks like automatic 120mm mortars on vehicles are in the procurement focus - towed 120mm mortars receive little attention.

The mounting of 120mm mortars in APCs is not new; but these days the projects are often about automatic mortars and even turret-mounted, direct fire-capable mortars.
This requires not only a turret and an autoloader; it requires a recoiling mechanism, often breech loading and some models have fixed ammunition without auxiliary charges, comparable to cannons.

Such mounted "mortars" are in fact more a wild new mixture of cannon, howitzer, mortar and auto cannon. The ranges increased from traditional 6-7 km to 15 km and more. Rifled 120mm mortars are more accurate than mortar users are used to, and guided or at least trajectory-corrected munitions have the same accuracy as the respective howitzer munitions.

A turreted 120mm mortar is closer to a Soviet 2S1 122mm self-propelled howitzer than to a classic 120mm mortar.
The FCS systems NLOS-C (SPH) and NLOS-M (SP mortar) are based on the same vehicle and shall be equally embedded in the radio network.

This begs the question; shouldn't this lead to changes in the employment, organization? Is it really a good idea to insist on calling these weapons "mortars"?

The weapon and its ammunition isn't the only thing that changed a lot. The network approach to C3, especially communications, changes modern armies.

I'm aware of the task organization of artillery and mortars; most of the time they have different jobs. That's how it was done for about 90 years. It's time to check whether the understanding of indirect firepower organization needs an update.

If direct combat units really want/need more complex, mobile and protected indirect fire assets that come close to the light SPH that we removed from our arsenals in the past decades, should they really limit their mission to traditional mortar missions?

Does it make sense to insist on the rather short-ranged (less than 20 km) "mortars" to insure themselves against higher headquarters demands to use these weapons as focus of effort weapons? That requires a good amount of distrust to superiors in my opinion.

Let's think about this; we standardize on a medium SPH for artillery, infantry and armor units (with towed howitzers as alternative stored weapon for air-mobile infantry operations in mountainous terrain). The step in costs from a light SPH-alike mounted mortar to a regular 155mm SPH isn't very large anymore - but the range difference still is.

The direct combat units (infantry and armor) would have priority for their organic indirect firepower (SPHs), but the secondary mission of these systems is to provide horizontal fire support.

The classic way is to ask for fire support by superior units (battalion asks brigade brigade asks division, division asks corps) - that's probably too limited.
Combat teams could provide horizontal fire support to adjacent combat teams as well, regularly. They'd just need the range to do so.
The range is probably the only significant difference between complex "mortars" and regular SPHs. All other differences like logistical and C2 arrangements can be changed - the change would just require orders from the responsible general, there's nothing prohibiting such a change except human inertia.

This horizontal fire support would be limited by the priorities and the available ammunition stocks - but it would be an add-on to the existing capabilities, not necessarily causing a downgrade of artillery capabilities.

Combat team leaders might fear that their own fire support would not be available for their own team when they need it. But that could be solved with proper ammunition supply and highest-ranked standing orders about the priorities.

The ability to support other units up to 30 or 40 km away instead of just up to about 15 km away could lead to a drastic improvement of indirect fire support availability and we could save the resources for another AFV version and even eliminate one type of ammunition from the logistical system.
The additional costs would be the small difference between regular SPH and gold-plated mounted "mortars" plus small changes in the support structure (possibly resupply vehicles). The latter costs are kind of "variable", as they depend a lot on how much the new capability would be used.

Light/medium mortars are an entirely different story; they don't overlap much with artillery capabilities and tasks. I'm a strong proponent of rather simple mortars for the infantry. But even there the horizontal support fire concept should be embraced to the limits of the mortar's range.