Unmanned ground vehicles - history and smoke

Unmanned ground vehicles are in fashion. Thousands are in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly as short-range scouts to inspect possible bomb sites - a task very similar to the one of police robots since many years.

A lot of buzz was surrounding the Guardium UGV at Eurosatory because it was a somewhat autonomous, potentially armed UGV - as in general attention is guaranteed once "weapon" and "robot" are combined.
I miss a much less known and certainly obvious application for battlefield robots, an application that is relevant in conventional warfare; smoke laying.
It's been a miracle to me why such vehicles are apparently not remote-controlled - I considered it as an obvious choice for remote control since the day when I learned about these smoke-laying vehicles that are apparently in use in the USA (M56 Coyote, M58A3 Wolf and M1059A3 Lynx) and Russia.
The U.S. systems might actually be remote-controllable; I just never found any source that confirms the suspicion.

Either you lay smoke by indirect fires or (certainly logistically more efficient) you do so with such vehicles. Other methods obscure merely point targets, not areas. It's obvious that such vehicles could lay the smoke farther forward if they're unmanned. It's a Himmelfahrtskommando, a suicide mission anyway.

By the way; the first UGVs in combat were apparently Russian teletanks in 1939 or 1940 (edit: wrong, the Japanese had the lead), followed by unmanned German demolition midget tanks (ironically named Goliath), based on a French prototype.
Remote control by radio was used to convert aircraft into target drones for a Royal Navy exercise around 1930 (the Royal Navy embarrassed itself with the lack of effect of its anti-air firepower).

Just to make sure everyone gets it: The armed, unmanned and remote-controlled by radio tanks/ground vehicles are at least a 69 year-old technology. The current buzz about the modern examples is extremely ridiculous.

Almost nothing is truly new, many innovations in the art of war and the tools of war are decades old when they still get great press as novelty.
Get yourself a Jane's Weapon Systems issue from the 70's; you'll find the predecessors and first projects of much of what's today "brand new", "revolutionary" and "innovative" in it.

It would be quite embarrassing if dedicated smoke-laying vehicles (if in use at all) were not set up for remote-controlled use, about eighty after the first application of remote control by radio. They deserve priority over fancy armed robots.

Heavy bombers - scarier than ever before

I made a small calculation during the South Ossetia War that I want to share:

It was about the effect that a heavy bomber could have in a scenario like the South Ossetia War with smart bombs.

Keep in mind that GPS and INS-guided bombs can be used with extreme accuracy against coordinates. They're not good against moving targets, but good at impacting at certain coordinates - and they're not significantly larger than unguided bombs.

A B-2 (the bomber that could realistically do a single sortie without support and have an impact) can carry 80x Mk-82 500 lbs bombs (about 227 kg). Replace the Mk-82 bombs by GBU-30/ GBU-38 guided bombs for this scenario.

Such a general purpose blast+fragmentation bomb has easily a lethal radius of about 40 m against soft and thinly armored targets (plus or minus a few meters isn't really relevant, you'll see that later).
A single bomb can ruin vehicles on about 80 m road length. The point of impact would be set a bit to the side of the road for greatest effect if road traffic is dense/jammed (this reduces the road length covered) or directly on the road if normal military march spacing is expected (this adds a bit road damage). Fuzes wold be set to super quick.

80 bombs with about 80 m road length covered each - that's 6,400 m. A single bomber could have ruined the day. A flight of about half a dozen bombers would have covered the entire main (and only relevant) road in South Ossetia's valley and ruined a motorized rifle division.

I made a similar thought experiment in 1999 during the Kosovo Air War. A single B-.2 strike could have wiped off most of the Yugoslavian electricity production by simply destroying the turbine rooms of the few power plants (less the nuclear one, that would have been too unsafe). The bomb bay wouldn't even have been half-filled for such a mission. Count your countries' power plants - how many bomber sorties would it take to wipe out 80% of its electricity production today? One? Two? I doubt that it would take more than three for any country, even not for Russia or China.

Precision-guided bomb carpets could also be real 'carpets', not 'lines' as in the past, even with a single bomber. A heavy bomber (or few heavy fighter-bombers like F-15E, Su-34 or Tornado IDS) could cover a whole small forest where an enemy infantry company hides.

That reminds me of an air attack in September 1939 when a Stuka wing surprised a bunched-up Polish division at a large railway station and effectively destroyed the division as a fighting force in few minutes.

I have often read that heavy bombers are dinosaurs of the Cold War. Such remarks were common till they were used to drop single guided bombs on Taliban groups in Afghanistan, thousands of kilometers away from their British Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean.
Single guided bomb drops are probably not their most important capability today; the sheer quantity in the bomb bay is a quality of its own.

Luckily, it's possible to substitute with fighter-bombers because it's really only about "guided bomb + quantity". There's no need to introduce heavy bombers into air forces that haven't got any today.

So-called "strategic" air power IS extremely powerful, and I can understand the attitude of air force officers in many cases; the potential was just not really unleashed since 1945. It wasn't the tool of choice in our past few conflicts.


edit: 20090-03-20:
This video seems to fit fine:


Modern small arms calibres

Some light food for a change...

I published an article about rifle calibre effects (mostly wound ballistics) at Steve's Firearm blog several days ago. The topic seemed to be more appropriate there than here.
Check it out, it's a myth-busting article meant to clean up the mess of misleading anecdotes, scientific mistakes and sentimental influences that surround the rifle calibre debate.

Rifle calibres have been discussed and changed since we moved from musket ball to rifle bullets in the 19th century. The introduction of modern smokeless propellants brought another huge boost for calibre discussions, again toward smaller calibres. The final push toward smaller calibres (calibres smaller than 7mm were already tested at the beginning of the 20th century) came after WW2 when almost every soldier got a fully automatic weapon.
The high ammunition consumption of automatic fire and issues with strong recoil (controllability of bursts and full auto fire) spoke in favour of small calibres.

Calibres around 7mm (at least 6mm) were discussed in many studies and by many commissions as ideal infantry calibres, and the British developed the good .280British rifle cartridge. NATO selected the 7.62NATO calibre due to U.S. lobbying.

The USA didn't use 7.62NATO much as assault rifle calibre - the M14 quickly got its successor in the M16 after only a few years of use as standard rifle. 7.62 was a widespread calibre for assault rifles in other NATO countries (Germany replaced the 7.62NATO G3 rifle only in the 90's) and is still the most wide-spread calibre for medium/universal machine guns.

5.56NATO, the new standard for assault rifles since the 80's, was a mixed blessing; less penetration of cover/armour, less wound ballistic potential, inferior external ballistics for long-range shots - the advantages of reduced recoil, volume and weight were only part of a trade-off that hurts elsewhere.

A good bullet design can improve wound ballistics in both calibres (7.62NATO isn't always as great as its reputation) and heavy bullets can improve cover penetration (an issue for 5.56NATO). That's probably not enough. It's reasonable to expect more than 5.56NATO can deliver while 7.62NATO as standard cartridge like in the 50's and 60's would be extremely heavy and require strict fire discipline to get the job done with the little ammo that can be carried.

I see two possible approaches to solve the dilemma.

A) Standard infantry calibre:
A common cartridge in the 6-7mm range with intermediate characteristics and modern bullet designs. This cartridge could meet the requirements for carbine/PDW, scoped rifle (squad sharpshooter) and light machine guns. The effect would be satisfactory, the weight+volume would be acceptable and the range would suffice for everything except vehicle-mounted weapons and dedicated snipers.
A single small arms calibre for the whole quad/platoon would simplify ammunition logistics very much even though different, exchangeable cartridge versions (ball, AP, tracer, IR tracer) would be used.

B) New mix of 5.56NATO and 7.62NATO:
Well-designed bullet designs are necessary to exploit both calibre's potential, and could fit different roles.
5.56NATO: PDW/carbine, light machine gun (bipod, squad-level support)
7.62NATO: scoped rifles, medium machine guns (tripod, platoon-level support)

It's not really necessary that all weapons reach out to 600m effectively. Carbines won't be very useful at that distance anyway and light machine guns put a premium on low weight for the machine gunner's battlefield agility. Small bullets can suppress almost as well as heavy ones - a strong advantage when you need to carry so much ammunition.
Medium machine guns - well, almost nobody accepts 5.56NATO as a medium machine gun calibre; the effective range and cover penetration simply doesn't match the expectations.

Finally, the soldier's dearest weapon: The battle rifle / assault rifle - the supposed "standard" firearm.

Decent marksmanship training, the ammunition consumption problem, improved sights and the experience against ill-trained spray & pray troops has led to an emphasis on the aimed single shot even more than before and even at rather close ranges. This emphasis was typical of the British army with its semi-automatic-only L1A1 (FAL) rifles in the 60's and 70's.
The preference for single shots (semi automatic fire in practice) saves ammunition and is a critical enabler for a possible return to 7.62NATO.

It's not necessary that every soldier in a squad/platoon has a weapon that penetrates common cover (walls, trees), it should suffice if a quarter or third has this capability - that's an opportunity for weight & volume savings.

Let's compare 7.62NATO battle rifles in contrast to 5.56NATO examples.

Pro 7.62NATO:
- better range
- better cover penetration
- better armour penetration
- better wound ballistics
Contra 7.62 NATO:
- heavier weapon
- fewer cartridges for same ammunition weight/volume
- a bit less controllable on full automatic fire
(designs with shoulder stock and barrel in one line like SCAR-H should be much more controllable than the older G3 and FAL designs). Such straight designs need a sight line high above the barrel - that's ideally suited to the modern rifle sights, but it was a drawback at the time of iron sights.

Other pro/contra arguments exist, but are much weaker than these (in my opinion).

The introduction of quality optical sights on non-sniper rifles (with up to 4x optical magnification) almost turns ordinary riflemen into squad sharpshooters and a few weeks of training can complete that evolution.
This turns the ordinary rifleman into a soldier who appreciates the advantages of 7.62NATO more than before - and might make 7.62NATO a great rifleman calibre.

That's a bit ironic and sad because the British went away from the single shot/7.62NATO design some decades ago after getting the universal infantry calibre issue right even earlier. The Germans turned away from the 7.62NATO as assault rifle and light machine gun calibre about fifteen years ago after playing around with the mislead and extreme G11 rifle design and its caseless 4.73mm cartridge.
Finally, the Turks are in the process of turning away from 7.62NATO, their army (biggest in NATO) will replace the G3 (7.62NATO) with half a million 5.56NATO HK416 ("Mehmetçik-1") in the next few years.

The French are the next who will reform their small arms inventory; their FAMAS F1 assault rifle still uses the first generation 5.56mmx45 cartridge, predecessor of 5.56NATO (FAMAS G2 uses 5.56NATO, but the French Army has held off a large scale purchase of the G2 so far).

The standardization of small arms calibres seems to be a mess in the NATO.
It's important to keep in mind that the optimum calibre or calibre mix depends on circumstances that change over time. A mix of 5.56NATO and 7.62NATO can satisfy, but we should consider a return to the 7.62NATO battle rifle if we aren't willing to introduce a universal infantry cartridge of 6-7mm calibre.


Defeat - sometimes better than you think

Sometimes you don't want to win.

Correct, winning isn't always the best thing. Actually, it's quite often a bad thing. Pyrrhic victories are such examples. Victory under a dictator is another example (Argentina would likely have remained a military dictatorship if it had won the Falklands War). Seriously, defeat in WW2 was in my opinion less terrible for Germany than a victory would have been. Even if victory would have happened as early as '41.

Look at the Vietnam War. Some hawks wanted to commit more troops, more funds - imagine that would have 'won' the war for the USA. Would that have improved anything for the USA?

The Afghanistan War is another such example. Was the Western 'victory' in the late 80's really in our best interest?
Hey, wouldn't we love to see a secular People's Republic in Afghanistan now? A central government in control & no poppy cultivation? AQ would never have settled down in Afghanistan after being expelled from Sudan, we would never have entered that quagmire! Any negative aspects of such a regime would have been ridiculously small in comparison to decades of civil war.

The most - endless examples are of course all the times we were better off not to wage war - that's of course something that's difficult to tell as example. Wars not fought are not really well-known.

Defeats in not terribly important wars (should unimportant wars be waged at all?) can also be a good preparation for a later major, truly important war. Losers learn/reform often better than winners.

By now you most likely think that I'm strictly anti-war. Well, wars rarely proved to be good methods. Most often, you only get a big mess by waging war. It would be wise to avoid at least those that do more harm than good.

The attitude that results from this is of course highly despised in military circles for reasons of reliability and morale. Soldiers are citizens, but are not supposed to question wars they've been committed to. That's OK.
It's really a political issue, not a military one, and it's a good idea to separate it. We should keep in mind (as politically-interested citizens) that war & peace are more complicated than "to win is good".

This topic is very much linked to the definition of "victory".
A so-called "won" war (your army being the last on the battleground) can be a Pyrrhic victory and as such pretty much a loss for the nation, a lost war.
It's quite a nonsense to cheer a 'won' war that as net result has hurt the country more than its alternative - not to wage war - would have.

A honest, rational assessment of the benefits and costs of warfare (even though it's difficult to convert human lives and expended treasure into a common measurement) could help to avoid the avoidable hazards of war and to find to an optimized policy for war & peace

Sven Ortmann


Spin on military procurement

Lies and misleading information about procurement projects should be a criminal offense if done by officials. Such actions are misleading the taxpayers - the sovereign - about projects with significant fiscal relevance.

It's like lying about private investment opportunities - it's fraud.

I've got a very recent reason for this blog post; my patience with such practices was strained beyond its limits when I read an outright lie about FCS armor. My taxes are not involved in FCS, but the general problem is international - it's even universal. The underlying economic problem is the principal - agent problem.

This is the article that made me furious:

These included early versions of the FCS armor that were bolted on to an aluminum inner hull, a fact that Col. Gregory Martin, chief of the Army’s J-8 director’s initiative group, told us was “revolutionary” because it would allow armor to be swapped on vehicles as the armor is improved instead of the current state of the art which only allows so-called applique armor to be put on top of the existing stuff.

That's misleading at best (if looked at very well-meaningly).
I call it a plain and direct lie.

The very same layout was already used in the Vickers/FMC VFM 5 tank and shown to the public in 1985. Other examples of AFVs which have a basic armor with structural tasks and non-structural appliqué armor for most of the protection include XM8 AGS, Merkava IV, Boxer/GTK and Stryker.
The technique was innovative (maybe "revolutionary") a quarter-century ago. It would be a shame if it was still "revolutionary" in the USA today, despite the huge budgets involved.

I call that an attempt to lie at journalists to get better press for the FCS project - and in turn to secure the taxpayer's money for the FCS project.
(It's also a typical anecdote for the belief of many Americans that they're more innovative than they really are.)

The blog post at Defensetech hints unintentionally at another problem; specialised journalists are not entirely independent of the companies/agencies in their field of expertise. The chance that a very critical journalist who exposes all know flaws relentlessly gets an invite to a tour like that is dim.
I guess it's not a typical German problem that automotive journalists don't expose defects of domestic car designs (unless obvious) before general, investigative journalists do so.

This is a problem in the context of military procurement because we have a huge lobby and sometimes also a good public relations effort FOR projects, but rarely any organized resistance to projects outside of low-credibility peace activists.
Public accounting offices like the GAO and Bundesrechnungshof an few well-informed NGOs are no satisfactory solution in my opinion: We need more counterweight to the pro-project camp.

It might be possible to fix the unfair asymmetry of pro/contra military project propaganda by the implementation of many small improvements. Both a reduction of the pro propaganda (no lies, no misleading info, less motivation to spill out such propaganda) would help just like better-informed, more interested and more organized taxpayers would help.


Airbus A400M - another project in trouble

I posted recently about over-length military hardware programs.
The Financial Times Deutschland adds some context today with a new article about the Airbus A400M:

The FTD reported earlier that Airbus doesn't seem to achieve more than 29 tons of payload (several tons short), today they report about a longer list of troubles.
- likely delay till 2014
- already € 2 billion loss for Airbus in the project
- engine software troubles
- not capable of all demanded military flight manoeuvres
- wing area too small
- Airbus wants to re-negotiate

General Stieglitz, inspector-general of the Luftwaffe (chief of the air force) already complained about the delays in all major Luftwaffe programs; A400M, NH90 and Eurofighter/Typhoon (previously known as "Jäger 90" - the greens got laughed at when they expected DM 20 billion costs in the 1980's; less than the actual costs!).

The A400M story is quite outrageous because it was originally an industrial policy project; the Ukrainian-Russian Antonov-70 design was quite advanced when the A400M project was launched. A westernized (cockpit mostly) An-70 was expected to be more capable, cheaper and available at an earlier date than A400M.
The An-70 project died a slow death due to lack of funds from Ukraine/Russia - it wouldn't have been a smooth program, but would probably already be in full production with less costs than A400M so far.
Even some Western aviation journals of the 90's favoured the An-70, publishing favourable articles about it repeatedly till the A400M decision.

We've actually hurt the industry with the A400M project; engineers were distracted from A380 and A350 projects, and Airbus had cost overruns to bear (that will probably drive up the fly-away price for us!).

The Luftwaffe had almost a one-size-fits-it-all approach for air-lift, just like previously with the C-160 Transall; just one major transport aircraft instead of a mix of small/medium/heavy ones.
The A400M project will likely survive, not the least due to a lack of alternatives.
The primary problem is the lack of a transport aircraft with the right payload; new AFVs (like our new IFV Puma) are often around 30 tons in weight, requiring a payload of about 32-33 tons with useful range at the very least.
The market has several offers for smaller transport aircraft (like C-295, C-27), for larger ones (An-70 is no real competitor any more, maybe the old Il-76) and for very large payloads (An-124, C-17).

A mix of C-295 and C-17 would be an alternative to A-400M and might (despite the high cost of C-17's) even be cheaper & quicker due to no development needs.

Long story short; an attempt to beef up our aircraft industry went wrong due to the latter's incompetence and we end up with another overpriced, under-performing, over-length military hardware project.
We could have sunk the money into better army training (ammunition, fuel, spare parts) for real value.


Quarter-century-long military programs

The German army saw the need for a real-time reconnaissance UAV/drone in addition to the CL-89 concept - since about 1980 at the latest.

The system (KZO) is finally 'combat ready' in the German Army (the French one is another customer, but had similar systems before), with deliveries since 2005.
Its story was a story of changing requirements, reductions, work on spin-off projects (ESM, ECM and export recce) and delays, delays, delays. The troops expected it for many years, but it never seemed to arrive - until 2005.

The drone itself is quite promising - if it's really as survivable and as able to transmit its images/video real-time in an ECM environment as it was claimed.


1983 - Joint (GER/FRA) development program begins officially
1998 - troop trials
2001 - ordered
2005 - first deliveries
2006 - first use in Afghanistan
2008 - all systems delivered and "combat ready"

I've got a problem with this almost never-ending program length.

About a quarter century between requirement and full capability (with some question marks) is simply too long. Sure, the post-Cold War peace dividend slowed the program down (politics) - but it should have been in service before the Cold War ended. It was a required, after all - not sci-fi. The basic technologies were available since the 60's!

This is not the only quite questionable military development & procurement project.

The Tiger attack helicopter took almost forever as well (and we could have license-produced product-improved Apaches instead of starting the project in the first place). The Eurofighter/Typhoon is another one. Some projects lasted for decades till cancellation.

The Bundeswehr and its BWB (procurement agency) isn't alone, though: The British, Italians, French, Japanese and U.S.Americans have similar problems.
A common diagnosis is that requirements creep, budget games, high ambitions and gold-plating are some of the culprits for the problem.

Maybe we need to have much less red tape, but a strict and simple procurement system.

One example:

A technology & art of war agency can track technology development and develop new ideas of technology exploitation for the military mission.
Said agency initiates basic R&D two-year contracts that deliver several demonstrator systems or a non-technical improvement.

The joint general staff examines the products and foreign alternatives and writes a requirement.

A central development & procurement agency issues a tender for off-the-shelf equipment (including half-year period for privately financed development) or a tender for a development contract.

The development contract is fixed at up to ten years (set as maximum by law) with fixed value (inflation-adjusting, the use of the funds and the profit margin are up to the contractor) and a fixed result (several prototypes with well-defined specs - including a maximum production price).
The development phase includes a thorough proving ground and troop trial phase, a later deficiency correction phase and readiness for production. It can be canceled at any year by the agency based on political decisions. The design would be property of the agency. A failure to meet or exceed the initially guaranteed specs would result in a complete re-payment of all project funds (no bids from limited liability subsidiaries would be allowed).

Finally, there would be a tender for a production contract albeit this might result in just one bid if rare production techniques are necessary. No bid higher than the initially specified production price can be accepted and the lack of availability of an offer below the specified production price counts as failure to meed the guaranteed specs of the development project.

Product improvement / upgrade development contracts would need to be limited to shorter time spans (like max. four years).

This scheme would prohibit mission creep, development cost increases, budget-relaxing stretching of programs and would also reduce gold plating, technological risk and ambitions very much.
The reduction in ambitions and gold-plating as well as technological risk would be achieved through the risk for the development company; it wouldn't agree to a development contract with specs that might be beyond its capabilities.

I'm sure that many better schemes were already developed and proposed (I wasn't impressed by some proposals, that's why I developed my own one) - our politicians merely need to use existing good proposals to revolutionize procurement systems into something that's not a shame.

People and organizations often lack the self-discipline to execute an endeavor well that lasts very long - simple rules need to be applied to neutralize this weakness.
Development and procurement projects that last for a quarter century must not be tolerated; we need to become much more responsive and agile!


Trade news

Just for those with interest in economics:

The U.S. trade balance deficit is collapsing, down from $ 56.690 billion to $ 40.442 billion in just one month (October to November).


That's a remarkable drop, and the November level wasn't seen since late 2003.
The change is only in goods trade, not in the services balance.

The global deleveraging movement might finally include a correction of trade imbalances of the USA and UK. Australia 's trade balance turned black last summer.
Small problem here: The UK's trade balance didn't improve yet.

I'm not optimistic about the trade balances of the southern EU members. The Euro might prevent such a correction (due to a lack of pressure from the currency exchange rate).

A reduction of imbalances is good news for everyone - the period of change will be unpleasant for many nations, though.
Many U.S.Americans worried a lot about their imports from the PR China and the latter's economic growth. Healthy trade balances could reduce both concerns a bit.


edit 2009-02-14:

The December figure surprised me; only a marginal drop to about $ 39.9 billion deficit, I expected 25-35.
The November figure was corrected to about 41.6.
A monthly deficit of $ 40 billion would still be almost half a trillion annual deficit, way too much.


The Israel conflicts and our fallibility

Al Jazeera is the only major news corporation that has its own correspondents in Gaza as far as I know, the others can only look into Gaza from outside or rely on few independent journalists.

That's an optimal setup for Israel to spin its war, like it (and the Arabs) always spin the stories about the conflicts about Israel.

I found (hat tip to Don Vandergriff, he also added links to it) an Al Jazeera English article ("Who will save Israel from itself?") that sums up my secondary research findings about the conflict that mostly don't make it into our news.

I would like to add to it that there's some evidence about Israel soldiers using Arabs as human shields, almost Apartheid-like discrimination of Arabs in Israel, Red Cross reports about how Hezbollah did apparently NOT use human shields in 2006 and last but not least the definition of 'human shields' that does not prohibit that combatants stay in settlements like Hamas does in the Gaza Strip.

I'm no anti-Semite and couldn't care less about the tiny nation of Israel if it wasn't involved in so many troubles. It's the troublemaker next door for NATO, and a source of alienation between European NATO members and their southern Neighbors - Arabs. A defensive alliance wants and deserves a calm neighborhood.

I believe that this decade-old conflict was and is heavily misrepresented by lobbyists, media and pundits - and that Israel has an edge in manipulating Western opinion over their Arab opponents due to their cultural familiarity and unity.
No, that's not anti-semitism. You (well, at least I) don't need to 'hate' or be 'anti-' to criticize. Criticism is an expression of pluralism and freedom.

It's difficult to admit for many people, but we're not always siding with the 'good boys', sometimes we do even side with the wrong party of a conflict.
The Kosovo conflict was likely one such example of our failure, the Israel conflict is another one (except for France and few other nations, who turned away from Israel and kept neutrality after 1967) and many, many de-colonialization and post-colonialism conflicts in which we supported whoever claimed to be contra-socialist were additional taints in the history of our Western states.

No nation is exceptional - every nation is and all humans are fallible.
Nobody can subscribe to never make a mistake or to be always 'good'.



Dangerous national links

Links between states and organizations can cause a lot of trouble.

One example is an alliance with a trouble-making state, another example are links between states and organizations like Iran-Hezbollah.
Troubles can also arise from economic links, as we observed when the global economic crisis had an epidemic expansion through economic links in many states of the world.

Links are not bad in themselves; states should merely avoid to add too much systemic risks on themselves.

I'd like to criticize one type of link especially much; unbalanced trade relations.

Much has been written about raw material (energy) dependency links, and it's certainly a good idea to diversify the raw material supply. That's not the only example, though.

Imbalanced trade balances are a general and very powerful problem as well. States with a strongly positive trade balance are in danger of connecting their economy too much to unhealthy economies (economies with negative trade balance). A strong trade surplus is usually being considered as a sign of an especially healthy' economy - but that's wrong in my opinion. Healthy is balanced - a strong surplus is an indicator of strong links to unhealthy economies. This means that a strong export country like PR China, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Switzerland or Norway is strongly linked to 'unhealthy' economies like USA, Spain, UK, Australia, Italy or Greece (which have strong trade balance deficits) - with the expectation of running in trouble if the latter finally (almost unavoidably) run into trouble.

This isn't the only problem of a strongly positive trade balance - many problems surround this topic (long term considerations, macroeconomic investment rate, retirement savings/demographic development) - the bottom line is that a (near-)balanced trade balance is simply favorable.

Sadly, we've got a terrible national custom in Germany; we cheer trade balance surpluses.

We have actually a law that urges our government to strive for a balanced trade balance (StabG, 1967), but that requirement is in some conflict with others of the same law, that reduces its effectiveness.

We should care more about systemic risks in alliances and economic relations than to just discuss energy source dependencies.
Foreign economic troubles can affect our own economies only as much as we are linked to them.
Foreign aggressive governments and their conflicts with others won't become our conflicts if we don't side/ally with them.

Sven Ortmann


The transferability of lessons learned

The men of the 3rd Batallion, 8th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, are discovering in their first two months in Afghanistan that the tactics they learned in nearly six years of combat in Iraq are of little value here — and may even inhibit their ability to fight their Taliban foes.
"U.S. Marines find Iraq tactics don't work in Afghanistan" Sure, every conflict is different - but imagine; if two COIN wars at the same time against Sunni insurgents have so much difference - what's the value of recent lessons learned for very different conflicts like more conventional warfare? Many systems and tactics that seem to be 'modern' and combat-proven may be ( or are with certainty useless for modern conventional warfare, but become coining lessons for a generation of officers and career NCOs. The availability of plenty air and indirect fire support for units and sub-units - even single squads - is unrealistic in conventional warfare. The much-cheered Predator/Reaper UAVs would be toast. I saw an official requirement for a Predator successor that didn't even ask for relevance/survivability in major conventional war. Fragmentation protection (possibly for the whole body, not just the torso and head) might be more important and life-saving in conventional war than hard body armor. There's a historical precedent that should help to illuminate the problem; the Boer wars. The European forces drew more conclusions from the Boer Wars than from the remote Russian-Japanese War of 1904/1905 before 1914. 'Boer tactics' (dispersion, dragoons, long-range rifle fire) were appreciated - but an extremely misleading preparation for the First World War. Dragoons were no better than regular infantry on the Western Front and at Gallipolli, long-range rifle fire was almost extinct during the war and loose dispersed formations weren't enough to counter the firepower of modern artillery and machine guns. The Boer Wars were no good preparation for the really important (First World) war that was really about state sovereignty. The mildly relevant Iraq and Afghanistan War might ruin our ground forces for a generation. Some people claim that ground forces can prepare for major conventional war and wage/win counter-insurgency wars at the same time (and receive fierce criticism). I don't believe that this is possible - unless we keep much of our ground forces out of the COIN business and focused on the most noble and justifiable military mission; defense of the national sovereignty and collective security. Extremely realistic exercises/experiments and a more thorough education of officers and career NCOs in military history and modern art of war than ever might help, too.


Happy New Year - belated, but with a message


No more champagne
And the fireworks are through
Here we are, me and you
Feeling lost and feeling blue
Its the end of the party
And the morning seems so grey
So unlike yesterday
Now's the time for us to say...

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don't we might as well lay down and die
You and I

Sometimes I see
How the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives
In the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool
And he thinks hell be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay
Never knowing hes astray
Keeps on going anyway...

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don't we might as well lay down and die
You and I

Seems to me now
That the dreams we had before
Are all dead, nothing more
Than confetti on the floor
Its the end of a decade
In another ten years time
Who can say what well find
What lies waiting down the line
In the end of eighty-nine...

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don't we might as well lay down and die
You and I

In the end of eighty-nine ... the Berlin Wall came down, the signal for the end of the Cold War. Two more years and the concern about being nuked and dying of radiation sickness faded. We became (and still are) an alliance that wasn't challenged any more, that could save incredible amounts of their societies' capabilities for peaceful means instead of an arms race.

The peace dividend didn't last for long, though - sophisticated societies still seem to have a terrible deficiency - they thirst for a common, preferably external, foe.

Mankind has an even more terrible weaknesses; people get used to what they have - and want more. They also get used to a low level of threat - and begin to take even minor threats as seriously as truly terrible threats in more dire situations.

Finally, 'winners' see little reason to question their ways, and fail to work on their weak spots.

Think back to '92 when we were suddenly free of fear of World War 3. A time when we had to choose the path for the future - and all the vitality and strength as societies to work on a really great future, as we had dreamed of for decades. The epic arms race and standoff of the Cold War had ended.
We didn't become hysterical about 'threats' that were on average less likely to kill us than lightnings. Not in the early nineties.

We would have laughed the idea that we should fear idiots in caves and meagre huts during the eighties.

We exchanged one insanity for another - with only about a decade of sanity in between.

Sven Ortmann


New conflict reason: Fishes

Let me to connect Kotare's post "The years of living recklessly" about the unsustainable exploitation of fish resources and Johann Hari's article "You Are Being Lied to About Pirates" that's basically a 'foreign industrial fishing ships ruin the Somali fish resources illegally and force Somali fishermen to become pirates story' to a common picture.

This picture looks like fishes are one soon very scarce, yet very important resources (like for example fresh water, crude oil & arable land) and the weak/poor countries won't be able to cope with the problems.

I'm no friend of 4GW and 'failed state' concepts, but it seems to me as if many countries should better renew the search for a low tech sustainable development, separate from the global economy - and not integrated.
The United Nations should meanwhile learn to enforce rules like fishing rights for the weak before the shit hits the fan.

Sven Ortmann


The Israeli army and long-time military reputation

Sic Semper Tyrannis has an interesting description/analysis of the IDF's army.
It's very much focused on the small unit level (plus some political implications) and you could read Martin van Creveld's book "The Sword and the Olive" for additional hints on the IDF.

I planned to write a mini article like "The IDF army is overrated" since a year, but waited for a moment when I'm especially willing to provoke the inevitable right-wing trolls that appear at such articles.

The IDF was successful in 1967 and 1973, but had really, really serious problems in 1973 despite air superiority (the Arabs achieved strategic surprise, though). It didn't implement combined arms tactics (armor/artillery/infantry cooperation) completely till the Yom Kippur War and had many shortcomings at that time.
Its track record post-1973 is a rather mediocre one and it had changed itself very much as early as the late 70's.

Israel and its army are in my opinion a warning example that military reputation of long gone decades should not be valued highly. The French were Europe's terror in 1815 but began a string of military disappointments less than two generations later. The Red Army of the early 20's was beaten by the Polish Army, but was the second most powerful army since the mid-30's (despite the embarrassment of the Winter War).

Extrapolations from the past are prone to ignore changes - we should not base our national/collective security policy on questionable things like 'military reputation'. It's necessary to evaluate thoroughly and to communicate the results to the public (which needs to be convinced to afford the military, after all).



The value of life

The news media keeps irritating me when it reports about (para)military conflicts. They report about the killing in a highly disturbing manner.

The news people imply a kind of hierarchy in the value of human life:

1st children
2nd women and elderly
3rd civilians in general
4th 'unintentionally' killed civilians in general
5th noncombatant security forces
6th female combatants (maybe 5th)
7th male combatants
8th "bad side" combatants in general
9th terrorists

OK, I understand that the life of terrorists isn't highly valued in news, but what's about the other hierarchy levels?

Why is a soldier's death less terrible than a woman's death?

Just an example:
Case A)
A conscript in uniform serves during the last day of his basic military service term and gets killed by an artillery rocket.
Case B)
The same person gets killed by an artillery rocket, but the next day when he's a civilian.

Seriously, I see no difference.

Soldiers are neither magically more guilty of something than civilians nor are they magically much more capable of defending their life and health. I mean - they usually wouldn't have died if they could have saved their lives, right?

There's also the problem of conscription. Many soldiers don't want to serve and don't want war while many civilian idiots and extremists want war. Why the hell should we consider the death of a soldier as a lesser tragedy than the death of a civilian?

Why is the death of a 70 year old man (with an average remaining life expectation of usually less than 15 years) a greater tragedy than the death of a 18 year old soldier?

Why is the death of a man less of a tragedy than the death of a woman? We've got women in military service, even as combat personnel. It's about time to grant equal rights and duties - also if that means to remove advantages of women. A man's life is no less valuable than a woman's life!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (10 December 1948 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris):
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 3
Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.

Many perceptions and rules about what's OK and what's not acceptable in warfare deserve to be changed - the human rights tell us that humans are equal. Why not in warfare?


Update on Stimulus packages / military spending timing

Martin Feldstein, a Harvard professor, published an article in the WSJ on Christmas about the same point that I wrote about ten days earlier:

The current taste for stimulus package spending does not favor military budget cuts, but increases - and the best way to do so would be to soon pay for what needs to be paid sometime later anyway.

He didn't write about a need for budget adjustments (down) to sustainable levels, though.

I've got to object against his "The greater terrorist threat fully justifies these additional funds." as well.

Anyway, I'd like to focus on the good news; the idea (which is obviously a parallel invention of probably many thousand people) might be used with good effect.


edit: 2009-01-17: The idea took off this month.







Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles

Defense Technology International reports in its new issue (p.25) about PRC's development of an Anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM or AShBM) with radar seeker - a version of a Dong Feng-21 (DF-21) IRBM. The article also mentions the development of a radar-guided version of an otherwise quite cheap artillery rocket (WS-2, 400mm, 200 km or more, six on a truck).

Sea-skimmer anti-ship missiles like Exocet changed the face of naval warfare and claimed several victims in the few naval actions since 1982. Such missiles avoided the rather primitive anti-air of most ships by flying too close to the sea. They were (and still usually are) subsonic, dependent on 2D radar, have a rather small warhead (comparable to a single average bomb) in comparison to earlier anti-ship missiles and the range is quite small (at least in comparison to the huge Russian anti-ship missiles).
Dedicated defense systems like Seawolf, Phalanx, RAM, Goalkeeper, AK-630, various jammers and decoy launchers were fielded within a few years, but many warships were still insufficiently protected two decades after the sea skimmer's appearance.
The damage and loss of warships (like HMS Sheffield, USS Stark, INS Hanit) that was inflicted by such sea-skimmer missiles was usually explained by insufficient defensive readiness - not hardware shortcomings, though.
- - - - -

The aforementioned two Chinese projects describe two new threats that need to be dealt with:

Problem 1: "Cheap" artillery rockets for saturation attacks

Most of the naval air defense depends on the few dozen anti-air missiles on board of the average warship. The close-in weapon systems (CIWS) have enough ammunition to handle many more targets, but their utility against many targets arriving at once is questionable (RAM looks best in this regard).
The ammunition cost for saturating attack is certainly much lower than the cost of a fully-equipped warship. It's probably even lower than the cost for the defensive munitions alone.
Naval defense against saturation attacks got improved in the 80's with the AEGIS system and much improved in the last few years with the arrival of SAMs with illumination-independent seekers (active radar, infrared; Aster, SM-6).
These saturation-proof defenses are probably too expensive to match the needs of the future, though. More cost-efficient systems (probably by addition of cheap command-controlled missiles) might be advisable.

Problem 2: Tactical ballistic missiles with anti-ship capability and very high speed

These missiles have a much better range, are difficult to defeat due to their velocity and possibly also due to their evasive maneuvers.
This is clearly a high-tech, high-cost approach. A very well-developed naval reconnaissance is necessary to exploit the range. This means satellites,over-the-horizon radars, Electronic intelligence and high-flying aircraft with long-range sensors. It's more difficult to detect a battlegroup at the open sea than many people imagine.
The defense against such a missile seems to consist of high-tech ATBM, jammers and possibly decoys.
The intense interest of Western navies in ATBM technology can be explained with this threat. The idea that ballistic missiles could aim at ships with their radars isn't very common in public discussions, though. There's probably a public relations deficit of Western navies. The taxpayers should be informed about the reason for the interest in ATBM technology.

These are two 'new', publicly known threats to naval surface ships. We'll see how many decades it will take till all major warships of so-called 'modern' navies are well-protected against these.
The technological potential for these threats exists almost since the sea-skimmer revolution (the Pershing II missile already had a target-seeking radar, for example).
We should be well-prepared by now, but maybe the preference for high-tech, high-end systems poses a problem for the preparation against cheap ammunition saturation attacks.