Countermeasures - badly underrated

Countermeasures - in the broadest, not just technical, sense - are badly underrated.

Let's look at an especially underrated aspect of countermeasures: Their cost.

It doesn't suffice to accept that action (measure) causes reaction (countermeasure) and to take this into account when judging the promise of the action.

A more complete picture becomes available if you also consider the costs of countermeasures, which is even more rarely done.

One example is anti-ballistic missile technology. It was said that the Israeli interceptor missile "Arrow" (meant to intercept Scuds) - costs more than its target. The situation was even worse; an intercept would usually expend two Arrows for a good chance to intercept one Scud.

This is a quite common problem of anti-missile defences. The target of the offensive munition is usually easier to hit than the missile itself. This leads to defensive systems that are more complex and expensive than the offensive systems.
This expense may well be worth it, though - it's a fallacy to compare only munition costs.

An older example on a truly massive scale was the British night bombing campaign of WW2.

I saw this study about its cost-effectiveness recently. It looks like other cost effectiveness assessments about the British night bombing campaign.

The findings are that the strategic air offensive cost Britain £2.78 billion, equating to an average cost of £2,911.00 for every operational sortie flown by Bomber Command or £5,914.00 for every Germany civilian killed by aerial bombing.
The conclusion reached is the damage inflicted upon Germany by the strategic air offensive imposed a very heavy financial burden on Britain that she could not afford and this burden was a major contributor to Britain’s post-war impoverishment.

The cost of countermeasures is mostly being ignored; the author looks at damage done instead.

The actual wartime contribution was less in the destruction of civilian property, civilian life, economic capacity or morale. The greatest wartime contribution was that it forced Germany to defend itself.

WW2 was decided at the latest in late '42, so let's look at the German countermeasures to Allied strategic bombing - almost none of which was of U.S. origin up to late '42.

Let's ignore the immense expenses for radars, phone lines, Luftwaffe personnel, airfields and night interceptors. The expenses for heavy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) are impressive enough on their own:

Germany produced 2,876 8.8 cm AAA and 776 heavier (10.5 and 12.8 cm) AAA in 1942 alone. The vast majority was not sent to the fronts, but kept at home (and in France, Benelux) - almost exclusively as defence against the British/Commonwealth bombers.

Keep in mind: Germany was in a fierce ground war of unheard-of proportions in Russia during all of 1942.

Nevertheless, it only produced 1,285 light field howitzers (10.5 cm), 135 field cannons (10.5cm), 636 heavy field howitzers (15 cm) and 126 17 cm guns in 1942.
2,182 guns for the front-line troops in total (excluding AT guns, infantry guns and mountain guns).

AAA required a high muzzle velocity and good (85°) maximum elevation, AA guns were therefore much more expensive and complex guns in comparison to field artillery than their calibre suggests.

The situation was almost as serious in regard to ammunition;
8.8 cm AAA: 12,942,000 shells
10.5 cm AAA: 857,000 shells
12.8 cm AAA: 44,000 shells
10.5 cm light FH: 18,40,000 shells
10.5 cm cannon: 778,000 shells
15 cm heavy FH: 5,078,000 shells
heavier artillery: 310,000 shells

An advantage of shells is that they're consumables. Most Eastern Front guns were pre-'42 production guns, but the Eastern Front shell consumption in '42 was almost certainly a bit below the '42 field artillery shell production. German field artillery gun production was quite the same in '41 & '42 while the ammunition production multiplied (roughly by four).

The British/Commonwealth bomber threat reduced the German artillery strength at the Eastern Front likely by more than a quarter, yet this is usually being ignored. That's how much countermeasures and their costs are under-estimated.

Let's learn from history.

Next time when a certain new weapon or munition shall be developed or procured, let's ask ourselves some additional questions (to be answered with guesses, of course):

* How likely is an enemy reaction?
* How will the enemy react?
* How quickly will the enemy react?
* How much will his reaction diminish the new tool's effectiveness?
* How much will this expense hurt him?

The answers will vastly improve our understanding of the project's value.

Sven Ortmann

Source for WW2 artillery figures: "Ursachen und Folgen. Vom deutschen Zusammenbruch 1918 und 1945 bis zur staatlichen Neuordnung Deutschlands in der Gegenwart" Bd.26, Herbert Michaelis u. Ernst Schraepler, Berlin


  1. I think the problem is that we normally focus on direct consequences. This is especially true when we discuss aerial warfare. Prophets and visionaries like Douhet and Trenchard always promised almost instant victory by aerial warfare - making land warfare more or less obsolete. To discuss indirect consequences is more mundane and down-to-earth.

    I suppose that is why it will never be popular to view weapons in this fashion. If you want to get a new kind of weapon (like a new strategic bomber) you would like to think that this is the Big One that will decide the war. Not that it will slowly wear your enemy down.

    There is no question that Bomber Command did a lot of damage to Germany between 1939 and 1945. But it is equally important to remember that that wasn't the stated goal. The goal was to win the war from the air and Bomber Command couldn't deliver that.

  2. The renowned historican Horst Boog explains the effectiveness of anglo-american airstrikes against Germany. He mentions the production of anti-air-guns, too.

    "Millionen von Menschen, die an den Fronten und in den Fabriken fehlten, mußten zur Bedienung der Flak und zu Aufräumungsarbeiten eingesetzt werden. Viel Personal und Material (etwa Aluminium) ging in die Flakgeschütz-, Flakmunitions- und Funkmeßgeräteproduktion, die 30 bis 50 Prozent der jeweiligen Produkte ausmachten und zum Beispiel die viel wichtigere Jägerproduktion - Jäger schossen im allgemeinen doppelt soviel Flugzeuge ab wie die Flak - stark beeinträchtigten."