Product lifecycles


It's clearly visible how one product succeeded the other - LP/EP/8-Track to Cassette to CD to download.
The new product/technology was usually already introduced when the old product/technology had its peak of success. The whole industry is in shambles because it didn't get the transition right - ONCE! A lag of only about five years became a disaster, no matter how often the same sector got it right before.

The music industry provided us with a great example for the pressure to innovate and to adapt in a technology-driven sector of a market economy.

Compare this to the pace of innovation and change in military institutions. Some defence ministries have programs running for up to 25 years.
Military institutions are barely capable of a good pace in wartime. To not get it right from the beginning costs a lot of blood and may even lead into a terminal disaster as with the French army in May 1940.

No matter how well the French army fought for centuries; it's still being ridiculed by certain nation bashers three generations later whose country never had to fight against a peer power without having more powerful allies. The reason: They were at the end of the old product life cycle and had barely introduced the new product at a time when the competition had that one already in full swing.

- - - - -

Imagine how much too slow and too conservative military institutions are in peacetime, when there's little pressure to innovate.

Sweat in training saves blood in war - this saying should be extended in regard to innovation. Buying new, expensive and tools of war after a development phase of up to a quarter century falls very short of the right rate of innovation.

- - - - -

The general mindset has to change in my opinion. Soldiers up to field grades who complain about one army structure chasing another and nothing comes to rest, no time for stable work and planning security ... these soldiers should be re-educated or kicked out of the military because of their inadequacy. The taxpayers deserve better soldiers for their taxes.

A rule of thumb in the economy says that business strategies should be revised or replaced every three to five years, and organizations should have on average a 10% change (destruction and creation of units) to keep them fit.

This rate of change isn't impossible in an army as well - as soon as you've brought the leadership up to speed. Whole divisions were raised during WW2 in a few months, battled for months, were filled up with recruits and rebuilt for a few weeks with a new structure and again sent into combat.

It's all about pressure:
Corporations in a competitive market and armies at war feel a lot of pressure to improve and adapt.
Corporations in non-competitive markets and military institutions at war don't feel that pressure and are doomed to get into trouble when a new, fit challenger arrives.

The good news is that good leadership can speed up an institution on its own even if no great pressure is being felt. That's one of the indicators for great leadership in peacetime; to push hard for improvement, innovation and readiness.

The last real push forward in the German army (in regard to actual defence) was during the mid- to late-90's. It was a combination of regaining WW2 capabilities, catching up with the 80's and partially flawed/costly innovations. More about that later.

Sven Ortmann


Is this betrayal?

Is it betrayal if a government allows that another state spies on its citizens - in excess of how much it can legally spy on its citizens itself?

article in English

article 1

article 2

article 3

article 4

article 5

article 6

article 7

article 8

I tend to think so.

Our law system is unprepared, though:
No parliament seems to have anticipated such an act and outlawed it in time.


"Hostility between British and American military leaders revealed"



Too many news at once

We got rid of Jung and Schneiderhahn

Former German SecDef Jung, CDU (who was labour minister in the meantime) and inspector-general (highest German soldier) Schneiderhahn got fired in the past few days because of late fall-out of the Kunduz air strike topic. Actually, the problem was more about the communication than about that incident.

Jung was known to be unfit for cabinet service anyway and was a sub-standard conservative administrator without any drive for excellence. It's a pity that he ultimately fell because of PR failures instead of because of incompetence, though.
He was effectively done after Schneiderhahn had already resigned and his own party had pretty much ridiculed him in the federal parliament Bundestag. Yikes, I won't forget his petrified face during that scene anytime soon.

Schneiderhahn was no better, the 'culture' from Oberst (Colonel) upwards was 'suboptimal' in part due to him. The fish was rotting from the head. His resignation doesn't necessarily mean an improvement, though: There's no really obvious excellent candidate for his succession.

The new SecDef zu Guttenberg, CSU is a media darling and quickly rose from Bavarian state politics to now his second federal cabinet position in just a few months.

He has several issues, such as
* he will very likely do his best to prevent another Kunduz air strike affair while he's in office, thereby restricting the German ISAF troops in their freedom of action (even more)
* the media 'darling' thing will predictably go wrong in about one to three sears. The media isn't actually loyal to its chosen celebrities.
* some very first anecdotes nourish a suspicion that he's going to be a politically correct SecDef - which isn't exactly what the Bundeswehr needs right now.

- - - - -

Mr. Koch (CDU) has won a (Pyrrhic?) victory in regard to Mr. Brender.
See the earlier article about the scandal here.

- - - - -

Politicians in the German state Nordrhein-Westfalen (a very large one in regard to population) are discussing additional legislation, supposedly to enhance domestic security. The police law reform bill of the liberal minister of the interior wasn't close enough to police state for their taste.

Their horror list includes among other questionable projects:
general video surveillance
+ eavesdropping on E-mails
+ eavesdropping on phone lines
+ search of people and vehicles for evidence without specific suspicion
+ online search in private computers with malware (all computers in question are already accessible with a search warrant!)

The online search in computers proposal is especially despicable because the state constitutional court had recently sacked the predecessor law in regard to this practice. It is known to be an unconstitutional offence to privacy.

The search of people and vehicles without a real suspicion is KNOWN to be a disastrous competence. Those politicians are either outright incompetent or police state fanatics, as proven by their proposal. The British have long since demonstrated the utter idiocy of such a law:

The Metropolitan Police used section 44 of the Terrorism Act more than 170,000 times in 2008 to stop people in London.

That compares to almost 72,000 anti-terror stop and searches carried out in the previous year.

Of all the stops last year, only 65 led to arrests for terror offences, a success rate of just 0.035%.

Now guess which party is pursuing such a horror wish list?
The CDU, of course.

- - - - -

The party "Die LINKE" ('the 2nd grade successor to the East German dictatorship wannabe communists) is supposed to be the prime threat to our liberties. That's the politically correct assumption. (The Neonazis are too dumb and too few too be of relevance on the federal level.)

Meanwhile, CDU (conservative) politicians are chipping and sawing away the citizen's liberties and protection rights against the state for years (to be honest; the process was raised to the new level by the SPD minister of the interior Schily of the Schröder cabinet years ago).

Whenever there's an assault on civil liberties or the foundation of our rule of law state with its many safeties that guard against a return of authoritarianism: The culprits are almost always CDU or CSU politicians, in opposition to the smaller parties' politicians (especially liberals and greens - there's no reason to take the far left seriously in regard to their civil liberties advocacy).

Maybe you wondered why I sometimes dropped a critical remark about the CDU and about in my opinion dangerous CDU politicians (Schäuble, von der Leyen). Here is the reason. They're even working in parallel - towards police state and against independent media (constitution article 5). And that's just the tip of the iceberg!


edit: one more article about Jung/Schneiderhahn



The concept of a PGM Company

Thinking about the disbanding of dedicated tank hunter (Panzerjäger) units, the emergence of non-line of sight anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and the introduction of precision guided missiles (PGMs) into rocket artillery, I came to a new way of connecting these threads.

Comments about the recent MRL article showed the difficulty of drawing a line between multiple rocket launcher 'artillery' and missile launchers (even multiple missile launchers) more related to ATGMs.

It would likely overburden a battalion to meet all rocket artillery and missile tasks of an army in one; ranging from anti-tank missiles up to 300 km operational-level missiles. Dedicated AT units are on the other hand out of fashion - for a reason. They're specialized on defeating tanks with some additional utility against above-ground fortifications. Such a specialization on conventional war targets makes it tough to justify their operating costs and manpower requirements since the end of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, it would be useful to split the missile business into an artillery-like and a PGM business. The artillery-like capability could be included as MRL battery (Company) into general artillery Battalions (Brigade support element) and as MRL Battalion into an artillery Regiment (Corps support element).
The PGM element could be equally sized, but primarily as a separate PGM Coy at (combined arms) Brigade or Infantry Regiment level.

The demands on both are very different; fire control and standing operating procedures should be different, the useful allocation of support availability to supported units is different, ... pretty much everything is different. It makes sense to split these capabilities into different units.

The missile artillery units would keep all the classic MRL jobs and munitions plus the MRL-compatible guided munitions, which are typically long-range munitions (40+ km). It would typically get area fire missions and almost never execute fire missions against moving targets.

The PGM units would instead use missiles more akin to ATGMs - especially non-line of sight missiles. Their job would exclusively be the destruction of point targets, especially mobile targets. The lower end of that range could be covered by missiles as C-KEM and Spike MR (the latter with fibre-optic guidance for a rudimentary indirect fire capability).
The warheads would need to be both capable against main battle tanks and against soft targets (at least for the CE missiles). The Russians had an interesting trend in the last about ten years; they offered new ATGMs types with a range of warheads, typically tandem shaped charge and thermobaric (~fuel air explosive & "enhanced blast") ones.

The upper end of the PGM Coy's munitions could be missiles like Netfires, EFOGM, FOG-MPM and Polyphem. The latter three depend(ed) on long fibre-optical links that seemed to have caused reliability troubles. It would also be possible to assign killer drones with moving target capability into these units.
The actual equipment of such a company should be limited to two different systems, of course. I would probably compromise an EFOGM equivalent plus a C-KEM equivalent.

Investment into the new PGM types has been rather modest (especially in regard to actual introduction as standard hardware), in part due to the need to iron out the problems of novel concepts.
The technical PGM innovation has rarely been met with proper organizational innovation; some armies have lost their dedicated AT units and simply integrate MRL-compatible PGMs into their rocket artillery and modern ATGMs into the infantry and mechanized infantry.

Few armies have really set up PGMs as a third arm for non-line of sight support fires, as an equal to mortars and artillery.

- - - - -

In the end, the PGM Coy would be a very different unit that all previous AT units, albeit slightly in their lineage and taking over their AT mission. It would substitute rapid reaction to calls and indirect fires with several kilometres range for rapid deployment into positions for line-of-sight ambushes.

An important value of the PGM Coy would be that it allows for relatively clean, unconfused MRL artillery units that cover a clearly defined and acceptably large range of tasks because the PGM Coy took over the moving target/short range fire missions.
The PGM Coy could also harbour the AT experts of the formation, its Coy Ldr might develop a Brigade's anti-tank plan, for example. A classic artillery battalion would not nourish such expertise.
The PGM Coy could furthermore be included in the brigade's air defence plan; missiles like EFOGM are a credible threat to helicopters.

The confusion about the place of artillery-untypical PGMs in army structures should end, and the solution should define clear separating lines. Fire support units should not be forced to employ extremely different systems with completely different SOPs. A third fire support arm (PGM troops), equal to mortars and artillery, could be a solution.



Friedman's misunderstanding of authoritarian rule

I saw this video in which Thomas Friedman basically asserts that authoritarian regimes as in the PR China can better cope with challenges because of more decisive political action:

Yes, that's the Friedman of the Friedman unit.

He may have some good points in that interview, but he got this one badly wrong.

Authoritarian regimes have been good at focusing resources on large improvement or construction projects. That works especially fine in planning economies - see the industrialization of the Soviet Union during the Inter-War years.

Their problem is that much less spectacular maintenance and renewal activities are usually in neglect under such authoritarian regimes. They don't invent resources, after all - they merely change their allocation, focus the resources on high visibility projects.
Stalin's industrialization was paid for with extremely low consumption even down to famine, for example.

Authoritarian regimes have serious allocation and optimization problems; they're completely dependent on the leadership because there's no powerful bottom-up check to power. A very incompetent authoritarian regime could go on for decades without being changed - see Zimbabwe and North Korea. The Chinese government makes many mistakes and many suboptimal decisions - simply for being made up of humans and having insufficient information flow and pressure bottom-up.

On top of his first misunderstanding is another one:
An object at high speed usually keeps moving quickly in Newtonian physics and everyday experience, but economics are different. Even very basic life cycle and golden rule of steady state (Solow) models explain the basic fact that the past is a poor predictor for the future in regard to economy.
A quickly growing corporation or national economy is very unlikely to continue high growth, yet many people (not only Friedman) fall prey to the illusion of continuity.
We tend to overestimate future economic growth systematically in regard to those entities that have grown rapidly in the past.
The utterly predictable and stupid overestimation of growth corporations/sectors in stock markets and the Japan panic of the late 80's/early 90's are good examples.

Friedman's basic line of 'our democracy is too weak in face of this authoritarian, less squeamish authoritarian regime' is no original thought anyway.
I recall a very similar American journal article from the early or mid-80's in which the author argued that the Western democracies were bound to fail in the competition with the Socialist powers because they were too defensive, not decisive and aggressive enough in their actions and so on.

Well, we know how that played out; that pundit had ignored too many variables and overestimated authoritarian regimes as well.



The Koch-Brender-ZDF scandal

Germany has several public radio and TV stations, the most prominent ones being the national ARD and ZDF TV channels.

These channels have a above-average reputation in regard to news and reports about political topics (albeit both are well-known for having mostly entertainment content for the 50+ years audience).

These public stations have a special contract with the state and every owner of a TV set or radio in Germany has to pay a fee for its use - which ends up in the budgets of these public broadcasting stations.

The control over these stations is in the hand of certain powers in the society; effectively in the hand of parties and religions, although the supervisory boards are supposed to be politically neutral.

The birth of this politically balanced and at times neutral public broadcasting system was difficult; the Adenauer government (conservatives) originally wanted to set up what would have amounted to a government-run broadcasting station. That political battle happened decades ago, of course.

The history showed that the public broadcasting was mostly balanced and often outright neutral, albeit not very receptive to 'new', not yet established political movements.
I'd rate these stations as "acceptable" to "good" in regard to political coverage and as an embarrassing waste of money in regard to entertainment.

- - - - -

Enough background and introduction. The topic for today is that a state (Hesse) prime minister Roland Koch, CDU (conservatives) has stepped over the line. Attempts to exercise political influence on the public broadcasting stations has been common at low level, but Koch dared to work against a well-reputed politically neutral editor in chief of the ZDF, Nikolaus Brender.

He has obviously crossed the Rubicon with this attempt (which only adds to his long list of unacceptable actions that should disqualify him for any political office anyway).

Journalists of the ZDF addressed the chairman of the ZDF with an open letter back in February.

Yet, that was just one open letter.
Another, more important open letter comes from 35 law professors:

Der Fall Brender – ein Prüfstein für die Rundfunkfreiheit

Offener Brief von 35 deutschen Staatsrechtslehrern

Art. 5 Abs. 1 Satz 2 GG garantiert die Rundfunkfreiheit. Sie ist eine wichtige Säule unseres demokratischen Staatswesens. An dieser Säule wird gerade gesägt, und zwar von einigen Mitgliedern des Verwaltungsrats beim ZDF. Nikolaus Brender soll keine oder eine unüblich kurze Vertragsverlängerung als Chefredakteur erhalten, angeblich weil die Quoten im Informationssegment nicht stimmen.

Um diese Frage aber geht es in Wahrheit nicht. Es geht schlicht darum, wer das Sagen, wer die Macht hat beim ZDF. Es handelt sich um den offenkundigen Versuch, einen unabhängigen Journalisten zu verdrängen und den Einfluss der Parteipolitik zu stärken. Damit wird die Angelegenheit zum Verfassungsrechtsfall und deshalb mischen wir uns ein.

Art. 5 Abs. 1 GG garantiert die Staatsfreiheit des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks. Auch wenn das gebührenfinanzierte ZDF formal dem Bereich öffentlicher Institutionen zuzurechnen ist, bedeutet Staatsfreiheit, dass der Staat inhaltlich auf seine Arbeit keinen beherrschenden Einfluss ausüben darf. Was geschieht, wenn es die Garantie der Staatsfreiheit nicht gibt, wird uns derzeit am Beispiel anderer europäischer Staaten vor Augen geführt. Zur Garantie der Staatsfreiheit gehört auch eine Begrenzung der Stimmenanteile der staatlichen Vertreter in den Aufsichtsgremien, also auch im Verwaltungsrat. Nun diskutieren Rundfunkrechtler schon lange darüber, ob die im ZDF-Staatsvertrag vorgesehene Machtverteilung zwischen staatlichen und nichtstaatlichen Vertretern mit Art. 5 Abs. 1 GG vereinbar ist. Insbesondere geht es um die Zuordnung der Parteienvertreter und der von den Ministerpräsidenten ausgewählten Vertreter zur staatlichen Ebene. Sollte sich herausstellen, dass letztlich ein Ministerpräsident als Meinungsführer stark genug ist, um einen bestimmten Chefredakteur zu verhindern, so würde dies einen praktischen Beleg dafür liefern, dass die zum Teil geäußerten verfassungsrechtlichen Bedenken gegenüber der Zusammensetzung des Gremiums nicht unbegründet sind. Der Eindruck läge nahe, dass über die Instrumente von staatlicher Einflussnahme und Parteizugehörigkeit politische Mehrheiten in den Aufsichtsgremien organisiert werden. Genau dies will der Grundsatz der Staatsfreiheit verhindern. Staatsfreiheit heißt, dass sich Mehrheiten im Sinne einer autonomen Ausübung der Rundfunkfreiheit nach Sachgesichtspunkten zusammenfinden.

Wir appellieren dringend an die Vernunft und die Sachkompetenz aller Vertreter im Verwaltungsrat. Beteiligen Sie sich nicht an der beabsichtigten staatlichen Einflussnahme auf die Wahl des Chefredakteurs. Qualitätsvoller und unabhängiger Journalismus liegt im Interesse aller.

Unterzeichnende (in alphabetischer Reihenfolge):

Prof. Dr. Hans Herbert von Arnim, Deutsche Hochschule für Verwaltungswissenschaften Speyer
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Ulrich Battis, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Prof. Dr. Dieter Birk, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Prof. Dr. Pascale Cancik, Universität Osnabrück
Prof. Dr. Matthias Cornils, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Prof. Dr. Dieter Dörr, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Prof. Dr. Udo Fink, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Prof. Dr. Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Universität Bremen
Prof. Dr. Dr. Günter Frankenberg, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Prof. Dr. Hubertus Gersdorf, Universität Rostock
Prof. Dr. Thomas Groß, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Prof. Dr. Timo Hebeler, Universität Potsdam
Prof. Dr. Bernd Holznagel, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Prof. Dr. Friedhelm Hufen, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Prof. Dr. Stefan Kadelbach, LL.M., Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Kingreen, Universität Regensburg
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kühling, LL.M., Universität Regensburg
Prof. Dr. Franz Mayer, LL.M. (Yale), Universität Bielefeld
Prof. Dr. Andreas Musil, Universität Potsdam
Prof. Dr. Andreas L. Paulus, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Franz-Joseph Peine, Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder
Prof. Dr. Ulrich K. Preuß, Hertie School of Governance Berlin
Prof. Dr. Stephan Rixen, Universität Kassel
Prof. Dr. Ute Sacksofsky, M.P.A. (Harvard), Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Prof. Dr. Arndt Schmehl, Universität Hamburg
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hans-Peter Schneider, Universität Hannover
PD Dr. Wolfgang Schulz, Universität Hamburg, Hans-Bredow-Institut
Prof. Dr. Indra Spiecker genannt Döhmann, LL.M. (Georgetown), Universität Karlsruhe
Prof. Dr. Robert Uerpmann-Wittzack, maitre en droit, Universität Regensburg
Prof. Dr. Thomas Vesting, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Prof. Dr. Astrid Wallrabenstein, Universität Bielefeld
Prof. Dr. Christian Walter, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Prof. Dr. Joachim Wieland, LL.M., Deutsche Hochschule für Verwaltungswissenschaften Speyer
Prof. Dr. Hinnerk Wißmann, Universität Bayreuth
Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmermann, LL.M. (Harvard), Universität Potsdam

They did basically diagnose an illegal exercise of influence by Koch if his actions suffice to prevent an extension of Brender's contract. They did also point out the long-existing concerns about how the supervisory board members are selected and they refer to our constitution's article 5, which is one of the top 20 articles that define the basic structure of our state and society.

The decision about Brender's contract extension will happen on 27th November.

German conservatives seem to test the limit for the infringement of press freedom quite often. Many scandals since the 60's tell about this, and in the end the result was almost always he same: The conservative politicians failed with a bloody nose. The society's preference for a free press and its readiness to defend the press are too strong.
The current conservative-liberal coalition has agreed to add more safeguards for the protection of journalists - there's little room for speculation about which coalition partner insisted on this.

Sven Ortmann


Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes have been one - if not the most - common reason (and likely even more often excuse) for war. One could assume that in a time that values peace highly, foreign policy might be quite attentive to such issues and resolve them ASAP. Well, that impression would apparently be overly optimistic.

Wikipedia has an impressive compilation of territorial disputes:

I suggest to have a look at it, for it's really interesting. Even Germany is being mentioned in the Wikipedia list (with two quite unknown and rather irrelevant disputes).

Many (likely most) mentioned disputes are of marginal relevance or based on quite outlandish claims, but history knows enough examples of wars that were 'justified' (rather excused) with similarly weak or even completely fabricated claims. The Prussian invasion of Habsburg's Silesia in 1740 was such an example.

Sven Ortmann


How many ground troops are needed?

I found this at the Armchair Generalist blog:

I think they fail to go the last steps in their conclusions.

a) The allies. (Yeah, there are allies with expectations, not just an auxiliary troops pools.)
I've already heard that Norway doesn't really count on U.S. troops for its defence because none would be available in time*. Eastern European allies wonder about whether the U.S. really lives as ally up to their wild dreams.
At this time the U.S. ground forces are in the COIN/occupation business. Conventional war readiness and thinking have suffered. Many troops are fixed in quite remote places, far away from allies.

So maybe the degree of displeasure among some allies should be mentioned.

b) Needed ground war strength.
The obvious conclusion of this affair is for many commentators that more grunts are needed.

I've got (surprise!) a different view on offer:
The whole affair shows that much less ground force strength is necessary to meet national security needs.

The basic assumption (not entirely unfounded, of course) is that the ongoing wars aren't really about national security. Iraq was a completely useless and needless mess.
Afghanistan was post-2002 needless as well - it was a nation building project, not a national or alliance defence project.

So we've had two wars going on with heavy involvement of most alliance members, almost 200,000 troops fixed in those remote places pretty unrelated to alliance defence or other activities than these two quite voluntary major missions.

Nothing happened. Seriously, nothing happened in the meantime. OK, there was the South Ossetian War. Yet, that one was over after a few days. Not even in Shinseki's wildest dreams would it have been possible to deploy ground forces for intervention and to make a difference with them in time.

So what we had was effectively a look at a parallel universe or parallel time-line in which NATO had 200,000 troops less and about 800,000 in a reduced state of readiness - and nothing terrible happened. North Korea did not overrun Seoul. China did not whatever. Chavez did not invade Miami. Total, utter boredom.

We've got the evidence that we didn't need as much military strength as we had - if we would have been smarter and stayed out of Iraq plus limited our involvement in Afghanistan to chasing the Taliban away in 2001/2002 and subsidizing anti-Taliban forces afterward.
That's as good an evidence as we could hope for without Star Trek physics.

So what does this mean about the post-COIN-mess force strength requirements?
I certainly don't see a requirement for ten thousands more pairs of boots. Instead, I see an opportunity to advance in quality (people and ideas, and a bit technology) while rather reducing the force size in order to save national resources needed to fix domestic troubles.


edit *: This is among the things that are not the official line, of course. You learn about stuff like this through unofficial contacts. There won't be a press release "Norway doesn't expect NATO allies to help it in case of conflict with Russia" ever.


TacAir of the future (?)

Afghanistan with its extreme land transportation (and therefore land-bound logistics) shortcomings is a high time for close air support. Close air support (CAS, even flown by heavy bombers) was even preferred out of logistical necessity over artillery and mortars in many, especially early, contacts.

The volume of fighting was relatively small and the supply of precision guided munitions by air power was quite good in comparison to artillery and mortar forces who had a relatively small supply and choice of guided munitions.

Such special small war circumstances don't necessarily tell much about the future, though. Just as the Spanish Civil War told very little about the soon to follow WW2.

The classic, most valuable tactical (air power) support for the army (not to be mistaken with operational and strategic efforts) was as far as I know the support as flying artillery for armoured spearheads. The 1940 Meuse crossing at Sedan was such an example.

Motorized artillery was barely able to keep the pace with armoured spearheads, and its ammunition train didn't always get a high enough traffic priority to keep it supplied. Self-propelled artillery with dedicated artillery resupply vehicles improved the picture, but armoured spearheads on the offence are still difficult to supply and difficult to support with massed support fires.
That is, unless you consider the flying fire support of helicopters and aircraft in CAS missions who can easily bridge the distance from airbase to spearhead in the never really congested airspace.

Such CAS for spearhead forces has its defensive counterpart in QRF and "Feuerwehr" (firefighter) missions; air power can easily shift its focus by hundreds of kilometres within few hours, and is therefore uniquely suited as a rapid theater-level reinforcement for forces in crisis. The battle of Arras was such an example (although the CAS only arrived after the decision).

Yet, artillery increased its reach considerably (about 40 km for 152/155 mm howitzers and dozens, at times 80 km for rocket artillery) over the past two decades.
It did also reduce its logistics footprint at least to some amount (the hype about this improvement of about 1995-2005 was overly optimistic, of course) and should therefore have less supply troubles than before.

This alone justifies a new look at the issue, far away from the basic 'artillery vs. CAS' discussion that arose after Op Anaconda in 2002-2004.

There's more: I considered missiles like ATACMS, Iskander and LORA as operational-level munitions in the past. This has changed recently when I had a look at the all-in-one dispenser for ATACMS.

(Lockheed Martin photo)

Lockheed Martin itself doesn't claim it, but I got a hint that it might be able to actually carry three Small Diameter Bombs as well. That was the last straw that broke the camel's back.
SDBs are no large bombs, but they're bombs and each is about the weight of a 21 cm howitzer shell. An ATACMS-compatible MLRS could be built to project everything from small warheads in the 105 mm range up to 210 mm shell equivalent bombs and of course unitary missiles with a warhead of about 227 kg (much more on bigger missiles like LORA and Iskander).

The range of ATACMS spans from about 150 to about 300 km (of course not with identical warheads weights).

Such technical potential in the missile artillery does seriously question the role of tactical air power (TacAir) . The only remaining advantages of TacAir in CAS remain
* the bird's eye view on the scene (before and after the strike)
* the ability to use very heavy munitions (heavy bombs 1,000 lbs and more - not terribly smart for CAS)
The theater-wide quick reaction capability and the easy reach to far forward spearheads as well as a reach to the battlefield from relatively safe rear positions can be matched by modern rocket artillery thanks to the good range.

Such a new (reduced) set of TacAir advantages over artillery demands a reassessment of an optimal balance and use of assets.

One - probably quite radical - conclusion COULD be to limit TacAir to its strength; the bird's eye view. TacAir could (let's just assume it could despite enemy air defence, for it's got no real advantage if it couldn't) loiter over the battlefield and effectively resort to the FAC (forward air controller) mission for support fires. Its own munitions (if hauled at all) would be used in those cases where immediate effect is critical.

This reduction of TacAir to the FAC role, to an observer's role, could in turn pump happiness molecules into the drone-loving crowd. The FAC mission is feasible with relatively small drones if survivability and communications performance are satisfactory.

The TacAir of the future could look like the German KZO Brevel drone* (certainly a completely accidental result because the KZO project is ancient Cold War stuff with an unsatisfactory program history). That drone was conceived as the bird eyes of the artillery arm of the German army.
Said artillery arm lacks the stock of ammunition to use the playbook laid out here, though.

Circumstances and relative strengths change over time - force structures and ideas about how to mix and use forces should keep pace. Maybe our understanding of such basic and easily visible components of modern warfare as close air support, artillery is already as badly outdated as was the understanding of infantry combat in 1913.


*: An interesting piece of info: KZO Brevel uses a radar absorbing material (RAM) paint. This is afaik never mentioned in public texts and documents about the drone, but I recall a notification about the trade of a certain amount of RAM paint specifically for the KZO project. The notification was about ten years ago in an English language aviation journal, I think Aviation Week.
KZO is - unlike Predator/Reaper/Heron and the like apparently meant to operate over conventional war battlefields, in face of enemy army air defences.


Worst case scenarios and preparations

For reasons unknown to me it's quite popular among hawkish people to assume worst cases. It works basically like this; they make up an extremely unlikely fantasy, sh*# in their pants about that fantasy (or pretend it), infect other (chicken) hawks with their diarrhea, the fantasy is being presented as a plausible and serious scenario in several dozen publications, radio and TV shows and after about a hundred times it's established as a serious, self-evident threat.

Well, you're supposed to learn (while becoming an adult) that life is full of acceptable and unavoidable risks.

Nevertheless, the infectious fear of worst case fantasies is too often not being contained as well as necessary. The fear often succeeds in attracting enough attention to redirect public funds into countermeasures (or what's being sold to the public as countermeasures). These costs of the combat against fantasies of easily scared people sum up to many billion € and USD annually.

Being easily scared by fantasy scenarios is OK - embarrassing, but OK. So what's my point?

My point is that there's a rational method for the allocation of funds for preventive action.

My point is also that this rational and generally applicable method
- albeit being human-made and therefore imperfect - would not allow for the expense of such sums on fantasy threats if applied to the best of our abilities.

This rational method is based on the statistical concept called "expectation value".

In probability theory and statistics, the expected value (or expectation value, or mathematical expectation, or mean, or first moment) of a random variable is the integral of the random variable with respect to its probability measure.

The application of this rational concept means that the relevance of a scenario is the product of its severity and its probability. An extremely unlikely "worst case" scenario is not more relevant than a small everyday problem". A one in 100,000 chance of dying in a car crash is no less problematic than a 1 in twenty million chance of dying with 199 others (200 total; 200*100k=20M) in an aircraft crash. Both scenarios are of exactly identical relevance to your nation.

The easily scared worst case doomsayer hawks want us to stare at (their favourite) worst cases, and to prepare primarily against their pet scenarios. They do often openly pretend that this is the right thing to do and important.

It's not the right thing to do unless their worst case has a large enough probability. In fact, to follow their lead would mean to neglect preparations against less dramatic but much more likely threats and in the end we would most likely end up suffering more.

The fascination with dramatic worst cases is powerful and has charmed many people, though. Most of them pretend that their view makes sense and that their approach is a sensible one, even the only right one. In short: They pretend to have a proper method of how to properly react to a multitude of troubles (threats).

I say: They have no method. Instead, they just use irrational feelings (or they're just greedy/attention whores). To stare at their favourite "worst case" scenario and to pretend that it deserves more attention than any other scenario is completely unsystematic.

Let's dispel the charm the hard way:

A hawk says that we should prepare against a nuclear attack - maybe an EMP attack that could supposedly kill the electronics of an entire continent. Scary enough to be a reasonable hawk fantasy? Yes, this theme has been sporadically popular for nearly thirty years. So the conclusion of said hawk is to prepare against this eventuality - he wouldn't argue against spending billions on preventive measures or against going to war in order to disarm a candidate for aggression in time.

The problem is simple; his approach is utterly unsystematic. The evidence: I have a better fantasy.
Aliens will invade us, enslave us, eat us alive - and the only way of defeating them will be the use of enormous amounts of faeces bacteria.

My fantasy is obviously scarier, so his was no worst case scenario at all. Mine is decidedly worse. Does my scenario deserve the spending of billions of USD and € annually for huge faeces bacteria farms?

No. That's would be utterly idiotic.
Why? Because my scenario - albeit not entirely impossible - is extremely improbable.

The reason for why we shouldn't spend fortunes on farming faeces bacteria is therefore probability.

That's the exact same factor that the worst case hawks (tend to) ignore (or only pay lip service to). And this is the reason why their logic fails, why their approach is unsystematic, arbitrary and unsound.

It's fine to lay out threats, even terrible scenarios.

It's NOT OK to ignore their probability.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: Maybe you think that there's no such stupid hawk around and I pulled this out of somewhere. Just remember my words next time you read about pig flu, China, EMP, Iran, Somalia, AQ, Taliban, Afghanistan, some convicted murder on the loose or anything else scary in the news or in national security or health texts.
Then compare that problem to the probability that people you know will die of less spectacular reasons - like smoking or falling from a ladder.

By the way; the EMP thing is for real, but there's really not much that we could do about it - not much short of a crusade world war against all possible nuke users. The problem existed already during the Cold War and was obviously tolerable back then when it was a much less improbable scenario.


Modern small arms calibres (Update)


In January I wrote about the 5.56 /7.62 mm calibre issue in modern Western armies. It's about time to update that with combat experiences made in recent conflicts and confirmed in the meantime.

Back in January I wrote this as an option of how to arrange these calibres as an alternative to a single standard cartridge:

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

This is a bit in conflict with recent experiences:

5.56NATO light machine guns with bipods (=Minimi) got rather disappointing reviews in regard to suppressive fires and penetration of light obstacles.
The latter can be substituted for by 7.62NATO scoped rifles (designated marksman rifles) in the same sub-unit, but the suppressive fire issue is a problem. And the problem is primarily one of dispersion. The bipod is the cause; it takes a proper tripod for satisfactory dispersion in the burst suppressive fire role. There are even recent studies about the role of accuracy/dispersion in suppressive small calibre fires (Mr. Evenden, Jim Storr, UK).

The German army (Heer) has moved towards 5.56NATO assault rifle (G36) with decades delay (90's - pioneered in the 60's with AR-15) and 5.56NATO light machine gun with decades delay (recently; the Minimi came out in '74 and the Stoner 63 LMG in the 60's).

There was 'some' criticism associated with both the move to the new calibre itself (especially with the use of 5.56NATO MG4 on vehicles) and with its delay, but now we've got MG4 and G36 and no major change (more than tweaks like better G36 sights) is to be expected soon. The 7.62NATO G3 automatic rifle has a comeback as a kind of designated marksman rifle (for good reason) and complements the mix.

So what's missing is either a lightweight 7.62NATO machine gun on tripod or a proper tripod (light, small, steady) for the MG4 for accurate suppressing fires.

A new 7.62NATO machine gun is not to be expected; the MG3's reputation is still strong (despite its outdated barrel change and its inability to mount night sights or magnifying optics properly). Furthermore, the Bundeswehr is apparently finally moving towards heavier weapons on armoured vehicles (40x53mm GMW, 12.7x99mm M2).

* The MG4 needs a proper tripod for its mission (maybe the M192?).
* The G3 needs to be modernised for a full-fledged DMR role - it needs to be in the STAN (table of equipment).
* The G36 needs improvements, mostly in regard to the sights. This requires a new production batch of rifles and carbines (for ground combat units). Maybe we should wait with this order till the new NATO standard for powered rails.

There is of course some uncertainty left. A friend of mine (Wilf Owen) stresses the accuracy in suppression up to the assertion hat accurate single shots like possible with a British LSW are enough to suppress if the enemy's position is known while spray & pray against unknown enemy position fails to suppress for a sufficient period of time. His basis are research & lessons learned.

That line of thought could lead to the assertion that machine guns as weapons for mass killing are inefficient suppressive weapons and should not get this role assigned. He's nevertheless a fan of 7.62NATO tripod MMGs, so he's not that extreme. Maybe we'll get a better picture of the whole infantry arms optimization problem once he's finally done with his book project.

We shouldn't forget that small arms - as important as they are for the confidence of the infantry and common soldier - aren't of much importance in major conventional war. The differences between good and poor small arms have rather small consequences in such conflicts because the great killer weapons are usually the indirect fire weapons with fragmenting warheads and the great tools of decision are in most terrains the armoured systems.

It's nevertheless quite disconcerting that the quite minimal extent of combat and OPFOR competence in the recent small wars was able to uncover weak spots in our infantry equipment. It was predictable after decades of peacetime development, but it nevertheless leaves a very uneasy feeling about our general preparedness for major conventional wars.



Extremist warfare

I was recently reading a discussion about Clausewitz and modern war (in English) when I suddenly understood most of the participant's apparent problems with modern war theory: They were not so much influenced by von Clausewitz as by Luddendorf and Cato.

They were doing something that's very typical of post-'43 U.S. Americans and pre-about 200 AD Romans: They talked about enemy surrender, and meant unconditional surrender. Some were also unable to understand potential own defeat as something different than surrender (a blurring that seems to be quite popular among right wing U.S. Americans).
There was no humility in their thinking about strategic objectives. Instead, there was a desire (that long since became self-evident in many minds) that military victory needs to eradicate a threat forever.

That, of course, is just a facet of war theory.

Let's compare this to the rules-constrained ancient Greek Polis warfare:

Two polis in conflict over a couple fields met with their phalanxes, one phalanx got tired, pushed back, broke and its citizen troops fled. The winners did not pursue or attempt to eradicate the opposition. The goal for the war had been reached. (This facet is in my opinion more relevant than pre-'50's because the U.N. again introduced order and rules into warfare and especially to the ending of it to some degree.)

Take another example, 18th Century Central European warfare:
Two powers were in conflict, they campaigned in summer, had probably this or that battle or the inferior side retired from the disputed area after much marching (classic army manoeuvring art to de-value positions, threaten supply lines and force enemy retirement from positions). In the end, a few minor territories (vacant shires, for example) would have new masters. Eventually, the war would end with a treaty.

It's of course difficult to force another power to (unconditional) surrender.Germany's soldiers and especially officers were much motivated by the Western power's demand for total surrender in 1943-45. Maybe they would have deposed Hitler and agreed on a Western powers armistice in summer '44 without such a requirement for unconditional surrender. Keep in mind that unconditional surrender could have meant anything, including being sold as a nation to slavery in Russia!

Meanwhile, it's not nearly as difficult to force less ambitious goals on an opposing power. Look at the Kosovo Air War '99, for example. An aerial campaign coupled with the refusal of support by an informal ally (Russia) motivated the Yugoslav leadership to accept the loss of a major territory (valued by the Serbs as part of their homeland and merely occupied by illegal immigrants). That's about the same as if Russia had forced the U.S. to cede Southern California and yet it worked without surrender.

A bit humility should allow us to see war as a method of preliminary settlement of conflicts gone wrong instead of as a tool to permanently destroy uncooperative powers.
That would delete the need for nation-building (which is the only reliable alternative to annexation if the threat shall be removed permanently) and it would create sufficient conditions for diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict altogether (with compromises, of course).

Such a less extremist understanding of warfare would likely lead to smaller war preparation requirements in peacetime (lower military budgets), less messy wars (that end earlier) and war aftermaths (no need for occupation a.k.a. "nation building"). The prospect of relatively mild war conclusions that don't lead to regime change would also reduce fears (paranoia) among certain regimes and could therefore even reduce the potential for violent conflicts in the world.

The extreme Armageddon scenery of the Cold War and wrong assumptions of Western omnipotence in face of relatively ill-equipped low-income country forces have twisted the Western perception or warfare. Many Western (chicken) hawks aren't moderate enough, but tend to favour an extremist form of warfare that leads to excess both in peace and war and therefore hurts our societies a lot with increased costs and conflicts.



The Bundeswehr mortar cramp

Two D&F articles of April '09 were about the poor development - a.k.a. neglect - of mortars in the Bundswehr; Bundeswehr mortars and Bussard.

The authorities concentrated on a slow and poor program of ultra lightweight tracked bulletproof vehicles with an uncommon 120mm mortar concept and the introduction of new ammunition. There's apparently no official effort to give back mortars to mechanized infantry and the proposed system is not really convincing for mountain troops (which use vulnerable 4wd cars and towed 120mm mortars to date).

The new system is useful for the few Jäger (light infantry) units and for our airborne infantry. It's limited in size & weight for internal transport in heavy lift helicopters; I don't really understand that requirement because sling loads could be larger and transport by helicopter is a very restricting requirement for exceptional situations only.

Soldat & Technik, a German journal with a strong pro-Bundeswehr bias (many if not most articles are written by reserve officers, active officers and ministry personnel) has this month a story about the mortar modernization in the German army.

The article begins with complaints about the slow pace of the program since its creation in 1998 (no combat readiness before 2011, possibly later) in face of the high age of the predecessor platform.

The bad 'news':

The fuze for some of the planned munitions is late. Seriously; there are dozens of fuzes available on the market and they develop a new one. No comment in favour of civility.
An interim solution 120mm HE bomb (from Austria) has a too large dispersion and is only certified till 2010. These HE bombs were bought for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, but are apparently not in use!?

They seriously plan to keep the MRT-86 mortar computer in service beyond 2012. It was introduced in the mid-90's, is obviously 80's tech and honestly, this alone should be enough to fire those who are responsible. I would order simple adapters for an USB2.0 slot and a simple java-based FC software. That requires 200,000 € and four months if you hire the right garage & home office freaks.
And then something unusual for SuT articles:

Sofern die vielen Mängel aus den Tests mit den Erprobungsmustern tatsächlich abgestellt sind, werden tatsächlich die ersten WaTrg am Ende des Jahres 2011 zu erwarten sein. Für einen Einsatz stehen sie dann aber frühestens in 2012 zur Verfügung.
(If the many deficiencies seen in the tests with the prototypes could indeed be removed we can expect the first firing platforms at the end of the year 2011. They will be available for a mission no sooner than 2012.)

The good 'news':

The automatic barrel laying is supposed to reduce dispersion by 50%. This can be had with off-the-shelf systems like CARDOM as well, of course.

They finally (again) want a guided munition; that one sounds a lot like a fiber-optic guided munition and it sounds expensive. They certainly don't plan to go for a relatively simple guided munition and certainly for none that's available off-the-shelf.

A total of 38 mortar platforms plus C4 and resupply vehicles is planned (that's less homeopathic than the eight ordered so far). Only eight seem to be available till 2012, though (30 are planned to be included in a 2011 budget proposal only).

I'm not sure what this article is meant to do; it could by a cry for help to the parliament to kill off the stupid program or a cry for help to superior to make personnel changes. It's certainly not the typical cheering article - and the program does obviously not provide any opportunity or cheering anyway.

P.S.: I agreed on this Wiesel2-based mortar system for airborne troops back in April. I wasn't aware at that time that it still had development issues.


An insightful mosaic piece of the art of war

I read last year something of interest, and would like to share it. It (the answer) offers an opportunity for great insights. I posted this elsewhere before, and I think it's suitable to this blog as well.

The question is:
What is the most reliable method of rallying the scattered and fleeing troops (all ranks) of a broken infantry division ?

Answer :
| You set up a line of field kitchens in the path of the fleeing troops. |
(It's in background colour; think first,
then select with mouse to uncover.)

Sources: Books about Eastern Front experiences, '43-'45



Body Armour (Update)

Six months ago I wrote about body armour and how the current trend is probably a very wrong one in regard to conventional warfare. Conventional warfare would require a much better fragmentation protection, and much less bullet proofing than the recent occupation wars.

Now I finally found a company (Kirasa) that actually offers a near-full body fragment protection; 80% protection against weak fragments and short heat exposure, greater fragmentation protection for head and torso. This may be the way to go - and the vest also accepts plate inserts for torso protection against rifle bullets.

Their product website in English (basic concept info)

Their product website in Russian (much more info)

The latter translated into English (thanks to Kaur and google):


In most armies in the world of modern means of body armor - helmet and flak jacket, and their total area of protection does not exceed 30 - 35% body surface area, thus remain unprotected limbs and face of the soldier. At the same time, statistical analysis of the causes of losses among military personnel during combat operations in modern conditions has shown that over 75% of them are on ballistic injuries, 80% of which are caused by the impact of fragments of shells, mines and grenades, more than half of these injuries have on the upper and lower limbs. These facts provide irrefutable evidence of the lack of protection, a fighter, equipped with a bulletproof jacket and traditional helmet. To address the comprehensive protection of a military personnel company "Kirisa" in conjunction with leading scientists and specialists of the Ministry of Defense developed MPK "Permyachka." This outfit a soldier of the XXI century is made of aramid materials, and provides a circular ballistic protection not less than 80% body surface area from low-speed fragments as well as protection against short-term exposure to open flame. The basis of the suit, depending on your choice of usage, make overalls or protective jacket and trousers. Torso of a soldier is protected by a more reliable light fragmentation vest, to protect vital organs from damage by bullets of small arms bullet-proof vest reinforced steel or ceramic armor, the other elements of the ballistic protection, part of a package - helmet and protective mask. In addition to the ballistic-protected equipment, set "Permyachka" incorporates elements of the camoflage (for summer and winter conditions), vest designed for easy placement of the weapons, ammunition and other items of equipment, raid backpack, etc. - a total of 20 items. Using the MPK in the military units of Joint Military Group that conduct counterterrorism operations in the North Caucasus region of Russia confirms its effectiveness at protecting personnel and high ergonomics; According to the participants of tests, the use of MPK preserves ability to fight and the life of a real soldier in combat conditions.
- - - - -

I cannot tell about the real quality of the product, but the concept is most promising.
The current crop of body armour does nothing about the fragmentation threat to limbs - that would cause many avoidable casualties against any OPFOR which uses fragmentation munitions (~everything of calibre 30-155mm). A wounded infantryman with years of training is useless for weeks or months. The frag protection deficit would help OPFOR to quickly thin out the ranks of the already quite small infantry ranks of modern Western armies.

The only relevant fragmentation weapons in use against Western troops as of today are rarely used and often ill-aimed mortars as well as RPGs (which have fragmentation effect only as a by-product).

There's also very little public sensitivity to WIA, while those KIA get the headlines.

Both in combination lead to the focus on life-saving heavy/hard body armour for torso protection - and no protection to speak of for limbs.
That's simply not the way to go in major conventional war.




Hardware & information

The Western World became great by emphasizing hardware; it developed production processes for the production of insane amounts of usable materials and tools.
The hardware-centric age of about 1860-1995 was followed by an information-centric time; the so-called information age.
We were suddenly able to increase stored and transmitted information (and to earn money with info) on a much greater scale than ever before. The leap was even greater than at the time of the invention of movable letters for printing.

The Western military organizations are still on the hardware & information trip.
That's a distortion and not optimal. Hardware and information are important, but we tend to exaggerate their relative importance.

On the importance of motivation

The hardware efforts give tools and weapons to the soldier while information offers him ways how to solve problems. Yet, will he do it? Will he solve problems or prepare himself?
One element is missing; motivation.

Motivation explains almost everything we do.

Money, for example, is a near-universal motivator. You give money to a clerk in order to motivate him to allow you to carry some wares out of his store for your personal use. Economy is about motivation. Money is about motivation and nothing else.

Likewise, the military is about motivation. It takes motivation to prepare for war, to keep the illusion of an organization alive and to make people fight despite the danger to their life.

Our motivational deficit

We are lacking in our appreciation of the importance of motivation. The problem is visible in many examples.
Politicians lack motivation to allow unrestricted warfare in Afghanistan (for good reasons), troops in Afghanistan lack motivation to go on more patrols in face of dangers and many armies cannot motivate enough fit and skilled people to volunteer for military service.
Once enthusiastic and well-motivated troops are being turned into routine activity bodies that obey rules and manuals. Independent thought and innovation are too often being stopped cold. Some armies even have the reputation of pushing all original thinkers into exile (out of service) till Colonel rank at the latest. That leaves only those whose motivation is focused on the personal career and on maintaining conformity with expectations.

The lack of emphasis on motivation may hurt us

In the end, it's of great importance that we get enough volunteers, motivate them to prepare well for war and motivate them to fight well in war.

A failure in any of these three elements could lead to failure in war just like a failure in information gathering/communication/processing or a failure in the procurement/supply/quality of tools, weapons and consumables of war. Even well-equipped, well-supplied, competent and well-informed army will fail if it lacks motivation to fight.

The poor emphasis on motivation also leads to underestimation of well-motivated enemies: An enemy poor in hardware and information but rich in motivation is usually underestimated badly.

Let's correct the distortion

We should relax our focus on hardware development and information management - and give motivation its proper place on the same level of importance as hardware and information.

This may turn ugly on many rules and organizations and it might even disrupt our understanding of the chain of command. We need to create more intrinsic, lasting motivation. The easiest way of doing this is probably to burn red tape and allow more free play - too much intrinsic motivation gets strangled by restrictions in authoritarian organizations. Additionally, we should increasingly encourage activities that go beyond duty. Training in a gym or studies of military history, for example.

The Bundeswehr faces a (relatively) new recruitment challenge. Too many politicians and officers still choose the lazy route of conscription to solve the problem instead of addressing serious attractiveness (motivation) deficits of the Bundeswehr. Nicer AFVs, helicopters and computers won't help much unless they can turn around the spirit in the organization (and communicate the new attractiveness to potential recruits).
It would require even more improvements to sustain a good reserve pool for the event of a major crisis.

Sven Ortmann


The future of multiple rocket launchers

finally after three weeks a new hardware topic :-)

Multiple rocket launchers (MRL) became popular in WW2 when Russia, Germany and later the U.S. introduced such systems in significant quantities. Their accuracy and range was poor, but the ability to fire many warheads at one target in a few seconds had a good impact if the enemy troops were inexperienced.
The same effect was available with well-coordinated fire of several artillery batteries, but that did put a much higher demand on artillery fire control.

Multiple rocket launchers were quite neglected in the West (NATO) during the 50's to 70's, with several R&D projects popping up during the 70's. This did finally lead to the NATO standard MLRS (in Germany: MARS) system of two 227mm rocket sixpacks on a self-propelled launcher vehicle.
The most important ammunitions were a 227mm rocket with bomblets and a 237mm rocket with anti-tank mines. The large ATACMS missiles aren't really MRL ammunition; the MRLS is rather used in a second role as a tactical short-range ballistic missile (~SRBM) equivalent launcher.

The Russians never neglected MRL tech, but they still didn't standardize on a long-range model as for example MLRS, still using many quite short-ranged 122mm MRL.

Several developing countries had their own MRL projects (noteworthy: Brazil and South Africa) and many short-ranged MRL of small calibres (70-110mm) were developed during the Cold War as well.

- - - -

Time went by, and the MLRS concept was also used on a lighter, cheaper truck chassis with only one sixpack at a time.

The MRLS ammunition of the 80's became quite useless in the meantime. Many user countries agreed to the DPICM (bomblet) ban that effectively outlawed the bomblet rockets. The anti-tank mine rockets are a quite questionable concept and today much less useful than during the 80's. Their utility is zero in small wars.

One MRLS ammunition that's a real hit is the GMLRS (guided MLRS) rocket - in the XM31 GUMLRS 85 km version (unitary HE warhead, no bomblets). That's about the only MLRS rocket of good value and versatility for the Heer (German army).
The introduction of GUMLRS was planned for this year and the introduction of GMLRS with SmArt submunitions was planned for next year.

- - - - -

The 227 mm calibre is a poor choice anyway. It was an efficient calibre for the delivery of submunitions, but it's awfully inefficient for fragmentation effects. It's powerful - and inefficient. The fragmentation efficiency in terms of lethally covered area per weight is best with much smaller warheads - that was the point of submunitions in the first place.

The tube artillery uses the 155mm standard calibre, with very few 105mm gun still in service (mostly as a kind of infantry gun).

It would therefore make sense to standardize on 155mm - a calibre that allows for a good range, standardization of warheads and legal submunitions (as SmArt 155), decent fragmentation efficiency and adequate high explosive (object demolition) power.

The Israelis thought of this decades ago and turned during the development towards 160mm and achieved similar ranges as top 155mm gun systems and some export successes.

An even smarter move is to develop a MRL that accepts multiple calibres to match the situation (MRLS accepts 227mm and the much bigger ATACMS, but doesn't exploit the idea in the lower range except in Germany with old 110mm rockets). The Romanians did this with a combination of the Soviet 122m calibre and the Israeli 160mm calibre. The Russians are also working on such a MRL as far as I know - there are several such projects world-wide.

Finally, we could include good passive protection, good off-road agility and the ability to fire very heavy very short range rockets for very large blasts - that would be very handy against minefields and fortified opposition.

- - - - -

The raison d'être of MRL in competition with tube artillery was always the low cost of the launcher and the good salvo capability. MRL are capable of ripple fire with up to 40 rockets in 20 seconds (BM-21) - compare that to up to 12 shots in 60 seconds by 155mm SPH!
This short + rapid fire lost relevance since we're expecting more artillery strikes on small high-value targets than on troop & tank concentrations nowadays. The expectations may swing back to more conventional war ideas, but a return to 80's expectations is unlikely.

The new raison d'être of MRL is very different (aside from the "we're already in the inventory" argument): It's much easier to develop and produce guided rockets than guided shells. The shells' spin and huge acceleration shock during firing are serious problems that rockets avoid. Fin-stabilized rockets need have a length:calibre ratio of seven or higher, while spin-stabilized shells (and rockets) should not be longer than ratio six.
This enables much longer & heavier rockets than shells for the same calibre - and subsequently offers much more volume for electronics and much greater payload at the same calibre. The more gentle acceleration of a rocket also allows for a thinner casing, which adds even more volume and saves weight.
New MRL systems should therefore be understood as very heavy indirect fire ammunition AND as guided indirect fire ammunition systems. The old salvo and area effect image has to go away.

Mission reports from Afghanistan already cheer the GUMLRS as 70+ km sniper missile for its ability to take out a tiny enemy positions at very long range with a single shot.

- - - - -

An optimal concept would in my opinion look like this:
* A medium truck-based MRL with a range of munitions of 105, 160 and 227 mm size with emphasis on 160mm (plus ATACMS). This would be part of independent artillery units under corps HQ control.
* A tank-based MRL with the same range of munitions and emphasis on short-range 227 mm thermobaric munitions. This would be part of heavy brigades.
* A simple and extremely inexpensive trailer MRL with the same range of munitions. This would be a rather rare system for expert infantry formations (mountain, airborne...).

Many if not most would disagree with this idea of an optimal MRL system family, but one thing should be obvious by now:

The roles and capabilities of MRLs changed a lot since the 80's and the submunitions ban has a huge effect on MRLs, it turns a huge part of the ammunition inventory obsolescent/illegal.
MLRS is an outdated concept. The environment for MRL use has changed very much and the MRLS concept is nowhere near the optimum.

edit: I forgot to mention that the truck-mounted MRL could be disguised as a normal military truck, thereby improving its survivability a bit.