Improving soldier body functions

Western armies have been very interested in improving the individual equipment of soldiers since the end of the Cold War: Soldier modernization programs added body armour, better clothes, different camouflage, personal radios, lots of gadgets on the personal weapon and much more. The interest in driving quality up instead of quantity was apparently sparked in great part by the end of the Cold War.

These efforts are experiencing declining returns on additional improvements; most of the potential for equipment improvement that was accumulated during decades has been used up, and further improvements are difficult (unless you chose a stupid "universal" camouflage patter in between).

An old and extreme dream for soldier equipment is the superhuman strength and endurance exoskeleton. The existing prototypes are astonishing, but a rule of thumb says that moving parts are a source of trouble - and these exoskeletons are all about that. They might be too unreliable or require too much maintenance for decades to come.

Another strain of development is about the display of information; helmet visors, goggles or even contact lenses that display information without distracting the soldier from observing what he's meant to observe.

Nanotechnology and bionics are another field of interest. Super friction gloves that allow to climb a wall like a Gecko may become available, for example.

- - - - -

There may be a change of direction in these "Soldier modernization programs"; they might actually switch from improving the gear towards improvement of the soldier himself. And yes, this may turn ugly.

DARPA today has a long-term, $3 billion program to help make such a “Metabolically Dominant Soldier.” In other words, the military is studying how to use technology and biology to meld man and machine and transcend the limits of the human body.
- - - - -

Examples of possible improvements of a soldier's body functions:

More strength

Steroids are out; modern research is about blocking Myostatin, the protein that limits the body's muscle growth.
The effect of blocking Myostatin on health is apparently not very bad (or it's simply unknown) - maybe nature blocks it simply because super-strong beings are too hungry.

An "exercise pill" may trick the body into believing it has exercised. That would be a good addition to the Myostatin blocker because blocking Myostatin alone doesn't yield maximum effect without workout. The pill may help to increase endurance at the same time.

More speed

There's the prospect of drugs and other stuff that improves the speed of the human body. The brain's ability to coordinate movements and to react in time is a tough barrier to such improvements. Nevertheless, it's somewhat plausible year 2030 sci-fi that soldiers might almost run like top athletes while carrying their full equipment.

The combination of speed and strength may make aforementioned Gecko gloves pointless; one might become able to jump instead of climb over an obstacle.

Bones may break under the stress caused by great strength and speed. Someone might need to fix that problem as well.

Better vision

It's an established medical procedure to use lasers to correct poor eyesight. A relatively new technology (wavefront aberrometry guided excimer laser operation) can boost the eyesight to 200% or normal eyesight. Maybe all well-funded armies will boost the eyesight of all (combat) troops (age 20-40 yrs) for free in the future.

Pills: Staying awake, concentrated and more

"Go pills". We've seen these for decades, and drugs may become even more important in the future as ever more performance is being expected by single "force multiplied" soldiers.
There's also research into super-memory pills and who knows - maybe there'll be a super-forget pill for after the war?
Another idea: A "less fear" pill.

I bet they'll forget to develop the ultimate pill for the soldier: One against boredom.

Drug: Survive huge loss of blood, shock

This is another possibility, and the drug may actually already be known.

Finally: Regenerate lost limbs

Some animals can regenerate lost body parts, such as tails. We can do that with our liver (if it wasn't lost completely). Many scientists are looking into this issue, and the civilian interest in such a therapy is large enough to mobilize much money. We might see results in a few years; relevant genes have already been identified.

- - - - -

People, Ideas and Hardware in That Order! That's what Boyd disciples quote quite often. Well, the modernization efforts may indeed turn towards such an order in the near future. Let's hope that people learn how to make money off ideas, it would be a good idea to channel more incentives towards the creation of ideas as well.

Super soldiers with top athlete strength, speed, endurance, great survivability and super eyesight who don't even need to train much to get and retain their physical abilities are imaginable. Much money is being spent on project to achieve such advances.

Those soldiers would certainly be quite hungry, and well - I bet they'll forget to spend money on more tasty military meals.

Anyway; it's been interesting to do read reports about these possible advances and the idea is quite enticing. Such projects might face serious objections, though. Tuning a citizen's body functions is a violation of privacy that's difficult to exceed.


P.S.: My casual reading of the Nextbigfuture blog paid off. It was a great help in compiling this as can be seen at the links. Nextbigfuture is at times a bit questionable in its promotion of questionable science, but nevertheless an interesting read.

edit 2015: http://www.gizmag.com/biohackers-night-vision-eyedrops/36797/


Long live this joke

“I want a book to complete the set for my grandson.”

“Certainly, madam. Can I ask what you’re looking for?”

“Well, he’s interested in history. I want to encourage him, so he’s already got books on World War 1 and World War 2. I want to get him the next one so he can be prepared before they do it at school.”

“Um, the next one?”

“Yes. Haven’t you got anything on World War 3? I’ve looked all over.”

“I’m sorry, Madam. I’m pretty certain we don’t have anything on that subject at the moment.”

“Oh, never mind then. I’ll try a bigger bookshop.”

(P.S.: I actually know one such book.)



I looked a bit into this "Marjah", target of the ongoing "Operation Moshtarak". A German blog mentioned that there's some confusion about whether Marjah is a city or not.

It turns out that Marjah is an an agricultural development district with irrigation. There's no city, no town and barely something that could be called a village.
Most of it is simply a very subdivided green area in the vicinity of some similar areas. There's open, easily controlled terrain around it.

View Larger Map

The names of settlements can be quite confusing in Afghanistan (close to Kunduz is a village that consists of three parts wide apart!) and there are locations with similar names, but this is confirmed to be the right location for the "battle".

By the way; there are some accusations in regard to reconnaissance / military intelligence in this Marjah action. It appears as if the object recce wasn't exemplary.
Such poor intelligence (if the report is true) would be understandable if Marjah was a remote mountain village - not so much given its real location.

I saw some news about the ongoing OP recently that suggested a prominent role of heliborne troop insertions. This is odd, as there's not that much helicopter transport capacity for the many, many necessary troops (the Marjah green area has a perimeter of about 50 km) and there's no real chance of operational surprise. The "offensive" was announced weeks in advance.

Sven Ortmann

"Vital interest"

I admit that I've always had problems with the term "vital interest". It doesn't seem to be well-defined because apparently everyone American is free to use it in support of his opinion on security policy no matter how trivial the issue is.

I found this source which offers a quick overview:

National interest roots trace back to the Machiavelli era. Machiavelli’s concern was Italian unification and liberation from foreign occupiers. By the nineteenth century Clausewitz contended that all states are motivated by their need to survive and prosper. In the 20th century the seminal works of Hans Morgenthau considered only two interests exist: vital and secondary. Throughout the 20th Century, and most notably during the Cold War, a number of commissions established categories for compartmentalizing our national interests. The first real post-Cold War scrutiny of the compartmentalized interests occurred in July 1996 when the Commission on America’s National Interests established that there exists four levels of US national interests: vital; extremely important; just important; and less important interests.These interests look no different from those established prior to and during the Cold War (...)

I've still got difficulties to grasp the idea because it looks essentially arbitrary and illegitimate to me.

There are in my opinion only three categories of national interest:

(1) National interests that justify violence in their defence

(2) National interests that don't justify violence

(3) National interests that aren't understood

Category (1) was officially defined by signing and ratifying the Charter of the United Nations. Article 2 says it all.
A state that decides that the agreed to rules don't apply any more should make its outlaw status official by leaving the UN.

Category (2) may have several degrees. Some interests may justify great expenses while other barely justify that the ambassador talks to someone. These different degrees aren't of great interest to me.

Category (3) may of course fit into the other categories, but it's sufficiently different to consider it separately. It's mostly of interest to historians, though.

- - - - -

Now have a look at this Gallup poll:

W T F ???

None of these issues ranks highly in category (2), much less (1) in my opinion. These issues are unpleasant, some of them hyped-up, but - honestly - there's almost open warfare between criminals and the state in a neighbouring country and this doesn't even make the list?

There's furthermore one very obvious threat to the national interest in every country, one which is usually being underestimated; the fallibility (or worse) of the own government (including parliament). I'd rate this higher than everything on the list.

(Gallup asked about the rating of "possible threats to the vital interest of the United States in the next 10 years".)"

The terminology for national interest "threats" seems to be FUBAR in English language.




The modern brain slug

People went crazy about gold till the mid-20th century.
That time is gone. Nowadays people go insane once someone says "oil".

The Falklands / Malvinas topic is just another confirmation. The original Falklands or Malvinas War was already in part excused with suspicions about oil reserves in the area. There was no oil produced for a generation since that war. Now there's a single ship en route for some drilling and some people go mad again.

We Germans have a saying:

"Herr, lass' Hirn regnen!"

(Lord, let it rain brains!)



The risk of an European Civil War in the distant future

The choice of scenarios for conventional high-end defensive wars doesn't seem to be great for European thinkers on military affairs.

The bad, bad Russians in the East who didn't recognize the Baltic states yet, the bad, bad Russians in the East who might sometime use military force in the Ukraine and finally the bad, bad Arabs. Actually, neither Arabs nor Russians are really in a position to cause much trouble in the short run, so most attention is being diverted to stupid expeditions that have marginal relevance to European security. Their "bad, bad" factor is also quite unimpressive to date. This continent has experienced much worse.

There's another, very serious scenario, though. The recent events have made it a bit easier to write about this seemingly devious scenario; a European Civil War.

(c) see below

There was no really sustainable multi-national state or empire in history - at least none without frequent internal conflict up to civil war and genocide levels.
The Austrian-Hungarian empire, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were large examples that crumbled shortly after the iron fist of a party or dynasty lost control. That iron fist seems to be necessary to conserve multi-national empires that were built by rulers.

The USA represents an exception to the rule because no immigrant nationality can claim a halfway coherent area of it as a result of the immigration. That's different in Europe. A unified Europe would leave most nationalities with easy-to-define borders of their homelands, and they could easily claim them for an independent state.

- - - - -

We're not at the point of real unification yet, but it's certainly a powerful movement - and in large part a top-down movement - in favour of further unification.

I think there lies the primary risk of conventional future warfare for Europeans. A bottom-up unification with real national consent may prove to be very stable, but a top-down unification could happen before the conditions are right. Politicians in several European countries have avoided plebiscites about European unification treaties because they feared a "No"; a disagreement of the majority. That's neither a way to go for a honest democracy nor for the European unification ideology.

- - - - -

The common currency € (Euro) was such a case of top-down, mostly plebiscite-free, unification. Plebiscites were more seen as obstacles for the €, not as sources of legitimacy during the late 90's.

There were economic theories pro and contra the common currency. The pro arguments were mostly about easily visible, easily understood and reliable symptoms (such as no need for changing money on vacation).
One of the contra arguments was a doom scenario. That doom scenario focused on the lack of flexible exchange rates and their loss as an important balancing factor. The theory supported the view that the Euro area was too dissimilar and the production factor work not mobile enough due to language barriers.
The predicted results were trade balance deficits and huge economic troubles in the South (especially Portugal, but also Greece, Spain & Italy) and a need for transfers from the richer nations.

The pro-EUnification ideology hammered down such worries, and the result fits well to the economic theory predictions; Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal are increasingly in trouble. The currency is a major, albeit not the only, reason for the troubles.

Spain would have devalued its Peseta without the €, and that would have increased its exports, reduced its imports and generally would have helped to balance its economy.
It didn't have the Peseta; it had the € together with a country like Germany for which the € is apparently not valuable enough. The result was that Spanish goods and services were relatively expensive and thus not competitive enough. They had much economic growth, but much of that was a construction sector bubble.
Their annual trade balance deficit is 2% of GDP, or almost 950 € per working person and year.
Spain was actually one of the less serious examples; especially Portugal is about four times worse off.

There are first discussions about whether Portugal and Greece need to leave the € zone to fix their problems (instead of just fighting the symptoms) - or whether they need to be kicked out by pressure. The case is especially strong for Greece, which can be considered to have violated the relevant treaty. Portugal on the other hand was known to not have been ready for the €, its inclusion was a quite obvious mistake from day one.

This example shows how a quite ideology-driven top-down unification can risk a collapse of the unification if it advances without waiting for the right conditions being set.

A European Civil War would have a tremendous destructive potential; the Yugoslav Wars would look like a tiny anecdote by comparison.

The security and peace policy of European countries should therefore include a careful, thorough process of European unification and a hasty, top-down unification process should be avoided due to the great risks involved. Rational policy should win over ideology.


(c) photo of burning government building in the centre of Sarajevo '92: Mikhail Evstafiev



Eerie radar technology


Radar technology stems basically from the 30's (although first inventions and observations were made before WWI).
Back in WW2 radars were already capable of supplying recognizable images of a landscape below the aircraft (H2S radar) and radars were able to see outstanding buildings (the very first radar-guided glide bomb"Bat" was even able to 'lock on' a bridge).

Back in the 60's radars were used as poor weather and night bomb aiming devices in aircraft like the A-6 Intruder. OV-1 Mohawk aircraft meanwhile carried a side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) that was capable of both synthetic aperture radar mode (SAR; creating almost photo-like images of the ground in a useful resolution) and ground moving target indicator mode (GMTI; detection and display of moving objects like trucks).

At about that time the original Star Trek series were aired for the first time. Some episode featured the Enterprise's capability to detect individuals on a planet's surface from its orbit. Crew members on the surface were able of voice comm with the Enterprise in orbit. Both seemed to be quite unrealistic Sci-Fi, yet both is actually feasible with today's technology, less than two generations (instead of three centuries) later.

The progress of radar technology is quite visible in both radar satellites (even civilian ones are great) and long range aerial SAR/GMTI radars. SAR and GMTI modes have become standard for strike fighter radars (all-weather attack capability).
Long-range air/ground surveillance aircraft like the Desert Storm veteran E-8 and several other designs since it can create images with resolutions in the low decimetre range from 300 km away and at the same time detect moving vehicles, their speed and direction of movement at the same range.

(I intended to add a SAR screenshot graphic of an electronics company here, but the company did not respond to my request and thus didn't allow the use of said graphic. It looks like someone still has to learn basic marketing.)

Early applications of such capabilities were about getting a general picture of where and how much is moving to where. It helped on the operational level of war. Today we can search for individual buildings and vehicles, search and pinpoint field fortifications and much more.

Today's more networked systems could be much more useful. One example:

An artillery radar could spot an enemy artillery system's projectiles and calculate the point of origin. An airborne SLAR uses SAR mode to spot the launcher and GMTI to determine whether it uses the 'shoot & scoot' tactic; trying to change position asap after compromising its old firing position. If not, it could compare the SAR image with a map to pinpoint the exact location most accurately and supply the target information to the artillery for counterfire. A scooting artillery team could instead be tracked with SAR and GMTI till it stops in a new position and could be engaged over there.

Such a complex operation would require some luck (many complex elements involved, thus many things can go wrong) and the artillery team could shake off its observers by breaking contact in a city or behind hills. Nevertheless, this kind of combination shows that such eerie air power technology should be taken seriously almost down to the level of individual soldiers. Actually, the detection of some grunt's foxhole behind a battlefield should be feasible by comparing old and new SAR imagery as well!

Similar radar technology can be built into much smaller platforms than an E-8; high-end business jets (British ASTOR) down to drones like Reaper (follow link for interesting graphics), for example. It's a technology to reckon with - and that needs to be done by the young leaders; lieutenants up to majors.

NATO is in a particularly comfortable, but also somewhat risky situation. It has an obvious dominance in this area of sensory. That's on the one hand a huge advantage (if it works nearly as advertised) and on the other hand it poses a risk that we might be late with the development and deployment of specific countermeasures because we need none to date.

The Russians certainly have not slept over this kind of tech. The early GMTI radar incarnations were to be defeated with simple maskirovka (deceptions) such as pulling a string with tin cans behind cars to fake a convoy march or mounting metal radar reflectors along roads to permanently create false signal returns. Modern processor power and memory sizes likely rule such simple countermeasures out in the future.

Their more promising countermeasure is a very expensive one and likely capable against all usually highly valuable standoff support aircraft, including AEW&C (a.k.a. 'AWACS'), passive electronic reconnaissance aircraft, jammer aircraft and tankers.
That countermeasure is the super-long-range 40N6 missile (said to have a range of 400 km) of the S-400 "Triumf" air defence system (NATO designation: SA-21 "Growler"). This missile is likely capable to keep support aircraft at a very long distance by its sheer repulsion value.

I've heard and read again and again about how such long-range air defence systems could create huge no-go areas against Western offensive air power. My interpretation of military (air defence) history, military theory and disclosed information is that the enforcement of a safety distance for support aircraft is likely their primary if not their only raison d'être.

This assumption was partially contributing to my interest in supersonic business jets as potential air force support aircraft. This interest has since cooled down because the economic crisis has hit those projects and the British experience with ASTOR suggests that for the time being a small airliners' volume and payload is probably an advisable for really long-range radar aircraft. Regrettably, small airliners tend to be short-range airliners and they also tend to be both relatively slow (in comparison to the Boeing 707-based E-8) and not designed for flying very high (which is useful for radar aircraft).

A part of the Russian air-to-air missile development is about ultra long range air/air missiles; the Novator K-100 and the Vympel R-37. Both are regularly seen in context of AWACS aircraft, but J-STARS should be considered to be their target as well.

The Russians also developed active radar jammers against air/ground radars, the SPN series. That hardware appears to be meant for the protection of high-value targets such as river crossings and such. I am sceptical about their ability to jam in protection of more than point targets.

- - - - -

Radar technology is tricky and understanding it requires years of university studies. Nevertheless, an understanding of the potential of radars is necessary even at junior leader levels. Contemporary radar aircraft may fall short of expectations or not; the potential is eerie and was in the realm of Sci-fi until few years ago.

Such technologies can have game-changing consequences for all military forces up to 300 km away from the battlefield. Ships can be identified at long distance by radar imagery, aircraft can be identified by fighter radars, even missiles like a late AMRAAM version can create an image of their target and thus discern the target from decoys. Vehicles, Foxholes and mere tents could be detected from a safe distances.

This has to have an impact on military doctrine and the need for countermeasures is blindingly obvious because you must not grant your enemy such a powerful surveillance tool (even if he hasn't got the staff and procedures to make full use of it) if you can avoid it.

A reliance on air superiority alone may be a too risky approach because battlefield reconnaissance missiles such as CL-289 can be and have been equipped with radars as well.

P.S.: This blog text became quite long and contrary to my original intent I didn't even mention half of the most eerie radar stuff!



Mythbusters, a never-ending job

Military Review has an interesting article on the Cold War. This article is a nice reason to slap two old myths that seem to be immortal:

The myth of the Fulda Gap and the myth that the Soviets intended to go nuclear on day one of WW3.

- - - - -

First the "evil Soviets would launch nukes on day one" myth:

By 1975, and probably earlier, the Soviet General Staff had already received an “instruction” from the leadership that Soviet forces were never to be the first to use nuclear weapons.
("The Renaissance in American Strategy and the Ending of the Great Cold War", Gordon S. Barras, Military Review Jan-Feb 2010, p.103)

- - - - -

Next: "Fulda Gap"

I've been annoyed by a myopic focus tunnel vision on the "Fula Gap" for many years. "Some people" talk and write as if the "Fulda Gap" was the only thing that mattered (or the only potential battlefield) in Europe. This was always highly annoying to me because it was all-too often paired with ignorance or disrespect in regard to the military efforts of NATO allies in Central Europe (Germany alone provided about half of NATO's land power in that potential war theatre, for example).

Have a look at this graphic:

This map is relevant for the most critical phase of the Cold War; the late 70's when the Warsaw Pact was the strongest relative to NATO.

The Soviets planned for a scenario in which the U.S. V. Corps would have been turned into the prey of a double envelopment. The only attacks planned into the "Fulda Gap" were meant to fix the V. Corps in order to shape the battlefield for the decisive breakthrough & exploitation moves elsewhere.

Americans are entitled to interpret the map as an indicator for the great repulsion value of the U.S. V. Corps because the Soviets didn't plan to advance through it. That would be a little bit odd, though. The mid and late 70's are widely regarded to be the worst post-Korea period of the U.S. Army, a period after which reforms were needed in order to rebuild it up to its 1990 quality.

Anyway; I've finally vented my dislike of those two myths.


P.S:: The quoted article seems to rest almost entirely on a single book of the same author:
Gordon S. Barass, The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009)
Maybe that would be a nice book to read if I hadn't a backlog of about 20 books already.


Army motorcycles

I have a love for Enduro motorcycles (the "sport" versions, not so much the "travel" or "cruise"-oriented versions) and a motorcycle driving license (though sadly no actual Enduro at the moment).

It was fun to think a bit about the optimum army motorcycle and I'd like to share my thoughts (that does obviously happen at times ;-) .

Enduros have a small thirst for fuel, great off-road agility and they can drive past traffic jams.
Their disadvantages are as obvious; non-stellar durability, easily fatigued driver, no weather or other protection, low payload (both in volume and weight).

The classic roles are for military police (traffic control) and couriers and both roles are pretty much consensus applications. The trust in radio communication and the high cost of personnel has lead to a diminished role of motorcycle couriers during the last years - that was probably no good move.

I did recently read an article about military motorcycle trials in 1938. Very light motorcycles excelled on the short and demanding track, handled by expert motorcyclists.
The same category of lightweight motorcycles with small engine volume was a near-total disaster only three years later when many if not most became almost useless after a few weeks or months of continuous campaigning on the poor roads of Eastern Europe. The much more robust heavier motorcycles that had no chance to excel on a small proving ground showed their true value.

We should remember these experiences and take into account the huge demands of actual wartime use on motorcycles (and all other equipment). The relatively short peacetime exercises will never tell us everything that military history has to offer.

- - - - -

About the technology for a dream army motorcycle:

(1) Fuel

Motorcycles very rarely use diesel fuel, the standard fuel of modern armies. Diesel engines are hard to come by for motorcycles, but I consider them to be a very desirable component for logistical reasons (fuel commonality with all other army vehicles in the field). It has already been done.

A road range of 1,000 km would be desirable from a logistical point of view, but the extra weight would likely be too troublesome during off-road driving. A simple flexible tube would instead allow a motorcycle driver to get some diesel fuel from a truck, and the truck driver would hardly notice the loss.

(2) Engine in general

Small volume engines are light and allow for light Enduros with good agility. Higher volume engines can have more power, allow for more payload and tend to be better on very soft ground. An additional problem is the demand for longevity. This means that military motorcycles at times need to be de-rated. A durable 600 ccm military motorcycle may have as little power as a civilian high-end 300 ccm motorcycle.
The best compromise for military motorcycling would probably be about 450 ccm with a normal engine, but a derated diesel engine (or a custom-developed diesel engine) would likely have less hp/kg and likely shift the best compromise even more, maybe to 600 ccm (the M1030M1 has 584 ccm).

Electric starter with kick start backup; good idea.

(3) Power transmission aft

Most motorcycles use a chain for power transmission. That requires much maintenance and is generally not a good idea for a motorcycle that's going off-road very often and for extended periods. A shaft drive design (with gearbox) would be much better in regard to maintenance and impervious to dirt. The design of a long-life gearbox is a challenge, though.

(3) Power transmission front

A two wheel drive (2x2, 2WD) is a rarity for motorcycles, but it should be considered for an army motorcycle. The additional cost and weight is probably worth it because it makes driving and especially negotiating obstacles much easier and even safer. The hydraulic power transmission seems to be the front-runner concept at the time. I would therefore want to see contenders with a non-permanent hydraulic powered front wheel in a competition for a military motorcycle.

(4) Motorcycle stand

This needs to be reliable even on soft ground; a large contact area for a low ground pressure is a necessity.

(5) Battery and fuel system

Both need to be designed for reliable function after lying on the side. Many normal motorcycles have trouble starting again after having been on their sides for a while.

(6) All weather design

Modern motorcycles are as much toys for leisure as tools for travel and commuting. The relevance of poor weather motorcycling has dropped during the past decades and the motorcycle designs have become accordingly less able to cope with poor road conditions (at least compared to the advancing technology limits).
Likewise, modern motorcycle designs are rarely designed for use during winter.
This problem extends to items such as the helmet, as some helmets have permanently open ventilation openings that are no good idea for poor weather.
A military motorcycle would need to be prepared for poor and cold weather.

(7) Longevity

A new military motorcycle would be in service for 20-30 ears, much longer than a typical civilian one. This causes different requirements for the longevity of components such as seals, as well as protection against rust (or the use of non-rusting materials, such as aluminium).

(8) Extras

An army Enduro should have storage boxes for personal equipment and a rack for the driver's carbine (acessible even if the motorcycle is lying on its side).

It should also have equipment that helps with self-recovery if it's really stuck (exhausted drivers may be unable pull their Enduro out on their own) such as a simple rope that could use the front axle as a winch.

Another interesting extra would be some kind of folding aluminium rack for the crossing of obstacles such as drainage ditches (which can be too steep for a motorcycle).

A box for a camouflage net is a simple necessity in my opinion.

The quite common protective hand guards should be installed for protection against branches and to reduce the problem of cold hands (less airflow) in winter.

A roll chart holder or navigation computer is a necessity because quick and reliable navigation is one of the keys to success in courier missions.

(9) Wheel design

There are basically two options; Enduro wheels (with precautions against a rapid loss of pressure) or much wider, smaller diameter wheels. The latter offer some advantages, but seem to be ill-suited for high speeds. I would prefer the former because most army motorcycling would still happen on roads and there's no compelling case for the unorthodox wheels for couriers or MPs.
Designs for tires that accept perforation quite well are available and should be used.

(10) 'Silent' exhaust system

An army motorcycle cannot be too silent. The exhaust and engine itself can be designed to allow for an unusually low noise level.

(11) Overall low maintenance design

Low and simple maintenance, 'nuff said.

(12) Accessories

A combined ballistic & crash protection helmet is an obvious choice, and several such models are available. The German Schuberth helmet with combined crash and ballistic protection has been phased out of service because it didn't meet a new norm (red tape).
Some form of radio receiver/headphones would make sense; the driver should be able to hear radio traffic permanently.

- - - - -

In the end, such a not-off-the-shelf design would probably cost twice as much as a conventional motorcycle even if bought in a large batch. It may be possible to justify that with performance and longevity.
It's obvious that air forces and navies would not need such a dedicated army motorcycle if they have a real need for motorcycles at all.


edit 2014: The old Swedish Husqvarna army motorcycle with its deep snow capability (side skis) and automatic transmission (for soldiers without experience with motorcycles) is quite an inspiration as well. It's a light motorcycle (250 cc), and thus relatively easy to handle as well.
I'd also add the easy attachment of a motorcycle to a truck as a criterion if I would write this blog post today.
edit 2018: I forgot to mention night vision goggle compatibility of the instruments (velocimeter), and possibly a GPS/INS-based compass and digital map display for easier orientation.


Sun Tzu and cities


Sun Tzu has become an internatonally much-respected military theorist during the past decades, as a consequence of English translations of his ancient writings.

The respect for his work and the apparent universality of some of his remarks (or to be more specific: The applicability of the interpretations of his remarks to modern problems) has its problems, though.

One example is the issue of urban warfare (OHK in German). Urban warfare was a very popular topic during the 90's up to the COIN fashion of about 2005-today.

Sun tzu was often cited in regard to the problems with urban warfare. The Russians had demonstrated those problems anew with their debacle in Grosnyi '94.

The relevant parts of Sun tzu's known writings are

"If troops lay siege to a walled city, their strength will be exhausted."

"Therefore, the best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy's plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army, and the worst is to attack a walled city."

"Laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available."

"If the general cannot control his temper and sends troops to swarm the walls, one third of them will be killed, and the city will still not be taken."

"This is the kind of calamity when laying siege to a walled city."

"Therefore, one who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy's walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare."

"Generally, the principles of warfare are:
there are walled cities not to be besieged;

(quote from here)

It's impossible to produce a perfect translation. Every translation, even every reading of ancient texts should be taken with a grain of salt.

Well, now a bit about the city topic: The Chinese had no elaborate siege technology during the time of Sun Tzu. Sieges against properly fortified ("walled") cities were pretty much attempts to starve the defenders. Such attempts were very risky and slow up to the late 19th century because of poor hygiene and logistical capabilities. It's quite likely that more soldiers /warriors died on average due to illnesses than due to fighting in historical sieges.

Sun Pi wrote his treatise on the art of war not long after Sun Tzu and didn't have such an aversion against sieges.
Why? Simple; the Chinese had developed techniques to overcome fortifications.

- - - - -

The urban warfare theorists of the 90's had a huge aversion against or great fears about urban warfare (for many good and not so good reasons) and some were happy to call upon Sun Tzu as reinforcement of their position.

That was of course utterly pointless because his remarks had been turned around many times over in the meantime.

Such is the risk of trusting old treatises on war.



Thanks, European Parliament!

I asked (rhetorically) in November "Is this betrayal?" in the context of the SWIFT agreement. European governments were ready to allow a foreign power to spy on private persons in the EU more than most of them were allowed to themselves.
The European Parliament had to support this measure - and it saved personal liberties against the intention of the governments. Someone apparently had forgotten to include the EP in lobbying, group think and brainwashing.

There's much negative to say about European unifications, but it's nice to have an additional check in the governance system. The normal checks were apparently eroded over time for theys don't seem to withstand the terror hysteria well enough.

Now it's about time to hope that the unofficial acceptance of foreign spying in EU countries will be ended. The effectiveness of the rabid spying for counterterrorism is very questionable and unproven; most successes were apparently the result of proven HumInt.
The German minister of justice, federal police agency (BKA) and federal public attorney's office (the latter is known to have hardliner tendencies) opposed the SWIFT agreement because the cost of liberty was not justified by the questionable relevance for security/CT.
The process of the agreement was hasty and questionable itself; it was meant to circumvent the EuParl in anticipation of its disagreemnt (that's certainy noa ppropriate understanding of democracy!).

The Swiss may be reminded of the recent conflict about bank secrecy that rages about tax dodgers between Germany and Switzerland (they deposit cash at Swiss banks and get whistle-blowed by individuals for rewards). Well, the world is ugly.
I think the difference between a general surveillance of a continent's money transfers in search for a handful criminals is unacceptable while I can tolerate that information about criminals is being sold without or almost without information about innocents being given away. I wouldn't mind that we give info about positively identified terrorist's money away, after all.

Sven Ortmann


Panzergrenadiere in the 2010's


Panzergrenadiere (mechanised infantry, somewhat more rooted in German WW2 experiences than other mech infantry) are a 'kind of' infantry branch of the German army and meant to provide the infantry element to our heavy brigades (armour and mech infantry brigades; 2 Panzerbrigaden, 2 Panzergrenadierbrigaden and one Panzerlehrbrigade; -en is plural, -e is singular).

Both Panzergrenadierbrigaden and one Panzerbrigade (being a Panzerbrigade only in name) have the same structure:
HQ Company
Armour Battalion
2 Mech Inf Battalion
Recce Battalion
Armoured Engineer Battalion
Signals Battalion
Logistics Battalion

The other Panzerbrigade has an Armoured Artillery Battalion instead of the 2nd Mech Inf Bn. The fifth heavy Bde is the Panzerlehrbrigade with a unique structure (it has additional training, show and experimentation missions).

Well, that's the planned army structure, a structure of almost historical interest because there's near-permanent change.
Historically there were many more heavy brigades and the heavy brigades were larger as well. Up till if I remember correctly the 70's there was a third Mech Inf Bn in the Panzergrenadierbrigaden, for example.

The typical design for the mech infantry battalions is 2 AFV in the HQ and three companies with 14 AFV each. These units would be mixed down to company level in wartime. The 'pure' battalions of the official structure are - as elsewhere - meant for an easier, more efficient training.

Panzergrenadiere / mechanised infantry are meant to be the infantry component of combined arms warfare (Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen). That's the theory.

Now let's freak out a bit about the actually irresponsible structure that laughs at the nice theory.

(a) Neither the mech infantry battalions nor any other unit in the Bde has any organic mortars. That's outrageous and cannot be explained with our official doctrine.

(b) The Panzergrenadierbrigaden and the one identically structured Panzerbrigade have no artillery battalion, not even a company/battery. The two brigades of the 1. Panzerdivision have an artillery component, but not the other 75% of our combat brigades (2 mech inf bdes, 1 identical armour bde, 2paratrooper bdes the mountain infantry bde). The airmobile (helicopter) brigade with its light infantry regiment has no artillery either.

The combination of (a) and (b) means that the most powerful indirect high angle fire support weapon of an entire German Panzergrenadierbrigade is a 40mm GMW (automatic grenade launcher) of less than 3 km range and it's not meant for non-line of sight use.
(a) and (b) in conjunction laugh in the face of Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen.
Actually, I think it's a good enough justification to fire everyone who bears partial or full responsbility for this.

Combined arms warfare is more than just armour and artillery or mortars; it requires today infantry, armour, artillery/mortars (I claim it requires also electronic warfare if we look at brigades like this, but that's not even close to consensus). It's necessary to have these assets organic in the formation because combined arms warfare requires much training of leaders and staffs, not just supporting attachments in the event of crisis.

Now let's have a look at the infantry component.

(c) Two battalions of each 2+14+14+14=44 IFV/SPz (infantry fighting vehicle /Schützenpanzer) Puma will have a total dismount seat strength of 2 bns x 44 IFVs x 6 infantrymen = 528. That's about as much as a single infantry battalion has.
Maybe I'm very old-fashioned, but I do somehow have the idea that a Panzergrenadierbrigade should have more infantry. In other words; the combined arms qualities of these brigades are in my opinion compromised by their weak infantry arm as well.

This opinion is based on facts:

528 infantrymen (or Panzergrenadiere) is mere theory. Units are rarely at full manning (if ever). It would come close to a miracle if they could be sent off to a crisis with more than 450 men (without cannibalizing external infantry units). The situation could improve within a few months by the addition of reservists, but keep in mind that the predecessors of the Panzergrenadiere had some of the most outrageous casualty rates of WW2. Being sent to one such unit basically meant that the soldiers had on average only a few weeks or months left before they became disabled, prisoners of war, wounded in action or killed in action.

528 seats is pure theory as well. A readiness rate may approach 90% for the first operation in a conflict if the brigade had time for repairs after the deployment march. It's not likely that more than 70-80% of the theoretical 88 IFVs would be available for a second operation considering the losses and technical failures to be expected during the first operation.
I think it's safe to assume at most 70% availability (70% of 88 ~ 62) with a dismount strength of 372 for a third operation.
That's about the point at which even a total concentration of both mech inf battalions of the brigade would likely be unable to remove a qualitatively comparable fresh infantry company from a blocking position in infantry terrain (such as a bottleneck road through woodland) in a useful time frame.

The lack of organic mortars and organic artillery would likely be compensated for by non-organic units, but their ammunition supply is still in question during mobile operations. The artillery can thus not be counted on to decide every fight in closed terrain favourably. A mech infantry bde should be able to solve the problem of a single blocking infantry company without a huge expenditure of artillery ammunitions any way. This is meant to be a major part of the difference between mech infantry and armour brigades, after all.

The assumption of a total infantry concentration is in itself already overly optimistic, of course. Some IFVs would be kept away for security, reconnaisance or other duties. It's therefore reasonable to expect even less infantry at the brigade's Schwerpunkt.

My conclusion is that there's simply not enough infantry, which in turn is in great part a consequence of the high procurement and operating costs of AFVs. The record priced Puma IFV (405 IFV for € 3.1 billion = € 7.65 million /unit) fortifies this problem. Another reason is the high cost of personnel, but as long as you cannot win in ground wars without many human close combat fighters you'll need to pay their price in your deterrence and defence preparation effort.
I think we've moved to a point far below the limit for substitution of infantry with something else (btw, substituted for by what exactly? We don't have that much of anything in our force structure!?)

What's the consequence of a weak infantry component?
Panzergrenadierbrigaden are meant to be heavy formations for independent combined arms combat in pursuit of operational level missions. Their best-suited terrain is meant to be the mixed tank-friendly and infantry-friendly terrain such as in Northern Germany and in the Northeast NATO members. An armour brigade (Panzerbrigade) is meant to be more optimised for almost exclusively open (tank-friendly) terrains and infantry brigades are meant for closed (infantry-friendly) terrains.

A mechanised infantry bde / Panzergrenadierbrigade should be the ideal compromise for actions that require a quick switch between infantry- and tank-centric combat. Tanks would lead the way in open terrain and infantry would lead the way through terrains like settlements and woods before the AFVs take the lead again.
Such infantry actions would typically look like dismounted infantry clearing a road/route through a wood or settlement for safe passage of the vehicles. An alternative would be that the infantry clears hilltops to the left and right, a classic light forces task as described by Xenophon more than 2,000 years ago.
The support by AFVs would typically be limited to one or two vehicles at bottlenecks because of the restrictions imposed by the terrain.

The infantry coponent of such a brigade would therefore be expected to repeatedly and quickly defeat an infantry force of company to battalion size over the course of one operation.

The only alternative to such a demanding requirement for infantry power in the brigade structure is to avoid defended bottlenecks.

Well, amoured recce would hardly be able to sense the difference between one platoon blocking a road through woodland and one battalion, so an infantry-weak brigade could be barred from using such bottlenecks by a flimsy platoon defence. It's actually quite optimistic to expect the armoured recce to perform such risky forms of route recce at all, especially as the old scouting concept is apparently becoming extinct in favour of a stealthy ground surveillance approach once we've lost our last Luchs recce AFVs in a few years.

What does this mean? A heavy, infantry-weak brigade (which has on top of that no organic indirect fire support to speak of) would both be mostly incapable of combined arms warfare without reinforcements AND it would be restricted to open terrain (and thus be very limited and dangerously predictable in its options) without strong infantry reinforcements.

In other words: It's a crappy formation design based on several very mislead trends.
The capability of the two heavy brigades under 1. Panzerdivision command (Panzerlehrbrigade 9 and Panzerbrigade 21, both of which have only about half the infantry strength) to function in mixed terrain regions is even more in doubt.

Let's compare this assessment of the formation suitability for combined arms warfare with the official brigade mission (quote from the website of the German ministry of defence, BMVg):
Kernauftrag der Brigade ist dabei die Befähigung zur Führung des Gefechts verbundener Waffen, zur Führung der eigenen Verbände sowie unterstellter nationaler und multinationaler Verbände und Einheiten im Einsatz.
(Core mission of the brigade is the ability to execute combined arms warfare, to lead the own formations as well as subordinated national and multinational formations and units in action.)


I used the Bundeswehr's formation designs as examples and punching bags. The remarks in this blog post are quite easily applicable to many other NATO armies as well, though!

The German Panzergrenadierbrigaden are woefully short of infantry and devoid of indirect fire support - and are thus incapable of combined arms warfare (Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen) with their organic assets alone. Whoever bears responsibility for their structure failed in the principal purpose of setting up a brigade; to create a powerful combined arms formation for independent missions on the operational level of war.

There's a huge gap between the PR spin and reality. I wonder how many of our legislators know about this issue.


P.S.: There are still some people who pretend that Panzergrenadiere should fight mounted and are thus no infantry. That view is detached from reality and a late perversion of WW2 lessons that were meant to solve very specific problems which have long since drastically changed their shape.



Procurement gap or inventory surplus?

It's both amusing and fascinating to read articles and discussions about a perceived "fighter gap" or "fighter shortage" of the U.S.Navy that might leave the navy unable to fill up all its aircraft carriers with fighters in several years.

I've seen an estimated 20 texts about the topic so far - all with the same direction: The navy needs more combat aircraft.

That's a bit strange because the navy has more than just one option for matching carrier quantity and aircraft quantity:

(1) increase aircraft quantity to a match
(2) reduce carrier quantity to a match
(3) change air wing composition
(4) increase both to a match
(5) decrease both to a match

The observed discussions about the issue were all about option (1) for reasons that would likely not work anywhere else.

Option (1) isn't the most obvious one, though. I would personally rather tend towards (5) and (2) would be a sensible choice as well.

That carrier fleet isn't really about "defense", after all. It's about power projection - about "offense", especially about "offense" against poor and small countries that cannot defend themselves effectively against such attacks.

There's almost no way how one could rationally assume that the immense costs can be justified with anything else than defence or national political median preference*.

I guess the latter is what really counts.


*: Preferences cannot be discussed in cost/effectiveness terms. Preferences are the source information for cost effectiveness considerations; they define the relative value of things.

edit for clarification: This wasn't about carriers. I was appalled by the lack of thought and writing about other options than primitive "more, more, more!". The bizarre comments of other authors about the topic even assert that there was a "gap". "Gaps" were in the past perceived gaps between the own and potential adversary capabilities (and quite often more fiction than reality). This time the "gap" discussion is both unrelated to potential adversaries and unrelated to actual defence.

The USN's inventory and orders for Super Hornets and Growlers would suffice to keep the #1 air power status for the U.S. even if there was not a single USAF or USMC combat aircraft. That doesn't even consider the fact that most of the top 20 military and air powers of the world are allied with the U.S..
The talk about a "fighter gap" is completely detached from reality, delusional!