Discipline and mutual trust - the basics of robustness in combat

Historical German army experiences stress that the need for discipline has its roots in the extraordinary demands of combat itself.
The German keyword here is Gefechtsdisziplin - combat discipline. It's the compound of obedience with thinking and comradeship.
A (small) unit cannot withstand the stress of battle without discipline, thus discipline needs to become natural for army soldiers. It needs to be trained with discipline in little everyday affairs, but the superiors should always remember that it's combat, not the everyday affair that warrants this effort!

This is of utmost importance, for exaggerations that do not pursue the goal of robustness under combat stress will stifle the "thinking" part that's of great importance for actual performance in battle (and for developing leaders).

As a consequence, it's quite unimportant whether all soldiers wear the sleeves up, down or whether they mix it. They may march in lock-step or not.
All that counts is that superiors used enough discipline standards to instil and maintain discipline. Discipline is a skill that need training and maintenance, it is not a performance.

Mutual trust
Trust is another almost all-important ingredient for robust combat units. Cohesion enhancement measures such as esprit du corps, regional recruitment or common food for all ranks are one path towards building mutual trust. To lead by example is another important one.
Trust is an important defence against wavering under stress, and it's the primary bonding agent of units. It's furthermore of great importance for low level independent action and for the reduction of friction.

Combat discipline and mutual trust are the basics of robustness in combat. 
Gucci gear personal equipment, modded rifles, expensive tanks, big budgets and even combat experience are no substitutes and all built on feet of clay if discipline and mutual trust are gone missing.

To prove a force's superiority over an (obviously) lesser opponent does not in itself prove that the job of building and maintaining discipline and trust was done well.
Only crisis in face of local opposing forces' superiority reveals a force's basic soundness.

"Combat proven" or not - we better pay attention to the basics. Tools, toys and numbers already get more attention than necessary.

S Ortmann


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone!

(I embedded from an obscure Asian website because of Youtube-related copyright issues that annoyed Germans for years and would keep Germans from seeing the embedded video from YT.)


The German government went downhill in terror hysteria, but not this badly (yet)

(hat tip to BoingBoing)

The government dropped a bomb on a U.S. citizen,
who, though a total dick and probably a criminal, may have been engaged only in propaganda,
which, though despicable, is generally protected by the First Amendment;
it did so without a trial or even an indictment (that we know of),
based at least in part on evidence it says it has but won't show anyone,
and on a legal argument it has apparently made but won't show anyone,
and the very existence of which it will not confirm or deny;
although don't worry, because the C.I.A. would never kill an American without having somebody do a memo first;
and this is the "most transparent administration ever";
currently run by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Imagine anyone would have told you during the Clinton administration that this would happen.

S Ortmann


New comment policy

Whoever clicked on "Comments" was able to read this:

Use a nickname and stick to it, please. I feel free to block anonymous comments at will. Offensive comments may also be blocked, in part due to the duties of a blogger in Germany.

I changed it to this

Use a nickname and stick to it! I will block anonymous comments. Offensive comments may also be blocked, in part due to the duties of a blogger in Germany.

and I mean it.

I'm fed up with lots of anonymous comments. It's not that difficult to type two or three more times. Choose something simple like "QQ" if you're really lazy, but choose a nickname and stick to it, please.

S Ortmann


Not so good times for political taboos

The UK is saying no to a European treaty (again after over 50 years abstinence from this), Canada going to bail out of the Kyoto treaty's restrictions ... it's apparently season for breaking political taboos.
I wonder what this is going to mean for formal alliances.

Might some countries bail out of such alliances when the cost/benefit ratio turns red?

Maybe this is rather about emboldened national interest-led foreign policy that heralds an age of less cooperation on international issues?

Will the taboo-breakers be worn down or replaced soon by opposition politicians as was the Polish Kaczinski government (which proved to be very 'uncooperative' in the EU)?

Maybe there's going to be more foreign policy action/activism once foreign politicians begin to think that they're not expected to get everybody into the same boat (think: OIF)? Would such non all-inclusive actions be unwise because naysayers have good points (think: OIF)?

I don't think anyone can be sure about his/her ability to predict these things, so I'm not even going to try. Foreign policy might become more interesting in the next years, though.

S Ortmann


KoW on top leadership qualification

Francis Grice on KoW:

That's an interesting and somewhat funny blog post on the importance of matching skills and tasks at top leadership positions (and elsewhere, too). He in turn referred to another article which flew below my radar.

Traditional hierarchic organisations narrow down towards the top like a pyramid. The complexities of the various tasks exceed the education and training of the top leadership. This would likely even be the case if they had been educated towards top leadership tasks as were monarchs in earlier times. Even monarchs with their decades of top notch training and education rarely performed very well. Today's world is much more demanding.
The orthodox approach is thus to have staffs with diverse skills and a top leadership that's willing to draw on the staffs' advice and smart enough to understand it.

Grice scratches on the surface of an alternative: Why not exchange top leadership when the tasks change?
Or, less unusual, why not demand that top leadership is primarily about assigning specific tasks and specific powers to competent people for specific challenges? The other top leadership's job would then be to keep an eye on the whole and to steer a course through the whole of the challenges, a job for which nobody is fully qualified.

This is of course not totally new, but Western military and political establishments weren't exposed to any extreme challenges for decades and appear to exhibit a degree of incompetence that's deeply irritating (this ranges from terror hysteria over economic policies to ridiculously inept military operations such as Atalanta).

Sadly, erosion of skill and lack of strong characters in the political and military staffs might be part of the problem. There's a reason why Grice was talking about academics as alternative to in-office leaders, not about staff geniuses.

S Ortmann


"Coyote" brown is the new grey

Steingrau-Oliv Feldanzug with Parka
About a hundred years ago, grey was found to be a shade (not exactly a "colour") that doesn't attract attention and is thus viable as a basic camouflage colour in pretty much every environment.
I'd argue that even the Bundeswehr's Cold War-era standard individual camouflage was a mixture of grey and green (officially "Steingrau-Oliv", also commonly called "Moleskin" or "olivgrün").

I've noticed that -at least in the anglophone world - the time-proven grey appears to be out of fashion. The Multicam pattern fashion swept away some stupid camouflage patterns, and the colour "Coyote" or "Coyote brown" (a shade of brown) appears to be the colour in fashion for applications without camo pattern. It reminds me of the famous khaki colour which played a similar role as grey outside of Europe

The reasoning is simply that some equipment does not need a camouflage pattern or should be usable with different camouflage patterns. This applies to pouches or very small items, for example.

Example: Multicam + Coyote
The No.1 concern is of course the contrast to the camouflage pattern; a stark contrast between patterned clothes and light brown equipment might make the soldier very discernible even in advantageous terrain. That's in part a general problem with the shape of the equipment and in part a general problem with homogeneous colouring.

Adding regularly shaped monochrome components to a well-designed camo pattern is not the way to go in regard to minimum detectability, after all.

The namesake, the Coyote, doesn't have a single large monochrome patch on his pelt. It's rather using different shades of colour for his evolution*-optimised fur.

A coyote, photograph by G Dan Hutcheson

A force that's really serious about optimising its individual service members' camouflage cannot rely on a combination of a good camo pattern and a monochrome accessories colour.

The way to go is in my opinion - and this should not surprise since I advocated this for years- to primarily rely on shapes for camouflage, not on colouring (see here as well).

This in turn means that not only the attention on more or less fashionable camouflage patterns is ill-advised; it's not very important what colour or pattern you use for accessories either.

The colour "Coyote" has the advantage of being more pleasant to the human eye than grey, and is thus likely a good choice. It's furthermore OK to use it for accessories together with different camo patterns - as long as we're not talking about the normal Flecktarn or similar rather dark camo patterns.
The contrast between Flecktarn and Coyote would be too great, too discernible. I'm not very much in love with the darkness of normal Flecktarn anyway, but it's undisputedly great when you're hiding in the dark shade of a tree or other large object (and it's usually hard to hide anywhere else anyway).


*: I guess that counts as evidence for Anti-Americanism for my troll(s). ;)


Quick recommendations

1st quick recommendation:

Bill Sweetman's article in DTI about the waning importance of radar and thus also of radar stealth in fighter technology and tactics (page 40).


A website that does the fantastic job of making Sextus Julius Frontinus' "Stratagems" treatise on ruses in ancient  warfare accessible to everyone (who has WWW access). I wish there was an equivalent book about modern warfare.

S Ortmann


A training military?

Many countries are not in danger. Meanwhile, they have really good ideas about how to spend their government revenues on non-military purposes.

Would it make sense for these countries to go into a full and overt training mode, giving up the claim that their military is combat ready?

I'm thinking of countries such as Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa or Bulgaria.

How would this look like, assuming a country of small but noticeable size such as Belgium?

First, it would require some diplomacy. NATO members would tell their allies about fiscal troubles and a military in training mode without readiness until further notice.

Next, all procurement programs would need to be adjusted and the personnel system would need to be adjusted. The ability to expand the military into a ready and capable force of substantial size would become the mission within the constraints of the given (small) budget.

The air force could operate a squadron of old (so called "4th generation") combat aircraft until it receives the cheapest modern combat aircraft (Gripen?) as replacement for worn-out aircraft. The pilots would receive civilian, multinational and allied foreign training. It would make no sense to operate an own pilot training system at such a small scale.

The navy would probably have two multi-purpose frigates, two mine countermeasure boats and two conventional submarines. This should suffice to keep the personnel informed about modern naval tech and tactics. Major exercises would happen together with allied forces.

The army would probably keep a few battalions of heavy, light and para/mountain troops as well as a few artillery units. The overall size would probably amount to a small division. The forces could -if the country is allied- be under command of a bi-national army corps, in order to offer corps operations training to some officers.

The personnel system with its focus on the ability to expand would need to focus on intelligent, promising recruits as well as many shortly-trained reserve NCOs and reserve junior officers. The active forces would see many of the enlisted personnel slots occupied by soon-to-be reserve personnel of junior NCO ranks. The remaining enlisted personnel would basically be soon-to-be (reserve or active) NCOs. The skill in training personnel would be highly valued and fostered through training and education (in adult education).

The only missions outside of allied territories would be either observer missions with 2-4 personnel each or embassy emergency protection missions.

Equipment procurement would be oriented towards standard equipment that's suitable for intense training use (so for example no T-90 MBTs) and the operating costs should be low if possible (=low fuel consumption, low training ammunition prices, low spare parts prices).

The overall effect would be that modest savings could be coupled with the ability to expand to a considerable and effective force within few years. This might look unsatisfactory in the short term, but is likely superior in the long term. An underfunded and thus demoralised force that pretends to be combat-ready but is in reality hollowed-out would in my opinion be an inferior alternative use for taxpayer money.

S Ortmann


Salami slicing doesn't seem to work in Germany any more

The political reactions to the revelations about a small gang of murderous Neonazis* were as predictable as often times cynical.

It took only few days till the old gang of closet pro-police state folks resurfaced with their stereotypical call for more surveillance, more data collection, more law enforcement and intelligence powers.

The hip shot political proposals of the federal ministry of the interior mirrored this, but were apparently stopped cold by our liberal (anglophones read: "libertarian") minister of justice Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
This woman is really the only excuse of their party for being in the gubernative.

As usual, the pro-police state folks forgot to make a connection between their claims and real-world effects of their proposals. Too many of our domestic security laws never proved more than marginal effectiveness, and to propose even more of that kind was disingenuous.
The ministers of the interior and the so-called 'law and order' faction should rather pay attention to fight against bullshit in law enforcement. There's too much politics involved in police leadership. The highest of the three police career tracks is most often being dominated by party affiliations, not by meritocracy or -even better- a proper personnel selection based on potential for the job.

On top of that, I'm still waiting for news about people getting demoted for failing in the affair.

The good news is that the salami slice tactic of adding one police state element after another appears to have come to a halt. Maybe sometime in the near future we'll even have a minister of the interior who's got the ethics, humility and self-discipline to not jump on the pro-police state bandwagon on his first opportunity?

S Ortmann

*: They don't really fit the description of "terrorists", since they did not do any actual propaganda. They were rather a murder-robber gang living in the underground and enjoying an incredible series of law enforcement failures.

Direct democracy: You do it wrong




An ethical argument for a Schwerpunkt in warfare

Carl von Clausewitz developed the Schwerpunkt most likely under the impression of the twin battle of Jena and Auerstädt in 1806. If only the Prussian army had been able to unite its two main forces on one of the two locations, it could have defeated the French piecemeal instead of being defeated in parallel.

Carl von Clausewitz
His conclusion was the theoretical idea of a Schwerpunkt; focus on what counts, and draw as much strength away from lesser tasks as possible. You don't want to have the smaller battalions in a decisive battle.
The bigger battalions don't always win (empirical military history research yielded this counter-intuitive result), but they do so ceteris paribus (=if all else is equal).

To mass more troops for an important (THE important) battle is one way of how to acquire an unfair advantage prior to the decisive fight.

He called his concept "Schwerpunkt" based on a totally faulty understanding of Newtonian physics (he believed Schwerpunkt is where the most mass is concentrated), but he's not alone with confusion about terminology. The U.S. ground forces distorted Clausewitz' concept of a military Schwerpunkt beyond recognition.

Too much intro? Bad news, there's a second intro following:

Unlike some people's misguided beliefs, war does not mean that ethics can go overboard, hostile humans lives become worthless or that maximum destruction is an objective or at least desirable.

War means that you attempt to force your way to an acceptable outcome - and you do so with violence.
Violence that does not improve the outcome has no purpose. Such violence - death, mutilation and destruction - is as much unjustified as it would be during peacetime, applied to your own people. Some of this unjustified violence is unavoidable because you often cannot judge in advance its effects correctly, of course.

(Remark: The point of having military theory and doctrine is not just to reach a politically acceptable outcome in war; it's also about trying to keep the costs low!)

Good news; intros are over, now the real message:

Now what kind of violence in warfare is pushing for a desirable outcome and what's just dumb violence?
This is where the Schwerpunkt concept proves to be incredibly handy: Just apply it. Armies teaching and applying the original Schwerpunkt concept tend to end up with battle plans and decisions that have a Schwerpunkt (at most two; practical application is a bitch). Nothing that doesn't improve the odds of success at a Schwerpunkt is really improving the general outcome. A minor battle (let's say it's bloody to make it feel easier to follow the thought) - a bloody minor battle that doesn't influence the outcome at a Schwerpunkt is likely just unjustified violence.

An example (mentioned in an earlier post): Harassing fires are being despised by front-line troops rightly. Harassing fires rarely have important effects, but they make the whole mess even messier.

On the other hand; yours truly is a proponent of operational skirmishing. Wouldn't all such skirmishing be unjustified violence, far away from a Schwerpunkt?
Well, the Schwerpunkt concept evolved over time even in Germany. A Schwerpunkt does not need to be a small area on a map. It could even be a variable.
For example, a U.S. 8th Air Force bombing campaign Schwerpunkt during May 1944 and later was the destruction of German synthetic fuel production. They were not totally true to this (did many other attacks and spent much more resources than necessary), but for a while they kept their focus on it. The Schwerpunkt was no single battle location, but a critical economic activity.

Skirmishes could indeed be the Schwerpunkt themselves. Skirmishing would only be wasteful and unjustified violence if it's so poorly employed that it's got no operationally relevant effect.

One way how to improve the world is to make sure more officers understand that violence in itself does not necessarily serve a purpose (even if it entails no friendly casualties), that they can make wars less messy by judging the relevance of possible violent acts and to consider this as input in their decision-making.
Military history is quite rich with examples of bloody battles that were utterly unnecessary and politically irrelevant. Such tragedies are usually best-documented when they're most appalling, such as when they happen immediately before or even after cease-fires and peace treaties.
The useless Battle of New Orleans and useless bombing of Dresden were such examples.

Military theory is not exactly strong in regard to omitting possible violence. Doctrines are more focused on how to make violence effective on a tactical level. Peacetime doctrine is even weak on economising on supply expenditure and personnel exhaustion (through stress and sleep deprivation).
There's still a lot of work ahead.



Let's assume...

Let's assume the German public was interested in military reform.
Whom would it ask, who's an expert?

No "insiders" are trustworthy, for they have to be loyal to one party of any military reform debate, to the sitting minister of defence. A discussion with input only by them would be totally biased, thus you need to balance them at the very least with their untrustworthy counterparts from the other side.

We have almost no think tank culture, so we're being spared the experience of talking point propagandists from think tanks infesting our news.

As far as I can tell, the media tends to prefer retired generals (and only those who weren't 'fired') as experts in regard to military affairs. Its preference in regard to security policy is rather in favour of talking to foreign policy people.

- - - - -

Quite frankly, I don't like this preference for retired generals. It has a systematic bias towards institutional conservatism. This will serve us ill if we'll ever have a substantial public discussion about a military reform that's not merely about conscription and various numbers. Any public discussion for example about whether air mechanisation is (was) worth buying so many so expensive helicopters or just a fragile pipe dream would almost inevitable be tilted towards conservative views of old men.

The problem is of course to get a public discussion going about such topics in the first place. It's simply not happening, while some fiscally comparable civilian projects were be a national discussion for years (think: Transrapid maglev train) - and the average Joe was just as poorly prepared to form an opinion about them as about military matters.

Yet, we should get it right if we ever manage to discuss such topics and have some actual democratic oversight of our forces with a very general participation.

Back to the old men.
Let's think of two men; one 'reformer' (pro-innovation) and one 'conservative' (contra-innovation).
The 'reformer' will be enthusiastic about a novelty in his 20's and 30's, work son getting his ideas recognised in his 30's and 40's and will either fail (and not become a general) or succeed (see his ideas in action and probably become a general).
Even IF the reformer makes it to general, he'll be in his 50's or 60's when interviewed by the media as expert. By that time the novel idea will be already be 20-40 years old and it would be the new status quo.
In other words; by the time of the interview even the reformer would be a conservative (and at most understand the drive of young officers for innovation), just like the other guy who was conservative all the way.

Eurocopter Tiger, source: "Stahlkocher" (Wikipedia)
Maybe the media needs to find other sources (maybe foreign experts who don't need to be loyal to any German institution or politician? Maybe more active service officers should write books? Maybe we need a journal about military topics that's not a PR front for ministry and industry nor a wanking stimulator for mil fanbois?) if it ever wants to inform the public well about a military reform.

That would of course first require some attention and even interest.
Luftmechanisierung / air mechanisation was a major German army experiment that was never publicly scrutinised (it was in my opinion rather a stupid excuse for 80's procurement plans during the 90's and dropped in all its ambitious parts once the funds were secured). There may have been a damage of several billion Euros due to our inability to scrutinise such military projects publicly.



A minor border incident

The Islamic Republic of Iran appears unimpressed by U.S. complaints about a minor incident at the U.S.-Mexican border. 25 U.S. soldiers were reportedly killed and 14 more wounded when Iranian attack helicopters opened fire on U.S. soldiers in a Texan border village a few days ago.

The Iranians have helped the Mexican government to suppress the rising drug cartels in a decade-long civil war. There are repeatedly complaints about how little the U.S. does about its huge pool of drug abusers who create the world's greatest demand for drugs and pull Mexico deeper and deeper into drug crime-driven chaos.

U.S. officials complain that the attack on the border post was unprovoked and dozens of other U.S. troops have supposedly already been killed by such attacks since summer, but the media in Iran and the entire Muslim world dismiss this as typical propaganda claim of a government that isn't trustworthy due to its tolerance of drug demand and the overt corruption of its political elite.

Iranian representatives declare that they will investigate the incident.
A report is expected to be finished once nobody cares any more.

edit: Astonishingly, I appear to need to point out satire when I use it even when I think it's totally obvious.

edit2:  Apparently the 'opposite' to this satire isn't big in the news in all Western countries. Now who would have guessed that? It may explain some of the comments (which I blocked because the writers might feel embarrassed.)


The CFE treaty seems to collapse


That's one more nail in the coffin. An end for the CFE would probably mean the end for non-standard treaty-dodging weapons such as 98 mm mortars. More importantly, it would remove a Rubicon between now and arms racing time.

The latter is of heightened interest because the Russians announced (again) a major re-building of their conventional ground forces during the 2010's.
The blog of choice for keeping an eye on their efforts is in my opinion Russian Military Reform.

S Ortmann


On German sovereignty and the fiscal crisis in Europe

Having regained sovereignty and full liberty only in 1990, many Germans insist especially on German sovereignty. I can't offer a poll, but it's obvious that we have a background that nourishes such an insistence more than average.
This is relevant in regard to the current fiscal crisis in Europe.


This article covers one or two perspectives for how to look at the current crisis; extraordinary times lead to extraordinary challenges to national sovereignty.

Are the collapsing governments collapsing because of inappropriate foreign pressure?

Does the German government (of which I'm no fan, btw) impose some kind of German rule on Europe?

On the first question I'd say yes, there's inappropriate outside influence, but in the end this is about representative democracy. Many countries do not elect their head of government directly, but through parliament. Parliament has a mandate for legislation and picking a head of government for a set period (such as four years, for example). It's perfectly constitutional and working as intended if these members of parliament pick a new and unexpected head of government during that period. They're supposed to, unlike many commentators imply.
It's not what we're used to, but it's perfectly within the bounds of representative democracy. Don't blame outside pressure - blame their constitutions. Then again, it's their job to be bothered about their constitution, not a foreigner's.
So yes, foreign pressure had influence and demands were inappropriate, but the countries are still working as intended in regard to selecting their cabinets.

- - - - -

Now about the German influence. Germany says no to several actions (such as ECB lending money directly to states or a step towards a transfer union) that were agreed not to happen in treaties years ago. These parts of those treaties were in German interest and were part of the trade-off that led us to sign and ratify them. Plus; they're important to us.

The other countries want to get rid of those rules without doing the legally obvious thing; leaving the treaty (and lose THEIR trade-off benefits) themselves. Instead, they want us to forfeit our advantage (and important monetary policy standards) and accept a violation of legally binding treaties. They want our government to ignore legal norms, to accept our membership in a treaty that's being executed differently than legitimated by German democracy (signed and ratified) for Germany.

In the end, they want us to forfeit our sovereignty in favour of their advantage. After all, the supposed German dominance that now exists over Europe is nothing but the insistence on adherence to treaties that were signed and ratified by all Euro zone countries.

I cannot spot a German threat to the sovereignty of other European countries or a German plot to rob others of their benefits, but I pretty much laid out how their striving for a violation of treaties demands us to become subject to a treaty interpretation that we never agreed to. It's an assault on German sovereignty!

Keep in mind; the European countries that dislike the German insistence on the treaties as written on paper are free to exercise their sovereignty and cancel their membership in any treaty any time. They should blame their negotiators, not the German government that pursues German interests - as is our right since we regained sovereignty.
It's astonishing that this can already be interpreted as a threat to others' sovereignty.


P.S.: Short version:
"They" want Germany to be subject to an agreement that it never agreed to, nor would have agreed to.
"Germany" wants "them" to be subject to an agreement they actually agreed to (until they exercise their right to quit it entirely).


Recalls for peace?

Quick thought:

The U.S. Americans are practising a thing called "recall". Recently, a couple state senators were replaced by special elections that were triggered by petitions (that met a certain quantity requirement).

This made me think about something.

How about an automatic triggering of a special (potential recall) election for all federal politicians who supported military action without obvious self-defence character (= repelling an invading army, defending in air war or breaking a naval blockade) or unambiguously worded UNSC approval?

They wouldn't have to fear much if they have much popular support (= almost a necessity for successful modern warfare), after all!

S Ortmann


Sniping: History and theory

Snipers (the real ones, not the occasional rifleman whose position is unknown) have become a fashion during the last about 15 years.
It began in my opinion during the SFOR mission where snipers were wanted for counter-sniping and for giving junior leaders on the ground some 'surgical' weapon that would be practical against a target in between civilians.

New sniper rifles were developed and bought, sniper training was reformed - all measures that responded to the perceived need and were easily squeezed into the budgets.
Civilians with interest in some military things turned into sniper fanbois and there was almost some sniper cult again. The accurate long-range sniping proved to be especially fascinating, and long-range records claimed in Afghanistan with anti-tank  heavy sniper "anti-material" rifles caught a lot of attention.

I'm still not sure that the role of a sniper in the grand scheme of land warfare is understood, thus this text (about my opinion on it):

- - - - -

First of all let's remember the roots and history of sniping:

Back in the 17th century it was largely about sitting in wait during a siege until an aimed shot of sufficient promise could be fired at either the besieger or the besieged. Even earlier than the 17th century this was regularly done with heavy crossbows, often as means of killing time for terribly bored aristocrats up to kings.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, sniping had its importance in taking out enemy officers. Many 18 century European armies had light infantry units with rifles (muskets were the common infantry weapon).
There was even an age of rifles from the 1850s to the 1880s when blackpowder rifles were practical and often out-ranging the artillery of their time. Artillery personnel became thus badly endangered by sniping. Magnifying scopes were introduced for sniping afaik during the 1860's.

U.S. Civil War sniper
Up till the turn from 19th to 20th century, long range accurate rifle fire was simply not decisive in battles. 

This changed with smokeless powder around 1890; smokeless powder made machineguns practical, gave rapid long-range fire more practical value (and made salvoes less necessary), and it enabled accurate long-range rifle fire. The key was the improved muzzle velocity (about +50%).

The first real test became the Boer Wars, fought on suitably open land. The British were thoroughly embarrassed by the accurate long-range fire of the Boers (to be fair, they were embarrassed by their poor marksmanship training more than once during the 19th century). Even as of today it's easy to find references to great Boer marksmanship - but a statistical look at the duration of firefights, rounds expended and casualties does not support them. The Boers did rather suck less in marksmanship than the British, and were at times in superior positions.

The result was an emphasis on long-range and quick rifle fire during the 1900's, and pointed "spitzer" bullets were introduced to make better use of the smokeless powder's capabilities.

The First World War did not experience much long-range rifle fire, but it's the birthday of modern sniping. Snipers were commonly shooting at few hundred metres distance (still preferring scopes because very often their targets were tiny slits or trench scopes). Suddenly, camouflage, concealment and deception became most important. The ability to hit at very long range was almost irrelevant.
There's more to sniping in WW1: Snipers were almost universally 'disliked' by regular infantry, on both sides. They were only welcome when they arrived to take on a harassing enemy sniper. Sniping at regular infantry was despised, for it regularly provoked revenge in form of artillery and sniping. The regular infantry suffered from sniping and revenge against snipers. Their stance may sound somewhat selfish, but I think it has a lot of merit. Harassing actions rarely serve a good purpose.

First World War sniper
Sniping fell into de facto disuse in several armies during the Interwar Years, the Germany army went to war in 1939 without a proper sniping scope. Some German thought on what's nowadays known as designated marksman or squad sharpshooter didn't yield much more than a poorly designed rifle scope for DMs that became the best scope available for actual snipers.
Eventually, sniping in WW2 turned out to be rather similar to sniping in the First World War (but less trench-specific). Shots that required high-powered scopes were rare and some snipers did much without any scope.

Post-WW2 sniping looked usually quite the same; very long range shots were rare, camouflage was very important. The Germans again allowed snipers to almost fall into disuse because of the dominant 'quick armor clash' WW3 scenarios. Again, it only issued some scopes for normal service rifles, this time at least a mediocre 4x scope.

Now about the theory (actually, my generalising conclusions)

(1) Sniper fire should be held back as a deterrence when both sides have strong sniping capabilities.

(2) The only time when sniper fire is a really great asset is when the enemy cannot retaliate against their use effectively or during combat involving regular infantry fires.

(3) Moreover, nowadays the ability of snipers to see without being seen is much more valuable than their marksmanship.

First about the deterrence thing: Mere harassment is useless unless it serves a real purpose. It merely makes warfare more messy without a real purpose, and that's simply not desirable.

Second the lopsided case; an enemy who cannot retaliate much against sniping will quite inevitably learn that there's little reason to hold said snipers back. This is when they really rack up successes. Keep this in mind when you allow Afghanistan reports to influence your appraisal of the relevance of snipers.

Finally about fieldcraft: The first compact radios were introduced during WW2, and by the 60's really compact radios with decent range were commonplace in modern armies. This enabled snipers to become forward observers. The firepower of mortars and artillery is obviously totally superior to the firepower of a rifle or two. Calling for fire support entails some risk of having your radio transmission triangulated, but you don't need to give away your presence with a shot. I don't even think of muzzle flash and bang, but of the fact that a rifle shot usually comes from within a kilometre, while indirect fire may be based on spotting from much longer distances. Sniping thus provokes a greater (more dangerous) effort for spotting the sniper than do indirect fires.

Snipers with their extreme fieldcraft (camouflage, concealment, deception, movement techniques, choice and preparation of positions) are furthermore important for the improvement of regular infantry. This mirrors somewhat the importance of light infantry heritages for improving regular infantry during the First World War. The "see without being seen" thing should become commonplace in Western infantry (I don't mind it at all if non-Western infantry doesn't do it!).

The attention gained by long-range shots fired by snipers is in stark contrast to their relevance in great wars and in even bigger contrast to their real importance. Serious people should not pay much attention to long-range shots, but instead consider snipers as deterrents and forward observers, probably most important as fieldcraft benchmarks for our regular infantry.


P.S.: A WW2 video on a German wartime sniper course, meant to familiarise regular troops with snipers and their skills. It might work on interested blog readers, too.



On national defence

I've recently stumbled on the topic of relative military spending and force sizes in NATO again. The childish "free ride" talking point aside, there's in my opinion simply no good reason for increases in military spending in Europe. We could make our forces fitter with the current budgets - and even fitter with a smaller budget.
These forces would still suffice - just as they do today.

Look, NATO was meant as a collective defence bulwark against the Kremlin-guided forces. Germany promised and raised 12 divisions to guard the Central European frontier of the alliance (total strength there was 26 divisions).
For a very short period after re-unification we had about 14 divisions. Now it's much less (and has admittedly too much overhead). Does this mean we're bad at defence? Hardly.

There's no huge Kremlin-controlled army any more, after all. The 'threats' of today were not or would not have been taken seriously enough to be mentioned as 'threats' during the 80's.

The Arab forces deteriorated much and are still largely on the other side of the Mediterranean, without noticeable naval capability. They're not exactly hostile to Europe anyway.

Iran is on the far end of Eurasian NATO member Turkey and its parade/museum/stunt forces look weak in comparison to Turkey's power. Iran is also on quite OK diplomatic footing with Turkey.

The Caucasus countries can raise armies that are barely comparable to a European NATO heavy division in strength. Again, no hostility to us there.

The Ukraine has retained a tiny fraction of the former red hordes, but the equipment is largely rusting and rotting, decades old and on top of that they're -you guess it already- friendly to the EU.

Finally the forces left under Kremlin control, the Russian army. They're a plausible threat to the Baltic EU and NATO members; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Only Estonia seems to have noticeable diplomatic troubles with Russia from time to time. Now, do European militar forces suffice to defend the Baltic?
First of all, they would come late. The Baltic Sea happens to freeze at times and block some ports, airports can be turned into concrete versions of Swiss cheese and the land connection with the Baltic is basically one road. So even the glorious 1991 14-division army could not intervene there in time.
The Russian army is on the other hand so much neglected, rusting and rotting that by comparison the EU military budgets were lavish and EU military forces well-trained, well-equipped.

Is the U.S. approach of throwing near-endless amounts of money into the armed forces a better security guarantee for the Baltics? I doubt it, for Washington DC is thoroughly disinterested in the region for any other purpose than using it as a pool for auxiliary forces, a source for UN assembly votes and a region of potential proxies for the sabotage of EU consensus-requiring decisions.

The question is not whether (continental) Europeans could fight their way out of a symbolic wet paper bag. They question is whether they could if there was one at all. Right now, there's nothing.
The forces of NATO's EU member states could defeat all neighbouring non-allied countries simultaneously in a conventional war and two of them could basically nuke every country to 'some other period', including the U.S..

What we're lacking is not the capability to defend ourselves, it's the capability to launch punitive strikes and expeditions in U.S. fashion. We do so because our defence would happen at home, there was no ocean between us and the Cold War front line. We never needed aerial tankers for trans-ocean fighter deployments, we never needed a high seas navy to reach our enemies, much less did we ever need aircraft carriers for national defence. Our fighters can basically sortie from paved roads - how would big expensive aircraft carriers and their can of worms of expensive escort ships and logistical support help our defence?
This is, btw, one of the reasons for why we get much more combat power for the buck than the U.S. does. We simply don't need so much long-range logistical support and we don't do expensive forward deployment much.

- - - - -

The real problem in regard to military readiness isn't one of current budgets. Budgets are superficialities.

The real readiness challenge is to be ready for worse times. NOT with a fully built-up force with high costs of maintenance and reinvestment, but with, well, readiness.

We need readiness

(1) to recognize a military power build-up in the periphery (China's army is irrelevant to Europeans)

(2) to have the political will to build-up ourselves with a minimal political lag

(3) to have the economic and fiscal health to sustain such an arms race if necessary (or else it won't impress anyone)

(4) to have the economic capability and diplomatic relations for the timely procurement of good equipment for the forces

(5) to have decent equipment designs on hand, suitable for a conventional great war (not the same as MRAPs and assassination drones!)

(6) in our industry to actually produce the equipment; heavy industries, automotive, aerospace, chemical, electronics, shipbuilding, machine building industry

(7) in our officer and senior NCO corps; the readiness for a personnel expansion without terrible loss of competence.

Let's face it; the U.S. and UK approaches are great for bullying developing countries in distant places and it's great for certain domestic special interests, but it sucks in regard to some of these points.
The U.S. shipbuilding industry is a laughing stock, especially if you subtract the Great Lakes shipyards. U.S. and UK equipment is frequently gold-plated (big ticket items) or inferior due to internal politics (everyday items such as small arms). The fiscal and economic health is 'questionable'.

I wish for defence policy discussions that discuss these readiness challenges. 
Budget discussions are for special interest lobbyists, run-of-the-mill journalists and people who prefer to not look beneath the surface.



Everything about Iran has to be bad, apparently

Western intelligence has known it for years"

The military blogosphere -if blogs picked the story up at all - was not pleased. So far the only reactions I found considered the "news" to be horrible (if true).

Now think again. What would it mean if Iran has had operational nukes for years?

It would mean that they didn't even bother to use them for the purpose of deterrence, much less actually use them or even give them to terrorists: All the horror scenarios about Iran's behaviour as nuclear power would have been obliterated by recent history.

Yet, many people are so much conditioned to think that everything about Iran is bad that they don't really seem to think any more.

S Ortmann


Interesting German newspaper commentary on the Greek referendum

There's an article about how suddenly the democratic idea of the nation's (= the people's) sovereignty is being forgotten when a referendum (in this case the Greek one on the debt deal) might not yield the desired outcome.

Im Minutentakt las man gestern, wie Banker und Politiker drohten und drohen, die Börsen brachen ein. Die Botschaft war eindeutig: Die Griechen müssten dumm sein, wenn sie ja sagten. Und Papandreou ein Hasardeur, weil er sie fragte. Doch ehe die Panik-Spirale des Schreckens sich weiter und weiter dreht, ist es gut, einen Schritt zurückzutreten, um klar zu sehen, was sich hier vor unser aller Augen abspielt. Es ist das Schauspiel einer Degeneration jener Werte und Überzeugungen, die einst in der Idee Europas verkörpert schienen.

I've seen similar comments in other contexts as well; especially when there were referendums about joining the Euro or about joining the Lisbon treaty.

My impression is again and again that a ruling oligarchy of professional politicians and top corporate figures perceives democracy ever more as a deception of the masses away from the oligarch's power, not as the only legitimation of governance.

This works even in micro scale, as for example in the half-humorous affair about the "Bud Spencer Tunnel".

The only good referendum is a referendum that agrees with the powers that be.

S Ortmann

P.S.: This is not meant as a conspiracy theory text, but as an observation about a creeping slide away from living democracy towards democracy as a facade. One could come to much, much more extreme views on how this country really works.


Confused by German palestine policy


We practically went to war in 1999 to support the Kosovars against the supposedly ethnically cleansing Serbs, guarded Kosovo, recognised Kosovo, subsidised the genesis of a Palestinian state through the EU for years - and now we're voting against Palestine's membership in UNESCO even though our government should have known in advance that this application would succeed?

This sounds devoid of principles to me, to say the least.

By the way; congrats to the Palestinians.

S Ortmann


On the Central Quest of Military Art and Theory:

The pursuit of the decisive, "unfair" (net) advantage over the enemy.

Many recipes have been developed over time for the accumulation of such an advantage. Clausewitz developed the military Schwerpunkt, Erfurth wrote a book about surprise, v.Schlieffen became fixated on encirclement battles and especially Cannae, ancient writers such as Vegetius already wrote about training, strategems and rules of thumb (Master Tzu).
It's been also a classic approach to overpower an enemy with superior numbers. This took in modern times the shape of overpowering the enemy with superior military budgets during peacetime and superior industrial output during wartime.
The modern approach is typically a combination of almost all known ones, epitomised in doctrine manuals and organised training.

The central theme in almost all of these ways is to seek victory/success before (or even without) a fight. You strive for being the almost safe winner of a battle before you go to battle. All else would be negligent.

This is where the previous post kicks in; it's important to draw a strong line between small contacts with the enemy and the big battles.

The focus is usually on the big battle; popular military history is especially fixated on battles.

That is disconcerting, especially in regard to military theory development, for battles should be among the least interesting episodes of a skilful campaign. Battles should be pretty much decided prior to their initiation. The real challenge is ahead of a battle.

By the time a battle would be accepted, the enemy should be so much disadvantaged that he better withdraws and accepts a pursuit (a common occurrence in turning movements and 18th century army-manoeuvring campaigns). The withdrawal and pursuit -albeit no easy thing for either party- were in many historical wars the really big affairs. The losses of an army after its ranks were broken were usually much bigger than during battle itself. There were exceptions (such as Greek inter-Polis warfare, Pacific Island battles, 1st World War), of course.

The only thing that's better than to pursue an enemy without needing to break his force in battle first is to encircle him. Thus the aforementioned Cannae fixation of German military during the 2nd and 3rd Reiche.

The focus should be -today as ever - on the accumulation of a decisive net advantage. Later on, this advantage has to be realised.

This is a bit analogue to seeing the value of your stocks rising; you also need to sell them at some point in order to cash in. Stocks rising in itself is of no value.

The accumulation of a decisive net advantage may happen through diplomacy, force building, reconnaissance, ruses, skirmishing, positioning and many other known components of military art and theory.
The realisation (exploitation) of the advantage require battle, pursuit or -best of all- peace negotiations. A political move will be the ultimate realisation of the accumulated net advantage, of course.
Yes, I'm that much a Clausewitzian.

Some readers may be tempted to think that all this is trivial; it isn't. It's helpful to look at war this way.

For example, activity that in itself has a poor record (such as reconnaissance with high attrition) can be fine, even necessary. This is part of the reason why a truly attritionist mindset is very problematic. Such a mindset would usually label such activity as wrong.

So basically this post addresses the decades-old anglophone debate between 'maneuver'-oriented and 'attrition'-oriented schools of military theory. That distinction is simply not as helpful as the distinction between "accumulating a net advantage" and "realising the net advantage". This addresses only those people who aren't overburdened by 4-word titles instead of 1-word ones, of course.

Just in case of doubt; my two concepts are of course not phases with a discrete succession. They do overlap each other. They're constructs to help a more clear and more purpose-focused thinking about military art and theory.

S Ortmann

P.S.: I'd be proud if I could say that I developed this clarity of thought (which I think it is) before skirmish and scouting tactics caught my major interest. Sadly, it was the other, not-so-methodological, way around. First I formulated my skirmish theory (largely unpublished), then I formulated this text in support of it.


What is a "battle" - what is not?

(This post is a preparation for the following one.)

The English word "battle" is nowadays more ambiguous than the German word "Schlacht". It's also in a much more inflationary use.
I found it useful to not call fights of all kinds and all scopes "battle". Such an ambiguous use of the word clouds the view for what's important (in the next post).

It's about as annoying to me as the typical description of a lone AK shooter as "sniper" just because he didn't shoot at stone-throwing range and his position is unclear.

Die Alexanderschlacht; oil painting of Albrecht Altdorfer, 1529
For example, it would be a mis-use of the word "Schlacht" to call an assault on a platoon-sized outpost a "Schlacht". That word is reserved for much bigger fights; as a rule of thumb I wouldn't call anything smaller than a division on division engagement a "Schlacht". Meanwhile, it seems to be common practice to call almost ever fire-fight "battle" nowadays - as well as many entirely non-military actions that don't even necessarily include opposing parties.
I've been told that this inflationary use of the word "battle" only began by the time of the Vietnam War.

As a contrast, even many corps vs. corps contacts of WW2 weren't even mentioned in daily reports of the German supreme command, much less named as "battles" with their name. I got to admit that Germans coined a dedicated word for the really, really big world war battles in order to differentiate them from more normal battles; "Großkampf" (great fight).

A platoon vs. battalion-sized engagement would be - especially in a great war context- nothing bigger than a reconnaissance (if the platoon is moving) or a practice assault for a green battalion.
The attention on small wars during the last years has done us a disservice and clouded our mind. It helps to have a clear linguistic differentiation between a real battle and a small contact between hostile parties that merely gets equal attention as a battle would (for lack of a real battle).

I cannot redefine a language that changed over time, but I wanted to point out that it's important to keep the difference between a small exchange of fire and a real battle in mind. Clarity of language is important for clarity of thought.

S Ortmann

P.S.: The German word "Schlacht" (battle) is a close relative of "schlachten" (slaughtering).


Website recommendation: "Napoleon, His Army and Enemies"

I can heartily recommend this great website, for it's a huge and great and just splendid website about the major European armies of the Age of Napoleon.

The "Strategy and Tactic" section is outstanding!

S Ortmann


An article about artillery

Typical articles about artillery in professional journals look like

Artillery [blah] 21st century [blah] transformation [blah] lethality [blah] network [blah] leap ahead [blah] revolutionary [blah] effects [blah] efficiency [blah] joint [blah] system of systems [blah] excellence !

I stopped reading such articles years ago.

Their illustrations are often neat, but the content of truth or even actual information is 'moderate'. Moreover, often it's important what's not being written (for example that the shiny new gun is already out-ranged by foreign substitutes or that the bureaucracy plans to buy only a small supply of the new ammunition). Ongoing programs are usually being hyped - up to the day when they're being cancelled. Afterwards there's perfect silence about them and whatever is the next move of the bureaucracy is going to be hyped as super-wise.

In short: Most professional journal articles about artillery (or most other military topics) are pretty much an insult to the reader's intelligence.

Luckily, this blog is not professional journal, so I can dare to write an article about artillery without being ashamed.

Earlier blog posts about artillery looked at hardware examples, sub-sets or specific conditions for effectiveness or other specifics:

2011-09: A "15 years too late" analysis on precision munitions and survivability
2011-08: The underrated genius gun
2011-01: A German artillery fire control computer in '45?
2010-08: "Who Says Dumb Artillery Rounds Can’t Kill Armor?"
2010-04: A little bit German artillery and anti-tank defence history
2009-11: The future of multiple rocket launchers
2009-09: On defensive firepower and much else...
2009-05: DM 121 purchase / modern artillery
2009-04: C-RAM
2008-11: Cluster munitions ban
2008-07: Mortars and howitzers

This time I'll try to write about the grand picture, of all artillery since the 20th century. It will also be somewhat applicable to other indirect fire arms (such as mortars).

The purpose of the artillery is to influence a land campaign advantageously by achieving effects through fires (and the threat thereof). These effects were exclusively destructive / lethal / repulsing a long time ago, but jobs such as illumination, smoke screening, disruption, radio jamming were added during the 20th century.

The effects are the centre of attention (or should be), for they are the justification for the effort.

Old photos about arty can be interesting, too...

It's thus interesting to create a list of what influences artillery effectiveness (in a somewhat abstract way). This is the area where public discussions of artillery are especially narrowed-down and dumbed-down. My attempt to create such a list follows:

Artillery hardware-dominated factors

(1) Ammunition quantity (including the availability of ammunition to the firing unit, not just in national depots!)

(2) Ammunition quality (type and quality of warhead/cargo, quantity of sub-munitions, including fuse type)

(3) Duration of munition flight (relevant against moving targets)

(4) Angle of descent (important for unitary fragmentation munitions and in hilly/mountainous terrain)

(5) Reliability of guidance / trajectory correction and fusing (inclusive ECCM)

(6) Vulnerability of ammunition to hard kill countermeasures (C-RAM)

(7) Fuse setting in use (timed, proximity, super quick, quick, delay, mine fuse?).

(8) Quality of ammunition storage (especially for certain white phosphorous rounds) and ammunition age / shelf life.

(9) Fires observability (radar cross section or smoke trail of munition in flight, flash, noise, smoke, trajectory height, manoeuvring munition?) 

(10) Resistance of artillery to non-fires influences (EMP, deep sub-zero temperatures, moisture, heat)

(11) Dispersion of impacts (usually an elliptical pattern, not a simple circle - thus a difference between longitudinal and lateral dispersion)

Other artillery factors

(12) Reliability of artillery personnel (morale, accidents and errors, willingness to fire when civilians are present)

(13) Close security (360°) concerns

(14) Survivability of artillery against dedicated anti-arty measures (camouflage, concealment, deception, hardening, redundancy, mobility, tactics)

(15) Readiness of artillery (On the march? Shoot and scoot? Double crews? In range? Fuelled? Supply times? In need of repairs? Suitable trajectory when mountains are present? Suitable direction (in light of different safety distance requirements for longitudinal and lateral dispersion)? Artillery in a self-defence fight? Authorised/actual strength?)

(16) Accuracy of impacts (or of projected impacts if rounds become effective prior to impact; correct calculation with correct input variables including ammunition characteristics, barrel wear, temperature, altitudes, coordinates, meteorological date and more)

Communication and command

(17) Delay (lag) between arrival of request/command and fires (calculation, checks, deconfliction, loading, aiming weapons, communication between calculating and firing small unit)
(18) Resource allocation (Centralised decision-making? Schwerpunkt?)

(19) Reliability of communication (line of sight, range, clarity, inter-lingua, ECCM)

(20) Delay (lag)  of communication (speed of transmission, queuing of messages, procedures)

(21) Timing of fires requests / commands (tactical timing, not = lag!)

Related to observation of the enemy

(22) Accuracy of observation (own and relative position)

(23) Reliability of observation (IFF, recognition of decoys, night and bad weather performance)

(24) Lag of observation (non-digital aerial reconnaissance, acoustic sensors)

Target (area)-related factors

(25) Susceptibility to soft-kill countermeasure reactions (timely warning, taking cover or evading, deploying smoke/chaff/dazzler/decoys against target-seeking munitions)

(26) Surprise factor

(27) Surface quality (Deep snow? High trees?)

and a big one:

(28) Nature of the target (dispersion, cover, hardening, morale, proximity to "blue" troops, size, movement, importance, vulnerability to secondary effects such as secondary fires or explosions, ability to make identification more difficult, exploitation of red cross or protected sites etc)

I suspect the primary utility of such mil porn pictures is to keep readers motivated.

Having thought about this for a while, I'd like to make three comments and leave all else to the reader and later blog posts:

(a) The challenges are much greater and much more diverse than the mere shopping of some fancy precision munitions or new guns. I hope none of my readers will be ever tricked by marketing hype about a supposed silver bullet (again)!

(b) The actual effect is much, much smaller than the potential effect because no force comes close to mastering the first 24 points. An incomplete understanding of these influences leads to a wrong estimation of artillery's actual effectiveness and the relative importance of specific influence factors.

(c) Wouldn't it be great if sometime in the near future we'd be able to read an article about artillery in a professional journal in which the officer-author writes about the artillery of his army and uses a list such as this one as a check list, commenting on every point briefly? I mean, instead of a buzzword mash-up?


P.S.: Word count for buzzwords: 4 x "effects" and once "tactical" (in some contexts that would be a buzzword) in my 'article'. All uses seem justified to me, for they're being applied with the original meaning.

I do sometimes ask others to preview and comment/correct my texts. This time I'm thankful for preview comments by the SWC members "Xenophon" and "GMLRS".