About staff quickness: This should settle the issue for good and all

Again and again I am flabbergasted that staff officers (who are used to NATO staffs) consider staff procedure speeds fine that I consider to be pretty much suicidal.

I assume that this post will settle this issue once and for all at least for my private communications. From now on I will simply give the link to this when someone has suicidal ideas about proper staff speeds.

- - - - -

Back in 1940, on May 13, there was a battle that basically meant the destruction of the French army and the (temporary) loss of French sovereignty was ensured.
I have no doubt that emulating the French in this battle is unacceptable to EVERYONE, and thus should make the modern staff craziness obvious.

The action - crossing the Meuse river at Sedan after a few days of surprise advance through the Belgian Ardennes - was planned in detail as early as March, and rehearsed in a wargame on May 1st. The plan worked reasonably to spectacularly (reasonable in details, spectacular in effect) and was executed very close to original planning.
Yes, planning well in advance has at times benefits. That's what enticed NATO armies to create huge and ponderous staffs, after all. Hint: The French had planned much and wargamed themselves as well. The planning was done while there was no mobile warfare happening.

The surprise river crossing began with major air attacks.

1200: Major air attacks give away the site for the river crossing
1600: Infantry crosses the river.
2240: Dominating heights 8 km behind the crossing site taken by German infantry.

Now the French side:
1600: French General Grandsard (Corps commander) orders the corps reserves forward.
1730: Order arrives (apparently by motorcycle courier) at infantry regiment 213.
1800: Order arrives at Armour battalion 7.
1830: Infantry regiment 213 commander LtCol Labarthe orders to commence the march at 2000 (happens with delay).
2000: French division commander General Lafontaine orders counterattack after some confusion
2130:  Armour battalion 7 begins its march.
0730: Begin of counter-attack

(The French side had a corps staff delay of 0-4 hrs depending on where to start the count, and a division staff delay of up to 4 hours. The total delay from revealing the location of the attack and counteratttack was 19.5 hrs.)

Now again the German side:
The German top officer on the scene of the counterattack, LtGen Kirchner, took ten (10 !) minutes to think up and issue orders for the German reaction to the counterattack.

Keep in mind: Most of the German Sedan attack was an infantry attack with foot mobility. The first German tanks crossed the Meuse on 0720 on the 14th. These tanks still won the speed competition against the French tanks which began their counterattack apparently at 0730 and had a shorter route to the critical point.

This is the battle that laid the foundation for the notion that the French lost the campaign of 1940 decisively within days because their command system was too slow to cope with the German command system's agility.

Yes, they were slow - in relation to the Germans of May 1940.

On the other hand, the French were extremely fast - in another relation.
Under some in-NATO national doctrines, staff procedures wouldn't have allowed for a counterattack order within four hours. Instead, staff procedures would have required a multi-layer process with info collection, processing, meetings, deliberations ...

Sure, a modern senior officer on the scene could (IF he was on the scene) issue reaction orders in ten minutes as well. 

The problem is that this is not what doctrine and training emphasize.
Western forces train for slowness (a.k.a. thoroughness) more than for quickness.
- - - - -

Another problem for the '12 hrs staff procedures are quick enough' school of thought:

An attack of part of the 7th Panzerdivision (Rommel) began on 16th May at 1800.
1800 Attack begins.
2400 30 km advance already, French 5th motorised Division is being overrun in its resting area along a road and is being obliterated by parts of the 7. PD.
0600 7. PD forces cross the river Sambre.
0630 Regiment-equivalent advance guard reaches Le Cateau at 50 km depth.

That's about 12 hours. By now the '12 hrs  staff procedures are quick enough' school would have prepared an order to react to the initial beginning of the attack.

Keep in mind that the tanks of this time reached only up to 40 km/h and were unable to shoot on the move accurately. Today's mounted combat and attacks can be much, much quicker.

- - - - -

Well, if ANYBODY does EVER again attempt to convince me for example that a 12 hrs planning cycle (or even something with up to 48 hrs !) is fine ... I'll simply tell him to read this.
Maybe I'll also tell him to forget everything he ever learned about staff procedures.


Military history offers  an incredible quantity of examples that smash slow staff proponents. I was lazy and took both examples and their details from Frieser's book.

edit: Another broad hint - the 2005 study "Trading the Saber for Stealth [...]" (I mentioned this nice study earlier) says:

For example, during the typical "high-intensity" rotation at the NTC, battalion and brigade commanders are required to solve a new tactical problem approximately every 48 hours. During the offensive maneuver portion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, commanders found themselves dealing with new and complex tactical problems on the order of every eight to 12 hours.


A hypothesis (model) for the superior national security of a neutral country

Imagine six even countries. Two pairs have formed alliances, and these alliances might go to war with each other sometime in the future.

A fifth country is situated geographically in between both alliances and is being invited into both.

It could join either alliance, but the sixth country (which is a bit distant) might consider this a threat. It wouldn't tolerate an imbalance of power, for this would sooner or later lead to the triumph of the superior alliance over the inferior one - and hegemony would follow. Somehow country #6 doesn't think that's a good scenario.

Thus if country #5 enters an alliance, it would soon turn into a 3 vs 3 alliance situation and the next war would be a great, terrible one.

Now if it instead stays neutral and just tells everyone it'll defend itself and ask the non-aggressor alliance for help in the event of an aggression - wouldn't that deter aggression? An aggression would tilt the balance of power against the aggression. That's not encouraging ... for warmongers.

Let's call this the 1900 scenario.

Now let's think about another scenario.

Two huge blocks face each other, and even a small misunderstanding or border firefight could lead to a great war. This time there's no balance of power-obsessed 6th country; it's all about the 5th country. It could tilt the balance of power by joining a bloc, but it could not prevent a spark in the powder keg.

Wouldn't it be safer for everyone - especially the country #5 in between both blocs - if country #5 remains neutral and just defends itself? It could still call the non-aggressor bloc for help in the event of an aggression - and thus throw its weight systematically against aggression - whatever side it originates from.

Let's call this the 1950's scenario.

- - - - -

Both models together form a simple hypothesis*; a tiny building block for a full understanding about how to pursue national security.
The scenarios appear to be plausible to me (not that surprising, after all I authored them). I doubt that there's a decisive logical flaw in them.

These scenarios suggest that neutrality can actually enhance national security and even reduce the probability of war in the region. Neutral countries may be able to influence the balance of power more effectively with their neutrality than they could by joining an alliance.

All this is certainly not entirely new. Ten thousands of people have thought seriously about neutrality strategies before, after all.
It's not the novelty that's interesting, but the distance to mainstream talk. It's probably been years since I heard about neutrality as national security enhancer. Most often, it's understood (by authors) as self-evident that being part of an alliance is the way to go for national security.


* (Science often produces a model / hypothesis to explain a tin facet of the whole. Such models are not comprehensive, but they may depict underlying forces that occasionally become decisive for events.)


About crazily warped interpretations of reality

Back in 1945, Germany was a wreck. it had to be rebuilt with lots of hard work and very little consumption or even luxury.

One important aim is always to reach full employment. Full employment means anything below 2% unemployment. Germany reached that by the late 50's. Mission accomplished, right?

Well, there was a shortage of skilled workers in Germany at the time - obviously, having few unemployed means there's a shortage of unemployed workers supply for the companies. It was perverse, but this was understood to be a problem. Totally, utterly crazy and stupid.
Foreign workers were invited. Unemployment rose again years later (due to several factors) - and now this was perceived as a problem again.
Somehow the German nation could not keep its minds coherent about the issue and could not understand that even the desired end state has *some* supposed drawbacks.
The tragedy was repeated again and again. During the last years we've had again calls for more foreign workers because there aren't enough unemployed of some particular profession to satisfy the companies. They weren't able to choose any more and had to pay high wages. How terrible!

Sadly, this isn't atypical of the human mind. We manage again and again to wish for the disappearance of something bad and once it disappeared there's a guaranteed rise of complaints by others who miss something that was lost in the process. Something that was probably even negative if you look at it from a certain angle, but in their opinion it was great.

Companies being able to choose workers and treat them badly was great, and workers being in a position of being very valuable and able to demand good conditions was bad. You only need to look at it from a certain angle. The angle of the bosses and shareholders, for example.

- - - - -

Quite the same happens in regard to the military.

For decades, it has been understood that military expenditures are an unproductive employment of national resources. They neither create well-being as much as consumption supposedly does nor do they increase future economic activity nearly as much as capital investment does. The combination of both performances is marginal as well.
The one thing they do (supposedly) is to create security against external threats. This is of course something that cannot be increased ever more, just as ever more consumption and ever more capital investment have rapidly falling returns.

A logical mind would (just my guess!) conclude that it's optimal to spend as much on the military as necessary. That is, increase spending if the environment becomes more threatening and reduce spending if it becomes safer.

Somehow many, many people - especially in the anglophone world (if not even largely confined to anglophone and sino worlds) began to perceive military expenditures (or military power, which is often implied to be proportional to expenditures) as positive.
No thought about how it's really a waste to spend more than you need for security, not any more.

That's how bloggers in the anglophone MilBlogiverse seem to manage to decry the shrinking military budgets.
They do not analyse at all against which threat we should spend more on the military. What could they come up with?
Iran couldn't even invade Turkey successfully, the Arab states have largely dysfunctional militaries and are (from a European PoV) mostly behind the Mediterranean. The Russians are weak, and increasingly concerned about Asian security topics. Moreover, European NATO and EU have -even after cuts- enough military power to defeat all non-allied neighbours in a parallel conflict without non-European assistance.

It doesn't help. Some people actually have perverted their thoughts about military power to a degree that allows them to interpret a reduction of military expenditures as decay, not as an appropriate avoidance of waste.



Bundeswehr recruiting

The Bundeswehr has a recruiting problem. It doesn't really know how to recruit.

Decade after decade, young men were forced under the threat of arrest into military service. They were underpaid and easily available. The requirement for professional soldiers (for four, eight or ten years) was easily met by recruiting the most willing young men. Many young men also became interested in becoming professional soldiers knowing well that they had to serve some time anyway.

The downsizing since the early 90's made recruitment proficiency even less a priority. The new and increasing relevancy of out-of-area missions (where only volunteers including volunteering conscripts could be sent to) led to less and less conscripts in actual field units. Conscripts became more and more concentrated on the most shitty and often even outright useless jobs.

The classic image of a Cold War conscript included the main battle tank loader, the truck driver who got his driving license in the army and lots of infantrymen. Later it was more and more about gas station servants, sauna boys and depot workers doing one listing and inspection after another.

Meanwhile, soldier pay was not increased properly, so volunteer professionals experienced a rank inflation. Now if you cannot pay your enlisted volunteer properly for his AFV driver job, then you turn that job into a NCO job slot and pay someone a NCO's pay for it...

- - - - -

Now the conscription is gone, and the Bundeswehr experiences a shortage of suitable volunteers. Finally, recruitment has to become competent (and just maybe military service has to become attractive again?).

The result are spin reports from military service such as this one. It's full of reassuring info that it isn't that bad, women can cope with it, trainers are nice and don't shout...

In short: The Bundeswehr is still totally incompetent in recruiting.

- - - - -

The Bundeswehr isn't so unattractive because of hardships. It's so unattractive because it's a red tape bureaucracy with lots of B.S.. Young men don't become annoyed because of tough training - they become annoyed because of underemployment, visibly inadequate training, lack of training ammunition, lack of equipment, equipment older than their trainers, too much bookkeeping and request forms, lack of seriousness, no challenges = little if any moments of success, too old equipment and generally failures of the institution. Young men avoid the army because of horror stories about how soldiers were treated poorly by civil bureaucracy and in-service superiors. They hear stories about soldiers serving for weeks in sweat suits because there was no uniform in their size in stock at the barracks' depot.

- - - - -

It's been an old and proven experience of the Bundeswehr itself that competent AND challenging training leads to very content and motivated troops.

A move towards a soft "Imagined it worse - the first week of voluntary military service" thing is counter-productive for training quality, personnel selection and motivation.

Who is being attracted by such a public relations work? 'No risk, little effort' lazy people and maybe women. The result will be a preparation for many failures such as the U.S. maintenance platoon that got ambushed and soundly defeated during the Iraq invasion because most of them believed they were technicians, not troops meant to be ready for a fight.

The Canadians had some recruiting problems a few years ago. Some observers blamed the combat in Afghanistan. Other observers pointed out that (counter-intuitively) the infantry was doing fine with its recruitment. There were many young men who were rather attracted, not deterred, by the idea of going to war. These recruits did often not enlist again because they were content with having had 'their war experience', but this kind of motivated men is nevertheless crucial for armies (not so much for air forces and navies). 

A soft basic training with no hardships and nice trainers, along with women who are allowed to wear some make-up is probably not the way to go if the Bundeswehr is still tasked with serious preparation for defence (or shitty military-political adventures).

Maybe - just maybe - the Bundeswehr should aim for a different demographic and present itself also to potential recruits as a competent organisation full of challenges and personal achievements?
It would help to get the organisation up to speed first, of course.


P.S.: This was not about women. I care about the mindset, not about the extra body parts, of recruits.



What do you think should foreign policy do about a country's economic interests abroad? Which economic interests?

Safe and free shipping on oceans? Overflight rights? Free access to markets? Protection of investments?

I've got an astonishing figure for you, and you might make you add something to the list:

Germany has EUR 5,000.1 billion outstanding debits as a nation.*
That's 200% of our gross domestic product (GDP).

The topic of access to more or less cheap crude oil is a joke in comparison to this.

5 trillion Euro assets - that's something that deserves attention (I don't think of violent forms of protection here!).

Sadly, the current Greek debt affair indicates that
(a) institutions were too dumb to invest this money wisely
(b) politicians are not determined to protect such assets


* Gross, NOT net figure. See link page 7, no11, yr 2010.



About bullet magnetism

Years ago (2004) I watched a video of an Iraqi insurgent kneeling on a street, aiming a RPG-7 and getting shot (by a Bradley IFV's coax machine gun). Like probably most Western viewers of that video, I though "What an unskilled moron. Kneeling on an open street - no camouflage, no concealment!".

Well, today I had a Déjà vu.

The apparently ultra-low marksmanship skill of the average current opponents coupled with hard body armour plates will probably burn very, very stupid lessons into Western armies' institutional memories.
Remember the blunders of Israeli army forces in Lebanon 2006 after raiding marginally defended Palestinian territories for years!



"Wandernder Kessel"

(Finally, after about ten weeks, a new military theory text on the blog:)

A "wandernder Kessel" (moving pocket) was created several times by German forces after the turn of World War Two.: A force of size division up to army was encircled, but did not break or stay in place. Instead, it slowly fought its way back to friendly troops.

These involved forces were usually of minimal remaining combat power once they reached safety, but they were still capable of being refitted with replacements and new equipment in a few months.

The Hube-Kessel was such an example, afaik the biggest one.

- - - - -

Let's think about it; they were encircled, but obviously the encirclers were not strong enough to eliminate or at least fixate the pocket.
This points at a -in relative terms- low strength of the encirclers.

Voilà, we're at my favourite topic; how to do end/win in continental warfare with a low force to area ratio (quickly).

- - - - -

The encirclers were not capable of laying a defensible (robust, stiff) defensive line/zone around the pocket. In principle, this situation (an army encircled by another army, but still able to move) is comparable to the hypothetical situation of a brigade being de facto encircled by armoured recce units which cut off supply by land but cannot stall movements entirely.

The historical moving pockets were neither axis nor allied decisive successes; they were rather a kind of draw, in which the encircled troops suffered more badly than usual while the encirclers failed to achieve a full success.

There is something in the historical scenario that should be of great interest, though: Those moving pockets all moved towards friendly forces; none of them dared to attack even deeper. That would have been outright idiotic, after all.

I guess I mentioned in some other blog post before that modern conventional land warfare would tend to have no front lines as seen in 1914-1951. The German army was 85% foot-mobile with horse-drawn carts and 15% motorised or armoured. We never rebuilt the cheap quantity component of the non-motorised infantry divisions; nobody did in Europe.
The Cold War and post-Cold War army is fully motorised. There being no quantity component, who should establish and defend a front line?

So there will likely be no front line, but military theory and doctrine does not seem to have caught up with this fully. I found little if any evidence for an active substitution for front line functions, at least. Front lines had many functions; most importantly they kept the opposing force from advancing broadly and forced them to concentrate for a breakthrough.

Modern conventional and highly mobile land warfare could see dozens of brigades facing each other, and it would be terribly unstable because the cruise speed of such formations suffices for crossing an entire continent in a week.

It would be certainly interesting to have something in the repertoire that stabilises the situation and keeps OPFOR from doing so. There are some options involving a similar (instead of dissimilar) response (brigade manoeuvring against brigade), but to be honest; I don't trust them. I don't trust air forces either, for they would surely relocate their squadrons if OPFOR is just a few hours away with no easily defensible geographical obstacle (river, mountains) in between.

What if we turned OPFOR formations into moving pockets? What if our skirmishers / armoured recce units would even infiltrate deep (remember, there's no front line holding them back) and turn even OPFOR brigades ahead of ours into moving pockets?
They would probably not only give up any short-term offensive plans - they might actually run for safety, and attempt to create a front-line-esque safety cordon along a geographically suitable line.

They might as well go hunting and split up in the process (into spaced battalion groups) - but that would make them vulnerable to 'blue' brigade attacks.

The most crucial part would be to convince the encircled leaders that they are indeed encircled. On the other hand, they might make terrible decisions if they ignore the situation.

And there we are at my almost two years-old text "The square trick", where I laid out quite the same, just with a few thoughts less advanced. My rate of progress may sound kinda slow (which it probably is), but then again I don't publish everything...


P.S.: This may be of interest in the context of moving pockets: Crisis in battle



80 years too late - but still an interesting idea (at least to me)

Back in WW1 the German infantry needed something to take out machine gun nests and pillboxes at a distance. Indirect fires were too inaccurate, bullet fire was unsatisfactory, bazookas didn't exist yet, almost no tanks were in the inventory, flamethrower range was unsatisfactory and light field cannons were too unwieldy. Mountain guns and lightened field cannons were eventually pressed into service as a stop-gap solution.

German crew using a Skoda 75 mm Model 15, 1918
The inter-war years answer for this requirement was the infantry gun (especially the light version). It was a kind of cheaper mountain gun (not meant to be fully disassembled), had a protective shield, lobbed a (slow) 75 mm HE shell (calibres varied internationally; 47 to 76.2 mm calibres were used for the light infantry gun concept; 47 mm was an improvisation) and most importantly: It was crew-mobile.
An infantry gun wasn't portable, but its crew was able to manoeuvre with it on a battlefield, and that satisfied (till enough tanks were available/affordable).

The Brandt system for simple, yet effective infantry mortars was not fully adopted till the early 30's, so these infantry guns were also meant to serve as indirect fire guns of infantry regiments, too. Most missions could actually be met with indirect fire, but infantry gun indirect fire was a bit different than normal mortar or artillery indirect fire. They were usually quite close to the target and their platoon leader was the forward observer - often times there was only a single interruption of the line of sight that protected the crew against spotting and counterfire. A low muzzle velocity and corresponding high trajectory of the shell helped to overshoot this one concealing object. A gun crew close to its forward observer and both being part of the same platoon or company was a huge advantage over normal indirect fire support. Radios were still rare, field telephone cables couldn't be laid over long distance quickly and separating both organisationally would have been an invitation for Clausewitzian friction.

(disregard the fake battle noises)

The First World War spawned another requirement, too: The requirement for a dedicated anti-tank gun. The early tanks were basically slowly moving pillboxes, and posed quite similar problems.
Anti-tank rifles (interesting story) and anti-tank machine guns were unsatisfactory (rifle: not enough effective range and not much effect, machine gun: not enough effective range). A gun, about as light and manoeuvrable as an infantry gun, could meet the anti-tank requirement. It couldn't do so with the slow 75 mm high explosive shell, though. Early (pre-'38) tanks had thin armour, but they became faster. A higher muzzle velocity was desirable in order to actually hit the target at long ranges.
It would have been perfect if the same carriage could be used as for infantry guns, but that was impossible (or was it?): The carriage was only able to absorb a certain amount of recoil, especially at low gun elevation angles.
Recoil is closely related to muzzle energy, and that's weight * muzzle velocity * muzzle velocity; e  = m* v ^ 2, kinetic energy formula.
You can have a relatively heavy high explosive shell, but that restricts muzzle velocity. or you could choose a high muzzle velocity for short time of flight and good accuracy - but that limits the shell weight.
Barrel length created quite the same trade-off dilemma: A long barrel enables a high muzzle velocity, but it would become too heavy if built with a large calibre for suitability for high explosive shells.
75 mm was widely regarded as a good minimum calibre for high explosive shells; anything smaller was considered to be or rather disappointing effect.
The inter-war choice was eventually for 65 to 76.2 mm for light infantry guns (often based on old, suboptimal calibres and guns) and 37 to 47 mm for light anti-tank guns.
There were actually three similar 37 mm calibres in Germany; army AT gun (37 x 249, 192 kJ), Luftwaffe AA gun (37 x 264, 210 kJ) and navy AA gun (37 x 381R, 372 kJ).
The naval gun was least famous, least successful and most powerful in regard to muzzle energy. With hindsight, the naval 37 mm cartridge or the Swedish 40 mm AA gun cartridge would have been better choices (but only marginally better) than the historical 37 mm light AT gun cartridge. Even a standardisation between army AT gun and air force AA gun would have been a good idea.

(Again, ignore the fake battle noises.)

Now the idea that keeps fascinating me:
Mountain guns could be assembled and disassembled, even infantry guns had a removable sight. Why not create a convertible gun?

The same carriage could be used for an infantry gun calibre 75 mm and an anti-tank gun calibre 37 mm (naval or at least air force calibre; muzzle brake if necessary). All you needed to do was to remove one gun (barrel+breech+sights) and insert the other one. This exchange could have been quite quick (1-2 min).

Such a gun could have busted above-surface fortifications in direct fire (75 mm HE), provided indirect fire support (75 mm HE, SMK) and defeated lightly armoured tanks (37 mm AP). All this was necessary for infantry regiments (if not battalions!). Many reports about tactical engagements in WW2 mention that 1-2 infantry guns, 1-2 light AT guns, 1-3 mortars were added to company or battalion defensive positions. Their effectiveness was badly needed if infantry had to fight on open terrain.
A convertible gun would have been able to match all three roles; two near-perfectly, one satisfactorily (81.4 mm mortar HE was of course more effective than 75 mm gun shell HE). The net result would have been less logistic troubles, easier positioning and overall greater firepower.

- - - - -

It would have become outclassed as indirect fire weapon by about the late 30's because of the availability of decent infantry mortars of Brandt system (no more than historical infantry guns were outclassed, though).

It would have become obsolete as anti-tank weapon in 1938-1942 because of increased armour plate strengths (but that could have been partially compensated for with a squeezebore attachment such as the Littlejohn adaptor or a conical barrel - as long as tungsten is available for the penetrator). The historical light AT guns eventually met this fate.

It would have become inferior (but still at least affordable) as infantry direct fire support weapon with the rise of assault guns and CS ("close support") tanks by about 1940. This didn't push the historical light infantry guns out of service, though; they were numerous, but tanks were always in short supply in most armies.

Yet, it would have fared better than the historical light infantry and anti-tank guns:
Its versatility and its ability to exploit shaped charge shells (penetration in 1942 ~ calibre = 75 mm) in the AT role would have kept it more useful. Light AT guns were kept in front-lie service till about '43 and light infantry guns were kept in front-line service till '45, some were even used post-WW2.

Later on, the same carriage could easily have been converted with a smoothbore high-low pressure gun of 75 mm calibre to regain its initial effectiveness in all roles with only one barrel. A 81.4 mm calibre gun with this principle was eventually produced and used with a 50 mm AT gun carriage.

81.4 mm PAW 800 a.k.a. PWK 8H63

The final obsolescence would have been reached sometime in the 1950's when tanks (with their ability to carry a powerful gun) were available for almost all army units and became rather invulnerable to frontal hits with even then-modern 75 mm shaped charge warheads.

- - - - -

Well, what kept such a convertible gun from being introduced?

I guess there are several reasons. Few armies valued both AT guns and infantry guns highly, and those that did were either in a bad shape during the mid-30's, had an unsuitable doctrine or were in a hurried rearmament.
AT guns were furthermore organised separately from infantry guns; the German AT doctrine preferred highly mobile AT gun batteries, but wartime necessities forced many AT guns into close and quasi-permanent cooperation with infantry units. You cannot protect the infantry against a tank attack with any satisfactory reliability if don't accompany it. The fast-mover AT doctrine was satisfactory against successful tank breakthroughs (especially once it was applied to the tank destroyers instead of towed guns), not so much in regard to preventing said breakthrough.

Light convertible battalion guns would probably have been highly successful (production-wise) if military technology had taken a break in the mid-30's instead of moving forward in great haste.


edit 2013-04:

Same idea, actually attempted soon after WWI, but with too feeble calibres.


On the pursuit of 'excellence'

Two to four generations ago, the highest form of school degree was rare; only about 5-20% of the youth graduated with such a degree in developed countries. Governments understood that better education drives up productivity nation-wide, and the aim was for 40-60% graduation with the highest form of school diploma.
This objective was largely reached, but in the meantime said diploma was watered down in most places.

Such a quantitative improvement of quality at the expense of real quality happens to be a rather common problem. It doesn't meant hat you shouldn't strive for broadening the high quality part, but the problem should be taken into account.

Back in the mid-90's there was talk in the Bundeswehr about how we should have one Feldwebel (an NCO who completed an advanced NCO course and was historically a rather senior NCO) per squad instead of squads led by junior NCOs.
Last I learned is that this goal was largely achieved. Sadly, the reputation of Feldwebel course graduates is now decidedly inferior to their reputation 15 years ago.
This development was part of a greater rank inflation problem, of course (easier promotion was the only idea that the ministry of defence seems to have had in regard to improvement of the soldier's job attractiveness and it was also a politically easy form of pay raise).

The integration of women followed a similar pattern; there's not even a serious attempt to hide that standards were lowered for them.

- - - - -

Another typical trend in regard to quality improvements affects hardware procurement: The 'death spiral'.
Back in the early 90's there was still talk about more than a thousand F-22 fighters, then about 750, then about 650, then 300-something ... it ended up at less than 200. The quest for superior quality ended up costing so much (for several reasons) that only a operationally problematic quantity* was still affordable even with an incredibly bloated budget.   (*: In context of the expectations.)

- - - - -

Finally there's the special forces syndrome. The attempt to gain near-perfect infantry (special forces) led to a concentration of much high quality personnel in few "special" units - at the expense of the regular infantry. The planners got their hyper-competent 'direct action' units. The drawback?
Those 'special forces' now get missions that were historically done with regular infantry ... because higher echelon headquarters ceased to entrust their regular infantry with such missions.
There are now less fully trusted special forces than previously fully trusted infantry in some armies that jumped enthusiastically on the special forces fashion wagon.

- - - - -

These examples of quality improvement efforts gone bad are really bad news (well, not really 'news', but bad!).
Everyone who wants a cost-efficient pursuit of national security should naturally demand a high quality of our forces. There's always a 'too much', even in regard to quality (or do you think a Maybach car is not 'too much' for you and your purse?), but low quality forces have been clobbered in military history with such a regularity and thoroughness that high quality is the way to go, obviously.

My concern is that many if not most proposals for improvements are somewhat similar to at least one of the examples given. We really need improvement and reform proposals that take these problems into account (and many more problems!); we need well-informed and smart proposals.

A mere proposal to add this hardware, to add that requirement, to increase a quantity of something that's fine - that's not going to cut it. Historically, many successful reforms have been rather subtle or required a great deal of effort and self-discipline. Some of the greatest and most lasting advances were rooted in arduous training and doctrinal improvements and could not be quantified in money or percentage.

There are likely few truly easy options for major improvements left - if any.