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.