Waves of offence and defence techniques

I was working on a rather specific text on infantry (a strangely attractive topic) when I realised that the whole thing needs more context. Thus context first:

(As I see it:) Waves in combat techniques / art since about Napoleonic times, descriptive of best practices only:

Offence 1st wave

Early on (up to mid-19th century), offence took the shape of troops closing in with the enemy in close order formations.

Defence 1st wave

During the same period, infantry and artillery defence took the shape of troops still being upright and on ground level, giving their best to break up the attack with their firepower. Cavalry was an exception, as attack proved stronger, not weaker for cavalry. Defending cavalry was thus either luring pursuers into a trap or counter-attacking itself.

Defence 2nd wave

Firepower had grown due to spin stabilised bullets, and the (fixed) defenders adapted by making more often use of field fortifications (trenches). This began during the mid 19th century and was perfected by about 1917 when only a small share of an army held the front line with main resistance line being kilometres in the rear, more difficult to reach for enemy artillery..

Offence 2nd wave

Firepower affected the exposed attackers a lot, so they had to adapt, too. Artillery adapted first by switching to indirect fires. This gave the attacking artillery the survivability to bring its weight into battle - soon (by 1915) it played a major role in creating gaps in the defender's lines.
Infantry had to adapt on the offensive (by 1916) by avoiding fields of fire as much as possible; the exploitation of micro terrain for cover and concealment became standard instead of an exception.
Tanks were another contribution to offence as their armour allowed them to keep moving and fighting under fire even (and especially) on an open field.

Offence and defence 3rd wave

1944 carpet bombing and incredible artillery concentrations (naval gunfire at Normandy, 44/45 Red Army breakthrough concentrations of artillery) were early indicators, but tactical nukes made it obvious to anyone: No high force density defence could really withstand a focused attack, no matter how well it was dug in.
Even temporary field fortifications in mobile warfare had lost much of their value, since techniques and technical equipment for effective indirect fire support for mobile forces had been introduced and highly mobile armour units with lots of high explosive firepower were able to appear almost everywhere.
This did not seem to affect Cold War military theory much, since there weren't enough troops for continuous front lines even in Central Europe anyway (26+ divisions only on a 1,000+ km frontier). Tanks had become operationally mobile by the 1930's and Cold War offensive thinking was very much coined by mobile warfare ideas. Corps would still form a front line on a war theatre map, but many of their brigades (the 'heavy' ones) would behave more like 18th century battle cavalry, preferring offence over defence.
Defence theory reached its peak for small units, but to late; stationary defence was reduced to the (small) unit level; formations in static positions would be overwhelmed by firepower or simply be bypassed by advancing opposing forces.

Offence 4th wave
Guided weapons, increased accuracy and responsiveness of attacks with non-guided munitions and a major increase in technical sensor capability lead to a (often-criticised) attitude reminiscent of 1915-1916; firepower would pave the way by knocking out who got detected. Detection, not destruction of the enemy, became the primary difficulty for the offence.

Defence 4th wave
Defence looks in theory still a lot like during WW2; even some well-reputed armies never fully mastered defensive techniques, and more importantly, didn't delete defensive techniques from their manuals even if they're already obsolete against a state of the art offence.
Both armour and field fortifications are already largely devalued as tools of defence. The modern defence against modern attacks struggles to defeat the offence's critical strength; the ability to find, identify and allocate and targets (=defenders) in time.

There's a modern response to this challenge which has surprisingly old roots.
Nowadays, there exist in my opinion two major advisable templates for the tactical level (in addition to calling for striking from a distance only); elusive raids and elusive ambushes. "Elusive" means in this combat mostly that neither raiders nor ambushers allow themselves to become fixed*; they attempt to disrupt spotting, identification, communication to enhance their survivability - and on top of that they vanish in time, making the "in time" challenge for the attacker even more challenging. This in turn means they need to finish their action real quick.

Even though "raid" / "ambush" sound offensive / defensive, the offence (attack)  / defence categories have probably ceased to be relevant. A more relevant categorization is certainly whether a certain area is controlled by one side or disputed. This is especially relevant as a description of the safety of (road) marches through the area. A unit with an area skirmish mission may stage ambushes and raids depending on circumstances. Operational offence in this context means that the area of operation is being extended into a formerly enemy-dominated area. Operational defence would mean that the enemy is doing this. Aside from this, only the passing through of a formation through the skirmish area could be considered an offensive move, but it could in fact be a withdrawal through an infested area!

The interesting thing about this is that in my opinion small unit- and unit-level defence has merged with offence. The difference was already often theoretical for a while (just remember the successive counter-attacks of WW1 which made it almost impossible to tell whose army was on the offence and whose was defending after the first few days of an offensive).

More about this later.

S Ortmann

*: "fixed" in military terminology means that you don't dare / cannot move because of the enemy's effort. It's only a subset of "static", not entirely the same.

I don't care much about the division in waves. What counts to me is what has been done so far, what's the influences today and what's left to do now.

I'm 100% sure that almost nobody will grasp this stuff because (a) I don't express it well in such a short form and (b) it's 'different'. I can't help it, am too busy for writing a book these days.


About my strange fixation with crisis situations

Steve McQueen played a USN engineer in the movie "The Sand Pebbles" (1966). His character preferred the dirty work in the engine compartment to the relative luxury on higher decks. When asked about why he didn't delegate work in the engine compartment to Chinese helpers, he replied something along the lines of 'I like work with the engines and besides, the Chinese only know how to polish the engine, they don't repair it.'

This is the finest example for the importance of extraordinary challenges (crisis situations) I can come up with. Everything may be shiny despite incompetence as long as the problems are ordinary, but it takes expertise to handle (or even prevent) extraordinary problems.

Way too many businesses shine with great profits in good times, their management cheers about its own competence - but in a crisis they fail. That is a problem of moderate severity. Military forces exist under a much more extreme regime. Military forces face almost never truly extraordinary problems (most don't do so for a generation or more), but once they do failure would have catastrophic consequences.

One of the reasons why this blog is so un-mainstream-like is that I disrespect the polish and shine demonstrated under ordinary conditions and care so much about competence in extraordinary conditions. This may look disrespectful to many, but it stems simply from my different opinion about how relevant demonstrated performance under fair weather conditions really is.

For example, a ten year war in which one side doesn't lose a single entire platoon is NOT a true test, it did NOT provide extraordinary problems. Extraordinary problems would in my book pose the question "how many or our brigades were destroyed?". "How many", not "whether any".

Well, this was an explanation about why I pay so much attention to crisis situations (type "crisis" in the search field on the left side if you care). I figured it deserved such an explanation, and I figured that this explains a lot of the differences between my thinking and mainstream military writings.

S Ortmann

A post in between

I didn't post anything here for a while - the reasons are simple as always on such occasions: The remaining drafts are no good and there's nothing really to write about.

It would be somewhat interesting to talk about all the occasions when I stumbled on people who believe in the usual suspects for unjustified fascination (such as turreted heavy mortars).
Journal articles about such extremely imaginative articles as armoured logistics vehicles (really? In 2011? Why did they write endlessly about wheeled medium AFVs in 2003-2005 when armoured logistics really was a hot topic?) annoyed me as well.
There are furthermore endless quantities of extremely unimaginative reflex articles about Iran, China, Cyber-something and all the other fashionable subjects out there.
I'm not working under the illusion that I could somehow influence this mainstream, but it's quite disappointing to find so very little good quality stuff in and outside of the mainstream even after years of paying attention.

The many budget-focused debates on military policy aren't exactly intellectual highlights either. The odd reports about oil near the Falklands and about a supposed threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf seem to test how gullible taxpayers really are. So far, journalists appear to have failed that test in my opinion. 
It's certainly interesting to observe how lobbyists and agitators can pull off the same stunt for three decades (or after three decades) and still get attention.

- - - - -

Finally there's also this sad report:

I began warning about this in 2007 and did so in 2010, too. It's creepy to look at how this unfolds. Would love to have been wrong on this.

It reinforced my opinion that one of the best possible things you can do with national ministries is to destroy them every decade, send all of their personnel with even minimal leadership roles into retirement. That would be an excellent way to save taxpayer money and troubles.

- - - - -

Some good news; I'm working on a book review (a biography), but that's overdue as well since I received the book in November already. The book is in German and wasn't translated, so the review may be in German as well.

S Ortmann


Wait, what? Are you trying to piss Europe off?

The United States has an interest in promoting a NATO-like political and military alliance among its Sunni Arab allies in the region as a balancing force to Iran. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), composed of Saudi Arabia and the other smaller Sunni countries on the western side of the Persian Gulf, would ideally be the basis of this balancing force.
by Robert Haddick

So this sick obsession with Iran leads the U.S. to promote a new alliance in the vicinity of Europe which could turn into a threat to Europe in the long run? Are they trying to prove ultimate recklessness and disregard for allies' national security or what?

I hope European politicians and intelligence agencies haven't totally lost sight of the long term and are going to sabotage this.

The disunited Arabs are fine as they are. Buy some diaper if you cannot cope with the idea of a weak and backward country thousands of miles away from yours not being friendly.

S Ortmann

edit 2012-05-18: He, for sure, keeps pissing me off:



Right now I rate this guy a greater problem to the long-term national security of my country than Ahmadinedjad, Kim, Chavez and even Putin combined.


Official U.S. opinion: Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon


OK,this came a bit as a surprise to me, after all the rhetoric from that side of the Atlantic.

It appears that certain analysts' speculations about Iran just trying to come close enough to a nuke for having the threat of building a nuke as deterrence were not only interesting, but probably accurate.
That's an awfully risky strategy, of course.

Now I wonder how all those sanctions can be justified, for Iran doesn't even appear to violate the (actually not especially highly ranked) nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

S Ortmann


The "Euro" crisis and defence

Predictably, I won't discuss the Euro crisis with whining or ranting about military spending cuts. I'm for WELL-ALLOCATED military spending, not necessarily for MUCH.

Instead, let's summarize the roots of the crisis first;

Many European agreed on a common currency and had high hopes for it. Many people hoped for idealistic progress (a sentiment of being Europeans), others hoped that national problems would e solved and others simply expected further improvement of their wealth.

Well, most hopes were disappointed.
It turned out that economic science with its optimal currency area theories (some of them pro, others contra the project) had delivered the correct warning: Dissimilarity was still too great for shedding the balancing mechanism of flexible exchange rates.
Without flexible exchange rate, some countries (mostly Germany) experienced an export boom and at the same time an inhibited consumption while others experienced an unsustainable and huge trade balance deficit. Some economists blame the false confidence of lenders (mislead by supposed creditworthiness because of the low-inflation Euro currency). This false confidence led to lending beyond creditworthiness and sustained bubbles for a while.
Meanwhile, even Germany -in a superficial macroeconomic view the winner of the game- did not really prosper. Reforms had pushed the competitiveness of our industries up (this turned out to be an unnecessary move) and imports were relatively expensive because of the (for Germans) 'weak' Euro.

The lack of flexible exchange rates was one problem; the lack of a lender of last resort the other. Germany had insisted on a central bank which did not act as a lender of last resort. The German hope (and condition for its membership) was that ECB policies and rules would force some fiscally shaky Euro members into fiscal discipline and thus keep them from harming Germany indirectly. Further rules for this purpose were established (and in part violated by Germany itself).

This was essentially a bet. It seemed to work fine for years (budget deficits were moderate and some member states such as Spain were very fiscally disciplined).
It also proved to be disastrous in crisis. The 'lender of last resort' thing was an important safety in crisis, and without it multiple Euro zone governments (at least two of whom had done good fiscal policy for years) went downhill in creditworthiness.
The obvious way out - allowing the ECB to be a lender of last resort - is a short-term fix that holds little promise in the long term and is especially not in Germany's interest.

Well, Germany isn't interested in the troubles of leaving the Euro currency itself, the governments in trouble don't appear to try it either and the economies don't fit together. It does not work.

From a national security standpoint, the worst about all this is the demonstration of political ineptitude,the rule of ideology and the political division. The crisis has been ongoing for years and there's still no effective solution, but merely weak patches.
The Euro zone governments are not ready to admit that once the pro-Unified Europe ideology has led them into failure. They prove their inability to correct the original mistake, being stuck in various dynamics and in ideology.

I've repeatedly argued for a national and collective defence concept which keeps military strength levels moderate until the need for more arises.
Now it looks as if there would be a terrible lag between the rise of a major threat and a unified European response. Furthermore, it looks as if the European economies are in a too poor shape to sustain great military strength indefinitely without major reforms. Reforms that are not on the horizon yet.

Maybe some readers from beyond the Atlantic rejoice now about this confirmation of their suspicions (or prejudices) about Europe. I'd like to tell them that there's little reason for it. The U.S. government is obviously blocking itself and quite incapable of major action as well. Europe does not meet its intra-European imbalances with proper policies, and the U.S. does neither solve its intra-American nor its trans-Pacific imbalances.

I have a suspicion that in decades to come, social scientists will have wonderful models about how and why we moved into such deadlocks. I'm not so positive that they'll also have a consensus about how to break such deadlocks.

In the end, we're living in very lucky times. We don't have a solution for our collective imperfections on the horizon, but there's no major threat on the horizon as well. Truly lucky.

S Ortmann



Defence and Freedom's year 2011 visitor statistics

Statcounter's statsitics for Jan 08 - Dec 11

This blog faced a slump in blogging activity (in posts/month) and in visitors ("page loads"), but had a comeback in the last quarter of 2011 (December 2011 has no slump, unlike earlier Decembers). 20k per month appears to be the new normal here.

A second factor (other than activity on my part) for the stagnation (no increase in visitors for about one and a half years) might be the dropping interest in military affairs after the Iraq War and a decade of direct Western involvement in the Afghanistan Civil War.

Or maybe I have already reached almost everybody who's interested in this blog's tiny niche?

S Ortmann