Gun drilling

I'm interested in what it takes to convert a normal industrialised economy into a wartime economy, both present and in the past.

My knowledge of production techniques made it quite clear that it takes little more than a CAD (computer added design) file and some paperwork to turn a normal metal works company into an arms or ammunition manufacturer. The one process which looked to be rather uncommon for civilian purposes, yet vital to arms production was as far as I can tell the production of barrels.

One of the appropriate production processes for this is gun drilling, and it doesn't seem to be so very much uncommon in civilian production as I believed until recently.

The interesting thing about it is that while gun drilling requires a specialised machine, all other works needed to produce an all-metal firearm can be done on a single multipurpose, multi-tool machine (CNC machining centre). The CAD file, a gun drilling machine, a multi-purpose metal works machine, power supply and a roof are probably all that it takes to start a rifle factory nowadays. It's no wonder that so many companies have begun producing AR-15 rifles during the last years of irrational demand. It doesn't take much to set up such a company with its own production capacity and the profit margins were ridiculous.

It makes sense to outsource the stamping jobs (stamping is superior to milling for many parts) and the plastic parts production to other companies, of course. The bad thing about the plastics and stamped parts is that the tool (negative shape) is relatively expensive and more difficult to produce than the part itself.

I've found some nice info about the gun drilling technology, maybe someone else is interested, too:

A funnier, older video:



Greatest country in the world

Relax, there's no country-bashing ahead.

Hat tip to War News Updates (who's kind enough to link to me even though I don't return the favour as selective as I am in regard to blog roll and who recently just barely escaped my ridicule*): He embedded a movie scene which made me think: How would you have answered?

Well, here's how I would have answered:

Many people believe that America is the greatest country in the world, especially most Americans do. What's special about this is that they believe many foreigners think alike.
Well yes, many foreigners think alike - they think their country is the greatest country in the world, just as Americans do.
It's easy to find foreigners who admire America and it's easy to find foreigners who are instead totally in love with their own country.

America is the greatest country in the world based on some hard facts, not the least because it's the developed country with the largest population.

What's more interesting is how its greatness is something that requires constant maintenance and improvement.
Wealth quickly fades away without near-constant hard work. We need to invest every year in factories, training, education, infrastructure, research and development.
We need to be alert that our freedoms aren't being restricted by corrupt policemen, authoritarian politicians, faceless bureaucrats or CEOs who mistake control over money for power over people.
We need to care for our society to keep fractures of the society under control, to create and maintain a social climate that enables people to live without much fear of others and the risks of life. Children ought to grow up without heavy burdens caused by social stresses.

This near-constant, everlasting need to maintain the greatness of a country for the benefit of its people is of greatest importance. America did a better job in this regard than many if most other countries.

This is why I'm always uncomfortable when "greatest country in the world" sounds more like an article of faith than like a reminder about the hard work and alertness that's needed to maintain what we have and to improve upon it. Someone who strongly believes in the phrase as an article of faith may come to think of it as self-evident and become complacent.

S Ortmann

*: War News Updates is an enticingly comfortable choice for simply looking up all the "War with Iran" craze of the last years in order to ridicule it and how readily people accepted the saber rattling as real news for years). I decided to skip the mocking of the warmongers and their pawns.


I'm wondering...

... whether my old thoughts were fine or am I just too rigid in my adherence to them?

It's been a constant for years that I'm a bit astonished by how much I like my really old blog posts. IIRC there's only one which I stealthily pulled from daylight, and the reason wasn't quality. Some others have become pointless because crucial graphics files were lost.

Anyway, my affection with my very old blog posts such as this one may have the two obvious explanations; either they're really good or I just cannot recognize my bad articles as such.

Let's look at the geostrategy blog post on Turkey; I still agree with it 100%. Sometime around the South Ossetia War a troll claimed the war to be evidence that my pick was wrong, but I wasn't able to follow his logic (him being a troll) since Turkey was the neighbouring Western key country in the conflict (which still chose to be less loud than the then-frustrated U.S. during the conflict).
Actually, later events have reinforced my impression that Turkey is a pivotal and increasingly independent country of great importance. (I'm still no fan of its EU membership ambitions, though.)

Let's have a contest in the comments section; let's find a really, really bad old pot. I don't mean "bad" as "I would have thought it was bad back when it was written", for there's almost always dissent. too much noise. I'm rather after learning which blog post aged especially poorly given the later development (maybe this?) or is in clear conflict with a later blog post.

I'll think about a prize later.


The German federal election laws

The German federal constitutional court has ruled -again- that the federal election law is unconstitutional. It's distorting elections substantially. The court ordered the politicians to create a new law that meets certain requirements prior to the next federal elections in a year.

The German Bundestag, our most important parliament
This is actually the second ruling of this kind, there was already one in 2008 with an ultimatums panning three years. The current governing coalition (conservatives + so-called liberals) had passed a new elections law in response to that ultimatum, and it was again so horrible that everyone not really stupid could see it. Guess who was the beneficiary of the horrible parts. Seriously, I can create a much better elections law from scratch and make it resilient to charges from mathematicians in a single afternoon. The fuck-up has its roots either in evil intent or in incompetence.

The really astonishing thing to me is the complacency of the media about this. They report about it as if it was some kind of shipyard subsidy law, not about the core of our democracy.

Let's look at it in detail: Three plus one year - that's four years of living with an officially fucked up elections law. Every federal election held with this law in force can be considered to be badly distorted - election fraud top-down.

Now guess who's supposed to fix it? Yeah, exactly the same ones who already fucked the latest version officially up. Moreover, these people came to power with help from the earlier officially fucked up version of the elections law.

This is almost as if a royal dynasty was interrupted by a bastard and the commenters ignore it as if it meant no real harm to the legitimacy of the whole.

I believe our press should adopt some higher expectations when it comes to our democracy. It's not enough to hit the extremists from both sides repeatedly while the people in power fuck up our democracy with a rotten boroughs-( edit: gerrymandering-) like attitude.

S Ortmann

edit 2012-11: I mixed up rotten boroughs and gerrymandering. Fixed.


Intellectual development

I recall a statement by a senior officer (not German, but likely known by name by most readers) about his experience on a civilian university.

He recounted that after being in uniform and equipped with the authority of a superior in the army and equipped with a degree from a military college he had a culture shock when he joined the civilian university.

Suddenly, his authority was gone and even much younger guys and gals were beating him in many regards - especially discussions. He had to adapt and become better, develop himself, to cope with this more challenging environment.

This is but one of many anecdotes about the poor effect of authoritarian organisations on the intellectual development. You don't need to have good arguments or even be correct if you can simply give orders to have it your way. Having good arguments doesn't serve you well in disagreements with your superior if he can simply order you to do it his way.

Well, how could this be addressed without forcing military personnel into a civilian environment for years? After all, you'll only know who of them will become senior personnel with a real need for intellectual skills after a couple of years, and few will cope well with a university environment after the age of 30 anyway.

This problem reminded me of an experience of mine; I was once sent to a role-playing game. About 40 Luftwaffe personnel were waiting for the coordinator in a room, and the first the coordinator said upon his arrival was to ask us to remove our rank insignia. Actually, he had expected us to arrive in civilian clothes, but somehow this news didn't make it to us.
Obviously, he knew the answer for my aforementioned question: You're only going to train your mind very well without an authoritarian rank system.

- - - - -

Could this work in general, outside of role plays? Well, yes. There's an approximation to "no rank system" available; "no substantial difference in rank".
One example: Chiefs of staff could form ad hoc task teams without a leader. All members of the team would have equal or practically equal rank (a captain cannot give orders to a lieutenant without a direct link by the chain of command in at least some personnel systems). They would need to decide on the final conclusion much like a supreme court does; all voices having equal weight*. Influence would depend on exactly the same as in the civilian environment of my intro: Good arguments, reputation and skill in their use.

That, of course, would require that hierarchical authoritarian order is not held too high as an ideal or necessity in the armed service. There would need to be a readiness to accept alternative forms of organisation and even the consciousness about the need for the latter in order to develop the personnel.

S Ortmann

*: In case you believe this has no place in the military: It's how certain special forces outfits do their planning in the interest of getting the best out come rather than always the one that the leader had first in mind.


Niche exaggerations

During consulting people I observed that people - especially those who have overall a poor outlook due to poor performance or other issues - seem to share one problem:

They fall prey to a simple trap of life: Whenever they find a niche (or what they perceive as an opportunity) they're proceeding to exploit it as much as possible. As a result, they focus on it far too much and usually exaggerate the size of the niche/opportunity.
The consequence is usually that even otherwise promising concepts fail because the decision-maker wants to squeeze it into a much too small niche.

My discussions about this usually go like

Me "You should not focus so much on A, more diversification is required."

Them "But I have such a great strength in this area, it's such a great thing!"

Me "Maybe, but it's much better to look at it as the icing of the cake. The main promise is in the regular thing."

Them "But I have such a great strength in this area, it's such a great thing!"

Me "Look, it may be great, but that niche is so small. See? I can even calculate for you on a napkin that it won't work if you focus on it."

Them "But I have such a great strength in this area, it's such a great thing!"

Me "Wouldn't it be great to have the regular thing AND the extra thing?"

Them "But I have such a great strength in this area, it's such a great thing!"

Well, quite like that.

I'm clearly no psychologist and have neither the inclination to look up if any psychologist already described this trap nor am I inclined to publish a paper on it.

I did nevertheless begin to wonder if this excessive fascination with a niche that's not the regular thing might be part of the explanation why people fall so much in love with (military) technology gadgets and shiny new concepts with a rat's tail of new buzzwords. The patterns look so awfully close, especially in the resilience against numbers trailed by a currency symbol.

We're badly lacking more, better and faster progress in many areas, but too many new things still turn out to be too specific or vastly exaggerated in their utility.

Maybe if someone could find a way to defeat this psychological lock-on on an exaggeration, maybe we could save billions, years and maybe even many many lives this way?

S Ortmann


Tanks in the pre-WW2 period

The following text is an observation an analysis of mine without any claim of original thought. I believe it might still be of interest, for it puts many things together that are usually mentioned separately.

You may be interested in An analysis of late propeller era combat aircraft if you like this. Both texts are quite similar in their style.

- - - - -

Let's pretend someone asked me whether this Guderian guy with his tank obsession is right, sometime in the early 1930's. I have the knowledge of 2012 available for the answer, without taking into account any post-1938 tank warfare.

First, I would ask for permission for a long answer.

If this permission is not given, I'd say "It depends."

If given, I'd say:

Well, let's look back why the Great War was such a mess in Europe.
It wasn't the machine guns, howitzers, trenches, large quantity of troops and barbed wire alone that produced the great mess, although a superficial look at it would suggest so.

First, all powers took at least two years to figure out how to break through such a defence. It was eventually understood and succeeded at high costs. Different approaches proved to be effective.

What was never understood was how to exploit such a breakthrough. Some powers sent cavalry to follow, but the cavalry encountered fire, had to dismount and fight understrength, as some cavalrymen always need to care for the horses. Once stopped, cavalry was even less capable to press on than infantry.

The British attempted to solve the issue with lightly armoured Whippet tanks of increased speed, but these machines were not good enough to press the attack very deep either, not the least because they ran into trouble once isolated from infantry.
Whippet tanks in Japanese service
The operational exploitation of breakthroughs was so extremely difficult because the defender could easily and quickly allocate reserves, mostly by rail but some also by foot march or on trucks. The attacker was simply too slow to succeed with narrow breakthroughs, and multiple breakthroughs as succeeded in 1918 led to an excessive expense of quality personnel and other resources.

The tank has in theory the capability to accelerate this attack. A tank crew can fight and even move on under machinegun fire, unlike cavalry - but it can cruise as quick as cavalry and be used for both breakthrough and exploitation.

This doesn't necessarily mean the tanks' success, for there's a response of the defence against tanks. Super-heavy machineguns such as the TUF or the .50" Browning heavy barrel machinegun can penetrate the usual tank armour plating and kill the entire crew within seconds [as of early 1930's]. Armour of at least about 30 mm thickness is necessary to protect against such machineguns.
13 mm TuF machine gun
Furthermore, dedicated anti-tank cannons can penetrate tanks more easily at greater distances with quick fire. Rheinmetall and Bofors have such 37 mm guns on offer and begun to export them to European and exotic countries. Armour of about 60 mm thickness or equivalent would be needed to protect against them, and that's so far only conceivable for front armour and at most turret sides, too.

Such defensive weapons are on the other hand not necessarily a death blow even to lightly armoured tanks if the crews are brave enough to assault against effective fire.A division might be asked to defend a sector of 10 or even 20 km width. Even a division at full strength with let's say 70 anti-tank guns and a similar quantity of large calibre machine guns would hardly stop a tank battalion under all circumstances. An even distribution without weak spots would yield only up to 7 guns and about 7 HMGs per kilometre. A terrain with short lines of sight - such as fields with thick flora or stone borders and 400 m width - would reduce the effective defence to only about three ATGs and three HMGs. These could easily be taken out with focused artillery fire once the line of defence was reconnoitered. The other anti-tank teams would only become effective after moving into new, less effective and survivable, positions and they might be caught during the movement.
Other schemes of defence are likewise imperfect. A focused tank attack can penetrate if well executed, the tanks don't even need to be particularly strong. Strength of armour allows for a greater portion available for the exploitation phase, though.

There's another problem, difficult to analyse in theory only. Defenders' reserves - again.
Air power can disrupt train movements and bring relief from quick strategic reserves intervention. Air power can hardly stop movements by truck, though. Trucks are not bound to rail roads and much more difficult targets - and trucks have become more available since the Great War.

The breakthrough and initiation of the exploitation phase would need to be extra quick in face of hostile truck-mobile operational reserves. It's feasible, but it requires skill, suitable hardware and strength.

Well, will tanks succeed? It depends.
Neubaufahrzeug tanks - German early 30's tank tech,
Some tanks - especially the "infantry tanks" or "assault gun" concepts are a great help in the breakthrough phase and may under many circumstances even be a necessity for a successful or even quick breakthrough. Their use does not solve the final and most problematic problem of the Great War, though: The problems of the exploitation phase. A tank force built on such tanks alone would thus be no better than the British tank force of the Great War.

Very small and cheap tanks - tankettes - are not very promising either, for the ratio between volume and surface is poor and such tankettes end up having barely enough armour to withstand normal machine guns and carry light armament. The are worse than infantry tanks.

The operational exploitation tanks - Christie tanks, British cruiser tank concept, Guderian's tank idea - could be useful in the exploitation phase, but would suffer greatly if faced by suitable defences in the breakthrough phase or in mobile encounters with hostile reserves.

Finally, it's conceivable that a disconnect between slow and fast forces during the exploitaition phase leads to the encirclement and destruction of fast forces. Again, great skill and other conditions need to be met to avoid this from happening with a too high probability.

Last but not least, proper tanks are incredibly expensive, even in comparison to the already very costly heavy artillery such as heavy howitzers - even if we take their prime movers into account. The build-up and periodic modernisation of a sizeable tank force requires much economic strength. Tanks also consume a lot of fuel - about 10 litres per ton weight and 100 km. This requires adequate fuel supply, which could easily overextend the resource base of countries without much domestic oil production and limited or no access to foreign crude oil.

Even with hindsight, it should be rather astonishing that tanks became such a success in 1939 till 1942. The many historic failures of tank employment - including a failed Iranian attempt early in the Iraq-Iran War that saw Guderian-like ambitions fail due to lack of competence - point at how much has to come together for successful armoured warfare.

S Ortmann

related: About tanks, and why they're a necessity in modern ground forces


"Difficult" logistics

The German minister of defence has talked a bit about the coming withdrawal from Afghanistan and among other things he mentioned that it's going to be a complicated logistics effort. The planning is apparently to be completed around September. We have less than 5,000 men personnel in Afghanistan.

I was irritated by the actual press reports; much of the press uses the word "difficult" instead of "complicated"*, and that's something entirely different. The threshold for a "difficult" logistic movement should really be much, much higher. Sure, Afghanistan is far away, but that's not that much of a problem if there aren't many stops during the transport. The planning for a short flight isn't much less troublesome than for a long flight, and moving goods through East Europe and Central Asia on rail is something we should know really well by now.

Moreover, I'm heavily burdened by knowing something about military history, and ACTUAL "difficult" logistics challenges.

This one example gives an idea:

25 March 1941 Yugoslavia joins Axis,
intends to help Italy against Greece

27 March 1941 pro-British Coup d'état in Yugoslavia
same day: Hitler orders invasion of Yugoslavia

6 April 1941: Axis (multinational!) invasion of Yugoslavia AND Greece
38 German divisions and dozens of other axis divisions were involved

17 April: Yugoslavia defeated, remnants of the Yugoslav forces are scattered

So basically during the age of typewriters, lack of phones in most offices, minimal bandwidth communications and no computers an entire invasion of a country (quarter of a million square kilometres!) was prepared for in ten days and successfully executed in eleven days.

THAT was a "difficult" logistic challenge.

That was, by the way, the kind of performance required to wage large-scale mobile warfare in the East; epic logistical challenges AND capable opponents had to be mastered in parallel. As history books tell us, this didn't go well for more than a few months, but that''s another story.

*: This is probably the result of a sloppy choice of words by a AP (a major news agency) writer.