Combined Arms

Combined arms is a military theory thing that resembles rock-scissor-paper a bit: One part of the mix trumps when the others don't succeed. Some advanced theorizing about combined arms talks of dislocating enemy strengths, while more doctrine-oriented theorizing raises combined arms to a golden rule for force composition. Combined arms doesn't always have the same meaning, though. 

Combined arms on an ancient battlefield would mean heavy infantry, missile troops (bowmen, slingers, javelineers) and cavalry (substituted for by light infantry in horses-poor regions). 

Combined arms on a European 17th century battlefield would mean pikemen, musketeers, cavalry and artillery.

Combined arms on a European 18th century battlefield was no doubt infantry, artillery and cavalry (the bayonet had joined musketeers with pikemen).

Combined arms in a WW2 sea battle could be escorts (DD/DE/CLAA), armoured gunfighter ships (BB/BC/CA/CL) and aircraft carriers (CV/CVL/CVE/CVS). 

Combined arms in a modern air force strike package could be fighters, bombers, SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) specialist aircraft and stand-off jammer (radio and radar) aircraft. 

Combined arms on a modern battlefield would usually be defined as armour, infantry and artillery (including mortars for this purpose).

This is where I tend to disagree. The list already shows that technological development may change the meaning of combined arms; the meaning is not carved in stone.

It is rather likely that combat engineers should be recognised as a worthy component of combined arms; they are a supporting branch, but they do what combine arms is about: Be the ace in the hole that leads to success when the other branches don't succeed.

Another component that deserves attention -especially at these times- is battlefield air defence, possibly in union with C-RAM (counter rocket artillery mortar (munitions)). Battlefield air defences are necessary in face of aerial drones, but too many people still think that we need little or no battlefield air defences because of our oh-so great fighter fleets.

Modern warfare is very sophisticated and it shouldn't surprise that modern combined arms should have more components than the ancient one.

Here's yet another component; electronic warfare. This comes almost straight out of university physics departments. The physics behind electromagnetic stuff are really tricky, and EW is mostly about exactly this stuff.
Back during the 17th century a line of pikemen in front of the musketeers usually broke up a cavalry charge without actual fighting - a charge into an orderly line of pikes was stupid. Nowadays the well-timed and correct application of a radio jammer could break up a tank company attacking movement because tanks without radio comm would be at a severe disadvantage (example).

Finally I would claim that reconnaissance and observer troops deserve a place of their own, but that's a long story.

Combat engineers
Air defences
Electronic Warfare

Three of these are embodiments of military power. A matchup of army forces for public information would count personnel (kind of representing infantry), main battle tanks (or AFVs in general) and artillery pieces (usually ignoring mortars). Some such inter-military matchups also add air power elements such as combat aircraft and battlefield helicopters.

The others - combat engineers, air defences, electronic warfare - don't appear in such matchups, and that's symptomatic of how they get a lot less attention. This doesn't hurt much unless the budget gets rigged for style over substance (overemphasising armour, infantry and artillery) or unless doctrine neglects some combined arms elements. There's usually a field manual for everything, so total doctrinal neglect is unlikely, but one might still be concerned over infantry battalion field manuals paying no or almost no attention to the cooperation with electronic warfare troops or combat engineers, for example.

I have to admit I didn't find a single military theory work so far that lays out the dynamics between all six combined arms elements (or even recognises the seventh) properly. In fact, a written theoretical work on combined arms is often stuck at the level of explaining the three obvious elements and their dynamics. 

It appears as if there's a lot of room for improvement in military theory left in regard to combined arms theory.
Too bad; it's overshadowed by small wars with their military intelligence and civ-mil relations emphasis and also overshadowed by the after-effects of RMA (revolution of military affairs; buzzword for a huge confidence in electronic equipment).



Early Italian paratroopers

Look at this photo; it shows Italian paratroopers of the early times of paratroops. 
Something isn't right.

Perhaps more obviously, this photo shows WHAT isn't right:
Yes, face first. Landing on all fours.
With some pads on elbows and knees.

Somehow this technique of parachuting (supposedly meant to enable the paratrooper to use his personal weapon during the descent) didn't quite make it into mainstream, not even in Italy. 

It was too dumb, even more dumb than the contemporary German idea of letting paras jump separately from all weapons bigger than a pistol (kind of the exact opposite of the Italian technique documented above).

I wrote this in part to entertain you, in part to remind you that new and shiny stuff usually has teething problems. I've encountered lots of people and articles who believed a bit too much in the promises of something *new* (or something that actually returns once per generation as *new*).

No, it was really just for laughs! ;)

S Ortmann


Minority rights in a democracy

A democracy consists of two fundamental principles: 
(1) The majority rules.
(2) The minority enjoys protective rights.

This blog came into contact with the latter issues - minority rights - twice lately. 
One time someone demonstrated in comments that he misunderstood the freedom of speech as a privilege to publish one's opinion against the will of the publisher. That was nonsense, of course.

Freedom of speech is a protection against sanctions for speech. He cannot be punished for speaking out (unless he crossed certain limits, such as libel). He may find a publisher who publishes his opinion or he may become his own publisher. His freedom of speech does not entitle him to get his opinion published in the publication of his choice against the will of the publisher.

The other example was about the idea that religious freedom might entitle people to mutilate others. This was nonsense as well, of course.

Minority rights in a democracy are protection rights. They do not privilege the minority to do something that's still illegal to do for the majority.
An ethnic minority (say, a hypothetical tribesman from Africa who wants his newborn son scarred) or a religious minority are not entitled to mutilate others while the majority is not entitled to it. Their minority right is that the state must not outlaw the songs of a specific ethnic and it must not outlaw the mass of a specific religion, for example.
THESE are minority protection rights as they belong to every true democracy.

Adopted by General Assembly resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992, Article 8:
2. The exercise of the rights set forth in the present Declaration shall not prejudice the enjoyment by all persons of universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Constitutional ("Basic Law") situation in Germany as it concerns what was mentioned above:
Article 1 includes the protection of dignity of humans
Article 2 includes the right to physical integrity
Article 3 includes Equality before the law
Article 6 includes the duty of parents to care for their children and the state's duty to watch over this.
Article 14 includes a (interestingly conditional) guarantee for property

(All first 20 articles of the Basic Law have a special, most powerful status.)

Minority rights are protections against oppression, not privileges to infringe on other's rights (such as property, health etc).

S Ortmann

related: Democracy Web(site) .

What again do we need helos for? ;)

A cub with tundra tires landing in a space no larger than a parking spot and then takes off after a short roll.
(There are lots of such bush and competition aircraft as well as videos about them.)



A new Kulturkampf

I sense the possibility of an unintended new Kulturkampf in Germany; this time it's definitively not driven by the government. The Kulturkampf was a political conflict of the 1870s especially in Prussia, which established a secular state once and for all, established the separation of church and state and broke many clerical privileges such as the definition of who's married and who's not. 

The horrible English Wikipedia article on Kulturkampf suggests strongly that it was a huge discrimination and prosecution campaign against the Catholic Church, while the German Wikipedia article on Kulturkampf is seemingly about an entirely different series on events (and quite in agreement with what you can read in most German history books about the period).

Kulturkampf: A contemporary caricature
For example, the German wikipedia article mentions how actually the Catholic Church in person of its pope attacked freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. An early supposed discriminations was a law that forbade to incite violence and unrest with sermons. 
Well, in the end the Catholic Church lost (Prussia was predominantly Protestant anyway) and the result was that both the Catholic and Protestant church (each one in German; we don't have thousands of church organisations) agreed on deals with the state which did indeed include some privileges. Religious teaching in schools and the ability to piggyback contributions to the church on the income tax are among these. Rather little changed since. 

This may have come to an end. To date, there are two issues that question the relationship of church/spirituality and state:

(1) Religiously-motivated mutilations of children

Many citizens, especially certain lawyers, medical doctors and certain judges, have run out of patience with the excuse that mutilation of newborns shall be legal because of a religious necessity. This affects primarily circumcision, but it could and appears to creep forward towards questioning the legality of socially accepted piercings (for an earring) in regard to under-16 children. It's certainly unnecessary to detail how the pro-mutilation people reacted.
So far the conservatives appear to attempt to fix the issue by building the privilege to excuse newborn mutilation with religion into German criminal law. It appears this move may be too slow, for the government may face a popular majority against such a jurisdiction already.
Interestingly, the pseudo-Muslim mutilation of young girls in parts of Africa was never tolerated and occasionally damned in the German public. I guess few people who agitated as if we could change such customs in Africa expected us to turn against the forms of mutilation that were so far socially accepted in Europe.

(2) Blasphemy

Unknown to many Germans (until recently), there are indeed two law paragraphs against blasphemy in the German criminal code, and both appear to be questionable. One is directed against provocations that can disrupt the civil peace (§166 StGB), while the other (§167 StGB) is outlawing the disruption of a mass. 
Both appear to be almost entirely unused, and it has been noted that §166 is in practice not used to protect Christian faith from libel because Christians appear to be too relaxed for reacting in a way that constitutes a breach of civil peace. The paragraph is probably from a time when this was not expected. This 'relaxed' behaviour points out that it's not so much the provocation as rather any violent or otherwise illegal reaction that's the real problem - and accordingly, the so far faint demands for getting rid of §166 may gain some steam and succeed. It would certainly be a victory for free speech. 

§167 is very redundant because usually such events happen in a building and it's illegal to enter or stay in foreign property against the will of the owner or a representative thereof (§ 123 StGB). 
The Russian "Pussy Riot" group was sentenced to two years in prison (or rather a labour camp) for such a transgression and this was quite universally damned as out of proportion in Germany.
Guess what? Maximum sentence in §167 is three years in Germany. Maximum sentence in §123 is one year, and in its more stern cousin §124 StGB (meant against a mob entering a building) two years.

I suppose that §167 StGB is totally out of sync with modern Germany and will not stand public scrutiny if the press decides to finally pay some serious attention to it.
A deletion of §167 StGB because of redundancy would be a gain for civil liberties as well, at least for the simple reason that any restriction means a loss of freedom (and this one appears to be totally redundant).

It appears that while Protestant and Catholic churches are long since at peace with German secularity (which doesn't keep them from having and voicing a political opinion on certain issues, of course), the relations with other faiths may change in this decade in favour of more liberties and less strange privileges.
On the other hand, there's a movement that pushes for a deal with moderate Muslims similar to the deals with the two big churches; help them finance themselves (which could in effect reduce foreign influence, especially from the Gulf region) and provide a public school and thus necessarily constitution-tolerant alternative to purely private religious teachings. The moderate Muslims in Germany don't appear to be able to get their act together and form some body that could actually sign such a deal, of course*.

Such topics are still in political backwater and bound to lose public attention within weeks, but they could resurface again and again and some legislative action about these issues is politically unavoidable in the long term. There's certainly some potential for improvement in regard to civil liberties here and it's nice to see that the society is indeed interested in progress and not satisfied to stick to the late 20th century forever.

*: The handful of extremist Muslims in Germany (small groups of loudmouths and other idiots of the same category as neonazis, only even fewer) on the other hand can rather expect their organisations to be outlawed due to criminal and counter-constitutional activities.



Propaganda and Debating Techniques

I found this (old) website with a huge list of vividly described propaganda and debating techniques and think it's worth sharing. It's not by pure chance that some of the propaganda techniques are illustrated with examples from tyrants and warmongers.

(The author seemed to have a bigger feud with a certain organisation, though.)

P.S.: Google / Blogger is forcing the stupid new interface on us bloggers now. Be patient if strange things happen, especially concerning format, disappearing posts etc.


Military capability as an emotional need

Long-time readers probably remember; I'm the kind of guy who looks at military actions, compares costs and benefits (if the latter are to be found at all) and usually concludes that it wasn't worth it.

I did this for about conflicts and arrived at the more general opinion that the military is for defence, period. Actual defence, such as "other military force shoots at us at the sea or in our or allied countries".

For years I tended to bring this attitude and the cost/benefit comparisons into discussions with others, and a pattern became all-too obvious:

Many people are simply not into this comparison of costs and benefits in regard to the military.

The mere idea to be able to bomb place x or have a sub cruising in y or be able to send a brigade into region z to do something - this idea has value to them in its own.

I concluded that people interested in military affairs are overwhelmingly wired for this kind of thinking, and while probably not representative and certainly not influential in very small countries or demilitarised countries such as Costa Rica, they are very relevant in the U.S., UK, France and possibly Australia and Canada.
They dominate the public discussion on national security affairs. Representatives with interest in military affairs tend to have such special emotional needs, and too many of them are warmongers.

These special emotional needs make it almost impossible to determine an optimal national security policy. We don't know the share of these special people with such special needs and we have little information about their valuation of the military capability itself (it seems to be incredibly high, for no money figures leave even the trace of an effect on them).
How could we supply them with military capability in order to satisfy their emotional needs? If we did, would this improve the overall national emotional well-being or would it be too detrimental for the people without such special needs?

Maybe it's possible to tell them to set up a special fund and pay for their desired military capability themselves, while the others only pay for actual defence? Kind of as if Germany had sent the bills for the construction and operation of the Imperial High Seas fleet to emperor and Flottenverein (a pro-Navy association that lobbied a lot; kind of a ~1900 NRA for warships), as they were the driving force behind building said (utterly useless and even extremely risky) high seas fleet.

What can psychologists tell us about these special needs people; are they cultural or genetic? If cultural, can they be healed? Does giving them what they need only grow the need further as with a drug addict and his drugs or can their special emotional need be satisfied for good?

How handle such people with special emotional needs a life in countries such as Luxembourg or Costa Rica? Do they own lots of private weapons and private camouflage clothes or do they suffer from medically recognised anxieties?

It's abundantly clear to me that cost/benefit reasoning cannot explain the drive towards military power alone. Some powerful emotional needs help to drive it, too. Many peace researchers have blamed war and arms race profiteers as well as Niiskanen's bureaucrat with his principal-agent issues for the apparently irrational emphasis on the military in many nations. These explanations don't suffice to explain what has become abundantly clear and documented in the internet age: Many people without such monetary stakes in military budgeting have value the military much higher than the non-psychological benefits can justify.

Arms races - especially arms races without a serious competitor in the race - are shaped in part by nothing more sophisticated than a child's rage attack when its parents didn't buy some ice cream.



Protracted Warfare

Why protract a war? [...] The enemy is strong and we are weak, and the danger of subjugation is there. But [...] the enemy's advantage can be reduced and his shortcomings aggravated by our efforts. On the other hand, our advantages can be enhanced and our shortcomings remedied by our efforts. Hence, we can win final victory and avert subjugation, while the enemy will ultimately be defeated.
Mao-Tse-tung, "On Protracted War"

The essence of protracted warfare doctrine is not to prolong a war out of respect for some mythical oriental principle, but rather to prolong it in order to avoid defeat.

We can conclude, then, that generally, the stronger side in a war seeks to shorten the duration of the conflict, while the weaker side generally tries to lengthen it in order to increase opportunities for a favorable outcome. [...] The stronger side is more apt to seek a clear beginning and ending to a war as well. The stronger side, not necessarily always the aggressor, usually wants to limit the expenditure of means (including time) in the accomplishment of its ends. [...] as a result, we must be careful when we make assumptions about duration in war.
Robert R. Leonhard, "Fighting by Minutes"

Combine this with what I wrote about repertoires and you have a full explanation of why the stupid conflict in Afghanistan is in its eleventh year already.

The best way out of such a conflict with such a protracting opponent is modesty in demands and a negotiated end to the conflict.

The second best way is to simply go home - if you can.

The third best way is to fool the enemy about the relative strength, provoke him into entering the last  stage of conflict and dare a general offensive. This is applicable to Afghanistan as well, but apparently way too much strategy for our dumb alliance.

S Ortmann

Heavy and medium tank design philosophies

I was engaged in a discussion at Think Defence, and want to salvage at least one part of the effort for my own blog:

SO define a modern heavy tank and a modern medium tank then?

A modern heavy tank was designed* with the ability to withstand all hits on its frontal (at least turret) armour and with the ability to penetrate all hostile front armour in mind. Mobility was a secondary development concern.

A modern medium tank was designed* with the ability to defeat all tanks and the ability to withstand almost all** hits on its frontal (at least turret) armour in mind. Substantial sacrifices were made to enhance mobility***.

*: Not necessarily with lasting success or even mere initial success.
**: Including common, but not the most powerful AT munitions.
***: This is rather about soft soil performance and choice of bridges than top speed.

These (unofficial) definitions show why I think mediums aren't at a major disadvantage: The heavies lose their edge to technological progress quickly, while the medium's advantages are more persistent.

S Ortmann

edit: These two definitions are concise descriptions of what I observed how others separate the two tank categories. Well, save for those people who only look at weight. I did not make this up by myself.

related: TK-X video (about the new Type 10 medium tank)



A permanent challenge for societies (II)

It's a sad fact that about seven billion people living in this world also include a large quantity of idiots.

Some of these idiots reveal their depravity by being attention whores with no other skill suitable to gain attention than provocation. Such annoying people are petty, pitiable failures, but they, too, have human rights.
Some of them fit into the category of "trolls", others display "unpopular" political symbols to annoy others, some burn crosses or books and finally, some of them go to the lengths of creating offensive videos.

These annoying people are representatives of the fallibility that's ingrained in mankind, not representatives of their country. No country should be blamed for its hardcore idiots as long as it does not empower them politically. That would be a most serious failure of the society, of course.

Annoying, potentially dangerous hardcore idiots are a permanent challenge and make alertness a necessity, but they are also a test of freedom.
A society or government could of course just get rid of these hardcore idiots - they're easy enough to identify. They could all be arrested, even executed for annoying others.
We don't do this.

If we did, we would empower our government to arrest annoying people. A highly problematic side effect of this would be that the government would arrest people who annoy the government. There would be political prisoners, and thus the society would not be free.

Countries which did burst the shackles of such a dictatorship only recently should be able to appraise the importance of not empowering their government to arrest annoying people. As a consequence, these countries should be able to appraise the need for tolerance the most.

Sadly, revolutions do not automatically create a great sense that freedom has a price. At first, it looks for free. It's not. Freedom requires tolerance, and the ability to bear that certain issues cannot be handled decisively without a restriction of freedom.

Everyone who lives in a free society should remember that his or her freedom is also the freedom of others, and when others lose freedom, so does he or she.

We should help Arabs to understand that we suffer from our hardcore idiots just as much as they do, but this suffering is the price of our freedom. To not pay this price means to drift back to tyranny. To demand that others stop being so tolerant equals demanding that they drift into tyranny.

I believe this is what needs to be communicated the most - to all free or freed societies. It's the talking point that should be applied, not primitive gut feelings about revenge or power fantasies.

So far all reactions of politicians to the recent events have been disappointing to me. These events are not about religious tolerance. they're about tolerance and freedom in general. The problem is one of majority vs. idiots, not of our societies against their societies. I wish some politicians of heavy foreign  political weight would address the real issue as above, probably with more polite words about the idiots to avoid that the media focuses only on obscenities.

related: A permanent challenge for societies


MRL: The Ray Ting 2000

American, Russian, British, Israeli, German, French and Swedish weapon systems are well-known among anglophone people with an interest in the military. These are the "elite countries" (a term from theories about media) that get the most if not all attention.

There's a much greater (even frustratingly large) quantity of weapon systems, though. Maybe some day I will understand why so many incrementally differing weapons have been developed by mankind. The quantity of assault rifle models alone is staggering. AK and AR-15 clones and variations are so numerous that there's no point in trying to memorize them.
81.4 mm mortars differ marginally, but even generations ago when this kind of weapon was new every country seemed to have its own modified copy already.

- - - - -

Sometimes there's a substantial difference, though.
MLRS (a specific "multiple launch rocket system") has almost become a synonym for MRL ("multiple rocket launcher" in general) to the point that I corrected some wikipedia entries conflating these words. The wikipedia article on "MLRS" still redirects to the general MRL article, not to the specific system's article.

There are practically only two versions of MLRS known in the West; the original one on tracked chassis and HIMARS, a single pod truck-based version meant for greater mobility.
Neither is really optimal.

The Taiwanese turned out to have a better idea, and developed the RT 2000. They do usually neglect their army, but they seem to have gotten the MRL thing right (albeit with delays):

This MRL (Ray Ting 2000, RT 2000, Thunder 2000) system does

(1) combine two MLRS pods on one vehicle
(2) employ a high mobility heavy truck as vehicle
(3) offer the choice between multiple calibres

20 x 117 mm (15 km maximum range), 9 x 180 mm (30 km) or 6x 230 mm (45 km)*. The "230 mm" and "45 km" figures are so close to normal MLRS rockets (M26A2) that I dare to say this is most likely an unofficial copy of the 227 mm MLRS ammunition.

I swear, I did not know about the RT 2000 when I wrote back in 2009:

An optimal concept would in my opinion look like this:
* A medium truck-based MRL with a range of munitions of 105, 160 and 227 mm size with emphasis on 160mm (plus ATACMS). This would be part of independent artillery units under corps HQ control.
So they took a heavy instead of a medium truck, 117 instead of 105, 180 instead of 160 and (supposedly) 230 instead of 227 mm. They did apparently purchase MGM-140 ATACMS, for which they have no other launcher than the RT 2000. The RT 2000 is meant for the artillery under direct control of "army groups" (~ corps).
I feel they followed almost the same reasoning.

On top of that they get two launch pods on a vehicle instead of only one on HIMARS, which means less clumsy convoys and less personnel for the same unit firepower.

Now feel free to keep your eyes open for future MRL-related reports and count how often you see HIMARS mentioned and how often you see RT 2000 mentioned. I bet you can detect a bias in there.


*: Per pod, thus twice the quantity of rockets overall.


For your reading

Some readers of this blog mentioned to me military-related literature that they read.

good kitty!

I have two Defence & Freedom links for you that might help a bit with your personal journey through such literature.
One is my list of book recommendations:

The other is about my experience with old literature, with (what I consider) insights about what kind of reading makes sense and what's quite a waste of time:

Also, keep in mind there's an interlibrary loan service in many developed nations. You can usually get these books for a few weeks at almost no cost. I ordered a book worth 110 € in Amazon recently. Soon I'll be able to read it for six weeks (there are copies in German public libraries, I checked that) and it costs me only 2.50 €.

S Ortmann

edit: Damn, I forgot the GIF. I had it stored for months, waiting for an opportunity to build it into the blog!


Civilian internet defence

I don't think that defending a country against malware is a job for the military. This doesn't change when the aggressors (supposedly) wear uniform.
Military bureaucracies do not attract the right people for the job, it's that plain and simple. They're not exactly competent at contracting software-related services, so there's no reason to trust them with "cyberdefense".

Sadly, the very same applies to the police forces as well. They're routinely lagging behind ad hoc efforts of clubs and even individual users when it comes to dealing with crime in the internet, i.e. child porn.

The first stop for "cyberdefense" should be the commercial PC security suite developers with their anti-virus fight experience. Such companies exist in most larger Western countries. The Russia-based Kaspersky has ruined the CIA's day more than once when it began to deliver protection against its attacks while Western competitors appeared to collaborate.

I'm still trying to figure out what "U.S.Cyber Command" wanted to tell us by
publishing this photo op of a clueless-looking soldier with lots of nonsense on computer screens.
Let's assume we would be sensible enough to foster at least one such company in our country instead of allocating millions at incredibly inefficient efforts to the same ends in our uniformed bureaucracies.
Would that suffice?

Well, there's a huge motivation problem at work. Sellers of protection software are not interested in keeping the malware from reaching computers in the first place. They're interested in it reaching the computer, so their product gains importance.

Safety precautions such as deactivating USB ports, limiting connectivity of company or agency computer networks to the internet to necessary connections and so on would be outside the interests of such a software provider.
Civilian IT security advisors can do this, but the small companies (even self-employed individuals) have varied standards of quality and big companies in the business suffer from the typical efficiency and service quality deficiencies of large consulting companies (which focus on attracting customers with much show, and pay less attention to substance).

The government might thus find that certain safety precautions should be sponsored through publication of security standards, enforcing minimum security standards and through controlled efforts at government-influenced companies (including the monopoly electricity network providers).
Whatever efforts of its own it's going to have in regard to IT security; it should be modest. The government is not going to attract many really good employees even if it tried to recruit them to a civilian, non-uniformed agency is a city with great quality of life and better pay than usual for public employees. The few it's going to get should be put to best use.

Finally; kick every bureaucrat in the ass who purports that IT defence specialists could be created by sending someone normal to a course!

S Ortmann


The Dunning–Kruger effect

I have repeatedly complained about incompetence, and I think it's about time to point my readers' attention for a short while at the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. As Kruger and Dunning conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others".

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

(1) tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
(2) fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
(3) fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
(4) recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill

It's no wonder we get things wrong so often; people still trust more those who are confident and have a firm opinion than those who admit that their knowledge has limits and a problem is tricky.

Keep the Dunning-Kruger effect in mind when you listen to politicians, experts, analysts and the likes. You're of course also free to keep it in mind when someone disagrees with you, for it opens up the possibility that he simply cannot see your genius. ;-)

- - - - -

(As usual, I am unable to exclude the possibility that I am under influence of this phenomenon at times. It's in the nature of the beast that I couldn't tell.)

S Ortmann


Employment of the M982 in Afghanistan

The latest on-line issue of Fires (a U.S.Army artillery branch journal) has a gem in it: An article about the employment of a precision artillery shell in combat.

by MG (RET) Toney Stricklin

The article is a gem because it's such a nice demonstration of how a piece of material in itself doesn't mean much. Sure, he praises the round, but look at his focus: The availability of the identical piece of hardware had vastly different impact on U.S.Army and USMC forces in a single theatre of war. They're even from the same nation.
Training, organisation, region and mindset were creating a difference of an order of magnitude!

He also points out by the way how skills have deteriorated over the past decade, adding his voice to those who already complained about certain neglect of some military skills.

Finally, two critical remarks:

M982 (dummy)
(1) Guided ammunition is usually very, very accurate. The CEP (circular error probable) was a few metres even with some of the earliest guided weapons, and the M982 round is usually very accurate as well. CEP and similar measurements are badly misleading for guided ammunitions, though: They refer usually (if not always) only to the ammunitions that worked. A guided shell with a malfunction might stray off the mark much more than an errant dumb shell. In addition, guided ammunitions with a largely ballistic trajectory are at times not aimed as carefully as dumb rounds or even deliberately aimed such that their trajectory would overshoot the target without guidance. The latter adds some energy for manoeuvring to the trajectory.
All this means that a super-accurate shell design may work super-accurately many times, only to ruin your day another time. It's a matter of risk acceptance. Take his remarks about dispersion with this grain of salt.

(2) He didn't use the sunk costs fallacy argument when discussing the costs issue, despite it being largely applicable to the situation. Disappointing.

S Ortmann


Nuke modernisation gone stupid

From the journal Foreign Policy about a U.S. modernisation program for free-falling nuclear bombs:

Consolidating four modifications into a streamlined bomb is a pretty ambitious work plan. But, as if that weren't enough, the Air Force wanted the proposed B61 Mod 12 to be more accurate than the original B61. The major limitation on accuracy has always been the parachute that slows the bomb's descent, largely to prevent the bomb from splattering when it hits the ground. Parachutes, though, mean the bomb drifts a bit in the wind. The Air Force wanted to replace the parachute with a guided tail kit, like that used on precision munitions. But removing the parachute introduced a new complication: An atomic bomb dropped without a parachute will explode before the airplane is safely away. That means NNSA must also redesign much of the packaging and components to survive "laydown" -- i.e., thudding into the ground and then exploding a few moments later.

This made me think "idiotic idea" immediately. 
I wonder why?

There are two main considerations for the location of an explosion: height and surface composition. A nuclear weapon detonated in the air, called an air burst, produces less fallout than a comparable explosion near the ground. [...]
For subsurface bursts, there is an additional phenomenon present called "base surge". The base surge is a cloud that rolls outward from the bottom of the subsiding column, which is caused by an excessive density of dust or water droplets in the air. [...]
For subsurface land bursts, the surge is made up of small solid particles, but it still behaves like a fluid. A soil earth medium favors base surge formation in an underground burst. Although the base surge typically contains only about 10% of the total bomb debris in a subsurface burst, it can create larger radiation doses than fallout near the detonation, because it arrives sooner than fallout, before much radioactive decay has occurred.

The militarily "useful" effects of a nuke are its overpressure wave, heat radiation and the first few seconds of nuclear radiation. All that comes afterwards is unwanted dirt. This 'upgrade' seems destined to make the nukes dirtier, more troublesome.
An airburst is not only less dirty, but also more effective. Hilly and rolling terrain diminishes ground burst effects on ground troops and surface objects and doesn't create the constructive interference blastwave that  airbursts can produce.


Anonymous comments

Spammers re annoying, and part of the reason why I don't want anonymous comments. Too bad so many legit commenters insist on posting anonymously or adding their name only into the text body.

Here's some of the spambot crap that I get:

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The only raison d'être for these serial liar spambots appears to be the manipulation of search engine rankings.

So to everyone who used to comment anonymously; is this the company you want to be with? 

Step 1: Simply choose "NAME/URL":

Step Two: Type your alias in the "Name" box:

Step three: Click on "Continue" button.

Step four: Normal comment in text box.

S Ortmann


[Fun] Cpt Wedley

I almost didn't believe it when my check revealed I didn't embed this, ever!
(It's five years old already, after all.)



Again sunk costs

It is really, really astonishing how people come to power without having the slightest bit of immunity against one of the best known logical fallacies.

The former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon, now government whip, said Australia was pursuing the right strategy. ''Every one of these incidents causes me to rethink our strategy but every time I rethink it, I come out with the same conclusion, which is that we cannot allow everything we've done to be in vain.''

source hat tip to ELP

It's incredible. No matter how much sweat and blood has been spilled already, this won't be changed by immediate withdrawal or permanent occupation. It's past. History. It's by definition impossible to change. No matter what course of action you choose for the future, those past costs appear on every possible course of action (or rather: They appear on none!).

Mathematically, you can delete them on both sides of every alternatives-comparing equation:

(past benefits and future benefits alternative A) minus
(past costs and future costs alternative A)
compared* with
(past benefits and future benefits alternative B) minus
(past costs and future costs alternative B)

is exactly the same* as

(future benefits alternative A) minus (future costs alternative A)
compared* with
(future benefits alternative B) minus (future costs alternative B)

Past benefits and costs do not influence whether alternative future course of action A or B is superior!

- - - - -

Past expenses are IRRELEVANT. People are irrational and don't get this easily, but it's a fact. DO NOT take into account what cannot be changed by your decision or does not have an effect on the outcome.


I wish the media would check whether politicians are too stupid to get basic things such as fallacies right - and then expose the fools BEFORE the election. Instead, they fail to do so even after the fools behaved like fools. People die because of such failures!


*: Difference, not quotient.


edit: To clarify so everyone, absolutely everyone agrees who reads this:

I like cookies and think they're worth 1 €.
I flirt with a saleswoman and get one cookie for free.
Another cookie is left, price is 1.20 €.
Shall I buy it?

I would if I irrationally took into account irrelevant costs and benefits.
After all, I would count the cookie I already have as well, and 2 cookies for 1.20 €, average 0.60 €, would be fine.
It's nonsense to think so, though. 1.20 € for one cookie is overpriced.

Now switch, I'm the salesman now and I have already lost one cookie for free. The woman offers to buy the second one for 1.20 €.
Shall I sell it?

Of course, that's the damn price my boss says I shall demand!
It would be idiotic to not sell the second cookie unless the person is willing to pay 2.40 € for the second cookie. 1.20 €, 1.40 €, 2.39 € - these are prices that mean I'll make profit by selling the second cookie. There's no reason to demand 2.40 € minimum.
Sure, I can mourn the loss of giving away a cookie for free, that was probably a mistake. Shit happens, it's past. Probably my fault. Yet, my profit maximisation guideline from my boss is still to sell cookies for 1.20 € apiece, period.

National politicians are supposed to maximise the welfare of their nation. They don't if they fall prey to the sunk costs fallacy. Those who do fall prey to it are incompetent.


Insensitive munitions

War News Updates is a blog that is engaged in quantity production of blog posts, with strongly toned-down selectivity. Still, at times there's some noteworthy post, as this one about insensitive munitions:

The technology isn't all that spectacular. They apparently decided to use some insensitive explosive that does not blow up on petty influences such as a bullet penetrating the metal casing at 800 m/sec and they did something about the fuze that keeps it from blowing up when hit as well.

Insensitive munitions with explosives (and if I remember correctly also propellant) that do not blow up when not supposed to are an old story. There's no clear line to be drawn between sensitive and insensitive munitions as far as I know.

The disaster on the carrier USS Forrestal in 1967 for example was so bad because old bombs were involved, while more modern bomb types wouldn't have cooked off in the fire so quickly.
"Insensitive munitions"  as a term has appeared in published journals very often since the mid-90's at the very latest (that's what I remember).

The employment of insensitive munitions is often times a huge improvement (that doesn't get the same attention as fancy electronic gadgets do), but it's not a complete solution to the problem of secondary effects. Many such insensitive munitions don't blow up (I think there's no need to show a photo of a T-72 with its turret upside-down 20 m away, right?), but burn instead. Burning munitions can still be really, really bad news, too.

So insensitive munitions are an improvement and deserve attention as such. Many small innovations providing unspectacular improvements such as insensitive munitions do can make the difference between a sound, robust army and an army suitable for parades only. The same cannot be said of most fancy electronics.
The individual progress achieved with IM does not necessarily live up to the hopes of their users, though. War stays shitty and is a hell hole for many people involved.


S Ortmann


[Deutsch] Gesetzentwurf: Entwurf eines Siebenten Gesetzes zur Änderung des Urheberrechtsgesetzes

(German politics topic.)

Ich möchte nur kurz zu Perlentaucher verlinken, wo ein angebrachter Kommentar zum Gesetzesentwurf veröffentlicht wurde. Weitere nützliche Links wie auf den Gesetzesentwurf selbst sind dort enthalten.


Die deutschen Zeitungsverleger sind ihrem Ziel, Information zu monopolisieren, durch das nun drohende Leistungsschutzrecht einen Schritt näher gekommen. Die Politik ist vor der Lobbymacht der Medien in die Knie gegangen.

Selbst die Jugendorganisationen der CDU und der CSU sprechen sich hier gegen das Gesetz aus. Sie wissen, dass ihre Parteioberen aus Angst vor der Bild-Zeitung im Wahlkampf einknickten. Aber sie kennen auch die Strafe für solche Gesetze: die Piratenpartei.

Gruß an Bildblog.

edit: link: Die Scheinargumente für ein Leistungsschutzrecht

Cultural differences

Sometimes I think along the lines of "All this inter-cultural conflict stuff can't be that difficult.
Studies have revealed that an East African man and a Swedish man are more aligned with each other in their behaviour than a Swedish man and a Swedish women and similar stuff, after all."

At other times I see stuff like this and feel suddenly a huge cultural gap even within the so-called "Western World":

The addicts at the local railway station make me feel very alien as well, of course.

S Ortmann