Palestine joined the U.N. as observer and I'm appalled

The news is that the U.N. general assembly has accepted Palestina as observer, and thus apparently / kind of recognised it as a state.

The result is that I'm appalled and could generally puke a lot right now.

The reason isn't the General Assembly's vote, though - it's what happened around said vote. It's the talking point spewed by far too many people, including the German and U.S. ministers of foreign affairs.
This talking point is very well summarised by Clinton herself:

Supporters of the Jewish state both in the United States and Israeli fear that the upgrade in United Nations status could open the door for Palestinians to bring war crimes charges against Israeli leaders in the International Criminal Court.
"it places further obstacles in the path of peace," Clinton said.
"We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that they deserve," Clinton said.

Just as a reminder; why is it that if a foreign army invades your country you can shoot its soldiers without being a criminal or evil person because of it? Killing people is outlawed, after all.
The reason is your country's sovereignty. Said sovereignty is to be respected. An invasion would disrespect it.
Sovereignty doesn't come out of hot air, though. It's not made up directly. Instead, it's derived from the right of nations to self-determination:

The right of nations to self-determination (from German: Selbstbestimmungsrecht der Völker), or in short form, the right to self-determination is the cardinal principle in modern international law principles of international law (jus cogens), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the Charter’s norms. It states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference

Now make no mistake; this right is also meant to apply to nations not having sovereignty yet:

On 14 December 1960, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) under titled Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples provided for the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples in providing an inevitable legal linkage between self-determination and its goal of decolonisation, and a postulated new international law-based right of freedom also in economic self-determination.

So basically, what the Palestinians (or Arabs living in Palestine) have is the right to self-determination. This is a most fundamental right; the basis of national freedom. It's been strongly advocated by a U.S. president a while ago and others ever since.

Now what do Mr. Westerwelle, Mrs. Clinton and all the others who subordinate recognition of the right to self-determination to diplomatic tactics or strategy? They disrespect said right, quite equal to disrespecting the sovereignty of an already established state in my opinion.
This is in my eyes a 100% immediate disqualification for a job in anything resembling foreign affairs or a national-level cabinet.

The right of nations to self-determination is a foundation of the civilised world, it's THE foundation of international law since we don't ascribe this right to monarchs and princes any more.

Nobody should ever rate such a fundamental principle lower than one's own tactics or strategy. This is most disrespectful.
I'm fine with Germany not voting on the issue in the General Assembly, that's always an option. Yet Mr. Westerwelle should have shut up and not let such poison out. German foreign policy has been about strengthening international law for all its benefits. Now he needlessly sided with those who treat international law as nice to have if it helps you and to be disregarded if it's an obstacle to anything substantial you want to do.
That's a horrible mistake, sadly not our first one; the 1999 Kosovo Air War participation was quite tainting as well.

The whole topic is close to my indignation about the frequent nonsensical accusations of Germany in regard to Slovenia and Croatia gaining independence and getting internationally recognised. The common and utterly idiotic story is that Germany supposedly is guilty of promoting the bloody war in Croatia and possibly Bosnia by recognising Croatia early. 
For starters, we weren't even the first, not alone and many Western countries considered to recognise these nations' right to self-determination. The war in Croatia had begun in March 1991, including some early ethnic cleansing actions by Serbians while Croatia was recognised by Germany (together with Iceland as 3rd European country doing so) as late as December 1991. Still, Germany was made a scapegoat in the anglophone world.

More fundamentally: How dare these people to assert we should decline this right to self-determination to other nations? That's the exact same crap as happened these days!

A nation's right to self-determination is not up for debate or bartering. What's up for debate is merely whether the group in question is a nation.
There's no doubt the Slovenians were and are a nation, and the Croatians were and are as well (their Krajina border wasn't optimal, though; yet no worse than the status quo ante). Furthermore, the Palestinian Arabs are no doubt not the same nation as Israelis, albeit some of them are a not fully equal minority within Israel's U.N-recognised borders of 1966.

The treatment of the right of nations to self-determination and the whole independence recognition thing shows how too many leading Western foreign politicians and too many people offering (in my opinion idiotic) comments on foreign policy are still very much devoid of principles. Principles which the Western world has created, officially established, vowed to respect and can claim as one of its great civilisation advances.

I don't care about walls, pyramids or even stuff like moving letters or the number zero much in comparison; international law is the great civilisation advance which brings peace, cooperation and the respect that's necessary for both from the village and region level up to the continental and global level.
Respect for international law, its basics and foreign people is our best hope for avoiding the Fourth World War as described by Einstein:

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Albert Einstein US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955) (quotationspage)

I'm trying to stay civil here, so I won't extend this into a more detailed appraisal of the mind of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Westerwelle and what I'd love to do with their heads right now.

S Ortmann


Covert artillery

Well done!

It reminds me of the South African Valkiri MRL which uses a tarpaulin to look like a normal supply truck.

Further related:

2010-04 Club-K Container Missile system video

2009-02 Warship Stealth

edit 2012-12-01: Comments on grognews are skeptical whether it's really an improvised MRL. Well, the photo is actually two years old (hence "captured"), and another photo shows uniformed officials inspecting it so it's not totally pulled out of someone's behind. It may still be from another region than Gaza, but I honestly don't care. It's the idea that's of interest, not the location.



The European modes of warfare from WW2

There's a widespread misconception about what WW2 in Europe looked like on the macro scale. The typical view is that the victorious armies reduced opposing armies, seized land and concluded the campaign victoriously.

I meant to write about (against) this for a while but didn't because I deemed a lot of evidence necessary to convince anyone. Obviously, I did not muster the motivation to compile all the stuff I already know for such a blog post. Instead, I finally settled on a cheapened version of the blog post; no evidence, but possibly inspiring some people to keep the eyes open so they can see the evidence more clearly elsewhere themselves.

OK, so what's wrong with the typical view as mentioned before?

The thing about "reduced" is badly misleading at best.

This is quite fundamental, for the prevalent idea of a war between great power is one in which one side's military destroys the other and then victory happens. A totally mislead belief even without francs-tireurs or similar guerillas.

What really happened were two different modes of achieving success in campaigns, with a third mode relevant in almost all inconclusive campaigns/offensives.

(Mode 1:) Some of the German successes 1939-1941

Characteristic of these successes were very quick campaigns, mostly decided by striking where the opponent wasn't prepared.

1940 Norway: Norway was poorly defended, not the least because Britain wasn't prepared to intervene in sufficient strength. They had considered the option of invading it themselves, but were still unprepared.
1940 Western Campaign: Rear airborne invasion in Netherlands and the famous Ardennes push with tank divisions prevented an effective defence by the enemy. The Western powers were actually not substantially inferior in any quantitative parameter, but almost half of the Western forces were defeated with remarkably little fighting. The key to success wasn't destruction of many Western powers divisions, but rendering them useless for the defence of France.
1941 Yugoslavia: 11 days of the most successful preemptive attack ever. Very little combat. An entire regiment rolled through the country without a single even only platoon-sized fight.
1941 Greece: Overrun because the Greek forces were focused on the Italians in Albania and simply not positioned for successful defence.

The primary mechanism was capturing territory through turning movements and encirclements in 1940/41.

(Mode 2:) Overpower for victory, reduction of enemies as a mere finisher

The German military forces were ultimately defeated (depending on how to determine it they had effectively lost sometime between late '41 and mid-'43). Yet, the German military had more (and more powerful) combat aircraft, tanks, AAA and more troops and field artillery pieces in in early winter of 1944/45 than in 1939/40!* It had sustained huge losses for years, but it did NOT shrink. Its reduction was NOT the key to Allied victory!

It was driven back because
(1) The share of aggressive young soldiers in the combat arms was reduced.
(2) Mode 3 rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat

This leads to 
(Mode 3): How most non-decisive offensives really looked
One force overpowers another (or threatens to do so), the weaker force enters a retrograde movement usually with delaying actions, eventually the culminating point of the offensive is reached and both armies get a break for a while (including receiving many replacements for personnel and material).


The idea of WW2-ish warfare being about destruction of an army in the field followed by occupation of land and forcing the political leadership into surrender is largely misguided as far as it concerns Europe. This is what the war of 1870/71 looked like (albeit the initial political leadership in person of Napoleon III surrendered with the army). WW2 wasn't about reducing the hostile army to get your way. It was about forcing it to yield by overpowering it or by making its geographic position horrible.

I suppose this fundamental misconception has probably caused a lot of damage to at least Western military thought for decades.
You can win by reducing the other army and then occupying their capital, but this isn't really WW2-ish. It's more close to the Israel wars style where destroying a tank army in the field (irreplaceable during the war) yielded success.

*: This is what I meant to collect evidence about, but didn't for want of motivation. The Luftwaffe had thousands of fighters and many other aircraft even by War's end (little fuel and too few fully trained pilots, though), there were thousands of capable tanks in early '45 whereas the force of 1939 was a collection of fewer training tanks by comparison. AAA figures multiplied. Field artillery is tricky, as the share of smaller calibres and low quality captured guns rose over time. Troops quantity only collapsed in '45, while quality collapsed already in '41/'42.
Likewise the "defeated" German submarine-centric navy entered the war with less than a hundred subs and had hundreds about a week before war's end, on average larger and much more powerful ones.

P.S.: Very huge conflict, very short text. Readers should take it as an inspiration to look at WW2 history in order to check whether this blog text is about right. Small deviations in the grand scheme of European WW2 from the text's description don't bother me. I suppose those who get all-focused on minor deviations will never benefit from any model-like approach attempting to describe general patterns.

To be really, really clear: The remark that drove me towards finally writing this blog post was about destroying the enemy quicker than he can replace his losses. That's what I meant with "reduction" here. This "reduction" is not the same as attrition, but the balance of attrition and replacements. WW2 did work like this in the Pacific Naval Warfare (not even the air war), but WW2 in Europe was not about taking more out of the contest than gets added to it.
To assume the latter is analogue to thinking of a fight as a pushing match in which the opponent ultimately goes down.
In European WW2, said match was rather about going past him or about pushing him until he yields with a step backwards, then follow up with a step forward of your own and finally resume with exerting pressure. Rinse and repeat.


Japan and its 'military' spending - an example

I've read -yet again- how someone complained that Japan has a 1% GDP defence spending and the U.S. has a 5% defence spending yet the Japanese still fear the U.S. might not be able to defend them if cuts occured in DoD budget.

It doesn't matter where I read it, as this kind of thought could probably be found hundreds of times with an internet search engine and the same attitude more generally would certainly be found ten thousands of times.

Let's ignore whether the Japanese defence spending is really 1% (official figures say so), whether the U.S. military (hardly "defense") spending is really 5% (about right +/- 1 % point depending on how you define it) and whether any Japanese really has such a worry at all.

Let's instead look at the scenario of a rise in Japanese spending from 1% to much more, even if less than 5%. In fact, let's focus on non-economical effects for now.

Japan has "Self defense forces" with a small budget and inefficient arms production rates. It may be a hollow force or not (there were Cold War rumours about ridiculously low ammunition stocks), but it still has a top ten air force and a top ten navy. Their relative neglect of the army is understandable, given Japanese geography and the army's striking uselessness against Godzilla.

 (I didn't check the entire videos for accuracy; consider them entertainment.)
Warning: Atrocious music.

What would Japan look like to foreigners with a bigger budget for arms and troops?
Let's say quadrupled to UK-like 4% (The UK fits as an analogy because of its geography):

Even the pretence of a "Self Defence" character of the armed forces would disappear instantly. All that additional money would hardly go into stocks, better pay, better barracks and modernisation of existing units or the army in general. Most of it would no doubt be spent on additional warships, combat aircraft (or development projects for the same).
This would in turn be a threat to other countries in the region, especially South Korea and mainland China. Even the Taiwanese might be irritated.

Keep in mind that an additional 3% GDP on military affairs and military strength gain would no doubt look ugly to regional foreigners in conjunction with the still-widespread and rather disrespectful Japanese brand of nationalism.

The consequence would be a diversion of South Korean national security efforts away from continental threats, likely a lot of irritation and disunity among the U.S.'s friends in the region and China would almost certainly force the pace of the regional arms build-up.

How exactly would this benefit the U.S.?

You got to assume U.S. leadership will be stupid enough to let the hyped-up rivalry turn into actual war (not the "war" Americans talk so often about; "War on drugs", "War on Christmas", "War on women", "War on terrorism" - ACTUAL WAR) to see any benefit in substantially greater Japanese "self defence" spending.



RFID: An example for when to step in and say "Stop, reverse and never dare again!"

People should generally not be treated like criminals or slaughter cattle, period. I hope every German judge would intervene forcefully against such practices if given the opportunity, on the grounds of article 1 of the constitution:

Article 1
[Human dignity – Human rights – Legally binding force of basic rights]
(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.
(3) The following basic rights shall bind the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as directly applicable law.


Iron Dome's baptism of fire

So Iron Dome, the U.S-sponsored Israeli anti-rocket system (which shoots with relatively cheap guided missiles to intercept unguided ones), appears to be working. The reports about its effectiveness suggest a very high rate of intercepts (possibly by firing more than one interceptor rocket per incoming one), but even more so they confirm that the system is selective:
It predicts the point of impact and compares it with a map of protection-worthy areas. Uninhabited areas (even large open spaces within settlements) are not defended. This is an important characteristic for a hard kill defence against unguided munitions, quite close to hard kill systems for tanks which don't engage RPG warheads which are going to miss anyway.*
This is of great relevance in those famous cost comparisons between the offensive and the hard kill defensive munition, of course. Too bad; the entire approach becomes invalidated once it faces guided or trajectory-correcting munitions or even only munitions suspected to enter a terminal trajectory correction (or guided) phase a few seconds prior to impact.

Iron Dome missile launcher,
(c) supposedly by NatanFlayer
Reports also indicate coverage is still patchy and short-range rockets pose the biggest problems despite their low velocity and crudeness; the reaction lag for detection, classifying, decision-making et cetera is the problem. Again, not without parallel: I remember calculations from a book about three decades old showing that there would be no time to launch a nuclear counterstrike while the first strike of the Soviet Union would be under way. No U.S. president could have made such a decision within the IIRC 7 minutes time window. Hence the importance on surviving a first strike with enough weapons and communications intact for a retaliation and thus for deterrence prior to the must-never-happen first strike.
Reaction lags are always a problem in systems involving human decision-making

So in the end, the semi-mobile Iron Dome system (it would be kind of static in a mobile warfare context, for its dislocation is restricted to an area which might be overrun by a day's manoeuvring - there's no need to adapt to unexpected landscapes) doesn't really provide a baptism of fire for counter rocket area defences at all, it's merely relevant to a specific niche, and only so in very low intensity. I suppose the Israelis would never deploy enough Iron Dome firing units to cope with a Soviet 1980's style division's MRL salvo**, for example (or with an Arab army 1970's Soviets wannabe style MRL salvo).
The practice of marking areas for something isn't unknown in mobile warfare or in what passes as such nowadays; the U.S. Army had lots of no-fire zones during its 2003 Iraq invasion. The problem with such things is that they depend on thorough updates in short intervals, or else the effort will turn very ugly in face of an opposition which actually does mobile warfare, too. Blue Force Tracker systems are in theory up to this challenge, but they contribute to the excessive radio traffic addiction of modern Western-style ground forces and this addiction creates a multitude of potentially disastrous problems against capable opposition as well.

In the end, small wars reports remind me more of what we don't know about wars between great powers for lack of such wars (=good thing in itself!), than they enlighten us (or at least me) about the current state of affairs in general.

*: I think I wrote about this selective fires thing sometime, somewhere before, but I'm too lazy to look it up.
**: In case you wonder why I took a now-defunct example: It's not about re-fighting WW3, but about using an example known to be a realistic threat when people are serious about preparing for warfare between great powers. We might go back to such seriousness, after all. I'm fine with it if we never do, of course. That's kind of the point of this blog.



Just in case someone wonders why the conflict about Gaza still lingers on (and is thus on hand for power games to help in domestic politics and elections):

Haaretz / Reuters, January 2011

Expect a revolt if you run the largest prison on earth.

Helmet cams and training

The introduction of cameras to police cars had delivered lots of video evidence for courts, and occasionally hilarious youtube videos, too.

The introduction of helmet cameras to infantrymen (or people supposed to be the same) has delivered lots of raw footage of firefights. This YouTube account has published several examples.

Sadly, my most regular reaction to what I see on such videos is to doubt that these people received basic training, switch off and then ask someone else for a second opinion (which is usually as harsh, but I may have a selection bias towards selecting like-minded people for these questions).
I suppose there are also videos of good examples.

The training value of good examples videos has to be great if employed well. The training value of poor example videos with clear marking of what was done incorrectly is likely not negligible either.

It looks as if this development has added another tool for the tool set of infantry and more generally soldier training; field manuals, instruction charts and staged instruction movies look like 18th century parading by comparison - at least in regard to preparation training for the specific conflict.

These very same videos might on the other hand be an equalising factor between different nations' combat troops: Countries with no substantial participation in conflict could benefit, and even paramilitary forces could with a small budget.

This looks similar to the development of laser-based training systems such as MILES or AGDUS, which added realistic direct fire lethality to training. Same in regard to training projectiles such as for gotcha or the official army training munitions such as FX Simunition which follow the same approach with actual combat weapons.

We might see effects of such equalising training aids in the long term; sooner or later some foreign infantry force without remarkable reputation is bound to surprise us with competence. This happens occasionally anyway, but the next time it might be because of such equalisers.
We better pay attention to pushing the envelope with continued improvement of our forces. That's the way to go anyway, for we want the required bang for minimum bucks, right?

S Ortmann

Clarification: I don't mean videos as substitute for outdoor training. I meant these actual combat videos in the (widened) niche that staged training videos have in military training already. Troops need to be trained prior to combat experience, so the more close their approximation to actual combat is, the better.


Is finding hostile surface warships really all that decisive?

A few days ago a Foreign Policy article was stressing the importance of finding the enemy in modern naval warfare. The author was -despite the diplomacy-themed publication - no foreigner to military theory. He was co-author of RAND's swarming study, which I think I already quoted and referred to on this blog. It's neat.
I intended to write about the article all along, so here it is.

The emphasis surely resonates with me, as I emphasise elusiveness for survivability and surprise a lot, but the author also creates a wrong perception or two in my opinion:

(1) The importance of elusiveness is a new, modern thing:
[...] the distilled essence of naval operations today: the hider/finder dynamic.
(2) Smaller means more elusive:
The most valuable vessel [...] that is, the one that is hardest to find and hit -- is also the smallest combatant.
I disagree with (1) and don't think (2) is worth being proposed. 
Let me take you on a tour:

Exhibit (a): A text on the survivability of carrier battlegroups of the late Cold War era, in face of the huge and elaborate Soviet navy and naval and strategic aviation assets.

by Andy Pico, 1999

USN CVBG, 2000

Exhibit (b): A summary of the U.S.Navy's fleet problem series of experimental exercises involving aircraft carriers.

by G.J.Walsh, 2011

which includes as a primary source quote:
Evident to Reeves and to the carrier commanders who followed in his footsteps, was the reality that in any future engagement involving aircraft carriers at sea, the first carrier to locate and bomb the other would determine the outcome.
which provokes additional questions*, but also shows the great importance of scouting at sea; to find the enemy first was already considered to be decisive back in the 30's.

Similar points an be found in much of naval history, even disregarding submarines. Just think of the difficulty of finding and intercepting the Spanish Silver Fleet on the Atlantic Ocean, of hunting down privateers outside of their bases, of military commerce raiders, the great importance of cruisers/frigates/corvettes/Avisos and the likes as a screen of eyes for the battleship line, supposed to enable getting into contact with the other battleship fleet and supposed to buy the time for deployment into a battle line.

Hughes goes to some lengths in several chapters of his Fleet Tactics book about the role of scouting, sensors and so on. It's really a lasting, not a modern topic.

The littoral (supposedly) combat ship wasn't meant to be stealthy to actually hide in the Persian Gulf or close to Taiwan's shores: That's simply not a realistic expectation. 
I personally have been suspecting that radar stealth for surface ships has been about making hits by active radar-guided missiles less likely among lots of chaff and jamming. The ship itself is rather easy to find for the launch platform's sensors; even a ship with an invisibility cloak would still be detected easily by wave pattern analysis (with radar) or by its cavitation (by sonar) once it moves faster than about 5 knots.
The only trick needed is to have the ship-seeking sensor and its platform close enough for this (unless it's a satellite). That's not hard close to land bases, but more so on the open seas or in adverse weather conditions (with their detrimental effect on sensor ranges).

To find the other warship has been a challenge on the open seas for a long time, but it's hard to prove that this problem was ever much-related to ship size.

The British had lost contact with the huge Bismarck until the German admiral on-board sent a lengthy radio report believing the ship was still being on British radar (RDF) screens.
Difficulty in finding ships was always more related to weather conditions or with their distance to relevant land bases than with their size.

Moreover, the "finding" part may actually become easier, making it less of a feature of modern naval operations than of historical ones.

Mr. Arquilla also generated a false impression of the role of LCS (which really is just a cost-inefficient frigate). The original, actually thoughtful, idea which led to the LCS was to have many small ships not to hide them, but to make them unworthy of an attack. They were supposed to saturate relevant maritime areas with their presence and relatively short-ranged sensors, and an atatck on them would not have been too bad becuase the crew was meant to be tiny. Furthermore, their destruction by for example a submarine would necessitate that the attacker compromises his position - and said (much more valuable) attacker would then be counterattacked and destroyed.
The USN deleted all daring thought from the concept and added a lot of farce and spin in order to get a replacement for Oliver Hazard Perry frigates (to preserve officer billets and the bureaucracy's size) and the shipyards just added a lot of costs.

Mr. Arquilla, your work on swarming was more interesting and useful.

S Ortmann

*: Among other questions, it raises the question how they anticipated to wage war at sea at all if they were so sure about he vulnerability of surface warships. Ground-based air power would be able to survive a first strike and retaliate against the carrier and other warships in their paradigm. This excluded naval actions close to peer power land bases. How exactly did they envision to execute War Plan Orange in such a paradigm?

edit: Rewritten on day of publication because the original version was confusing.



I had to edit an old post after I realised I had mixed up rotten boroughs and gerrymandering. geez, why did nobody tell me in the comments?

Anyway; gerrymandering is still a problem, even in the Western world. I hope our next election will not be distorted by questionable election math.

"Now That's What I Call Gerrymandering!"
  By Adam Serwer, Jaeah Lee, and Zaineb Mohammed

S Ortmann


Next time someone wants to impress you

... with a vehicle's cross-country ability and technical quality by using the twisting of axles as proof (such as on this photo) remember this!



Syria - Where is the National Interest?

In response to Think Defence:

"Syria – Where is the National Interest?"

I have two candidates:

(1) What the UNSC or even UN General Assembly wants done, for supporting the UN means supporting an institution which works for peace and stability*.

(2) What Turkey wants done, for Turkey is the only formal ally (North Atlantic Treaty) which sees its national security interests affected by this Civil War.** Supporting an ally in a useful collective security alliance is usually good business unless said ally is aggressive and is stepping over bounds.

To have an identified national interest doesn't mean you should intervene, though. The national interest is what makes up most of the "pro" side. There's also the "contra" side of human tragedies, fiscal consequences and distraction of the nation from more pressing challenges.

S Ortmann

*: It's fallible, of course.
**: The Lisbon treaty ally Cyprus does appear to be rather safe thanks to the maritime spacing. Israel is not in a written (and published) alliance with either the UK or Germany. Nor are Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq as far as I know.


Armada 3/12

This time I'll comment on an entire issue of Armada International; issue 3 / 2012. Just for fun. Well, and to show how poorly aligned I am with mainstream and especially the arms manufacturer view on military affairs.
No, really, 99% for fun. Have fun!

Btw, I was a subscriber for this publication long ago, but became weary of it repeating the same blather about the very same topics over and over again. It appeared as if someone at Armada was fully employed only for writing medium AFV articles, for example.

p.6 "Where do modern soldier programmes now stand?"
related: 2009-09 Soldiers of the Future (programs)

This article is essentially about the status quo of the industry's discovery of infantry forces as cash cows. It's peanuts for big arms manufacturers, every piece of kit is only in the five-digit range. They ignored this market for long, but squeezed by the end of the Cold War they finally became interested.

The fundamental problem with these projects is even visible on the article's photos; the equipment is unwieldy and heavy. We'll probably find a way to make night vision less unwieldy than those flip-up night vision devices and heavy batteries will sooner or later be replaced by energy supply with a better energy/weight ratio, but the problem remains. It remains simply because all these gadgets are to be carried in addition to armour, weapons, ammunition, drinks, clothes, shelter, bandages and food.

It would be sensible to finally communicate that this kind of gadgetry is really for leaders and coordinators only. A mortar fire control NCO may have great use for it, an infantry platoon leader may have great use for it. Most others can only carry very much reduced electronic gadgetry sets, mostly a tiny intra-small unit radio and maybe one night sight (mounted on helmet for one eye, to be used in conjunction with weapon-mounted IR laser then or removed from helmet and attached to the weapon's sight for distances beyond ~30 m).

By the way; the Batlskin face armour advert on the other page is telling: In the old times, soldiers were trained to use their senses such as smell and hearing at night. They would be brought to a field or woods at night and asked for what they smell and hear. Some would pick up the diesel fumes smell. Then next a Leopard tank would activate its headlights, standing only 20 metres away.
Can you imagine that infantry equipped with total smell and hearing shutdown helmets would do this kind of training? Would they be sensitive to the potential ability of hostiles to detect them in the woods by the smell of tobacco or different diets as happened in Vietnam?

The ancient Romans knew better, and I think I kind of did, too.

p.20 "Today's 'must-have' assets" (about AEW&C aircraft)

This one has a funny editor glitch on page 21, where the editor has apparently marked a false info, but neither removed the marking nor has the false info been corrected. Boeing 707 models including the E-3 can cruise higher than 30k ft, of course.

The article is a typical Armada International article; an overview over the hardware on offer in a specific niche, totally devoid of any thought or critique. It's pleasant on the eyes, though.
What thought would be possible? Well, for starters AEW&C have become an almost indispensable component of sophisticated air power, with long-range air search ground or ship radars and cooperative employment of long-range heavy fighter radars from fighter chains as only real alternatives.
AEW&C remained largely unchallenged in regard to soft and hard kill countermeasures during the small wars in which it was employed, and everybody seems to have become used to this.
The Russians were fully aware of AEW&Cs potential and paid a lot of attention to countering such a  capability, though. They have very long range surface2air and air2air missiles to deal with AEW&C aircraft (push them farther back at the very least, limiting their contribution to offensive actions). They also have -and seem to offer on the international arms market- various jammers developed to jam AEW&C as well as other aerial long range radar capabilities (such as E-8 with its SAR and GMTI radar capabilities).

An air war against a power which you couldn't easily stomp on without AEW&C would probably see AEW&C badly degraded in its utility. This makes datalinks between fighters and security efforts for fighters (fighters following fighters in order to keep their flanks under surveillance) even more important, and consequently datalink problems such as the initial lack of Link 16 upload capability of F-22s a really big deal.

Then again, that might turn into an actual journal article, not a mere super-superficial presentation of what's on offer.

p.28 "Swiss knife for Jack-of-all-trades whirlybirds"

Note to self: There's apparently some funny stuff to smoke out there. Wonder how entertaining my blog post titles would be if I smoked it.

I am actually questioning my "editor fault" hypothesis, for these blue markers keep appearing.

OK, the 'article' is a superficial overview on what kind of armament you can put on a helicopter. All known to me, and the only interesting thing was the photo of a firing 57 mm rocket pod of Soviet / Russian origin: It appears that the solid fuel rocket burns out before it leaves the pod, similar to Bazookas. Good for them, for this eliminates the rocket propellant debris problem once and for all: A couple years ago it was determined that Hellfire missiles could damage the launching helicopter (most likely the glass surfaces of its sensors) by ejecting high speed propellant fragments backwards. This is at most a problem for the horizontal tail if the rocket was burning out immediately.

It's interesting that the article ignores the Russian development of lots of thermobaric warheads for guided (formerly anti-tank) missiles. This warhead is meant to make such missiles more versatile. Guided 70 mm missiles may be able to occupy much of that niche, but the alternative Russian approach deserves notice if your only ambition is to give an international overview.

p.38 "Situational awareness: A lifesaver for vehicle crews"

"Situational awareness" has become a buzzword about a decade ago, as part of the "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) fashion. The idea was that if you know everything around you, you can defeat your enemy easily by exploiting this (allegedly superior) knowledge. It's a stillborn on the levels of battalion up for a fundamental reason why I reserve for a certain book, but the buzzword was recycled by hardware suppliers on the vehicular level once it was largely worn out on the higher tactics levels.

As usual, this article is merely meant to deliver a superficial overview on what's on the market.
I didn't expect them to include gunshot location sensors, for they're really not about what "situational awareness" really means. Situational awareness implies that you are aware of the rifleman before he shoots, not only afterwards. A laser-based optics detector (exploiting the reflection on the glass) as it was popular in development projects about 15-20 years ago would be more fitting. Anyway, such gunshot locators are only noteworthy if the gunshots are few; they're meant against harassing fires during occupation duty. They're not going to be really relevant during a conflict with a great power's army.

The drawing on page 40 attracted my interest: IR illuminators? Really? They're not going to be a good idea if you're dealing with well-equipped opposition; such illuminators give your position away to standard night sights over very long range.
Moreover, the depicted arrangement of sensors appears to lack redundancy and an unnecessarily large quantity of sensor emplacements has been used at the same time.
How to do it better? Well, emplace four spinning (around the vertical axis) sensors on all four corners. Voilà, 360° coverage with 2x redundancy. The spinning means some moving parts and thus probably a shorter mean time between failure, but who cares? 2x redundancy! Besides, the sensor could be built such that even if the spinning mechanism is defect you could still fix the sensor in one direction with a screwdriver. Said spinning sensor would need to have a quick refresh rate, of course. This might be a challenge at night (and only at night).

p.50 "Accessorise tactically"

Oh, I get lucky. The fun was just going away, the whole writing became dull when Armada did me a favour and provided an example of how much it likes to delve into pretty much the same topic over and over again. This article could really be joined with the soldier modernisation programmes article and nobody would have wondered about it. Well, at least it's not the gazillionth article about 8x8 AFVs.

Intro: I cannot understand analogue radio traffic. Seriously, it doesn't work for me. Therefore I hail the introduction of digital radios, which happened during about the last decade. Can you imagine that only 20 years ago we still had no practical means of audio compression and thus no good music on our computers? MIDI music ftw was the battlecry then. All hail some researchers (among them many Germans) for giving us music on our digital devices!

The digitization and compression of audio as well as certain radio technology advances allowed for a huge increase of radio chatter by the military, and this was one of the RMA drivers. Prior to the late 90's, RMA was about guided munitions more than about all the communications and sensor stuff. What are sensors good for if you cannot tell others about what you're sensing?

OK, enough intro. The article has the usual overview of hardware *yawn*. What's really missing is some information about how well the stuff works. Skull-listening microphone? WTF!? They insist on keeping me from understanding radio voices even in the digital age!

They mention hearing protection, but I didn't see a reference to hearing amplification. Yes, sometimes it would be interesting to listen into the night with help of some electronics (especially if some monster helmet obstructs your ears). Microphones could pick up the sound, electronics amplify it, filter out irrelevant noises to some degree, limit it to what doesn't damage your ear and then play the sound with almost no delay with the earphones you're wearing anyway. Among all the gadgetry displayed, I wondered why this one wasn't included. Especially as it could even be turned into a rudimentary gunshot locator without additional weight.

p.60 "Fighter market in frenzy"

I'm always irritated by such articles. This one is *surprise* yet another hardware overview. The question is: Whom does it address? I believe there are almost no people with professional interest in its information (for the ones who need it already have it). The publication does usually address a professional audience, though - as evidenced by the advertisements.

There are interesting things you could write about fighter hardware, of course. The most interesting stuff is usually in the details. One fascinating example are pylons (the things you attach munitions and drop tanks to) with a second job, such as chaff and/or flare dispenser, radar warning antennae, or even jamming equipment.
Kits for short take-off and landing (STOL) such as RATO (rocket-assisted take-off), hooks, piston engine-driven catapults and semi-mobile ski jumps are largely out of fashion, which is a pity. A high-end fighter operating from a 200 m strip of highway is a fascinating subject, especially in face of all the efforts directed at airfield attack munitions and the attention garnered by the STOVL capability of the F-35B.
The actual performance of wide field of view sensors such as the F-35's DAS is very interesting, too.

p.67 "C295 sales hit the 108 unit mark, and introduces a wealth of improvements"

I will skip this, for it appear to be a 'sponsored' article. The official author is the editor-in-chief of Armada international.


It is a pity that many military professional journals of the hardware-oriented kind (and there are dozens; I was astonished by how many poor publications advertise their issues at Eurosatory!) are so perfectly devoid of thought or commentary. Armada international is among the less horrible examples, some of them have an advertisement to the product mentioned in the article right next to the article - without exception.
I wonder what utility such journals have for professionals. JED journal (on electronic warfare and stuff) at least goes down to the component level, with advertisements for what can only be identified as spare parts by a common soldier. Such a publication has at least some actual professional audience focus, while 'newsy' overview articles as in Armada do not appear to have much value. Anyone who is working in the field knows about 95% of the journal's content without reading it.
What's the point of a publication if it's not informative, doesn't offer at least uncommon interpretations or views?
I guess there's a market for this kind of publication that consists of beginners with an initial need for superficial infos and of people who simply enjoy all the graphics and stuff.

There's an Einstein quote, which can be translated as "A smart head doesn't fit under a steel helmet."; it could be interpreted as accusing the military of a lack of intellectualism. Publications such as Armada certainly don't help the military sector's defence against this accusation.

S Ortmann


When your army's procurement is too expensive ...

it's probably time to fire the negotiators.

All this for basically the same vehicle!

Don't even try to explain this with inflation, training packages, spare parts packages or added gadgets. It's futile.

The Saudis are notoriously poor price negotiators and overpay on many arms imports (in public; in practice they buy so expensively because all the bribes add to the price tag), other countries' heavily armed bureaucracies spend too much as part of some industrial policy.
The data from above is a representative (not a lone wolf!) for another kind of waste; outright incompetent negotiation of prices.

For comparison: A custom-modified armoured street vehicle with VIP luxury features for politicians and the like costs about 500 grand.

S Ortmann



The idea that Afghanistan was on its way to democracy or republic has faded away. It has become obvious that Karzai is focusing on maintaining power for him and his corrupt clique, not much unlike Putin.
A democracy without democrats or republic without republicans.

A piece of paper with letters on it is only as powerful as much power the people lend to it. Its powerful if people obey the letters, and just a piece of cellulose if not. To call it "constitution" doesn't change this and never did, nowhere.

So what they're having in Afghanistan and Russia as well as many other countries is the system that's competing with democracies: No matter what it's officially like, in reality it's a patronage-based system.
Students of history recall such systems from the ancient Roman Republic; powerful patrician patriarchs were heading an extended familia including many ordinary citizen, who gave followership (especially politically) in exchange for protection. The patriarch was their lawyer, lobbyist and sometimes also their bank.
It wasn't very different in Germanic tribes, where leaders formed group of people following them and getting advantages (such as spoils of war) in return.

ISAF and other Westerners were working a lot along multiple fictions in Afghanistan. One being the fiction of a republic. The people knew there was none, and it was all about patronage. The people in power extracted wealth (for the time being mostly from the naive foreigners and drugs) and this wealth did to some degree trickle down in exchange for followership. The way to government services was followership, not going to court or waiting for government turning competent AND altruistic.

The foreigners were not meant to provide a patronage parallel to the government, for they were supposed to support the government, to stabilise it. This kept them from gaining followership they wanted; even if only followership for their cause. They could buy some followership temporarily, but they're astonishingly incompetent in followership politics. They can tell you a lot about elections and parties which are mere tools of the patronage systems, but have no clue about patronage.
Maybe ISAF lacked enough South Italians and Greeks.

South Italia and Greece are a European region and country respectively which know very well how to maintain the facade of democracy and can fool both EU and Northern Europeans into believing there's true democracy and one could expect their politicians to work along the democracy pattern of politics, even if only along a general populist model (in which the politician addresses much of the population, without a strongly established pattern of patronage). There's a grey zone between patronage in all its forms (even the most totalitarian regimes, monarchies etc are patronage-based; no government runs on intelligence service terror alone) and democracy.

Even Germany has a bit of grey, as for example the conservatives pander to farmers and clerics regularly, while the social democrats can be expected to rarely hurt labour unions. The politicians of both parties expect political support in return; labour unions are expected to have a red-ish political messaging and no poor timing for their actions that could embarrass social democrats in power and the churches are expected to support conservatives on all family policies at least.

A really dangerous form of patronage involves money; lobbying and especially a tight connection between big business or the financial sector and the cabinet. This can range from unusual access by a lobbyist to a politician that distorts a politician's perception of public opinion or public welfare up to Fascist corporatism in which business elites willingly cooperate with a Fascist government and get advantages such as silenced opponents or monopolies in return.
Right now the energy political problem #1 in Germany is that our energy lines cannot transfer the huge amounts of energy produced by wind power from the North to the South. The power lines are simply unsuitable. This issue dates back all the way to a 1930's monopoly law enacted by Nazis to create regional monopolies for the energy big business elite. Said monopoly regions did not connect well with each other, so we had developed in effect a fragmented energy supply grid during most of the time of its expansion. This was even a critical vulnerability in the strategic air war, but the Allies didn't get this in time.
It's not the only such stupid legislation that still haunts us by being in effect legally or de facto.
Another example is a ban on interregional bus lines from 1934 that was meant to please the leadership of the already long ago nationalised rail traffic corporation. We get rid of this nonsense monopoly only now. This nonsense is the effect of patronage policies; they're not efficient at all for anything but sustaining political support.

Cold War propaganda has indoctrinated us for decades that the contest is between Western liberalism and Communist totalitarism. In reality, it's a slippery slope that ranges from politicians being forced to govern for their people to politicians getting away with maintaining power (or trying to do so) with patronage.

The decade-long misunderstandings in Iraq and Afghanistan where  the installation of Western-style democracy failed and the decade-long misunderstanding of Greece as a modern Western country with politicians oriented at national general welfare were probably a late effect of Cold War propaganda.
We should open our eyes and watch out for whether foreign politicians are patronage-driven. That's likely more telling than keeping count of imprisoned journalists.

We should also be alert, and reject patronage attempts at home and punish patronage politics in elections. As mentioned before, it's a slippery slope. There's more than one Western country in acute danger of sliding it down.

S Ortmann

Indirect clown fire

Hat tip to Eric Palmer, from whom I shamelessly stole this great headline.

An allied Afghan platoon opened up with their .50-caliber machine gun, spraying bullets all over the valley, and their mortar team went into action. Within seconds, the team of three had run down to their position, yanked the cover off the mouth of the heaviest weapon on the post, unwrapped an 82-mm round and dropped it down the tube. There was a strong metallic clink, followed by a blast as the bomb went zooming out from the mortar. Seconds later a boom reverberated over the surrounding mountains, and the Afghan crew stood on tiptoe, trying to see where it had landed. 
And that is the point. Over the course of 10 days in October 2011, the Afghan National Army (ANA) mortar crew never actually aimed their tube. They never took a bearing, never read out elevations, never set up their aiming sticks — though they did continuously clean and oil the weapon.

Bombs Away: Will Afghanistan’s Artillerymen Learn How to Shoot Right?

War is a continuation of politics. Politics is mostly talking. Some ways of warfare seem to be a lot about noise and less about killing and destruction than others. I suppose the Afghan way of doing war and the always amusing yet tragic photos of African 'militiamen' are about a way of war that prefers to talk with guns rather than to focus on killing with guns if faced with armed opposition.

It is a lot more about doing noise than Western troops can possibly accept as competent. This kind of works among themselves, and that's probably what we should allow to happen.



The anglophone obsession with infantry patrols

One thing kept me puzzled for years: Why are anglophone soldiers so obsessed with infantry patrols?

I remember almost no reference to infantry patrols in German military literature. Some hunting patrols meant to hunt partisans were known by '42, the German infantry company manuals were amended with chapters dedicated to patrols in peacekeeping missions and the germanophone Jagdkampf tactic (guerrilla-like infantry platoon actions) may occasionally come close as well. Other than that, I almost exclusively remember few platoon-sized cavalry Fernpatroullien.

Somehow germanophone infantry seemed to have been able to accomplish its jobs with patrols being limited to close scouting, very often 2-3 men patrols with very few km depth as well as a bit more firepower-rich walks between entrenched positions to keep an eye on the front-line.

I wonder why every time anglophones discuss infantry, they appear to focus on infantry patrols, while Germans tend to focus on the Stoßtrupp (a platoon assault) or Jagdkampf instead.

William F Owen even drafted an entire doctrine approach for infantry called "Patrol Based Infantry Doctrine".*

It may be due to the influence of small wars, of course. Small wars / "peacekeeping" is what drove the term into German field manuals, after all.

related: An anglophone field manual on infantry patrols, old enough to not be tainted by post-2002 small wars.

P.S.: The funny thing about this is that back when I was in uniform, it was common to quip that GI's couldn't find out of a forest without GPS. Despite all that patrol emphasis. ;)

*: Infantry Magazine, January-February 2006


Addendum to previous post about missiles and sensor aircraft

I should add that there are comparable developments of what can be done in the naval and air power realms.

Anti-ship cruise missiles of long range (such as RGM/UGM-109B) proved to be impractical because of too long duration of flight; target vectors were obsolete upon arrival. Cruise missiles with data downlink can solve this to the degree of making it unnecessary to launch anti-ship munitions from the aircraft that senses the target.

Another parallel is in anti-submarine warfare. A stand-off anti-sub rocket such as Klub 91RE2 can replace the lightweight torpedoes carried by ASW helicopters, thus improving their endurance a lot. This was as far as I know the idea behind the ultimately cancelled ASW-SOW Lance long ago.

An air war equivalent would be if fighters uploaded target info and surface-to-air missile firing units launch autonomous missiles (no semi-active seeker, no exclusive command control). That's certainly an option for a large air force that doesn't trust its ability to keep AEW aircraft on station and expects to be at least occasionally on the defensive. The biggest charm of this example is that a usually saturating attack wave would become almost impractical because the defender doesn't depend on the quantity of air2air missiles onboard of fighters in position. Surface2air missiles can be kept on station (on the ground) almost indefinitely.

Elsewhere you may read about quite the same stuff under the keyword "net-centric warfare" or similar. My intent here is to point out that while there's much talk about net-centric stuff, few people seem to go all the way and consider the former "sensor and munition" platforms now predominantly as "sensor" platforms. I have so far not seen any discussion outside of this blog that points at the desirability of ATACMS- or Iskander-like munitions in air force inventories, for example.

Such schemes depend on the reliability and availability of adequately ranged radio communications, of course. This degrades the approach to a nice-to-have thing in addition to a robust conventional approach, even if the latter is may become reduced to a backup. Kind of how carrier aircraft schemes replaced battleship into backups.

S Ortmann