[Fun] Asymmetry


This was and is actually a very common issue, and very often the key reason for why armed conflicts last long: Opposing forces often enjoy relative advantages in different environments and spend time and resources while trying to entice or coerce the enemy into fighting at an environmentally-induced disadvantage.
British Sea Harrier pilots preferred air combat at lower altitudes than Argentinian Mirage pilots, for example. Mechanized forces usually prefer combat on terrains with hard soil and medium lines of sight, while infantry prefers combat (against mechanized forces) on terrains with short lines of sight and many obstacles. Torpedo boats preferred combat at night, battleships at day.

This asymmetry may even serve to protect peace: One power may prefer to fight a war only under certain circumstances, while its rival may prefer to fight only under different circumstances. Peace-preferring third parties should then strive to prevent either set of circumstances (avoid allying with either power when all they're missing is enough allied military power, for example).

We understand this quasi instinctively. The challenge is to make use of it consciously.


P.S.: Name me one other Milblog which fuses military theory, foreign policy and superhero comic fun like this. :)


Flying infantry and analogies

1950's army sci fi. hat tip to TFB
This 1950's idea of flying infantry was obviously inefficient; bigger helicopters with a pilot and multiple passengers proved to be the way to go until they became gold-plated and unaffordable for most missions.

This was reminiscent about confusions regarding cavalry:
The self-evident replacement for the cavalry horse appeared to be the motorcycle. Fuel transportation and refuelling was much easier than providing fodder (few European cavalry horses were able to perform well on campaign AND live off the land). Maintenance and repairs required less time than horses as well and motorcycles rarely panic in face of gunfire. Back in the 19th century cavalry began to prefer combat on foot (previously only dragoons did so) and this meant that about a third of the cavalrymen were not fighting; they had to stay back with the horses or else the horses might run away or be captured. This need disappeared largely with motorcycles.

Motorcycles were obviously inefficient compared to motorcycles with sidecars, of course. A mere sidecar seemed to allow for the transportation of two or three cavalrymen (or Kradschützen) at little more cost. This was inaccurate, as you need a heavier and more expensive motorcycle for such a use.

Kradschützen column, (c) see enlarged image
Motorcycles with sidecars looked inefficient - especially in regard to convoy length - in comparison to cars. Some of those cars were evry expensive 4x4 cars, though.

Light trucks thus seemed to be more efficient for infantry transportation. Yes, they were used for this back in the First World War already, long before the first fully motorised formations appeared around 1930. There was no way how one could claim to be a cavalryman any more while riding on the back of a truck, though.

Trucks of two to three tons payload proved to be very efficient troops transports. Bigger trucks offered little more load floor and were thus cost-inefficient troop transports. They were also too large for a Gruppe/squad/section and too small for a nominal size Zug/platoon.
The French experimented with offroad-capable troops and kept calling them dragoons; light half track trucks without armour plating. Half tracks were an easy way out of the difficulties with 4x4 vehicles and the high speed steering challenges with fully tracked vehicles.

French motorised troops, likely of a partially motorised "cavalry" division, 1940
This approach was refined into bigger armoured half-tracks in Germany during the late 30's.

The eventual vehicle of choice for transportation of infantry in dangerous areas became fully tracked, 6x6 or 8x8 vehicles. Soft 4x4 trucks became the poor man's (or mobilization) choice of infantry transport vehicles.

HULC exoskeleton, few years ago
This sounds all like ancient history, as armoured personnel carriers appear so very self-evident today. But there's an analogy; our time's Sci fi isn't about individual soldiers riding on wheeled vehicles or flying with one-man-helicopters. Our Sci fi is the man with an exoskeleton. We'll see how this works out. Judging by history, walking vehicles may resemble rather war elephants than an individual man.



Balck/Mellenthin on Tactics

This is a document which I discovered (elsewhere) years ago. It's about time to share. Thirty years ago two German WW2 generals wargamed with Americans the corps-level defence at Fulda.

Don't take this document at face value. The most interesting stuff isn't the operational art content by itself, but the attitudes and behaviour of the people involved. It's an interesting look at how these people (the involved Americans and the two elderly generals) thought and behaved thirty years ago.

I love such documents. One of my favourite books about aviation is an antique book from the late 50's. The Boeing 707 was about to triumph and establish the (still) dominant design for airliners*, but the authors didn't know this yet. They discussed and speculated about options which look outright ridiculous now with the benefit of hindsight.
It's enlightening to think about our time as similarly ridden by ignorance, the misguided spirit of the age ... and inevitable ridiculousness.


*: Moderately pointy radome nose, one passenger deck, luggage deck below, normal tail, turbojets (later turbofans) under the wings in single nacelles, low swept wing.


[Fun] For all the half-track enthusiasts...


1937 French Mercier prototype with 350 cc engine, presumably extant somewhere in a museum. Normal medium motorcycles were eventually found to be fine for courier purposes.

Half-tracks were as far as I know merely a stop gap solution till proper gearboxes for fully tracked vehicles were developed. The early fully tracked vehicles weren't able to steer properly at high speeds, so typical half-track vehicles had a far forward steering axle with wheels, pressed on the ground for grip by a far forward engine. All this "far forward" enlarged the area that needed to be protected on armoured vehicles and the inferior fuel efficiency, high maintenance and low durability of the track part was too much of a burden for non-combat vehicles.
So that's why we can't have cool-looking half-tracks any more. Well, save for a handful aftermarket kits and the Iveco Hovertrack.

edit: How to bicycle in Canada
Modern half-tracks; just not what most think of when they mostly have WW2 half-tracks in mind.


Champions for change

by Roger Thompson, POGO

(Summary: He makes a case that the USN should at least get a few modern non-nuclear submarines and move its attention away from nuclear power safety and engineering towards tactical expertise.)

The recommendations from this article are very much self-evident in my opinion and thus not really interesting. What's interesting is the behaviour of this navy as a bureaucracy (agent) with its own mind, inertia, perception of its environment and lock-ins. It's an interesting case study.
There was no hot conflict challenging its course, and peacetime exercises may embarrass it again and again semi-publicly*, but it kept a steady course.

This kind of steadiness is of great utility when the bureaucracy is actually right and resisting some stupid fashion devised by think tanks, lobbyists and a few panicked officers. It's on the other hand a capital problem if the bureaucracy insists on something wrong, as for example sticking with horse cavalry as battle forces post-1850's.**

The civilian leadership (if there's any) usually has difficulties enforcing a new path without champions for it in the officer corps. The odds of civilian masters getting military theory right where the top brass got it wrong are moderate anyway.
So the typical change usually depends on champions for change among the insiders (which fits to the common theories about innovations and change in organisations). These champions need a patron to protect them against the more conservative top brass - typically an elder, high ranking officer who may not be a fervent supporter in regard to the substance, but has confidence in the talent of the hit protégé. Politicians are rarely such patrons, and it rarely seems to be for the better if they are.
Some military bureaucracies - including the U.S.armed forces if I'm not mistaken - largely took away the ability of senior officers to promote protégées in an attempt to push for meritocracy over coterie. 

Maybe this went too far, and some kind of (reliable) official channel for senior officers to push the career of talented junior officers is highly advisable for promoting innovation and averting obsolescence in a bureaucracy.


*: This article made the rounds years ago, and while patchy, at least some of its points are valid.
**: I know there were some anecdotes of success, but the cost efficiency was simply disastrous and war-losing many times.


[Fun] Spider laser bot

level: Homemade
Too bad nobody's child-enough, responsible-enough among my relatives to enjoy such a toy.

This includes me. I would keep the stronger laser on a spot to see what it can melt or ignite. That's the obvious course of action for a man, isn't it*?
*: Similar to THIS.

Merry Christmas,


The FBI hid its torture manual in plain sight


 by Nick Baumann

The U.S. intelligence community's blend of being extremely disrespectful and being at the same time the village idiot gives conspiracy theorists a hard time in their quest to exceed reality.



Soldier role models


I suppose we all know the typical 'special forces' or 'small arms guru' folks; looking tough, posing with guns, usually with a manly beard, lots of 'tactical' clothing to make sure everyone gets that they're not everyday civilians.
This idolization is clearly originating in the United States, quite successful in 'white' anglophone countries in general and has also spawned its ridiculous offspring in France, Germany, Austria where by comparison negligible idolizations of GSG 9 and similar groups were replaced by a much broader 'tough guy in tacticool kit with gun' fashion.
Luckily, this nonsense only seems to affect a tiny share of the populations; but this share is probably the bigger share of those who pay attention to the military.

Now why did I begin this blog post with a music video?
Simple. James Blunt (James Hillier Blount) - the guy in the video - was actually an active service Household cavalry captain in the UK's army. He led his troops into Kosovo 1999, tasked to occupy Pristina airport. Russian peacekeepers had made their famous dash from Bosnia to Kosovo and had arrived first.
General Clark wanted an attack on them, but Captain Blount and General Jackson (both UK) refused. The incident - which could have grown into a major battle with battalions of Russian paratrooper reserves on stand-by - was eventually resolved with words and a fresh water-depriving siege within a few days.

This singer-songwriter would easily outrank all those tough guy shooters if anybody asked me about examples for military role models. Modern military forces lack IQ much more than muscle or shooting skills.
It's not that soldiers are stupid; the reason why brains are so important is that almost every unit - even and especially infantry - performs much better if manned by more intelligent people. Branches don't fight over who gets the most muscular recruits, but about who gets the smart ones.
The things about 'special forces' and 'small arms gurus' that are getting highlighted by their fanbois are exactly not the brainy, but the rather mechanical things.



[Fun] "Google is Going to Blackmail You"


I'm going to post some more about the whole surveillance and data collection thing in 2014. So far I'm astonished that certain aspects haven't been discussed in national media. I was waiting for it, but it doesn't seem to happen.


The new German Minister of Defence

Von der Leyen is the new Minister of Defence in Germany. The previous career of this career politician was coined by offices about social affairs, families, seniors and health topics.
The German media is picking on this particular case, as it's the most obvious mismatch of qualification and office in the new cabinet. The media is picking on this new governing coalition anyway, obviously feeling a great disdain for it and for the expected scarcity of political action on problems.

German MoD compound, (c) Thomess
It's a governing coalition under conservative leadership, after all - and conservatives have (legitimately) represented a "no experiments" attitude in the parliament since the 1960's, interrupted only by the grand experiment of the German reunification. A German who votes for the German conservatives usually understands that this is a vote for relative political inaction, for an administration of Germany instead of for a reform of Germany.

Chancellor Merkel (notionally a conservative) is especially fixated on conserving one thing one; her hold on the office of the chancellor. She's known to be utterly non-ideological, ready to do perfect U-turns on long-held conservative political positions once the pressure for change grows too powerful. This conserves Merkel's power: Merkel extended the career as chancellor into a third term by doing U-turns instead of waiting till voters force U-turns by voting for other parties.

Some media comments pretend that von der Leyen is still a rising star and possible successor of Merkel, but they don't seem to have gotten the memo that our ministry of defence is the graveyard for aspiring politicians' careers and that Merkel kills the political careers of all potential challengers in time.

It's not much of a problem to have an incompetent career politician as minister of defence once, especially as we live in rather quiet times. It is on the other hand a huge problem if you have a series of career politicians with insufficient initial subject matter knowledge in that office for 25 years.

The problem with this is that there's no effective, stern civilian oversight over the ministry for 25 years. The ministry is a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies tend to run in their own best interest instead of in the nation's best interest unless overseers rein in and push back for the better. 
An initially incompetent minister is most likely not able to do so, as such a person would be briefed for weeks on the subject matter (with some focus on memorizing, not on discussing) and thus the civil service and the senior officer corps can shape their own overseer, making it an ineffective and worthless one.

Just one example; the inspector of the army may brief the new minister on the army structure and say that this and this brigade are tasked to be army formations capable of combined arms tactics ("Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen"). An ignorant minister wouldn't know better. An incompetent person would not notice that said brigade has no artillery component and would not ask whether its mechanized infantry (Panzergrenadier) battalion has mortars as artillery substitutes. The ignorant minister would thus not learn that even mortars are absent. The horrible fact that the entire brigade* has no indirect fire weapons and thus no combined arms capability to speak of** would remain obscure.

It's the same with a great many other topics; the bureaucrats in and without uniform can tell an ignorant minister their story - including their wishlists, which their new civilian overseer cannot understand.

This wouldn't be so very bad if politicians were effective at acquiring deep knowledge while in office. Sadly, the rule of thumb is that politicians are too busy while in the cabinet and cannot learn deeply during this time; they need to base their approach off what they learned previously. This is both a strong case for term limits and a strong case for not admitting subject matter ignoramuses into office.

Sadly, the Bundeswehr will likely get another four years on autopilot, driven by bureaucratic self-interest and inertia rather than by well-aimed reforms. There may be reorganizations and some decisions on big ticket items, and the press may call this "reform", but it's likely not going to be what the Bundeswehr really needs.


*: Panzerbrigade 12, which misleads about its combined arms mission on its homepage, Panzergrenadierbrigade 37 
**: Infantry + armour is a trivial combination. It takes at least additional mortars to qualify as "combined arms", if not the more capable artillery. Panzerbrigade 12 has no more powerful indirect fire weapon than 40 mm underbarrel grenade launchers.

P.S.: Our Heer unofficially gave up the concept of actual army formations. Our army formations are not set up to deploy as such, but serve as pools from which individual units can be pulled for deployments. The table of organisation is relevant for administrative and chain of command purposes, not as a potential order of battle in a conflict. As such, it's a fake army structure, a racket. We would have artillery and battlefield air defences in all brigades otherwise.

I avoided pointing out von der Leyen's gender as I think that this is an unessential part of the issue. The media loves poking at it because it's such an obvious hint towards incompetence.

[Deutsch] Von der Leyen im Bundesministerium der Verteidigung

(English version here.)

Von der Leyen führt nun unser Verteidigungsministerium. Die bisherige Karriere als Politikprofi umfasste Posten für Soziales, Familie, Senioren und Gesundheit.
Unsere Medien picken auf dieser Personalie besonders herum, weil hier das Missverhältnis zwischen Amt und Sachkompetenz in neuen Bundeskabinett am Größten ist. Es ist ohnehin spürbar, dass die veröffentlichte Meinung der Großen Koalition mehrheitlich beinahe feindlich gesinnt ist und von ihr keine Antworten auf dringende Probleme erwartet.

Die Hardthöhe von außen, (c) Thomess
Es ist schließlich eine Koalition unter konservativer Führung. Und Konservative haben im politischen Spektrum (legitimerweise) die Rolle der Bremser und Verhinderer. Das mittlerweile wiederbelebte CDU Wahlkampfmotto "Keine Experimente!" aus den 50ern trifft es sehr gut. Mit Ausnahme der Wiedervereinigung gab es von seiten der Konservativen auch nicht viele Experimente seit den 60ern.
Wer für die CDU stimmt, versteht wohl, dass damit eine Stimme für politische Inaktivität und für die Verwaltung Deutschlands statt für eine Reform Deutschlands abgegeben wird.

Merkel (offiziell eine Konservative) ist vor allem darauf fixiert, etwas ganz Spezielles zu bewahren: Den eigenen Verbleib im Bundeskanzleramt. Sie ist inzwischen bekannt für plötzliche 180° Wenden gegen langjährige CDU Positionen (Beispiele: Energiewende, Wehrpflicht), sobald der Druck groß genug wird. Diese Praxis bewahrt die Macht: Merkel verlängert die eigene Zeit im Bundeskanzleramt, indem Merkel selbst die nötigen drastischen Kurskorrekturen vornimmt, bevor die Wähler es tun.

Einige Kommentare in den Medien tun immer noch so, als ob von der Leyen von Merkel gefördert und protegiert würde. Die haben scheinbar nicht mitbekommen, dass die Hardthöhe ein Grab für aufstrebene Politikerkarrieren und potentielle Kanzlerherausforderer ist und dass Merkel bisher noch die politische Karriere aller potentiellen Herausforderer rechtzeitig beendet hat.

Es ist gar nicht einmal ein großes Problem, wenn man mal für eine Amtszeit einen inkompetenten Karrierepolitiker an der Spitze der Hardthöhe hat. Dies gilt umso mehr, als wir in recht ruhigen Zeiten leben.
Man hat allerdings ein riesiges Problem, wenn man bereits eine Serie von solchen inkompetenten Politikern über einen Zeitraum von 25 Jahren hatte.

Das Problem dabei ist, dass man so lange keine effektive, strenge zivile Führung des Ministeriums hatte. Das Ministerium ist eine Bürokratie und Bürokratien tendieren dazu, sich im Eigeninteresse zu verhalten statt im besten Interesse des Landes als Ganzes. Es sei denn, die zivile Aufsicht und Führung ergreift fest die Zügel und führt die notwendigen Korrekturen durch.

Ein anfangs noch inkompetenter Minister ist höchstwahrscheinlich nicht dazu in der Lage, denn solch eine Person muss erst einmal einen wochenlangen Schnellkurs mit auswendig zu lernenden Infos über das Ministerium durchlaufen - der von der Bürokratie selbst durchgeführt wird. Auf diese Weise können Zivilisten und Offiziere einen inkompetenten Verteidigungsminister nach ihren bürokratischen Vorlieben formen. Die Führung und Aufsicht durch einen solchen Minister ist normalerweise wertlos.

Nur mal ein Beispiel; der Heeresinspekteur könnte den Minister über die Heeresstruktur aufklären und dabei sagen, dass diese oder jene Brigade als Auftrag die Befähigung zum Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen hätte. Ein unwissender Minister wüsste nichts darüber. Er würde deshalb nicht bemerken, dass keine Artillerieeinheit in der Brigade enthalten ist und würde nicht fragen, ob denn wenigstens das Panzergrenadierbataillon Mörser hat. Dementsprechend würde übersehen, dass es eben keine Mörser mehr hat. Der extrem peinliche Umstand, dass ganze deutsche Heeresbrigaden* keine Steilfeuerkomponente mehr haben und bei ihnen deshalb auch keine nennenswerte Befähigung zum Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen** vorhanden ist, würde nicht erkannt.
Es ist ähnlich mit vielen anderen Unzulänglichkeiten; die Bürokraten in und ohne Uniform können einem unwissenden Minister ihre Version der Realität auftischen - einschließlich ihrer Wunschlisten, welche der unwissende Minister nicht verstehen kann.

Dies würde nicht einmal so schlimm sein, wenn Politiker sich wirklich vertieftes Fachwissen rasch im Amt aneignen könnten. Es ist leider eine gültige Faustregel, dass Politiker im Kabinett dafür viel zu beschäftigt sind und nicht viel Tiefschürfendes lernen können. Sie hängen davon ab, dass sie sich in früheren, weniger geschäftigen, Zeiten das nötige Fachwisen und die nötige eigene Perspektive angeeignet haben. Dies spricht sowohl für beschränkte Amtszeiten als auch gegen fachunkundige Minister.

alte Blogtexte mit Bezug zum Thema:
2013-08 More about armed bureaucracies
2013-08 Niskanen's bureaucrats
2012-05 Rank inflation in the Bundeswehr
2010-08 Bundeswehr structure- what I would do
2010-02 Panzergrenadiere in the 2010's

Die Bundeswehr wird vermutlich weitere vier Jahre auf Autopilot verbringen, getrieben von bürokratischen Eigeninteressen und Trägheit anstatt von wohlüberlegten Reformen. Es mag wohl Umorganisationen und einige Entscheidungen über große Beschaffungsprojekte geben und die Presse mag diese dann "Reformen" nennen, aber es wird wohl nicht das sein, was die Bundeswehr wirklich dringend braucht.


*: Panzerbrigade 12Panzergrenadierbrigade 37 
**: Infanterie + Panzer ist eine triviale Kombination. Es braucht zumindest noch zusätzliche Mörser, damit es Sinn macht, vom "Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen" zu sprechen. Besser noch Artillerie. Die Fähigkeit, externe Unterstützung herbei zu rufen, qualifiziert auch nicht dazu. Die Panzerbrigade 12 hat keine mächtigere Steilfeuerwaffe als die ans Sturmgewehr montierten 40 mm Granatgeräte, weil die Panzergrenadiere schon vor Jahren ihre 120 mm Panzermörser abgeben mussten.

P.S.:  Unser Heer hat inoffiziell bereits das Konzept von permanenten Heeresformationen aufgegeben. Unsere Heeresformationen sind nicht ausgelegt, um als solche eingesetzt zu werden. Sie dienen vielmehr als Pools, aus denen man Einheiten für Auslandseinsätze herausziehen kann. Die Gliederung ist nur noch relevant für Verwaltungsaufgaben und Führung daheim, nicht als potentielle Gliederung im Konflikt. Es ist daher eine vorgetäuschte Heeresstruktur. Wir hätten Artillerie und Heeresflugabwehr in allen Brigaden, wenn dem nicht so wäre.
Ich habe es vermieden, von der Leyen's Geschlecht hier zum Thema zu machen, weil es eigentlich irrelevant ist. Die Medien lieben es aber sich darauf zu beziehen, weil es ein für jeden verständlicher Hinweis auf mögliche Inkompetenz ist.

Nachtrag 2013-12-21:
Zu allem Überfluss hat sie auch noch den beamteten Staatssekretär Wolf entlassen und durch einen völlig fachfremden beamteten Staatssekretär ihres Privatgefolges ersetzt. Die Entlassung an sich mag womöglich eine gute Idee gewesen sein, aber einen fachfremden Gefolgsmann als Ersatz einzusetzen verschlimmert das allgemeine Kompetenzproblem nur noch.


Why full power rifles were unnecessary as standard rifles by 1915

Assault rifles typically use cartridges which are at most fine for shooting at 250 to 400 metres distant targets. This came into being based on ammunition maker (especially Rheinmetall-Borsig and GECO) experiments during the Interwar Years, and only rarely do demands for the lightweight long range unobtanium rifle flare up again.
The switch from full power rifle cartridges to shorter or smaller calibre rifle cartridges made fully automatic rifles easier to develop, lighter and more gentle in recoil. Ranges at which infantry fought its battles with its basic rifle (instead of with scoped rifles, machineguns, mortars or infantry guns) had been well within the 400 metre range most of the time ever since the First World War.

Gewehr 98; a typical long barrel full power repeating rifle
It's common to read remarks about how infantry entered (and left) the First World War with unnecessarily heavy and long rifles. Their powerful bullets were supposed to decimate close order (quite parade-like) infantry formations at more than a kilometre distance and were also supposed to stop a horse with a single torso hit. The aforementioned remarks usually conclude that this was unnecessary, as most infantry combat of the First World War happened within 200 metres range, often even in mêlée using bayonets or shovels as weapons.

I've never been satisfied with this. There were long-range rifle fights during the Boer Wars with very similar technology, after all. In the meantime, I've become so very unsatisfied with these remarks that it's about time to write my own take on it.

The story begins in the 1880s, when inventors finally delivered practical low smoke propellants. (They are often called "smokeless powder", but they were neither smokeless nor necessarily powders. I'm guilty of calling them "smokeless" at times, too.)

Blackpowder and real rapid fire - not compatible
These 'smokeless powders' had several important consequences:
(1) Higher muzzle velocities were achievable thanks to higher gas pressures.
(2) The moderate smoke did not blind the shooter: Rapid fire became practical (unlike with the relatively impractical Mitrailleuses which are often overrated in accounts of the Franco-German War 1870/71).
(3) The weapon wasn't fouled quickly by blackpowder residue, which again was important for practical rapid fire.
(4) The low smoke characteristic made it difficult to spot hostiles even after they opened fire. This had important consequences for the value of camouflage, for reconnaissance, for ambushes and for distance as an input for survival.

These characteristics allowed Hiram Maxim to develop his initial blackpowder-based machinegun design into the very reliable, very practical Maxim machinegun.

Rifles (and artillery) gained a lot of effective range and power as well (save for projectile weight, which was rather reducing during the move to higher muzzle velocities). Rifle marksmanship training did at times extend to formation targets beyond 1,000 metres range. Such ranges were previously achieved as well, but the technological progress made this capability much more meaningful with much flatter trajectories.
The higher muzzle velocities also allowed for lighter bullets (smaller calibres) and this in turn allowed for much more ammunition carried (though not necessarily by the individual infantryman).

By the 1890s military theorists were thoroughly impressed by the increased firepower of artillery and rifles (even though some did downplay the actual artillery ranges in their publications, apparently because published figures were lower than the secret actual ones).
The great firepower and range allowed for doctrines in which (at the latest after the marksmen-dominated First Boer War) the own infantry was expected to open effective fire at hostiles at more than a kilometre range and was supposed to establish fire superiority at more than 600 metres.
The other side of the coin was that taking such fire while orderly moving over such a distance was unacceptable, of course. The defenders did not have too much trouble with this, as they could use trees, walls and earthworks as cover and could thus reduce their exposure.
A scene from the Second Boer War

The attackers on the hand - and this was understood before the Boer Wars by some authors - had to avoid such destructive fires by exploiting concealment. They had to close to within short range without being seen, moving behind woodland, buildings, hills and obstructions. The theorists did apparently fail to appreciate that this would require the infantry to break up into quite independently manoeuvring platoons if not sections. Even as late as 1915 important authors still considered the company as the relevant unit of manoeuvre.

Now let's assume the infantry had been equipped with short cartridge carbines and sights good for a few hundred metres only. What would have happened? Judging by individual weapons alone, the attackers could have moved on open fields up to only 400-600 metres distance again. Short cartridges and long range sights would have made things more difficult to predict, but an inferiority against full power cartridges would have been very much evident.
Infantry armament has never been homogeneous, of course. The Maxim machine gun had arrived, and it was capable of shooting well past a kilometre distance with the benefit of a proper carriage with elevation control. The water (evaporation) cooling, reliability and easier ammunition supply to just a few weapons allowed a few Maxim machinegun sections to substitute for the long range rifle firepower of an entire battalion. They were even better than the riflemen at it, as they were much fewer targets and would thus be even less exposed to long range rifle fires than the battalion's partially covered riflemen would be.
So basically the machineguns were the better choice in the long range fire role (once available in quantity, that is by 1915). They were so good at it that the firepower of a few Maxim-pattern machineguns doomed a battalion advance over open fields from 1,000 to 400 metres distance without the assistance of rifles.
On top of this there was the light field artillery, which was also good at long-range fires, albeit not without its own difficulties.

This allowed for the individual weapons to be reduced into shorter barrel, lighter weight, shorter cartridge case, lower recoil assault rifles. These didn't appear in service for four decades after massed rifle fires had become technically unnecessary beyond more than 400 metres.

Video presentation about the first functional assault rifle
Long-time readers may have a déjà vu now; that's because the underlying reasoning is similar to what I wrote in response to the stupid talk about how we should go back to full power assault rifles because Western troops with 5.56mmx45 weapons were not able to respond to some PKMs in Afghanistan (they sure were not outranged by AKMs!).

The demand for full power rifles only because a handful riflemen had to exercise some patience and could not return effective fire themselves is stupid. It's a failure of insufficient modesty. You don't need to be able to shoot back yourself (even though you probably want it real bad). Most such return fire would be wasteful anyway. 
It's enough if the combat team as a whole can respond effectively (or even only sit out ineffective harassing fires). That's why designated marksmen (few men with scoped full power rifles) and battalion mortars are essential for a fine light combined arms mix.



How to interpret the Chinese Navy (maybe)

copyright holders: See here
England used to be a victim of maritime raiding by Germanic people both during the late period of the West Roman Empire (Saxon raids mostly, eventually lead to England being conquered by Anglo-Saxon peoples) and the dark ages ('Vikings' from Norway and Denmark mostly). This raiding calmed down over time after the Norman conquest, and during the 1570-1680 period England turned into a first rate naval power, eventually winning even against the Dutch who had the biggest merchant marine of Europe at the time.

The Roman Empire had a similar turnaround, and Spain's maritime imperial expansion after the rediscovery of the Americas wasn't exactly built on a dominant naval history of Spain either.

These historical analogies and anecdotes keep me from dismissing the Chinese navy as likely going to be an analogy of the German Hochseeflotte under Tirpitz: A powerful fleet with short legs, with almost negligible power outside of home waters and ultimately more a wasteful diversion of resources than a boost to military capability.

The (mainland) Chinese navy might turn out more like the English navy.

China, too, had a history of being savagely raided for centuries by pirates. In their case, these pirates were Japanese - the true seafaring nation #1 of East Asia. China had its straw fire of naval dominance including the famous Admiral Zheng He , but for centuries the coastal areas were even deserted, uninhabited because protecting them was too troublesome (you can't form Grenzer-style militias if you as a central ruler fear uprisings).

Expeditions of Admiral Zheng He - (c) Continentalis
I've seen articles discussing the naval expansion of mainland China, and the focus is almost inevitably on the spectacular: The aircraft carrier. People love symbols, they love personifications because it makes thinking easier. The carrier personifies China's naval expansions to them.

But what is it going to be?
A fleet for defence or generally naval affairs in China's backyard?
A challenge to the most powerful fleets (whichever is going to be such a thing in a generation)?
Or maybe they will go truly global and make some use of their fleet even in distant oceans?

An aircraft carrier signals that operations beyond the practical range of land-based aviation are intended. That doesn't mean much; it would be difficult to even attempt an effective naval blockade of Japan without a carrier fleet. Even an entire carrier fleet would thus not necessarily signal intentions in the South Pacific, East pacific or in the Indian Ocean.

My advice - if anyone asked for it* - would be to not look at carriers, but at auxiliary ships. Look at the replenishment ships and the repair ships. Also look at whether they acquire large and defensible naval bases far abroad (on the Seychelles, for example).

The Hochseeflotte largely lacked these. Pre-1914 Germany was content with having acquired the islands of Helgoland and its only major naval base in distant waters was Tsingtao in China.

I can't tell whether mainland China's navy is going to be a tool of regional or global strength. I do suspect that staring at carriers is the wrong way to determine this, though. Those who are interested (Germans don't need be) should rather pay attention to the unspectacular, not-so-sexy fleet auxiliaries.


P.S.: Yes, you're wrong here if you expect the run-of-the-mill military porn and fearmongering.

*: LOL !


East Asian nationalism

Some professional firebrands and other ignoramuses are still calling mainland China "communist", after three decades of clearly anti-communist reforms and after they created an economy with extreme income inequality and worker exploitation for profit.
We should shed the remains of such simplistic Cold War ideas.

Modern China's policy is first and foremost nationalistic, with socialism or communism merely serving as a fig leaf for the party, as it needs fig leaves to support its claim for its political power monopoly. They may sooner or later develop some more democratic elements, but I would rather expect them to develop them inside the party than with a true multi-party system.

China's nationalism isn't unique; (South) Koreans are also very nationalistic, as is Japan. Both West-aligned countries exhibit a nationalism if not jingoism that's disrespectful enough of lesser people that it wouldn't be acceptable in most of Europe any more (which means a lot, since Europeans tolerate quite a lot nationalism, especially from small and thus rather harmless European countries).

China's nationalism is more complicated, up to a whole notion of China being the centre of the world and other countries being peripheral. Nowadays only the United States and Israel come close to perceiving themselves as similarly destined to be central to the world.

I presume policies for keeping peace and protecting mainland sovereignty in East Asia depend a lot on understanding these nationalisms, and on taking them into account in strategies.

The failure to understand nationalism or even to misunderstand nationalism for communism has been revealed in the needlessly ruinous Vietnam War, which was essentially a war of national unification with communist ideology being both important and secondary.

East Asian nationalism can still be called "nationalism" just as European nationalism, but it's very different (actually, Europe was very heterogeneous in its nationalism as well). Westerners don't necessarily understand them even after we understood that nationalism is an important driving force.

Sinology, Japanology and Koreanology should be considered more relevant than operational research on how F-22 fighters can fight over Taiwan (or rather cannot) when it comes to "defence" or "security" policy in East Asia. We don't need to discuss fashion or pop music, but history, philosophy, politics, organisations and the origin of borders and claims deserve a lot of attention.

I suppose the quality of think tanks, political campaigns, policies and opinions about East Asian security affairs will correlate with how much input Asian studies have fed into them, and how well these inputs were received.
A serious "pivot to Asia" should first and foremost include a generous allocation of money into academic Asian studies institutes and a high valuation of Asian studies graduates in public offices and political consulting. It should not be about the quantity of aircraft carriers, the range of carrier-borne drones and the like.

related: 2009-09 Relevant Chinese history



[Fun] Russian DROPS

... or MULTI (Germany) or PLS (USA) ...

I wouldn't recommend this particular system for loading ammunition, though.



The limit of tolerance

Typically, when economists speak about optimizing something, they think about maximizing the surplus of benefits over costs. "Cost - benefit ratio" is a popular word, but the actual ratio between benefits and costs (the marginal rate of return) is not what you should optimise.
For example, an investment of 1 for a benefit of 10 (ratio 10, surplus 9) is a much inferior outcome to an investment of 100 for a benefit of 200 (ratio 2, surplus 100). It's thus better to speak and write about cost-benefit surpluses rather than about cost/benefit ratios. The latter is much more common and even I do it often, though.

I've looked at military bureaucracies and their products - both historical and modern - for decades, and I can tell you they do not usually optimise either ratio or surplus of costs and benefits. They are not being restrained in a way that would lead them to such an outcome. Instead, all things military appear to gravitate towards another theoretical fix point: The limit of tolerance.

This is a different way of describing what I wrote in August 2013-08 Niskanen's bureaucrats, of course. The "limit of tolerance" is a more general expression than to say "they spend everything they get".

Military bureaucracies do not call for an optimised budget, but for the maximum budget the constituents would tolerate. They do not equip the infantryman with an optimised load, but with the maximum he can carry (or they can convince others that he can carry). Vehicles and platforms aren't going to be optimised in their equipment, but maximised to the limit of the budget-makers. They don't re-organise when it's wise, but when the old organisation becomes unsustainable. They don't adopt unpopular novelties when they're worth it, but when backwardness is no more tolerated. Poorly-suited leaders will not be removed once their unsuitability is discovered, but once its effects become intolerable. Force structures are not optimised for military effectiveness, but have as much of the fancy officer posts (HQ and command slots, fast jet pilot seats) as possible while providing as much of the undesired components as necessary in order to achieve the master's tolerance. Air space deconfliction doesn't strive for minimised overall friendly casualties; it covers the decision-maker's asses as much as can be tolerated without a collapse of the military effort.

Maybe the insight that the actual outcomes are the product of the full exploitation of tolerance rather than an optimisation of benefits surpluses can help us to determine how the actual optimum differs from the status quo, and how to correct the normal outcome in order to get there.


Quick thought on tank design balance

Traditional tank design has to balance firepower, protection and mobility. There is usually a trade-off between these three, as two increase weight and the third deteriorates somewhat with weight.
Good reliability and durability, low supply demands, good range, low maintenance and quick repair are important hidden values which require little trade-off.

T-34: It was the first properly balanced tank, but weak on 'hidden' values.
Many Chobham-generation main battle tanks (beginning with Leopard 2, ending with Merkava IV and Leclerq) got the balance about right, as "Chobham"-like armour finally offered good protection at acceptable weight.

The German 1990's upgrades to Leopard 2 increased frontal turret protection and firepower, whereas later upgrades increased mine protection. Other countries limited their upgrades even more, increasing firepower only through improved munitions.
Much money was also spent on better sensors and electronics.

The 1999 Kosovo Air War and subsequent U.S.Army panic about "relevance" and "deployability" pushed deployability (low weight) to the foreground and AFV development focused on this frantically for a few years. The Iraq War 2003+ shifted the emphasis to electronic countermeasures, roadside and underbelly blast (and EFP) mine protection, but most AFV projects were still relatively modest-weight wheeled vehicles because tracked vehicles couldn't run the same thousands of kilometres every year, much less at the same cruise speed.

Now - after a decade of occupations - the emphasis still seems to be on protection, with very little emphasis on firepower (especially not high-end anti-armour firepower) and mobility concerns are still about cruising on highways or air lift rather than off-road manoeuvres.
The confusion about the American FCS and GCV projects with radically changing protection and mobility demands suggests a certain cluelessness or maybe rather uncertainty:
The meaning of "balanced" is in question. What's a balanced tank (or AFV) design in regard to firepower, protection and mobility nowadays?

Judging by military history, I guess a later generation may find the present emphasis on protection and road mobility exaggerated and may complain about (anti-tank) firepower and offroad (soft soil) mobility shortcomings.



Defending while encircled

Years ago I blogged about how certain aspects of military art appear to be neglected, amongst them such unpopular topics as defending while encircled. It's much more popular to envision oneself as the encircler (but that's not well-covered in field manuals either).

So I decided to run an experiment: I compared several sources with the American FM 3-90, paragraphs 6-27 to 6-82 (which cover defensive encirclement). That's an unusually long field manual section for this topic, and I was curious how well it compares to what I can compile from various sources about the topic.
My reference is inevitably German stuff, since the German army of 1942-1945 had more experience in resisting in and breaking out of encirclements than probably any other army of the world, ever. This performance was in part driven by fear of captivity in Russia, but they must have done something 'right' and learned a lot as well.
The American field manual is a convenient FM for comparison because it's published and available in a new edition (December 2012).

from FM 3-90
The results

The American manual devotes much space - 56 paragraphs - to the topic, which is really a lot.

A comparison with the July 2001 version of the same FM yielded few substantial differences other than reworked graphics:*

(1) The line "The encircled commander also centrally controls his air defense assets, ensuring that the forward units have sufficient short-range air defense coverage." was deleted.

(2) The Pentagonese was updated ("sustainment" instead of "CSS").
(3) The line "The commander counters enemy PSYOP by conducting defensive information operations." was deleted.

(4) "It [the breakout] differs from other attacks only in that a simultaneous defense in other areas of the perimeter must be maintained (ADRP 3-90). A breakout is both an offensive and a defensive operation." added.
(5) "FM 3-34.2 defines these breaching fundamentals and provides guidance regarding the organization of forces, control measures, and planning, preparation, execution, and assessment considerations of combined arms breaching operations." was deleted.
(6) "The commander must dedicate air defense systems to cover critical points through which the encircled force will pass." was deleted.
The richest alternative source I found was the 1950's book "Handbuch der Taktik" by Eike Middeldorf. The lead author was responsible for lessons learned in the German army's general staff during late WW2, and this book reflects this very much. My other sources did not yield much. It appears that the American FM 3-90 covers the international consensus on the pocket defence and breakout topic and added more to it. It features much more about linkup procedure, organizing of fire support and similar procedural topics than my other sources, for example.
The following additional points covered by Middeldorf show how FM 3-90 placed much less emphasis on psychology** and leadership. It's also evident to me that Middeldorf's guidances were derived from experiences, especially in the details.
Additional interesting guidances found:***
(a) Separation of the staff into one staff for defence, one for preparing the breakout and one for both logistics and discipline. These may be officers instead of staffs in small pockets.
(b) Tanks need to preserve enough fuel for the breakout. (The 6th army at Stalingrad did not attempt a breakout because it discovered its tanks had not enough fuel left.)
(c) Both local and central reserves shall be created.
FM 3-90 advices only the creation of a central reserve for blocking attacks and counterattacks.
(d) Defensive perimeter should be shortened prior to the breakout in order to free up more strength for the breakout action.
(e) A simple division of forces during the breakout in attack force, combat-incapable forces and rear guard.
FM 3-90 advises rupture force, follow-and assume force (including flank security), main body, reserve, diversionary forces and rear guard. Its advice about staging a diversion and keeping reserves may be overoptimistic.
(f) The commander of the pocket shall not necessarily be with the attack force during a breakout, but rather show himself more in the rear in order to bolster morale and confidence there. (Commanding officers as local morale boosts and the careful choice of their location to this end were typical ideas of the German army.)
(g) Breakout attack should happen in short leaps to near objectives in order to maintain cohesion of the entire convoy.
FM 3-90 rather advises to push as quickly as possible and without interruption. (Sounds fine in theory, but it also sounds less informed by experience than the other advice.)
(h) It's especially important during the breakout action to maintain discipline, to care for the troops and to keep them informed in order to avoid a breakdown of morale and possibly a panic storm.
I didn't compile what FM 3-90 does better than other sources; one reason is that it's really not interesting (I am in general more concerned about what goes wrong than about what's fine). Another reason is that its length inevitably includes much that other sources did not include.
Overall; a mea culpa from me.
I would have expected a much less complete chapter on pocket defence and breakout in the field manual. The waning attention to air defence, the emphasis on fire control, the mere lip service to morale and the near-total neglect of cohesion were no surprise, though.
*: My method of comparison of these very similar texts was superficial. I compared the beginning, the end and the size of paragraphs to find differences. Subtle differences such as individual words were likely overlooked.
**: Covered briefly in FM 3-90  paragraphs 6-40 and 6-41. This makes it sound like check list tasks. Middeldorf meanwhile created the impression that discipline, cohesion and confidence concerns have to pervade the leadership in general.
***: Applied method; reading of full texts.

edit: It appears that since 2014 pocket defence and breakout have gotten more attention in German army field manuals as one of the special combat situations.

Auftragstaktik condensed

Professional military journals are not very entertaining. There were some interesting ones, but most are horrible in my opinion.
There's an entertaining running gag in American professional military journals, though: For about three decades, authors in these journals have attempted to stomach "Auftragstaktik"*, or help the readers with it.**
The result is almost invariably some long article. Over and over again. To compile a list of such articles since the 80's might actually be fun.

Look, Auftragstaktik is really, really simple.

All you need to do is to delegate thinking to subordinates.

Example: A problem comes to your attention. Normally, you'd think about how to solve it, then give orders to that end.
Auftragstaktik: A problem comes to your attention and you order someone to fix it. Sometime later you receive a report about the result. No thinking about the "how to" is required (unless you're the one receiving the order or imagining that you'd receive the order if you wouldn't act on your own account).

It's actually the easier technique of command. It only takes some modesty and self-discipline.


*: In Germany also known as "Führen mit Auftrag" (to lead with a mission).
**: The other classic running gag are the similar efforts to stomach "Schwerpunkt", of course - but that's a different story.

P.S.: Yes, I couldn't resist taking part in this golden oldie of a running gag.


Calm down about the ADIZ

There's a lot of noise by professional and hobby firebrands who want to prop up mainland China as the new evil empire or something, but the ADIZ (air defence identification zone) story is rather not newsworthy. I can tell it's rather not newsworthy because the Japanese did the same a few years ago and few news organizations did deem it newsworthy.

Here's a map; now figure out yourself whether this ADIZ makes mainland China look more aggressive than Japan:

(c) Maximilian Dörrbecker, from de.wikipedia.org

To get agitated about East Asian disputes easily is an early (and stupid) step towards getting involved in needless (stupid) hot conflicts in distant East Asia.

The usual suspects cry foul about this new ADIZ.
The usual suspects are stupid and dangerous.
Don't believe them. Think for yourself.