Anti-ship missile ranges


The topic is very, very technical and tricky, but there is indeed good reason to think that navies expecting to be superior in ship-killing by aircraft and submarine are prone to neglect surface warships' capabilities in this regard.

We have seen lots of Western air defence, anti-submarine and general purpose warships for decades, but the only surface combatants with a clear emphasis on surface ship killing have been smallish fast attack craft.

The whole issue may be much less dramatic or even reversed if the Raytheon RIM-174 (Standard Missile 6, SM-6) with its active radar and datalink turns out to be capable of hitting ships over the horizon. Its range is huge and both its high speed and datalink would help against many difficulties the seaskimmer missiles are facing. In physics theory, one such missile could even illuminate a target for several SM-2ER missiles with semi-active radar seeker (same 8-10 GHz frequency range) for a very short time.

As mentioned before; the whole topic is excessively technical and tricky. A single bit of info could turn conclusions upside down.

That's what I thoroughly dislike about modern naval affairs.


Edit 2016-01: As of now, the USN appears to have a program to make the SM-6 capable of hitting ships (or boats) at long ranges.


2013/03 - some links

By James R. Holmes

This piece follows approx. my reasoning, but I don't pay so much attention to the fashionable unmanned aviation. Land-based bombers have sunk Prince of Wales and Repulse from a long distance in late 1941 (and could have done so years earlier), Allied bombers patrolled over the entire North Atlantic in search of German submarines by 1943 and by 1944 even escort fighters could have reinforced bombing missions against distant Central Atlantic targets and guided munitions were available for high lethality against shipping.
The ranges available for land-based strike have grown even more with the introduction of mid-air refuelling.

There is really no need for a belief in fashionable robot planes to come to the conclusion that carriers are unnecessary for strike missions unless you want to strike so far away from your or allied bases that this warfare could not possibly have a defensive character. Almost exclusively aggressions or bullying would require strike missions thousands of miles away from available land bases. The Falklands War was an oddity in this regard, as it was quickly overrun and very distant from the next friendly base.

Aircraft carriers can be justified with the argument that transoceanic maritime trade convoys would require fighter protection amongst others against such long-range threats. I would buy into this. I don't buy into the necessity of carriers primarily for strike purposes.

by Abdullahi Osman El-Tom

He doesn't like the typical African army either.

by Jonathan D. Caverley

He has an interesting sociology / political economy thesis. I don't really agree, but the piece is extraordinarily useful for pointing out how much the income distribution and taxation distribution issue appears to influence thought in the U.S.. The "47%" debate's effects seem to spawn in the most unlikely places these days.
I can't help but point out that Americans should be alert and attempt to detect the examples of the 47% debate's influence on thought. Once they spotted an example, I would strongly recommend they seek non-American sources on the topic (which is generally advisable on all topics that produce a partisan divide). Some stuff that appears self-evident to Americans these days leaves non-partisan foreigners wondering 'WTF how could anyone have such a pattern of thought' !?

by Albert Bryant (1988)

I read this (skipped some of it) as part of my research for my book. It's a fine example of the official literature on military theory.
First of all, most such authors don't write because they have an deep desire to write about military theory. They do so because they were told to do so.They were told to do so because they wanted to check a box on their to-do list for their career and thus got into some school were they were told to do the writing.

They don't write because they have original thoughts, concepts or ideas. First they have to write, then they make some such thing up. Or worse; some are entirely uncreative and ask a supervising tutor for a topic.

Then they begin to write and usually very much of what they write is lip service to the doctrinal fashion du jour.

Such master thesis publications are almost without exception useless (to me).

There's a lot of crap in commercial publications about military theory, of course.
Just read Richard Simpkin's "Race to the Swift" with his partial fixation on the threat of Soviets deploying submarine helicopter carriers to invade capitals in coup de mains...this guy was treated as a serious theorist!
I also read a book about operational logistics a while ago. The book was so expensive I chose interlibrary lending instead of buying a copy. I can summarise all the useful stuff from that book in about ten lines.
Yet at least those writers have ideas.

On the other hand, some publications are just great, as is for example
by Curtis D. Taylor (2005)

The tragedy is in the noise to diamonds ratio of the overall literature on military theory.
Then again, maybe I just can't tell both apart, who knows?


And now for something completely different:
A reminder about the importance of outside-the-box thinking and improvisation!



Japan discovers rare earths deposits


If only resource findings in the deep sea were more often followed by actual economically relevant activity. Disappearing resource problems and resource conflicts would be welcome news.

Revival of the heavies

It appears the B-2 Spirit will get company in shape of a Chinese counterpart and a Russian counterpart.

This means there might be a comeback for heavy and long-range bombers. The Su-34 was no such thing, and the difference may become important. The U.S.A.F also looks at a new bomber, which is supposedly also meant to become a long-range reconnaissance and generally a powerful sensor platform. I doubt they will pull it off given their existing inventory, but the rumours from China and Russia appear more realistic to me.

New bomber types would be a very interesting development because there's an unlikely yet real history of quite heavy (at least medium) bombers being exported to small powers. India, Libya, Iraq, Egypt and Indonesia operated Tu-16, Tu-22 or Tu-22M bombers during the Cold War.

Egyptian Tu-16 Badgers
The military utility was questionable without the Soviet's anti-shipping missile and nuclear weapon stocks, but this has definitively changed. A single bomber could ruin a middle-sized countries' powerplant infrastructure (and thus economy) in a single sortie using quite affordable off-the-shelf guided glide bombs.
The proliferation of such a devastating capability might make it necessary for non-NATO small powers to maintain a rather high air force readiness and air policing, a good early warning spy network and/or effective area air defence missiles. The latter could sooner or later bust some airliner on accident.
Such precautions might be provoked in a huge radius, as one such bomber accompanied by a tanker could fly transoceanic missions (it wouldn't need to return, after all).

'We' in the West have become accustomed to a world in which threatening capabilities or non-allied powers are rare. The DF-21D anti-ship missile and even by comparison ridiculous speedboats in the Persian Gulf were able to freak many of 'us' out. Imagine what the prospect of a nightly knock-out blow to your countries' infrastructure dealt by a power thousands of kilometres away would feel. The blow could even be internationally perceived as rather economical than a warlike - kind of the hardware version of a malicious software campaign.

I wonder whether heavy bombers of the 2020's would be exported to small powers, and whether they would provoke great defence, deterrence and diplomatic (alliance- and umbrella-seeking) reactions.


A good read

... on the difficulties of training combat small units in a mostly peacetime setting. It focuses on the classic; the infantry platoon.

by John Dovey
June 2012

Shaping Operations

There is at times the impression that I'm anti-American. As mentioned before, this is rather because I rarely spend my time lauding anyone or anything but have a sizeable interest in addressing shortcomings. The German armed services and the civilians who back them get their share of critique here as well. The American military is simply huge and hyper-active, thus offers a lot of points of attack and it's within the anglophone sphere, which the blog happens to be as well (for reasons of personal training in English and of size of the potential audience).

Today I want to highlight a contribution to military theory which is in my opinion vastly underrated - and it's NIH (not invented here). It's from the U.S. as far as I know.

I'm thinking of "shaping operations" (quelle surprise! - after the blog post title ;) ).

A shaping operation is "an operation at any echelon that creates and preserves conditions for the success of the decisive operation." (The definition is also in FM 3-0, 2001, chapter 4-86)

This includes anything from logistical preparations or reconnaissance to deception and is really rather unspecific.

Illustration to make text more
easy on the eyes; from U.S.Army FM 3-0
The great utility in this is that there's a general term for all the activities which shall provide an unfair advantage in your favour prior to the decision in battle (amongst others). We have seen very much emphasis on battle itself in military history, military theory including field manuals, political discussions and such. The problem is that great performance and heroism in battle is often times simply useless. Very often the battle has won even before it began; someone has done something really right or really wrong in such a case.

I cannot really withhold some critique about U.S. doctrine and "shaping operations", though: Doctrine does have a tendency to inflate the use of a useful term instead of giving it more accuracy and a sharper silhouette over time. The end-result is that "shaping operations" is an unspectacular and widely ignored term of little value to many of its readers because while summing up a most useful field of activities, it doesn't particularly emphasize their importance or redirect much attention to them.

Moreover, U.S. Army doctrine makes the (in my opinion) huge mistake of pretending that the decision shall be sought in battle and only made more promising by shaping operations. An example:
Contingency operations in the 1990s normally followed a sequence of alert, deployment, extended build-up, and shaping operations followed by a period of decisive operations to terminate the conflict.
(FM 3-0, "Operations", dated 2001, chapter 3-4)

My minority opinion on this is that the decision shall be sought in shaping operations themselves instead of in the main effort. Your shaping operations effort was at least a partial failure if the decision only happens in battle, not prior to it. So-called decisive operations should merely confirm the decision, rarely create it by themselves.


P.S.: I suppose this nails down a bit better what I already meant to say in 2010.


An anecdote about what triggers intervention

Years ago I heard a recount of what happened in Kosovo in a private conversation with someone knowing *more* about it than I did:

Apparently, the Kosovars who wanted independence understood that their guerilla thing wasn't more but harassment and an intimidation of police (the latter was of special interest). So some of theirs asked foreign diplomats to intervene, which replied that the West won't intervene until there are 5,000 dead bodies in Kosovo at the very least.

This was an obvious incentive to the Kosovars to present 5,000 dead bodies, of even better - make believe there are 5,000 dead bodies and more coming.

All the Western interventionists warmongers had to do was to present this to the Western public and suppress evidence to the contrary (including findings of an OECD mission).

In 1999, NATO attacked Yugoslavia based on genocide and ethnic cleansing allegations almost if not as much based on facts as Iraq's "WMDs".
To the West this was -just like the Bosnia intervention- not just some clean-up in the noisy backyard. It was also an opportunity to instil new purpose to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and to cooperate in security policy before Europeans and Americans could part ways for lack of a common bogeyman. We know from history books that many powers dissolved outlived alliances and faced each other as hostile only a few years later. Obviously, we didn't want this. Westerners have become too extreme in their war-making efforts for Western inter-state warfare to be acceptable.

This whole thing - especially the 5,000 dead bodies thing - is a common flashback to me these days. Every time I read about the latest allegation of the Syrian government using chemical warfare munitions I am reminded that this time Western governments have defined the rubicon, the line where crossing means war.
The effect is -again- totally predictable:
The Syrian rebels claim abut every second day that Assad's troops have used chemical agents. Western reporters in the warzone know that chemical agent stories with imagery are the hottest thing to get and speed towards every rumour. It won't take long until they extend their idea of a chemical agent that triggers intervention to white phosphorous smoke (wasn't that the eeevil thing fired into Gaza a few years ago!?).
The Western warmongers push for intervention using any such report, adding to it and suppressing contrary reports.

So please, don't fall for this propaganda. It is extremely unlikely that Assad's men would use deadly chemical agents in this civil war after such threats.
If any was reported,the report is most likely wrong OR it was a false flag operation OR it was done by out-of-control idiots whom Assad will punish himself OR it was an innovative way of defection, a kind of gift to the reels by a deserting officer.
The actual military value of a moderate instead of all-out employment of chemical agents is minimal.
We would have different news if our politicians and other warmongers were really bothered by the possibility of chemical weapon attacks on Syrian civilians: They would deliver protective equipment and set up field hospitals on the Turkish side of the border.
Whatever concerns and threats against possible chemical weapons usage they voice instead are either insincere or an expression of stupidity.

The only justification for offering a Rubicon to the crowd is in my opinion a focused effort to lure warmongers out of the closet in order to play whack-a-mole with them. Sadly, this was not the purpose of such an announcement, ever.



The circle of stupidity

A few days ago I watched CNN International for a couple minutes while a reporter of CNN told his story about how he was among the reporters who supported the WMD scare in 2001-2003. He used a lot of archived video footages and told a story of a reporter who was erred by a mysterious mistake, along with supposedly everybody else. It was a story about the WMD scaremongering as a kind of force majeure.

I can't tell if he produced that garbage because CNN International wanted to fill some minutes on the cheap or because he felt some inner urge to excuse himself being an utter failure as a journalist.

I think this was a waste of time. Apologist and history revisionists are useless. What's really of interest is how to get it right next time and how to keep scaremongering and warmongering off the airwaves altogether.

This really useful question and the debates about it that should happen and enjoy much attention do not get much time on the airwaves.

There's probably a reason: We simply don't get it right, so every generation produces its own utter failures of this kind.  Thus we never reach a period in which the failure folks have left the top jobs and don't obstruct the progress driven by those who do not have the urge to cover up gross failures (because they didn't commit any yet).

Some great physicist once said that science progresses as quickly as the old professors die. No progress can be made while they still block progress.

Yet as societies we allow the old guard to stay in the spotlight until the new guard committed to the same follies. 

Now the real question: How can we break out of this circle of stupidity?



Alarming normalcy

Parents safeguard their children and don't want them to play with friends who might get them into trouble. That's common sense.

To avoid bad company is also common sense for adults, unless they're risk-seekers who get a thrill by getting into trouble.

I suppose entire countries are not risk-seekers, so I suppose a country should watch out its company. Do friendly countries get yours into trouble?

"Bad company" is identifiable by the displayed normal behaviour - much better so than by how they behave when they want to make a good impression. The normal mode of operation counts.

Sadly, lots of countries have rather alarming normal behaviours. In fact, people are so used to this behaviour as normal (for the country in question) that it doesn't raise an alarm any more. Humans can get used to almost everything, good or bad.
Bad behaviour can become so utterly normal and self-evident, that a bully can even think the bullied country is the bad guy.

I saw a U.S. navy officer brief a rather public gathering about the oh-so bad and aggressive moves of the Chinese navy. Their worst offense; they patrolled waters around disputed islands. Meanwhile, the USN patrols wherever it wants, and when this means some other country feels threatened then it's U.S: foreign policy to be threatening, not some evilness as in the Chinese case. Or so they made themselves believe.

Another example is very recent, and I suppose it was again a USN move (the USN has quite a history of alarming normalcy).

Now read this article:

Old archive photo of Iranian F-4 Phantom II

Doesn't it make Iran like the bully in this case?

Now let's shed the veil caused by drinking the kool aid and think about the facts as communicated by that article:

(1) The U.S. is obviously spying with aircraft on Iran by flying close to the border, while it's safe to say Iran doesn't do so on the U.S..

(2) U.S. military assets are thousands of miles away from home, while Iran's military assets are obviously not that far away from home (which makes defensive purposes much, much more plausible).

(3) The Iranian aircraft was obviously flying over international waters, and far, far away from the supposedly threatened U.S. aircraft.

(4) U.S. fighters bullied/threatened the Iranian aircraft or the Iranian aircraft flew away because it wanted so.

This badly reminds me of the time when the USN felt it was entitled to kill Iranian aviators just because they came into range over international waters. Like the pilots were beasts to be killed or something.
That action turned out to kill an airliner full of civilians and the USN reaction at the time was to claim it felt threatened. "Threatened" by a fighter which was not armed with any ammunition that's suitable against the supposedly threatened cruiser.

Look, this is insanity. And I don't talk about the Iranians, who can quite plausibly claim to have been largely on the defensive for three decades, and victims of foreign meddling for some more.
THEY are not the insane here. I think the ones who are insane are the ones who think bullying foreign powers like this isn't only normal, but actually means the bulled are the bullies. THAT is insane.

I guess many of my readers from the United States don't follow me here and think the Defensetech point of view is better. Thus ask yourself this:

Scenario: A Cuban spy drone flies along the U.S. Gulf Coast. An old Air National Guard fighter flies in no more than to 18 miles. Cuban fighters intercept it and force it to turn back.
Question: Would you think this was OK? Would you think the Americans are the baddies here, or would you think the Cubans are?


It is about time that NATO and / or the United Nations specify with much publicity what constitutes self defence by military forces.

Bombing a wedding because a pilot in a supersonic-capable aircraft at 15,000 ft feels "threatened" by muzzle flashes from a wedding on the ground is no self defence. Those pilots were out of range and had to turn and close in with the others again in order to "self-defend" (Afghan Civil War post '03, more than once).

Firing at an aircraft over international waters is no self-defence, especially not if you believe it's not possibly armed with offensive weapons (Iran Air Flight 655, '88).

Firing at aircraft flying close to their countries' coastline over international waters while yourself being thousands of miles away from yours is not self defence (Gulf of Sidra '86).

Bullying a fighter that flies over international waters and doesn't close with a supposedly attacked aircraft by more than a whopping 18 miles over a rather congested Gulf is not self defence, and certainly no indicator for it being aggressive. If that Phantom II crew was aggressive, how aggressive are we then? We close with foreign military aircraft much more, all the time!
Russian Tu-95 Bear aircraft get intercepted and escorted all the time

I assume the NATO members have neither the intent nor the political energy to force an end to aggressive stances of any of its members, despite the fact that such skirmishes as well as threatening behaviour are violations of the North Atlantic Treaty.
This inaction is regrettable, for it is in their best interest to suppress aggressive behaviour.

The United Nations should thus very publicly refresh the public's and the international community's memory about how aggressions and threats are actually banned, and have been so for generations. They should remind everyone that everyone signed and ratified this ban. They should also once and for all times draw a line to define where bullying and threatening behaviour begins and where self defence ends.

Bullying has lead to multiple, very bloody and totally avoidable wars, after all:

Austria-Hungary's bullying of Serbia led to the First World War. Bullying of China by Western powers and Japan has led to multiple wars and much suffering.

Bullying has laid the groundwork for the aggression against Iraq in 2003.

Bullying and threats keep degrading the security situation in the Mid East.

(There are more examples, but this list shall suffice for now.)

This crap has to end before it inflicts much more suffering!



Satire of mil stuff development

(Left click for bigger version.)

I remembered it, mentioned it and thanks to some guy on the internet going by the avatar name "Jemiba", I actually have the scan now since he posted it.

It's a satire of aircraft development during WW2, but once you know it modern armoured fighting vehicles should remind you of it quite often.


stage I : The new bomber is streamlined like a fish.

stage II : The loss of speed of just 8 km/h is more than compensated, because of a better field of view to the rear. Now the crew can see whether the enemy attacks from behind and passes.

stage III: The loss of speed of just 8 km/h due to the enlarged bomb bay carries no weight.

stage IV : If the aircraft should be able to defend itself, it has to do this in all directions - insignificant loss of speed, the cruising speed is reduced by a further approx. 8 km/h.

stage V : Navigational aids are necessary, of course. This costs at most 8 km/h speed.

stage VI : Radio communication is one of the basic requirements. All components are installed one after the other, none of these installations reduced the cruising speed by more than 8 km/h each.

stage VII: If fitting of a simple device can save just one aircraft, without losing more than a few km/h, it is worth it!

stage VIII: If the construction of the aircraft can be improved by simplification of the structure, you can build two aircraft instead of just one. By fitting new radial engines, the loss of speed can be reduced to at most 8 km/h.

Honorary mention to "Pentagon Wars", an even greater satire.
(Cannot believe I didn't embed it before somewhere. Or did I?)



Rebuttal to McGrath/ID about carrier cost efficiency

I'm no particular friend of carrier aviation because it looks more like an offensive tool than as necessary for national or collective defence.

Bryan McGrath posted a rebuttal to some article "At What Cost a Carrier" at Information Dissemination, and I'd like to offer my quick rebuttal to this rebuttal:

I pick four points to focus on:

Moving on, Hendrix writes “No one can doubt the diplomatic power of carriers, for presidents, it seems, are always asking where they are.  Allied nations and the U.S. combatant commanders persistently request additional naval presence to shore up their interests….and no platform is requested more than the carrier.”  Assuming that both American presidents and the leaders of other nations are rational actors then, it seems that there might be something “special” about the presence of an aircraft carrier, something that even the agglomerated presence benefit of more numerous DDG’s or LCS’s simply doesn’t provide.
I disagree with both on this. It's a classic case of U.S.Navy (carrier gang in particular) giving itself a pat on the back. I doubt U.S. presidents ask about the whereabouts of carriers very often.
I doubt it because there's the semi-funny concurrence of the Marines claiming that in times of crisis the president asks first about where are the MEUs (their expeditionary units). This whole thing about 'president asks first about (...)' seems bogus to me. It's almost impossibly to verify or disprove, so I consider it a fairy tale.

Moreover, there's little reason to make the conclusion McGrath did:
Even IF the president and the regional commanders (CENTCOM etc) ask a lot about the carriers and even if they were rational actors, this doesn't mean much about the value of carriers.
About the president; it's not a safe bet to assume they can really appraise the utility of a modern carrier battle group. This is largely guesswork, after all.
About the regional commanders; it's standard bureaucratic behaviour to maximise the assets under a bureaucrat's control. Of course they want more and more and more - this kind of behaviour is displayed by almost all military commanders in documented history. Military commanders never seem to be truly satisfied with their assets (unless their resupply is insufficient, then they first ask for more supplies and then for more forces). Them asking for more doesn't mean anything. You got to look at the situation directly to learn about their real needs.

A reinforced CVBG
Let’s start with GDP; if one assumes a $15.1 trillion GDP, we can then calculate a “daily GDP” of $41.4 billion.  What then, is the percentage of national treasure spent each day to operate three carrier battle groups?  My (admittedly spotty) math reveals that the $19.5M a day breaks down to about four one-hundredths of a percent of our daily GDP.
More of the same follows. This kind of reasoning is useless in my opinion - as useless and dumb as the discussion of military spending in % GDP in general.

Let's say Uruguay wants to decide on having those three carrier battle groups or not. Suddenly, the calculation would yield a much higher GDP and McGrath would likely conclude it's too expensive for Uruguay.
What he doesn't provide is a reasoning how the link to GDP matters at all. Why would the U.S. have more benefits from having three CVBGs than Uruguay? In order to answer this and to close the glaring gap in his point, he would need to look at the utility of carriers and express it monetarily (which he doesn't). Now if did he looked at their utility, why not compare it directly to the expenses? Why the detour over the GDP share?
Logic-wise, that detour makes as much sense in a discussion of whether carriers are worth their expenses or not as would a discussion of the colour of apples.

His later line "Yes, $13.5 billion is a lot of money to construct a CVN—but over the course of its 50 year lifespan, that initial cost comes down to $740,000 a day—a bargain for what it brings us." is unlikely to get the approval of millions of Americans to whom USD 740,000 now would be more than their a lifetime income. Besides; it would be interesting to see how McGrath would explain what value exactly have three CVNs of his choice produced yesterday.
Breaking the grand total figures down to a singly day makes the sum smaller, but it appears to make the utility even less visible. I suppose he attempted a simple rhetorical trick here; he uses a smaller figure in an attempt to lead the reader's mind away from the impressive cost figures. There's no substance behind it, but it almost surely works on those who already agree with him anyway.*
Next, Hendrix makes a significant error—by stating that “U.S. defenses would have to destroy every missile fired, a tough problem given the magazines of U.S. cruisers and destroyers, while China would need only one of its weapons to survive to effect a mission kill.”  This just isn’t so.  U.S. forces do not have to destroy incoming DF-21’s; they simply have to not be hit by them.  Some incoming missiles will have to be intercepted, but unlike land targets, near misses at sea are as good as an intercept, and these near-misses could be hastened by any number of advanced electronic and cyber techniques.
This is a tricky and very, very technical issue. Hendrix may be correct on this, for it's likely unreliable if not impossible to predict in time which incoming missile would not hit. These missiles move extremely fast, and the decision to intercept likely has to be done when they are probably still hundreds of miles away.
I suppose only missiles fired at a very wrong location (due to error or deception) could be ignored (assuming the decoy ship is really expendable). Those are manoeuvring missiles, after all.

So in the end the CVBG would likely need to fire two interceptor missiles at every DF-21D that's headed at approx. the location of the carrier or of its most important escorts. Some DF-21D may be missed and may proceed to miss themselves due to "advanced electronic and cyber techniques", but that's not predictable when they're still a hundred nm away.

The past: A-7 Corsair II ugly, long-range heavylifter**

Captain Hendrix provides a simple graphic to reinforce the range issue, estimating the range of the DF-21D at 1087 miles while the unrefueled range of the F-35 maxes out at 690 miles.  This is, generally speaking, the relationship upon which most carrier critics seize most often, surmising that we would not risk our multi-billion dollar carriers in order to get close enough to launch meaningful strikes.  This raises the problem I brought up first with Hendrix’s argument, and that is, his beef should really be with the air wing, and not with the aircraft carrier.  Over the past few decades, naval aviation came to value sortie generation over range, as our ability to operate as close to shore as we generally wanted was barely challenged.
He goes on hoping unmanned carrier aviation will increase the range (and ignores that actually some guided munitions can add their glide or flight range to the mission radius).
The problem with this is of course geography. You may seek the answer to the DF-21D issue by adding to your stand-off range, but geography tells us that if you really intend to fight from far away, you can simply use unsinkable aircraft carriers; air bases on land***. This 'more range is possible' argument hardly comes to the rescue of carrier aviation in such a discussion.


*: It's my observation that rhetoric in the U.S. is more often about firing up partisans (followers) rather than about trying to convince undecided minds. I'm not sure if this is different than rhetoric in Europe or Germany in particular. The weighting appears to be more in favour of firing up followers, though.

**: Globalsecurity.org on the A-7: "A total of 6,560 pounds can be carried on a typical mission with a radius of 556 miles." Its engine's power was only about a third of the F-35's!

***: I'm generally sceptical about carrier aviation and heavy bombers because something is fishy if you "defend" far away from friendly ground. The one exception is of course the defence of maritime trade.


Guess what caused this spike


Page loads / Unique visits / Returning visits

It's genuinely frustrating.


Tripwire forces (again)

It's time to revisit the fallacy of "tripwires". I wrote about it before, but that was ages ago, nobody read it, and I really have the urge to finally deal some imaginary blow to this stupid idea of "tripwire forces" with the Force Z example.
I planned on using this example for years.

Force Z under attack
"Force Z" existed in late 1941 and consisted of the powerful battleship Prince of Wales, the elderly yet still useful battlecruiser Renown and some escorts. Aircraft carriers were not part of it when Force Z made contact with the enemy (the Japanese), but they wouldn't have helped anyway. British naval aviation was no good for anything but highly efficient nightly attacks with obsolete biplane torpedo bombers.

Prince of Wales and Repulse succumbed to the assault of less than a hundred long-range bombers when they were trying to counter the Japanese invasion of Malaya. They were both sunk within hours, on the fourth day of the Pacific War.
Prince of Wales had an extremely impressive armour scheme and both ships were fast enough to evade all but four Japanese capital ships (the Kongo class), and would probably have been able to stand their own against three of them at the same time.
The whole encounter is fascinating in many ways (even the more elderly of the two involved Japanese bomber types had the range and offensive potential to ruin Britain if it had been used by Germany in 1941/42!).

Mitsubishi G3M 'Rikko' torpedo-capable bombers.
Technically they could have de facto encircled the British islands
from bases in France and Norway if used by Germany.
Their range was phenomenal because they were designed
for maximum range with a 800 kg torpedo as payload.
Nobody in Europe had matured such a concept (the Soviets came close).

Strategically, it should have been the deathknell to the idea of tripwire forces.
These two capital ships were stationed forward at Singapore in order to deter - instead they only provided the Japanese with a good idea of how to defeat the Royal Navy piecemeal. Two capital ships of this kind were not capable of stopping the Nihon Kaigun; the best they could possibly have achieved as provoking the Japanese to assign their best battleships (Nagato and Mutsu) to the effort of invading Malaya. Eventually, three bomber groups in Indochina did the trick as well, and did so at tiny losses.

The naval theorist Mahan was concerned about the possibility that the U.S. Navy would sometime be split into a Pacific and an Atlantic Fleet and one of both might be involved in a decisive battle before the other could arrive. he already recognised the risk of splitting one's battlefleet and having it destroyed piecemeal - decades before WW2. The British did it nonetheless, as did the USN. The USN was backed by a big enough industry to effectively rebuild itself during the war. This compensated for the strategic mistake, but it didn't change that it was a big one.

Moreover, forward deployment in general should have been understood as a folly after 1941. Sadly, humans aren't that capable of learning.
NATO kept most of its Central European defensive forces East of the Rhine during the entire Cold War, for example. It was an invitation to the Warsaw Pact to overrun them, especially during one of the hundreds of really, really weird Cold War weekends (when almost all German conscripts returned home). Luckily, the Soviets never bit, as their concern was not really how to defeat the West, but how to avoid being defeated by the West.

Operation Desert Shield initially saw a lone airborne division deployed as an early  tripwire force in 1990, and those troops were fully aware they were ill-suited to deal with a couple thousand Iraqi tanks. They had only two truly effective anti-tank munitions - the TOW and the Shillelagh - in small numbers. Their Dragon and LAW munitions were next to useless against even elderly Iraqi main battle tanks and their artillery would have been very busy with other missions. Again, the potential aggressor did not bite because he wasn't really that aggressively-minded as Western public opinion had assumed based on the propaganda. As far as I can tell those fabulous satellite imagery leaving no doubts about the Iraqi intent to invade Saudi-Arabia in 1990 were still not released (because they never existed).

I cringe every time some 'hawkish' politician promotes the idea of sending troops to some foreign place in order to discourage aggression.
Look, a tiny such detachment is militarily irrelevant and politically no more relevant than diplomatic statements. A substantial, militarily relevant force such as Force Z on the other hand is a nice target for a coup de main. A huge forward-deployed military force such as the Russian pacific fleet of 1904 or the U.S. Pacific Fleet of 1941 might lose a war within hours or days.

The idea that tripwire forces are a deterrent is probably a symptom of arrogance, or of thinking of military forces too much as of representatives. Sure, they would deter if they represented the whole force's power, but all-too often in history the potential aggressor saw them more as an enticing isolated target than as equivalent of the whole thing. It's certainly a political idea, and flourishes best in absence of red teaming. Military minds would in my opinion tend to look at tripwire forces through the eyes of the potential aggressor, and see them also as targets, not only as respectable obstacles.

In short; tripwire forces work really well when they're not needed, and constitute a major strategic blunder if the potential aggressor is really offensively-minded. Tripwire forces are an expression of strategic stupidity. They should be eradicated from the political and military repertoires and vocabularies.



They are almost running out of bad guys

The United States (or rather its media, pundits, politicians) had some favourite bad guy bogeymen during the post-Cold War era. The list is becoming suspiciously short, though:

Iraq - gone

Iran - Ahmadinedjad cannot be re-elected next time, so the loudmouth and face of this bogeyman will go.

North Korea - the fat boy and his attention-seeker regime are more entertaining than fearsome, and NK is no good subject for bullying because it finally made it to some nukes.

Russia - so Cold War. On top of that, totally incapable of taking on NATO, has few actual political conflicts with the U.S.. Even the replacement of the worn-out military hardware from the 1970's and 1980's doesn't impress much.

Syria - imploding in slo-mo. Nobody Hardly anybody is going to take their military seriously after the demonstrated incompetence of defeating poorly armed rebels.

Venezuela - Chavez is finally dead. He didn't learn enough from Castro, apparently!

So who is left? Basically only the continental Chinese for now.
The "pivot to the Pacific" (or " to Asia") has already been announced. 

The bogeyman-building is quite impressive,  but the hypocrisy in it is astonishing.
A while ago I saw a video of some navy guy describing the Chinese as really troublesome lately. Oh, those dangerous, dangerous and aggressive, aggressive Chinese even dare to send their ships on cruises! In fact, those ships even cruise near disputed islands!

Now if that's worthy of concern, please explain to me how to describe that the U.S. Navy cruises close to China's shores - thousands of miles away from any islands claimed by the U.S.
The anti-carrier missiles with a few thousand kilometres range are interesting - but clearly defensive in a PRC-USA context. 
Alert me when the PLAN cruises regularly off the coast of California.

I'm willing to cut the Chinese some slack; they have good reason to strive for being able to keep the USN away in wartime. Keep in mind Chinese gunboats never patrolled the Mississippi.

- - - - -

The Chinese aren't the only modern bogeymen / targets of hate, though. I was quite astonished by some (so far unimportant) Americans' reaction to a story about obsolete Oliver Hazard perry frigates.* There were reports that some of these worn-out 1970's technology frigates wouldn't be exported to Turkey**. Some reports also mentioned that Turkey hadn't even asked for them.
Strangely, comments erupted with clear aversion against Turkey, obviously based on the recent political dissonance between Turkey and Israel. Comments claimed that Turkey should not get such modern warships that would be a threat to the U.S. ally Israel.
Kudos to them for knowing Turkey and Israel are geographically close and having diplomatic dissonances, no kudos for misunderstanding that scrap metal for modern warships.
Most importantly, how stupid is this? Turkey is a North Atlantic Treaty member, a NATO ally of the United States. It has ratified and signed a promise of collective defence. It's ready to help defend the United States against attack, a reciprocally promise. I can't recall Israel having promised anything like this.

Bogeymen construction is always an ugly and ridiculous business, but it appears as if the groundwork was already laid for depicting the Turks (MUSLIMS! Terrorists! Brown people! Run for your life!) as bogeymen. That's quite an achievement of the bogeymen-builders, considering that Turkey is actually a real ally.

In other words; nobody is safe. Bogeymen are still a required ingredient in some countries' political culture*** and thus they will be created. Any country can be turned into a bogeyman, into evil's lair.
Freedom fries anyone?


*: The comments were dispersed on several sites, and I really don't feel like linking to them. If you don't believe me feel free to look them up yourself or well, just don't believe me.
**: FFG-40 and FFG-43,both were in service for almost 30 years and have been reduced to the military utility of a offshore patrol vessel or training ship about a decade ago (removal of the main weapon system).
***: Iran is among them, I have no doubt about that.

P.S.: If interested, feel free to look up the utterly nonsensical statements of Congressmen Engel and Bilirakis here. According to them, Turkey is bad for doing naval exercises right in front of its coast and is behaving irresponsible. Turkey is behaving irresponsible, say Congressmen from the nation that invaded Iraq because of fantasy issues and in violation of Article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty. If hypocrisy and stupidity were painful...

Also P.S.: The embedded video is no accident at all. It actually fits almost perfectly in many regards; the lyrics help to understand.


Authors and pundits for hire by foreigners


This kind of manipulation of public opinion not only by domestic, but also by foreign interests is probably going to become more relevant in this decade because newspapers and much else of the print media are being squeezed by low demand for their products in face of digital alternatives. I suspect so because of journalist layoffs and the widespread use of ridiculously poorly paid authors

Much non-journalistic content is already in what at least had the ambition of being news media; a typical example is a de facto promotion for a product or brand, camouflaged as journalistic content.

A covert advertisement for a skin cream isn't going to kill us, of course. Foreign agents placing paid opinion and distortions into national media can have a much more security policy-related effect.



Grenade catapults comeback

Grenade catapults are having a comeback in Syria:

link1      link2     link3
(No photos embedded because Reuters has more
lawyers than me for copyright disputes.)

That's an old idea. Arabs seem to have a weakness for re-enacting the First World War (luckily they don't get the proportions right).
Such grenade catapults are quite cumbersome and thus useful only in rather static tactical situations, a.k.a. trench wars when Europeans do it.

Here's a collection of quick search results showing devices used in 1915 - 1918, when hand grenades were in ample supply and tactical situations mostly static:

video (catapult at 0:33 and later)

Isn't it fascinating how the future of warfare is at times its past, not some hyped gold-plated truck with electronics gadgets that gets ultimately cancelled prior to its production run?

These examples all show Entente devices from the Western front, but that's only because my search keywords were in English. I remember photographic evidence of such devices with German troops as well.

Such catapults are not silent; they can be heard over useful distances at least sometimes. This is the same as with bows, which are not entirely silent either (a concern mostly for aesthetic reasons and for hunting; simple longbows with a feather on the string are quite silent, ancient glued compound recurve bows were rather noisy).

Later on rifle grenades were supposed to replace such devices, and were obviously less cumbersome and thus suitable for more mobile tactical actions as well. Nowadays grenade launcher weapons (oversized pistols) of ~40 mm calibre have largely replaced rifle grenades, but it's no perfect substitute. Rifle grenades keep some of their fascination and utility. Technically speaking, their ability to use fin-stabilised supercalibre projectiles is superior for shaped charge warheads and their fixed weight penalty on the soldier is zero (since they're only munition, requiring no extra weapon unless you want a fancy rifle-mounted sight).