Yes Minister - The Death List


"Yes, Minister" - a great British comedy from the 80's. 
I can't help you if you cannot spot how well it makes fun of the GWOT era

The more you look at the past, the more it becomes obvious that human and institutional shortcomings are not unique to certain humans and certain institutions, but rather shortcomings of the human mind in general. It just shows differently.

We are probably doomed to repeatedly prove our stupidity until our stupidity makes us let machines take over...



Quick hint: Modern gliders

I mentioned it before in some comment, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to write a quick note as a blog psot as well:

Aviation enthusiasts keep reviving the idea of a return of the glider for cargo and airborne troops delivery. It's a cheap means of adding cargo capacity, allows for some stand-off on part of the pricey transport aircraft and it's kind of silent.

Well, it won't happen - because it already happened almost two decades ago.
The old gliders won't return, but the gliding approach has long since been revived with HAHO parachuting*, robotic cargo glide parachutes and even prototypes of robotic cargo tailless gliders. There is simply no need for the steel frame, wood and fabric construction of old any more.

A few links to examples I found in a very quick, very lazy search trying to rediscover what I remembered:

link 3a, 3b

Very low altitude drops (500 ft) are also an old hat; wartime drops of small teams were even done at 150-200 ft as early as during the Vietnam War.

There's really next to nothing to be gained by a comeback of the early military gliders. To discuss a possible comeback may be entertaining to aviation enthusiasts, but it's pointless.


*: There are even electronics-laden helmets to help HAHO parachutists to navigate to the landing zone over dozens of kilometres at night.


Some more about Turkey

Previous, related posts:
Turkey and the EU

(This blog is old; even the 2008 post feels like yesteryear!)

Two additions to what I wrote about Turkey so far:

First, I edited this to the oldest of the three blog posts:
edit 2013-05: I should add that the Pan-Turkic ideology (a nationalist party got about 1/8 of the votes in the 2011 elections) could put Turkey into a rival position to Russia in regard to influence in Central Asia (Turkic languages there). The West's encroachment has been stopped in Belarus (as long as the dictatorship doesn't crumble) and Ukraine (where any national election can change the trajectory entirely). Russia would not exactly be happy to face a Turkish challenge on its southern flank.
 The mentioned Turkish nationalist party is this one.

The news people in Germany have decided to largely ignore Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria or the Pan-Turkic nationalism. The occasional report about the dicatorship in Belarus or the domestic political struggles in Ukraine is always boring and it's much more likely for a German to learn that anything ridiculous happened in the U.S. or Australia than to learn anything about major developments in the Russian periphery. Balloon boy et al. The rare reports from the Ukraine are typically carried by the news people's ability to use a photo of the good looking blonde politician in their article.

As I see it, Russia has lots of long-term challenges and challengers in its periphery, and they will no doubt not give way easily, as they are very much interested in strategic depth.

Second, the Alawites story.

(c) NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness
(To mention the author is a copyright requirement,
but some authors of pics at wikipedia have outright ridiculous names.)
The Alawites are about to lose power in Syria, being a small minority and apparently unable to defeat the majority Sunni rebellion. Turkey's turn against the Assad regime - with which it previously had a 'good neighbour' foreign policy strategy - is also a turn against one of the minorities in Turkey. 
A move against a minority is often a turn towards more authoritarian/assertive and less cooperative grand strategy and political culture.
This could become a small piece of a decades-long shift towards a Sunni- and Turkic language-oriented policy and construction of a bloc in the Middle East and Central Asia. The plan to join the EU bloc is on ice, after all - and continued NATO membership doesn't really restrict the political freedom of action since (almost) nobody seems to pay attention to Article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty anyway. Basically, they can conduct their foreign policy with whatever ambitions they like and still stay under NATO's protective umbrella.



Lawson Command Control Cycle

Trick question: What is this?

Figure 1
You probably think this is some variation of Boyd's OODA loop.
That's at least what I expect you to think. Anyway, it's not. It is rather the Lawson Command-Control Cycle as described by Wayne D. Hughes Jr. in his book about naval tactics.

I was astonished I didn't bring this up before (there were no search hits for "Lawson" on this blog). The reason for the delay is probably that till today I cannot prove which was first - Lawson's or Boyd's. Lawson's is really old, from 1977.
Hughes claims that a Dr. Geoffrey Coyle established a similar paradigm and "Russians produced an equivalent C2 model as early as the 1960's" (1964)*.

Boyd's actual OODA Loop, according to the only sketch of it he ever showed**:

Hughes also illustrated Lawson's evolved model, from 1985 or earlier:

Figure 2
 (The graphics should enlarge to a readable size if you click on them.)

Interestingly, Hughes writes a lot about the extreme lethality of naval combat; similar to tank combat this is a lot about who gets to fire the first well-done salvo. The command control cycle in figure 2 as well as OODA, Russian and Coyle stuff have a very different interpretation if looked at from such an angle. Suddenly, it's not about doing your second action while the enemy still reacts to your first as it is in the typical OODA interpretation: It is rather about who is fastest in preparing the first well-done salvo. For the fight basically ends with that one, leaving only mopping up left to do. Well, that is how Hughes makes modern naval combat sound like.
Tank developers try to enable early detection of a hostile and to squeeze the entire engagement sequence till the first aimed shot including identification, communication, turret movement etc. into as few seconds as possible. Later on, tank platoon and company leaders attempt to exploit this hardware potential with training.

The semi-messianic stuff about Boyd including quasi-apostles etc. has always irritated me. I have not really found anything truly impressive thoughts of Boyd . He was certainly a great fighter pilot (about 5% are great, and the more experienced ones can exploit their aircraft fully). On the intellectual side, I stick to my suspicion that he was more a marketing and charisma genius than a great inventor - rather Steve Jobs-like.

There are some people on this world with the astonishing talent of building fame, career and often even wealth on the exploitation of only a handful of real ideas - and at times these aren't even theirs. It's a particularly visible phenomenon among politicians and managers.
Often times I've read or had an idea and thought; someone really talented would make a career out of promoting this. 

I really believe that this is how the world works; the really famous things aren't necessarily famous because they are outstanding, but because they were promoted well. One should take this into account when one delves into military or other theories.


I was too lazy to set up the scanner, so you got some hand-crafted MS Word art here. That's why the graphics are so irregular. Don't blame Hughes.

*: Abchuck, V.G. et al. Vyendenue v. Teoriu Vyraborki Reshenii (Introduction to Decision Making Theory). Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1972 (revision of a work from 1964)
Ivanov, D.A., V.P. Savel'yev, and P.V.Shemanskiy. Osnovy Upraleniya Voyskami v Boyu (Fundamentals of Troop Control at the Tactical Level). Moscow: Voyenizdat. Translation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Offic, 1983 (original work from 1971)

**: According to Chet Richards.


Policy skeptics vs. defenders of policy execution


Does the U.S. Navy have more ballistic missile submarines than it needs? Dramatic reductions in deterrent patrols – but not submarines – suggest so.

the reply:
We have the right number of SSBNs to provide our required sea-based deterrent. Some contend we can reduce our SSBN force and still meet requirements. This is not true.
The current force of 14 SSBNs is necessary to provide 10 operational SSBNs and support our national deterrence requirements.

Of course, Kristensen was thinking about the quantity the country needs, not the quantity mandated by the government. Unlike the high-ranking military bureaucrat, he was thinking of an actual need, not about meeting the policy. He questioned the policy.

(The British think four boats are enough, the French think four boats are enough, the Chinese have six and the Russians have eleven in a questionable readiness. Some people (claim to) have nightmares from the mere idea that some country far, far away could get a single basic fission device - without any sophisticated military delivery technology at all!)

- - - - -

This is one part of what's wrong in many military-related discussions. All too often, officials recite a policy as if it was an argument. It's not an argument - it's an outcome, and the quality thereof is usually the subject of the discussion. Ex ante policy qualifies as background information, not as an argument.
Some authoritarian minds don't get the idea that policy doesn't justify itself, but that's their deficit.

Such behaviour goes beyond bureaucratic self-preservation; I've seen it also in context of ridiculously stupid procurement programs until the day before their cancellation. The bureaucracy's best interest isn't necessarily served with such statements (albeit it seems to be the case in the submarines example). Sometimes the official is just recommending himself for a well-paid military contractor job for after his retirement, other times he is just that genuinely stupid - and there are many more reasons for such behaviour. I cannot trace such useless if not damaging behaviour to any single cause.

Officials who believe they can smack down policy critique by replying with a defence of the policy's execution seem to lack the intellectual curiosity to even understand that someone is questioning the policy and trying to think of an alternative. Well, either this or they use a strawman argument and are thus simply dishonest.

I suppose officials should simply shut up if they have nothing to bring to the table (which can happen if they don't know any real argument that's unclassified). It is after all not their job of executing policy that's typically the subject of the discussion, but the policy itself.

- - - - -

By the way; this all is quite similar to the typical conservative / bureaucrat remark of noting that things have been done in a specific way and should be done like it in the future, too. I remember one high-ranking officer of the Heer who preferred to refer to what's being taught at the Führungsakademie (officer academy) as what should be done. He was apparently not exactly a great thinker, running out of actual thoughts that quickly.

To refer to authority, policy, tradition or doctrine is no argument. It's merely a description. It is quite safe to predict that this fallacy will be repeated almost as long as there is mankind. The question is: Will their audience confuse a statement of a decision with an argument informing the decision, never learning the distinction?



To know tactics, you must know weapons


The Battle of the Nile occurred near the end of the age of fighting sail. Nelson had little opportunity to adopt tactics to new material, as Napoleon did with mobile artillery and the great Panzer captains did with tanks. thus Nelson's achievement is even more remarkable: he adopted his tactics to a weapon system that in its essentials was centuries old, and with insight that has rarely if ever been equaled at sea. We may believe that his tactical mastery was achieved by a lifetime spent under way. Clausewitz thought that good strategy could come from the inspired novice but that effective tactics were the work of a lifetime. To know tactics, you must know weapons.
Wayne P. Hughes, "Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat" 2nd ed. p.25-26

I don't see how Napoleon's artillery was that much different from earlier artillery (much of his arty was actually from the old Gribeauval system and decades old when he used it).

There are still a couple interesting thoughts in this short quote:

(1) There is probably room for tactical improvement left for things that were in use for centuries. Now that's an encouragement.

(2) Why is he such a Nelson fan? Judging by Hughes' own descriptions, all that Nelson did was he manoeuvred his forces such that his complete fleet was concentrated on a part of the hostile fleet, leaving the rest out of the decisive fight. The state of the naval art must have been horrible if that was outstanding. 
See Epaminondas, more than 2,000 years earlier. Every army leader who attacked an army during a river crossing (when many of the hostiles were on the other side and ineffective) pulled basically the same trick as Nelson, and this tactic is ancient as well.

(3) "To know tactics, you must know weapons." This one is frustrating, and I actually don't doubt its truth. It is frustrating especially as taxpayers need to pay for weapon systems when almost none of them can possibly understand their tactical use and thus their value.
This problem with insider knowledge is similar to the one with the hidden functions of very electronics-dependent weapon systems and new technologies in general. I pointed at something similar in January: "Naval and air warfare; the problem with technology assessment"

Luckily, I left my comfort zone and entered detailed modern tactics topics only rarely - and mostly so when poor practices were obvious. This year, the only real modern tactics blog post was "Avionics of doom", where I was quite careful ("could have"). I was probably less careful in earlier years.

To me, the 1970's are where the stuff is so very much historical that published sources offer a good picture about previously hidden details. Well, unless you're talking electronic warfare; the only good sources about EW are very general ones like the EW101 and EW102 books.
I suppose pondering outside one's comfort zone makes only much sense on the operational and strategy levels of warfare (yes, I think there is an operational level). Much tactics stuff is too much influenced by largely unknown tech stuff. At times I mention some device casually to someone who served 20 years in combat arms and even he didn't know about the really important device (which I knew only by chance). This happens especially with EW stuff.



Euro Hawk is a no-go for the Bundeswehr

"Eine Milliarde Euro versenkt: Euro Hawk wird nicht zugelassen"
Marco Seliger, F.A.Z. (German newspaper article)

Northrop Grumman RQ-4, the base model for Euro Hawk
Long story short; the thing did cost a lot already, but our military bureaucracy should have been / was aware that it wouldn't be certified for flying in German airspace. Or the airspace of just about every other country. The lack of a collision avoidance system is apparently a key problem.

The article presents the technical and legal issues, the costs and summarises the very limited quantity of airframes meant to be procured.

It's missing some relevant info, though:

(a) The system cost per unit was in the league of the price for a fully equipped combat aircraft, a small warship, a tank battalion or a reconnaissance satellite.

(b) The platform was never even supposed to be survivable in a war between great powers, in a war where hostiles challenge NATO and force it into a defensive war. In other words; the project was useless for the constitutional mission of the Bundeswehr, which makes it even more difficult to justify it in a cost/benefit guesstimate.

(c) The Bundeswehr has also botched its other major drone procurement program, SAATEG. Michael Förster, the late "Mr. Geopowers", chronicled this mess in about a dozen articles. The late Cold War-era drone projects were also a huge mess (KZO/Brevel, which took a quarter century, for example). Only the very small drone projects appear to be a kind of success (Mikado, Luna).

(d) The pet project that kind of preceded the Euro hawk project (LAPAS, early 90's) was a mess, too. It involved extremely high-flying motor gliders of the company Grob. The project collapsed when it got involved in a corruption scandal. Again, the slow & high altitude & high endurance approach looked usable for peacetime electronic sniffing, and useless for wartime use.

It appears that the procurement bureaucracy in general is a mess. This is but one example; there are many. Naval procurement projects have had the smell of shipyard subsidising for a long time, but it also turned towards ship types that are largely useless for collective defence (K130 = patrol ship without a helicopter and F125 = oversized patrol ship claimed to be a frigate, but armed like a missile boat).
Luftwaffe procurement is no more impressive (just look at the MEADS project with its substantial development costs for tiny numbers planned). Heer procurement isn't impressive either. The de-standardisation of armoured trucks was so extreme, I can't even recall how many up-armoured versions of the Wolf/ Mercedes G wagon exist. They saw the problem as well and responded with a standardisation program - on top of the inventory, instead of for replacing it! And of course they included a light protected vehicle category which proved to be physically impossible with known technology. The LeFlaSys and mortar projects are about such ludicrously small quantities that their frustration potential even exceeds their comedic potential.

So basically, the Bundeswehr is only occasionally good at managing procurement projects. Its readiness to enter not only procurement, but also development projects for a projected quantity of platforms below 20 is astonishing and can only be described as disproportionate. That's wasting of taxpayer money.

Times of tight budgets should in theory motivate the bureaucracy to focus on the activities with the best pay-off. Sadly, the bureaucracy's interests and national interests are so very much out of synch that this effect is not working to our advantage now. Nor has it for the last two decades.

The problem is not with the bureaucrats; they're what they are, even if they think of themselves as soldiers first. Bureaucrats behave as bureaucrats almost without exceptions.

The problem is the weak political oversight. The civilian leadership was mostly either disinterested or weak (an accurate description for many of the past ten years). As of now, I have not learned about anything that would indicate to me that the current minister is different and really working on getting the military bureaucracy in line with national interests. In fact, I don't even think he's trying hard to do get it in line with what he himself perceives as national interest (= involves great power games than I think are in our national interest).

The military bureaucracy is running on autopilot, and the billion bucks wasted on drones that are apparently not even allowed to take-off is but one symptom. It is a classic principal-agent problem with the principal not doing his oversight job thoroughly.


P.S.: Obviously, I'm not trying to cozy up to the establishment and get government contracts. Having worked on some in non-defence topics made me thoroughly disinterested in working for the government ever again. The biggest such project slowly chipped away parts of my soul, being almost entirely a waste of taxpayer money in favour of a clique which had hijacked part of a federal ministry's bureaucracy.


Defence tasks in NATO and EU

Article 3 
In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack. 

I'm idealist and pragmatist enough to believe the military should be meant for national security - specifically defence, or collective defence against paramilitary or military attack.

Thus I take the alliance defence thing seriously and actually wasted some thoughts on it. In fact, I even looked at some maps.

NATO members in Europe
European NATO members (c) Marco Kaiser
EU members
EU members (+ Croatia in July 2013) (c) ssolbergj

North America is safe from a geography point of view. The main benefit of NATO to the U.S. is that some Europeans get motivated to debase themselves by providing auxiliary troops for U.S. great power gaming and that NATO keeps Europe and the U.S. from becoming rivals, sabotaging each others' foreign policy.

The Western and Northwestern frontier of Europe is the North Atlantic, and all that really counts there is the protection of maritime trade. I suppose that's simply not going to be satisfactory. It took mobilisations and the construction of hundreds of escort ships to secure the North Atlantic shipping lanes in both World Wars. I don't expect NATO to be able to maintain a large-enough and correctly designed force to actually secure North Atlantic shipping in a major conflict right away. This is thus more a challenge of maintaining and developing basic competences and of maintaining a large enough industrial base (which Europe probably still has, but the U.S. hasn't). Let's face it, almost all shipbuilding is now in East Asia:
This extreme outcome is new, for we had a much less extreme one till a few years ago (with another metric):
(wikipedia '2008)
I suppose whatever North Atlantic shipping defences we could build in wartime could not rest mainly on newly-built hulls. We could reconfigure existing civilian ships for operation of naval helicopters, towing sensors and decoys, launching decoys and launching munitions from containers instead. It is about time we pay more attention to this, and the existing containerisation of much naval equipment in the MEKO concept could be a starting point just as the Arapaho concept. I suppose this is more important than the question whether a new destroyer can mount a super-heavy radar for ballistic missile intercepts.
The offensive defence of North Atlantic shipping lanes (offensive minelaying, air attack on hostile naval bases, sealing off the Strait of Gibraltar) would also be relevant.

One thing which I miss in collective defence efforts is a more serious preparation for high seas ("blue water") shipping lane defences. The big Western navies have become too obsessed with meddling and bullying in distant places, and some of the smaller ones are still too distracted by embargo and anti-piracy patrols.
Naval bureaucracies want many impressive ship hulls, many jobs for officers and much money. The relatively cheap preparations for a mobilisation of five hundred ASW/AAW armed merchantmen (precursor) within six months is not in their bureaucratic self-interest.

The Southern frontier of Europe is basically the Mediterranean. The Southern neighbours lack the military capacity to be dangerous or to become dangerous in the medium term. I suppose security policy here would first and foremost be about maintaining and progressing competency in naval warfare. Again, this is not about ships. The only warships that are required for defence in the Med are mine countermeasures (MCM) ships, and even they could largely be replaced by a concept with remote-controlled and semi-autonomous drones with control centres on land. Much of NATO's MCM capability isn't in its Med countries; maybe this should change. Again, there's a sexiness and bureaucratic self-interest problem; MCM is not sexy and provides few officer jobs.
Most naval action in / over the Med could easily be done by air power.
I don't believe that it would make sense to escalate a Southern conflict into a land war, so no amphibious capability of large scale would be necessary.

The Southeastern frontier of Europe is Turkey. It's the joint to the Caucasus region, Iran and the Arab world. It's the joint between Black Sea and Med and between Europe and Asia.
To secure this frontier is first and foremost a question of remaining allied or at least friendly with Turkey. The Turkish terrain is hugely problematic for land campaigns, as it is quite easily defensible. Air warfare in the region is mostly challenged by the question of airbase capacity. The Gulf region powers can maintain some semi-credible air power, but European air power could easily keep it in check by itself. I suppose that's going to be true for many years to come unless the Arab air forces become much better and Europeans hesitate too much with adopting new air warfare technology (the PAK-FA is a bit concerning).

Finally, the Eastern frontier of Europe (EU and NATO Europe, that is). I admit, it takes some conscious effort for me to not write "Eastern front". No, just kidding. Still, to me it's the only frontier with a huge land warfare potential. Much bigger land warfare is possible if not likely in the Far East (/= defence for Europeans), but THE land warfare scenarios Europeans should prepare for are mostly about the EU's and NATO's Eastern Front. I mean frontier.

This is a case where division of tasks within NATO and EU makes a lot of sense. I think of the following groups:

Frontier countries unable to resist invasion, but able to delay it:
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania

Frontier countries which would (in darker times) be required to be first day responders to a crisis:
Norway, Finland, Poland, Romania

Countries which would be first week responders to a crisis:
Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria

Countries which would be limited first week responders to a crisis with air power and airlifted/airborne troops only (and other forces much later):
France, UK, U.S., Italy

Countries which would have niche roles or no important roles in a crisis:
Iceland (= only a base), Luxembourg (lends its flag to AWACS aircraft), Malta, Cyprus

Finally, all else, most of which would struggle to field a corps and more than a wing or two of combat aircraft unless there had been some extended arms race prior to the crisis.

I recall discussions about whether for example the Baltic countries should specialise their military on some niche competence for providing auxiliary troops to distant great power games. Obviously, I still think of actual collective defence instead of such crap.

The grouping of member countries above could - if anyone cared about it - inform force structure reforms. 

The first day responders would need especially survivable military basing concepts, near-paranoid alarm exercises (such as 80+% of army manoeuvre and recce forces ready to go within three hours 24/7, for example).

The first week responder countries would need to have very road-mobile forces, which can deploy a thousand or more kilometres within days. I personally don't think there are enough tank transport trailers in these countries to pull this off well. These countries would also not need to pay much attention to transport aviation of intercontinental range. These countries would also host lots of consumables and pre-positioned heavy weapon system depots.

The limited first week responders would need to think a lot about air deployment, and especially about the capabilities of their airborne brigades in face of heavy troops. More important would be their ability to deploy 'heavy' or 'medium' troops to the frontier within weeks, though.

The "all else" category could - except the very far Southern countries which would look southward first -  reduce their ground forces to forces of very long-serving part-time troops, for example. A readiness for deployment within 60 days could suffice. These forces could be the bulk of forces for a strategic counter-offensive.
In fact, the threat of this wave of reinforcements arriving after about 60-80 days on the battlefield could help politicians to turn off the war before this stage of escalation.

This small exercise for my brain cells shows that very different approaches to NATO (and EU) defence than the 'bureaucratic autopilot + great power games by pols' scheme are imaginable - and probably better.

We are safe and don't need more collective military power, but by orientating it better our collective military power could become much more efficient, allowing us to save much military spending and allocate it at improving the sustainability and growth paths of our economies.
Furthermore, it's a good idea to spend enough for deterrence, but it's wasteful to spend so much on defence that conventional threats can justifiably get laughed off right away.



What does this tell about the West?

The Carnegie Endowment has a study about China and the usual suspects for a clash with China.

NextBigFuture offered this table as a summary for their scenarios:

H/T Nextbigfuture,
graphic should enlarge if clicked
Have a look at the line with "Defense spending as % of GDP". The "aggressive ultranationalism" scenario is the one with more than 2%.

source: CIA World Factbook
I created this diagram with data from the CIA World Factbook, showing only developed countries with military ("defense") spending of more than 2 %. Omitted are countries with a domestic civil war or other unique national defence challenges (Turkey, Israel). Also omitted are European countries which enacted drastic cuts (Greece, Portugal). I did not regard some Central Asian former USSR countries as developed countries. The U.S. military spending has also taken a drastic cut, but is no doubt still above 3% GDP.

Let's think about the de facto allegation that more than 2% GDP military spending would indicate aggressive ultranationalism in the case of China.

There are two major way of looking at national defense requirements; either you assume that the difference between wealthy and very wealthy does change the actual need (not "want") for military capabilities or it doesn't. %GDP as a metric has the advantage that the increase of personnel and other costs by the increased GDP should not show up in this metric.

Now if you believe that a bigger economy does require more military spending - and this seems to be the position of the crowd that thinks military spending should be oriented at a %GDP figure - then you should agree that the Chinese need to raise their military power as their economy grows. And this would not necessarily indicate any tilt towards aggressiveness. 
The second graphic can be read as indicating that more than 2% GDP military spending is hardly an indicator for "aggressive ultranationalism".

Or maybe you think the military spending needs for national security do not depend (much) on the country's economic power. Well, in this case one ought to ask how much spending they need to defend themselves. Judging by the military spending of the countries threatening China and its lack of useful allies, one could this way easily justify the Chinese spending a third of world-wide military spending. (They have much less.)

Furthermore, the Chinese do have a LOT of maritime overseas trade. They (their wealth) are dependent on imports and exports, including energy imports. Judging by how Westerners talk about military "needs", the Chinese can easily claim their "need" of dominating the western Pacific Ocean and the northern Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. That's about the level of ambition I read in American and British, at times even Australian or German, sources.

This is of course ludicrous. We cannot provide great security to our maritime trade while they provide great security to theirs - that is unless there is absoluteley no conflict potential between 'the West' and China, or unless we cooperate* to provide security to maritime trade of Westerners and Chinese.

This goes at the heart of the problem of some more militarily ambitious Western countries: They strive for perfect security (expressed by their intolerance for even minor threats). Perfect security for one power or bloc means perfect insecurity or dependence for everyone else, of course.

I suppose this is a kind of overambition and intellectual laziness that came up when the Soviet Union disappeared. Previously, almost everybody was aware that perfect security is an aim only for fools. Ambitions were more modest. That's kind of why the West did not spend that terribly much more on the military before 1990 than today (related). There was a huge, impressive adversary bloc - but our military spending was modest. Today there's just a list of ridiculous bogeymen - and we still spend a lot.

I suppose China has in part legitimate national security concerns and as a great power and generally a power representing more than a fifth of mankind it's understandable that they don't want their maritime trade 'secured' by another not very much friendly great power.
Two per cent GDP military spending in the long run would hardly signify aggressive ultranationalism. I guesstimate that more than about six per cent would signal a commitment to military strength that would justify much concern in North America and Europe.

Many people are nowadays in the business of building up China as the next huge bogeyman, to secure a steady and rising supply of money into the military-industrial complex. There is very little money to be earned by playing down China as a threat or rival, leading to an almost inevitable bias of the voices heard on the topic.

The Carnegie Endowment study I mentioned is actually quite uninteresting to me. It's just an example for the general attitude and hypocrisy.
Western countries can supposedly bully other countries at will and apply measures out of proportion, while in the case of China even quite defensive military power such as what's known as the DF-21D "anti-access" missile gets talked up as if it was aggressive.**
In fact, China does so far very little of significance beyond its own region. They don't have a military port in the Atlantic or regular carrier patrols along the Europe-US maritime trade route, for example.

I ask my readers to run a hypocrisy check every time they read about some supposed aggressive, non-allied power. Such as China, Iran, maybe in the future Russia again, and in the past Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Remember the most aggressive stances that are deemed fine for Western powers, and compare them to what the supposedly evil foreigners actually did. Such as; when did China bomb some other country recently, and when did Iran invade another country the last time?***


*: Such as adding credibility to the Charter of the United Nation's intolerance for aggressive bilateral behaviour instead of undermining it!?
**: These "anti-access" systems may deny U.S. carrier battlegroups access to places from where they could launch air strikes at China effectively.
***: I didn't find later examples than 1979 and  1738, respectively.


Offiziere.ch: "Americans, Afghans and Battlefield Agility"

The Afghan soldiers sprint ahead, exposed to any bombs but unafraid. U.S. squad leader Sgt. Mason Mullins yells to them to slow down. “We don’t move that fast!”
Time and again this happens: the Afghans outpace the Americans and the Americans must reel them back in. The pace of the raid slows even further when the combined patrol rounds up several Afghan villagers and must enroll them in a biometric database using wireless devices that take 20 minutes to boot up.
By the time they surround Mohammad’s brother’s compound, the Taliban commander and his host are long gone — apparently having fled on a motorbike.

This happens when troops know that the war is not worth their sacrifice (or much else).

The real problem isn't mission failure in an unimportant land-locked country far, far away. The real problem is that a generation of Western army troops and in other ways also Western combat aviation have become used to such a mode of warfare. A mode they won't see again when sometime in the -hopefully distant- future there's a war that can actually remind us why a great part of the peacetime budgets and peacetime efforts for improvement, improvement, improvement* were justified.


*: (or at least matching the levels of performance demonstrated by ancestors)

Bündnisverteidigung / collective defence

Germany's constitution takes a quite firm stand on the purpose of the Bundeswehr (even though that's increasingly been ignored since the early 90's):

Article 87a [Armed Forces]
(1) The Federation shall establish Armed Forces for purposes of defence. Their numerical strength and general organisational structure must be shown in the budget.
(2) Apart from defence, the Armed Forces may be employed only to the extent expressly permitted by this Basic Law.
German national defence is nowadays alliance defence; either NATO or EU defence. Either way, the most significant and least unlikely scenario for the Bundeswehr would be a conflict in the East.
Troops stationed in Germany could be first or at the latest second week responders to a border conflict or similar on an Eastern ally's border. Only airborne troops could deploy more quickly, and again airborne troops stationed in Germany could likely be amongst the very first.

Now if we took collective defence seriously and did not spend much attention on great power gaming (small wars) instead, what would the Bundeswehr need to do?

I suppose it would need to take a look at how to deploy a meaningful brigade-sized airborne force in few days to the East of Warsaw and at how to deploy several combat brigades, higher echelon support units and lots of supplies to the East of Warsaw on road within at most a week. It is possible to drive the distance in two days at most (tracked vehicles probably three days, with a substantial share being broken down en route). Organising tank travel by rail could add many days to the duration of the movement, and rail lines could be interrupted anyway.
Road movement into the Baltic region would be very troublesome, as the road connection between Poland and the Baltic has almost no alternatives. There's but one fine road and a lesser one - both aren't even close to motorway standards. Maybe the EU should think about improving the infrastructure there.

We had some exercises with entire brigades moving hundred of kilometres in a day on roads alone during the Cold War, but such exercises are expensive in spare parts and fuel. We rarely do such movements these days. A bi-annual deployment exercise to East of Warsaw for every German brigade would probably be a major diplomatic irritant anyway.

The Luftwaffe would also need to look closely at at least how to deploy wings to East German airbases and commercial airports, if not motorways. Such movements would need to happen amidst air-refuelling-enabled combat missions (or patrols) and only few military cargo aircraft would be available if there's a parallel airlift of airborne troops. So again, lots of trucks would need to move over the road network to their destinations.

The navy finally would need to think about what the winter-time ice on the far eastern Baltic Sea means for naval operations. Our submarines could hardly interfere with amphibious hovercraft movements or even truck movements over the ice, after all.

A much less likely scenario would require German military power in the Mediterranean (not require it militarily, but rather politically). Naval forces (frigates, subs, mine countermeasures, supply ships) could cruise at very different cruise speeds to the Med through the Strait of Gibraltar (with frigates arriving first).
The Luftwaffe and airborne troops could arrive within a week, but only with very much stretched supply lines. A deployment of the heavier army brigades to the Mediterranean region would likely lead to administrative movement by rail, and could take weeks till the troops and their supplies are ready for action. Again, peacetime exercises could help to reduce this time and to improve the shape of the arriving forces.

This is the kind of deployability we should think about. By comparison, a deployment of less than brigade-sized forces with little heavy material into a distant civil war is not exactly a topic close to the national interests or the constitutional mission.

This blog post has probably provoked the ubiquitous responses; maybe you considered this all Cold War-era talk, as there are no real threats to NATO's frontiers.
Well, in this case feel free to try to reconcile this thought with the inability of the marginal benefits from small wars missions to justify the gazillions of military spending in Europe. Either it makes sense to prepare for actual defence OR small wars are profitable and able to justify more than € 20bn military budget of Germany annually. I suppose the ISAF mission cannot be valued at anywhere close to €20bn annually, so I suppose the real job is the constitutional job: (collective) defence.
Let's focus at this instead of being easily distracted by pointless small wars.



[Blog] Draft texts held back

Maybe you wonder why I don't write more blog texts. Well the problem is not in the writing, but in the publishing. Here's a list of draft texts held back (working titles):

"Barbarossa What ifs"
Old draft. This stuff has been debated endlessly in books and a blog is unlikely to add anything valuable, so I gave up on it. Research was also a concern. My central thesis was about capacity limits of rail road connections limiting the choices.

"On recruitment for software-based conflicts"
Cyberwarfare stuff; lost interest.

"Future threats"
All future major war scenarios for Germany I came up with looked too outlandish.

"The historical problem of carrier-borne reconnaissance"
Held back as analogy used in the book draft.

Basically a smackdown of the German greens who turned from minority politicians who criticised a militarised foreign policy into a pro-war ruling coalition junior party in no time.

"About the Watadas and Pfaffs of this world"
Lost interest during the research.

"A few link recommendations"
Not that good ones.

"Public debt after war with conscription"
Econo-wonkish, and I have no confidence in my own thesis.

"Warfare best practices"
This went nowhere either.

"Some old aircraft"
Just some aviation porn.

"Some martial arts references"
This went out of steam, and I actually made use of one reference in an old blog post anyway.

"On the nature of non-battlefield electronic warfare"
Cyberwarfare stuff; lost interest.

"Light infantry platoons"
Decided to not publish this. It could do harm if it is correct.

"What does this tell about the west?"
About hypocrisy concerning China.

"Operational Planning Processes and Tactical Decisionmaking"
I held this back for a book draft chapter.

"Definition of "shock""
Turned out to sound most trivial, albeit it isn't.

"On army field formation structures"
I scrapped many drafts like this. In the end, there's too much to say about the topic for a mere blog. A comprehensive approach exceeds my motivation for research.

"Income distribution and freedom"
Wonkish, and I have no confidence in my own thesis.

"A Nimrod anecdote"
Held back because I wasn't able to find critical sources again.

"Future of Warfare in low GDP countries"
Working on it.

So basically there is more than one month worth of blog texts in draft status, and more were already deleted without ever being published. The occasional periods of four to six days without a blog texts are typically not periods without writing, but periods without satisfactory writing. Many more texts were never even drafted for this blog because they were included in the book draft instead. (By the way; the book won't be published in 2013 as I will be terribly busy till January at the very least.)



Investment priorities and a cleared-up view at military affairs

It's been said that Afghanistan is easy to invade, but difficult to occupy. The events since about 1979 have seemingly reinforced this insight which originated from military history of Alexander the Great's era up to the 19th century.
The difficulties of occupation aren't actually that big, though. Even the not very lethal French Résistance was a much, much more lethal foe than the Afghan tribes or more specifically Pashtuns are or have been.

The frustrations are rather two-fold: 

Occupation has little lasting impact. The Soviets' impact on society did not leave many socialist-secularist-European features intact in the Afghan society of the late 90's. I suppose the Western occupation and corruption of the country is not going to leave many desirable features left by 2020.

The other frustration is that Afghanistan is basically not worth it. There's nothing to be gained in this country. The British efforts of the 19th century paid negligible dividends. The Soviet efforts are widely considered to have accelerated the downfall of the Soviet system by their costs and demoralising effects. The Western efforts since 2002 have delivered about nothing. Some people talk about some paper tiger project of some pipeline and some mining operations, but those would be dwarfed by the occupation's expenses even if it had been in full operation all the time.

The Western military bureaucracies, military-related think tanks, authors and pundits have not addressed these fundamental issues much. Instead, they looked for some magic policy or strategy, often even tactics, to make Western troops more effective in such occupations. I don't doubt that defeating the Taliban is possible politically and at least temporarily also militarily. Their defeat wouldn't change the two aforementioned troubles, though.

The whole issue is symptomatic of small wars in general: The benefits are negligible, the costs of the operations vary, but maintaining the capability to play in such small wars without a dominance of improvisation is very expensive.

This could be considered a preferences-justified luxury if Western societies had a lot of excess energy.
Fact is, they are rather mature instead. The cake was already 100% distributed, almost all governments have net debts and many Western countries don't have enough capital investments to grow their capital stock (and thus their economic capacity) adequately. We are playing with camouflaged toys in marginal-dividend political games and neglect our investments in our future. 
We shouldn't only invest more in our future - we should grow reserves to meet unexpected challenges. You know, back in the 18th century many governments were wise enough to have a state/royal treasure instead of a net debtor position. The only modern Western country with such a thing is Norway as far as I know.

For years I've faced people who wank off on fantasies about nuclear weapons, military or military budget sizes, big tanks, fancy combat aircraft, many warships, big warships, the ability to bully about anyone et cetera.
I did not meet or discuss many people who thought of the military as something that is easily justified up to the point of actual defence (preparations) and 100% subject to cost-benefit considerations beyond.* In fact, many, many people can't even tell that what they consider "defense" is actually strategic offensive action or capability. They mistake bullying, invading and occupying with defence. This confusion is a product of governments, of course. There are no war departments and more, but defense departments.

I propose (totally in vain, of course) to separate the discussions:

(1) Collective security topics
These would be about the deterrence or at worst repelling of overt aggression against our alliance only.

(2) Great power gaming topics
This would be about the excess military capabilities and their use. That's the bully, invade and occupy part. Anybody who muddles the water by calling this "defense" should be called out and rebuked.

This is 100% not going to happen, and that's a pity if not doomed to end in tragedy.


* Andrew  Bacevich is a prolific author and commentator who gets this right.